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DRONE WATCH: An Alternative to Guantánamo?

A hunger strike by detainees has Guantánamo back in the news. But has the Obama administration been using drone strikes to kill al Qaida suspects rather than capturing them? The attorney who wrote the the first legal justification for using drones thinks so. The Guardian reports:

“John Bellinger, who was responsible for drafting the legal framework for targeted drone killings while working for George W Bush after 9/11, said he believed their use had increased since because President Obama was unwilling to deal with the consequences of jailing suspected al-Qaida members.

"This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida [at Guantánamo] they are going to kill them," he told a conference at the Bipartisan Policy Center.”

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President Obama Sides With His Guantanamo Bay Protesters

President Obama broke his silence to comment on the current hunger strike of over 90 men at Guantanamo Bay. Time reports:

“It’s not sustainable,” President Obama said Tuesday, breaking his silence about the protest against his own government. “I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity.”

Obama repeated a position he has long held: The detention facility needs to be closed, with the prisoners either transferred to third countries if they do not present a threat or to the United States for adjudication. “This is a lingering, you know, problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.”

The next steps at Guantanamo Bay are muddled in beaucracy. The President, Congress, and Secretary of Defense all have steps they must take before any real progress can be made.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Protesting Drones

This weekend saw protests on both sides of the Atlantic against drone killings.

In the U.S., more than 250 people marched on an Air National Guard Base at Hancock Field in Syracuse, N.Y. At the end of a funeral procession, 30 people were arrested at the gates of the base. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard:

“Protesters pounded drums, chanted and carried mock coffins. A baby doll smeared with fake blood was suspended from a tall poll carried by one protestor. A sheriff’s deputy speaking through a bullhorn warned protesters laying on the driveway in front of the gate to get up off the ground or face arrest for disorderly conduct. After they refused, the protesters were handcuffed and escorted to a Sheriff’s Department van.”

The protest was organized by the Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones & End the Wars.

In the U.K., 700 people participated in a demonstration outside a Royal Air Force base north of London to protest the U.K.'s use of armed drones in Afghanistan. The action came two days after the news that the Royal Air Force had begun flying drones from the Waddington Base. CNN reported:

"People are pretty upset about the idea that Britain will be developing this drone warfare," said John Hilary, executive director of War on Want. … The coalition also includes members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Drone Campaign Network and Stop the War Coalition.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drones on the Border

 

The U.S.-Mexico border is currently patrolled by 10 Predator surveillance drones. The immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate would increase that in order to provide constant coverage. ABC/Univision reported

“Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, could soon be patrolling the United States border with Mexico 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's what the major immigration reform bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators proposes.

“The goal: "effective control" of the border. Under the bill, no immigrant granted provisional legal status would be eligible to apply for a Green Card until the Department of Homeland Security shows it's made substantial progress toward that goal. Border hawks want the pathway to citizenship more firmly tied to border security success.”

But, as Common Dreams reports,

As the new immigration reform bill moving through the US Senate puts aerial drones at the center of a beefed-up militarized approach to border security, a new report shows that the existing drone-border program has proved an "inefficient, costly and absurd approach" to monitoring the border or enforcing current immigration laws.”

The report was produced by the Center for International Policy, you can read it at Drones over the Homeland.

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DRONE WATCH: Drones Controlled From U.K.

The British military has been flying drones in Afghanistan for several years, firing 350 weapons, including Hellfire missiles. But due to lack of the necessary capacity, British pilots have controlled them from the U.S. Creech Air Force base in Nevada. Last week that changed, as the Guardian reports:

“Remotely controlled armed drones used to target insurgents in Afghanistan have been operated from the UK for the first time, the Ministry of Defence said on Thursday. Missions of the missile-carrying Reaper aircraft began from a newly built headquarters at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire earlier this week – five years after the MoD bought the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor and attack the Taliban”.

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DRONE WATCH: Israel Shoots Down Drone

An Israeli jet shot down a drone off its northern coast on Thursday. While some Israeli officials said they believed it was an Iranian-manufactured aircraft sent by Hezbollah, that group denied it. The Associated Press reported:

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the unmanned aircraft was detected as it was flying over Lebanon and tracked as it approached Israeli airspace.

He said the military waited for the aircraft to enter Israeli airspace, confirmed it was “enemy,” and then an F-16 warplane shot it down, smashing its wreckage into the sea about five miles (eight kilometers) off the northern port of Haifa. Lerner said Israeli naval forces were searching for the remains of the aircraft.

He said it still was not clear who sent the drone, noting it flew over Lebanese airspace, but that it could have originated from somewhere else.

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DRONE WATCH: Update on Senate Hearing on Drones

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), held a hearing yesterday on “The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing.” It was the Senate’s first public hearing on drones. McClatchy News reported on the hearing that witnesses urged “the Obama administration to make public more information about its top-secret targeted killing program amid questions about the legality and effectiveness of hundreds of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere.”

One witness was from Yemen:

“Farea al Muslimi, a U.S.-educated activist from Yemen, testified that drone strikes have killed many civilians in his country, aiding al Qaida’s regional affiliate, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, by appearing to affirm its propaganda that the United States is waging war against ordinary Yemenis. “The drones have simply made more mistakes than AQAP has ever done,” he said.”

Another witness, retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had some practical proposals:

“Cartwright called on Obama to establish a government task force to evaluate secret drone strikes, including the extent of civilian casualties and their impacts on communities; the effectiveness of precautions used to avert such casualties; and the means by which the results of strikes are assessed. An unclassified version of the task force’s final report should be made public, he said.

“Cartwright said the CIA also should publicly acknowledge its role in drone operations outside Afghanistan, establish procedures for declassifying information on those operations after they’re over, and provide information to Congress on the impact of drone strikes on civilians.”

 

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DRONE WATCH: Hearing on Drones

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights is holding a hearing this afternoon on “The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing.” According to Subcommittee Chair Sen. Richard Durbin’s office:

“the hearing will address the legal and policy issues raised by drone strikes, including the constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings, the scope of the battlefield in the conflict with Al Qaeda and associated forces, and the international precedent set by U.S. drone policy.”

You can watch it live here.    

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BREAKING: One Boston Marathon Suspect Dead, Boston Virtually Shut Down in Search for Second

Boston residents are waking up this morning to a virtual shutdown of many parts of the city after a contfrontation that left one of the marathon suspects dead, according to reports. An M.I.T. police officer was also killed. From NBC News

Law enforcement officials said the tumult began just before 11 p.m., when the suspects approached a police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and shot him in the head.

The two then stole the officer’s cruiser, robbed a nearby 7-Eleven, carjacked a Mercedes SUV and briefly kidnapped the driver, the sources said. The suspects threw explosives out the window during the chase that followed, they said. A Boston transit police officer was shot and wounded, authorities said.

The dead suspect — the man in the black hat from the FBI photos — had an improvised explosive device strapped to his chest, law enforcement officials said.

The two suspects have been identified as brothers — the one on the run identified as 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. 

This story is developing. 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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DRONE WATCH: Attacks in Pakistan and Yemen

The month-long break in drone strikes appears to have ended.

On Wednesday, a strike on a training camp in Pakistan killed at least five people. According to Al Jazeera:

“A US drone has fired two missiles into a Taliban training camp in Pakistan, destroying the compound and killing at least five people, local officials have said.“Wednesday's strike took place in the Baber Ghar area of the South Waziristan tribal district on the Afghan border, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud where the faction runs several camps.”

Also on Wednesday, two separate strikes in Yemen killed five. The Associated Press reported:

“Two U.S. drone strikes Wednesday killed at least five suspected al-Qaida militants and destroyed the house of one of them in a mountainous area south of the capital, Sanaa, a Yemeni security official and witnesses said.

“The four were killed in the first strike while riding a vehicle in the desert area of Oussab al-Ali, about 140 kilometers (90 miles) south of Sanaa, the official said. The second strike killed a fifth suspected jihadi, Hamed Radman. A drone bombed his house, the official said.” 

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DRONE WATCH: Organizations Express Concerns About Drone Killings

Ten major human rights and civil rights organizations have sent a statement to President Obama expressing their “shared concerns” about the U.S. targeted killing program using drones. The signatories included the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and others.

The statement begins by summarizing the organizations’ concerns, and then elaborates on each point.

“The undersigned human rights and civil rights groups urge the United States to take essential steps to ensure meaningful transparency and legal compliance with regard to U.S. targeted killing policies and practices, particularly those outside the internationally-recognized armed conflict in Afghanistan. In particular, we call on the administration to: publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm.”

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Background Checks Proposal Fails (VIDEO)

The U.S. Senate has just failed to get 60 votes on a bipartisan proposal to expand gun sale background checks. Politico reports:

“The vote was 54-46, with only four Republicans crossing the aisle and voting with the Democrats in favor of the bipartisan proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Sixty votes were needed.”

Four months after the Newtown massacre, a compromise measure that would have banned no guns, no magazines, is apparently still too strong. And what is especially outrageous is the continued abuse of the filibuster, requiring 60 votes for anything to pass the Senate. Is there any other legislative body in the world where a proposal can pass by 8 votes and lose?

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DRONE WATCH: Four Killed in Pakistan Attack

 

On Sunday evening, the first U.S. drone attack in nearly a month killed at least four people in Pakistan. The attack took place in Datta Khel town, 22 miles west of Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan region. According to Agence France-Presse:

Six US drones flew over the area when one of them fired two missiles at a compound in the Manzarkhel area of the town. "The drones kept hovering at the compound for a while and then one drone fired two missiles at the time of sunset," a local security official said. "At least four militants were killed in the strike," said the official.

 

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Killings in Pakistan

After years of secrecy, the leaks of classified information on the drone killing program in Pakistan have turned into a torrent. Today, it was the McClatchy Newspapers, running two stories by national security and intelligence reporter Jonathan S. Landay.

The first examines in depth intelligence reports that covered most of the drone strikes in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011. Reviewing the killings covered in these reports, Landay concludes that:

“Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.

The second, apparently using some of the same reports, reveals the history and extent of cooperation between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence. While Pakistan was aiding the U.S against al Qaida, CIA drones were aiding the Pakistani military against the Taliban.

“Even as its civilian leaders publicly decried U.S. drone attacks as breaches of sovereignty and international law, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency secretly worked for years with the CIA on strikes that killed Pakistani insurgent leaders and scores of suspected lower-level fighters, according to classified U.S. intelligence reports. Dozens of civilians also reportedly died in the strikes in the semi-autonomous tribal region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan that is a stronghold of al Qaida, Afghan militants, other foreign jihadists and a tangle of violent Pakistani Islamist groups.”

Both stories are long, both are well worth reading. Taken together, they reveal more secret details of the drone killing program.

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DRONE WATCH: The Next Drones?

While there appears to be a lull in drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, are the next targets being prepared? 

The Japan Times reports that as tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high, the possibility of unarmed drones carrying out surveillance over North Korea is increasing.

“Japan and the U.S. might deploy the Global Hawk, a high-altitude reconnaissance drone, at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture to increase surveillance of North Korea … Interest in monitoring North Korea has been climbing since it began threatening nuclear strikes, and reportedly moved a midrange missile to its east coast Thursday.”

The Voice of America reported a confirmation of the story,

“The Defense Ministry in Tokyo also confirms the United States is considering deploying high altitude aerial reconnaissance "Global Hawk" drones to Misawa air base in northern Japan to monitor North Korea.”

While the Global Hawk is not designed to carry weapons, its surveillance capabilities have made it “one of the best sources of tips for where to send the Predator and Reaper drones, which fly at lower altitudes and fire missiles.” Is that what’s in store for North Korea? 

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