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DRONE WATCH: Drones in the News

The United Nations wants to use drones in peacekeeping missions, but some developing countries are opposed, fearing that it will become  a new way for Western countries to gather and control intelligence. According to the Washington Post:

“The United Nations, looking to modernize its peacekeeping operations, is planning for the first time to deploy a fleet of its own surveillance drones in missions in Central and West Africa. The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping has notified Congo, Rwanda and Uganda that it intends to deploy a unit of at least three unarmed surveillance drones in the eastern region of Congo.”

As the tension between China and Japan over disputed islands increases, both are in a “drone race.” The Guardian reports:

“Drones have taken centre stage in an escalating arms race between China and Japan as they struggle to assert their dominance over disputed islands in the East China Sea. China is rapidly expanding its nascent drone programme, while Japan has begun preparations to purchase an advanced model from the US. Both sides claim the drones will be used for surveillance, but experts warn the possibility of future drone skirmishes in the region's airspace is "very high".

USA TODAY notes a “global arms race” in acquiring drones:

“The success of U.S. drones in Iraq and Afghanistan has triggered a global arms race, raising concerns the remotely piloted aircraft could fall into unfriendly hands, military experts say. The number of countries that have acquired or developed drones expanded to more than 75, up from about 40 in 2005, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drones Counter-Productive

Michael Boyle, an assistant professor at La Salle University, who served on President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisory group during the 2008 campaign, has written a new, critical article on drones for the journal International Affairs.

The Guardian reports:

 

“The United States' use of drones is counter-productive, less effective than the White House claims, and is 'encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent,' according to a study by one of President Obama's former security advisers.

“Michael Boyle, who was on Obama's counter-terrorism group in the run-up to his election in 2008, said the US administration's growing reliance on drone technology was having 'adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists.'"

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DRONE WATCH: Just the Facts.

The secrecy of the U.S. drone program often makes it difficult to follow what is happening. News reports cite unnamed intelligence or security officials, sometimes tribal sources, usually with different information.

For example, on Sunday a large number of people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan's South Waziristan region. The story was reported by Al Jazeera, Reuters, DAWN, Associated Press, and CNN; among others.

The strike involved “several missiles” (AP), “eight to 10 missiles” (Al Jazeera), or “four unmanned drones fired ten missiles” (DAWN).  It was aimed at “a suspected Taliban compound” (Al Jazeera), “three Taliban compounds” (Reuters), “three militant hideouts” (AP), or “three houses” (DAWN). The casualties were “sixteen killed and several others wounded” (Al Jazeera), “seventeen dead, three wounded” (CNN), “between ten and twelve dead” (Reuters), “seventeen dead” (DAWN), or “nine dead” (AP). They were “believed to be militants” (CNN), “suspected to be Taliban fighters” (Reuters), or “fighters belonging to the Punjabi Taliban” (Al Jazeera),

So, how many people were killed? Who were they? You decide.

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DRONE WATCH: A Year of Drones

 

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a comprehensive year-end report on U.S. drone strikes in 2012, month-by-month and country-by-country.

“Drone strikes in Pakistan are now at their lowest level in five years, as Islamabad protests almost every attack. The CIA also appears to have abandoned ‘signature strikes’ on suspected militants fitting certain patterns of behaviour – at least for the present. Almost all attacks in recent months have been against named al Qaeda and other militant leaders.

“As drone strikes fell in Pakistan they rose steeply in Yemen, as US forces aided a major military campaign to oust al Qaeda and other Islamists from southern cities. A parallel CIA targeted killing programme killed numerous alleged militants, many of them named individuals. Yet US officials took more than three months to confirm that American planes or drones had killed 12 civilians.”

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DRONE WATCH: Escalation in Yemen

Drone strikes are being escalated in Yemen with the fifth attack in the past ten days occurring on Thursday. Reuters reports:

“At least three suspected al Qaeda militants including a local commander were killed on Thursday in Yemen by a strike from an unmanned aircraft, residents and a local official said.”

Today, in response, Yemeni tribesmen organized a protest in front of a government administration building. According to Reuters:

“Dozens of armed tribesmen took to the streets in southern Yemen on Friday to protest against drone strikes that they say have killed innocent civilians and increased anger against the United States. …

“One tribesman participating in a sit-in in front of the government administration building in Redaa told Reuters by telephone that at least seven innocent civilians were killed in the recent raids.”

Unlike Pakistan, the Yemeni government openly supports the U.S. strikes.

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DRONE WATCH: Senior Taliban Commander Killed

 

Over the last two days, multiple drone strikes in Pakistan killed at least 13 people. According to the Associated Press,

“Two U.S. drone strikes on northwest Pakistan killed a senior Taliban commander who fought American forces in Afghanistan but had a truce with the Pakistani military, intelligence officials said Thursday.

“The commander, Maulvi Nazir, was among nine people killed in a missile strike on a house in the village of Angoor Adda in the South Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan late Wednesday night, five Pakistani security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. …

“Fighters under Nazir's command focused their attacks on American forces in neighboring Afghanistan, earning him the enmity of the U.S. But many in Pakistan's military viewed Nazir and militant chiefs like him as "good Taliban," meaning they focus attacks only on foreign forces in Afghanistan, keeping domestic peace by not attacking Pakistani targets.”

In a separate drone strike, at least four people were killed early Thursday morning near Mir Ali in the North Waziristan tribal region.

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Are the U.S. and Israel Heading For a Showdown?

The Nation reports that the Obama administration may be heading toward confrontation with Jerusalem. During the brief war between Israel and Gaza in November, Obama pressured both sides to a truce. After Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas asked for Palestine observer status at the U.N. General Assmebly, Israel retaliated by expanding settlements on the West Bank. This move ended hope for a two state solution. The Nation notes:

If Obama is planning to put more heat on them, he will undoubtedly wait until after their election. Then, in the late winter months of 2013, before spring comes and Netanyahu can revive the possibility of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, the president might well provoke a showdown.

He has good reason. If he can secure a definitive halt to settlement expansion, he can bring the Palestinians back to the table with a promise to press Israel to negotiate seriously for a two-state solution. In a chaotic region where the United States seems to be losing ground weekly, Washington could score sizeable foreign policy points, especially in improving relations with regional powers Turkey and Egypt.

Read more here.

 

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Iranian Pastor Re-Arrested

Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor imprisoned for nearly three years for “apostasy” until his release in September when the charge was changed to "evangelizing," was reportedly re-arrested on Christmas Day and ordered to serve the remaining 45 days of his prison sentence.

Morning Star News reports:

An Iranian pastor freed from prison in September after nearly three years of detainment was re-arrested on Christmas Day in a move that human rights groups consider intentional harassment for rejecting Islam. …

“Those close to the case and Nadarkhani’s family said the re-arrest may also have served as a direct message for the pastor to leave the Islamic Republic, according to Jason DeMars of PTM [Present Truth Ministries].

“It appears that it is a move to harass him,” DeMars told Morning Star News. “Perhaps they want him to leave the country permanently.”

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Reports: 27 Dead in Conn. Elementary School Shooting

According to AP, 27 have been killed, including 18 children, at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. 

An official with knowledge of a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school says 27 people are dead, including 18 children.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way.

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, says the gunman is among the dead.

Sojourners extends our thoughts and prayers to all of the children, teachers, staff, and families of those involved. 

Lord, give peace to those who await news about their loved ones. Show your presence to those who may feel far from you during this tragedy. Amen.

Watch live reports here: 

Watch live streaming video from foxct at livestream.com
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DRONE WATCH: Protesters Found Guilty

The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that 13 people were found guilty of trespassing yesterday in DeWitt, N.Y., for a protest in June at the gates of Hancock Air Base. Five who had been previously arrested were sentenced to two weeks in jail, the rest given a conditional discharge and community service requirement.

“The protesters were charged after they spent more than two hours on June 28 at Hancock Air Base’s main entrance while attempting — and failing — to deliver a “citizens’ indictment” for what they are calling reaper drone war crimes committed at the base. They were convicted by Judge Robert Jokl in DeWitt Town Court. The 13 defended themselves without using attorneys.”

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DRONE WATCH: House Hearing on Drones

Joshua Hersh reports on Huffington Post that the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday on the use of drones in targeted killings. There was bipartisan unhappiness over the lack of transparency from the administration, yet the committee voted down a bill that would have required more information.

“The House Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Thursday to discuss a resolution put forward by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that would order the White House to turn over to Congress all documents related to the government's targeted killing program.

“The measure was dismissed as overly broad and aggressive, but legislators took the opportunity to vent their frustrations about the limited amount of information the administration has shared with the public and Congress about the use of drones.”

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DRONE WATCH: High-Tech Killing

University of Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell writes in Peace Policy of the “high-tech killing” made possible by drones, and the apparent violations of international law this creates.

“The arguments for drones continue to mutate as the technology advances to ever more powerful killing machines:  Predators, Reapers, and now the Avenger. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on November 20, 2012, that the Pentagon plans to expand the use of drone attacks in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. He said that al Qaeda has “metastasized to other parts of the global body.’’ Now the policy of targeted killing with drones is spreading to other parts of the globe.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drones Lead to Hatred in Pakistan

Qanta Ahmed, Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion and Associate Professor of Medicine, State University of New York, writes in Haaretz about a recent trip to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. She finds that hatred of the US and strengthening of the Taliban are directly linked to continuing drone attacks.

“While the drive to codify U.S. drone policy is finally gaining momentum, it may be a case of too little, too late. As long as drones remain airborne, neo-orthodox Islamist terrorists and non-violent - but extremist - anti-American ideologues gain political capital, hoarding it as fast as America loses it. As long as we allow our administration to deploy drones without accountability, Pakistani anti-Americanism is validated, the Taliban is actually strengthened, while we as Americans remain confined in an ugly reality - defined not by who we are, but by whom, how and how often, we kill.”

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Bishop Walter Sullivan, A Passion for Peace

Bishop Walter Sullivan, former head of the Catholic diocese of Richmond, Virginia, has died at the age of 84.

In the movement against nuclear weapons in the 1980s and 90s, I met and worked with a number of Catholic bishops. The then-named National Conference of Catholic Bishops had issued a pastoral letter in 1983 opposing nuclear weapons, The Challenge of Peace, which became a model for other denominations. The bishop I knew best was Bishop Sullivan, who served as bishop-president of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace organization, for more than 10 years. He was also committed to people in poverty, and was a featured speaker at the first conference of Call to Renewal in September 1995. It is prophetic voices such as his that we badly need today. I was blessed to have known him.      

The National Catholic Reporter has an obituary worth reading:

“One of the celebrated "Jadot bishops," meaning progressive American prelates appointed under Pope Paul VI during the 1970s, Walter Sullivan led the Richmond, Va., diocese for almost 30 years, and from that perch became one of the country's premier "peace bishops," denouncing armed conflict from Vietnam and the Cold War all the way up to Iraq.

"He just could not reconcile war and Christianity," said Phyllis Theroux, a Virginia-based author whose biography of Sullivan, The Good Bishop, is scheduled to appear from Orbis Books in May.

"He once said that as far as I'm concerned, you can take the whole 'just war' tradition and stick it in a drawer and lock it up," she said, adding that Sullivan believed the idea of a just war had been "abused" by both clergy and politicians.

“Bishop Walter Sullivan died Tuesday as a result of an inoperable liver cancer after he returned to his Richmond home from a local hospital. He was 84.”

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DRONE WATCH: Loan-a-Drone

While most news of drones is their use abroad by the U.S. military and CIA, they are also increasingly used for surveillance in this country. A report in the Washington Times shows that the Department of Homeland Security and its Customs and Border Protection agency are using their drones to assist local law enforcement agencies.

“The practice is raising questions inside and outside government about whether federal officials may be creating an ad-hoc, loan-a-drone program without formal rules for engagement, privacy protection or taxpayer reimbursements. The drones used by CPB can cost between $15 million and $34 million each to buy, and have hourly operational costs as well.

“In addition, DHS recently began distributing $4 million in grants to help local law enforcement buy its own, smaller versions of drones, opening a new market for politically connected drone makers as the wars overseas shrink.

“The double-barreled lending and purchasing have some concerned that federal taxpayers may be subsidizing the militarization of local police forces and creating new threats to average Americans’ privacy.”

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