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DRONE WATCH: Administration Acknowledges American Deaths

The Obama administration formally acknowledged this afternoon that four American citizens have been killed by drone strikes, one intentionally and three who were not targeted. The New York Times reports:

In a letter to Congressional leaders obtained by The New York Times, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. disclosed that the administration had deliberately killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen.

The American responsibility for Mr. Awlaki’s death has been widely reported, but the administration had until now refused to confirm or deny it.

The letter also said that the United States had killed three other Americans: Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike; Mr. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was also killed in Yemen; and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a strike in Pakistan.

“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” Mr. Holder wrote.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Number of Drone Strikes Declines

President Barack Obama will deliver a major speech on drone policy tomorrow. And for a number of reasons—including a smaller number of important al Qaeda targets, issues such as bad weather to diplomatic problems, and concerns about the costs and benefits—the number of drone strikes being carried out is dropping. The New York Times reports:

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

In a long-awaited address on Thursday at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama will make his most ambitious attempt to date to lay out his justification for the strikes and what they have achieved. He may follow up on public promises, including one he made in his State of the Union speech in February to define a “legal architecture” for choosing targets, possibly shifting more strikes from the C.I.A. to the military; explain how he believes that presidents should be “reined in” in their exercise of lethal power; and take steps to make a program veiled in secrecy more transparent.

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DRONE WATCH: Serious Moral Questions

In a letter sent to the White House and the leadership of key Congressional committees, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote that the use of drones in counter-terrorism “raises serious moral questions.”

Even when viewed through the prism of just war principles, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killings raises serious moral questions. The Administration seems to have focused narrowly on the just cause of protecting citizens, but other elements of the tradition pose significant questions, including discrimination, imminence of the threat, proportionality and probability of success. Targeted killing should, by definition, be highly discriminatory. The Administration's policy appears to extend the use of deadly force to alleged "signature" attacks and reportedly classifies all males of a certain age as combatants. Are these policies morally defensible? They seem to violate the law of war, international human rights law, and moral norms.

He concludes by asking:

We understand the necessity for operational secrecy in counter-terrorism, but isn’t it critical to have a public discussion of the terms of the Administration’s policy of employing drones for targeted killings? Don’t the moral and strategic issues involved require broader discussion? Shouldn’t a policy with such wide potential consequences be subject to public scrutiny, at a minimum by representative institutions in a democratic society?

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Church Whistle-Blowers Join Forces on Abuse

A group of priests and nuns, some of whom were assaulted as children, has quietly been gathering to publically urge the pope and American bishops to "clean house" on sexual abuse in the church. 

Many members in the group, though vocal on sexual abuse cases in the past, did not know eachother until last year, when a laywoman brought them together for as a "confidential support group."

The New York Times reports:

Their aim, they say, is to support both victims and fellow whistle-blowers, and identify shortcomings in church policies. They hope to help not just minors, but also adults who fall prey to clergy who exploit their power for sex. They say that their motivation is to make the church better and safer, and to show the world that there are good priests and nuns in the church.

“We’ve dedicated our lives to the church,” the Rev. John Bambrick, a priest in the Diocese of Trenton, said at a meeting of the group last week in New York. “Having sex offenders in ministry is damaging to our ministry.”&nbsminp;

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: From CIA to Military

One of the ongoing discussions of the U.S. drone program is who should control it. Having it under the military provides more oversight and accountability; having it under the CIA provides more secrecy. The Obama administration has apparently decided to begin moving control of at least some drone operations to the military. Reuters reports:

Four U.S. government sources told Reuters that the decision had been made to shift the CIA's drone operations to the Pentagon, and some of them said it would occur in stages.

Drone strikes in Yemen, where the U.S. military already conducts operations with Yemeni forces, would be run by the armed forces, officials said.

But for the time-being U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan would continue to be conducted by the CIA to keep the program covert and maintain deniability for both the United States and Pakistan, several sources said.

Ultimately, however, the administration's goal would be to transfer the Pakistan drone operations to the military, one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

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Tornado Hits Elementary Schools, Levels Homes in Oklahoma

A massive tornado swept through the town of Moore, Okla., on Monday afternoon, destroying homes and hitting two elementary schools. Emergency crews were rushing to the scenes to rescue staff and students trapped in the debris. One MSNBC report indicated at least 75 children and staff were trapped in one of the schools. From MSNBC

Two elementary schools were heavily damaged, possibly completely destroyed, KFOR reported. Those schools are Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore.

It was unknown how many children may have been in the schools when the twister hit, but a KFOR reporter saw a student being rescued from Plaza Towers, where the roof was blown off and the cinderblock walls demolished.

Read more HERE.

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DRONE WATCH: Yemen Drone Strikes

After nearly a month’s lull, two drone strikes were carried out in Yemen over the weekend, killing at least six suspected militants. Reuters reports:

Two suspected al Qaeda militants were killed on Monday in a drone strike on their vehicle south of the capital Sanaa, tribal and government sources said. The strike follows another on Saturday in which at least four militants were killed in Abyan governorate, in southernYemen.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Pilot Burnout

A high rate of burnout among drone pilots is leading to concerns in the U.S. Air Force over how they are selected. NBC News reports:  

Pilots may be thousands of miles away from the flying weapons system they're operating. They often head home at the end of the day, as if returning from any other office job, maybe picking up milk on the way. But while at work, their drones' onboard cameras put them in a unique position to watch people being killed and injured as a direct result of their actions.

As psychologists learn more about the mental scarring warfare leaves on drone pilots — caused by long shift hours, isolation, witnessing casualties and those Jekyll-and-Hyde days split between battlefield and home — experts from within the U.S. Air Force are calling for a review of drone pilot selection.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Authorizing Drone Strikes

Congress is beginning to assert its oversight role in declaring war by examining drone attacks. Yet, in Congressional testimony yesterday, Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan said that the Pentagon sees no reason to seek additional Congressional authority for the strikes. The Washington Post reports:

“At this point we’re comfortable with the AUMF as it is currently structured,” Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan said of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001. “Right now . . . it serves its purpose,” he said.

“In my judgment,” Sheehan said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “this is going to go on for quite a while, yes, beyond the second term of the president. . . . I think it’s at least 10 to 20 years.”

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U.S. Unemployment Claims at Highest Level in 6 Weeks

A week after reaching a five-year low, Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose by 32,000. This is the highest level in six weeks. Although the job market has improved in the lat six months, unemployment applications continue to fluctuate each week. The Associated Press reports:

"The underlying story in jobless claims continues to be one of gradual improvement," said Julia Coronado, an economist at BNP Paribas. Coronado said the small rise in applications "highlight(s) the need to take volatile weekly readings with a grain of salt."

Read more here.

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