The Common Good

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DRONE WATCH: Secret Drone War in Africa

David Axe, in Wired, examines America’s secret drone war in Africa.

“More secret bases. More and better unmanned warplanes. More frequent and deadly robotic attacks. Some five years after a U.S. Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flew the type’s first mission over lawless Somalia, the shadowy American-led drone campaign in the Horn of Africa is targeting Islamic militants more ruthlessly than ever. … It’s part of a broader campaign of jet bombing runs, naval gun bombardment, cruise-missile attacks, raids by Special Operations Forces and assistance to regional armies such as Uganda’s.”

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DRONE WATCH: Bats From Hell

While Predator and Reaper drones are currently in use, the next generation is already underway. The Northrop Grumman corporation and the U.S. Navy are testing what is known as the X-47B, a drone capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carriers. From Business Insider, here’s an animated promotional video from Grumman showing what its new drone can do.  As a pair of the aircraft take off, swoop over deserts and mountains, firing missiles at targets on the ground; they look like bats from hell.

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DRONE WATCH: Victims of Drones

 

In the news today are two stories of drone victims seeking justice for relatives who have been killed or injured.

The Guardian reports on legal action being taken in the U.K. by an Afghan man who lost five relatives in a missile strike. A letter sent to the Ministry of Defense is demanding details of Britain's role in supplying information to the American military "kill list," including “the compilation, review and execution of the list and what form it takes." Habib Rahman, a bank worker in Kabul, lost two brothers, two uncles and his father-in-law in an alleged case of mistaken identity resulting in a U.S. missile attack on their cars on 2 September 2010.

And in Pakistan’s Dawn, Waris Husain, a Washington, D.C., based attorney and writer for the newspaper, examines the U.S.  failure to compensate Pakistanis who suffer property loss or physical injury due to drone missions. While some survivors of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have received payments, none have gone to victims of drone attacks in Pakistan, and no U.S. court has accepted a claim by Pakistani civilians. Mr. Husain concludes: “While the US wishes to stabilise its relationship with Pakistan, the CIA shows no signs of minimising it use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, which means a system of compensation for victims is absolutely necessary.”

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DRONE WATCH: Are Drones “Humane”?

German author and journalist, Dirk Kurbjuweit, in an essay in DER SPIEGEL,reports that the German military is considering whether it should buy armed drones. Given that Germany is relatively scrupulous in matters of war,” he writes, “the unmanned aircraft seems to be the ideal weapon for the country.” But he then notes the questions that raises in regard to pride, humanity and the law, and argues that so-called “humane” drones are, in fact, the most brutal of weapons.

The fundamental question is an ongoing discussion over “whether humane weapons are even feasible. In other words, is it possible to create weapons that somehow protect perpetrators or lessen the damage to victims? In this context, the word humane is not an absolute but a relative concept, referring to a weapon that is less horrific than other weapons.”

One of the arguments for humaneness is the precision of the missiles, that they do not destroy as much of the area surrounding their target and thus produce fewer civilian casualties than bombing attacks from aircraft. They also pose no risk to the force using them, further reducing the casualties of war. On the other hand, their relative humaneness makes their use more likely; and the targeted executions of alleged terrorists are dubious under international law.

Kurbjuweit concludes:

“A humane approach to war is a complex issue. Drones seem relatively humane, but that perception only increases the temptation to use them. They spare one's own troops, which is good, but they pose a great threat to civilians, which is terrible. As a result, the humane approach gives rise to a special form of inhumanity. …

But no one should allow themselves to be seduced by the idea that this weapon is humane or good. A drone armed with missiles exposes the essential nature of war in an especially clear way. Because a drone hunts down an individual, the slaughter loses its anonymity. The victim acquires a name and a face, and it becomes abundantly clear what war is all about: the destruction of human beings.”

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DRONE WATCH: Brennan Defends Drones in Yemen

In a speech yesterday in Washington, administration counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan defended the campaign of drone strikes in Yemen. As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

“In his most explicit comments on Washington's largely hidden military and intelligence operations in Yemen, John Brennan said no evidence indicates that the drone strikes are helping recruit members for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the Yemen-based group that is Al Qaeda's most active branch. ...

"Brennan said that the drone pilots, who operate the aircraft from remote ground stations, make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. 'And contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP.... In short, targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem, they are part of the solution.' "

Addressing a common concern, Brennan said that the only targets for drones are militants whose goal is to attack the US or its allies, not those fighting against the Yemeni government. He added that U.S. officials do provide intelligence information to Yemeni armed forces fighting against militants.

The report noted that the drone attacks are part of a larger strategy.

“U.S. special operations forces have been advising Yemeni military units, and Washington is providing $337 million in aid to Yemen this year, the largest American aid package ever disbursed to the impoverished nation.”

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Where is the U.S. Response in Syria?

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Nick Kristof asks how the United States should be tackling the conflict in Syria:

President Obama’s finest moments in foreign policy, like the Osama bin Laden raid or the Libya intervention, resulted from close engagement and calculated risks.

His lapses come when he’s passive or AWOL — as in Syria. I’m generally a fan of Obama’s foreign policy, but on Syria there’s a growing puzzlement around the world that he seems stuck behind the curve.

The United States shouldn’t invade Syria. But we should work with allies to supply weapons, training and intelligence to rebels who pass our vetting.

Learn more here

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Nuns Invite Romney to Spend a Day With Them, and the Poor

According to ThinkProgress:

The group behind the Nuns On A Bus tour that highlighted the ill-effects of the House Republican budget in congressional districts across the country is now setting its sights on the party’s presidential candidate, inviting Mitt Romney to spend a day with the nuns to learn about the plight of America’s poorest citizens.

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, is inviting Romney to “spend a day with Catholic Sisters who work every day to meet the needs of struggling families in their communities,” according to a release. The group is specifically targeting Romney a day after his campaign released a misleading ad about welfare reform that Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s executive director, said “demonize[s] families in poverty” and shows Romney’s “ignorance about the challenges” the poor face in America.

Read more here

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Should a Priest Be Taking on the Mexican Cartels?

According to a piece in USA Today, the congregants of one Mexican church don't think so:

A crusading Roman Catholic priest who has defied drug cartels and corrupt police to protect Central American migrants said Wednesday that church authorities are trying to smother his activist work with migrants by assigning him to parish duties.

The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde has become well known in Mexico after enduring death threats for publicly denouncing drug gangs and police who rob and kidnap Central American migrants crossing Mexico to reach the United States.

But Solalinde's diocese said he is simply being asked to start operating within the normal parish structure, and run his migrant shelter more like a church ministry and less like a lone activist's non-governmental organization.

Read more here

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DRONE WATCH: Two Strikes in Yemen Kill 10

According to the Associated Press, over the past two days, in two separate strikes, U.S. drones killed 10 al-Qaida militants in Yemen.

The first attack late Monday hit two vehicles carrying seven passengers in the southern town of Radda, killing them all. Another U.S. drone targeted a second vehicle on Tuesday carrying three militants in the Zoukaika region of Hadramawt. One of the dead was identified as Abdullah Awad al-Masri, described as one of the "most dangerous elements" of al-Qaida in the militant stronghold of Bayda province and the man in charge of a bomb-making lab.

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July 2012: Hottest Month on Record for the U.S.

New results from the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration show that July 2012 was the hottest summer on record for the United States, since accurate record keeping began in 1895. With an average temperature of 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit, last month's heat wave surpassed July 1936 (which recorded an average of 77.4) to become the steamiest summer around.

In a report on NBC, NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch explains:

"These events are kind of what we'd expect with climate change, we'd expect expanding drought, we'd expect warm, record breaking temperatures… But it's kind of hard to pinpoint this month or past several months as a telltale sign that climate change is happening. The drought is more of a local factor and isn't necessarily driven by large scale climate change, but is impacting local temperatures. But we've also seen an increase in U.S. temperatures overall."

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