drones

DRONE WATCH: No More CIA Drones?

In an exclusive this morning, The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman reports that the CIA is about to lose its drone program.

“At a time when controversy over the Obama administration’s drone program seems to be cresting, the CIA is close to taking a major step toward getting out of the targeted killing business. Three senior U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA’s lethal targeting program to the Defense Department.

“The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures.”

DRONE WATCH: Is Syria Next?

Current and former U.S. officials have told the Los Angeles Times that the CIA is gathering intelligence on Islamic extremists in Syria as part of contingency planning for possible drone strikes. Although drone strikes have not been considered or authorized, according to the Times:

“The Counterterrorism Center, which runs the CIA’s covert drone killing program in Pakistan and Yemen, recently shifted several targeting officers to improve intelligence collection on militants in Syria who could pose a terrorist threat, the officials said.

“The targeting officers have formed a unit with colleagues who were tracking Al Qaeda operatives and fighters in Iraq. U.S. officials believe that some of these operatives have moved to Syria and joined Islamic militias battling to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

“The CIA effort, which involves assembling detailed dossiers on key militants, gives the White House both lethal and nonlethal options if it concludes that Syria’s 2-year-old civil war — which has caused 70,000 deaths, according to United Nations estimates — is creating a haven for terrorists.”

DRONE WATCH: A Violation of Sovereignty

Following a three-day visit to Pakistan, Ben Emmerson QC, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, warned that continuing U.S. drone strikes are a violation of  that country’s sovereignty. According to the Guardian, Emmerson said,

"The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

"Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalizing a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.”

 

DRONE WATCH: Iran, U.S. Face Off Over Drone

As an Iranian fighter jet approached a Predator surveillance drone over the Persian Gulf earlier this week, it was warned away by a U.S. Air Force jet escort. The Los Angeles Times reports:

“The incident, which was not disclosed for two days, is at least the third time U.S. and Iranian military forces have faced off over American spy drones in the last 15 months, and it inevitably raised concerns of a more serious confrontation.

“The Obama administration has stepped up military and intelligence surveillance flights near Iranian airspace and moved warships and other military assets to the Middle East in connection with the increasing Western pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear development program.”

DRONE WATCH: Give Them Up, Mr. President

In an opinion piece this morning, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta urges President Obama to make available to Congress and the American people the legal opinions governing the targeted drone killing program. Podesta writes:

“In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days. And in keeping this information from the American people, he is undermining the nation’s ability to be a leader on the world stage and is acting in opposition to the democratic principles we hold most important. This is why I say, respectfully: Give them up, Mr. President.”

DRONE WATCH: The Legal Basis for Drone Killings

Eight Members of Congress sent a letter to the president yesterday, requesting a complete report on the legal basis for the targeted killings by the drone program. The letter noted a 2012 GAO study saying that 75 countries and “certain terrorist organizations” now have drones. With this growing reality, the letter said:

“We are growing increasingly concerned that there is a risk that our country’s ‘global war’ doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights.”

The letter was organized by Rep. Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force, who said in a press release:

 “It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones program. The President has full rein to protect the United States as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities. We have to protect the checks and balances that are at the heart of our democracy.”

You can read the full text of the letter HERE

DRONE WATCH: The Debate Begins

Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster last week against the administration’s drone policy brought a long-simmering debate to a full public boil. Although some have criticized him for “grandstanding,” the Kentucky Republican did all of us a favor. Issues and questions that had been raised primarily by progressive bloggers and peace groups are now in full public view and debate in the mainstream media.

The New York Times carried front page stories both days this weekend. On Saturday, it highlighted the growing opposition to drones from across the political spectrum, writing that Sen. Paul’s filibuster had hit a “bipartisan nerve,” and:

“… animated a surprisingly diverse swath of political interests that includes mainstream civil liberties groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, conservative research groups, liberal activists and right-wing conspiracy theorists.”

DRONE WATCH: Drone Strike in Pakistan

The first reported drone strike in nearly a month is said to have happened Sunday morning in the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. According to The New York Times:

“Two people suspected of being militants were killed Sunday morning in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region by what Pakistani and Taliban officials said was a drone strike. … Two Pakistani officials, one in Peshawar and another in the tribal belt, said that missiles fired from a drone operated by the C.I.A. hit the two people in the village of Degan, about 20 miles from Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.”

The Long War Journal added:

 

“The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a pair of "militants" as they were riding horses in the village of Degan in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The two militants and their horses are reported to have been killed.”

 

Rand Paul, Drones, and Honor

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is seen on a TV monitor participating in a filibuster. Alex Wong/Getty Images

While I stand with Sen. Rand Paul on the question of the use of militarized spy drones in American airspace and (potentially) on Americans, I am deeply troubled by our use of these weapons in other lands, too, where they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children and other innocents.

There's something dishonorable about killing without the risk associated with the act, no matter how heinous the target or valuable and beautiful the persons you put at risk in order to personally kill.

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