The White House has made an odd admission. On the one hand, it says in a drone strike, it mistakenly killed an American and an Italian held hostage by al-Qaeda. On the other, it says in the same way, it killed two other Americans – al-Qaeda’s American spokesman Adam Gadahn and another American al-Qaeda leader, Ahmed Farouq – that it didn’t intend to kill, but it is apparently unashamed that it did so without putting them on trial – a quaint constitutionally-protected right which, like those guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments – no longer applies in today’s Washington. In other words, we are all supposed to take the word of U.S. officials who have been caught lying over and over for years on end – that the men deserved to be killed – and who gives a damn about due process. Remember – if the Constitution doesn’t apply to the most disliked and evil-hearted wrongdoer – it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Yet another quaint reality American officials appear to have dispensed with.
Yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s wrong with the the current drone program being conducted by the Obama Administration. For the Guardian, columnist Spencer Ackerman examines what we know of ‘signature strikes’ – which ‘permits the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.’:
Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.
“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.
The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.
America’s Drone War: ‘Without Legal Basis’ (Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany)
Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.
The “signatures” at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts associate with terrorist behavior – in practice, a gathering of men, teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In 2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers “three guys doing jumping jacks” a signature of terrorist training.
Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental. They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business – only the real cost is shielded from the public.
An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor even how they define legally critical terms like “combatant”, terrorist “affiliate” or “leader”. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands of people.
The National Security Agency has a complementary term to describe the effects of its mass surveillance on the world’s emails, texts, phone records, webcams, gaming and all other forms of communication: “incidental collection”. Incidental collection is all of the untold trillions of communications data NSA and its partners hoover up that have nothing to do with terrorism or espionage. That collection may not be, strictly speaking, intentional – those communications are not NSA’s “targets” – but it is neither accidental nor, by the logic of bulk surveillance, avoidable.
William Kern, founder of www.worldmeets.us, is the inventor of trans-copyediting, a system for checking the accuracy of translated copy into multiple languages. Since 2005, managing a team of dedicated volunteer translators, Kern has edited, packaged and posted thousands of columns of news and opinion about America from publications around the world and from every major language, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Swedish, Spanish, Hungarian and Farsi. From the height of the Iraq war to the annexation of Crimea right up to today, Kern and his team have provided intelligence to the American people by opening up a whole new media world.
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