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The extent of CIA drone strikes revealed
August 11, 2011 3:14 AM   Subscribe

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism have been carrying out research into the extent of drone missile strikes carried out by the CIA. Today they published findings. See also: facts and figures, a timeline, and their Twitter feed where updates are ongoing.
posted by nthdegx (56 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
CIA strikes? The data is listed under Bush and Obama. Commander-in-Chief Obama is credited with 180 drone strikes.

Ob1 – January 23 2009
♦ 7-12 total killed
♦ 7 civilians reported killed, including 1 child
♦ 1 child injured


and most recently recorded:

Ob180 – January 1 2011
♦ 7-9 total killed

In the first of four linked strikes in North Waziristan, an early morning attack on a moving car and a house killed up to nine alleged militants, possibly connected to Hafiz Gul Bahadur (LA Times)


That was eight months ago; Obama has to be way over 200 by now.

In five years (2004 - 2009) Bush only managed 52 drone strikes.

That's change you can believe in.
posted by three blind mice at 4:32 AM on August 11, 2011


I'm not clear why you guys think killing terrorists is a bad thing.
posted by joannemullen at 4:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not clear why you think killing children is an acceptable side effect of killing terrorists.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:43 AM on August 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'm not clear why killing anyone, especially terrorists, is acceptable.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:47 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, to be perfectly honest, I'm not super hot on killing anyone. But drone strikes have proven to not only be inexact enough to kill myriad civilians in their hunt for terrorists, but they have also inspired a wave of anti-American sentiment that will only result in the emboldening of new terrorists.

Drone strikes are a net loss for everyone involved.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:47 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Looking at the timeline, it seems that the transition in drone strike frequency occurred not when Obama took office, but when Musharraf resigned. 36 of Bush's 52 strikes were in the last 5 months of his presidency. Or perhaps he simply turned over the keys to Obama early.
posted by pjenks at 4:49 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not clear why you guys think killing terrorists is a bad thing.

Really not complicated. Two reasons:

1) Assassinating suspected criminals without any sort of due process is an application of "the heavy hand of government" which most Americans oppose. Really joannemullen, if you don't trust the government to run a school, why would you trust it to run a killing machine?

2) And then there are all of those dead innocent people. Particularly the children. Maybe if they were unborn, conservatives would take notice.

Conservatives will not oppose drone strikes until Iranians have the capacity to make them, then they will become the epitome of evil.
posted by three blind mice at 4:51 AM on August 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


you guys are missing the point

Robot Warriors are Awesome

Seriously.
posted by rebent at 4:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Build your own drone.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:57 AM on August 11, 2011


Assassinating suspected criminals without any sort of due process
There is no due process in a war zone. They are legally considered armed combatants.

The argument about collateral damage and children is valid - and it is deplorable.

But to argue that drone strikes against against valid targets is wrong because of due process. That is non-sense.
posted by Flood at 5:00 AM on August 11, 2011


Not just assassinating suspects without a due process. But doing it in another country without a declaration of war.
posted by DU at 5:00 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


But to argue that drone strikes against against valid targets is wrong because of due process. That is non-sense.

How about it's wrong because it's stupid and goes against the US war aims in Afghanistan (of course since those aims are somewhat unclear this might not be much of a criticism.)

But, from the tenor of these kinds of discussions I get the sense that we feel morally obligated to blow people up with robots, because it's the right thing to do.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:14 AM on August 11, 2011


There is no due process in a war zone. They are legally considered armed combatants.

War zone? Has the United States Congress declared war on Pakistan? Are any of these people "droned" while actively shooting at American soldiers? No. These are assassinations of non-uniformed "suspects".

You may call it legal, but it does not make it right.
posted by three blind mice at 5:14 AM on August 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Wasn't "we can kill all the civilians we like because we're at war and they live in a war zone" Al Qaeda's line?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:23 AM on August 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


Flood, do you believe that this war zone has any boundaries, or is anyone in the world liable to be killed by US forces?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:23 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I'm not clear why you guys think killing terrorists is a bad thing."

That's a very bold conclusion to draw, 2 comments in.
posted by nthdegx at 5:29 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Flood: "They are legally considered armed combatants."
At least until we stick them in Gitmo. What Geneva Conventions again?
posted by brokkr at 5:34 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Imagine how surprised we'll be when all this comes back to bite us on the ass in some unexpected way. I don't believe in karma, but I do believe in Newton's 3rd law of motion.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:41 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"CIA strikes?

I call them that (as do the BIJ, by the way) because it's the CIA that carries them out. I think therefore it's valid to call them CIA strikes. Don't you?
posted by nthdegx at 5:55 AM on August 11, 2011


Imagine how surprised we'll be when all this comes back to bite us on the ass in some unexpected way.

just like with the torture, they won't see it as biting us on the ass. When "we" do it, it's for the greater good, when "they" do it, it's evil and needs to be smote. I'll give you a perfect example, Vietnam. They tortured, bad. We do it, good. Them holding POWs (at least from what i see a lot of biker gangs going on about, irony there) bad, us, well they aren't POWs, they are "other", so we can do with them as we please.

This will bite us back, but not many will see it as such, thinking we can do no wrong.
posted by usagizero at 6:03 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we should reconsider our policies on drone strikes. It's too Evil Empire in character for a nation supposedly founded on belief in human dignity, reason and liberty (even given its long history of violating its ostensible ideals). There is no dignity, reason, or liberty in using lethal robots to indiscriminately kill insurgent guerrillas and whatever civilians they manage to put in their way. It's asymmetrical warfare; it's disproportionate use of force. And it's being carried out by a civilian entity, rather than a military one, in order to circumvent certain aspects of international law. It's a shameful policy, and it should be reconsidered, for its long-term costs are too high, regardless of the short term benefits.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm not clear why you guys think killing terrorists is a bad thing."


Oh! Miss, miss! I know this one!

It's because we hate your freedom.

Did I get it right?
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is news? We're at war. What the fuck do people thing is going on over there? Isn't it obvious that we're killing people? I guess I understand the outrage, because like with the WikiLeaks video a few months ago, this is a little reminder that we're not over there doing arts and crafts. But if you care enough to be pissed off by this, you should be feeling that outrage every time you wake up in the morning.

I don't think we should be there. I think it was stupid to go in the first place and think we should leave immediately. I think it's immoral. However, I can't find fault with the way we're conducting ourselves at this big picture level. Drones are precise and humane compared to tactics used in every other major conflict we've been involved in. Honestly, this report just reinforces my opinion that we're doing this the "right" way.

You can read "10 children killed" and think it's horrible, or you can remember that in every other war we've killed thousands of children. Tens of thousands. Maybe in Japan hundreds of thousands. We're not carpet bombing people, the rules of engagement are much more strict than they've been before, and the lack of danger to drone operators allows them to make decisions a lot more carefully than if they were being shot at. Drones can sit up there all day stalking people from afar and wait for the right time. Obviously even at the right time they're going to kill innocents, but killing innocent people is one of the things that separates war from policing.

This is not a humanitarian mission and we've sent soldiers to kill people. This is what you get. This is so bloody obvious that it shouldn't need saying. The drones are probably the best possible way of prosecuting this war and I'm not going to sit here being pissed off by this. I'm going to sit here being pissed off that we're there in the first place.
posted by pjaust at 6:23 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure the CIA is operating all the drones. I'm not even sure they are all US drones. IIRC Pakistan has a few that they directly command. The drones don't seem to be working.
posted by humanfont at 6:26 AM on August 11, 2011


There is a real difference between the Army killing someone with a drone and the CIA doing the same. The Army has precise rules of engagement with criminal penalties for breaking them, and a chain of command going through experienced officers all the way up to the President. The CIA has...what? A couple of secret agents in a dark room somewhere? If they screw up, is it even possible for them to get in trouble?

I don't think anyone would argue that the Army and Air Force shouldn't use drones. But the CIA directly controlling weapons near/in a war zone is something new and worrisome.
posted by miyabo at 6:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


The CIA has...what? A couple of secret agents in a dark room somewhere? If they screw up, is it even possible for them to get in trouble?

There you are conservatives: Obama Death panels. Unaccountable government death panels.

*Listens for howls of conservative pro-life protest*

*crickets*
posted by three blind mice at 6:41 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


But if you care enough to be pissed off by this, you should be feeling that outrage every time you wake up in the morning.

You don't?
posted by swift at 6:44 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


>: The drones are probably the best possible way of prosecuting this war and I'm not going to sit here being pissed off by this. I'm going to sit here being pissed off that we're there in the first place.

The United States is not at war with Pakistan, but drones are nonetheless being used in Pakistan to kill people on the ground who are not actively engaged in hostilities with U.S. forces (who shouldn't anyway be there because the U.S. is not at war with Pakistan). This is a program of state-sponsored assassination.
posted by three blind mice at 6:55 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Drone strikes are a net loss for everyone involved.

HUGE margins to be made in missiles, grasshopper.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think we should be there.

I think part of the problem is that we aren't. I mean, we aren't in Pakistan, in a meaningful way. It is neither exactly an ally or exactly hostile to our goals, but rather a deeply disrupted country whose national boundaries do not tally with the control its government can exert, making areas like North Waziristan pretty grey. So, there are some weird things about both what objectives are being served by attacks on these people, and how it plays in Pakistan itself and in other Muslim states when US-provided or US-operated technology is used to wipe out groups of people within the borders of a sovereign state and without a clear and present danger.

Which is not to say that your analysis otherwise is not accurate. But we aren't there there, and that does make a difference.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:00 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It used to be that assassination was a covert thing performed in darkness. Now it's a President's 2012 reelection platform.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:02 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Context from Channel 4 news in the UK.

Extract: "Its findings suggest the number of ordinary people killed could be 40 per cent higher than previously reported and that as many as 168 children have died since the strikes began."

In answer to your "this is news?" question, pjaust. I think so, yes.
posted by nthdegx at 7:03 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Humans haven't evolved beyond war, yet. It's not just Americans, it's humans, generally.

We have the capacity for instant evolution when it comes to the mechanical characteristics of humans (such as adding wings, gills, etc. via technology), but we can't seem to do the same thing with our morals.

Life is delicate and tenuous. Killing someone/something is not that hard. All life forms are doomed to eventual death. War just short circuits the process for some. For some of those victims, it's deserved since they willfully enter an armed struggle cognizant of the mortal risk. For others, it's unfortunate, but not uncommon, any more than car wrecks, disease, or murder. The unfairness of being a bystander sucks, but we haven't killed anyone in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Vietnam for that matter by comparison to other conflicts. To truly get a handle on non-combatant deaths, consider the 40 million peeps snuffed in WW2. A bunch of soldiers, of course, but a huge pile of non-combatants.

If war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means, then the best we can do is be as precise as possible, if we refuse to give it up as an option. That's what appears to be happening here. I think the ratio of enemies to innocents is pretty high. For that, at least, we could be a little grateful.

Most humans condone and support killing. Witness our meat centric food supply. Death is something we accept if it's in our interests, as long as we don't have to do it.

Most humans would kill for self-preservation. As they say, we're three days away from cannibalism. Under the right circumstances, adjustments are made. Donner Pass, anyone? Chilean air crash? Unknown shipwrecks? The NRA preaches it. Popular culture promotes it. Nothing effectively oppose it, and the presence of chaplains in uniform disqualifies organized religion, which seems mostly to be interested in where you are allowed to place your genitals and could give a shit about war. Gott mit uns!

Most humans are pretty lazy cowards. People will scream about how evil we are in war, yet will risk not one drop of sweat, money, blood or work to impede it. Ask yourself... what did I do to prevent war in my life? Anything more than holding a sign at a protest?

Would it be moral for us to kill all of our war loving fellow countrymen in the interests of the species? How else can we restrain them? How can we keep the folks who don't fight in wars from initiating them? To mirror the thought experiment of going back in time and killing Hitler, would it be any worse to go back in time and snuff Bush and Cheney? Who here advocates that viewpoint?

We're not the good guys. We're members of the Club of Humanity, and that club is a pretty disgusting and self-interested lot, ruled by people who are giving us what we want... safe places to play with our toys or the power to have our way with our fellow villagers... warm places to comfortably die in bed as old people, never having experienced hunger or misery. We'd pay any price, including the soul of our species.

It's not just Americans. Any serious student of history knows that's how we are. It may just be our fatal flaw as a species. We could be so wonderful, but we really just want our safety. Fck everyone else. Me first!
posted by FauxScot at 7:09 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ask yourself... what did I do to prevent war in my life? Anything more than holding a sign at a protest?

I've done everything within my power as circumstances have allowed (protested, vocally and financially supported political candidates and groups in the opposition, written and performed protest songs, agitated for opposition, took steps to reduce my family's own personal energy consumption, etc.)

But you're asking the wrong people that question. You should really only be asking these questions of those who actually have political power to exercise. Most of us for all practical purposes have jack squat in terms of our ability to influence the political process. We can vote, but our choices are forced and representational power is distributed unequally in congress, in some part due to rules of party seniority and the committee system. Apart from literally eating the rich, or not signing up for the military, what are we supposed to do?

I mean, aren't you basically saying: "Just because you've done everything within your legal power to prevent war, that doesn't mean you're not to blame when it happens anyway. It's your fault no matter what, as much as it is the politically powerful."

That's perverse, schoolyard bullying logic. Only the people with the power to make and affect decisions are ultimately responsible for those decisions, especially when the rest of us have such historically little political and social clout. Voters who support such decision makers are also culpable, to a degree, but ultimately, responsibility must begin and end at the top.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:46 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's only going to get 'better'. Our scientists have developed a new material for bomb casings so that fragments "penetrate a target's skin, followed by a rapid and sustained combustion/explosion".
posted by nomisxid at 7:57 AM on August 11, 2011


I think pjaust has at least part of the answer. Compared to other the methods of warfare, the drone strikes are far more precise and kill far fewer civilians.

The other aspect is that the drone strikes essentially eliminate the risk to American and NATO troops. Sending combat troops to these areas would lead to far more deaths, both civilian and combatant, and at far greater cost. If you think drone attacks lead to resentment of Americans, try 50,000 combat troops.

The third aspect is there is essentially no other way to get to these people. This is a war, even though not declared, but the combat lines are not well defined. The targets live amongst and surround themselves with civilians far from any "front" line. They do not wear uniforms to identify themselves as fighters.

Finally, I don't buy the moral equivalence argument that some seem to put forth here. The Taliban aided and abetted the people who destroyed the Twin Towers--an obvious act of war with no declaration and a clear violation of the rules of war. These are the people throwing acid into the face of women just because they go to school. The world would be better off without them. If they cannot be destroyed, they should at least be kept from power.

Now that Bin Laden is dead, perhaps Al Qaeda is sufficiently weakened that NATO can and should withdraw, but that doesn't mean that the fighting isn't justified.

It's easy to be armchair generals--myself included. If there are credible alternatives for which others are willing to risk the life and limb of themselves, friends, or relatives, let's hear them.
posted by haiku warrior at 7:59 AM on August 11, 2011


God this is upsetting. And with almost no mention of the effects of drone strikes on witnesses and operators--or of the adoption of CIA-styled drone operations in American skies--it is still only a small part of the story.

When only a small part of the story is that terrifying and upsetting, you know you're in trouble.
posted by broadway bill at 9:24 AM on August 11, 2011


U.S. Doubles Down on Afghan Air War; 650 Strikes in July
posted by homunculus at 10:02 AM on August 11, 2011


Is this something that I'd have to understand war to understand?
posted by humboldt32 at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Credible alternative: turn the drone war in Pakistan over to the US Army. Publicly release all data about each strike 1 week after it has happened, including photos and intelligence about the target if the attack was successful. Pay a few hundred dollars of compensation to families of civilian victims as is done in Iraq.

I don't think this is much at all to ask.
posted by miyabo at 10:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the purpose of a suicide bomber is to inspire fear by making people feel that they are potentially going to be killed at any moment out of nowhere then how is that different than a drone strike?

Terrorism works (where works = perpetuates the need for the terrorist) very well.

Fucking dirty dirty business.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:08 PM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree, miyabo , that compensation of victims is the right thing to do, if the families can be reached.

However, I don't see how the other suggestions will either reduce the number of civilian casualties or increase the effectiveness of these operations. Perhaps I am missing something. Can you explain your reasoning?
posted by haiku warrior at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2011


Drones are great for US domestic politics: Enemies get killed, US personnel do not, and dead civilians don't get much publicity.

Expect their continued enthusiastic use, at least through the next presidential election.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:29 PM on August 11, 2011


Right now, some nameless guy at the CIA can blow up a family's house if he pushes the wrong button or is having a bad day, with zero consequences. That power needs to be within the oversight and structure of a formal military campaign.
posted by miyabo at 2:07 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


A CIA guy can't just fire a missile without a chain of command, and specific orders and paperwork. It doesn't work that way. It just doesn't. Whoever told you that didn't know what they were talking about. What is happening is done with lots of oversight and control. It spent change the outcome.
posted by humanfont at 2:28 PM on August 11, 2011


C.I.A. Claim of No Civilian Deaths From Drone Strikes Is Disputed
posted by homunculus at 5:55 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


pjaust:"we're not over there doing arts and crafts"

Because a country that spends half its national budget on "defence" has no other means of achieving its foreign policy objectives.
posted by sneebler at 6:44 PM on August 11, 2011


I'm sure most of those strikes were just teenage hijinx.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:53 PM on August 11, 2011


Haiku W makes an interesting case. However easy it is to rationalise this way (they did actually declare war btw), what we are really talking about is a few tiny groups of militant objectors who have come to the realisation that its easy these days to strike terror. Lets not forget that OBL's stated strayegy was to draw USA into a war it couldnt extract itself from before it ran out of money. Its certainly too early to call, but who's currently winning that game?

AQ is a convenient villian, but the US is fighting any millitant group that finds it convenient to credit or associate themselves with AQ. Terrorists have always been present in Western Society. They aren't much more of a threat to the US than they were in the 90's. Face it, one of them just got ambitious and shocked them. The only looming threat to the US seems to be the money it is costing.

I'm rambling, but trying to rationalise a drone program needs first to be based on a firm footing, not the wet dreams of an egomanic government.
posted by bigZLiLk at 2:44 AM on August 12, 2011


Wow. And just think how many more dead children there might have been were they not being bombed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
posted by DavidandConquer at 4:37 PM on August 12, 2011


Makers Of Military Drone Aircraft Gearing Up For Major Public Relations Offensive, Including Outreach To Kids
posted by homunculus at 5:19 PM on August 12, 2011


Democracy Now interview with Chris Woods, the reporter who leads the drones investigation team for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
posted by homunculus at 10:45 AM on August 15, 2011


Weird, Birdlike Mystery Drone Crashes in Pakistan
posted by homunculus at 11:54 AM on August 29, 2011


Oh my God, they killed Lazerbeak.

YOU BASTARDS!
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2011


The World's First Airport Dedicated Strictly to Unmanned Drones Will Open in Wales
posted by homunculus at 10:53 PM on August 31, 2011


How the CIA Became ‘One Hell of a Killing Machine’
posted by homunculus at 5:36 PM on September 2, 2011


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