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May 29, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

The NYT reports on how a Secret 'Kill List' tests Obama's principles and will

Previous articles in the series
posted by lalochezia (189 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a good thing the NYT didn't destroy all of its credibility relentlessly cheerleading us into war while intentionally passing along misinformation about WMDs. Because if it had destroyed all of its credibility by doing so, then future administrations would worry about spoon-feeding them information, knowing that the reading public had caught on. It's a good thing.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:23 PM on May 29, 2012 [19 favorites]


The president’s reliance on strikes, said Mr. Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “is far from a lurid fascination with covert action and special forces. It’s much more practical. He’s the president. He faces a post-Abdulmutallab situation, where he’s being told people might attack the United States tomorrow.”

“You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “Those laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.”


Mister Leiter, you might want to sit down, I have some, how do you say, intel, for you.
posted by dubold at 2:28 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

-

The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:29 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the NYT article:
In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.

They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing.
My mom, Ann Althouse, responds:
Is there really a paradox here? He has chosen not to close Guantanamo, but to make it a low-profile political issue by never sending anyone there, and to build his reputation as tough on terrorism by regularly blowing somebody away.
posted by John Cohen at 2:39 PM on May 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


A writer I like classifies early stages of discussion of these ethical situations as "What could it hurt?," and the later ones as "How were we supposed to know!"
posted by resurrexit at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


Is there really a paradox here? He has chosen not to close Guantanamo, but to make it a low-profile political issue by never sending anyone there, and to build his reputation as tough on terrorism by regularly blowing somebody away.

It's a veridical paradox. It seems contradictory, but there's a perfectly coherent thread of logic running through his strategy. It might not be the logic we want, but there it is.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:44 PM on May 29, 2012


It is a strange new world we line in, I'm not sure it is a bad thing that the leaders who start our wars are now able to look each of the victims of it in the eye, if only through pictures.

If when elephants fight it is the grass that suffers, I'm glad that Obama is at least looking down.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:47 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like how the NYT uses a picture of President Obama making a "gun hand" while on the phone. It's a subtle hint of aggression, like that pistol-grip flatware you sometimes see.
posted by chavenet at 2:57 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an independent, this to me is just another President in a long line of Presidents who is killing people. And like everyone else, I hope it's the bad guys.
posted by Avenger50 at 2:59 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.

It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Jesus H. Christ
posted by brundlefly at 3:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [28 favorites]


Is there really a paradox here? He has chosen not to close Guantanamo, but to make it a low-profile political issue by never sending anyone there, and to build his reputation as tough on terrorism by regularly blowing somebody away.

There's no paradox at all. It's called adjusting to reality. Obama signed an order to shut down Guantanamo on his 3rd day in office. Congress blocked him from doing that.

It's nice how the author handwaves that all away as Obama "shunning the legislative deal-making required." That's like people who say "He should have pushed single-payer health care through Congress," as if all he had to do was says the words and it would be so.
posted by msalt at 3:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [24 favorites]


"America is the one true beacon of pragmatism in the world" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald has highlighted a chilling takeaway. Who are these "militants" that the strikes kill, and how can the administration claim so few civilian casualties? NYT:
It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.
How do we know our strikes kill only militants? Easy: a "militant" is anyone who's killed by our strikes.
posted by grobstein at 3:04 PM on May 29, 2012 [25 favorites]


Why can't the President do something classy like releasing another deck of playing cards?
posted by smithsmith at 3:12 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]



I wonder how long before China and Russia start using drones to kill their 'terrorists'. Can't wait for our response to that event.
posted by dealing away at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


China and Russia both have no problem whatsoever killing folk using less exotic means, TBH.
posted by Artw at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Just as the US had no problem accidentally bombing weddings before drones. Presumably having a pilot several thousand feet up from the bomb made that less exciting and interesting though)
posted by Artw at 3:20 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.

Jesus Christ. I guess George Zimmerman has a career as a counter-terrorism official waiting for him after his current troubles resolve themselves.

Are we at "Anybody who runs is a terrorist, anybody who stands still is a well-disciplined terrorist!" yet or did we already pass that point of madness/self-parody?
posted by lord_wolf at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

That's fucking horrifying.
And sadly unsurprising, given how enemy casualties were recorded in Vietnam.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:23 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?
posted by Postroad at 3:32 PM on May 29, 2012


This May was the first time in my life where I did not vote for president in a primary. I like many things he has done but I draw a line in the sand this side of a pile of murdered children.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:35 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?

I dunno, some other countries seem to be getting along well enough without the robot bombs though. We could ask them?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:40 PM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Again: Why are robot bombs special?
posted by Artw at 3:45 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?

Gee I dunno, maybe we ought to stop killing all their young people?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2012 [22 favorites]


“You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “Those laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.”

Is there any evidence that the drone strikes are effective? Is there any evidence that the time and money isn't better used elsewhere? Is there any evidence that the tremendous political and moral costs of waging mass-murder against a fundamentally civilian population are doing anything to prevent even greater catastrophe later?

But see I'm no longer shocked by such utterances from Americans. Americans absolutely love to paint themselves as "pragmatic" or "realistic" but they're anything but as the last decade so wonderfully reveals. And even after all this pointless carnage, after the wholesale destruction of two countries, after making the world a significantly more dangerous place -- here they are, right back at it, blowing up people and places and insisting it's "necessary."

Here's the thing: the President is a coward. He's not a man of honor who's able to "hold himself up." (I doubt any of these unnamed officials who skulk around in the heart of the military-industrial complex are.) But he's not stupid either. He only does these things because he knows he won't be held accountable. He knows there will never be any real transparency or public investigation into this widespread killing of civilians. Fundamentally he must understand that not only will the people never hold him accountable for these war crimes but in all likelihood they will ask more. And so this is why he does it. Not because it's "pragmatic" -- indeed, just the opposite. It's cheap, easy, produces "results" -- and even if it doesn't work, well, it's not like there's plenty more "militants" where they come from.

And so this is precisely what happens when you let cowards operate in secrecy without accountability. All sorts of disgusting behavior and evil logic get rationalized away and after a while it seems that's just the way the system works -- until such corrupt, deliberately obscure systems (a la Wall St.) inevitably collapse. And when shit hits the fan everybody will collectively ask how could this have happened while the perpetrators slither away.

What's really sad is there's not anybody on the inside who's actually pragmatic enough to stand up and ask: What is going on here? Why are we doing this? Where is the evidence? Is there a better way?
posted by nixerman at 3:49 PM on May 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?

Don't kid yourself Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!
posted by LordSludge at 3:54 PM on May 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I mean really. What is that? "There's a bunch of young people in all these countries who are itching for a chance to attack America, and y'all are quibbling over some innocent dead. Well, what's YOUR bright idea?" Is this 2003 or something? You deal with it the same way you always do - with actual, real, verifiable intelligence, cooperation with local authorities and soldiers on the ground. Sucks that it's more dangerous that way in the short term, but hey, how many terrorists do you think are created by dropping bombs on civilians in the long term? Are we really still having this discussion? Guess we are.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:58 PM on May 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?

I'd make the minimization of civilian casualties the primary concern. If we can't do it without blowing away people we don't know for goddamn sure are terrorists, then we should wait for a clearer shot. And if that's not convenient, oh well, war sucks, don't it?

We would have fewer enemies, and look better in going after the ones we actually have, if we handled it with something closer to that moral high ground we claim to care about.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I dunno, some other countries seem to be getting along well enough without the robot bombs though. We could ask them?

Gee I dunno, maybe we ought to stop killing all their young people?


This is a bit chicken-and-egg, isn't it? I mean, on September 10th 2001, we weren't engaged in a sustained military campaign against anyone int he Middle East. Putting the worst possible cast on it, we were maintaining an oppressive no-fly zone in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein seethed and lots of civilians suffered. That doesn't really explain why a bunch of Saudi Arabians (with whom we have never been at war) decided to fly planes into buildings in New York. Nor does it explain why the Taliban, over in Afghanistan, were operating a horrifically oppressive regime which was the subject of international condemnation.

We should certainly not be making policy or taking military decisions today based on the events of 10 years, but my point is that we don't do these things in a vacuum. It's not liek the world was in some state of blissful harmony and then we just started drone-bombing people to relieve the boredom. I'm not asking for any blanket approval for military action, but we should acknowledge that there are some threats to the US, or to our-allies-by-treaty that are not necessarily in response to our previous activity.

I would also observe that drone strikes, even ones that assume all casualties to be enemies rather than innocent civilians, still kill far, far fewer people than past strategies such as carpet bombing. So even if you disagree with the US conducting any military activity whatsoever, ever, anywhere, for any reason, this method of waging war appears to be considerably less destructive than those of the past.

You deal with it the same way you always do - with actual, real, verifiable intelligence, cooperation with local authorities and soldiers on the ground.

Of course, but dealing with it that way is still going to result in people getting killed. Are you saying that we should only engage in human-scale combat, and eschew any kind of air or remote support? I'm not being rhetorical here - if that's your position, that's perfectly reasonable, although I think shooting people in person seems just as likely to result in some wrongful deaths of civilians.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Again: Why are robot bombs special?

Some of those countries don't publicly (at least) use any methods to assassinate people in other countries.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:16 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?

There are Americans in America that given a chance would like to kill other Americans... Do we just drone strike them first and ask questions later?
posted by spicynuts at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


Dear Spicynuts:

you are kidding, right? If you think drones are not killing those who would kill us and our allies, the sample this for a day or so of drone strikes and what they were doing...and pay some attention to : Omar Hammami calls for establishment of global caliphate--He is an American jihadist and he wants all jihadists to unite and work toward a caliphate...so, no, I don't worry about a few bad guys in America. We
now use drones along Mexican border, though I imagine stopping drugs and illegals is not nice either
posted by Postroad at 4:28 PM on May 29, 2012


Having a war on terror is like fucking for abstinence. The only thing we are accomplishing in our war on terror is providing a Raison d'être for our military machine and not incidentally the greatest recruitment tool the jihad could dream of.

We may have killed Osama (there's some evidence he's been dead from at least 2006), but he won none-the-less. According to Che, Mao et.al. the purpose of terrorist acts is to cause the reactionary oppressor to increase repression, waste treasure, good will and provide recruitment opportunity to the terrorist. We are behaving as puppets on a string. We've created generations of troubles for our country.
posted by shnarg at 4:29 PM on May 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Nice to take the moral high road but the fact is there are people in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan , Iran etc etc that would, given any sort of chance, attempt to kill Americans...how will you deal with that?

We might make it harder for them by refusing to send any more Americans to their part of the world. Just a thought.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:30 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Omar Hammami calls for establishment of global caliphate

Well, I call for all americans to be turned into delicous moon milk, for the lunar gods to feast SSSSSSHHHHHOOOOOMM POW. ....lost signal
posted by lalochezia at 4:31 PM on May 29, 2012


We may have killed Osama (there's some evidence he's been dead from at least 2006)

Skkkkrrrrriiiiittttttccchhhh
[citation needed]
posted by anigbrowl at 4:36 PM on May 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


Of course, but dealing with it that way is still going to result in people getting killed. Are you saying that we should only engage in human-scale combat, and eschew any kind of air or remote support? I'm not being rhetorical here - if that's your position, that's perfectly reasonable, although I think shooting people in person seems just as likely to result in some wrongful deaths of civilians.

Oh, it can be done from the air, too, if you're fortunate enough to get a clear strike. What I take issue with is the guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to dropping bombs on brown people, that their gender and age is actual evidence that their innocence needs to be proven beforehand. That's repugnant, and probably likely to stir up some very justifiable feelings of anger and vengeance in the populous. I mean now that we have the technology and sophistication of intelligence to be more precise in these operations, why would we not take that opportunity?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2012


I see your point, but I think we're actually reaching that objective. Taking the worst-case estimate, drone strikes in Pakistan seem to have resulted in as many as 3150 deaths over the last 7 years. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan over the last decade are estimated at about 15,000.

By historical standards this is very, very low. I'm not saying that that makes it OK, but we do need to consider which way the trend is pointing, and I'm saying that it over the long term it seems to be headed markedly downward as far as military activity by the US is concerned.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:51 PM on May 29, 2012


I do hope you're right.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:54 PM on May 29, 2012


I wish a president of the United States could be electred who was a pacifist.

But that's a vain dream, though many of you seem to share the idea that it is a failure of America not to achieve it.

I dunno, some other countries seem to be getting along well enough without the robot bombs though. We could ask them?


Truth is, no major powers are pacifist countries. None. All of them kill others, or their own people, both innocents and not-so-innocents. With robot bombs or otherwise. Obama is killing fewer people, and getting fewer americans killed in the process, and sending fewer americans into foreign countries, than the previous president. By far.

You and I would want him to kill none at all. But that's not going to happen. And even if it should, it would help ensure a fellow named Romney would be president, and Dick Cheney would be in charge again. There's a good chance that will happen anyway.
posted by tommyD at 5:00 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do hope you're right.

So do I. I do get the strong impression, from watching various members of the Joint Chiefs talking to Charlie Rose, that harm reduction is a major priority for the administration.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:06 PM on May 29, 2012


I'm not on board with the idea that POTUS just unilaterally decides who gets murdered today upon recommendation of various staffers.
posted by humanfont at 5:13 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, if Anwar al Awlaki - who is somehow the posterchild for secret drone strikes being bad despite nothing about the US wanting him dead being a secret and being about as deserving of that sort of thing as a person can be - had been taken out by exploding underwear or bomb inside a toner cartridge per his own whacky hijinks then it would be better than the robot bomb somehow?
posted by Artw at 5:15 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Truth is, no major powers are pacifist countries. None.

I think we can find a balance between pacifism and the current overzealous state of our national security complex. I think you will find it difficult to argue that this balance does not mean sliding way, way into the less militaristic direction from our current situation which makes it difficult to use "pacifism can't work" as an argument for the status quo.

Also, I don't give a fuck about being a major power.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:20 PM on May 29, 2012


Glenn Greenwald has highlighted a chilling takeaway.

Here's his latest piece about the NYTimes article:

Obama the Warrior: A new NYT article sheds considerable light on the character of the Democratic Commander-in-Chief
posted by homunculus at 5:25 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it's not the staus quo. Obama is indeed moving toward fewer deaths. Perhaps he could do it faster, but insisting on the perfect will elimniate the possibility of the good. So I'm a pragmatist.

Also, I don't give a fuck about being a major power.

I can dig it, but there's not enough of you to matter.
posted by tommyD at 5:27 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obama is killing fewer people, and getting fewer americans killed in the process, and sending fewer americans into foreign countries, than the previous president. By far.

If we agree that a country which is a significant world power is occasionally required to kill people, then why must the process be highly secretive and outside normal forms of review? If we are to acknowledge that in an imperfect world, the state reserves the right to assassinate, then shouldn't we have a more transparent and open process to ensure that this right isn’t abused?
posted by kithrater at 5:30 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Postroad : Strong border controls, good external and internal intelligence co-operation, and a vigilant, active citizenry who will not sit still for a terror attack. I mean, just a thought, the secret assassination program that allows the president absolute power to execute anyone he and a small, secret coterie of advisers deems a threat to national security probably has it's good points too.

For some reason though, I keep thinking though of Butcher Harris' old line. "The Germans entered the war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else, and no-one was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.". Don't know why. Line's on my line a lot recently.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:35 PM on May 29, 2012


But it's not the staus quo. Obama is indeed moving toward fewer deaths. Perhaps he could do it faster, but insisting on the perfect will elimniate the possibility of the good. So I'm a pragmatist.

Being less militaristic means making serious, big time cuts to our national security spending and infrastructure, especially overseas. A Republican will be president again at some point in the future, so Obama's careful stewardship of the power he commands will become irrelevant at that point.

I do understand the political reality here that this isn't going to happen, that is fine, just don't try and tell me it is in any meaningful way.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:35 PM on May 29, 2012


The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Making Obama Awlaki's judge, jury, and executioner.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:53 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


> It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.


This sounds like the Doctor Strangelove movie.
posted by bukvich at 6:08 PM on May 29, 2012


Where the Drones Are: Mapping the launch pads for Obama's secret wars.
posted by homunculus at 6:28 PM on May 29, 2012


Being less militaristic means making serious, big time cuts to our national security spending and infrastructure, especially overseas.

How about $487 billion over 10 years? The Republicans are already howling about the relatively modest cuts Obama is proposing and the more stringent ones that he negotiated as part of the debt-ceiling deal.

Making Obama Awlaki's judge, jury, and executioner.

So, you're saying that he pushed the button himself with no input from anyone else? Because you seem to think the President is the executive branch, as opposed to the head of it.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:36 PM on May 29, 2012


Andrew Bacevich: Unleashed: Globalizing the Global War on Terror
posted by homunculus at 6:37 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tonight on Frontline: Inside Al Qaeda in Yemen
posted by homunculus at 6:39 PM on May 29, 2012


So, you're saying that he pushed the button himself with no input from anyone else? Because you seem to think the President is the executive branch, as opposed to the head of it.

When the president says "Yes, kill that guy, because on my informed judgment, he should die and I have the authority to order him killed" he is acting in the capacity of judge ("Anwar Awlaki is a threat to the United States"), jury ("He deserves to die for it and the consequences of such a killing are acceptable") and executioner ("Kill him with a drone"). If the article is to be believed, Obama has personal control over who gets killed (perhaps not by the CIA's strikes? it was unclear) and was even more involved with Awlaki, because the latter was an American citizen. It's not like anyone in the executive branch could have overruled the decision Obama made. And we can't evaluate the legal justification because he chose to keep the memo secret.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:52 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


How about $487 billion over 10 years?

Sounds like a good start, how's that going?

The Pentagon’s top-line budget request is $525 billion for fiscal 2013, with $88.4 billion more for overseas contingency operations, mostly in Afghanistan. This is down from $531 billion and $115 billion for fiscal 2012.

WASHINGTON—A Senate panel on Thursday rejected the Pentagon's proposed cuts in personnel and equipment for the Air National Guard as it completed a far-reaching, $631 billion defense budget for next year.

Look, I'm not condemning Obama here. It's clear the spending is an out of control freight train. I just think it's good to be clear that the problems remain to be addressed and when it does it is quite possible to remain secure without the crazy train.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:58 PM on May 29, 2012


Artw asked: Again: Why are robot bombs special?


In my opinion (and many others feel this way too) the rise of drone warfare is pretty seriously affecting the psychology of war, and the reaction Americans have to war, technology, and surveillance.

For one thing, lots of people have researched operators and drone technicians and concluded that the risks of PTSD are just as high as those engaged in traditional combat. Which, if you think about it, makes sense, because drone operators have the opportunity to live a semi-normal life outside of their jobs in bunkers, which makes it more difficult to compartmentalize the entire experience. They have to deal with killing people for a 9 to 5, then coming home to their family for dinner. Of course, PTSD is a huge issue no matter how it happens, but we seem quick to assume that drones can somehow decrease or eliminate PTSD.

Also, beyond those individual effects, drone usage is really changing the way we view war, and not in a good way (in my opinion, at least). Drones provide a technological barrier between us, the enemy, and our perception of war. In this (PDF) paper, Wall and Monahan argue that drones are problematic for several reasons, including desensitizing Americans to militarized technological surveillance, causing "variation, difference, and noise that may impede action or introduce moral ambiguity," and the "dehumanizing translation of bodies into ‘targets’ for remote monitoring and destruction."

Of course, any military action that results in dead innocents is a very very bad thing, regardless of whether or not we're talking about drone attacks (personally, I am opposed to any military or military action whatsoever) or not. So, in that sense, drones aren't exactly "special" or anything. They are just another tool we have developed to kill people effectively. To me, though, the way drones have reframed the narratives of war, policing, and surveillance is pretty dangerous stuff.
posted by broadway bill at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [15 favorites]


First, those words don't mean what you seem to think they mean. executioner, for example, is the person who actually carries out the sentence, not the person who chooses it. And as jury, you need to consider the pool of people who are informing the judgment, who are the subject of this FPP, and whose opinions Obama reputedly relies upon. As for his occupying the role of judge and making the decision, that's why we have an executive branch in the first place, and also why we make it elective and limit officeholders to only two terms.

And we can't evaluate the legal justification because he chose to keep the memo secret.

True. So would I, in the short term. As I've said before in relation to Awlaki, there was nothing stopping him publicly turning himself into law enforcement (eg via the embassy of some third country within Yemen) and requesting his day in a US court. The US made it abundantly clear that he was considered an outlaw and wanted dead or alive. He had abundant constructive notice; if he was convinced of his own innocence, maybe he should have sought political asylum with some professedly neutral country.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:12 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The US made it abundantly clear that he was considered an outlaw and wanted dead or alive.

Was there an official pronouncement by the US Government that they wanted Awlaki dead or alive, prior to his killing?
posted by kithrater at 7:24 PM on May 29, 2012


Truth is, no major powers are pacifist countries. None. All of them kill others, or their own people, both innocents and not-so-innocents.

However, many of the happiest countries aren't into killing others. And happiness is the ultimate measure of prosperity.

In the face of metrics and studies, being a major power looks like something of a mirage, a red herring. There's this feeling that it's a good thing to be, yet Americans lead more stressed, more diseased, shorter lives than other places that haven't had as many breaks. A huge part of that (perhaps the biggest part of that) is an addiction to spending everyone's treasure on power instead of prosperity.

That isn't going to change, I'm just think it's worth remembering that spending the family fortune on keeping up with the jones's, is an own-goal.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:27 PM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:53 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Putting the worst possible cast on it, we were maintaining an oppressive no-fly zone in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein seethed and lots of civilians suffered. That doesn't really explain why a bunch of Saudi Arabians (with whom we have never been at war) decided to fly planes into buildings in New York.

Actually, it does. The stated motivations for the September 11 attacks were the sanctions against Iraq, the presence of the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia (used as a base for enforcing those sanctions), and U.S. support for Israel.

So, two of the three stated motivations for the attacks were directly related to the sanctions against Iraq.
posted by jedicus at 8:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


To add to what kithrater says about an open process, the government's insistence on framing civilian casualties as accidental is morally bankrupt (even when talking about "authentic" civilians and not the appalling doublespeak definition of combatants quoted above). For instance, Press Secretary Carney talks about doing "everything we can to avoid civilian casualties."

Yes, those deaths are "unintentional" in the sense that the US military isn't selecting civilians as primary targets. But military actions inevitably yield civilian casualties. I'd prefer to hear the argument that explains what merits the loss of those lives instead of the mealy-mouthed 'we do everything we can to minimize civilian casualties.'
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are becoming Skynet.
posted by humanfont at 8:11 PM on May 29, 2012


BLITZER: But they are inspired, if you will, by someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born cleric in Yemen. You, meaning the United States government, you tried to kill him after Bin Laden, but narrowly missed, right?

NAPOLITANO: They are inspired. It is that ideology, and Awlaki has been a potential - you know, a very active propagandist as it were for al Qaeda and its ideology.

BLITZER: He's wanted dead or alive, right?

NAPOLITANO: He is wanted. Yes.

BLITZER: Dead or alive?

NAPOLITANO: Yes.

BLITZER: Even though he's an American citizen?

NAPOLITANO: This has been of concern, but yes, he is a very active member of al Qaeda.
Thank you. This is interesting when contrasted with the background of the judgement of the case brought by Awlaki's father:
But despite the United States's expressed "concern" regarding Anwar Al-Aulaqi's "familiarity with the West" and his "role in AQAP," ... the United States has not yet publicly charged Anwar Al-Aulaqi with any crime...

The United States has neither confirmed nor denied the allegation that it has issued a "standing order" authorizing the CIA and JSOC to kill plaintiff's son... Additionally, the United States has neither confirmed nor denied whether -- if it has, in fact, authorized the use of lethal force against plaintiff's son -- the authorization was made with regard to whether Anwar Al-Aulaqi presents a concrete, specific, and imminent threat to life, or whether there were reasonable means short of lethal force that could be used to address any such threat.
As such, I would not consider a brief mention by an official on a talk show as constituting an official pronouncement. As much as I would be amused by the bizarre spectacle of alleged terrorists across the world desperately tuning in to Wolf Blitzer to find out who is going to be next to get a death notice, if we are to embrace the new regime of targeted killings I hope the government developes a more dignified process to inform the populace of these decisions.
posted by kithrater at 8:16 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh for heaven's sake, it's not like it went out just once on CNN and if you missed it, too bad. The US's gunning for al-Awlaki was common knowledge; there was a MeFi thread about it, and you'll find abundant contemporary documentation of his targeting in that FPP and the ensuing commentary. It's extremely disingenuous to pretend that his targeting was not globally well known. I just provided a link to CNN video because it featured a cabinet member giving a very straight and unambiguous answer to the question.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:19 PM on May 29, 2012


I don't think Al-Awlaki could have "turned himself in" to a US court in the absence of some court order directing him to do so. It's not as though he had been charged or indicted or whatever. In any event, he was in Yemen, with no US representatives around or any means of reaching them. Also, I suppose it would have been the duty of any US representatives to report his presence to the US military, who had orders to execute him.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:21 PM on May 29, 2012


Well if you keep reading the judgement:

The United States has, however, repeatedly stated that if Anwar Al-Aulaqi "were to surrender orotherwise present himself to the proper authorities in a peaceful and appropriate manner, legal principles with which the United States has traditionally and uniformly complied would prohibit using lethal force or other violence against him in such circumstances."

However, I don't think it's reasonable to ask someone to surrender to a nation that has tortured and otherwise illegally detained without charge well known terrorism suspects they managed to get their hands on, regardless of any principles claimed.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:40 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


US's gunning for al-Awlaki was common knowledge

It doesn't matter to me whether or not his targeting was "well known". What matters is how his targeting was known. My complaint is that, if we decide that targeted killings are a tragic but necessary function of the state, then targeted killings should be subject to some form of review and bound by a process to at least attempt to prevent abuses - the same treatment that applies to other tragic but necessary functions of the state.

I do not find unnamed "officials" leaking information to the press and brief discussions on talk shows a sufficient process. I do not find secret meetings convened by the US Executive a sufficient process either.

I just provided a link to CNN video because it featured a cabinet member giving a very straight and unambiguous answer to the question.

I asked if there was an official pronouncement. You provided one that I did not find sufficiently official. I am aware that you probably provided an easily located source. That's OK.

I don't think it's reasonable to ask someone to surrender to a nation that has tortured and otherwise illegally detained without charge well known terrorism suspects

It's an interesting discussion, to be sure. It's not really asking Awlaki to surrender, but rather that because Awlaki could theoretically surrender and gain access to the legal system, his father doesn't qualify for "next friend" standing on Awlaki's behalf (or at least, that's my friend of it. Not a lawyer).
posted by kithrater at 9:50 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


...all of which reasons are why I suggested publicly entering some other embassy in Yemen.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:52 PM on May 29, 2012


It probably wouldn't be entirely safe for him to enter a major city in Yemen and start knocking on doors to see who wants to deal with his problem.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:22 PM on May 29, 2012


I do not find unnamed "officials" leaking information to the press and brief discussions on talk shows a sufficient process. I do not find secret meetings convened by the US Executive a sufficient process either.

Janet Napolitano is a US cabinet secretary, how much more senior do you want? did you follow any of the news reports in the FPP I linked to documenting the administration's statements to Congress and releases of the information to the world's largest press agencies?

I don't really care what you find sufficient. First you question whether he could even have known he was targeted, and when I show that there was ample publicity of the fact you complain about the lack of formality in the announcement. If President Obama had read aloud a proclamation on live while wearing a special hat and a black tie, then there would be some other procedural shortcoming. If you disagree with the policy of assassinating certain people then fair enough, but I answered your question.

Tonight on Frontline: Inside Al Qaeda in Yemen

It so happens that right now the journalist is standing at the site where Awlaki got blown up. I think watching this program would provide useful context for this discussion. Considering the extent of Al Qaeda's territorial control within Yemen, I'd say we're being anything but trigger-happy.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:26 PM on May 29, 2012


It probably wouldn't be entirely safe for him to enter a major city in Yemen and start knocking on doors to see who wants to deal with his problem.

Where there's a will, there's a way. He literally had nothing to lose, personally; me might have saved himself or the life of his son.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:47 PM on May 29, 2012


He literally had nothing to lose, personally

He had his life to lose. He lost it because he was found and your solution is for him to make himself easier to find.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

I agree with that general sentiment, for instance if the US had found the will to attempt a capture once they located him I would have, personally, not had as much of an issue with this.

My concern is that there was no safe recourse for an innocent person who found himself in Awlaki's situation. Leaving hiding meant almost certain death, so such a person should be given a chance to directly surrender or be shot like bin Laden was given.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:06 PM on May 29, 2012


Bank regulation: Tyranny.
Giving the President the sole power of life and death over every human being on the plant, with no oversight: Freedom.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:17 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again: Why are robot bombs special?

They are special because robot bombs/drones are being used for extrajudicial execution, and extrajudicial execution was once understood to be outside the bounds of law.

That form of killing isn't easy to get away with without using legal loopholes, crooked judges and popular appeals to patriotism and xenophobia. "Bin Laden deserved to die", "USA No. 1", etc.

The problem isn't killing bad guys, per se. The problem is when innocent people get murdered, as the UK found out when they murdered an innocent man named Jean Charles de Menezes, only because, like the United States, the authorities there thought they had a bad guy, too.

So that's why robot bombs are special.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


He had his life to lose. He lost it because he was found and your solution is for him to make himself easier to find.


Embassies in trouble spots are not unused to people seeking asylum. Diplomats are trained to handle such situations. The link I gave for embassies in Yemen included addresses, and I feel sure al-Awlaki could easily have provided himself with a map and a phone. Knowing that he was a US government target meant he was living on borrowed time anyway; surely even you don't think we'd have blown up some other country's embassy to get at the guy.

My concern is that there was no safe recourse for an innocent person who found himself in Awlaki's situation. Leaving hiding meant almost certain death, so such a person should be given a chance to directly surrender or be shot like bin Laden was given.

You're arguing in circles. If we set up a surrender booth on his doorstep then you could argue that it was unsafe for him to step out the door and into the booth. Al=Awlaki didn't seem to have much trouble making public statements via the Internet prior to his assassination; why didn't he make a statement to the effect that he wanted to surrender and have access to legal process? I mean, he wasn't exactly protesting his innocence, but rather taking credit for previous attacks on the US and promising more.

Bank regulation: Tyranny.
Giving the President the sole power of life and death over every human being on the plant, with no oversight: Freedom.


False equivalences: bullshit.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:33 PM on May 29, 2012


extrajudicial execution was once understood to be outside the bounds of law.

War is always different. When you take up arms, you're going outside the legal process and the longer you rely on force of arms the farther outside that process you go. Punitive expeditions have sufficient historical precedent that paramilitary attacks on nation-states from without their borders is generally understood to be a Bad Idea.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:50 PM on May 29, 2012


Knowing that he was a US government target meant he was living on borrowed time anyway

I don't believe that is accurate. Despite some amazing achievements in hunting people down it still seems entirely plausible that someone could remain hidden for decades if they are careful. Seen Mullah Mohammed Omar lately?

The link I gave for embassies in Yemen included addresses, and I feel sure al-Awlaki could easily have provided himself with a map and a phone.

Not so easy when you are being hunted by the most technologically advanced national security apparatus on Earth, it is possible using a phone to call an embassy and announce who he is could get him caught before he even left for the city. And once he left hiding he would also have the Yemeni government to fear, if they discovered him on the way into one of their strongholds he could be turned right over to the Americans or end up tortured by Yemen if they felt like it.

why didn't he make a statement to the effect that he wanted to surrender and have access to legal process?

There are many possible reasons an innocent person in his situation might not want to surrender, one of which is that he is afraid that a nation with a history of torture and illegally detaining suspects might do the same to him. Their surrender booth would justifiably be viewed with some suspicion. I'm not arguing in circles here, it's just that the answer remains the same. There was no reasonable opportunity for an innocent person in his situation to surrender.

I feel the US should not execute someone in that situation without making an attempt at capture like they did with bin Laden.

War is always different.


Robot assassin war seems pretty different. I think a major flaw in our thinking in the WoT is acting as if a worldwide battlefield of individual bad actors hiding among civilians should be understood to be more similar to two armies marching in a line at each other and shooting muskets than to domestic law enforcement which faces restrictions on how even the worst mass killers can be handled. Even with those restrictions, we manage to survive.

Obama has taken steps in the right direction there in moving away from massive military invasions, but I am still not comfortable with the middle ground he landed on.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:01 AM on May 30, 2012


Anigbrowl asked: why didn't [Anwar al-Awlaki] make a statement to the effect that he wanted to surrender and have access to legal process?

Well, why don't you? Because you haven't been charged with anything, right?

Embassies in trouble spots are not unused to people seeking asylum. Diplomats are trained to handle such situations.

"Hello, I am a wanted terrorist and the USA will shoot me on sight. Please let me inside so that I may cause a diplomatic incident. I promise not to slaughter you, or cause you to be targets. Alternatively, you may exclude me and have one of your guys get on the phone to the USA. If they don't already know about it, seeing as how the Yemeni phone system probably runs on copper wiring wrapped with duct tape."
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Despite some amazing achievements in hunting people down it still seems entirely plausible that someone could remain hidden for decades if they are careful. Seen Mullah Mohammed Omar lately?
[..]
Not so easy when you are being hunted by the most technologically advanced national security apparatus on Earth, it is possible using a phone to call an embassy and announce who he is could get him caught before he even left for the city.


So, you're saying that staying in hiding in a known Al Qaeda stronghold (Azzan) and making public statements of responsibility for and exhortation of violent attacks on the nation that's hunting you is a safer and more sustainable activity than trying to negotiate terms of surrender through one or more third parties...right.

There are many possible reasons an innocent person in his situation might not want to surrender, one of which is that he is afraid that a nation with a history of torture and illegally detaining suspects might do the same to him. Their surrender booth would justifiably be viewed with some suspicion. I'm not arguing in circles here, it's just that the answer remains the same. There was no reasonable opportunity for an innocent person in his situation to surrender.

I feel the US should not execute someone in that situation without making an attempt at capture like they did with bin Laden.


Why? Lots of people suggested bin Laden didn't have a real chance either and they were just out to kill him. For sure, they didn't give him any benefit of the doubt. There's other people, even in this thread, questioning whether that entire operation was staged.

Yet again, al-Awlaki seemed to have no problem advertising his responsibility and enthusiasm for violent jihad. Nothing was stopping him saying 'I reject violence and believe that a fair trial would prove me to be innocent,' or something other than eagerly embracing martyrdom. This guy was not an uncomprehending victim by any metric.

Robot assassin war seems pretty different. I think a major flaw in our thinking in the WoT is acting as if a worldwide battlefield of individual bad actors hiding among civilians should be understood to be more similar to two armies marching in a line at each other and shooting muskets than to domestic law enforcement which faces restrictions on how even the worst mass killers can be handled. Even with those restrictions, we manage to survive.

They're not robots because they're not autonomous. In terms of distance from the target, it's not fundamentally different from employing a sniper rifle or a missile. Although he was based in a city that is wholly controlled by Al Qaeda and appears to operate more as a military command center than a center of civilian population (per the Frontline program linked above), we attacked him when he was isolated at the outskirts of the city. There's a drastic difference between taking on a mass killer like Tim McVeigh within the domestic context and taking on an enemy paramilitary commander who is coordinating attacks upon you in enemy-controlled territory. War includes a lot more than just pitched battles; the ambush of Admiral Yamamoto during WW2 is a more suitable parallel. FDR received intelligence and ordered the attack upon him; the men flying the planes that attacked him didn't even know who the target was.

Anigbrowl asked: why didn't [Anwar al-Awlaki] make a statement to the effect that he wanted to surrender and have access to legal process?

Well, why don't you? Because you haven't been charged with anything, right?


No, because I haven't done anything violent, or laid claim to having done so, or built a public persona around promoting paramilitary attacks, on anyone, ever; and I have no reason to think that anyone else thinks I'm involved in such activities either. If I thought I were the subject of a large-scale manhunt for no good reason, I would be quite anxious to get back within the boundaries of legal process.

Embassies in trouble spots are not unused to people seeking asylum. Diplomats are trained to handle such situations.

"Hello, I am a wanted terrorist and the USA will shoot me on sight. Please let me inside so that I may cause a diplomatic incident. I promise not to slaughter you, or cause you to be targets. Alternatively, you may exclude me and have one of your guys get on the phone to the USA. If they don't already know about it, seeing as how the Yemeni phone system probably runs on copper wiring wrapped with duct tape."


Yes, that's more or less how it goes. Don't you read the news? this sort of thing happens frequently enough most people are familiar with the idea of seeking asylum. There was an incident like that just a few weeks ago with that blind Chinese activist, who somehow managed to escape house arrest and travel 200 miles while nursing a foot injury before arriving at the embassy. In practice it would be more sensible to use a courier than the telephone, but that's beside the point.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:45 AM on May 30, 2012


So, you're saying that staying in hiding in a known Al Qaeda stronghold (Azzan) and making public statements of responsibility for and exhortation of violent attacks on the nation that's hunting you is a safer and more sustainable activity than trying to negotiate terms of surrender through one or more third parties...right.

Now that a third party has killed him for his alleged crimes as soon as they discovered his location without attempting a capture, it doesn't seem like we will ever get to the truth of the matter.

Why? Lots of people suggested bin Laden didn't have a real chance either and they were just out to kill him. For sure, they didn't give him any benefit of the doubt. There's other people, even in this thread, questioning whether that entire operation was staged.


I am not one of them. If you would like to discuss their opinions on bin Laden with them, feel free to do so. I feel it should be seen as a model operation.

They're not robots because they're not autonomous. In terms of distance from the target, it's not fundamentally different from employing a sniper rifle or a missile.


They're not robots because they're not autonomous.

*eyes rolling*

In terms of distance from the target, it's not fundamentally different from employing a sniper rifle or a missile

The missile is a valid comparison, the sniper is not. I would be more, though not entirely, comfortable with the precision of a sniper that would reduce casualties if the target has been misidentified.

Although he was based in a city that is wholly controlled by Al Qaeda and appears to operate more as a military command center than a center of civilian population (per the Frontline program linked above), we attacked him when he was isolated at the outskirts of the city.

Yes, I think this sounds like a good spot to attempt a capture there in that area which was far enough away from the Al Qaeda military command for the Frontline guy to stand on the spot with the security there to keep him safe, and where the Yemeni and American forces quickly were able to go to after the strike to identify the body.


There's a drastic difference between taking on a mass killer like Tim McVeigh within the domestic context and taking on an enemy paramilitary commander who is coordinating attacks upon you in enemy-controlled territory.


Enemy controlled territory that you can arrive at to identify a body quickly after an attack. It's not particularly that different, you face the difficulty of getting the Yemeni forces to handle the situation for you. They wanted him too and assisted us. We took the easy way out instead. We wouldn't want anyone to do that on our soil though.

War includes a lot more than just pitched battles; the ambush of Admiral Yamamoto during WW2 is a more suitable parallel. FDR received intelligence and ordered the attack upon him; the men flying the planes that attacked him didn't even know who the target was.

A uniformed military commander of a nation state that had officially declared war.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:14 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


They're not robots because they're not autonomous.

*eyes rolling*


It's kind of a critical distinction if you ask me.

Yes, I think this sounds like a good spot to attempt a capture there in that area which was far enough away from the Al Qaeda military command for the Frontline guy to stand on the spot with the security there to keep him safe, and where the Yemeni and American forces quickly were able to go to after the strike to identify the body.

It sounds like a terrible place to me, since you're asking for either a firefight or a high speed chase. The OBL mission involved a confined space with a limited number of exits. I don't want to position myself as some sort of military tactician, because I'm not, but I don't like the idea of landing a commando team on a flat plane with zero cover. According to the Wiki article, al-Awlaki's party saw one of the Predator drones and tried to flee. Maybe thould have tried putting their hands up instead and waiting to be captured. I suppose you'll have some other excuse as for why that would have been a bad idea, since you seem so insistent on the idea that it was pointless for him to make any attempt whatsoever at surrender.

A uniformed military commander of a nation state that had officially declared war.

If you style yourself as a military leader then you can't complain when people treat you like one. For the nth time, why didn't al-Awlaki try putting out some other message besides that of jihad, like claiming to want peace or a fair trial or asylum or something? If all you talk about is your commitment to waging war and your track record doing so, then that's what you're going to be judged on.

We've had this argument several times before and I'm sick to the back teeth of it.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:54 AM on May 30, 2012


It sounds like a terrible place to me, since you're asking for either a firefight or a high speed chase.

Arrests are conducted when these are a possibility every day in the United States and the bin Laden raid did unfortunately involve a firefight. It's even more of a worthwhile risk when you can gain valuable intelligence by capturing someone you believe is involved in planning future attacks.

According to the Wiki article, al-Awlaki's party saw one of the Predator drones and tried to flee.

The drones were there because they already knew his location, it was not a random discovery. Bin Laden could have attempted to flee too once he heard the helicopters.

Maybe thould have tried putting their hands up instead and waiting to be captured. I suppose you'll have some other excuse as for why that would have been a bad idea

I think that the United States had declared their willingness to kill him with such a drone is a valid enough reason to not want to expose oneself to it.

If you style yourself as a military leader then you can't complain when people treat you like one.

We are not talking about style. Yamamoto was a commissioned officer, during a declared time of war, flying in a marked military vehicle. There was no ambiguity about his situation like there is with terrorists who are alleged to be involved in attacks, in unmarked civilian vehicles, and possibly blended in with the civilian population.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:06 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...making an attempt at capture like they did with bin Laden".

You can't seriously believe this? The only armed individual was killed before they entered the house. Otherwise all were shot unarmed, without another shot fired the entire raid. If you believe the US military that Bin Laden "had to be naked for them to allow him to surrender", you'll believe anything.
posted by bigZLiLk at 4:03 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Apologies, quote found here.
posted by bigZLiLk at 4:04 AM on May 30, 2012


Since calling for a global caliphate is reason enough to be murdered by a robot, I assume y'all are cool with Yemen sending assassins to North Carolina to take out preachers who call for worldwide Christianity.

I know this is an entirely worthless statement for me to make but in the microscopic chance that someone to whom it applies is reading: if I had a Nobel Peace Prize, I'd be sending it back to Oslo about now with a letter saying, "No thanks, this is not the company I wish to keep."
posted by Legomancer at 5:05 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe thould have tried putting their hands up instead and waiting to be captured.

The US's legal position is you can't surrender to an aircraft, drone or otherwise.
posted by queen zixi at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Awlaki was officially announced as a wanted terrorist in many ways, long before he was on the targeted killing list -- the US Treasury Department's list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, the UN's list of Security Council Resolution 1267 terrorists, Canada's asset freeze list, etc. The UK's MI5 director announced he was the West's Public Enemy #1. He was tried and convicted in absentia in Yemen, since the government there couldn't get to him in the rebel held areas he was in, and sentenced to death.

When he was put on the kill list, it was public enough that Awlaki's dad sued in federal court to try to get him removed from the list. (This is all easy to find-- try wikipedia). So the idea that somehow Awlaki didn't know, or that the US was coy about its intention to kill him, is ridiculous.
posted by msalt at 9:16 AM on May 30, 2012


kithrater: "My complaint is that, if we decide that targeted killings are a tragic but necessary function of the state, then targeted killings should be subject to some form of review and bound by a process to at least attempt to prevent abuses - the same treatment that applies to other tragic but necessary functions of the state."
------------

Typical, just typical of you *ahem* (clearing throat for maximum sneering effect) liberal socialist commies with your love of bureaucracy, always gettin' in the way of gettin' stuff done.

Real Americans JUST DO IT. We don't pussyfoot around, waitin' for some Supreme Soviet Council to tell us whether we can or can't. We ain't gonna be no damn slaves to freedom-hatin' socialist bureaucrats. Hell No. If we want to kill, then by golly, we're gonna do it and you can't stop us.

posted by symbioid at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Greenwald on Democracy Now: Obama’s Secret Kill List "The Most Radical Power a Government Can Seize"
posted by homunculus at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2012


(and goddamnit I forgot to close the strong tag - typical, just typical of a right-wing raging fool like me).
posted by symbioid at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2012


Msalt: I don't think anyone suggests that Anwar didn't know that the USA wanted to assassinate him. What I and other people have said is that he had no means of redress.

Incidentally, for anyone who thinks that he should have surrendered (whether or not that was actually possible): you do realise that he probably would have been imprisoned in an extraterritorial jail, very likely tortured, and wouldn't have been given a trial? I've read that the USA hasn't been torturing people for several years now, but if I didn't know about the torture back then I would have to be very innocent to think that I would know about it if it were still going on.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:13 PM on May 30, 2012


msalt, I linked and quoted from the court case above - at the time it was released, in the background the judge noted that "the United States has neither confirmed nor denied the allegation that it has issued a "standing order" authorizing the CIA and JSOC to kill plaintiff's son". I completely agree that Awlaki knew the US was actively trying to kill him. My complaint is that this became common knowledge through a series of leaks by unnamed officials to the press, coy denials in public committees, and brief statements on talk shows (which, according to the wiki article, were made after attempts to assassinate Awlaki). As joe points out, because there is no official process through which one is placed on the "kill list" or for one to know one is on the "kill list", there is no means of redress. As the judge of the court case noted:
To be sure, this Court recognizes the somewhat unsettling nature of its conclusion -- that there are circumstances in which the Executive's unilateral decision to kill a U.S. citizen overseas is "constitutionally committed to the political branches" and judicially unreviewable.
posted by kithrater at 4:19 PM on May 30, 2012


Reuters: President Barack Obama's administration appears set to notify the U.S. Congress of plans to arm a fleet of Italian MQ-9 Reaper drones, a step that may spur a wider spread of remotely piloted hunter-killer aircraft.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:40 PM on May 30, 2012


WaPo: In 2009, when President Obama was first known to have authorized a missile strike on Yemen, U.S. officials said there were no more than 300 core AQAP members. That number has grown in recent years to 700 or more, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders say.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:54 PM on May 30, 2012


I see no reason that citizenship confers some extra protection. Due process applies to all persons as a human right, not just citizens. The President can't just order all non-citizens in our prisons shot.
posted by humanfont at 5:46 PM on May 30, 2012


It's not right
But it's ok
We are going to keep
using drones anyway
posted by Renoroc at 6:07 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's what I don't get about all this hand-wringing. The president has always had the power to order military attacks, without judicial approval or review, and they have always done so, invariably killing groups of enemies and bunches of civilians who got in the crossfire.

Now we have technology that allows us to narrow the focus to individuals, and greatly reduce -- though not completely eliminate -- bystander deaths. We have a president who is owning the power, and takes responsibility to look at each individual and approve or deny the killing. I think that's great.

And it seems to be that very specificity that is creeping people out. If we send troops to Panama and kill hundreds capturing Noriega, no problem. But a drone strike that kills a specific target is wrong because, what? -- weird, technology, eye in the sky, big brother something.

It's like that old truism about news -- one person dies, that's a tragedy. A thousand die, that's a statistic.
posted by msalt at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


We petition the Obama administration to: The New York Times reports that President Obama has created an official “kill list” that he uses to personally order the assassination of American citizens. Considering that the government already has a “Do Not Call” list and a “No Fly” list, we hereby request that the White House create a “Do Not Kill” list in which American citizens can sign up to avoid being put on the president’s “kill list” and therefore avoid being executed without indictment, judge, jury, trial or due process of law.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:46 AM on May 31, 2012


WaPo: In 2009, when President Obama was first known to have authorized a missile strike on Yemen, U.S. officials said there were no more than 300 core AQAP members. That number has grown in recent years to 700 or more, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders say.

Losing Yemeni hearts and minds: CIA drone strikes in the Middle Eastern country are undermining our mission there
posted by homunculus at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2012


The President’s Kill List
The “kill list” story is a reminder of how much language matters, and how dangerous it is when the plain meaning of a word is ignored. [...] More disturbing than childish names for brutal things are the absurd meanings ascribed to more sober terms. The key ones are “civilians and combatants,” and “due process.”

posted by Joe in Australia at 5:42 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Msalt said: Here's what I don't get about all this hand-wringing. The president has always had the power to order military attacks, without judicial approval or review, and they have always done so, invariably killing groups of enemies and bunches of civilians who got in the crossfire.

Our laws and culture distinguish between "war" and "execution" or "assassination". War meant an attack by the armed forces of one country against another; execution meant killing a person within your country's jurisdiction; assassination meant killing a person outside your jurisdiction. Assassination was deprecated more than either war or execution, even though killing a warmonger in his bed is far less bloody than even a small war; and it would save many more lives than executing any individual murderer. It turns out that drone technology has erased the difference between these: it is relatively cheap and convenient to kill any individual anywhere in the world, so why fight conventional wars? Why limit your jurisdiction to your own territory?

The reason assassination was deprecated is that it's indistinguishable from murder. It's not dressed up as an attack on a country, or as an execution following due process: it's just killing someone because it's convenient. When you combine that with the inchoate idea of a "War on Terror" you essentially have the USA claiming the right to kill anyone, anywhere. If these attacks only killed Certified Bad Guys (tm) planning an imminent attack on the USA it would look like self defense. But civilian casualties or even the death of the Bad Guys' associates stretch the limits of self defense, and make the USA's actions look more like murder.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:21 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Since you put it that way, I guess I am unconvinced that "assassination" -- if that's the term you use for killing someone who is launching remote attacks on you from hiding in hostile territory - is necessarily wrong.

It's very glib of you to say "it's indistinguishable from murder." I don't think so, since Awlaki had been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for his crimes. But even if he hadn't been, many Mefites - I don't recall if you were one -- have said it would be fine if we sent an invading army that necessarily killed hundreds or thousands of people in order to capture one person. I don't see how "dressing up" this attack, to use your words, justifies the death of those civilians. Historically, I think the rule against assassination had to do with concepts of chivalry and manliness that make no sense in a world of snipers, cruise missiles, artillery and bombing by high-altitude planes.

If occasional civilian casualties make a precisely targeted killing look like murder, why don't much greater civilian casualties make an invasion that kills hundreds look like murder? It's like you're saying that it's fine if we kill lots of people, just as long as we don't know who they are.
posted by msalt at 12:30 AM on June 1, 2012


Awlaki had been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for his crimes.

Not by the country that killed him.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:55 AM on June 1, 2012


msalt: And it seems to be that very specificity that is creeping people out. If we send troops to Panama and kill hundreds capturing Noriega, no problem. But a drone strike that kills a specific target is wrong because, what? -- weird, technology, eye in the sky, big brother something.

No, there's much much more to it than just "hand wringing" big brother paranoia. There are a lot of real, legitimate concerns about drone usage. Beyond that, it seems like you're trying to imply that anyone who is opposed to drone strikes is in favor of boots-on-the-ground military action, which is not the case. I do, in fact, have a problem with the invasion of Panama.
posted by broadway bill at 5:04 AM on June 1, 2012


Fair enough, broadway bill. This has been an ongoing discussion across Metafilter topics for years. Part of the difficulty is the different anti-drone positions.

Some folks just don't think we should be fighting at all, whether flat out pacifists, or opposed to the GWOT. Fair enough, but then drones are no better or worse than, say, cruise missiles.

Other folks here though have said flat out that we should -- instead of drone attacking -- send troops sufficient to arrest people overseas and bring them back to the U.S. for trial. I think there's something about the technology that's creeping people out, like the weird scifi movies we've all seen.

But the moral calculus of, drones are bad and invading police forces that kill many more people are good -- that's the calculus I'm having trouble understanding.
posted by msalt at 8:43 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I totally understand that, and I'd agree that anyone saying "invading police forces that kill many more people are good" is way off.

Still, though, I think it is really really important to consider the ways that the rise of drone warfare is changing how we see and cope with war. It's difficult to support, because of data issues and whatnot, but I think there is merit in the argument that increased reliance on drones could put us in position to expand the brutality and scope of war, not shrink it. Only time will tell, of course, but I don't think it looks good.
posted by broadway bill at 9:34 AM on June 1, 2012


Sure -- or perhaps more likely, it will drastically reduce the deaths of innocent bystanders per target, but increase the willingness to attack in the first place creating many more targets. Then you have to weigh that against, well, how many more valid targets can we reach? It's complex.

What I'm reacting to is a common sense here on Metafilter of "drones are bad and we shouldn't use them." It's a new technology that I think is clearly more effective, and this has good and bad side effects. But the idea that this technology won't be used seems absurd.

Imagine when the rifle was invented. Much more precise than a musket, fewer unintended targets, but it created snipers - unmanly attacks on people who can't even see you. Obviously rifles are more deadly and they have killed probably millions. But here they are, it makes no sense to say "Rifles are creepy and evil, return to muskets!"
posted by msalt at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, the alarming difference between a drone strike and a capture attempt is not the technology. It's that one of those things is not a capture attempt.

invading police forces that kill many more people are good

How many civilian casualties occurred during the bin Laden raid?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2012


Osama bin Laden turned out to be in an area of Pakistan entirely under control of the government and military. The U.S. didn't do a drone strike because it didn't have to. I don't know of any drone attacks outside of Yemen, and Somalia and the tribal areas of Pakistan -- all places that are not controlled by any government and are known havens and training ground for jihadi terrorists. Can anyone name any exceptions to that rule?
posted by msalt at 12:21 AM on June 3, 2012


Osama bin Laden turned out to be in an area of Pakistan entirely under control of the government and military.

The Pakistani government and military, which has just convicted someone to 35 years' imprisonment for collaborating with the enemy cooperating with a foreign government some weird thing about a terrorist group which nobody believes.

The U.S. didn't do a drone strike because it didn't have to.

... Do you actually believe this? That the USA is forced to use drones? They used an aerial assault for two reasons: it might have been dressed up as an attempt at capture, if the White House had got its story together; and they wanted to capture computers and other documents. Otherwise they could use aerial assaults on any place reasonably close to their bases - and make new bases if the old ones were insufficient. If there's a place so isolated that they can't reach it, it's also so isolated that no meaningful terrorist attack could use it as a base. But at this stage I don't even know why you guys think you're killing people, so I don't know what you think "have to" means in this context.

Can anyone name any exceptions to that rule?

You mean, do I know of any especially illegal acts committed by Obama's secret kill squads, as opposed to all the other ones? Wouldn't they be ... even more secret?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:20 AM on June 3, 2012


We had friendly forces on the ground to identify the body immediately after the Awlaki strike, it obviously wasn't so inaccessible an area.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:37 AM on June 3, 2012


Joe: You're playing semantic games. No government is forced to go to war, ever. There was no reason the U.S. had to fight Germany in WW2, or take out the Barbary Pirates, or that international navies are forced to take Somali pirates today. So what?

wouldn't they be ... even more secret?

You're jumping down the conspiracy rabbit hole. These are aerial missile attacks. Newspapers &c report bombs that go off all around the world, without knowing who set them off, all the time and drone missile attacks are pretty obvious (whether officially confirmed or not). But you think Obama has secret drone attacks and is what - stopping news coverage of the bombs going off? Passing them off as industrial accidents?

None of the doomsday scenarios painted by drone opponents have come true -- Obama is not unilaterally mowing down gobs of US citizens, or taking out his political opponents, or using drones other than in those handful of lawless jihadi havens.
posted by msalt at 8:44 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It betrays the weakness of your position when you strawman like that.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:03 AM on June 3, 2012


If there's a place so isolated that they can't reach it, it's also so isolated that no meaningful terrorist attack could use it as a base.

Simply not true. 9/11 was launched from very remote bases in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Several attacks have been launched from Yemen and continue. True, none have brought down an airplane yet, but a couple were pretty close (first underwear bomber, printer cartridge bombs which frankly is pretty clever.) And the drone attacks and need to hide from them may very well have been the difference that led to those plots failing.
posted by msalt at 10:36 AM on June 3, 2012


Let’s Stop Killing People for ‘Probably’ Being Up to No Good
posted by homunculus at 12:29 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know who this Max Read is, who wrote that article at Gawker, but equating Trayvon Martin with someone driving in a car with an Al Qaeda terrorist in North Waziristan or lawless southern Yemen is incredibly offensive.

Sure, it is not proof of guilt that someone is driving around outlaw territory with a terrorist, but they're not exactly walking home from the minimart with tea and Skittles either.
posted by msalt at 7:54 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


What? So they're driving in a car in a place that is so remote that your army can't even be bothered to go there. Why do you want to kill them?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:27 PM on June 3, 2012


Because they are actively planning attacks on (and in) the United States. What is hard to understand about that?
posted by msalt at 12:15 AM on June 4, 2012


It's not that the army can't be bothered to go there. America's army can obviously go anywhere on earth. But they would have to fight there way through hundreds of heavily armed hostile people, and dozens to thousands would die in the process, many of them civilians.

I get that you don't think America needs to fight terrorists who are actively attacking the US. But given that 85% of Americans disagree, and politically the reality is that any president who wants to be (re)elected will attack these people, are you against drones? The alternative is not the U.S. saying "Go ahead, do your worst because you're in a remote place and drones are just too creepy for us to use." The alternative is an Iraq-style invasion.
posted by msalt at 12:21 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Msalt wrote: they are actively planning attacks on (and in) the United States.

How do you know they're actively planning attacks? These guys are in the butt end of nowhere. Even if they were planning attacks, you could probably catch them during the long and weary weeks of trekking it takes them to get to a road, then by road to an airfield, then by airfield to an international airport ...

I mean, you know what they're doing when they're in the butt end of nowhere, you should be able to identify them when they're right in front of you.

I get that you don't think America needs to fight terrorists who are actively attacking the US.

How are they actively attacking it while squatting on a sand dune in the middle of the desolate Sahara or clinging to the craggy peaks of the Hindu Kush? Are they composing rude ditties about George Washington?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:53 AM on June 4, 2012


America's army can obviously go anywhere on earth. But they would have to fight there way through hundreds of heavily armed hostile people, and dozens to thousands would die in the process, many of them civilians.

Right, which is why the friendly Yemeni forces who were cooperating with the US were able to arrive on the scene immediately after his death to identify the body without a single casualty.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:03 AM on June 4, 2012


How do you know they're actively planning attacks?

Because we've intercepted 3 of their bombs, one as recently as last month. 2 underwear bombs, one (set of?) printer cartridges.

Right, which is why the friendly Yemeni forces who were cooperating with the US were able to arrive on the scene immediately after his death to identify the body without a single casualty.

How many times are you going to keep repeating that point?

People ran away after the drone bombing attack, as people do, and a commando force that was standing by knowing what was about to happen was able to swoop in, ID some DNA to make sure they got Awlaki, and get the hell out of there. Knowing that people were less likely to charge them because an armed drone was circling overhead. Kind of proves the value of drones, actually.
posted by msalt at 10:23 AM on June 4, 2012


The Yemeni army secured the area along with US personnel directly after the strike, they could do it before a capture attempt as well. Their opponent was a group of SUVs, it would have easily won that fight without the deaths of thousands if Awlaki chose not to surrender, and if he had gotten away they still could have bombed him.

The area was simply not too remote to gain access from the ground or in a helicopter. This is a factual statement. I think I'll probably keep repeating this truth as long as you keep attempting to jam your fingers in your ears and ignore it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:19 AM on June 4, 2012


I will now resume my policy of ignoring you -- you've demonstrated once again why there's no point trying to discuss with you. Once again, you've ground the conversation to a halt.
posted by msalt at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2012


I apologize if the facts have ground your argument to a halt.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:46 AM on June 4, 2012


Right, which is why the friendly Yemeni forces who were cooperating with the US were able to arrive on the scene immediately after his death to identify the body without a single casualty.

When you (or your allies) punch a large hole in the ground in advance of your arrival, you're much more likely to be allowed to go about your business unmolested. You['re assuming that if the Yemeni forces had shown up ahead of time, they would not have been attacked, which is simply illogical.

Their opponent was a group of SUVs, it would have easily won that fight without the deaths of thousands if Awlaki chose not to surrender, and if he had gotten away they still could have bombed him.

A group of SUVs occupied by armed individuals. First, how many friendly casualties would you wish to expend on such an attack? Second, if such a firefight broke out, how would the assault be any more discriminating? Isn't it highly reasonable to assume that all of the occupants of the SUVs would have been killed just the same?

I apologize if the facts have ground your argument to a halt.

You don't have facts, you have suppositions.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:20 PM on June 4, 2012


Who has said there would not be a firefight? As I mentioned above, the Bin Laden raid that I consider an excellent model did involve a firefight. A firefight in the hallways of a guarded, walled in, compound. I believe it killed four people, none of them the American forces involved.

As an attempt to intercept Awlaki in his SUV could be done with armored vehicles on blocking the road, it is unlikely there would be much danger of casualties in that situation either. The terrorists hide from conventional forces for a reason. If they do get away though, you can still bomb them if you want.

The goalposts have really shifted here from this being some remote, impossible to access area, with thousands of casualties on the line to...well it would be a dangerous mission because of a couple SUVs worth of thugs. Well no shit, fighting terrorists can be dangerous.

I am slightly more sympathetic in the drone strike situations where you can actually make a fair case that the area is not accessible and when US citizens are not involved (outside of the evidence that the strikes just increase the number of terrorists) but Awlaki was not one of those cases, however, and it calls into question how restrained future Presidents might feel in their handling of this power.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:01 PM on June 4, 2012


Oh, and please identify my factual mistakes and cite your evidence.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:03 PM on June 4, 2012


As an attempt to intercept Awlaki in his SUV could be done with armored vehicles on blocking the road, it is unlikely there would be much danger of casualties in that situation either. The terrorists hide from conventional forces for a reason. If they do get away though, you can still bomb them if you want.

So again, how many friendly troops are you willing to expend on the effort?

The goalposts have really shifted here from this being some remote, impossible to access area, with thousands of casualties on the line to...well it would be a dangerous mission because of a couple SUVs worth of thugs.

The goalposts have been shifted by technology. It is only very recently that we have been able to make reliable determinations about a target of opportunity being located in a particular set of vehicles like this, as opposed to gaining military control of an area.

Oh, and please identify my factual mistakes and cite your evidence.

You don't seem to understand the difference between facts and premises. I was not accusing you of making a factual mistake, I'm accusing you of making a logical one, and have already provided my reasons.

your objections basically seem to be that drones are a dishonorable sort of way to conduct what used to be combat operations. People have been making similar objections to military technology since ~400 BC:
Are these your weapons for the hard struggle? Is it for this then that Heracles' children should be spared? a man who has won a reputation for valour in his contests with beasts, in all else a weakling; who ne'er buckled shield to arm nor faced the spear, but with a bow, that coward's weapon, was ever ready to run away. Archery is no test of manly bravery; no! he is a man who keeps his post in the ranks and steadily faces the swift wound the spear may plough.
It's real easy to wax heroic about how other people should conduct military operations. From the Yemeni government's point of view, Al-Awlaki was a problem of a US origin, on whose they were probably highly reluctant to risk troops of their own.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:59 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


From fuiousxgeorge's link, which is an interesting read:

Awlaki lived in the southern Yemen province of Shabwa, an area beyond the reach of Yemen's military and central government. Much of Yemen is like the Wild West, with no central governing authority. The numerous tribes settle disputes among themselves. Awlaki came from the Awalik tribe.
...
He moved at night, often in convoys of armored SUVs in order to prevent U.S. drones and surveillance from determining which vehicle he was in.
...
In the last month, drone operators became convinced they had identified Awlaki in various convoys. Previous strikes were considered but withheld out of concern of causing too many civilian casualties.

posted by msalt at 3:09 PM on June 4, 2012


So again, how many friendly troops are you willing to expend on the effort?

To take on a few SUVs full of thugs, I would not expect any. You are the one who believes this would cost lives, msalt suggested possibly thousands, what is your number that leads to the drone strike requirement?

The goalposts have really shifted here from this being some remote, impossible to access area, with thousands of casualties on the line to...well it would be a dangerous mission because of a couple SUVs worth of thugs.

The goalposts have been shifted by technology.


You are dodging the actual conversation here, which is the suggestion that this area was not accessible to friendly forces, because of the area the strike occurred in, not because of the presence of SUVs. Despite any reporting to the contrary, we know Yemeni and American forces were able to enter the area and secure Awlaki's location immediately after the attack.

Oh, and please identify my factual mistakes and cite your evidence.

You don't seem to understand the difference between facts and premises.


I cited my sources to show that American and Yemeni forces secured the area, if you questions those facts, stop playing word games and establish that they did not do so.

your objections basically seem to be that drones are a dishonorable sort of way to conduct what used to be combat operations.

I have no idea how you came to that conclusion, which kind of goes back to what I mentioned above about how easy it can be to expose the weakness in your own arguments by resorting to strawmen. I don't care about honor at all in a fight with terrorists. What I care about is the great benefits you can get from capture which can be an intelligence goldmine, the potential backlash of aerial bombings leading to more terrorists than you started with, and the setting of a precedent that an American citizen could potentially be specifically targeted for execution in a situation in which they are unable to legally defend themselves.

It's real easy to wax heroic about how other people should conduct military operations.

I know, it's amazing to me how easily some folks call for military bombings rather than asking the local authorities to attempt capturing their own local criminals.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:38 PM on June 4, 2012


To take on a few SUVs full of thugs, I would not expect any.

No casualties from people firing at you with ak-47s in a wide-open location ? Really?

Despite any reporting to the contrary, we know Yemeni and American forces were able to enter the area and secure Awlaki's location immediately after the attack.

And it has been pointed out that blowing a large hole in the ground is likely to discourage people from interfering.

I cited my sources to show that American and Yemeni forces secured the area, if you questions those facts, stop playing word games and establish that they did not do so.

Nobody is disputing that they did so. We're disputing the notion that there is no difference between showing up after a drone strike and showing up without any sign of air support, which is something so obvious it should hardly need stating. As a general rule, we know that people tend to put distance between themselves and large explosions.

You keep insisting that he should have been captured because the situation wasn't dangerous enough to justify using drones, using the evidence of conditions after a drone strike to draw conclusions about conditions before a drone strike.

This is fundamentally illogical. It's like saying someone shouldn't have been arrested because he wasn't a threat to anyone while he was in jail.

What I care about is the great benefits you can get from capture which can be an intelligence goldmine

...for which you have shown no greater probability of success...

the potential backlash of aerial bombings leading to more terrorists than you started with

...as opposed to landing ground troops or establishing military bases, which also have the potential to rile up people...

and the setting of a precedent that an American citizen could potentially be specifically targeted for execution in a situation in which they are unable to legally defend themselves.

...and yet again you display zero interest in the history and procedure of law or the pragmatic business of governing. Did Anwar al-Awlaki ever complain that he was unjustly accused by the US, or that he wished for access to legal process, or asylum, or anything like that? No, but he had no problem taking credit for attacks on the US and encouraging the perpretration of further attacks. Citizenship doesn't provide one with some inherent right to make war on one's own country.

I know, it's amazing to me how easily some folks call for military bombings rather than asking the local authorities to attempt capturing their own local criminals.

As has been pointed out, he was not simply their local criminal.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:32 PM on June 4, 2012


No casualties from people firing at you with ak-47s in a wide-open location ? Really?

Firing at you while you sit in an armored vehicle shooting back with a bigger gun? Probably not.

Despite any reporting to the contrary, we know Yemeni and American forces were able to enter the area and secure Awlaki's location immediately after the attack.

And it has been pointed out that blowing a large hole in the ground is likely to discourage people from interfering.

So could a few tanks, but you are again trying to dodge around the issue here. The concept is that the area itself is too dangerous for the Yemeni military to enter, but they did. Blowing up a few SUVs did not change the entire area, previous airstrikes did not make the bad guys curl up in fear and go away, it helped them recruit. We bombed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years with air support regularly provided for our troops, and yet they kept on fighting back.

Awlaki and his associates were well aware drones had been shadowing them and launching missiles and were still moving around despite your holes = instant retreat theories.

So anyway, if dropping a bomb does mean instantly melting away all resistance, I will approve of drones dropping bombs just off target to scare everybody away without taking lives before the capture attempt.

You keep insisting that he should have been captured because the situation wasn't dangerous enough to justify using drones, using the evidence of conditions after a drone strike to draw conclusions about conditions before a drone strike.

If we are judging the ability of the military to enter the area, it is. One bomb does not change the tribal affiliations, geographic features, and will to fight of a large area from being passable to impassable. Nobody who is fighting the US is unaware airstrikes are a possibility.

This is fundamentally illogical. It's like saying someone shouldn't have been arrested because he wasn't a threat to anyone while he was in jail.


No, it's like saying police shooting up one crack house isn't going to change a bad neighborhood from crime ridden to safe in an hour. You are the one fundamentally out of step with logic in this situation.

What I care about is the great benefits you can get from capture which can be an intelligence goldmine

...for which you have shown no greater probability of success...


Yes, I have. And I have cited it. Your rejection of the plain evidence does not change that.

the potential backlash of aerial bombings leading to more terrorists than you started with

...as opposed to landing ground troops or establishing military bases, which also have the potential to rile up people...


I don't believe I have suggested expanding military bases. It seems you are again resorting to strawmanning. In fact, in this thread I have suggested drastically reducing our overseas military footprint. Would it be possible for you to please stop making up stuff you would prefer to argue against?

Though raids such as we launched against Bin Laden can go bad, they have many benefits in allowing us to gain intelligence and target weapons in the most precisely possible way to avoid civilian casualties to the best of our ability. Achieving the first goal allows us to fight terrorism without direct military action by infiltration of terrorist networks, and the second helps us avoid blowback that can lead to the resentment that leads otherwise innocent men and women towards hate.

No method is perfect, but one has clear benefits and should be used whenever possible. Drones should only be the last resort.

...and yet again you display zero interest in the history and procedure of law or the pragmatic business of governing. Did Anwar al-Awlaki ever complain that he was unjustly accused by the US, or that he wished for access to legal process, or asylum, or anything like that? No, but he had no problem taking credit for attacks on the US and encouraging the perpretration of further attacks. Citizenship doesn't provide one with some inherent right to make war on one's own country.

I am aware of the allegations you have made. However, my concern, as I have previously informed you, is that an innocent person in a similar situation would not have any legal recourse. I do not, as you know, suggest simply letting him go. I only suggest that it is better not to set the precedent of targeting such a man for execution when the option remains to attempt a capture which is also a better outcome for the pragmatic reasons I have outlined. That terrorists might reject our ideals of what justice means does not mean that we must abandon them as well.

As has been pointed out, he was not simply their local criminal.

He was in their country, and they had convicted him in their courts. We had not. Since it would be easy for them to simply drop one bomb and then they would face no resistance, it seems reasonable to ask them to secure their own territory.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:12 PM on June 4, 2012


No casualties from people firing at you with ak-47s in a wide-open location ? Really?

I think that our special forces soldiers with their advanced body armor, armoered vehicles, years of training and air support would be by unlikely to take significant casualties in a firefight involving a few Toyota Hiluxes and enthusiastic Yemeni tribesman. I don't think this would result in us capturing anyone alive. Stoping the SUV's without killing the occupants is very difficult. Still I have to think that the military could figure out a way if capture alive was the priority over just killing.
posted by humanfont at 7:22 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, it's like saying police shooting up one crack house isn't going to change a bad neighborhood from crime ridden to safe in an hour. You are the one fundamentally out of step with logic in this situation.

Having lived in the middle of a crack block and living in a somewhat crime-prone neighborhood right now, I assure you that things tend to be temporarily much quieter in the aftermath of a shootout. You're conflating temporary change with permanent change, and tactical advantage with strategic shifts. But I think you know perfectly well that people are likely to keep their heads down right after an airstrike. That has been one of the leading purposes of artillery, long before aircraft were even invented.

However, my concern, as I have previously informed you, is that an innocent person in a similar situation would not have any legal recourse.

Seeking asylum is a form of recourse, as is stating one's innocence.

He was in their country, and they had convicted him in their courts. We had not. Since it would be easy for them to simply drop one bomb and then they would face no resistance, it seems reasonable to ask them to secure their own territory.

As usual, reality is somewhat different from what you imagine. I see no reason not to take advantage of a friendly relationship for strategic military advantage over a hostile third party if invited to do so.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:34 PM on June 4, 2012


Having lived in the middle of a crack block and living in a somewhat crime-prone neighborhood right now, I assure you that things tend to be temporarily much quieter in the aftermath of a shootout.

You are confusing the quietness involved with a visible police presence with shooting leading to peace. This is achieved regardless of the police deciding to shoot.

But I think you know perfectly well that people are likely to keep their heads down right after an airstrike. That has been one of the leading purposes of artillery, long before aircraft were even invented.

As I stated previously, under your theory of everybody stopping the fighting once airstrikes start, there is no need to actually hit your target so the capture attempt could have been made even more easily after a few warning shots.

Seeking asylum is a form of recourse, as is stating one's innocence.

As he was being tracked electronically and the desire to kill him had already been announced, it would be unwise to expose oneself to being targeted by communicating any attempt to seek asylum. I do not think you actually believe stating his innocence would have changed the decision to kill him, and an innocent man in that situation would again face the potential of being tracked and killed if using a communications device.

As usual, reality is somewhat different from what you imagine. I see no reason not to take advantage of a friendly relationship for strategic military advantage over a hostile third party if invited to do so.


I have no idea what you are attempting to communicate with that link. The hardware they possess is quite capable of dropping the one warning bomb necessary to temporary eliminate all resistance in the area so a capture can be attempted. I would not mind if the US helped in that effort to drop the one warning bomb to eliminate all resistance either.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:47 PM on June 4, 2012


You are confusing the quietness involved with a visible police presence with shooting leading to peace. This is achieved regardless of the police deciding to shoot.

no I'm not. I'm not making any assertions about peace of long-term change. I'm talking about the troops that went in to check on the remains of al-Awlaki's group not getting shot at because they had a short window of safety due to the attack. I estimate that that bought them an hour, if that. You're the one that brought long-term improvement into it, not me.

As I stated previously, under your theory of everybody stopping the fighting once airstrikes start, there is no need to actually hit your target so the capture attempt could have been made even more easily after a few warning shots.

No, the secondary purpose of an airstrike is to keep other actors away, in addition to the primary purpose of wiping out your target. Which is an entirely legitimate strategic goal. There's no reason to assume people already at the scene are going to surrender, though they did attempt to flee.

As he was being tracked electronically and the desire to kill him had already been announced, it would be unwise to expose oneself to being targeted by communicating any attempt to seek asylum. I do not think you actually believe stating his innocence would have changed the decision to kill him, and an innocent man in that situation would again face the potential of being tracked and killed if using a communications device.

He had no trouble making further public statements fomenting war against the US. Go back and reread contemporary news reports prior to his death.

I have no idea what you are attempting to communicate with that link.

Try using a calendar.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:43 PM on June 4, 2012


no I'm not. I'm not making any assertions about peace of long-term change.

Neither am I

I'm talking about the troops that went in to check on the remains of al-Awlaki's group not getting shot at because they had a short window of safety due to the attack. I estimate that that bought them an hour, if that.

That is helpful, since I have already linked that the timeframe involved was multiple hours we can now ignore your assumptions while we wait for you to actually bring some facts to the table.

As I stated previously, under your theory of everybody stopping the fighting once airstrikes start, there is no need to actually hit your target so the capture attempt could have been made even more easily after a few warning shots.

No


Okay, we agree, you are wrong that the one bomb that was dropped in the area will immediately drive away resistance and make the area safe.

He had no trouble making further public statements fomenting war against the US. Go back and reread contemporary news reports prior to his death.

I think he found his death to be a problem, and as I have already linked for you interception of his communications contributed to his eventual downfall.

Try using a calendar.

I still have no idea what you are attempting to communicate to me. Are you talking about aircraft that have been shot down? Because I'm pretty sure that is a typo in the Wikipedia article, it is well known that Yemeni forces immediately run and hide when they know airstrikes may occur. However, as I stated I am quite willing to let US forces handle the one bombing that will make the area safe for incursion. Oh wait, we agreed you were wrong about it working that way.

So what exactly is your point again?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:57 PM on June 4, 2012


Yemeni forces = meant Yemeni terrorists of course.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:59 PM on June 4, 2012


I think that our special forces soldiers with their advanced body armor, armoered vehicles, years of training and air support would be by unlikely to take significant casualties in a firefight involving a few Toyota Hiluxes and enthusiastic Yemeni tribesman.

Unless the enthusiastic tribesman had planted IEDs along the route that the special forces would have to take to attack, as jihadis do everywhere else they are fighting Western forces.

From Blackhawk Down to Afghanistan to Waziristan, it's been demonstrated again and again that America's incredible advantage in weaponry can be neutralized in ground fighting in a hostile remote territory where the enemy has time to prepare.
posted by msalt at 10:06 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless the enthusiastic tribesman had planted IEDs along the route that the special forces would have to take to attack, as jihadis do everywhere else they are fighting Western forces.

These were SUVs traveling along a highway, they would not have time to prepare a defense everywhere along their route.

From Blackhawk Down to Afghanistan to Waziristan, it's been demonstrated again and again that America's incredible advantage in weaponry can be neutralized in ground fighting in a hostile remote territory where the enemy has time to prepare.


An open highway outside of a town is where modern Western forces, ground and air, are at their best. However, the bin Laden raid was a good example of how even a raid on a heavily defended compound in tight quarters can be accomplished without friendly casualties.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:13 PM on June 4, 2012


The NYT published a correction to blog distortions of the OP article today, including some found here on the blue:

Did President Obama really add a 17-year-old girl to the counterterrorism “kill list” maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department? No. ...

Many [left-leaning bloggers] picked up what a blogger for the conspiracy-minded PrisonPlanet.com wrote on the day the article appeared: that The Times had said Mr. Obama had placed several Americans and a 17-year-old girl, all with alleged links to the branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen, on the kill list.

What the article actually said was that Mr. Obama was shown an intelligence document at a Tuesday counterterrorism meeting in January 2010 with the names and photographs of the Qaeda suspects, including some Americans and a 17-year-old girl. The article said that Mr. Obama knew he might be asked to add such terrorism suspects to the kill list — but it did not say he had been asked to do it in this case. Nor did it say that he had done so.

posted by msalt at 7:42 AM on June 5, 2012


I don't see any such distortion in this thread.
posted by grobstein at 8:34 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The third comment in this thread was grandstanding on this point.

Though in fairness, I think the NYT is not taking responsibility for the original article, which I think did imply that a 17 year old American girl was on the kill list. That's what I understood from reading the article too, though my instinct was "bullshit, something's wrong about that." If she wasn't on the list, it's not clear at all why she was in the article at all.
posted by msalt at 9:27 AM on June 5, 2012


It was pretty clear to me she was merely on the list of people the President could kill if he decided to. Leaving us with the irony that the drones very well could see children because they might be aimed at them.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:35 AM on June 5, 2012


Worth pointing out, too, that this isn't anything like an editorial correction from the New York Times, or even a note from the paper's public editor. It's a Times blog post from Scott Shane, one of the reporters on the original story. Here's a good discussion of the "corrections" and of the challenges faced by Shane as national security reporter in the age of prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act.
posted by grobstein at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting, thanks grobstein. There's a lot of inside baseball there that's over my head, and it seems to at least stick its toes down the rabbit hole (to mix metaphors), but I couldn't agree more with the disingenuity of the Times blaming people for connecting the dots they so painstakingly laid out.

I'm not sure I understand how (falsely) implying that Obama put a 17-year old American girl on the list helps the administration, as the author states. I can sure see how it got the story more attention though.
posted by msalt at 1:28 PM on June 5, 2012


Al-Qaida number two Libi killed in Pakistan drone strike, US says. Claim follows official reprimand from Islamabad over recent increase in attacks by remote-controlled aircraft
posted by homunculus at 2:05 PM on June 5, 2012


The Obama Paradox: A conversation with David Sanger, author of a new book on Obama's secret wars.
posted by homunculus at 2:08 PM on June 5, 2012


If Pakistan is complaining then they've definatly hit someone important.
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on June 5, 2012


Drone attacks create terrorist safe havens, warns former CIA official: Indiscriminate use of drones in Middle East causes too many civilian casualties, warns former CIA counterterrorism head
posted by homunculus at 3:16 PM on June 5, 2012


From homunculus' link: Grenier was the CIA's station chief in Islamabad when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York and attacked the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. He played a key role in co-ordinating covert operations that led up to the downfall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He later headed up the CIA's CTC where he led the CIA's global operations in the War on Terror as its top counter-terrorism official. He left the agency in 2006.

So he was the key Bush CIA counter-terrorism official in Pakistan before 9/11, and in charge of counter-terrorism globally during the time Afghanistan was ignored and the Taliban gained ground, during the worst years of the Iraq anti-US insurgency in 2004-2006.

Why is anyone listening to his opinion on anything? Dude has an unparalleled record of failure.
posted by msalt at 4:27 PM on June 5, 2012


no I'm not. I'm not making any assertions about peace of long-term change.

Neither am I


Of course you were:

Blowing up a few SUVs did not change the entire area, previous airstrikes did not make the bad guys curl up in fear and go away, it helped them recruit. We bombed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years with air support regularly provided for our troops, and yet they kept on fighting back. Awlaki and his associates were well aware drones had been shadowing them and launching missiles and were still moving around despite your holes = instant retreat theories.

This refers to timescales ranging from weeks to months to years.

I'm talking about the troops that went in to check on the remains of al-Awlaki's group not getting shot at because they had a short window of safety due to the attack. I estimate that that bought them an hour, if that.

That is helpful, since I have already linked that the timeframe involved was multiple hours we can now ignore your assumptions while we wait for you to actually bring some facts to the table.


Bullshit.


As I stated previously, under your theory of everybody stopping the fighting once airstrikes start, there is no need to actually hit your target so the capture attempt could have been made even more easily after a few warning shots.

No

Okay, we agree, you are wrong that the one bomb that was dropped in the area will immediately drive away resistance and make the area safe.


I give up. You're arguing like a 12 year old, and editing out anything that doesn't support your position. You go on to suggest that the Wikipedia article must have a typo.

He had no trouble making further public statements fomenting war against the US. Go back and reread contemporary news reports prior to his death.

I think he found his death to be a problem, and as I have already linked for you interception of his communications contributed to his eventual downfall.


Again with the preteen rhetorical nonsense like saying 'he found his death to be a problem.' What bearing does that have on the content of his communications prior to his death? And if the interception of his communications contributed to his downfall, how did that in any way prevent him from communicating an assertion of innocence or a renunciation of violence? The fact that we're tracking his communications didn't deprive him of agency in deciding the content of those communications. The fact that his communications consisted almost exclusively of incitements to terrorism and violence seems irrelevant to you. Better minds than mine have opined that the constitution is not a suicide pact. al Awlaki could have either sought to put himself under the the Constitution's protection or under the protection of international institutions by expressing a desire for amnesty or a trial in a neutral forum. Failing that, he could have abstained from communicating at all, and considerably increased his own safety by forcing the US to rely on second-hand intelligence sources rather than tracking him with signal intelligence. And yet he chose to continue publicly fomenting war against the US.

As for your uninformed notions about the US military being at its best in an open environment - yeah, if your objective is to blow up a target. If you're trying to capture someone with tanks or armor, they're going to be able to see you from a long way away in the absence of cover, and are not going to drive within range of your weaponry in the first place. Tanks and armor do not move very fast. It's kind of difficult to ambush someone in flat open terrain, and trying to do so with a tank is potentially making yourself into a giant target if the enemy, whose territory you are in, has chosen to establish any concealed firing positions such as crawl tunnels. Frankly, I would rather go into a unknown building, because while it's certainly scary to enter a building with an unknown number of armed inhabitants and an unknown layout, the existence of walls and corners also provide cover and allow an incremental approach to entry.

Certainly, it would have been possible to attack him other ways. But the costs of doing so would have been unjustifiably high, whereas simply killing the guy provided a rather significant strategic benefit. We now return you to your alternative reality in which Anwar al-Awlaki is an innocent victim who was murdered for preaching peace and harmony.

fuck.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:35 PM on June 5, 2012


Of course you were:

Blowing up a few SUVs did not change the entire area, previous airstrikes did not make the bad guys curl up in fear and go away, it helped them recruit. We bombed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years with air support regularly provided for our troops, and yet they kept on fighting back. Awlaki and his associates were well aware drones had been shadowing them and launching missiles and were still moving around despite your holes = instant retreat theories.

This refers to timescales ranging from weeks to months to years.


It refers to the present for any individual under direct threat of being targeted at any time off the battlefield or on an active battlefield where airstrikes are a constant presence. Even in these situations, under direct threat of airstrike in the present, they fight on.

It would be far easier for you if I was arguing the point you just made up of course, but that isn't the conversation we are having.

Witnesses claim that the US has struck again immediately at the same sites in the past killing civilians who have rushed to the location, to say nothing of militants who may do the same. Your assertion that the danger of the situation was erased by the airstrike is simply false. With it or without it, the militants are willing to confront American forces and do not instantly run and hide if a bomb is dropped.

In fact his Tribe claims to have discovered his body as well.

"We found his body in pieces," said Abubakr al-Awlaki, a leader of the Awalik tribe, to which Awlaki belongs. "Why kill him in this brutal, ugly way? Killing him will not solve their problem with al Qaeda, it will just increase their strength and sympathy for (AQAP) in this region."


That is helpful, since I have already linked that the timeframe involved was multiple hours we can now ignore your assumptions while we wait for you to actually bring some facts to the table.

Bullshit.


I linked here the reporting that the Yemeni Army secured the area within hours, not within one hour. Please cite your evidence showing otherwise if you wish to dispute this point.

I give up. You're arguing like a 12 year old, and editing out anything that doesn't support your position. You go on to suggest that the Wikipedia article must have a typo.


You have yet to identify why exactly you linked to Wikipedia for me and are having a hissy fit that I'm not engaging with whatever it could be your argument is?

Again with the preteen rhetorical nonsense like saying 'he found his death to be a problem.' What bearing does that have on the content of his communications prior to his death?

The communications prior to his death contributed to his death, and to the previous near misses aimed at him.

Any such communications would have potentially exposed him to missile fire. And as I may have mentioned, at issue is an innocent individual potentially facing a similar situation. That Awlaki did not chose to make such communication does not mean another in his situation might desire to, which is complicated by the possibility of instant death.

As for your uninformed notions about the US military being at its best in an open environment - yeah, if your objective is to blow up a target. If you're trying to capture someone with tanks or armor, they're going to be able to see you from a long way away in the absence of cover, and are not going to drive within range of your weaponry in the first place.

The lack of cover is a bigger issue for the other side when one side has heavily armored vehicles they can use. If Awlaki did not surrender to the capture attempt, there would then be little option but to kill him, as occurred with bin Laden. It does not particularly matter if it isn't sneaky, in fact being as loud as possible in announcing that it was a capture attempt would be a good idea. If he runs or fights, the drone is always there as backup.

Bullshit.

You're arguing like a 12 year old

Again with the preteen rhetorical nonsense


We now return you to your alternative reality in which Anwar al-Awlaki is an innocent victim who was murdered for preaching peace and harmony.

I'm not sure why you think continuing to lie about the content of my arguments and name calling instead of engaging with my positions and the reporting I have cited is enhancing your argument.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:21 PM on June 5, 2012


It seems to me that the only pre-teen fantasy around here is the idea that with a budget over a trillion dollars the US military can't present the POTUS with any means to capture these alleged criminals alive. This is secondary to the topic at hand which is that the same POTUS can apparently out anyone in the world on his personal hit list. Once on that list you have zero recourse with any court. Furthermore the list is secret, so you can't even know if you are in the list. It is too much. Obama has gone too far on this and needs to be made to dial it back.
posted by humanfont at 6:53 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know who this Max Read is, who wrote that article at Gawker, but equating Trayvon Martin with someone driving in a car with an Al Qaeda terrorist in North Waziristan or lawless southern Yemen is incredibly offensive.

Sure, it is not proof of guilt that someone is driving around outlaw territory with a terrorist, but they're not exactly walking home from the minimart with tea and Skittles either.


No, they may instead be a couple of teenagers driving to their aunt's house.
posted by homunculus at 7:27 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Humanfont: there is no support for capturing them. They couldn't be charged with criminal offenses ("suspect was seen together with other adult males"?) and your country is either unwilling or unable to try the people it has already captured. On the other hand, there's not much point treating them as POWs if there's no opposing side to which they could be released.

As for it being necessary for the US President to dial it back, I recall that Obama was once the great liberal hope. If a generally left-wing Constitutional scholar now endorses a Presidential kill list then the forces arrayed against your position are incredibly powerful and incredibly persuasive. Apparently there are no liberal lobbies in the USA: look at all the unsourced news reports about how the President has exhibited toughness and braveness by being personally in charge of the team that selects people to be killed. This says that (a) news media think that the public accept this; and (b) the news media are being fed a party line direct from the White House.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:38 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, they may instead be a couple of teenagers driving to their aunt's house.

It would certainly be easier to argue the anti-drone case based on that sort of thing rather than fantasy-land stuff like al Awlaki being a harmless saint or a ground assault with intent to capture being exactly equivelent to an attack from the air.
posted by Artw at 7:57 PM on June 5, 2012


rather than fantasy-land stuff like al Awlaki being a harmless saint

or the pro-drone argument that Obama's eating of babies has given him magic powers to determine without mistake who to kill.

/because we are making up arguments.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:03 PM on June 5, 2012


humanfont: the only pre-teen fantasy around here is the idea that with a budget over a trillion dollars the US military can't present the POTUS with any means to capture these alleged criminals alive.

We're talking about people who purposely set up jihadi camps in lawless regions outside the reach of national governments. Their own governments are not able to go to Waziristan, to South Yemen, to Somalia.

So I don't understand what gives you confidence that the US can send a group of troops all around the world into these regions and effortlessly arrest these people. Iraq was much more urban, more settled and the US occupied the entire country -- still, our army took a lot of losses there.

No doubt, it's a very difficult situation. It's hard to prevent some mistaken attacks. (BTW, the link about the aunt's house says that locals told the police the teens were jihadis and put a GPS on their vehicle to get a reward. )

But also, how do you imagine these trials would go? Would they be in the U.S., or the host country? Whose rules would apply? How could we possibly prevent intimidation of witnesses when their own government's army is afraid to go there?
posted by msalt at 8:20 PM on June 5, 2012


Their own governments are not able to go to Waziristan, to South Yemen, to Somalia.

*Unless they drop one bomb first.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:29 PM on June 5, 2012


We don't know whom we are talking about because the list is classified. All your assumptions are simply based on celebratory press releases. How long is the list, who is on it and what are their options to challenge or surrender peacefully.
posted by humanfont at 8:36 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're talking to me, no. The lawless of those regions is well-documented and accepted by everyone except for some reason furiousxgeorge. Awlaki had in fact been tried and convicted in absentia in Yemen, by Yemenis because they couldn't reach them. Etc.

The difficulty is choosing and being sure about individuals, and that's no small difficulty. But the geopolitical situation in these regions is well established, and no one here has been able to show any examples of the Obama Administration using drones or the kill list outside of them. This is why it's BS when people start predicting US political opponents will be mowed down, or American tourists in Paris and Oslo, or British human rights critics, &c.
posted by msalt at 6:49 AM on June 6, 2012


If you're talking to me, no. The lawless of those regions is well-documented and accepted by everyone except for some reason furiousxgeorge.

Yes, I reject the idea that they couldn't enter the area because it has been widely reported that they did. I have not denied the ongoing Al Qaeda presence in the area, I am simply noting that you need a better excuse for killing a citizen than that you can't get to him if you can get to his body hours after the attack.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:17 AM on June 6, 2012


Afghanistan suffers day of bloodshed at hands of Nato and Taliban: Thirty civilians killed by suicide bombers in market and air strike that wiped out village wedding party, say officials
posted by homunculus at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2012


In other news: Bin Laden raid harms Pakistan polio fight

David Ignatius: The threat to global health from the hunt for bin Laden
posted by homunculus at 10:59 AM on June 6, 2012


no one here has been able to show any examples of the Obama Administration using drones or the kill list outside of them.

I suppose you include the vast lawless tract of America that is North Dakota
posted by humanfont at 11:54 AM on June 6, 2012


In case I wasn't clear, I meant using drones to attack people. Your link says police used a drone to find some gunmen. And your point is? As the article says "For decades, U.S. courts have allowed law enforcement to conduct aerial surveillance without a warrant. "

You realize that thousands of people use drones (in the form of remote control model airplanes) every day, right? This is a widespread technology that is not rare or hard to replicate. I just don't get this attitude of "Weird technology! No! Make it go away!" That's not the world we live in, and hasn't been for a long time.
posted by msalt at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know where you've seen this "Weird technology! No! Make it go away!" argument, but I don't really see anyone here making it. I think what is much more likely at the root of opposition to drone warfare are the sort of things I mentioned waaaaay upthread. Granted, some people are coming out against drones without particularly articulating why they are opposed, but I don't see anyone basing their argument on a fear of "weird technology."

As an apparent proponent of drone warfare, would you care to discuss any of the points I made upthread, or the other serious points other people opposed to drone use have brought up?

There is a lot of valuable and valid criticism of the technological creep of unmanned aerial attack and surveillance machines. Treating all criticism as being bred from some paranoid, Luddite fear of new technology is disingenuous.
posted by broadway bill at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gawker has a fantastic rant up on this.
posted by humanfont at 5:12 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


broadway bill: I responded directly to your last two points in the very next comment; I don't know how more directly I can discuss with you. I did not discuss your previous comment (#4383689). You said that PTSD was just as high for drone operators as ground fighters (I doubt that, though I'm sure it's more than we might imagine, as has been seen with snipers.)

You also raised concerns about drones desensitizing people to the human realities of war. This is a concern, but it is true of every advance in weaponry that allows people to attack from farther away, and die less often in the attack. What's the alternative? A return to hand to hand combat, so as to fully drive home the costs of battle?
posted by msalt at 5:18 PM on June 6, 2012


BTW, I am not a proponent of drone technology; I just recognize that it's here and not likely to go away. It has advantages (greater accuracy by far than other airborne attacks, minimal risk to the person operating it) and risks (anything that lowers the cost of attacking risks increasing war, plus it makes attacks "behind the lines" vastly easier, which will have all sorts of implications we haven't worked out yet.)

I don't think it's as fundamentally different as people here make it out to be, and I don't think Obama should be vilified for using it. For example, Clinton launched cruise missiles at Afghanistan and Sudan in the 1990s to try to get Osama Bin Laden. The attacks failed and killed some other people. I just don't see how drone attacks, which appear to be much more accurate, are somehow worse than that. Is it better to send an army to attack or occupy a place like Waziristan? I sure don't see how. Drones may alienate locals, but invasions REALLY alienate them.

The real fundamental changes in military technology were attack by long distance rifles, and then by aircraft, which happened long long ago. Drones basically put those two things together and refine them, while providing much better information before attack.
posted by msalt at 5:37 PM on June 6, 2012


Fair enough. I actually didn't even remember making anything other than my initial post in this thread, so I had forgotten that you responded to others.

Still, though, the question in my last post (regarding your characterization of opposition to drone strikes as rooted in drones being "weird technology") is what I am most interested in. Can you give me some examples of people making that argument? I certainly don't see anyone in this thread making that point.

On preview:

I think that praising the efficiency and advances in warfare made possible by drones does, in fact, make you a proponent. But that's very much beside the point.

Like any technology, controversial or otherwise, the longevity of drones is all but guaranteed if everyone accepts, as you do, that they are "not likely to go away." Personally, I feel like technological advancements that increase America's ability to quietly and casually murder people around the globe should be resisted and examined critically. As such, I think that drones--and plenty of other pieces of advanced war tech--are clearly a step in the wrong direction.

I certainly don't praise Clinton (or anyone else, for that matter) for launching cruise missile attacks targeting Bin Laden (or anyone else, for that matter). I am also not calling for a return to hand-to-hand combat in the theater of war. I am interested (and I assume this position is shared by plenty of other anti-drone folks) in seeing the end of the ongoing technological militarization of our world, and drones are one of the biggest steps away from that I have ever seen.

Beyond that, as someone who takes serious interest in the psychology of surveillance, I think the idea of armed aerial panopticons is seriously troubling. Drones, because of their increasingly wide application and acceptance, represent to me a terrifying leap in surveillance powers. And, of course, as the powers of surveillance increase, so does the impact on the psychology of the surveilled.

Basically, it seems like this: if you accept the premise of the necessity of war, drones are not likely to be a problem, because--as you have pointed out--they likely increase efficiency in targeting and execution. And, when you take an actual drone attack scenario and compare it to the hypothetical alternative of boots-on-the-ground combat, it appears that drones reduce casualties. Those are all valid and likely true things.

However, if you don't accept the premise of necessary war (I don't, as I said upthread), drones are reduced to just another technological advancement that furthers the causes of war, violence, and injustice. I would imagine that, were we in the time of the invention of the long rifle, I would be arguing against that development as well. I don't, as a rule, support the development or use of any technology that makes it easier for the wealthy nations of the world to quietly kill their enemies.

I think, personally, that Obama should be vilified for using drones. I also think he should be vilified for continuing the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on the poor, and all the other wars we're in. I suspect that this is the root of our disagreement on this issue.
posted by broadway bill at 6:08 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Humanfront: that is indeed a rant, but a good one. I enjoyed it, hyperbole and all. Thanks for posting it.
posted by broadway bill at 6:11 PM on June 6, 2012


broadway bill: re: weird technology. Party that's a gut impression, and partly it's from the ongoing discussions on Metafilter across several topics. Looking through this thread, I suppose it's the references to "robot bombs," "we are becoming Skynet," "murdered by robots," etc. Which are of course inaccurate. These are not robots -- humans are operating them.

What fascinates me is that it seems to be precisely their accuracy that bothers me. The hook in the NYT story is that Obama is looking at pictures of individuals, and that we are targeting individuals. We've been dropping bombs on houses and areas for years, killing everyone below them, and civilian deaths are shrugged off. No trials, capture, judicial review.

But somehow now that we are more careful, and target much more carefully, and we even have a president who insists on personally reviewing each shot before it's allowed -- people are more bothered. I think it's much better for the prez to take responsibility for each shot and look at the face of the person. In a weird way, technology is actually re-humanizing warfare, certainly as opposed to artillery and manned aircraft bombing.
posted by msalt at 11:53 PM on June 6, 2012


Basically, it seems like this: if you accept the premise of the necessity of war, drones are not likely to be a problem, because--as you have pointed out--they likely increase efficiency in targeting and execution.

I think we're on the same page. I'd only add that you don't have to accept the premise of the necessity of war -- I'm not sure I do -- to see it as a political reality. The U.S. is a democracy and the American people consistently vote for war-mongerers over peace candidates. The only Democrats who have been elected in the last 100 years were all hawks and war leaders. Kennedy attacked Nixon on the missile gap, Carter was a navy veteran who increased the military's budget, Obama talked tough on Afghanistan and kept his word, LBJ launched the Vietnam War, Clinton attacked Bin Laden and Serbia, etc.

Obama could have announced in 2009 "Fuck it, Afghanistan's a waste, yeah terrorists might blow up a 100 or 200 Americans but it's not worth the massive cost so I'm pulling out immediately." But he never would have been elected in 2008, and Romney would be easily elected this time. Does anyone think Mitt will unilaterally stop using drones?
posted by msalt at 12:00 AM on June 7, 2012


But somehow now that we are more careful, and target much more carefully, and we even have a president who insists on personally reviewing each shot before it's allowed -- people are more bothered.

It's entirely incorrect to suggest this, the public outcry over the War in Iraq, for example, was much greater than the outcry over drone campaigns.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:08 AM on June 7, 2012


Public outcry, true. That's why Obama is hemmed in politically. But here on Metafilter, people are talking about assassination, extrajudicial murder, etc. precisely because we are targeting more carefully. When Bush, Clinton, Bush I or even Obama just launch a missile or drop bombs that hit whoever they hit, no such concerns. That seems backwards to me.
posted by msalt at 9:09 AM on June 7, 2012


Absolutely plenty of people on Metafilter are concerned by all that.

Bush took a lot more criticism for his handling of the war here than Obama does for drone use.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:42 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probing Obama’s secrecy games: Will high-level Obama officials who leak for political gain be punished on equal terms with actual whistleblowers?
posted by homunculus at 10:09 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair question. Based on every administration in history: don't hold your breath. We're lucky if people get fired. (See Scooter Libby)
posted by msalt at 4:29 PM on June 7, 2012


The President, Drones, and Just War Theory. Obama’s decisions about Predator strikes have reportedly been influenced by Augustine and Aquinas. Would the saints agree?
posted by homunculus at 10:18 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seeing as terrorists are operating outside effective national jurisdiction and not directly as agents of any government, it seems like piracy is the closest moral and legal analogy. Are people here opposed to attacking pirate bases (versus capturing them and bringing them to trial)?
posted by msalt at 11:03 AM on June 16, 2012


Are you suggesting expanding drone strikes to pirates?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:10 PM on June 16, 2012


You should read Homunculus' article. The moral and legal question doesn't have much to do with which weapon you use: cruise missiles, bombs from a B-52, a sniper rifle, a drone missile, or an invading army or commando unit.

The fundamental question -- and it's not an easy one in either direction -- is, does the U.S. President (or anyone) have the right to launch a deadly attack on someone who is not part of the army of a nation we are at war with.

We attack Somali pirates with non-drone weapons and no one is bothered. We attacked the Barbary Pirates centuries ago, no one was bothered. There was no trial, no judicial review. I'm wondering what the distinction is between those cases and these ones, aside from the motivation of the outlaw.
posted by msalt at 4:46 PM on June 16, 2012


So...no?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:04 PM on June 16, 2012


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