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Sins of the fathers?
July 19, 2013 5:17 AM   Subscribe

The Drone That Killed My Grandson — Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, Fulbright scholar, founder of Ibb University and former president of Sana University, served as Yemen’s minister of agriculture and fisheries from 1988 to 1990. His 16-year-old grandson Abdulrahman (an American citizen born in Denver, Colorado) was killed by an American drone strike in Yemen on Oct. 14, 2011, two weeks after his father Anwar was killed by a previous drone strike.
posted by cenoxo (84 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

This is a very, very damning statement and only the beginning I'm afraid.
posted by Renoroc at 5:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Powerful.

For shame, America. Dr. al-Awlaki, on behalf of everyone who, like me, voted for our current president thinking this madness would decline or stop, not get worse, I sincerely apologize for our gullibility.

The US is actually turning into the national version of George Zimmerman. So many Trayvons.
posted by spitbull at 5:22 AM on July 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


So whose side are you on? Do you want the blood of - if not innocent then at the very least untried - people on your hands? (Plus any random bystanders unlucky enough to be near them when you deliver the thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky.) Or do you want to make some futile gesture of opposition to the murderous surveillance state America has become and prove to the state apparatus that they were right all along? That they do have enemies and must act ruthlessly to protect themselves?

I said it some years ago and events since then continue to bear me out: The war on terror won't be over until, one way or another, all of us are terrorists.
posted by Naberius at 5:29 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime.

Because the government is not treating terrorism as a crime, but as a war. You can, quite easily, argue that it should be treated as a criminal matter. But it's not, so the argument that he was never even charged seems to miss the bigger debate.

I've said this a couple of times before, but the real questions are:

- What is an enemy combatant?
- When, if ever, can an American be one?

Arguments over drones, tactics and trials will go no where until we address those two questions.
posted by spaltavian at 5:48 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


What-fucking-ever.

Anwar al-Awlaki was a terrorist. His son was collateral damage, but evidence suggests that he was at least consorting with terrorists without valid (i.e. journalistic) purpose at the time he was killed. I'm not wasting my concern over either of them.

To suggest that American forces cannot put down a terrorist operating in a foreign combat theatre merely because of an accident of citizenship is ludicrous, and reminds me of nothing so much as Joss Ackland's character in Lethal Weapon 2, standing over a man he has just shot and claiming "Diplomatic Immunity!"
posted by The Confessor at 5:48 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was some heart-breaking testimony in congress from a Yemeni that I heard on C-span the other day. The Atlantic summarizes it here.
"My stories about my experiences in America, my American friends, and the American values that I saw for myself helped the villagers I talked to understand the America that I know and love. Now, however, when they think of America they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads ready to fire missiles at any time. I personally don't even know if it is safe for me to go back to Wessab because I am someone who people in my village associate with America and its values." What American policymakers need to understand, he added, is that "Wessab first experienced America through the terror of a drone strike. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America."
posted by empath at 5:49 AM on July 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


His son was collateral damage

No. His son was killed two weeks later, in a separate strike.

The rest of your comment is so odious as to not merit a response, but at least get the facts right.
posted by downing street memo at 6:00 AM on July 19, 2013 [28 favorites]


downing street memo

Before you begin to write, you must first learn to read. In reading, you will discover that I never claimed him to be collateral damage of the strike that killed his father.
posted by The Confessor at 6:03 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


“The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court.”

That's a long winded way of saying his son (not the grandson) was a terrorist and enemy combatant according to the military instead of tried in civilian court.

That his son is a well known terrorist actively trying to kill or have others kill Americans is not in dispute. For better or worse, no nation on earth holds a civilian court system trial for every individual enemy soldier before letting them get shot.

He then says his grandson went off to find this known terrorist who is trying to kill Americans. Other news sources on this issue clarify that beyond any doubt the grandson was with a group of known Al Quaeda combatants. There is a claim these particular combatants were just about to renounce Al Quaeda, just hadn't yet. The truth of that can't be proven and is certainly tragic if true. But in the meantime most of the men considered themselves soldiers in a justified war, and this grandson was old enough to know who he was with and had deliberately sought them out.

Much like Reuters videographers pointing cameras around corners at helos get killed when huddled amid a group of combatants, I'd think common sense says you're making an informed decision when you choose to embed with combatants.

If you want to change this, you need to get both sides to agree these guys are not soldiers.

For now, both sides say they are, and both sides say they're at war. The terrorism/terrorist term is just a cynical distraction by the US to rally support for its war on an enemy without a state or borders, and the "not found guilty in court" argument is a cynical distraction by the other side who knows full well these terrorists/freedom fighters also consider themselves soldiers at war.

We shouldn't be at war. Arguing about civil court is missing the point that congress needs to debate and judge the war itself, so these actions could no longer fall under military law.
posted by Skeuomorph at 6:06 AM on July 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


When you play the Game of Drones ...
posted by kafziel at 6:12 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not an American citizen. I'm not the head of Al Queda in Yemen. I'm still not interested in crying any tears for Anwar or pretending he represents some kind of slippery slope based on the former rather than the later.

Make your anti-drone arguments based on someone else.
posted by Artw at 6:15 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


When, if ever, can an American be [an enemy combatant]?

I'd imagine there has to be precedent on this, at least from the few German-Americans who returned to Germany to fight for the Nazis (or the Central Powers in WWI) if nothing else. As much as the politicians like to think that we're living in a totally unique and unprecedented historical situation (because ... um, 9/11!!@!), we aren't.

Not, however, that the precedent might go the way we want; it's my understanding that the trial of German saboteurs during WWII (who were, truth be told, a rather hapless bunch) is exactly what is used to justify trying US citizens as enemy combatants in military courts rather than in civilian court for the crime of treason.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:18 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


When, if ever, can an American be [an enemy combatant]?

I'd imagine there has to be precedent on this


In terms of raw numbers, the biggest precedent would have been the American Civil War. Confederate soldiers on the battlefield didn't get trials; as they were enemy combatants in a war.

That's why the "crime" vs "war" matters, because you don't get a trial if you're an enemy combatant on a battlefield.
posted by spaltavian at 6:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem is when the administration circularly defines an enemy combatant as anyone who they just blew up.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:22 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


The first Anwar thread.
posted by Artw at 6:23 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ridiculous. An American citizen deserves harsher treatment, not more lenient treatment, if they support, to say the least of lead, our enemies. The debate about foreign enemies' treatment is a serious one, but about traitors -- no debate should be needed.
posted by MattD at 6:24 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


because you don't get a trial if you're an enemy combatant on a battlefield

Which is why it's a problem when the entire world becomes the battlefield, and you define combatant more loosely than someone who has actually engaged in combat. The secrecy and vagueness in the process makes it too easy to just label everyone a terrorist, and the program essentially justifies itself.
posted by cotterpin at 6:31 AM on July 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well, one problem is that calling out "hits" to "put down" anyone who says they are at war with the US, even if they make utube videos.... makes the US weaker rather than stronger.

To suggest that American forces cannot put down a terrorist operating in a foreign combat theatre merely because of an accident of citizenship is ludicrous, and reminds me of nothing so much as Joss Ackland's character in Lethal Weapon 2, standing over a man he has just shot and claiming "Diplomatic Immunity!"

In the same law book that Godwin comes from is a similar law which states that in any discussion between Americans, the probability that events in foreign lands will be compared, in deadly earnest, to events in a fictional movie or tv show approaches 1.

There's no point in having the discussion: the US is murderous and insane. We want to kill, even if it hurts us in the end, and then try to argue the technicalities of whether it was legal or not. A nation of Zimmermans indeed.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:34 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not wasting my concern over either of them.

Collateral damage: The process whereby the ranks of terrorists are replenished from the justifications of those that manage to survive.

Seriously, I was reading a story where we killed some guy, then when people were gathering for his funeral we killed a bunch of those people. The man in the interview had lost his wife and child in the attack. My first thought was, "Well, if he wasn't a terrorist he is now." My second thought was, "Can I consider him a terrorist if I'd do the same actions?" Seriously, if an agent killed my wife and kid I would make it my life's mission to cause as much damage back to that agent. When you have a war on something abstract like drugs or terrorism there's no real way to hit back at the people fighting those wars, so you fall back on terrorism.

I'm all for killing bad guys. It's the people we take with them that I have a problem with.

Ridiculous. An American citizen deserves harsher treatment, not more lenient treatment, if they support, to say the least of lead, our enemies.

If a government feels free to kill its own citizens without some sort of due process then the citizens of this government cannot claim to be free. If you're willing to be considered as something other than free, then I suppose I am fine with our government killing you and others (and myself as well) with impunity. Me? I'd prefer to consider myself to be free (and I am having a harder and harder time with this).
posted by cjorgensen at 6:43 AM on July 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


While getting stuff off your chest is a nice exercise--he is an Am.; he is a terrorist, he is not really one--perhaps it would be useful to read This Book, which has a major focus upon that individual while it develops a lot of interesting material about our clandestine assassination operations.
posted by Postroad at 6:49 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Put another way: indefinite detention, NSA spying on its own citizens, secret courts, state sanctioned killing of citizens without trial, a rising police state, banks bailouts of criminal institutions, worker/CEO pay ratios that are astounding and immoral, corporate negligence unchecked, pensions collapsing, attacks on workers rights, erosions of civil liberties in the name of safety...it becomes easier to understand how people are becoming "self-radicalized." Or, if you prefer, I am stating to understand what the forefathers were thinking when they decided to kick England's troops out of the country.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:52 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whether or not the US is justified in killing terrorists in drone strikes is not the point. The point is whether or not the US needs to justify these killings at all.

This point seems lost on most of you here. They boy may have been a terrorist. But if he weren't a terrorist, nothing about this case would change at all. Still no one would have standing to challenge his death. The decisions about his killing would remain shrouded out of concerns for national security.
posted by cotterpin at 7:05 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If a government feels free to kill its own citizens without some sort of due process then the citizens of this government cannot claim to be free.

What do you think due process is? The process due to an American citizen engaged in active combat operations against the US is not a live capture and trial, it's that they be taken out by the military in the field, same as a non-citizen. This has never not been the case, and if you want hundreds of thousands of examples, I'd point you to the American citizens killed in the field during the Civil War.
posted by kafziel at 7:06 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


kafziel: The process due to an American citizen engaged in active combat operations against the US

What's the check on the US government's claim that the citizen is so engaged?
posted by Gyan at 7:09 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did Anwar al-Awlaki kill anyone or try to kill anyone?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:11 AM on July 19, 2013


What's the check on the US government's claim that the citizen is so engaged?

There is none. States have a right to wage war in self-defence, and that right is not reviewable by a court. If you choose to take up arms against your country outside its borders, you're not entitled to the protection of its laws. Don't want to be killed in a drone strike? Don't be a terrorist. Don't hang around with terrorists. If you do, don't expect to be protected by the citizenship of a country against which you've chosen to commit treason.
posted by Dasein at 7:15 AM on July 19, 2013


Don't want to be killed in a drone strike? Don't be a terrorist.

Tell that to all the innocent, poor souls who have lost their lives due to drone strikes.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:17 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dasein: you're begging the question.

States have a right to wage war in self-defence

Indeed, but what's the check that the war act against one's own citizen was self-defense?
posted by Gyan at 7:18 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't want to be killed in a drone strike? Don't be a terrorist. Don't hang around with terrorists.

Declaring someone a terrorist without due process has no legitimacy under the law.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:20 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dasein: "States have a right to wage war in self-defence, and that right is not reviewable by a court. If you choose to take up arms against your country outside its borders, you're not entitled to the protection of its laws. Don't want to be killed in a drone strike? Don't be a terrorist. Don't hang around with terrorists. If you do, don't expect to be protected by the citizenship of a country against which you've chosen to commit treason."
So in your view, it would be perfectly a-ok for a Chinese warship to fire a missile at a car on California's coastal highway 1, carrying a Falun Gong activist, two all-American college teens and a gun in the glovebox?
posted by brokkr at 7:20 AM on July 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


But who decides if you indeed have taken up arms against your country? What exactly do you have to say or do to make yourself eligible for targeting, and what process evaluates any evidence that you have done so?
posted by cotterpin at 7:20 AM on July 19, 2013


Indeed, but what's the check that the war act against one's own citizen was self-defense?

We elect our governments. If they go waging wars that we think are wrong, we vote them out. That's the check. Wrongful death lawsuits may also be a possibility, but they're not much good when you're already dead. So if you think your government might want to kill you for what you're doing abroad, you'd be well-advised to stop doing it, because a court isn't going to protect you. Al-Awlaki knew full well he was waging war on the United States. I don't get all the weeping for a terrorist who got what he deserved, expected and wanted.

Tell that to all the innocent, poor souls who have lost their lives due to drone strikes.

Civilian casualties are awful, but inevitable in any war, which is why military action has to be proportional to the threat. I don't think there has ever been a more precise or proportional military response to a threat than drone strikes, which give far, far more opportunity to target high-value terrorists and avoid civilian casualties than any military alternative.

So in your view, it would be perfectly a-ok for a Chinese warship to fire a missile at a car on California's coastal highway 1, carrying a Falun Gong activist, two all-American college teens and a gun in the glovebox?

Drone strikes only take place in areas where the government is unable or unwilling to assist in the arrest of someone who poses an imminent threat to the country. Your idiotic comparison to a falun-gong activist might go down well with the politburo, but it's not a serious argument. If the U.S. were knowing harbouring people who were planning a truck bomb attack in Shanghai and refused to turn them over, as the Taliban did with Al Qaeda before 9/11, then, yes, the Chinese would be justified in a drone strike to take out the threat. That scenario is never going to happen.
posted by Dasein at 7:27 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


But who decides if you indeed have taken up arms against your country? What exactly do you have to say or do to make yourself eligible for targeting, and what process evaluates any evidence that you have done so?

Your government decides. So far, they're doing an excellent job. Find me a single person targeted by a drone strike who didn't consider themselves at war with America.
posted by Dasein at 7:28 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What you are doing is exactly what the US government is doing: you are claiming that the US is at war, with a specific type of person, and that this type of person is not geographically limited and can be found anywhere. Once a person is deemed to constitute this type, the US views the country they are currently residing into to have compromised sovereignty, thus granting free reign for the US to conduct any actions that they see fit.

Moreover, you and the US are transferring the laws of war that more or less governed intracontinental nation-state based rivalry to an entirely different scenario where one state, which is under no existential threat, can deem any individual anywhere to subject to these so-called laws of war, abrogating whatever international or domestic law prevailed prior.

You don't see how this is problematic?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:36 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


So in your view, it would be perfectly a-ok for a Chinese warship to fire a missile at a car on California's coastal highway 1, carrying a Falun Gong activist, two all-American college teens and a gun in the glovebox?

In the traditional view of things, this would be an act of war by China against the United States. But places like Afghanistan and Yemen are so much weaker than the US -- and their governments so dependent on US support -- that the US is effectively able to act unchecked.


While I'm personally unhappy with the moral justification for these acts, I also recognize that it's a complicated topic and I can't dismiss out-of-hand all of the views of the people who see things otherwise. I think that arguing against GWOT on practical grounds is more likely to end the acts I don't like than an appeal to morality.
posted by Slothrup at 7:36 AM on July 19, 2013


In short, why does the US consider itself to be at war with people like anwar al-awlaki?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2013


Dasein: "And me a single person targeted by a drone strike who didn't consider themselves at war with America."

Oh, ffs do your homework.

I really appreciate some of these pathetically misguided opinions being shared here on MeFi, as make it a lot easier to understand how 70% of Americans were able to convince themselves that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. I appreciate that that was a serious event guys, and did more to shake up your sense of security than any other event since WWII. But really, listen to yourselves.
posted by vanar sena at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Your government decides. So far, they're doing an excellent job. Find me a single person targeted by a drone strike who didn't consider themselves at war with America

Isn't that placing burden of proof is on the accused to show that they aren't a terrorist? It's really convenient for the government, seeing as how the people killed are dead and cannot defend themselves.

If the government wants to imprison one of it's citizens, it doesn't just do so. There shouldn't be a lower standard when the government wants to kill one of them. When a prosecutor issues an indictment, we don't lock defendents up and tell them their due process is to vote in a different government. This logic behind this is absurd, unless you are cleverly saying that there isn't, and ought not be, any due process at all.

You are still begging the question. How do we decide that these people are terrorists?

What I think the real answer to this question is, and the answer for most Americans, is that you don't really care.
posted by cotterpin at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: "In short, why does the US consider itself to be at war with people like anwar al-awlaki?"

Mostly because they're the wrong kind of citizens. If they had been "real" citizens, like the Rosenbergs or Aldrich Ames, they would probably get a trial.
posted by vanar sena at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2013


It is fairly obvious that calling anyone a terrorist for any reason is incredibly stupid. What isn't as much stated is that people are bloodthirsty enough to viscerally enjoy the destruction of human life. If drone strikes are to be made on the strength of our justifications, and our justifications lack critical thought, then our justifications are validated solely by the use of the very drone strikes they give credence to. Clearly we have been separated from the standard of imminent threat.
~the other Texan
posted by flyinghamster at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the mucky muck who authorized the killing knew that the op-ed writer had filed a lawsuit challenging his authority to do so?

That might imply a little malice to some people. Overkill.
posted by bukvich at 7:44 AM on July 19, 2013


I would also like to add that the kinds of justifications for these attacks that Dasien and many on the American right, and the current administration itself, are offering are in essence identical to the justifications for terrorist attacks on American soil.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:44 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


we don't lock defendents up and tell them their due process is to vote in a different government

Well, yeah, because that is not "due process of law" under any credible interpretation of that phrase.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:46 AM on July 19, 2013


Re: voting in a different government, I think we tried that.
posted by Joe Chip at 7:49 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


cotterpin: Isn't that placing burden of proof is on the accused to show that they aren't a terrorist?

"Burden of proof" is only an applicable concept to criminal matters, not war. Again, it is perfectly logical, and quite possibly best policy to argue that the United States should treat terrorism as a criminal matter, but that's not what it is currently doing.

Arguing the United States should meet a burden of proof in a war makes no sense, you need to argue the United State shouldn't be at war.

joe chip: The problem is when the administration circularly defines an enemy combatant as anyone who they just blew up.

Yeah, hence my first post:

- What is an enemy combatant?
- When, if ever, can an American be one?

Arguments over drones, tactics and trials will go no where until we address those two questions.

posted by spaltavian at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2013


vanar sena: Dasein: "And me a single person targeted by a drone strike who didn't consider themselves at war with America."

Oh, ffs do your homework.


Your article is about civilian casualties, not people who have been targeted. The claim made was that everyone targeted considered themselves at war with America. I assume Dasein considers accidental killings to be regretable. Are signature strikes really different that what has occured in previous wars?
posted by spaltavian at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I'm completely fascinated by spies and spend a lot of time listening to Spycast, the podcast from the International Spy Museum. If you're interested in the al-Awlaki story, here's a fascinating interview with Morten Storm, who was a Danish convert turned spy who helped track down al-Awlaki: A Western Spy Among Terrorists in Yemen. They seemed totally convinced that Awlaki was planning an imminent attack, but for yet another podcast that will undermine your faith in the CIA, I also recommend Interrogating a High Value Detainee: A Morality Tale.
posted by carolr at 8:28 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Personally, I feel drones are immoral. I say this as a man enlisted in the military between '87-'93. I believe if we are going to have an actual war, if we are going to kill actual people, we'd better have a damn good reason and we'd better be willing to pay the price and have the courtesy to look the man you are killing in the eye1 before you do it. It takes people on the ground to make intelligent decisions about when to pull the trigger. A committee thousands of miles away and a "pilot" playing a video game don't count.

What we have now is a country that pretty much has a monopoly on warfare. There's isn't another country out there that could oppose the US military. We've built a might engine of war and we love to use it.

By conducting our combat from the safety of a military base in Iowa, by using drones that risk no troops, we're conducting a type of warfare that gives our enemies nothing to strike back at. They can't shoot at the people shooting at them. You can't raise up arms against your invaders.

We're forcing them into asymmetrical warfare. When this happens anything representing your enemy becomes a target, and the cycle repeats.

1. "Look them in the eye" is a metaphorical expression in this case. I am fine with an actual pilot in an actual plane conducting in theater missions as well.

Your article is about civilian casualties, not people who have been targeted.

This was the sort of logic I was taught to get around the Geneva Conventions. You can't shoot people with a 50 cal, but you can shoot equipment or lay down suppressing fire. So when you want to shoot a person with one, don't aim at the person, aim at his backpack or his LCE.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


While nobody has made this explicit, I think some people are assuming Dasein is American. Just so you know, he is Canadian.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2013


It seems ridiculous to suggest voting in a different government when it's an out of control intelligence operation that is ordering an carrying out these executions, which seems not to care one whit who is nominally in charge.
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your article is about civilian casualties, not people who have been targeted. The claim made was that everyone targeted considered themselves at war with America. I assume Dasein considers accidental killings to be regretable. Are signature strikes really different that what has occured in previous wars?

Your position seems to rely on an understanding of "targeted" that is at odds with reality. All levels of these drone operations, right down to the pilot, know for sure that they are killing "non-targeted" individuals with every strike. They're often even unsure whether the target is present at all, but proceed regardless.
posted by odinsdream at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Arguing the United States should meet a burden of proof in a war makes no sense, you need to argue the United State shouldn't be at war.

This isn't actually true. While there are some suspensions of the rule of law during wartime, they do not go as far as putting the executive beyond the reach of the courts.

However, even if it were true, it would be one thing if were actually ongoing hostilities, battles, combat, and an actual theatre of war. This so-called war on terrorism has an unspecified enemy, no boundaries, and no end. If that's enough to play the war card and get immunity from oversight, then the execute can play the war card whenever it pleases. Such a government follows the rule of law only when it wants to.
posted by cotterpin at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


spaltavian: "Your article is about civilian casualties, not people who have been targeted."

From the press release:
According to The Civilian Impact of Drones, without an understanding of the local context, power dynamics, and cultural practices, drone operators may interpret routine behavior as suspicious, and mistakenly target civilians.
And in case you believe that the Columbia Law school lacks credibility in this matter, perhaps try this UN Special Rapporteur. But of course, that addresses mistakes in identifying a target based on their criteria. What are the criteria? That's a secret.

Maybe it's enough that they associate with people who are possibly targets, as The Confessor suggested. For the NSA, it's already at three degrees of separation.
posted by vanar sena at 8:50 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think there has ever been a more precise or proportional military response to a threat than drone strikes, which give far, far more opportunity to target high-value terrorists and avoid civilian casualties than any military alternative.

Ah so its back to discussing which method of killing is more efficient, is it? That's just some straight up fascist bull shit. Your susceptibility to propaganda is stupendous.

US drone strikes more deadly to Afghan civilians than manned aircraft

CIA didn't always know who it was killing in drone strikes, classified documents show
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:51 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


cotterpin: This so-called war on terrorism has an unspecified enemy

The problem is that the AUMF has an under-specified. I felt from day one it should have specifically authorized the use of force against al-Quaeda and the Taliban, with perhaps the addition of the Haqqani later on.

Arguing the United States should meet a burden of proof in a war makes no sense, you need to argue the United State shouldn't be at war.

This isn't actually true. While there are some suspensions of the rule of law during wartime, they do not go as far as putting the executive beyond the reach of the courts.


That's a non-sequitur. I never said executive is beyond the reach of the courts in wartime. That doesn't mean a "burden of proof" is required to attack enemy combatants. You're making a false dichotomy between having to treat terrorism as a criminal matter and complete exective power. Vietnam was a war, but the My Lai massacre was still a recognized criminal action.

If you want to argue that civilian deaths resulting from drone strikes is in the same legal ground as My Lai, you're probably right! But that doesn't somehow mean that all drone stikes thereby become law enforcement tools that require warrants, etc.
posted by spaltavian at 8:53 AM on July 19, 2013


okay spaltavian, I am starting to see what you are getting at. In wartime, a soldier doesn't need to meet a burden of proof before pulling the trigger, and similarly a pilot doesn't need to prove who he is shooting before firing his drone. Right?

But there is also an important difference here, and that's the existence of kill lists. A targetting killing is different from a casualty on the battlefield. One is a death that occurs because of a military operation, and the other is the operation itself. One is the soldier doing what soldiers do, and the other is the decision making and the legal right to give the orders in the first place.
posted by cotterpin at 9:10 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Self-defense," Dasein? On the part of the world's most powerful empire, against a sixteen year-old kid? I'd laugh if I didn't feel more like crying.
posted by col_pogo at 10:00 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Self-defense," Dasein? On the part of the world's most powerful empire, against a sixteen year-old kid?

I'm talking about the father. From Wikipedia: According to U.S. officials the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a mistake

Your article is about civilian casualties, not people who have been targeted. The claim made was that everyone targeted considered themselves at war with America. I assume Dasein considers accidental killings to be regretable.

That's right, spaltavian.
posted by Dasein at 10:17 AM on July 19, 2013


cotterpin: But there is also an important difference here, and that's the existence of kill lists. A targetting killing is different from a casualty on the battlefield. One is a death that occurs because of a military operation, and the other is the operation itself. One is the soldier doing what soldiers do, and the other is the decision making and the legal right to give the orders in the first place.

So, would you argue that we could not target a commanding officer in a conventional war? We killed Yamamoto. Is that beyond the executive's wartime powers? It doesn't make sense to me to say that attacks against enemy personnel have to be random.
posted by spaltavian at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2013


“…instead of tried in civilian court.”

I’m greatly in favor of trying even known terrorists in civilian courts. Might I point out though the difficulty of bringing someone in those circles into court?

That said – there were apparently actual civilians killed in the strike, regardless of his son’s status. And indeed, if not in this particular incident, there is documented proof in other strikes.

“I'd point you to the American citizens killed in the field during the Civil War.”

I believe that war had an end, not self-perpetuation as its goal. Which the GWOT is for the extremists on either side of it. I disagree that the entire U.S. government and all elected officials are in favor of wonton murder. But certainly there are elements in the system that want to keep the GWOT going without regard to achieving certain ends.
And as pointed out above, there’s no accountability in the process which is another big problem.

“If they go waging wars that we think are wrong, we vote them out. That's the check.”

Y’know, you’d think so. But here we are. I initially supported the Iraq war because it was possible that Saddam had certain kinds of materiel. And people I trusted told me this was so. But the final hook, for me, was that if it turned out not to be true, surely the people prosecuting the war would be held accountable. That didn’t pan out.

“If the U.S. were knowing harbouring people who were planning a truck bomb attack in Shanghai and refused to turn them over, as the Taliban did with Al Qaeda before 9/11, then, yes, the Chinese would be justified in a drone strike to take out the threat. That scenario is never going to happen.”

I agree. And why it isn’t going to happen is that there are no areas in the U.S. that are essentially “lawless.” Falun-gong, if they were going to, could not use anywhere in the U.S. as a staging ground for a major attack on China. Logistics aside, we’re entirely to powerful – even incidentally – to allow that. I mean, Barney Fife stumbles across it he’s still got massive resources at his disposal when he picks up the phone and calls DHS.
Joe Cop in Afghanistan, not so much. Which is why we don’t have warlords pushing Mayberry around but Malajuk takes a beating by anyone with a bigger group of armed guys.

But that strength can be (and arguably is being) used against us. The best weapon any guerrilla has is living off the enemy and (from Mao) making them beat themselves by overreaction and so lose their grip on being the exemplars of law and order (which makes the guerrilla /revolutionary /insurgent’s political package more attractive)
And I think the vagaries we’ve allowed ourselves in using drones is a good example.

Ballpark we've killed, what 1,000 civilians with drones (depending on who's stats you look at - propublica, bureau of investigative journalism, etc). Systemically we've really hurt ourselves though. The only real oversight is the Senate Intelligence Committee. And where would we get off telling another country not to use them?
And how much of the new generation have we radicalized?

And indeed, the whole numbers game: we've killed maybe 3,000 - odd extremists, spending how much money?
Things are worth only what we value them. We've put a lot of attention and effort and most importantly, publicity into the GWOT.
The best defense against terrorists though is, y'know, not being terrified. We've put so high a price on this kind of protection.
And the publicity too. Who the hell knew what a SEAL was before 9/11? Or Delta? Outside Chuck Norris movie aficionados.
Even at that, who ever heard from anyone from the community on T.V. or in the press.
It wasn't quiet just because of professionalism or to help do the job. It was quiet because that was PART OF the job.
Now it's all spectacle. I mean hell, the program is on the QT but it's not like Drones are inconspicuous. Why? Terrorists don't kill people as a primary objective. Why should it be ours?

“But that doesn't somehow mean that all drone stikes thereby become law enforcement tools that require warrants, etc.”

A lot of what I’m reading in the thread is misinformation - stuff that's been iterated from news sources after being framed a certain way in the first place.

Treating terrorism with law enforcement tools doesn’t mean you have to have a warrant. The problem has been treating terrorism as a military problem with the pretense of law behind it. Which was a sham to begin with and threw many otherwise commonly understood terms into question in terms of definition.

But to put it simply – you can have a military level force response from an agency that is under the auspices of law enforcement rather than the military. We don’t. Drones, specifically, aren’t.

And much of that I think is by design. A tactical and foreign policy design that’s flawed from first principles (terrorism is a military problem – although I think it was an intentional flaw to exploit an agenda. This administration’s failure has been in not scrapping the entire concept and starting over).
I’ve used GSG9 as an example in the past.

But take f’rinstace Hani Ka’abeh and the IDF’s response to taking him out in an urban area (Nablus – great place to own a convertible). Obviously the IDF is military, but Duvdedun is an area specific unit so they're not general military and so don't operate that way. Their response was tactically a better response in urban ops – e.g. Duvdedun works with YAMAs which is an undercover police unit. So they get in-house intelligence. They KNOW whether the target has been naughty or nice (Duvdedun is known for doing their own undercover as well. Worth a google)


In this case, Ka’abeh (and his cell) planned a mass poisoning. So instead of leveling a chunk of real estate they did the work of infiltrating, if not his cell at least associates, and finding where he was. There was an engagement but they eventually arrested his deputy and the only thing lost in the engagement was the governor’s car.

This happened in what was “terrorist central.” That kind of force projection without blowing the place all to hell.

This is not to say Israel hasn’t done it’s share of blowing crap to hell. But that it’s possible to achieve anywhere with the right tactics and integration of forces. Capturing someone is astronomically better than killing them to intelligence. Capturing their materiel, doing it without civilian casualties, all of that goes towards the core of CT which is “hearts and minds.”

As it sits we don’t do much more work than peep through satellites and press buttons.
I say that as someone who isn’t an opponent of targeted killing, but as someone who questions what we aim to achieve (or prevent) by killing the target. It sure doesn’t look like we have much of a plan more than “kill this guy, get him out of the way,” and potentially “and thereby disrupt the network.”

Even given the latter as the best case scenario - you can’t kill your way to victory. If it were that easy we would have won by now. Hell, Rome wouldn’t have fallen. There needs to be a point to it. And if there is a point, that gives you a plethora of other options unless one’s imaginations fails at “serve the needs of defense contractors.”
posted by Smedleyman at 10:55 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do not recognize some of my apparent fellow American citizens as speaking for the same republic to which I pledge my allegiance. We might as well be in separate countries.
posted by spitbull at 11:02 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


>I assume Dasein considers accidental killings to be regretable.

That's right, spaltavian.

How can something that is a known quantity be accidental? This is the height of Orwellian doublespeak. You can't accidentally do something that is a forgone conclusion. We all agree that innocent people will die in drone strikes, therefore their deaths are not accidental, but part of a calculus. To claim otherwise is to be willfully ignorant and intellectually dishonest beyond measure. Murder is murder is murder. We can howl about "accidental killings" and "collateral damage" all we want, but at the end of the day the fact of the matter is that our government by default labels all males killed in strikes as "insurgents" or "al-quaeda". This is just cold blooded murder dressed up in the guise of "military action".
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:14 AM on July 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Counter Terrorism Mission Creep

Basically, when you start to use various tools like drones to fight something like terrorism, if you find it effective you start classifying more and more acts as terrorism, then you start finding other uses for these things. They are already talking about flying them over New York, and have confirmed that drones have been flown over US soil, so why not arm them? Why not use them to take out drug dealers? It's safer for the cops. Who cares if you get a few non-drug dealers? Maybe use them to take out poker games and internet pirates? Never mind those last two. We've SWAT for that.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:43 PM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The US is actually turning into the national version of George Zimmerman. So many Trayvons.

The irony is pretty tragic, isn't it. Some forms of racism are not acceptable to justify the murder of innocent people; some forms are.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Judging from the article it sounds like Abdulrahman was looking to see his father again, not join a terrorist organization. Is there proof otherwise?

It's blaming the victim when you say it's his fault for hanging out with (suspected?) "terrorists" (is there even any proof of this?). People, especially 16-year-olds, will hang out with people who they think are their friends (or are, actually, their friends) and they shouldn't be blamed for it posthumously.
posted by gucci mane at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ridiculous. An American citizen deserves harsher treatment, not more lenient treatment, if they support, to say the least of lead, our enemies. The debate about foreign enemies' treatment is a serious one, but about traitors -- no debate should be needed.

I just wanted to call this out. It bothers me that a fair and just trial is considered "lenient treatment". As if trials are some kind of special luxury we reserve only for murderers and rapists.
posted by heathkit at 2:53 PM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


but about traitors -- no debate should be needed.

This is especially chilling.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:14 PM on July 19, 2013


I just wanted to call this out. It bothers me that a fair and just trial is considered "lenient treatment". As if trials are some kind of special luxury we reserve only for murderers and rapists.

The right to trial is not absolute, and is not claimable for all offenses against the state.
posted by kafziel at 3:21 PM on July 19, 2013


This policy of "The War on Terrorism" also makes every American citizen who does not declare otherwise an "enemy combatant" against any non-governmental organization we declare as "terrorist", not to mention several sovereign nations. It sounds like it directly encourages civilian attacks against us. Thanks.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2013


The right to trial is not absolute, and is not claimable for all offenses against the state.

Could you provide a list?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:00 PM on July 19, 2013








If the USA is engaged in a war then why doesn't it follow the international conventions it signed that require, e.g., fair treatment to captured combatants, proportionality in attacks, and the use of uniforms by its own combatants? The real answer is obviously that the "War on Terror" is as much a real war as the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty: it's a marketing term. There might be a legal basis for the USA's actions, but justifying them by calling it a "War on Terror" is like justifying the assassination of JFK by calling it a War on Convertibles.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:05 AM on July 20, 2013 [5 favorites]




it's a marketing term

Yep. Exactly. It's got nothing to do with either war or law enforcement but is a dodge to evade responsibility by playing one set of rules off the other.

And none of it needs to be done. The U.S. judicial system dealt with captured terrorists just fine before 9/11.
But, back in the Clinton era, the federal govt. was already looking to expand powers for wiretaps, e-mail, redefining what terrorism is and changing the response to not only a military force response, but a military legal decision matrix as well.

It's weird how the GOP was up in arms over that back then. And the Dems were all for it.

Forgive the digression but it's relevant - back when Reagan created a terrorism task force, the VP was put in line to chair it. IDK if that's how eventually Cheney got so much power over those kinds of moves, but Bush was the VP then and Reagan and Bush didn't see eye to eye on everything.

So eventually Clinton gave us a "national coordinator." The GOP heavy congress shoveled money into homeland defense programs, people started to question the Posse Comitatus act, in '98 we hit bases in Afghanistan with cruise missiles and fired on where we thought OBL would be (missed, but advances in technology since then and cost aside, there's not a hell of a lot of difference between that and drones).
Back then people (the GOP) were up in arms about how much power the president was amassing.

But firing a cruise missile at a terrorism training camp and a factory producing chemical weapons (yeah, disputed, yeah) is a different thing than taking out a barbeque.

The Bush got elected and the GOP was silent about those powers. And the Dems were up in arms. (And then things changed back when Obama was elected. Ain't a two party system grand?)

The problem is - domestically, if acquiring a target required a trial, you could feasibly attempt to capture the target. If the target dies resisting, it's a result with precedent. Even given capture isn't feasible - there's due process.
As it sits - there's no due process in the first place because even if you capture a target, you can detain them indefinitely.

So, there's the law enforcement end down the shitter.

Ok, so say it's a war power thing. We don't need no stinking due process because we can rain hell (or Griffins which are such polite missiles) on anyone we want who is involved in terrorist acts.
Well, how do we know they're involved in terrorist acts?
There's the rub. "We" don't.
In this case, either Abdulrahman was a target or wasn't. And he was either involved in terrorism, or wasn't. But the Senate Intelligence Committee can't get an answer (or at least some folks - e.g. Sen Wyden - can't get one. Congress is supposed to keep a leash on the president's war powers. If there's no oversight - that dumps the 'war' thing.

There seems to be a question whether a kill process is valid or not. I think it can be. Anyone's moral repugnance to the idea notwithstanding.

But whether the process is valid or not depends on whether there even is one in the first place and whether that process conforms to the law (whether domestic or the laws of war).
And that begs further debate as to which process. But again - even given there is a process, we wouldn't know it because the administration is opaque. In fact, the executive branch has gone pretty much black on this whole thing since before Bush.

Reminds me of the conversation with Kurtz:

Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:58 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]




What the drone saw.
A video installation by artist Omer Fast, a former US drone operator in Afghanistan and Pakistan reveals why 5,000 feet is the optimum flying height for a combat drone.
posted by adamvasco at 12:48 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]






We have always been at war with a player to be named later:
Who Are We at War With? That’s Classified
In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”

So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret. [...]
A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:33 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]








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