Who is dying and why?
May 17, 2015 10:39 AM   Subscribe

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals,” write two New York Times reporters. “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.” In Washington, this weekly meeting has been labeled “Terror Tuesday.” Once established, the list of nominees is sent to the White House, where the president orally gives his approval to each name. With the “kill list” validated, the drones do the rest.

The criteria that go into making these lists of people condemned to death without trial remain unknown. The administration refuses to provide any information on this subject. Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser, nevertheless tried to be reassuring: “Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise.” In short: Trust us, even blindfolded.
posted by standardasparagus (55 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
DEATH PANELS
posted by Sys Rq at 10:50 AM on May 17, 2015 [53 favorites]


Executions without trial by robots. Ten year old me would have loved this future!

Nearly 40 year old me doesn't like this present.
posted by Renoroc at 10:54 AM on May 17, 2015 [23 favorites]


I'm imagining what the history books 50 years from now will have to say about this.
posted by mantecol at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


@mantecol As ever it will probably depend on whose you read.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:04 AM on May 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I would have started the comments with maniacal laughter, when comparing this topic to the death penalty debate. I'll just take the flimsy rope bridge back to my cave of choice, now.
posted by Oyéah at 11:06 AM on May 17, 2015


DEATH SQUADS
posted by ennui.bz at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


DEATHIE KLATSCH
posted by chavenet at 11:11 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hate the United States of America. What more is there to say?
posted by feralscientist at 11:22 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


As terrible as this sounds, the pre-drone alternative to killing people the leader wants killed is to officially declare war on the country and end up getting thousands of their and our soldiers killed for the sake of assassinating a few higher-ups. Now we can directly kill those higher-ups without getting innocent people involved.

Of course, this presumes that the people the President sends drones to kill are not innocent themselves, which we should not assume just because they say to "Trust us." But a hypothetical drone-targeting system that US citizens have fully understood and voted for would be an improvement over sending those citizens to Pakistan themselves with M-16s.
posted by Rangi at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Do the drones do the rest though? It was like front page news yesterday that Abu Sayyaf was killed by a literal death squad. Or is that a different kill list, made by a different bureaucracy?
posted by hermanubis at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


As terrible as this sounds, the pre-drone alternative to killing people the leader wants killed is to officially declare war on the country and end up getting thousands of their and our soldiers killed for the sake of assassinating a few higher-ups.

Or not killing them.
posted by Etrigan at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


Now we can directly kill those higher-ups without getting innocent people involved.
Since 2004, drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,213 people in Pakistan. Less than 2% of the victims are high-profile targets. The rest are civilians, children and alleged combatants.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind (flash)

Covert Drone War: Tracking CIA drone strikes and other US covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Find details of the latest strikes with the full data here.
posted by standardasparagus at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2015 [26 favorites]


This is only a sustainable equilibrium for as long as drones remain relatively expensive. So about another five years or so.

Anarchy of the deed part deux : The dronening.
posted by PMdixon at 11:51 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


As terrible as this sounds, it is in fact even more terrible
posted by RogerB at 12:02 PM on May 17, 2015 [50 favorites]


Should be fun when the technology advances to the point where neo-BinLadens can use this to target their enemies in the USA and elsewhere.
posted by Mitheral at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]



As terrible as this sounds, the pre-drone alternative to killing people the leader wants killed is to officially declare war on the country and end up getting thousands of their and our soldiers killed for the sake of assassinating a few higher-ups. Now we can directly kill those higher-ups without getting innocent people involved.


ummm.... Go read a history of US involvement in Central America. Pre-drone we either used special forces to directly murder people or (more commonly) we recruited, paid, and trained local "militias" or army units to go out and kill people, in common parlance: death squads.

Murdering civilians or "rebels" opposed to the US has been our policy for most of the last 60 years. Advances in technology have not changed the underlying policy of murder or the reasons behind it, although it has decreased the local friction the might have made it harder to implement. Still, while US citizens are generally clueless about our trained and funded murder squads, locals tend to be less than pleased about a foreign power going around murdering people, so it requires a local group, a minority, or alienated elite that doesn't mind being associated with murders or even derives advantage from it. It's why the US was screwed in Vietnam once the Diem family (Catholics in Buddhist Vietnam) got too unreliable and part of why we support so many other hated and otherwise disastrous governments.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2015 [27 favorites]


Remember, the Assyrians were worse and did you see what the Romans did to Carthage? /HAMBURGER
posted by infini at 12:34 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


As terrible as this sounds, it is in fact even more terrible

posted by RogerB at 12:02 PM on 5/17
[2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Fits perfectly in this nutshell.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2015


the pre-drone alternative to killing people the leader wants killed is to officially declare war

Civilization is in a constant upward march, isn't it? Just look at how good we have become. We are now so much better at killing people whom our dear leader commands us to murder. I don't even have to get in my saddle.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:49 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


But a hypothetical drone-targeting system that US citizens have fully understood and voted for would be an improvement over sending those citizens to Pakistan themselves with M-16s.

There is one more possibility in such a situation which may be eluding you right now.

I'm not going to spoil what it is.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:53 PM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


"It's why the US was screwed in Vietnam once the Diem family (Catholics in Buddhist Vietnam) got too unreliable."

No, corruption and murder not religion was the Deim's problem. They were shot in the back of an APC in 1963.

Weeks later, JFK was assassinated by a self proclaimed Marxist.
(See Carmel Offie for details!)
Diem did commit acts of violence against Buddhists and State/JFK told him to stop, for obvious reasons.

Americas military involvement did not begin until 1965.

"...in Central America. Pre-drone we either used special forces to dir..."

I believe so. But the SOA was set up in the states. (Under new name) these military folk went back and did their own thing after a few months training.
posted by clavdivs at 1:00 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Star Chamber was a documentary? WTF?
posted by maxwelton at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hate the United States of America. What more is there to say?

That's a dronin'.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:09 PM on May 17, 2015 [24 favorites]


Barack Obama has attacked a higher number of countries (seven and counting) than the number of times Dick Cheney received draft deferments (five).

Tell me again which one was pro-military?

That said, General Motors is alive and Bin Laden is dead.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reminder-plug: in addition to Chamayou, people interested in this subject should be reading Andrew Cockburn's new book Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (previously).
posted by RogerB at 1:16 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


But the SOA was set up in the states. (Under new name) these military folk went back and did their own thing after a few months training.

There was a lot more support and communication from the US than just one-off trainings.

This is only a sustainable equilibrium for as long as drones remain relatively expensive. So about another five years or so.

Anarchy of the deed part deux : The dronening.


This worries me. Not so much drone attacks on the US (though there may be a few) but how cheap and plentiful drones will impact tense and complicated situations such as between India and Pakistan, or within Saudi Arabia. The killing technology has leapfrogged well ahead of diplomatic and communicative capacities.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:16 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Or not killing them.

Well, yes, and if you can make that happen, more power to you. But saying that by itself is as useful as saying we should fix cyber hacking by "creating unhackable systems" (Neil deGrasse Tyson's joke).

Pre-drone we either used special forces to directly murder people or (more commonly) we recruited, paid, and trained local "militias" or army units to go out and kill people, in common parlance: death squads.
Advances in technology have not changed the underlying policy of murder or the reasons behind it, although it has decreased the local friction the might have made it harder to implement.


Thank you for pointing that out. Given that "drones vs. death squads" isn't really a choice—drones are here to stay, and those shouldn't be the only two options anyway—what can be done to reduce incentives for powerful countries like the US (or colonial-era European powers, etc) to interfere in other countries' affairs, without having to formally declare war and abide by its rules?

First thing that comes to mind is equalizing state power by, say, giving everyone nuclear weapons, but Pakistan has those and the US still uses drones there against the wishes of its people and Prime Minister. And condemning drone strikes as inhumane or war crimes is what we're already doing, which doesn't seem to work given that the majority of the US public approves of them. Maybe if there were a cheap defense or counterattack against drones?
posted by Rangi at 1:33 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


‘pattern of life analysis,’

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say they use a Bayes net on a social network graph and it's about as reliable as the so-called targeted ads the web geniuses serve to my browser for wrong sex, wrong generation, wrong native language, and wrong every-thing-else-including-the-kitchen-sink.

Obama and his buddies are terrorists.
posted by bukvich at 1:51 PM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wonder if there is ever a 'dud' Terror Tuesday....

"Uh, sir...there's not actually anyone who deserves to die this week. Can we give it a pass?"
posted by j_curiouser at 1:52 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


I wonder if there is ever a 'dud' Terror Tuesday....

I think probably if they didn't use up their whole budget, they wouldn't get as many robot assassinations next fiscal year, so no.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:57 PM on May 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


I like how the article speaks of 'heroism' unironically.
posted by signal at 2:01 PM on May 17, 2015


I want to show this thread and things like bukvich's comment to skeptics in another thread "d'oh I still don't understand why viewing a website full of potentially sensitive intelligence information might be risky for a non US person"
posted by infini at 2:04 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rangi: "But a hypothetical drone-targeting system that US citizens have fully understood and voted for would be an improvement over sending those citizens to Pakistan themselves with M-16s."

Maybe for the citizens and the US themselves. For the rest of the world, not so much.
posted by signal at 2:07 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


One difference between then and now is that with old-school assassinations, the assassin generally knew the name of the target and what they did for a living.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:07 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder if people in the National Security Apparatus now jockey politically to get into the Kill Chain because Mad Status Yo.
posted by srboisvert at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Enemy leaders look like everyone else; enemy combatants look like everyone else; enemy vehicles look like civilian vehicles; enemy installations look like civilian installations; enemy equipment and materials look like civilian equipment and materials.
oh sorry I thought this was an article regarding the Viet Cong
posted by robbyrobs at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


"There was a lot more support and communication from the US than just one-off trainings."

See Ollie North/Iran.
Reads like yesterday.

"Four feet wide and four feet tall, the AN/TPQ-49 Counterfire Radar can watch over a 121-square-mile area. In its original use, it scans for rockets, artillery, or mortar fire, and ...hopes it can be adapted to tracking drones."
posted by clavdivs at 2:11 PM on May 17, 2015


I finished the 4 chapters linked and thought of Ender's young friend Bean.
posted by infini at 2:43 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you happen to live underneath drones, not thinking about them is not an option. Having drones hovering above you is bound to fuck with your head.... Congratulations everyone! We did it! We managed to make one of the last remaining universal symbols of pleasantness, blue sky, completely fucking terrifying!
John Oliver

After seeing that Last Week Tonight segment, I was generally in support of drones, because I didn't want to know more about how they worked, and figured their success rate was pretty good. After seeing that segment, that is now what I think about the Brave New Era of drone assassins.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:02 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Setting aside the moral issue, is this an effective policy? It does not appear that there are any meausable goals other than how many people did we cross off this week's kill list. We have not seen a rediction on violence in targeted areas or by targeted groups. The Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Shabab, and others continue to be coherent and effective organizations capable of recruitment, incitememt and fundraising and organizing terrorist operstions against the US and our allies. It appears to me that regardless of the moral dimensions, the program should end because it doesn't work.
posted by humanfont at 3:04 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


the program should end because it doesn't work.

Do you assume the stated goals are the actual goals? What if the actual goal is multiplying violence in the region? It looks like it is going to be very effective at doing that. ISI* may be just the beginning.
posted by bukvich at 3:18 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


If we can't invent robots that destroy, why can't we put our smart minds to inventing robots that capture without harming?
posted by xarnop at 3:54 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Humans have those pesky tendencies to evade and escape.

Robotic warfare in on form or another has been in use for a long time, heck, one even killed Joe Kennedy jr.

Wait till drones come in the A-10 Thunder pack.
posted by clavdivs at 4:39 PM on May 17, 2015


xarnop: If we can't invent robots that destroy, why can't we put our smart minds to inventing robots that capture without harming?

Well, it's probably impossible, at least at our current technical level. Popping a vehicle with a missile is about a million times easier than stopping that vehicle, getting the target out of the vehicle, immobilizing them, picking them up, and getting them back to friendly territory.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:49 PM on May 17, 2015


I was thinking today about the serial suicide bomber tactics used by ISIS to take Ramadi, and thinking it's crazy that they don't invest in a little automation. Replacing suicide bombers with robots can't be too far away, I imagine.
posted by fivebells at 6:15 PM on May 17, 2015


Maybe Obama really is the Antichrist.
posted by oluckyman at 6:18 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine with no accountability.

thinking it's crazy that they don't invest in a little automation.

Automation is expensive.

I argued that drone strikes don't do anything the USA hasn't done for decades, they just do it faster, cheaper, "better." Of course, when this kind of "solution" comes along, it gets used in increasingly marginal situations, which drives the "effectiveness" rating down.

You 100% know OBL is in a house in the NWFP, send a team in to snatch/kill. It's the inherent uncertainty of the guy who knows a guy we think is THE guy ... hit 'em with a bolt from the blue. Cheap. Fast. "Good."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:47 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Paul backs Obama on fatal airstrike; sees 'valuable use for drones' - "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Monday defended an airstrike that ultimately killed two innocent hostages as a “difficult situation,” and pushed back against criticism he’s against all drones as a piece of military policy."

Rand Paul on drones, previously.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:55 AM on May 18, 2015


I have no issue with using them to go after those who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen. I also like that the president is overseeing whom we go after. I think that oversight is important. But I do have three concerns. First, the drones should should be run out of DoD. Second, I don't like the mission creep in targeting those who weren't involved with 9/11. There is no legal mandate from Congress to extend the mission. Third, there seem to be a hell of a lot of innocents killed. Better to let the terrorist go than hit innocent people.

This is all to say that I have deep reservations about the program.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:28 AM on May 18, 2015


Al Qaeda has been radically degraded, largely as a result of the drone program. All the more reason to wrap it up. The justification was to get the 9/11 guys.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:31 AM on May 18, 2015


Al Qaeda has been radically degraded, largely as a result of the drone program.

But we have ISIS instead, which rose to power as al-Qaeda sank and controls much more territory (i.e.: some) than al-Qaeda ever did.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:02 AM on May 18, 2015


I wonder if people in target nations do weird shit on their opponents computers for lulz [*].

"Ha, ha, time to go post angry anti-Western messages on Al-Qaeda and ISIS web sites on Iqbal's computer while he's on the toilet. Let's see if he gets on the 'Amerikee List' this time around."


[*] lulz here means getting your opponent killed in targeted drone strike.
posted by theorique at 3:50 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


oh sorry I thought this was an article regarding the Viet Cong

Remember, if he runs, then he's definitely VC. If he stands still, he's disciplined VC!
posted by theorique at 3:54 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This link is relevant:

Statistician Salil Mehta on the reliability of big numbers statistics.

This one is a tangent, but after what I wrote above it is particularly relevant for me personally:

Greatest Threat to Free Speech Comes Not From Terrorism, But From Those Claiming to Fight It

Includes:

In essence, advocating any ideas or working for any political outcomes regarded by British politicians as “extremist” will not only be a crime, but can be physically banned in advance. Basking in his election victory, Prime Minister David Cameron unleashed this Orwellian decree to explain why new Thought Police powers are needed: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.'” It’s not enough for British subjects merely to “obey the law”; they must refrain from believing in or expressing ideas which Her Majesty’s Government dislikes.

Greenwald tweeted it is now required to love Big Brother.
posted by bukvich at 6:47 AM on May 18, 2015


Obama's Unaccountable Drone War
Finally, drones should be considered in their macro context, which is the extent to which they have done irreparable damage to the reputation of the United States and led many to label it a rogue nation. The callous attitude towards casualties inflicted collaterally suggests that the U.S. is at war with civilian populations as much as with terrorists, eliminating any possible moral high ground for justifying the unending war on terror.
Civilian Casualties, Drone Airstrikes and the Perils of Policy means We Need An Independant Review Of Drone Strikes. With civilian casualties mounting, drones are becoming part of the fabric of everyday life.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:58 PM on May 20, 2015


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