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Ex-CIA Official Slams Obama's 'Indiscriminate' Use of Drones

- Common Dreams staff

Robert Grenier, a former CIA counter-terrorism head, has slammed President Obama's drone program telling the UK's Guardian that we have been "seduced" by drones and that the drones are killing people "indiscriminately."

Robert Grenier: "We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences." (US Air Force photo) While White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week, "We have at our disposal tools that make avoidance of civilian casualties much easier, and tools that make precision targeting possible in ways that have never existed in the past," Grenier's comments cast doubt on the "precision targeting."

Implying that the drones have been killing civilians, Grenier told the Guardian in the interview: "It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences."

Far from being "finely targeted," ProPublica has also reported that an administration official, speaking to them on condition of anonymity, "acknowledged that the administration does not always know the names or identities of everyone in a location marked for a drone strike."

Indeed, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported that civilian deaths due to drone strikes began just days into President Obama's time in office.

"We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan," Grenier told the Guardian.

Grenier warns that Obama's surging drone war on Yemen, which has included the killing of 16-year-old U.S.-born son of Anwar al-Awlaqi, may lead to an even "larger terrorist safe haven" there.

"[Y]oung men, who are typically armed, are in the same area [as the targets] and may hold these militants in a certain form of high regard. If you strike them indiscriminately you are running the risk of creating a terrific amount of popular anger. They have tribes and clans and large families. Now all of a sudden you have a big problem … I am very concerned about the creation of a larger terrorist safe haven in Yemen," added Grenier.

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Paul Harris reporting for the Guardian:
Drone attacks create terrorist safe havens, warns former CIA official

A former top terrorism official at the CIA has warned that President Barack Obama's controversial drone programme is far too indiscriminate in hitting targets and could lead to such political instability that it creates terrorist safe havens. [...]

Now Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA's counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006 and was previously a CIA station chief in Pakistan, has told the Guardian that the drone programme is targeted too broadly. "It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences," Grenier said in an interview.

Grenier emphasised that the use of drones was a valuable tool in tackling terrorism but only when used against specific identified targets, who have been tracked and monitored to a place where a strike is feasible. However, recent media revelations about Obama's programme have revealed a more widespread use of the strike capability, including the categorising of all military-age males in a strike zone of a target as militants. That sort of broad definition and the greater use of drones has outraged human rights organisations. [...]

"We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. [...]

* * *

Related:
Justin Elliott writing for ProPublica
Dissecting Obama’s Standard on Drone Strike Deaths

In a lengthy front-page story last week exploring President Obama's use of drone strikes in countries including Pakistan and Yemen, the New York Times reported that the president had "embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in."

Citing "several administration officials," the Times reported that this method "in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants ... unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." The Times reported that this standard allowed counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to claim in June 2011 that for nearly a year "there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop."

Human rights groups and others have expressed outrage at the reported counting method. And in the last few days alone, 27 "suspected militants" have been killed in three drone strikes in Pakistan, including the reported No. 2 of al Qaeda.

We wanted to lay out exactly what's known (not much) about the apparent policy, what's not (a lot), and what the White House is saying in response to the Times report.

Crucially, the White House has done nothing to knock the story down. I gave the White House a chance to respond, and it declined to comment on the record. But speaking on condition of anonymity, an administration official acknowledged that the administration does not always know the names or identities of everyone in a location marked for a drone strike.

"As a general matter, it [the Times report] is not wrong that if a group of fighting age males are in a home where we know they are constructing explosives or plotting an attack, it's assumed that all of them are in on that effort," the official said. "We're talking about some of the most remote places in the world, and some of the most paranoid organizations on the planet. If you're there with them, they know you, they trust you, there's a reason [you're] there."

When we asked a White House spokesperson about how the U.S. knows even the number of people killed in strikes, they told us to speak the CIA. The CIA did not immediately respond to our request.

Another thing that's unclear is whether the controversial counting method is a new policy. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, told Fox News last week that he was not aware of any change in the policy of how corpses are counted, but that if there had been a change, his committee should be briefed.

Several people in the human rights community told ProPublica that the metric for counting civilians described in the Times report represents a new and troubling standard.

"We have never before heard anything quite like the idea that if you have to be in a certain place and you happen to be of a certain age, that in and of itself can make you targetable," said Gabor Rona, international legal director at Human Rights First and former legal adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

It's also not clear whether the policy applies to all covert drone strikes or just ones done by the CIA.

Asked last week about the Times report, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters the president "goes to extraordinary measures" to avoid civilian casualties.

"We have at our disposal tools that make avoidance of civilian casualties much easier, and tools that make precision targeting possible in ways that have never existed in the past," Carney argued.

But analysts point out strikes can go awry even if a missile hits its programmed target.

"Any military official will tell you your precision is only as good as your intelligence sources and your intelligence analysis," said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School. "How much do we really know about Somalia and Yemen and Pakistan? We have errors in targeting in Afghanistan and we've been there for a decade."

Shah, who is working on a study on civilian harm from covert drone strikes, said she was not surprised by the Obama administration's reported standard for counting civilians given the extremely low estimates of civilian casualties leaked by administration officials over the years.

The Times story last week, for example, quotes a "senior administration official" claiming that the number of civilians killed by drone strikes under Obama in Pakistan is in the "single digits."

That's in stark contrast to outside estimates. Independent organizations analyzing news reports and other sources have put civilian deaths from drone strikes from the high double digits in Pakistan alone to the high triple digits including countries like Yemen and Somalia.

 

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