Whistleblower reveals information on drone killings that contradict US claims

The Intercept has come up with a blockbuster report about the US drone killing program that demonstrates the many lies used by the government to justify its killings. The series of articles by Jeremy Scahill, Cora Currier, Josh Begley, Ryan Devereaux, Ryan Gallagher, and Nick Turse are based on secret documents released by an internal whistleblower who, like Edward Snowden, felt that what the US government was doing was wrong and that the public needed to know what was being done in its name.

As Scahill’s article The Assassination Complex states:

The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars — between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides. The Intercept granted the source’s request for anonymity because the materials are classified and because the U.S. government has engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers. The stories in this series will refer to the source as “the source.”

The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.

The report describes how the many claims by the US government about the precautions it takes in its drone killing program are simply false. Human rights and civil liberties groups have called for immediate investigations into the report’s charges.

Among the revelations included in the documents, provided to The Intercept by an anonymous source, are that U.S. drone strikes routinely kill far more people than their intended targets, that drone operators frequently conduct strikes based on unreliable evidence, and that individuals killed in strikes whose identities are unknown are posthumously counted as “enemies killed in action,” without any evidence that they had actually been combatants.

The disclosures have undermined the Obama administration’s claim that its strikes are being conducted with respect for civilian life. “A review of the lethal force program must be transparent and include disclosure of the United States’ compliance with its legal obligations,” said Hina Shamsi of the ACLU’s National Security Project. Shamsi added that, given the nature of the revelations published today about the nature of the criteria used for drone targeting, the administration must disclose “the criteria it uses to determine civilian or ‘militant’ or ‘combatant’ status, the identities and numbers of civilians killed and injured in its operations, and an assessment of the strategic consequences for national security of this unprecedented lethal force program.”

In a post on the ACLU’s website, Shamsi added, “These eye-opening disclosures make a mockery of U.S. government claims that its lethal force operations are based on reliable intelligence and limited to lawful targets.”

Citing the distance between the administration’s public statements about the drone program and the apparent reality of how it operates, Omar Shakir, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-author of Stanford University’s 2012 study Living Under Drones, said that “these new documents underscore just how much we’ve been intentionally misled about this program.” He added that “the basis for identifying targets, authorizing strikes, and investigating civilian harm all raise serious questions about potential violations of international law. … If a subsequent investigation finds credible evidence of unlawful killings, those responsible need to face legal accountability.”

But ‘legal accountability’ is what The Most Transparent Administration in History avoids at all costs. Watch the Obama administration’s well-oiled machine of denials and stonewalling begin to operate in earnest.


  1. says

    Whistleblowers have learnt their lesson, they have to maintain anonymity. But the question now is whether the US will arrest, detain and torture journalists for their sources. The US has already harassed and detained Glenn Greenwald and others at airports (at home and abroad) without charge, and invades people’s privacy without warrant (in both definitions of the word). As shown by the US’s terrorist attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz, killing innocent professionals doing their jobs is now considered fair game.

  2. says

    From the Intercept link:

    During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.

    I’ve known some people who claimed that US drones are so precise that they only killed their intended targets (leaving aside the killing of people without any attempt at due process). I hope the information in this report gets through to people like that. This program needs to end. Yesterday.

  3. Chiroptera says

    Tony! The Queer Shoop, #2: (leaving aside the killing of people without any attempt at due process)

    I’ve long wondered at how people constantly miss the point that these are extra-judicial killings. Technically, we can only know people are guilty of something by examining the evidence in an open forum (or at least as open as legitimate security concerns allow) and subject to further appeal.

    Without due process, then we are allowing people to be killed based on other people’s claim that they are guilty of something. People who we know don’t have all the facts, people who know only one side of those facts, people who we know have made serious errors of fact and of judgment, many of whom have demonstrated a callous disregard of the public, of the victims, and even hatreds and fears that are known to cloud people’s judgment.

    This is why we don’t send to people to jail because prosecutors claim they’re guilty; we demand that the prosecutors’ claims be verified in open courts of law.

  4. AMM says

    The sad fact is that, like the Snowden revelations, it’s not really news. All this is doing is providing inside confirmation of what anyone familiar with the situation already had a pretty good idea of.

    It was pretty well known from the beginning that the drone attacks were killing people rather indiscriminantly. I remember hearing about it several years ago in an NPR news program. Bascially, the USA has been really lousy at developing intelligence connections in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen (gee, I wonder why?), so they have to launch attacks not knowing whether anybody they’re targeting is at the target they’ve chosen. (Or whether the people they’re targeting are actually enemy combatants/terrorists/hostiles.) So they simply assume that anyone they kill must have been a terrorist. E.g., any male over the age of 14 is counted as an enemy combatant. I recall a number of news reports of drone strikes that actually hit wedding celebrations. The US of course insisted that there were (=must have been) terrorists or enemy combatants among the guests.

    The sad fact is that this is Deja Vu all over again. Afghanistan, etc., may be nothing like Vietnam, but we’re dealing with them using the same practices and ways of thinking that didn’t work in Vietnam. We assume that people will welcome whatever we do because we’re the USA, yet we treat everyone we meet who isn’t the US as the enemy. We start out making liberal use of military force and by the end, after it is obvious that our previous poorly thought-out and poorly implemented non-military policies aren’t working, we use torture and killings and military force to deal with pretty much every obstacle we encounter.

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