Obama gave CIA free rein for drone assassinations in Pakistan


By Bill Van Auken
28 April 2015

The killing of US and Italian aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto in a January 2015 drone strike stemmed, at least in part, from a secret order by President Barack Obama exempting the Central Intelligence Agency drone war in Pakistan from restrictions supposedly imposed on drone attacks in other countries.

According to current and former US officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal Monday, the administration tightened the rules governing drone warfare in 2013, but issued a secret waiver allowing the CIA an essentially free rein in carrying out its murderous campaign in northwestern Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, near the Afghan border.

President Obama made an extraordinary public admission of US responsibility for the killing of the two Western hostages in a White House announcement last Thursday. In the course of his remarks–which he cynically boasted were proof of an “American democracy, committed to openness”–Obama stated that the deadly operation last January had been “fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region.”

What he left concealed was the fact that the guidelines for “the region” were at odds with the formal rules existing everywhere else.

The US president outlined these rules in a speech delivered at the National Defense University in May 2013, insisting that drone strikes would be ordered only against alleged “terrorists” posing “a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and only under conditions of “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

These purported restrictions were made public as part of the administration’s effort to lend a veneer of legality to a state assassination program that is in flagrant violation of both international law and the US Constitution. The American president arrogated to himself the power to order the killing of anyone- including American citizens- without charges, much less trials. In his speech, Obama acknowledged that he authorized the killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed in a subsequent US drone strike.

The reality is that the supposed restrictions have been observed nowhere in the world. In Somalia and Yemen, just as in Pakistan, strikes have claimed the lives of numerous civilians, while the targets selected for remote-control murder posed no “imminent threat” to the US.

In Pakistan, however, the CIA’s covert drone program was relieved of even the pretense of observing such constraints. Initially, the rationale was the need to eliminate forces opposed to the US occupation of Afghanistan, which was supposed to end last year. Now, with the occupation extended, the unfettered drone warfare is continuing.

Not only is the CIA under no obligation to ascertain that the targets pose an “imminent threat” to the American people, it does not have to identify them at all, carrying out “signature strikes” in which behavior observed from an altitude of 50,000 feet– military aged men traveling in a convoy or carrying weapons, for example– is sufficient reason to take human lives with Hellfire missiles.

The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto were the result of such a “signature” attack. While the CIA concluded that someone at the compound where they were held was an Al Qaeda leader, they did know the identity of the person they were trying to kill.

Such strikes have taken a massive toll in human life. According to a recent study by the British-based human rights group Reprieve, US drone missile strikes aimed at killing 41 supposed terrorists took the lives of a total of 1,147 men, women and children. In the attempt to assassinate one Pakistani militant, Baitullah Mehsud, the CIA carried out seven separate strikes, killing a total of 164 people.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has tallied 383 drone strikes against Pakistan alone between 2004 and the beginning of 2015, killing and maiming thousands of civilians.

Yet Thursday’s apology for the deaths of two Westerners was the closest the Obama administration has ever come to acknowledging civilian casualties inflicted by the CIA drone war. In his “democratic” and “open” announcement last Thursday, Obama stated only that “a US counterterrorism operation… in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni.” No mention was made of the agency responsible, the CIA, or the weapon used- a drone.

This was no accident. According to the Journal report, whether or not to acknowledge the CIA’s role was the subject of a dispute within the administration, with the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department insisting that such an admission would threaten the continuation of the CIA program and provoke a conflict with the Pakistani government.

Others– the Journal names Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper– insisted that disclosing the CIA’s role was necessary if the administration was to maintain the pretense of “transparency” that Obama promised in his speech two years ago.

The decisive argument, according to the Journal’s account, was that of the US Attorney General’s office, which “warned Mr. Obama that publicly disclosing the CIA’s role in this case would undermine the administration’s standing in a series of pending lawsuits challenging its legality.”

Among these cases is that of Kareem Khan, whose 17-year-old son, Zahinullah Khan, died instantly, along with his uncle Asif Iqbal and another man identified as Khaliq Dad, a stonemason, when a Hellfire missile fired by a CIA drone tore through their home in the North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan in 2009. The family had no involvement with Al Qaeda or any other militant group.

A senior judge in Pakistan last month ordered the opening of a criminal case in connection with the drone killings against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John Rizzo. The charges are murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

The case could also set the stage for a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against the CIA and the US government by the relatives of the many more Pakistani civilians reportedly killed in drone strikes.

The drone strikes constitute war crimes under international law, which bars the arbitrary deprivation of human life and extrajudicial executions. The role of the CIA, which under international law is not a legal combatant, but rather a kind of state-run Murder, Inc., itself makes these strikes criminal.

For all of these reasons, the Obama administration is compelled to maintain a veil of secrecy over its drone assassination program.



US targeted second American citizen for assassination


By Andre Damon
14 April 2015

A lead article in Monday’s New York Times describing a debate within the US government over whether to assassinate another American citizen brings into relief one basic fact: the United States is run by criminals.

The Times article revealed the name of an American citizen who had been placed on the so-called “kill list” for drone assassination. Due to a number of contingencies, the life of Texas-born Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh was ultimately spared. He was captured in a raid in Pakistan last year and was taken to the United States to face trial in Brooklyn, New York.

It has been known since 2010 that the Obama administration had decided to place at least one US citizen on its “kill list” of targets for drone assassination. This was Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in Yemen on September 30, 2011, many months later. The killing was a premeditated and unconstitutional act, targeting an individual who had not been charged, let alone convicted for any crime.

In a May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama formally acknowledged the killing al-Awlaki, while also admitting that three other Americans had been killed as part of the “collateral damage” of other drone strikes. This included Awlaki’s teenage son one month after the killing of his father.

In February 2014, the Associated Press, citing “senior US officials,” reported that the White House was “wrestling with whether to kill [another US citizen] with a drone strike.” That man, unnamed at the time, was evidently Farekh.

Monday’s New York Times article makes clear that the life of Farekh was spared not because of any fundamental constitutional or democratic concerns, but rather as a result of tactical disagreements and jurisdictional conflicts among the agencies responsible for drone killings, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and the Justice Department.

According to the Times, “The Pentagon nominated Mr. Farekh to be placed on a so-called kill list for terrorism suspects; CIA officials also pushed for the White House to authorize his killing. But the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was skeptical of the intelligence dossier on Mr. Farekh.”

In other words, the decision against murdering Farekh was entirely a matter of expediency, based, according to the Times, on the belief by the Justice Department that his capture would better serve the purposes of American imperialism than his extrajudicial killing.

According to the Times piece, a major reason for not killing Farekh was the fact that he fell through the jurisdictional cracks between the Pentagon and the CIA in their operations inside Pakistan.

The Times writes that in 2013, “The White House directed that the Pentagon, rather than the CIA, should conduct lethal strikes against American citizens suspected of terrorism … But the Pentagon has long been banned from conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, part of a 2004 deal with Pakistan that all such attacks be carried out by the CIA under its authority to take covert action—allowing Pakistan to publicly deny any knowledge of the strikes and American officials to remain silent.”

Between 2004 and 2015, the US killed as many as 3,949 people through drone strikes in Pakistan alone, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Top administration officials are well aware that what they are doing is illegal and unconstitutional, particularly in relation to US citizens. One unnamed “former senior official” told the Times that “Post-Awlaki, there was a lot of nervousness” about killing American citizens, reflecting the very real awareness in the Obama administration that its actions could leave it open for prosecution in the future.

Whatever these concerns, however, the Obama administration, along with the entire political establishment, has vigorously defended the right of the president to assassinate US citizens without due process.

Tellingly, the Times reported that congressional leaders functioned not as a restraint and a check on the criminal actions of the White House and CIA, but rather sought to goad the White House to murder Farekh. The article states, “During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed.”

In February 2013, Attorney General Holder made clear that the administration claims its right to extrajudicially assassinate US citizens, even within the borders of the United States.

Holder wrote in a letter to Senator Rand Paul: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

In his May 2013 speech, Obama reinforced his commitment to the drone murder program, declaring, “America’s actions are legal … We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.”

Obama then declared, seemingly contradicting himself, “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen—with a drone or with a shotgun—without due process.”

This statement revolves around a crude verbal sophistry. In 2012, Attorney General Holder argued that the Constitution’s declaration that no person shall “be deprived of life … without due process of law” did not specify judicial process, but rather could apply to the internal deliberations within the executive branch.

As a result, the administration argued, the types of negotiations between cabinet officials, intelligence agencies and allied governments chronicled in Monday’s Times piece qualify as “due process.”

The Times article on Farekh was certainly cleared with the Obama administration and US intelligence agencies before being published. This may indicate that the turf battles described in it continue, and the article is part of ongoing maneuvers between the military and intelligence agencies of the US state apparatus.

The article is also part of a process of legitimizing and normalizing the clearly illegal and impeachable offenses described. In June of last year, the Obama administration released the drone murder memo outlining is pseudo-legal rationale for killing US citizens. Neither the memo not the crimes it outlined produced any significant objection from within the state or media establishment, the representatives and spokesmen of the corporate and financial aristocracy in America.

The author also recommends:

The Obama drone murder memo
[25 June 2014]



Obama’s war against Yemen

Saudi warplanes Targets al-Maseera TV

10 April 2015

As the bombing campaign against Yemen extends into its third week, the Obama administration has stepped up direct US involvement in what constitutes an illegal war that threatens to precipitate a massive humanitarian catastrophe.

The nature of this war is indisputably defined by the character of its combatants. Backed by the US, the most powerful and aggressive imperialist country in the world, is a coalition of reactionary tyrants and royal parasites consisting of the monarchical dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states together with the savagely repressive regime headed by General al-Sisi in Egypt.

Their target is Yemen, the poorest country of the Middle East. Even before Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states sent warplanes to drop tons of explosives on crowded urban neighborhoods and mobilized warships to block all food and fuel imports from entering its harbors, over half of the population lived in poverty and roughly half the country’s children suffered from malnutrition.

Now, this desperate situation has grown immeasurably worse. Basic infrastructure is being bombed into rubble. Food supplies have grown critically short, while electricity, including power to pump water, has been cut off. Attempts by aid agencies to deliver relief have been thwarted repeatedly by the Saudi-led bombings.

While official UN estimates place the number killed at over 600, this includes only those reported by medical facilities, with the real death toll far higher. Thousands more have been maimed. The overwhelming majority of the casualties are civilians, with the bodies of entire families being pulled from the rubble of their homes.

This death toll may soon skyrocket. UNICEF has warned that if the bombing continues, more than a quarter of a million children are at risk of starving to death.

US officials acknowledged this week that the Pentagon is playing a decisive role in making these war crimes possible. It has accelerated the delivery of bombs, missiles and other weapons to Saudi Arabia for the purpose of killing more Yemenis and boosting the profits of the US arms merchants. Just between 2010 and 2014, the Obama administration reached $90 billion worth of arms deals with the Saudi monarchy, making it the top US customer.

On a trip to Riyadh, Antony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, revealed that the US has also stepped up its intelligence sharing and logistical support for the Saudi-led onslaught, establishing a “joint coordination planning cell” in the Saudi capital. McClatchy News cited unnamed Pentagon officials as saying that this operation is being headed by a two-star general from US Central Command.

And on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that US Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers have begun daily aerial refueling of Saudi warplanes, to allow continuous airstrikes.

Thus, the US military is not only shipping the bombs to drop on Yemen, but providing Saudi pilots with the targets to be struck and the fuel to reach them. The Obama administration’s hands are covered in the blood of the thousands of civilian victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a bellicose defense of this intervention Wednesday, blaming Iran for the crisis in Yemen for allegedly providing aid to the Houthi rebel movement that has established control over much of the country.

“Iran needs to recognize that the United States is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized, or while people engage, you know, in overt warfare across … international boundaries,” he said in a PBS News interview. Kerry vowed that Washington “would stand up to interference that is inappropriate or against international law, or contrary to the region’s stability.”

One really has to go back to the 1930s to find such levels of lying to justify imperialist aggression. “Operation Himmler” comes to mind, when Germany’s Nazi regime used propaganda about “Polish aggression” to justify its Blitzkrieg against Warsaw.

The Houthis have not crossed any “international boundaries” to wage war, and neither has Iran. The Houthis are an indigenous movement whose successes stem from the hatred among broad sections of the population for both the old regime of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi—the puppet installed by Riyadh and Washington—and Western intervention in Yemen. As for Iran, for all of the denunciations, neither the US nor anyone else has produced a shred of evidence of its direct or even indirect involvement in the fighting. Those violating the sovereignty of Yemen are the Saudi and Gulf State potentates backed by Washington.

As for the United States “standing up” for the “region’s stability,” who does Kerry think he’s kidding? The interventions of US imperialism, with the direct collaboration of the Saudi monarchy, have plunged the entire Middle East into chaos and bloodshed—from the destruction of Iraq, to the transformation of Libya into a militia-ravaged “failed state,” to the ongoing carnage inflicted upon Syria in a US, Saudi-orchestrated war for regime change spearheaded by Islamist militias.

In Yemen itself, the US destabilized the country through a protracted campaign of drone warfare that has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people.

For the last several years, the Obama administration and the US military and intelligence complex have painted Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as the premier terror threat to the US “homeland” and the US drone campaign as a model “success” in the “war on terror.”

Now, in the face of the Houthi rebellion, the campaign against AQAP is a dead letter. While elements of the Islamist group have overrun entire cities in the past week, no one even suggests that the Saudi warplanes continuously bombing Yemen should take any action against them.

This is no accident. AQAP is the most militantly anti-Houthi force in the country and therefore a de facto ally in the US-Saudi coalition. AQAP, like the Saudi regime itself, is viciously sectarian in its hatred of the Houthi movement, which is based among the Yemeni Zaydi population, a Shia-related religious group comprising up to 40 percent of the population.

Washington has virtually ceased even attempting to invent new lies to justify such head-spinning realignments. The Obama administration has said next to nothing about this latest war being carried out behind the backs of the American people.

The “war on terror,” “human rights,” “democracy” and even “regional stability” are all equally fraudulent pretexts for naked aggression aimed at solidifying US hegemony over the Middle East and its vast energy resources.

This predatory imperialist offensive threatens to ignite a region-wide conflagration, even as Washington deliberately ratchets up military tensions with both Russia and China. The threat of these separate conflicts coalescing into a third world war grows by the day.


Bill Van Auken



This Woman Flew an F-35 Simulator with Her Mind



Jan Scheuermann, a quadriplegic and pioneering patient for an experimental Pentagon robotics program, continues to break ground in freeing the mind from the body.

The 55-year-old mother of two in 2012 agreed to let surgeons implant electrodes on her brain to control a robotic arm. More recently, she flew an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter simulator using nothing but her thoughts, an official said.

Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, cited the breakthrough last week at the first annual Future of War conference. The event was organized by the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C.

Scheuermann, who became paralyzed years ago from a rare genetic disease, has tolerated the two pea-sized implants on her left motor cortex “very well,” Prabhakar said, allowing her to extend her participation in the DARPA project.

While the left motor cortex is understood to control the movement on the right side of the body, Scheuermann was able to manipulate both right– and left-handed versions of the robotic limb, Prabhakar said.

But the experiments aren’t limited to prosthetics. Indeed, so-called neural signaling is at the heart of the research.

So Scheuermann decided she wanted to try flying a simulator of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Prabhakar said, which is the Pentagon’s newest fighter jet and its most expensive weapons acquisition program.


“Instead of thinking about controlling a joystick, which is what our ace pilots do when they’re driving this thing, Jan’s thinking about controlling the airplane directly,” Prabhakar said. “For someone who’s never flown — she’s not a pilot in real life — she’s flying that simulator directly from her neural signaling.”

Prabhakar said the research is far from becoming reality. Even so, she acknowledged that it raises fundamental moral and ethical questions about the intersection of biology and robotics.

“In doing this work, we’ve also opened this door,” she said. “We can now see a future where we can free the brain from the limitations of the human body and I think we can all imagine amazing good things and amazing potential bad things that are on the other side of that door.”

Geoffrey Ling, director of the biological technologies at DARPA and one of the lead scientists behind the project, said he was just as excited when he saw Scheuermann first control the robotic arm as he was when he watched the live television broadcast of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

“I had the same tingles because I realized that we have now stepped over a great threshold into what’s possible and, very importantly, what patients can now expect in terms of restoration — this is a very important part — not rehabilitation, but restoration,” the retired Army colonel said during a 2012 episode of CBS news program, “60 Minutes.”

As for Scheuermann, who participates in the research through a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study, she’s happy to play the role of pioneering patient.

“I’ve always believed there’s a purpose to my illness,” she told CBS. “I didn’t think I would ever find out what it was in my lifetime.”

She added, “And here came this study where they needed me. You know, they couldn’t just pick any Tom, Dick or Harry off the street. In a few years, the quadriplegics and the amputees that this is going to help — the Department of Defense is funding some of this for vets — to be of use to them, in service to them, what an honor.”

Read more: http://defensetech.org/2015/03/02/this-woman-flew-an-f-35-simulator-with-her-mind/#ixzz3TMf3RfjZ

Drones and the New Ethics of War

Protesters march against President Obama’s drone wars on the day of his second inauguration on January 21, 2013. (Photo: Debra Sweet/flickr/cc)

This Christmas small drones were among the most popular gift under the tree in the U.S. with manufacturers stating that they sold 200,000 new unmanned aerial vehicles during the holiday season. While the rapid infiltration of drones into the gaming domain clearly reflects that drones are becoming a common weapon among armed forces, their appearance in Walmart, Toys “R” Us and Amazon serves, in turn, to normalize their deployment in the military.

Drones, as Grégoire Chamayou argues in his new book, A Theory of the Drone, have a uniquely seductive power, one that attracts militaries, politicians and citizens alike. A research scholar in philosophy at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, Chamayou is one of the most profound contemporary thinkers working on the deployment of violence and its ethical ramifications. And while his new book offers a concise history of drones, it focuses on how drones are changing warfare and their potential to alter the political arena of the countries that utilize them.

If Guantanamo was the icon of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policy, drones have become the emblem of the Obama presidency.

Chamayou traces one of the central ideas informing the production and deployment of drones back to John W. Clark, an American engineer who carried out a study on “remote control in hostile environments” in 1964. In Clark’s study, space is divided into two kinds of zones—hostile and safe—while robots operated by remote control are able to relieve human beings of all perilous occupations within hostile zones. The sacrifice of miners, firefighters, or those working on skyscrapers will no longer be necessary, since the collapse of a tunnel in the mines, for example, would merely lead to the loss of several robots operated by remote control.

The same logic informed the creation of drones. They were initially utilized as part of the military’s defense system in hostile territories. After the Egyptian military shot down about 30 Israel fighter jets in the first hours of the 1973 war, Israeli air-force commanders decided to change their tactics and send a wave of drones. As soon as the Egyptians fired their initial salvo of anti-aircraft missiles at the drones, the Israeli airplanes were able to attack as the Egyptians were reloading.

Over the years, drones have also become an important component of the intelligence revolution. Instead of sending spies or reconnaissance airplanes across enemy lines, drones can continuously fly above hostile terrain gathering information. As Chamayou explains, drones do not merely provide a constant image of the enemy, but manage to fuse together different forms of data. They carry technology that can interpret electronic communications from radios, cell phones and other devices and can link a telephone call with a particular video or provide the GPS coordinates of the person using the phone. Their target is, in other words, constantly visible.

Using drones to avert missiles or for reconnaissance was, of course, considered extremely important, yet military officials aspired to transform drones into lethal weapons as well. On February 16, 2001, after many years of U.S. investment in R&D, a Predator drone first successfully fired a missile and hit its target. As Chamayou puts it, the notion of turning the Predator into a predator had finally been realized. Within a year, the Predator was preying on live targets in Afghanistan.

A Humanitarian Weapon

Over the past decade, the United States has manufactured more than 6000 drones of various kinds. 160 of these are Predators, which are used not only in Afghanistan but also in countries officially at peace with the US, such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. In Pakistan, CIA drones carry out on average of one strike every four days. Although exact figures of fatalities are difficult to establish, the estimated number of deaths between 2004 and 2012 vary from 2562 to 3325.

Chamayou underscores how drones are changing our conception of war in three major ways. First, the idea of a frontier or battlefield is rendered meaningless as is the idea that there are particular places—like homesteads—where the deployment of violence is considered criminal. In other words, if once the legality of killing was dependent on where the killing was carried out, today US lawyers argue that the traditional connection between geographical spaces—such as the battlefield, home, hospital, mosque—and forms of violence are out of date. Accordingly, every place becomes a potential site of drone violence.

Second, the development of “precise missiles,” the kind with which most drones are currently armed led to the popular conception that drones are precise weapons. Precision, though, is a slippery concept. For one, chopping off a person’s head with a machete is much more precise than any missile, but there is no political or military support for precision of this kind in the West. Indeed, “precision” turns out to be an extremely copious category. The U.S., for example, counts all military age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence proving them innocent posthumously. The real ruse, then, has to do with the relation between precision and geography. As precise weapons, drones also render geographical contours irrelevant since the ostensible precision of these weapons justifies the killing of suspected terrorists in their homes. A legal strike zone is then equated with anywhere the drone strikes. And when “legal killing” can occur anywhere, then one can execute suspects anywhere—even in zones traditionally conceived as off-limits.

Finally, drones change our conception of war because it becomes, in Chamayou’s words, a priori impossible to die as one kills. One air-force officer formulated this basic benefit in the following manner: “The real advantage of unmanned aerial systems is that they allow you to protect power without projecting vulnerability.” Consequently, drones are declared to be a humanitarian weapon in two senses: they are precise vis-à-vis the enemy, and ensure no human cost to the perpetrator.

From Conquest to Pursuit

If Guantanamo was the icon of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policy, drones have become the emblem of the Obama presidency. Indeed, Chamayou maintains that President Barak Obama has adopted a totally different anti-terror doctrine from his predecessor: kill rather than capture, replace torture with targeted assassinations.

Citing a New York Times report, Chamayou describes the way in which deadly decisions are reached: “It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals… Every week or so, more than 100 members of the sprawling national security apparatus gather by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and to recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” In D.C, this is called “Terror Tuesday.” Once established, the list is subsequently sent to the White House where the president gives his oral approval for each name. “With the kill list validated, the drones do the rest.”

Obama’s doctrine entails a change in the paradigm of warfare. In contrast to military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz, who claimed that the fundamental structure of war is a duel of two fighters facing each other, we now have, in Chamayou’s parlance, a hunter closing in on its a prey. Chamayou, who also wrote Manhunts: A Philosophical History, which examines the history of hunting humans from ancient Sparta to the modern practices of chasing undocumented migrants, recounts how according to English common law one could hunt badgers and foxes in another man’s land, “because destroying such creatures is said to be profitable to the Public.” This is precisely the kind of law that the US would like to claim for drones, he asserts.

The strategy of militarized manhunting is essentially preemptive. It is not a matter of responding to actual attacks but rather preventing the possibility of emerging threats by the early elimination of potential adversaries. According to this new logic, war is no longer based on conquest—Obama is not interested in colonizing swaths of land in northern Pakistan—but on the right of pursuit. The right to pursue the prey wherever it may be found, in turn, transforms the way we understand the basic principles of international relations since it undermines the notion of territorial integrity as well as the idea of nonintervention and the broadly accepted definition of sovereignty as the supreme authority over a given territory.

Wars without Risks

The transformation of Clausewitz’s warfare paradigm manifests itself in other ways as well. Drone wars are wars without losses or defeats, but they are also wars without victory. The combination of the two lays the ground for perpetual violence, the utopian fantasy of those profiting from the production of drones and similar weapons.

The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of “self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.”

Just as importantly, drones change the ethics of war. According to the new military morality, to kill while exposing one’s life to danger is bad; to take lives without ever endangering one’s own is good. Bradley Jay Strawser, a professor of philosophy at the US naval Postgraduate school in California, is a prominent spokesperson of the “principle of unnecessary risk.” It is, in his view, wrong to command someone to take an unnecessary risk, and consequently it becomes a moral imperative to deploy drones.

Exposing the lives of one’s troops was never considered good, but historically it was believed to be necessary. Therefore dying for one’s country was deemed to be the greatest sacrifice and those who did die were recognized as heroes. The drone wars, however, are introducing a risk-free ethics of killing. What is taking place is a switch from an ethics of “self-sacrifice and courage to one of self-preservation and more or less assumed cowardice.”

Chamayou refers to this as “necro-ethics.” Paradoxically, necro-ethics is, on the one hand, vitalist in the sense that the drone supposedly does not kill innocent bystanders while securing the life of the perpetrator. This has far-reaching implications, since the more ethical the weapon seems, the more acceptable it is and the more readily it will likely be used. On the other hand, the drone advances the doctrine of killing well, and in this sense stands in opposition to the classical ethics of living well or even dying well.

Transforming Politics in the Drone States

Moreover, drones change politics within the drone states. Because drones transform warfare into a ghostly teleguided act orchestrated from a base in Nevada or Missouri, whereby soldiers no longer risk their lives, the critical attitude of citizenry towards war is also profoundly transformed, altering, as it were, the political arena within drone states.

Drones, Chamayou says, are a technological solution for the inability of politicians to mobilize support for war. In the future, politicians might not need to rally citizens because once armies begin deploying only drones and robots there will be no need for the public to even know that a war is being waged. So while, on the one hand, drones help produce the social legitimacy towards warfare through the reduction of risk, on the other hand, they render social legitimacy irrelevant to the political decision making process relating to war. This drastically reduces the threshold for resorting to violence, so much so that violence appears increasingly as a default option for foreign policy. Indeed, the transformation of wars into a risk free enterprise will render them even more ubiquitous than they are today. This too will be one of Obama’s legacies.

Neve Gordon is an Israeli activist and the author of Israel’s Occupation.

US military preparing new generation of drones for urban combat


By Bryan Dyne
5 January 2015

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has established a research and development program, known as the Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLAP) which aims to develop new types of unmanned aerial vehicles—more commonly known as drones—for urban combat operations, according to the Washington Times.

DARPA is preparing to dispense several initial $5 million contracts to companies bidding to produce the new drone models sought by the US military, which will have the ability to fly inside structures, maneuver through tight spaces, and operate autonomously from human controllers, all at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. The drones are specifically designed to mimic the flight capabilities of the goshawk, a bird species. Private sector firms will begin submitting bids as early as Tuesday.

In addition to the goshawk type, the US military is already acquiring drones the size of mosquitos as part of an Army Research Laboratory program called Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST), run as a collaboration between the Defense Department, BAE Systems, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several major US universities. The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System, a miniature rotary wing drone that takes high definition photographs and transmits footage instantaneously to its handler, has already been used by occupation forces in Afghanistan to surveil enemy positions.

“Birds of prey and flying insects exhibit the kinds of capabilities we want for small UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]… The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way [to bird and insect species], including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before,” said FLAP top official Mark Micire.

A main priority of FLAP is to produce drones that operate without human controllers. Current drone models operated by the US military and police forces require a human operator for takeoff, flight, landing and the targeting of missiles. The new autonomous control systems sought by the Pentagon will enable a few skilled computer programmers to direct a fleet of highly agile drones.

The military’s new self-directing weapons systems will be integrated into ongoing operations by conventional US forces, according to Pentagon officials. “Urban and disaster relief operations would be obvious key beneficiaries, but applications for this technology could extend to a wide variety of missions using small and large unmanned systems linked together with manned platforms as a system of systems,” DARPA director Stefanie Tompkins said.

“By enabling unmanned systems to learn ‘muscle memory’ and perception for basic tasks like avoiding obstacles, it would relieve overload and stress on human operators so they can focus on supervising the systems and executing the larger mission,” Tompkins said.

The military is promoting the latest generation of drones as specially designed for “humanitarian” use, such as search and rescue missions to find people trapped or stranded as a result of floods, hurricanes, avalanches and earthquakes.

Nonetheless, the new high-tech drone systems will primarily be used for combat missions in urban settings, according to media reports. Given that the US military is currently engaged, deployed for or preparing for combat in more than fifty countries, the Pentagon is planning to weaponize the drones in every conceivable fashion. In December, the Obama administration launched a new escalation of its US drone war, which has already killed hundreds of innocents, including countless children.

In combination with the militarization of the police, the development of autonomous, computer-controlled weapons systems raises terrifying possibilities. Police forces inside the US already use drones for surveillance purposes. The new mini-drones now point to a nightmarish future in which “no knock” SWAT team raids are accompanied by lightning-fast killer robot aircraft, controlled by artificial intelligence.



Washington denounces Syrian air strikes on ISIS


By Peter Symonds

28 November 2014

The US has seized on Syrian air force strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stronghold of Raqqa to denounce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and push for his government’s removal. For the past three years, the Obama administration has backed anti-Assad militias in Syria. The main aim of its new Middle Eastern war remains regime-change in Damascus.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday said the US was “horrified” by reports that Syrian air strikes the previous day killed scores of civilians. She condemned the Syrian regime’s “continued slaughter of Syria civilians” and “callous disregard for human life,” declaring that “Assad long ago lost all legitimacy to govern.”

According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 95 people were killed in the air strikes on Tuesday, including 52 civilians. A Raqqa activist with the Syrian opposition network—the Local Co-ordination Committees—told the BBC that further deaths were likely because only one hospital was operating normally in the city and “a lot of people [are] dying from their wounds.” Both organisations are aligned with the pro-Western opposition in Syria that is hostile to both Assad and ISIS.

Psaki’s comments are utterly cynical from every standpoint. The Pentagon routinely dismisses evidence of civilian casualties from air strikes by US and allied war planes in Syria and Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, even in the face of eyewitness statements. It wages its bogus “war on terror” with complete indifference for civilian life.

Earlier, the same Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released figures on Saturday indicating that at least 52 civilians, including 8 children and 5 women, were killed in air attacks by the US-led coalition in Syria. Given the organisation’s political sympathies, this figure is likely to be an under-estimate. Not surprisingly, the US State Department expressed no horror over these casualties.

It is also unclear whether the deaths in Raqqa were solely due to the Syrian air force. American warplanes bombed the city as recently as Monday. A Wall Street Journal report stated: “It wasn’t clear whether the US and its allies had carried out airstrikes in Raqqa on Tuesday. The scale of the casualties and how many were civilians or Islamic State militants was also unclear.” It noted that it was often “hard to distinguish Raqqa locals from the extremists.”

The Raqqa activist told the BBC: “All the markets in the city are closed after the air strikes. There is nobody walking in the streets … They are just afraid because they say in the morning there are regime air strikes and in the evening there are [US-led] coalition air strikes and it’s very, very hard to live under IS [ISIS].”

According to US Central Command figures, its war planes carried out 41 air strikes inside Syria and Iraq from last Friday up until Wednesday, including on Raqqa and the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. The Voice of America web site reported yesterday that the US recently brought a squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets from Afghanistan to Kuwait to carry out low-level bombing raids in Iraq and Syria, as well as six more Reaper drones armed with missiles.

Inside Iraq, US-backed government forces are battling to retain control of the city of Ramadi in the western Anbar province, much of which is already under ISIS control. ISIS militias launched an offensive earlier this week to capture the provincial capital. According to government officials on Wednesday, ISIS fighters advanced to within several hundred metres of governor’s office, before being pushed back. Kurdish peshmerga forces in the northern province of Kirkuk are also involved in heavy fighting to hold off a major ISIS offensive.

Last weekend, US Vice-President Joe Biden visited Turkey to try to patch up frayed relations and enlist greater Turkish support for the war in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish government has pressed the US for a more explicit call for regime-change in Damascus, as well as support for the imposition of a no-fly zone and buffer zone inside Syria. It has also been reluctant to support Kurdish militia holding out in Kobane, due to their affiliation with the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.

After meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Biden told the media they had agreed not only to roll back ISIS in Syria, but also to “strengthen the Syrian opposition and ensure a transition away from the Assad regime.” The Turkish foreign ministry announced it would collaborate with US forces in training 2,000 “moderate Syrian opposition fighters” at a base in the central Turkish city of Kirsehir. Turkey has also indicated it would be prepared to equip and train national guard units in Iraq to fight against ISIS.

Biden clashed with Erdogan last month when he accused Turkey of encouraging the rise of ISIS in Syria. While Turkey has certainly backed the Syrian opposition militias that have been dominated by right-wing Islamist organisations such as ISIS and the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, it is not alone. The US and its other Middle Eastern allies have been closely involved in training, financing and arming anti-Assad forces. The CIA has maintained a base inside Turkey to assist and arm opposition forces in Syria.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the CIA was also involved in covertly training anti-Assad fighters at a camp in the Gulf state of Qatar. The desert camp lies inside a military zone guarded by Qatari special forces. The program has been running for a year and reportedly involves small groups of 12 to 20 fighters affiliated with the pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA). According to Reuters: “In recent weeks, the Qataris, disappointed by the lack of progress in the fight against Assad, have started to consider training members of the Islamic Front—another Islamist militia.”

While the US claims to distinguish between ISIS and “moderate” anti-Assad fighters, these forces have commonly worked closely together. Arms supplied to the pro-Western FSA have ended up in the hands of Islamist militias. Now amid a groundswell of civilian opposition inside Syria to US air strikes, sections of the FSA are going over to ISIS, according to a Guardian article on Monday. Such defections will only encourage the US to openly declare war on Assad, sooner rather than later, in a bid to stem the tide.