Archive for the ‘War on Terrorism’ Category

Feb 11, 2014: Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance

February 9, 2014

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US Drone Strikes Have Prominent Critics

October 22, 2013

The US program of using unmanned drone aircraft to launch missile attacks against ground targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen is drawing some prominent critics.

The Obama administration, which increased the use of drone-launched attacks significantly compared to the Bush adminstration, has consistently defended the use of drones as an imperfect but necessary tool in combatting terrorist organisations. For example:

Predator drone

Predator drone

People in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen have protested since the drone-attacks began. Peace activists have similarly argued against the use of offensive weaponized drones on the grounds that they cause many civilian casualties and are counterproductive. How much weight do their protests carry with the administration? We all know the answer: very little.

Now, at last, other, more well-known and well-respected people and organizations are speaking out against the use of combat drones:

  • Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter savages US foreign policy over drone strikes. According to the former President, drone strikes and targeted assassinations abroad have seen the US violating human rights in a way that “abets our enemies and alienates our friends”.
  • Arianna Huffington: ‘Signature Strikes’ and the President’s Empty Rhetoric on Drones. Huffington writes: “The missiles from the drones might be exploding in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Yemen, but the fallout will impact us here at home for years to come.”
  • Malala Yousafzai: Malala to Obama: “Drones Fueling Terrorism”. The 16-year-old Pakistani student whom the Taliban shot for promoting educating girls, who won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize and the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and who was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, recently met with President Obama. Afterwards, she told reporters: “I … expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
  • Amnesty International: Amnesty criticizes US drone program in Pakistan. A report issued by the organization documents several civilian casualties of drone attacks in Pakistan and calls on the US to investigate those attacks and possibly to change its policies concerning the strikes. Amnesty expressed concern that the attacks discussed in the report and others may have resulted in extrajudicial executions or war crimes. Estimating civilian casualties is highly error prone, but Amnesty’s report estimates the number of people killed by drone-attacks in Pakistan to be 2,065-3,613, of which 153-926 were thought to be civilians.
  • Human Rights Watch: Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda. A report from Human Rights Watch says that US drone airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen have killed civilians in violation of international law. The report examines six US targeted killings in Yemen. Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths. The report concludes that the strikes are creating a public backlash that undermines US efforts against Al-Qaeda. [Read HRW report] [View HRW video summarizing report]
Predator drone firing missile

Predator drone firing missile

Perhaps momentum is building for an international campaign to ban the use of combat drones, similar to the campaigns to ban land-mines and chemical weapons, which both won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Muslims Not Spared in Nairobi Mall Attack

September 27, 2013

Al Shabab, the Somalia-based group responsible for the Sept 21 attack in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, tweeted as its gunmen launched the attack that they were taking care not to harm Muslims. They claimed to be letting Muslims leave the mall. Their spokespeople repeated this several times over the four-day-long siege. In an email to The Associated Press, Al Shabab’s spokesperson wrote that their jihadis “carried out a meticulous vetting process” so Muslims would not be harmed. A few witnesses reported seeing some of the gunmen briefly question people before either letting them go, taking them captive, or shooting them outright.

First of all, even if the attackers had been “meticulous” about letting Muslims escape the carnage, the attack would have been no less horrific, brutal, criminal, and cowardly. Killing innocent civilians is never justifiable, regardless of who does it or why.

However, let’s set the record straight about Al Shabab’s claims of taking care not to harm Muslims: it is false propaganda, probably intended to win sympathy from Muslims around the world. The Al Shabab gunmen did not take care. They were not meticulus. They did not spare Muslims.

The following articles and video interviews document known Muslim victims of the attack. As further bodies are identified and survivors are debriefed, this list will undoubtedly grow.

Another Muslim, Abdul Haji, a Kenyan citizen, was a major hero in helping rescue people trapped in the mall during the attack. In fact, one of the most often-seen photos to emerge from the attack shows Haji rescuing a four-year old girl who had been hiding from attackers with her mother [Read Rescue Story] [View Photo]. In the following interview, Haji recounts events as he remembers them. In the interview, he states strongly that attacking innocent civilians, especially women and children, is not Islamic. [View Interview]

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The Inevitable Blowback from Combat Drones

February 26, 2013

The Associated Press reported last week that civilian casualties in Afghanistan from US drone strikes increased in 2012 over 2011.

I wonder if US Military Officials, and the President who is their Commander in Chief, ever consider the possible blowback from US drone strikes in Afganistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

First there is the ground-level blowback that occurs when young people in targetted areas are very quickly turned into anti-US combattants by having their relatives and friends blown to pieces by remote control.

But there also will be airborne blowback: drones deployed and launched by hostile countries or organizations. Does it not occur to US military leaders that drone technology is not the exclusive domain of the US — that it can and will be developed and deployed by other countries? For example, recently Iran brought down a US “stealth” drone — not stealthy enough apparently — and now is busy reverse-engineering it.

In the not-too-distant future, I foresee the following:

  • Drones deployed by Germany, France, England, Russia, Israel, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, South and North Korea, as well as some non-state organizations.
  • US military bases, convoys, and ships targetted by drone attacks.
  • Security teams for US officials traveling abroad having to keep an eye on the skies overhead in addition to their current duties.
  • US tourists abroad being hit by drone attacks.
  • Attacks inside the US by drones from other countries, including even supposed allies like Israel, when they locate someone in the US who they consider an enemy.

My wife and I travel a lot outside the US, including many developing countries, so I really don’t look forward to the future I’ve outlined above. But I fully expect it to come about. What is to prevent it? US military might? Not likely. It hasn’t stopped car bombings, rocket attacks, or kidnapping; why would drone attacks be different?

Recent Noteworthy Articles about Drones:

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US Considers Retribution for Libya Consulate Attack

October 19, 2012

The San Francisco Chronicle recently printed an Associated Press story about the ongoing search for the perpetrators of the Sept 11 attack on the US Consulate in Libya. The article indicated that the Obama administration is considering retaliatory strikes if those who killed the US Ambassador and three other Americans can be found. [See article] [See follow-up article]

In response, I wrote a letter to the Chronicle questioning the wisdom of retribution, and suggesting that capturing the perpetrators would be more morally defensible, more effective, and less incendiary. On Thursday Oct 18, the Chronicle printed my letter. Below is the letter.

Don’t make them martyrs

Why is a “reprisal strike” the primary option under consideration (“U.S. forces on standby for reprisal strike on al Qaeda,” Oct. 16)? Since when is the United States an “eye for an eye” nation?

Why not capture the attackers and murderers of U.S. Embassy staff and put them on trial for their cowardly crimes? That would satisfy our goal of “taking them out” of action, and it would avoid making them into martyrs and alienating potential allies in the region.

—-

To that, I’ll now add: The attackers are criminals, not warriors, and should be treated accordingly.

Comments welcomed.

Combat Drones: Counterproductive and Immoral

October 7, 2012

PeacePundit has previously described the problems of the US military’s strategy of using armed drone aircraft, piloted remotely by operators half a world away and viewing the ground through a video feed, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Previous posts about drones cited press reports and other sources to substantiate the many civilian casualties caused by drone attacks.

More recent reports and articles support the argument that using combat drones to launch air-strikes is error-prone and counterproductive, not to mention immoral. The articles come from diverse sources: an active-duty US Army Major writing in the conservative Armed Forces Journal, the politically centrist Los Angeles Times and Slate, and the left-leaning Rolling Stone and AlterNet.

The Problems of Combat Drones

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US Military Budget Dwarfs All Other Nations’ Military Budgets

September 22, 2012

Chart from IISS.org shows that U.S. military budget dwarfs next 9 nation's budgets combined

As this chart from the International Institute for Strategic Studies shows, the U.S. military budget (often erroneously called the “defense” budget) is larger than the next nine national military budgets put together.

If we could cut the military budget significantly, we’d could fund many things that now are chronically underfunded, such as education, transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, etc.

Write your representatives in Congress and demand that this insane military budget be cut… drastically.

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Offensive Combat Drones are Bad News

August 17, 2012

A recent AP news story about the US Airforce’s test-flight of a hypersonic jet (expected max speed: 3600 mph, 5800 kph) appealed to the technology-geek in me. I initially thought: “cool!”.

But then I got to the last line of the story: “… the aircraft is intended to allow the Pentagon to deliver strikes around the globe within minutes”.
[Read Story]

OK, that’s not cool.

What would be cool is a hypersonic drone aircraft designed to deliver medicine, food, or emergency supplies anywhere in the world within minutes. But, sadly, that’s not the purpose for which the hypersonic drone is being developed.

So I was not totally upset to read a followup AP press report that the test had failed.
[Read Follow-up Story]

Sure it is bad that several million of our tax-payer dollars (perhaps billions — I don’t know) crashed uselessly into the ocean, but it is not bad that the US military’s plans to rain death remotely upon people worldwide were set back.

Perhaps Jeremy Scahill was right when he said the “US has become a nation of assassins”.

More About Military Drones

US Military Drone

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Questions and Answers about the Afghanistan War

April 21, 2012

How long have we been fighting in Afghanistan? The war has ground on for over ten years now. Longer than WWI and WWII combined.

When will it end? According to the Obama administration, we will start withdrawing troops in September of 2012 and end our combat involvement there by 2014. However, few Americans believe that, least of all senior military officials, who argue that US and NATO troops should remain until Afghanistan is stable. Never mind that Afghanistan never has been stable and is unlikely to become so in this century.

How is it going? If you ask the US military command, it is challenging, but we are gradually winning the war against the enemy. Never mind that the number of US and NATO troops killed in the first three months of 2012 is about equal to the number killed in the first three years of the war, 2001-2003.

Who is the enemy? Al Qaeda, of course, ever since they attacked us on 9/11/2001. Never mind that Al Qaeda has had no significant presence in Afghanistan since 2001.

Who are we are fighting, then? A subsitute enemy: the Taliban. Never mind that the Taliban did not attack us, know almost nothing about the world outside of their country, and therefore pose no international threat.

But didn’t the Taliban harbor the Al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us? Perhaps, but it is customary in Afghanistan to feed and harbor anyone who comes to your door. Also, the people who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks lived in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada, Florida, and Massachusetts. After the attacks, Pakistan harbored Osama bin Laden and his clan for many years. So those locations also harbored the terrorists, yet we haven’t gone to war with them.

OK, but the Taliban regime was hell for Afghan women, wasn’t it? Maybe Western intervention can help bring about a better life for women there. Yes, it was. But again, regimes all over the world repress women, and the US hasn’t invaded them.

Does the Afghan government want us to stay? No. They want us out, ASAP. In late 2010, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the US military strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive. Last Thursday, after a series of incidents in which US troops pissed on Taliban corpses, shot and killed unarmed Afghan women and children while they were sleeping, and posed with Taliban body parts, Karzai said that he wants Western forces to speed-up their departure. Bottom line: we aren’t there because the Afghans want us there.

So why are we still there? Countries north of Afghanistan — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikstan — have oil reserves. The US wants access to that oil. Obtaining secure access will require pipelines running south, through Afghanistan. The alternative pipeline routes go east, to China, or north, to Russia. The US doesn’t like those alternatives. Therefore, US neo-conservatives (and neo-liberals) consider Afghanistan a strategic piece of territory to control.

What can we do to help bring an end to the Afghanistan war? Join the Campaign for New Priorities, and donate to help the Campaign publish advertisements. Write or call your congressional representatives, Senators, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and ask them. Get their phone numbers and addresses via Google.

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Obama: Time to wind down Afghanistan War?

March 6, 2012

US President Barack Obama indicated in his first major press conference on the year that he considers it time to end the US-led war in Afghanistan. It is of course high time that the President arrived at that conclusion. However, Obama did not announce any acceleration of US plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Therefore it is unclear what the purpose of his statement was.

Perhaps it was meant as a warning to Afghans. If so, it could backfire. Afghans — particularly President Hamid Karzai — are sure to notice that Obama labels as “unacceptable” attacks on US troops in Afghanistan in retaliation for the US military’s accidental burning of Korans, but never said anything similar about repeated Afghan civilian deaths resulting from US or NATO airstrikes. Afghans could get the message that six US troop deaths are unnacceptable to Obama while thousands of US/NATO-caused “collateral” Afghan civilian deaths are acceptable.

Enough editorializing. Here’s the news report (excerpted):

Obama: Time has come to wind down Afghan war

March 06, 2012 6:20 PM EST, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Amid fresh concerns over the safety of American forces, President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the accidental burning of Qurans in Afghanistan and the retaliatory killings of US troops gave new credence to the need to end the war.

“I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it’s an indication that now is the time for us to transition,” Obama said during a White House news conference.

Obama announced no speeding up of the NATO-backed plan to end combat missions in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, saying “that continues to be the plan.” But he said the violence aimed at Americans in Afghanistan that followed the accidental burning of Qurans on a US base was “unacceptable.”

Six Americans were killed in retaliatory violence. Obama offered his apologies to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a move that was roundly criticized by his Republican presidential rivals as weak and unnecessary.

From Congress, Obama was getting tugged from another direction. A letter calling for Obama to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan had the backing of 23 senators, mostly Democrats but including two conservative Republicans, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who circulated the letter with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a statement that there “something fundamentally wrong with spending $88 billion for national building in Afghanistan while we’re asking Americans to make tough cuts here at home.”

Addressing another international crisis in Syria, Obama said the violence there was “heartbreaking” but he showed no new willingness for military involvement in that Mideast country.

Obama said unilateral military action by the United States against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a mistake. And he rejected a comparison to Libya, where the United States and allies did intervene last year, saying the situation in Syria is more complex. … Assad’s military is better equipped and more powerful than the Libyan force.

[Read entire story]

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