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Drone Strikes and Transparency

By Robert Fantina - Posted on 29 April 2014


Drone Strikes and Transparency

            The craven U.S. Senate has stripped from a bill a requirement that the president disclose casualties resulting from his murderous, almost indiscriminant drone strikes. The original wording of the bill, authorizing intelligence operations for fiscal year 2014, required an annual report stating the number of ‘combatants’ and ‘non-combatant civilians’ that were either killed or injured by drone strikes.

            ‘Combatants’ and ‘non-combatants’ are certainly subjective terms. Is a ‘combatant’ in the eyes of the U.S. actually someone fighting for the sovereignty of their own country? Does a ‘non-combatant’ become a ‘combatant’ when he or she sees their loved ones blown to bits by a drone strike? It would appear to be quite easy to move from the second category into the first.

            The provision in the senate bill was removed at the request of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. In a letter dated April 18, 2014, addressed to Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), both members of the Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. Senate, he said this:

“Consistent with President Obama’s 23 May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, in carrying out the fight against al-Qa’ida and its associated forces, the Executive Branch is committed to upholding our laws and values, and to sharing as much information as possible with the American people and Congress. The Executive Branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities.”

            There are several aspects of this one paragraph that are troubling:

  • In referring to ‘the fight against al-Qa’ida and its associated forces’, there is little evidence that there is much to fight against. With the mastermind dead now for years, and the remnants of his organization in disarray, so-called targeted drone strikes seem, at best, counterproductive. They only increase hatred towards the United States, thus creating actual enemies.

  • The statement that ‘the Executive Branch is committed to upholding our laws and values’ is puzzling; what, exactly, are the laws and values being upheld? Do U.S. values really include killing innocent civilians so one or two suspected ‘combatants’ can be eliminated? Is determination of guilt without trial a U.S. value? Is execution without trial really something the U.S. favors? Is it consistent with U.S. law? Apparently so. At least finally admitting it removes generations of lies that the U.S. has told its own citizens and the rest of the world.

  • One wonders, when one reads that ‘the Executive Branch is committed …to sharing as much information as possible with the American people’, why all the information can’t be shared. There does not appear to be a reason that the American people can’t know how many people their tax dollars are helping to kill, and how many of them, even by the U.S.’s bizarre and exacting standards, are ‘non-combatants’. If such killings are being done in the sacred, but somewhat over-used, name of national security, there does not seem to be any reason why this information can’t be disclosed.

  • The Executive Branch, we are further told by Mr. Clapper, is equally committed ‘to sharing as much information’ about these killings ‘as possible’ with Congress. Should not Congress be making war-related decisions? This is not, according to the Constitution, an area under the exclusive purview of the president, with some minor obligation to let Congress know what he’s doing. What information, one wonders, is it not ‘possible’ to disclose to Congress?

  • We are told by Mr. Clapper that ‘the Executive Branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people with more information’ about drone strikes. It does not seem that a lot of exploration should be required. Does this mean that the Executive Branch is determining how best to sugar-coat the information, or withhold pertinent aspects of it altogether?

  • Mr. Clapper closes this interesting paragraph by referring to ‘the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities.’ It appears to this writer that a drone, swooping low above a village and dropping bombs, can only be described as an act of ‘active hostility’.  Perhaps when Mr. Clapper refers to areas ‘outside’ of such hostilities, he is referring to the U.S. victims of those hostilities. Most of those victims had little or no animosity towards the U.S. before the first drone strike, and most of those that did have little in the way of resources to do much about their usually-justified hatred of the U.S. anyway.

        Mr. Clapper continued, in the same letter, to say the following: “To be meaningful to the public, any report including the information described above would require context and be drafted carefully so as to protect against the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods or other classified information.” Let us take a closer look at this single sentence.

  • It goes without saying that any information requires context, but the level of detail required here isn’t great: X number of ‘combatants’ (whatever that means) were killed, and Y number of ‘non-combatants’ were killed in drone strikes. The context is drone strikes, and the U.S. defines ‘combatants’ and ‘non-combatants’. Many U.S. citizens will simply accept the government’s definitions, although it appears that that level of gullibility is shrinking.

  • The information need not include intelligence sources; it’s to be hoped that the government has a good idea of how many people it’s killing, so providing additional information won’t even be necessary.

      Is national security the real reason Mr. Clapper and his boss, President Barack Obama, don’t want to disclose this information? Is that why Senators Feinstein and Chambliss were so ready to remove that provision from the Senate bill? Perhaps not. In a truly representative democracy, people know what their government is doing. After all, it’s the voters in a democracy that elect their representatives, without undue influence from lobbyist and their wealthy benefactors.

       Senators Feinstein and Chambliss, Messrs. Clapper and Obama have no such desire for transparency. When the world can be made safe for their empire, including military bases crowding the globe, and lucrative trade can be expanded and natural resources stolen, it is far more convenient to summon the holy grail of ‘national security’ than that of unmitigated greed and power-lust. Why tell the U.S. citizens how many people are being killed for these purposes, when they’ll so much more easily follow along if the mantra of ‘national security’ continues to be chanted?

       It is long past time for U.S. citizens and the world to wake up to the horrific injustices of the U.S., including the shocking use and increase of deadly and terrifying drone strikes.

      On April 4, 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech at the Riverside Church in New York City. In it, he said this: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today-my own government.” The concept that the U.S. is ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today’ remains true, forty-seven years later. Drone strikes are only the newest tool in the arsenal of U.S. terrorism.

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