The Extra Drone Dead: Covert Actions or Side Payments?

As I noted earlier, McClatchy has seen a slew of documents that — while obviously false on the topic of civilian casualties, at a minimum — show that hundreds of the people we’re killing are not legitimate targets under the AUMF.

The U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy covered most – although not all – of the drone strikes in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011. In that later period, Obama oversaw a surge in drone operations against suspected Islamist sanctuaries on Pakistan’s side of the border that coincided with his buildup of 33,000 additional U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. Several documents listed casualty estimates as well as the identities of targeted groups.

McClatchy’s review found that:

– At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”

During the same period, the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

– At other times, the CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.

As I’ve suggested, this report is perhaps most interesting for the fact that CIA, in its own documents, claims that none of the 40-some people killed at Datta Khel on May 17, 2011 were civilians.

In other words, the CIA is lying — even internally — about drone strikes as blatantly as it did about torture.

But given that this report is generating more attention to the excuses we use for killing people, it would be useful if people review this post from Gregory McNeal. In it, he reveals that — regardless of what the drone people say publicly — there are actually three categories that will get you on a targeting list.

Many have already analyzed the potential legal rationales offered by the U.S. government in support of its targeted killing campaigns (the subject of Part I of the paper), therefore let me just offer this summary with regard to categories of targets.   There are three basic categories of targets who might find their way onto a kill-list: (1) Targets who fall within the AUMF, and its associated forces interpretations [AUMF Targets], (2) targets who fall within the terms of a covert action finding [Covert Action Targets], and (3) targets provided by allies in a non-international armed conflict in which the U.S. is a participant. [Ally Targets or derisively “side payment targets.”]   These categories will oftentimes overlap, however there also may be circumstances where a target rests exclusively within one category.

So there are two reasons people who are obviously not in the categories listed in self-serving speeches might be killed. Either, because they’re targeted under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum under Article II Authority, or because we’re murdering people as a favor for our allies.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. HotFlash says:

    My dear Ms Wheel,

    Thank you for your persistance on this and related matters. I am sure that Casey the M Lab is proud (and probably envious) of your bull-doggedness. I am expat but all my rellies are in the US, MI mostly, and they are all like “Whut?”, and the more intelligent ones, “Well what can you do?”

    I send them links to you. But I have to agree with Tiny Tim, “God help us, every one.”

  2. eh says:

    I would think the The Agency would *have* to lie internally in order to get their joystick jockey kids to target Non-Qaedas. Perhaps I’m not cynical enough, but I doubt Panetta was able to just pick up the phone and order a wedding be converted into BBQ in so many words.

  3. Awaiting Moderation says:

    O/T but remember when the usa DEA murdered / gunned down the Hondurans back in May 2012 in yet War On Drugs fiasco??? (man, the usa sure does like to kill kill kill – wtf is up with that !?!?!)

    New Report on Deadly Honduras Counterdrugs Operation Raises New Questions Regarding usa Role

    http://www.cepr.net/index.php/press-releases/press-releases/new-report-on-deadly-honduras-counterdrugs-operation-raises-new-questions-regarding-us-role

    whut do you think – the usa LIED??? LOL

  4. greengiant says:

    “So there are two reasons people who are obviously not in the categories listed in self-serving speeches might be killed. Either, because they’re targeted under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum under Article II Authority, or because we’re murdering people as a favor for our allies.”

    Easier to be killed dead than targeted. Wonder how many 482 killed were actual targets at the time of droning. The US says any male with a rifle is an armed combatant. But the US has NOT targeted every male with a rifle. The real collateral death dealing is probably a lot higher than 265 “non senior” AQ leaders, as in 465++ – six leaders reported killed in media accounts.

    The CIA is so lame, they probably used the wrong “justification” for each drone strike, when the last justification standing is article II.
    I would like to see an analysis of the Hague being so dominated by NATO allies that these war crimes will never reach the world court.

  5. nomolos says:

    Either, because they’re targeted under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum under Article II Authority, or because we’re murdering people as a favor for our allies.

    Or because we can

  6. beowulf says:

    “McClatchy has seen a slew of documents that — while obviously false on the topic of civilian casualties, at a minimum — show that hundreds of the people we’re killing are not legitimate targets under the AUMF.”

    Hmm, you mean the AUMF that starts like this?
    “Joint Resolution
    To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.”

    None of the people killed were legitimate targets because the CIA is not part of the United States Armed Forces. This sounds like a bureaucratic detail but its kind of a big deal. Military personnel have combatant’s privilege, intelligence officers do not. (Its undisputed John Kerry shot a Vietnamese dude in the back when he was in the Navy. The fact Vietnam doesn’t have an arrest warrant out for him, that’s combatant’s privilege). The Air Force should have been running thedrone show from the start. If the CIA insisted on keeping on keeping on, there’s a very simple legislative solution. How many people know that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a uniformed service?

    The NOAA Corps traces its roots to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which itself is an offshoot of the Survey of the Coast. For what reason were Coast and Geodetic Survey officers originally commissioned?
    To prevent execution for spying if caught by an enemy.

    http://www.funtrivia.com/en/subtopics/Americas-Other-Two-Uniformed-Services-276360.html

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