NYT’s excellent new ombud, Margaret Sullivan, returns to a perennial ombud issue, how the Grey Lady refers to Executive Branch actions and abuses. She includes a long quote from Scott Shane that reveals a great deal about his reporting, and ultimately convinces me we should be calling drone killing assassination.
Adherence to “Targeted Killing” Even While Admitting It’s Not
Let’s start with Shane’s defense of the term “targeted killing” (a term I sometimes use but should not). Sadly, Sullivan cuts off the direct quote from Scott Shane at its most important part, but in the following, the first paragraph here is a direct quote from Shane, the second Sullivan’s report of his comment.
This leaves “targeted killing,” which I think is far from a euphemism. It denotes exactly what’s happening: American drone operators aim at people on the ground and fire missiles at them. I think it’s a pretty good term for what’s happening, if a bit clinical.
Mr. Shane added that he had only one serious qualm about the term. That, he said, was expressed by an administration official: “It’s not the targeted killings I object to — it’s the untargeted killings.” The official “was talking about so-called ‘signature strikes’ that target suspected militants based on their appearance, location, weapons and so on, not their identities, which are unknown; and also about mistaken strikes that kill civilians.”
Shane defends using “targeted killing,” even while admitting that a great deal of drone killing is not targeted. Unless Shane knows a great deal more about individual strikes than he lets on — and therefore knows which drone strikes are targeted at known identities and which are targeted at crowds of unknown military aged males — then he is party to an apparently deliberate strategy on the part of the Administration to spin its killing program as much more orderly and legally justified than it actually is. We saw this operate as recently as yesterday, when John Brennan responded to a question from Jan Schakowsky about signature strikes by telling her to look back at speeches that address only “targeted killing.”
SCHAKOWSKY: Let me ask you this, is there any way that you can define and distinguish between targeted strikes and signature strikes by the — by drones?
BRENNAN: I would refer to the comments that were made by a number of U.S. government officials publicly in speeches, including when I was at the White House. I’m not going to engage in any type of discussion on that here to the Congress, ma’am.
As I said, I’m as guilty of using this term without sufficient awareness as Shane. But doing so consciously really is participating in a propaganda effort the Administration is engaged in.
Executive Order 12333’s Invisible Ink
Then there’s Shane’s refusal to use “assassination” based on Administration claims about Executive Order 12333, which ostensibly prohibits the practice.
“Assassination” is banned by executive order, but for decades that has been interpreted by successive administrations as prohibiting the killing of political figures, not suspected terrorists. Read more