Ken Dilanian has a very interesting article in the Los Angeles Times outlining the latest failure in Congress’ attempts to exert oversight over drones. Senator Carl Levin had the reasonable idea of calling a joint closed session of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees so that the details of consolidating drone functions under the Pentagon (and helping the CIA to lose at least one of its paramilitary functions) could be smoothed out. In the end, “smooth” didn’t happen:
An effort by a powerful U.S. senator to broaden congressional oversight of lethal drone strikes overseas fell apart last week after the White House refused to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert CIA operations, according to senior U.S. officials.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, held a joint classified hearing Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA and military drone strikes against suspected terrorists.
But the White House did not allow CIA officials to attend, so military counter-terrorism commanders testified on their own.
But perhaps the White House was merely retaliating for an earlier slight from Congress:
In May, the White House said it would seek to gradually move armed drone operations to the Pentagon. But lawmakers added a provision to the defense spending bill in December that cut off funds for that purpose, although it allows planning to continue.
Dilanian parrots the usual framing of CIA vs JSOC on drone targeting:
Levin thought it made sense for both committees to share a briefing from generals and CIA officials, officials said. He was eager to dispel the notion, they said, that CIA drone operators were more precise and less prone to error than those in the military.
The reality is that targeting in both the CIA and JSOC drone programs is deeply flawed, and the flaws lead directly to civilian deaths. I have noted many times (for example see here and here and here) when John Brennan-directed drone strikes (either when he had control of strike targeting as Obama’s assassination czar at the White House or after taking over the CIA and taking drone responsibility with him) reeked of political retaliation rather than being logically aimed at high value targets. But those examples pale in comparison to Brennan’s “not a bake sale” strike that killed 40 civilians immediately after Raymond Davis’ release or his personal intervention in the peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP. JSOC, on the other hand, has input from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which, as Marcy has noted, has its own style when it comes to “facts”. On top of that, we have the disclosure from Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald earlier this week that JSOC will target individual mobile phone SIM cards rather than people for strikes, without confirming that the phone is in possession of the target at the time of the strike. The flaws inherent in both of these approaches lead to civilian deaths that fuel creation of even more terrorists among the survivors.
Dilanian doesn’t note that the current move by the White House to consolidate drones at the Pentagon is the opposite of what took place about a year before Brennan took over the CIA, when his group at the White House took over some control of JSOC targeting decisions, at least with regard to signature strikes in Yemen.
In the end, though, it’s hard to see how getting all drone functions within the Pentagon and under Senate Armed Services Committee oversight will improve anything. Admittedly, the Senate Intelligence Committee is responsible for the spectacular failure of NSA oversight and has lacked the courage to release its thorough torture investigation report, but Armed Services oversees a bloated Pentagon that can’t even pass an audit (pdf). In the end, it seems to me that this entire pissing match between Congress and the White House is over which committee(s) will ultimately be blamed for failing oversight of drones.
In addition to further details about CIA’s quashed review showing torture didn’t work and a commitment from James Clapper he would tell the American people if any of them had been back door searched, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall (along with Martin Heinrich) got one more curious set of details into the record at today’s Threat Hearing.
First, Wyden asked (43;04) John Brennan whether the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act applied to the CIA.
Wyden: Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?
Brennan: I would have to look into what that act actually calls for and its applicability to CIA’s authorities. I’ll be happy to get back to you, Senator, on that.
Wyden: How long would that take?
Brennan: I’ll be happy to get back to you as soon as possible but certainly no longer than–
Wyden: A week?
Brennan: I think that I could get that back to you, yes.
Minutes later, Mark Udall raised EO 12333′s limits on CIA’s spying domestically (48:30).
Udall: I want to be able to reassure the American people that the CIA and the Director understand the limits of its authorities. We are all aware of Executive Order 12333. That order prohibits the CIA from engaging in domestic spying and searches of US citizens within our borders. Can you assure the Committee that the CIA does not conduct such domestic spying and searches?
Brennan: I can assure the Committee that the CIA follows the letter and spirit of the law in terms of what CIA’s authorities are, in terms of its responsibilities to collect intelligence that will keep this country safe. Yes Senator, I do.
Now, it’s not certain these two questions are linked. Though obviously, hacking computers is an easy way to spy on people (as the NSA knows well).
Of course, the logic of the memo authorizing the Anwar al-Awlaki killing says that, so long as CIA has a presidential finding, even laws protecting American citizens cannot limit the CIA. And we learned 6 years ago that the Executive had secretly altered the text of EO 12333 without actually changing it, a practice John Yoo rubber stamped.
So, particularly given Brennan’s snitty answer about protecting this country, I’d assume it’s a safe bet that the CIA is spying domestically, and I’d posit that they may be hacking computers to do so.
Oh good. NSA was getting bored being the only Agency exposed for hacking.
Surprisingly, the most contentious comments from today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on were not directed at James “Too Cute by Half” Clapper, but instead John Brennan. Both Martin Heinrich (who used the Early Bird rule to ensure he got to speak early in the hearing) and Mark Udall hit on John Brennan’s comments about the SSCI torture report given what the CIA concluded in an internal review carried out under Leon Panetta. First, Martin Heinrich accused CIA of intimidating legitimate oversight.
[Heinrich] accused Brennan of making statements about the Intelligence panel’s interrogation report that are “meant to intimidate, deflect and thwart legitimate oversight.”
“There’s a chasm between the committee and Director Brennan on some of these issues, but it doesn’t appear to be in the director’s nature to accept those overtures, frankly,” Heinrich said.
“I respectfully and vehemently disagree with your characterization of the CIA’s cooperation with this committee,” Brennan responded.
Heinrich asked Brennan to explain why the Panetta review had been disbanded, wherein Dianne Feinstein interrupted and said that was no an appropriate question for the hearing, at which point Heinrich rebutted DiFi.
“Actually, it doesn’t fully answer the question,” Heinrich responded.
Later, Udall suggested that Brennan’s stonewalling on this internal report suggested he might have been less than forthcoming in his earlier answers about the torture report (remember, Brennan has been dodging Udall’s questions on the torture report for a year).
Udall then asked if the internal review contradicted Brennan’s statement, which the CIA director said was not appropriate to respond to in a public setting.
“Are you saying that the CIA officers who were asked to produce this internal review got it wrong? Just like you said the committee got it wrong?” Udall asked.
“Senator, as you well know, I didn’t say that the committee got it wrong,” Udall shot back. “I said there were things in that report I disagreed with, there were things that I agreed with and I look forward with working committee on the next steps in report.”
That’s when DiFi interrupted again, suggesting this wasn’t an appropriate discussion for this hearing.
Curiously, in spite of DiFi’s insistence that all mention of the Panetta report — or what led it to being quashed — take place in closed session, the CIA claims it might release their report (if they can also release their rebuttal of the Senate report). But they’re still fighting the release of the 6,000 page SSCI torture report.
They’re likely using the same dodge DOJ just used in a FOIA from Jason Leopold (who is also suing for some or all the same reports ACLU is). They said they can’t release the torture report because DiFi owns it (remember, Congress is immune from FOIA).
A report completed more than a year ago by a Senate panel that investigated the CIA’s torture program can only be released by the committee, which maintains complete “control” over the highly classified document, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday.
The Justice Department made that claim in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed against the agency last September, in which I asked for a copy of the 300-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) much sought after $40 million torture report. The Justice Department asked a federal court judge Friday to dismiss my case, arguing it does not have the authority to disseminate the report because it is a “congressional record” as opposed to an “agency record,” which would make it subject to provisions of FOIA.
So DiFi doesn’t want Brennan to have to admit in public session that even the CIA found the CIA torture program didn’t work. And DiFi seems to be the single solitary hold-up for releasing her own Committee’s torture report.
Why is DiFi protecting John Brennan and his agency rather than overseeing them?
One tidbit in the long Washington Post profile of Pakistan’s Imran Khan stands out from the standard language describing the former cricket star who has developed a strong enough political movement to control one province. Just over halfway through the article, we have this description of Khan being summoned to a meeting of NATO diplomats after his blockade of the NATO cargo route through the north of Pakistan had become established:
In a blunt signal of the coalition’s unease, about 20 diplomats from NATO countries, including the United States, summoned Khan for dinner in early December at the German ambassador’s residence in Islamabad. According to Khan and others present, the encounter became tense.
“They kept saying, ‘Look, we have nothing to do with it; it’s all the CIA’ ” carrying out the drone attacks, Khan recalled.
Think about that for a minute. The war in Afghanistan is being fought under the NATO banner. Diplomats representing the top countries in that alliance summoned Khan and then lectured him to stop interfering with their supply convoys. They tried to convince Khan that they, as the leaders of the coalition, have no control over John Brennan’s drone strikes inside Pakistan.
But these strikes, of course, are described by the US as serving to protect US troops within the NATO coalition. And the coalition leaders tell Khan that he should stop his blockade of their supplies because they have no control over the drone strikes that have his constituents so upset. In other words, NATO has no control over John Brennan. He makes his decisions on timing and location of drone strikes with no NATO oversight or even input.
Khan instantly saw the absurd depravity of that argument from NATO. The quote from the Post article above cuts the final sentence from the second paragraph. Here is that sentence, which continues Khan’s description of the meeting to the Post:
“I said, ‘Look, you are all coalition partners.’ ”
Khan understands that in a real coalition, the partners would have a say in actions with as much import as drone strikes. But the NATO representatives, who took it upon themselves to lecture Khan about his blockade, had no objection to Brennan being out of their control. Instead, they were using it as an excuse to try to convince Khan to stop obstructing their convoys.
Who is the one with moral rectitude here? The one who understands how members of a coalition should behave or the one who insists that he needs no oversight on any front for raining down death from the sky?
Remember back in May 2012, when Daniel Klaidman (and the NYT), rolled out stories about the White House imposing new order on the drone program. The initial roll-out stories adopted the new White House euphemism — Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes or TADS — in lieu of the previously used “signature strike” or more accurate “untargeted drone strike.” But in stories masquerading as comprehensive, neither made any mention of the death of 16 year old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
And remember back in February 2013, when Klaidman rolled out claims that John Brennan would not only change the drone targeting rules at CIA, but roll back the war on terror altogether? That article didn’t see any contradiction with treating Brennan’s claims as honest when trying to argue he approved signature strikes in Yemen yet admitting he had twice opposed them. Once again, a purportedly comprehensive article — even one focused on Yemen — didn’t mention Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
And remember when, a month later, Klaidman proclaimed, “Exclusive: No More Drones for CIA”? I predicted then, based on the evidence of John Brennan’s formal statements to Congress and actions rather than credulously treated anonymous claims, it was wrong.
Well, yesterday Klaidman was out with another big counterterrorism scoop, this one promising that “Obama’s Defining Fight” would be “how he will take on the NSA’s surveillance state in 2014.” It dedicates 2,200 words to supporting this proposition.
Throughout his presidency he has struggled, even agonized, over how to balance security and liberty in an age of terror.
Obama’s willingness to go back and reform his own counterterrorism policies sometimes has led him to give up power or place it under tighter constraints, an unusual characteristic, given that most presidents try to enhance executive authority, especially in the national security arena. Obama, on the contrary, ordered a policy review toward the end of his first term that eventually placed greater restraints on his targeted killing program, resulting in fewer strikes.
His trajectory on surveillance fits the pattern. [my emphasis]
Klaidman apparently doesn’t see the contradiction with the conclusion of his tale.
Sometime in January, Obama plans to deliver a major speech laying out his own blueprint for surveillance reform.
That is, ultimately Obama plans his own “reform.” Which not only keeps the authority for “reform” in the Executive’s hands — protecting executive authority — but almost certainly stops short of the reasonable but by no means adequate changes proposed by his Review Group.
More importantly, in a story focusing on the reform proposals offered by his Review Group that Obama apparently may accept, Klaidman once again has one of his increasingly characteristic black holes in the middle of the story.
Klaidman reports on Obama’s openness to entertain his NSA Review Group’s recommendations. Yet he makes not one mention of the Group’s recommendation that Director of NSA and CyberCommand be split, and that a civilian lead the former organization. This is one of the most important structural reforms proposed by the Review Group.
Nor does Klaidman mention that Obama has already pre-empted that recommendation publicly after having learned of it, announcing that the position would remain joined and in military hands.
This, in an article that portrays Obama getting miffed at General Alexander (and credulously reporting Alexander’s laughable–and more limited claim, in reality–that no one knew that NSA hadn’t turned off deliberate features of the illegal dragnet after FISC excluded those features from the dragnet.
But behind the scenes, Obama was showing some irritation with the intelligence leadership that had pressed for these capabilities and repeatedly vouched for their value. One story that rocketed around the intelligence community involved a meeting between the president and NSA Director Keith Alexander. Alexander, who holds advanced degrees in physics and electronic warfare, was trying to explain certain aspects of one of the surveillance programs to Obama. As his highly technical and jargon-laden presentation rambled on, Obama was beginning to lose patience. When Alexander finished, the president thanked him and then icily asked if he could do it over again, “but this time in English.”
While it went unstated at the time, Obama may have felt frustrated that the complexity of the technology was overwhelming policymakers. Even Alexander had publicly conceded that no single person at the NSA had the wherewithal to understand the metadata program in all its dimensions.
Obama already made it clear that certain issues — as it happens, issues that might rein in the national security state — are not up for deliberation. And yet Klaidman makes no mention of that evidence refuting his central premise, even while pretending Obama will and has stood up to Alexander.
Don’t get me wrong. These tales from Klaidman are useful, because so few other reporters get this access. But given the black holes that persist at the center of Klaidman’s scoops, it’s advisable to take his factoids as potentially fictional details, floating completely independently of the narrative he places them in. Because his narratives increasingly have enormous holes precisely where the known evidence exists.
The United States, mostly with John Brennan raining down drones, has been determined to see that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan enters into peace talks with the Taliban. Recall that in early October, the US snatched Latif Mehsud from Afghan intelligence after they had spent months trying to convince him to help them initiate peace talks. Then, on November 2, the US killed Hakimullah Mehsud, just one day before he was to join peace talks with Pakistan. And with momentum gathering again for peace talks, Brennan even strayed outside the tribal areas of Pakistan in a botched attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, but still managed to kill a senior fundraiser for the Haqqani network.
Today, showing nearly infinite patience, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is making a new effort to get the peace talks started. He has chosen to publicly announce that he has appointed a representative to contact the Taliban and work with them to get talks started. From the Express Tribune:
In his attempt to revive the process of peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked Samiul Haq to help in bringing the militant groups to the negotiation table, Express News reported on Tuesday.
Nawaz met the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Samiul Haq group (JUI-S) chief today for a one-on-one meeting at the Prime Minister House.
Talks with the Taliban was the main issue on the agenda and Haq assured the prime minister that he will use his influence to ensure the peace process progresses in the right direction.
Nawaz has been personally meeting various political and religious leaders in order to kick start the negotiation process with the militants.
Haq clearly knows who has been disrupting the previous attempts to get talks started. From Dawn:
The JUI-S chief told the prime minister that every time the government planned to talk peace with the militants, foreign powers tried to sabotage the process.
And just who might those foreign powers be? Especially the ones with the drones? From Geo News:
Talking to Geo News, Maulana Samiul Haq said that he met the prime minister on his request. He said to the best of his ability he would try to help resolve this issue and added that the core issue was to stall the drone attacks.
US should understand that talks with Taliban were in the interest Pakistan as well as regional peace. He said when we get ready, foreign pressures do not allow us to proceed. Thousands of Pakistanis have been martyred in the war, which is not ours, he said. He demanded that the losses incurred in North Waziristan be compensated and advised the PM to revisit the foreign policy of Pakistan.
Haq is to be congratulated for his courage in taking on the difficult task of starting the peace process. He knows what has happened to previous individuals who tried to get the process started and so he knows that he is taking on this assignment under great personal risk. After all, who can doubt that if Brennan does take out Haq with a drone, this description of Haq from the Express Tribune article linked above will be broadcast everywhere:
Samiul Haq is nicknamed the ‘Father of the Taliban’ and runs a madrassa where several Taliban leaders were educated.
I would think that while trying to start the peace talk process, Haq should stay well away from that particular madrassa.
Haq seems to be putting Brennan on notice with his public statement about foreign powers disrupting peace talks. By announcing Haq’s role and releasing photos of Haq visiting with him, Sharif appears to be putting Haq under whatever protection Pakistan’s government can afford him. The ball is clearly in Brennan’s court now and today is Terror Tuesday He can allow the peace process to start, or he can put Haq at the top of his list and drone for war once again.
Last week, I noted that the US had a perfect excuse for ending its drone strikes that are a long-running violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty because Pakistan had engaged in military action in North Waziristan to kill a number of TTP militants after a TTP suicide attack had killed Pakistani soldiers. The same pivotal town in North Waziristan where last week’s events were centered, Miranshah, made the headlines again on Christmas Day, as Barack Obama and John Brennan could not resist demonstrating to the world that the US is not a peaceful nation. A drone fired two missiles into a home near Miranshah, killing four “militants”. Those killed are widely believed to have been members of the Haqqani network (Pakistan and the Haqqani network do not attack one another the way Pakistan and the TTP do), but there are no reports of senior leaders being involved, so this may well have been a signature strike rather than a strike aimed at a particular high level militant. On Christmas. Pakistan’s government protested the strike as a violation of sovereignty, yet again.
Yes, those targeted by the US in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region are all Muslims who don’t celebrate Christmas, but there has often been a tradition in wars of ceasefires on religious holidays. There was a magical ceasefire on Christmas in World War I. Although the concept was rejected this year, there have been Ramadan ceasefires, both in Afghanistan and even in the skirmishes between Pakistan and the TTP.
Somehow, in thinking on the evil embodied by this act of death and destruction on the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, I came across this terrific post that centers on a particularly apt passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. As pointed out in the post, the passage is spoken by Marc Anthony just after the assassination of Julius Caesar:
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
The post I linked addresses the famous phrase “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war” and should be read in its entirety. But the larger passage reads almost as if Shakespeare has foreseen the situation of a long-running period of drone attacks, especially when the drones carry Hellfire missiles. In Pakistan, “dreadful objects so familiar” have resulted in widespread PTSD among the residents who must live under the constant buzz of drones flying overhead.
Marc Anthony speaks of the attacks being out of revenge, and revenge has been a motivator for this and other strikes in Pakistan.
Shakespeare very nearly hit on the Hellfire name. Obama and Brennan would do well, though, to study up on the particular mythological figure that Shakespeare invokes with his mention of who comes “hot from hell”. A quick search gives us this on Ate:
ATE was the spirit (daimona) of delusion, infatuation, blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path to ruin.
How can the rash action and blind folly of repeated drone strikes lead to anything other than ruin for Obama and Brennan? Let us hope that they don’t drag the rest of us down with them.
Update: See Peterr’s comment below for the backstory of this beautiful song commemorating the Christmas ceasefire in World War I:
Not many small towns of only a few thousand people are in the news as often or as prominently as Miranshah in North Waziristan of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. Most often, it makes the news due to a drone strike carried out by the CIA. The last two days, however, have seen Miranshah and the surrounding area in the news for events that also pertain to the militants who hide out in the area, but for a distinctly different opponent of the militants.
Yesterday, five Pakistani soldiers were killed and over thirty were injured in a suicide attack:
At least five soldiers were killed and 34 wounded when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a military checkpoint in Pakistan’s troubled northwest on Wednesday, security officials said.
The attack came in the Mir Ali area of Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, a hub for Taliban and al Qaeda linked militants on the Afghan border.
The TTP was quick to claim responsibility and to state that it was in response to the recent killing of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike just as the TTP was readying to enter into peace talks with Pakistan.
Today, we have news that the Pakistani military has struck back against the TTP, killing 23:
At least 23 suspected militants were killed late on Wednesday during a clash with security forces in the country’s troubled northwest, officials said.
According to a security official who requested anonymity, the suspected militants tried to ambush a convoy of security forces which was returning back from Khajuri checkpost area in Mirali Tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region.
The convoy had gone in the area to rescue soldiers who were injured in a suicide bomb attack yesterday.
Security forces retaliated with gunfire and encircled the suspects inflicting heavy casualties.
The gun-battle continued for several hours during which the 23 suspected militants were killed.
Coverage of this fight in the Express Tribune notes reports of three civilian deaths and puts the fighting at more than one site:
At least 23 suspected militants plus three civilians were killed in raids and shelling by the armed forces in North Waziristan, officials said Thursday.
Clashes erupted after the insurgents attacked a convoy of security forces which was returning after rescuing soldiers wounded in Wednesday’s bombing, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The death toll could not be verified independently because of an ongoing search operation and curfew in the area.
Earlier, local security officials said six of the suspected militants were killed during raids on two hotels.
“Security forces raided two hotels in the area close to the site of the suicide bombing and intense gunbattles left six suspected militants dead and 12 others wounded,” a local security official told AFP.
It is hard to overstate the significance of this development. One of the primary justifications cited for the US drone campaign that hits Miranshah so often is that the Pakistani military is both unwilling and unable to attack the militants on its own. Today, we see that quite the opposite is true. In response to a direct attack that killed five of its own, Pakistani military forces responded with a force large enough to kill 23 militants within 24 hours of the initial attack.
In its ongoing campaign to end CIA strikes as a violation of its sovereignty, Pakistan can point to today’s development as evidence that it is perfectly capable of taking its own actions against militant groups inside its borders.
Conversely, if the CIA had intelligent leadership, they would cite this development as a reason to end drone strikes in Pakistan.
As more details emerge on the drone strike Thursday in Yemen that hit a wedding party, it is becoming clear that the New York Times got it wrong, and those killed were mostly civilians rather than mostly suspected al Qaeda militants. A follow-up story in the Los Angeles Times on Friday put the death toll at 17, with only five of the dead having suspected al Qaeda connections. But CNN’s follow-up on Friday is even worse: they put the death toll at only 14, but they carried this statement from a Yemeni official:
“This was a tragic mistake and comes at a very critical time. None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government,” said a top Yemeni national security official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to talk to media.
If we read between the lines, then, it would seem that although a few of those killed may have had al Qaeda connections, they were not of sufficiently high profile to merit being wanted by Yemen’s government.
The CNN story only gets worse:
The convoy consisted of 11 vehicles, and the officials said that four of the vehicles were targeted in the strikes. Two of the vehicles were completely damaged. Among the killed were two prominent tribal leaders within the province.
This piece of information alone seems to embody all of the moral depravity of the US drone program as it now stands. Despite all the bleating about the effort put into assuring that only militants are targeted and that every effort is made to prevent civilian casualties, there simply is no justification for proceeding with an attack that intends to target fewer than half the vehicles in a large convoy. Such an attack is virtually guaranteed to kill more than just those targeted, and as discussed above, it seems very likely that even those targeted in this strike were low level operatives instead of high level al Qaeda leaders.
Sunday saw a strong response to the attacks by Yemen’s Parliament. They voted to end drone strikes in the country. From CNN:
Yemen’s parliament Sunday called for an end to drone strikes on its territory after a U.S. missile attack mistakenly struck a wedding convoy, killing more than a dozen people.
The nearly unanimous but non-binding vote was “a strong warning” to both the United States and the government of Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a Yemeni government official told CNN.
“The Yemeni public is angered by the drone strikes,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to reporters. “The people’s representatives reflected on the tone of the streets.”
The official statement carried in the Reuters story on the vote strikes a similar position to what we have been hearing from Pakistan regarding US drone strikes there:
“Members of parliament voted to stop what drones are doing in Yemeni airspace, stressing the importance of preserving innocent civilian lives against any attack and maintaining Yemeni sovereignty,” the state news agency SABA said.
There’s that pesky issue of sovereignty again. Recall that it is a huge driver for the demonstrations by Imran Khan’s PTI party that have shut down NATO convoys on Pakistan’s northern supply route. And Khan appears to be gearing up for his protests to stage major events in Lahore and even Islamabad next week.
Writing in The Atlantic this morning, Conor Friedersdorf poses some interesting questions regarding the strike: Continue reading
At least fifteen people were killed by a US drone strike in Yemen yesterday. It is particularly difficult to get accurate information in the immediate aftermath of strikes in Yemen, and the reports being generated now conflict in several regards, but what seems to be clear on all fronts is that the convoy of vehicles that was attacked was a wedding party.
Reuters reports the targeting of the wedding party as a mistake:
Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.
The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.
“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” one security official said.
But the New York Times seems quite willing to accept claims that there were al Qaeda militants present in the convoy:
Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.
The Times opened their article, however by noting that the vehicles that were hit were indeed traveling to a wedding. Yemen reporter Adam Baron noted that he also was getting reports that those killed were mostly militants:
Possible twist? (staunchly anti-drone) Qayfa contact now saying those killed wedding convoy strike were mostly local AQ fighters. #yemen
— Adam Baron (@adammbaron) December 12, 2013
That Baron got that report from a drone critic is especially interesting. But Baron went on to pose a very important queston:
What’s worse: a drone strike hitting a wedding convoy by mistake or a drone strike hitting a wedding convoy on purpose? #yemen
— Adam Baron (@adammbaron) December 12, 2013
And just to make things even more interesting, Baron tweeted this morning that he now is hearing from “tribal sources” that a teenager with US citizenship was among those killed.
The AP story carried in the Washington Post reports on the multiple accounts that exist:
There were no immediate details on who was killed in the strike, and there were conflicting reports about whether there were militants traveling with the wedding convoy.
A military official said initial information indicated the drone mistook the wedding party for an al-Qaida convoy. He said tribesmen known to the villagers were among the dead.
One of the three security officials, however, said al-Qaida militants were suspected to have been traveling with the wedding convoy.
Did you notice what AP reported the “military official” to have said? From that snippet, we see the claim that it was the drone that made the mistake in targeting, as if we already are employing drones that are capable of autonomous function. No, drones are still simply tools to deliver weapons and it was the operator flying the drone and firing the missiles who made the mistake, not the drone.
Once again, John Brennan has shown with this strike his amazing ability to carry out strikes that now and then are so depraved that they seem almost intentionally crafted to put the drone program in the worst possible light.