“Every drone strike,” [Baitullah Mehsud] would say, “brings me three or four new suicide bombers.” –Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent
Leon Panetta is doing something of a media swan song this weekend, showing up on the Sunday shows and doing this interview with NPR.
Leon Panetta lies about the drone strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud and his wife
In it, he explains that President Obama picked him to run the CIA because he thought Panetta could restore trust in the CIA (around 4:00).
He said the reason I’m talking to you is because I think you have the credibility and integrity to be able to restore trust in the CIA.
Yet even while talking about restoring trust, as Justin Elliott notes, NPR actually captures Panetta in a significant lie. In response to a question about civilian casualties from drone strikes, Panetta claims the CIA would not carry out a drone strike if there were women present (around 6:00).
How did the civilian deaths and the risks of civilian deaths weigh on your decision making process?
Frankly, we made very clear that if there were any women or children we would not take the shot. I mean, that became a rule that we abided by.
That, if there women or children on site, the strike was called off?
Yet NPR follows up to note that in at least one strike, Panetta did know a woman was involved.
There is at least one case where US officials, including Panetta, knew that a woman was present at a possible strike site, and the attack was ordered anyway.
Kudos to NPR for fact-checking Panetta thus far.
But it’s worth examining the strike in question — the targeting of Baitullah Mehsud — in more detail (see my earlier posts on Mehsud’s targeting here, here, and here). Because it illustrates how one particular drone strike led to an escalation of the war on terror.
The killing has been described at least three different times: in Joby Warrick’s The Triple Agent (for which he pretty obviously relied on sources in the very immediate vicinity of Panetta; I include excerpts of Warrick’s description of the killing here), Daniel Klaidman’s Kill or Capture, and the NYT Drone Assassination Czar story. Given that Panetta is lying about it on his way out of government, it’s worth drawing the several implications of the killing together in one place.
The killing of the young girl in the Pakistani tribal lands led directly to an escalation both of our drone war, but also of extremists’ retaliation against us.