FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Obama’s Failed Targeted Killing Program
One of the immediate problems facing a newly elected President Romney will be how to conduct the ongoing campaign against transnational terrorist organizations, particularly those affiliated with al Qaeda.
Like so much else the Obama administration has undertaken, the war or terror, in its current desiccated form, has been carried out on the cheap. Early on the administration had to find a way to reconcile its campaign pledges, its abhorrence of American military power, and its fear of a terrorist attack.
Through a completely botched, botched to the point that it looks intentional, Status of Forces Agreement negotiations with Iraq our combat forces have been shown the door there. Obama’s undisguised disdain for President Karzai in Afghanistan has gone a long way towards making our position there untenable.
But there remained the troubling promise to shut down the US military confinement center at Guantanamo. As much as the regime would like to deny it, the men there were not innocents swept up by the evil forces of Bushcheneyrumsfeld and packed off to prison. They were bad actors with very high recidivism rate when released.
The coterie of lickspittles around Obama were also keenly aware that the president was the most effeminate holder of the office since Woodrow Wilson, an image accentuated by his penchant for wearing mom jeans, over large tennis shoes, and his inability to throw a baseball and not look like a little girl. Something had to be done to make him look tough or he’d be fetching Hugo Chavez sandwiches before he was out of office.
So a scheme was hatched to use an increased number of Predator strikes to kill selected members of al Qaeda.
This had several immediate advantages. First, it was cheaper than using troops. Second, there was no political downside to losing a predator. Third, there were no new prisoners to send to Guantanamo. Lastly, it let a very weak little man talk tough.
Many on the left, Glenn Greenwald, for instance, have their knickers in a knot over this program. Their concern is about killing enemy combatants without presumably having a bailiff hail them into court beforehand. I think this is just silly and reflects nothing more than their innate hostility to any action that keeps America safe. They have also sniveled when turncoat Americans were reduced to a random assortment of hair, teeth, and eyeballs by a Hellfire missile. I don’t have a problem with this. Once you become a combatant in the armed forces of our enemy your Constitutional rights, to the extent they still exist, really doesn’t interest me.
My opposition to this program is because it isn’t wedded to any strategic vision on how to make us safer and it is having the effect of alienating nominal allies, turning against us people we need as allies or neutrals, and depriving us of intelligence on the capabilities and intentions of our enemies.
While killing people and breaking things is an inherent part of war; war, Clausewitz tells us
“War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.”
If there is no policy to continue you aren’t engaged in war, you are engaged in something that approaches pointless killing which is an activity no man or nation should want to be associated with.
What we are seeing is a bureaucratization of the distant killing of combatants and non-combatants with no greater purpose than to fill out a matrix, and eventually to fill a quota that will justify the continued use of the program.
The “playbook,” as Brennan calls it, will lay out the administration’s evolving procedures for the targeted killings that have come to define its fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It will cover the selection and approval of targets from the “disposition matrix,” the designation of who should pull the trigger when a killing is warranted, and the legal authorities the administration thinks sanction its actions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.
“What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria, and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions — we’re talking about direct action, lethal action — so that irrespective of the venue where they’re taking place, we have a high confidence that they’re being done for the right reasons in the right way,” Brennan said in a lengthy interview at the end of August.
A burly 25-year CIA veteran with a stern public demeanor, Brennan is the principal architect of a policy that has transformed counterterrorism from a conventional fight centered in Afghanistan to a high-tech global effort to track down and eliminate perceived enemies one by one.
What was once a disparate collection of tactics — drone strikes by the CIA and the military, overhead surveillance, deployment of small Special Forces ground units at far-flung bases, and distribution of military and economic aid to threatened governments — has become a White House-centered strategy with Brennan at its core.
Four years ago, Brennan felt compelled to withdraw from consideration as President Obama’s first CIA director because of what he regarded as unfair criticism of his role in counterterrorism practices as an intelligence official during the George W. Bush administration. Instead, he stepped into a job in the Obama administration with greater responsibility and influence.
Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency. Still, during Brennan’s tenure, the CIA has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and opened a new base for armed drones in the Arabian Peninsula.
Although he insists that all agencies have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions, making differing perspectives available to the Oval Office, Brennan wields enormous power in shaping decisions on “kill” lists and the allocation of armed drones, the war’s signature weapon.
When operations are proposed in Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, it is Brennan alone who takes the recommendations to Obama for a final sign-off.
As the war against al-Qaeda and related groups moves to new locations and new threats, Brennan and other senior officials describe the playbook as an effort to constrain the deployment of drones by future administrations as much as it provides a framework for their expanded use in what has become the United States’ permanent war.
“This needs to be sustainable,” one senior administration official said, “and we need to think of it in ways that contemplate other people sitting in all the chairs around the table.”
While Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia, has often been as much a part of the problem in combatting terrorism as part of the solution we need the assistance of both those countries if we aren’t to face another 9/11. Yet the drone strikes is Pakistan may have killed as many as 800 innocent people. Pakistan’s very weak government is facing a lot of pressure to stop the strikes altogether. In fact, our CIA station chief may be indicted for murder in Pakistan.
The Mail on Sunday today reveals shocking new evidence of the full horrific impact of US drone attacks in Pakistan.
A damning dossier assembled from exhaustive research into the strikes’ targets sets out in heartbreaking detail the deaths of teachers, students and Pakistani policemen. It also describes how bereaved relatives are forced to gather their loved ones’ dismembered body parts in the aftermath of strikes.
The dossier has been assembled by human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who works for Pakistan’s Foundation for Fundamental Rights and the British human rights charity Reprieve.
Filed in two separate court cases, it is set to trigger a formal murder investigation by police into the roles of two US officials said to have ordered the strikes. They are Jonathan Banks, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Islamabad station, and John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s former chief lawyer. Mr Akbar and his staff have already gathered further testimony which has yet to be filed.
More importantly, we are being deprived of valuable human intelligence. When fighting an enemy that relies on messengers to transmit orders and the hawala system to transfer funds, it is imperative to take prisoners for the purpose of interrogation, perhaps very harshly, in order to extract information. This, you will recall, is how bin Laden was eventually located. But something has to be done with the prisoners, like imprison them, and the regime does not want to take the heat for doing this.
If Obama is reelected this unconscionable and unproductive strategy of killing people based on some perceived placement in the al Qaeda hierarchy will continue. We are captured by the intelligence services of countries such as Pakistan and Yemen to provide the underlying information, information that we simply cannot verify, that results in a death warrant being issued by Brennan’s incestuous little group.
So we’ll kill another anonymous Pakistani or Yemeni or Malian. And another one is added to the matrix. And the funding continues. And performance awards are issued to White House bureaucrats for filling a quota. And our prestige declines. And we become hated but not feared in the hinterlands of various Third World crapholes. And the cycle perpetuates itself.