Home Social Justice Featured Blog: Why you should read “The Drone Papers”

Featured Blog: Why you should read “The Drone Papers”

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Extra-judicial killings in the form of drone strikes have become the norm for the last two U.S. presidents. A relatively recent leak to the online publication The Intercept has shed new light on the practices undertaken in drone strikes and more in “The Drone Papers.”

Ongoing killings in states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia have become a primary weapon for the office of the presidency and the country’s military leadership over the last decade. The aftermath and continued fear-mongering of a “post-9/11 America” has caused the country to ignore basic human safety.

Though its source has yet to be revealed, The Intercept has been able to compile an impressive and extremely thorough breakdown of U.S. drone policy through the documents provided by the source and additional and extensive research and reporting. The most infuriating aspect of America’s policy is its willingness to allow “collateral damage” — this being a dehumanizing term used in a long line of such phrases.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits from each piece featured in “The Drone Papers.” This is an attempt to break down some of the more important facts included in The Intercept’s reporting concerning innocent and non-targeted people who are killed by the U.S.

Some of the more disturbing aspects come from the Papers’ leading piece, “The Assassination Complex,” written by Jeremy Scahill.

The Obama administration has continually made claims about the safeguards instituted to protect innocent lives and reduce “collateral damage,” a disgustingly over-used term. Meanwhile, documents like this, detailing Operation Haymaker, point toward an immense number of people killed when they were not the intended target.

Part of the reason that so many innocent people are killed has to do with unreliable intelligence, as the U.S. has even hurt its own intelligence gathering with the extensive strikes.

“Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects,” Scahill points out. “They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.”

To further expand upon this point, in Operation Haymaker:

“Documents detailing a special operations campaign in northeastern Afghanistan, Operation Haymaker, show that between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets.”

In this campaign, only 17.5 percent of the people killed were actually the intended targets. And yet the Obama administration and top military officials continue to frame America’s actions as something better than reprehensible. To assuage the disgust or even prevent outcry, such deaths are annotated as “Enemies Killed in Action.”

Enemies. Right.

Aspects of “A Visual Glossary,” written by Josh Begley, further exemplified the disconcerting rhetoric.

Targets of the drone strikes are annotated as “objectives,” and names are gradually weeded out of the process as these national security analysts do their work to gather information about the intended targets. To label them as such makes the lives of anyone around them seem less valuable, less humane. And then there’s “jackpot,” the term utilized for a killing of an intended target.

“Over a five-month period, U.S. forces used drones and other aircraft to kill 155 people in northeastern Afghanistan. They achieved 19 jackpots. Along the way, they killed at least 136 other people, all of whom were classified as EKIA, or enemies killed in action.”

Further bits of the documents and work provided by “the source” expand upon information about the chain of command that goes into the decisions to kill with drones. The chain is explained in “The Kill Chain,” written by Cora Currier.

From this, it can be confirmed that Obama does not order every single killing, but ultimately the responsibility lies with him. He did comment, after all, that “ultimately, I’m responsible for the process.”

Throughout the papers is the oft-emphasized fact that Obama promised to only target people who offer a “continuing, imminent threat to the American people” and who could not be captured. A strike would only occur with “near certainty” that no civilians would be killed or injured, as emphasized multiple times in “The Kill Chain.”

Finally, an emphasis on the “tyranny of distance” is another way that the U.S. has demonstrated it has no intent to scale back its operations. For all the rhetorical nonsense, there is no sense of remorse or self-doubt in the policies that continue to result in senseless deaths.

As Nick Turse points out in “Target Africa”: “As it grew, Camp Lemonnier became one of the most critical bases not only for America’s drone assassination campaign in Somalia and Yemen but also for U.S. military operations across the region. The camp is so crucial to long-term military plans that last year the U.S. inked a deal securing its lease until 2044, agreeing to hand over $70 million per year in rent — about double what it previously paid to the government of Djibouti.”

The U.S. has no plan to scale back its actions. U.S. media are continually complicit in not devoting major coverage and making a priority of developments like this. Remember when there was an active anti-war movement around the beginning of war operations in Afghanistan and then Iraq? Where is that now? Read the papers. Please confront this head-on and decide for yourself whether this is upsetting to you.

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