Anwar Al-Awlaki didn’t survive the September 30, 2011, drone strike. The convoy of Toyotas that he and his henchmen were travelling in was literally wiped off the face of the earth, by no less than eleven Hellfire missiles, fired from eleven Predator drones at the same time. A ten square mile swath of land was left devoid of a single shrub or leaf.
Pulitzer-winning journalist and editor of the online mag The Intercept and also the first journalist to break the Edward Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald, argued on Salon.com that killing Al-Awlaki, who was an American citizen, violated his First Amendment right of free speech and that doing so outside of a criminal proceeding violated the Constitution’s due process clause. Greenwald also mentioned the doubt among Yemeni experts about Al-Awlaki’s role in al-Qaeda and called US government accusations against him unverified and lacking in evidence.
Did the murderous cleric deserve due process? Personally I do not think so. Would we like to see Hafeez Saeed or Dawood Abraham get their day in court or would we prefer to see them fried? Some folks just do not merit any of the safeguards provided by the law. Awlaki certainly was one of them.
My liberal views tempt me to agree with Greenwald, but Awlaki got what was coming to him. NRIP-BIH Awlaki (Never Rest In Peace – Burn in Hell Awlaki). Hypocrite and murderer – the man who would troll the street corners of downtown San Diego and seek out prostitutes for a blow job and in the same breath, preach purity in life at a mosque just a block away.
Having satiated my blood thirst for retribution, I have to admit that the Awlaki killing does not justify the targeted killings of individuals as a whole. Awlaki’s death had collateral damage. A month before he roasted, his 16-year old son and another equally innocent young friend were killed inadvertently by another US drone attack. As reparation, the boy’s grandparents, with whom he lived, got the princely sum of $5000 from the US.
The beauty about America is that it lets you rant against it. Otherwise I’d have been dead from a drone strike by now. Really, America doesn’t give a flying f–k about your rants. Look at the way the US flicked aside the roar of indignant protests from world leaders after the Wikileaks and Snowden revelations. Did America show remorse or apologize? No way. Instead, the Americans did what they have coined a nice American term for – they doubled down. ‘Yeah, we were tapping your phones. So?’
Oh yeah, America can kill anyone anywhere. And it does so frequently, with apparent impunity.
In Iraq and Afghanistan and in combating ISIS, drones have become central to US counter-terrorism efforts post-9/11. So has the strategy of targeted killings by unmanned aircraft. Kill Chain- The rise of the high-tech assassins questions the ethics and for that matter even the efficacy, of drone warfare.
Kill chain is a very commonly used term in the US Military. It is triggered with the decision to terminate a High Value Individual (HVI) whose name appears in the ‘Kill List’, an assassination roster maintained jointly by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). His fate is now more or less sealed. The target is located and then relentlessly followed by the ‘eyes in the sky’ for days, sometimes for months, in order to determine a pattern in his movements and check up on folks he is associating with.
This is the point where the Kill Chain is triggered. The target is acquired and his coordinates inputted into the drone’s electronic heart, while a process of approval and the final decision to hit it is taken. The order is then passed on to the drone pilot who finally carries out the strike. From the first step till the last, a certain amount of time passes, thus degrading the efficiency of the hit.
The Kill Chain is a huge bureaucracy, consisting of thousands of military personnel, most of whom sit in front of video screens, either at Nevada or at other overseas locations such as the US’s Air Force Base at Ramstein (Germany), the Camp Lemonnier US Expeditionary Naval Base at the Horn of Africa at Djibouti, the US Military Base on the tiny Indian ocean island of Diego Garcia and the US Air Force Base at Bagram, Afghanistan. Contracts for new bases are under negotiation, with Italy, Japan and The Philippines.
The folks inside the Kill Chain are on station day and night, looking for targets, monitoring the movements of HVIs through video feed from not only drones but assorted other unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, like Northrop’s Global Hawks.
In the 2003 Iraq invasion, the U.S. military developed a set of playing cards to help troops identify the most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s government, mostly high-ranking members of the Iraqi Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party or members of the Revolutionary Command Council. The cards were officially named ‘personality identification playing cards’.
Each card contained the wanted person’s address and, if available, the job performed by that individual within Saddam’s government. The highest-ranking cards, starting with the aces and kings, were used for the people at the top of the most-wanted list. The ace of spades was Saddam Hussein and the aces of clubs and hearts were his sons Qusay and Uday respectively. The ace of diamonds was Saddam’s presidential secretary Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti.
The aces and the picture cards were all marked for assassination by the US.
The Kill Chain in those days was 40 minutes from target acquisition to the hit. On a number of occasions, the CIA had reliable intelligence about Saddam’s whereabouts but it could not determine with absolute certainty whether he was alone or if there were others around him, innocent civilians or officials who were not intended to be killed. But by the time the orders filtered through the chain of command and Predators were placed in a holding pattern over the target location, he had somehow managed to melt away.
These days, the Kill Chain is 20 seconds. Here is how…..
At one point, early in the Bush presidency, there was a realization that targeted killings of High Value Individuals by drones, could not be carried out without innocent bystanders dying in the strikes, often from mistaken identity, given that the drone video feed was grainy and people looked like dark hazy shapes on the screen and often from being at the wrong place at the wrong time or wearing the wrong dress or holding the wrong stick to herd the cattle.
In fact there was no way of determining whether a human shape on a drone video feed was a child or an adult, unless both were on screen at the same time, the difference in size making it apparent that smaller individuals were kids. Cops and robbers is not only played by American kids but Afghan kids too. So, a bored drone pilot munching a donut in front of his screen in Nevada, watching six kids moving around with sticks that they pretend are guns, could well be interpreting them as six militants getting ready to deploy.
Given the above, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Co decided that the scope had to be ‘broadened’ a bit, from requiring to positively identify a target moving around on the ground below, to merely being able to make out a pattern of behavior, a signature.
Suddenly a whole vista opened up. Anybody who looked and acted suspiciously and seemed to carry a firearm (like those six kids with sticks, playing cops and robbers) became a possible target. Anybody seen walking or talking with such an individual or anyone who happened to call the target on his cellphone was guilty by association. He could be a sibling or a parent telling the HVI to come home, dinner had been served. In other words, anyone who left a signature of militant body language on the grainy drone video feed, was fair game.
The broadening of the scope immediately shortened the Kill Chain from 40 minutes to 20 seconds. It meant only one thing – that innocents, mistaken for militants, could die and up to a predetermined number of casualties per strike, it was acceptable. Overnight, drone strikes increased, from once in three months, to twenty in one month.
A normal decision making process of a thinking, feeling human being would have been to call a halt to drone strikes until accuracy was assured and it could be confirmed beyond doubt that innocents were not within the blast radius.
But this is America we are talking about – the geniuses who brought to the world the endearing term – hearts and minds.
With an unfeeling and apathetic mindset which is typically American, the Bush Administration put a number and deem that number as acceptable – the number of innocents that may die during a drone strike. And the figure that Bush’s cronies came up with was not one or even five, but twenty. Secretly, between the Pakistani establishment and the US, an amount of compensation to the next-of-kin of the innocents was agreed upon – $5000 – the value of the life of a Pakistani Pashtun child.
In another typically American gesture, designed to cloak the enormity of the crime, those twenty unfortunate suckers were given a bland, white-washed term, in an effort to categorize them – acceptable collateral.
Imagine a Pashtun child in Waziristan asking his mother, “Mama, what happened to my Baba?”
“Oh, he was acceptable collateral and never forget that this is noble justice, darling, now go to bed.”
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the targeted killings of High Value Individuals by the JSOC has been given a code name – Operation Noble Justice.
Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army – Jeremy Scahill (2008)
Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield – Jeremy Scahill (2013)
Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President, and the Rise of the Drone – Scott Shane (2015)
Kill Chain : The Rise of the High Tech Assassins – Andrew Cockburn (2015)