- - Monday, December 29, 2014

Evidence in the public domain suggests that predator drone strikes are doing more harm than good.

That is not surprising. The Senate Intelligence Committee report released recently similarly showed that post-9/11 torture did not work on al Qaeda detainees and facilitated international terrorist recruitment.

Yet Congress has been derelict in failing to conduct comprehensive oversight hearings to appraise the predator drone program. They would probably provoke legislation to terminate the professedly targeted killings because they create more terrorists or terrorist sympathizers than they eliminate.

The 114th Congress that convenes next January should not tarry in redressing the dereliction of its predecessors. That is one lesson of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture investigation and report.

They were not begun until after the torture program had irreparably harmed the United States, and the opportunity to hold responsible officials accountable for wrongdoing had virtually vanished. What has already entered the public domain is troublesome.



A secret 2009 C.I.A. report released by Wikileaks recently concluded that predator drone strikes and “targeted killings” of suspected high value international terrorist targets can be counterproductive and bolster popular support for international terrorist organizations. The report examined predator drone operations in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen.

It elaborated that operations against high value terror suspects “may increase support for insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders’ lore, if non-combatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi-legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is
seen as already overly repressive or violent.”

The report drew lessons from the Israeli experience. It found that its “targeted killings campaign” against Palestinian terrorists was only modestly effective because of “decentralized command structures, compartmentalized leadership, strong succession planning, and deep ties to their communities, making
the[se] groups highly resilient to leadership losses.”

The report further noted that “Israeli HVT efforts from 2000-2002 strengthened solidarity between terrorist groups and bolstered popular support for hard-line militant leaders,” according to Embassy officials in Jerusalem and clandestine reporting.

As regards the Taliban, the report found that it “has a high overall ability to replace lost leaders, a centralized but flexible command and control overlaid with egalitarian Pashtun structures, and good succession planning and bench strength, especially at the middle levels.”

The CIA study also reported mixed results for targeted killings in Iraq, noting that al-Qaeda there “initially lost several iterations of its senior leadership and numerous local emirs, but these losses initially did little to slow AQI’s momentum.” 

A Stanford/NYU report — titled “Living Under Drones” — offers stark kill figures published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent organization based at City University in London: “TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 - 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 - 881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228 - 1,362 individuals,” according to the Stanford/NYU study. Only 2 percent of the victims were high value targets.

The human rights advocacy organization Reprieve has compiled a report that also challenges the accuracy of the predator drone program. 

It concludes that at least 1,147 unknown civilians have been killed by drone strikes while pursuing 41 terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen between November 2002 and November 2014, several of whom were said to have died several times: “In total, as many as 1,147 people may have been killed during attempts to kill 41 men, accounting for a quarter of all possible drone strike casualties in Pakistan and Yemen. In Yemen, strikes against just 17 targets accounted for almost half of all confirmed civilian casualties. Yet evidence suggests that at least four of these 17 men are still alive. Similarly, in Pakistan, 221 people, including 103 children, have been killed in attempts to kill four men, three of whom are still alive and a fourth of whom died from natural causes.”

On average, 28 unknown people are apparently killed for every high value target the United States pursues. A police officer who acted as recklessly in seeking to apprehend a fleeing felon would be guilty of criminal homicide.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that the president has ordered the extermination of at least four United States citizens based on secret, unverfied evidence of complicity in international terrorism. 

Objections to congressional hearings stripping away the secrecy that envelops predator drone killings can be anticipated. It will be said that international terrorists will be clued to our kill tactics and take evasive measures. The same type of objection was voiced about the Church Committee hearings, the disclosure of the Terrorist Surveillance Program by The New York Times, Chelsea Manning’s Wikileaks revelations, the Edward Snowden leaks, and the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture. But none of the conjectures proved accurate in any material degree.

In any event, congressional committees can receive sensitive information in executive session to avoid facilitating terrorist evasions as was done with the Church Committee. Such limited secrecy should not compromise a robust public examination and discussion of whether the predator drone program is hurting more than helping the United States in confronting international terrorism. The executive branch cannot be trusted to be an impartial judge in its own case.

For more information about Bruce Fein, please visit www.brucefeinlaw.com.

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