Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Human Rights Watch Challenges Obama on Drone War

Nobel Peace Prize Winner #1: Mr. President, kindly justify your rationale for using an intelligence agency to wage war instead of the military. Why are you hiding behind the secrecy inherent in the CIA and not providing a full explanation for your targeted Drone strike assassinations in Pakistan and elsewhere? Where's the accountability?  What about international human rights law?  Defend yourself against the accusation that the USA is just another lawless rogue state.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner #2:  Silence.

Okay, so maybe Barack Obama hasn't had time to personally reply to the Dec. 19 letter from the Nobel-winning Human Rights Watch, demanding that he explain the legality of his targeted attack and assassination programs. He didn't reply to a similar letter he received from HRW last year, either. But his minions have repeatedly said such explanations must be kept secret because the CIA is conducting the operations.  And the CIA is a secret agency, you see, now conveniently headed by Iraq/Afghanistan War Gen. David Petraeus, and thus not publicly accountable as is the regular military.

In a statement released yesterday, the same day as the letter, Human Rights Watch said:
In the decade since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have engaged in a campaign of “targeted killings” – deliberate, lethal attacks aimed at specific individuals under the color of law. Estimates of the number of deaths of alleged al Qaeda members, other armed group members, and civilians from US targeted killings range from several hundred to more than two thousand.  Most of these attacks are believed to have occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs.
The lawfulness of a targeted killing hinges in part on the applicable international law, which is determined by the context in which the attack takes place, Human Rights Watch said. The laws of war permit attacks during situations of armed conflict only against valid military targets. Attacks causing disproportionate loss of civilian life or property are prohibited. During law enforcement situations, international human rights law permits the use of lethal force only when absolutely necessary to save human life. Individuals cannot be targeted with lethal force merely because of past unlawful behavior, but only for imminent or other grave threats to life when arrest is not reasonably possible.
Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth, a former U.S. prosecutor, wrote to the president:
The US government should clarify fully and publicly its legal rationale for conducting targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes. Your administration has yet to explain clearly where it draws the line between lawful and unlawful targeted killings.  The government should also explain why it believes that its attacks are in conformity with international law and make public information, including video footage, on how particular attacks comply with that standard. To ensure compliance with international law, the United States should conduct investigations of targeted killings where there is credible evidence of wrongdoing, provide compensation to all victims of illegal strikes, and discipline or prosecute as appropriate those responsible for conducting or ordering unlawful attacks.
We are particularly concerned about the expanded involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the targeted killings program. International humanitarian law does not prohibit intelligence agencies from participating in combat operations during armed conflicts. However, parties to an armed conflict have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and provide redress for victims. Because the US government routinely neither confirms nor denies the CIA’s well-known participation in targeted killings in northern Pakistan and elsewhere, there is no transparency in its operations.
Now that Congress has officially declared the entire globe, including the United States, to be an international battlefield in an open-ended war on terror, the lack of transparency about what we are doing, who we are killing, is downright scary.  Concluded Roth :

The CIA, like all US government agencies, is bound by international human rights and humanitarian law.  Unlike the US armed forces, the CIA has provided little or no information regarding the training and composition of its drone teams, or the procedures and rules it follows in conducting targeted killings.  Nor has the government provided information as to whether the CIA has conducted any investigations into possible international law violations and their outcomes.  As a result there is no basis for determining whether the US government is actually meeting its international legal obligations with respect to CIA targeting operations or providing redress for victims of unlawful attacks.  Repeated assertions by senior US officials that all US agencies are operating in compliance with international law – without providing information that would corroborate such claims – is wholly inadequate.
Human Rights Watch might as well be crying in the desert.  The mainstream media and the Democrats have not only given Obama a huge pass on his apparent flouting of international law: they have cheered the assassinations and drone strikes as "foreign policy successes."  Obama himself rankles at criticism that he is soft on terror. “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 other out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement, or, whoever is left out there," he bragged at a news conference earlier this month.

It takes a tough man to listen to legal advice to tell a drone operator in a Nevada trailer to joystick his way into Pakistan and take out some human flotsam and jetsam in a surgical strike.

Collateral Damage


Denis Neville said...

Cheering the Nobel Peace Prize Winner’s flouting of international law, assassinations, and drone strikes as "foreign policy successes"

“To declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and say all Muslims are the same, this is dangerous talk. Yeah, there are some radicals. But they don’t come here to kill us because we’re free and prosperous. Do they go to Switzerland and Sweden? I mean, that’s absurd. If you think that is the reason, we have no chance of winning this. They come here and they explicitly explain it to us. The CIA has explained it to us. They said they come here and want to do us harm because we’re bombing them. Why do we have to bomb so many countries?” – Ron Paul

And just who is truly nuts and trigger happy?

Denis Neville said...

It isn’t only secret drone attacks that will be an enduring foreign policy legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s presidency, it will also be ongoing the use of cluster bombs.

Above the law and below morality, the cluster-bombing of Afghanistan, where 'shining like a diamond,' death comes in a little yellow soda can:


“U.S.planes had dropped 1,210 cluster bombs, each containing 202 BLU-97 bomblets. The British Halo Trust now estimates on the basis of groundwork in the vales of Afghanistan that 20% of the bomblets failed to explode, meaning 48,884 yellow soda-can sized, yellow-colored deadly sub-munitions now litter the villages, paths and fields of Afghanistan.”

“A favorite U.S. weapon used in Afghanistan has been the 1,000 lb CBU-87 cluster bomb with its 202 BLU-97 bomblets. The BLU-97 cluster bomblet is one of the cheapest air-delivered weapons available, costing only ~$60 per unit. Unlike most American mines, cluster bomblets are not designed to break down over time as this would raise their low cost. A single BLU-97 bomblet kills anyone within a 50 meter radius and severely injures a person within 100 meters. It is considered more dangerous than a conventional land mine.”

The US is seeking to legitimize the use of cluster bombs and is leading the efforts to torpedo the global ban on cluster bombs:


Also, Glenn Greenwald:


“Slightly more than two months after he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama secretly ordered a cruise missile attack on Yemen, using cluster bombs, which killed 44 innocent civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, as well as 14 people alleged to be “militants.”

“The injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scales.” - Aesop, Fables

Suzan said...



May God (if there were a God) forgive US for we act as though we know not what wrong we do.

And the God of the Old Testament (perhaps a version of the "natural" god) has a very long memory.

Thank you, Karen, for spelling it out for the slow readers (learners).

Anne Lavoie said...

So now we know the real reason Obama did not want to pursue the issue of war crimes by Bush and Cheney. He had his own in mind.

Obama is a shoo-in for re-election. For the Oligarchs who actually own and run our government and buy elections, what's there not to like? Is Mitt Romney going to be as malleable a tool or a better servant than the one they have now? I wouldn't place a $10,000 bet on that! My money is on the Billion Dollar Flip Flopper. When they need some down and dirty work done, they aren't going to want to deal with the law respecting prim and proper Mormon bishop.

Besides, no one, but no one, does COVERT better than Obama. He registered and ran as a Democrat but groveled to the banksters for campaign donations, aka bribes, then governs like a Republican.

He sought employment as a Constitutional Law professor so he could wear that prestigious cloak for election purposes, but once in office decided it to throw it off like a cheap suit.

He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize knowing full well he intended to escalate and broaden the wars and even justified it in his ACCEPTANCE speech, without exhibiting any feeling of conflict or humility. We didn't know he would betray the entire World, but he certainly did.

If anyone has the cunning, intelligence, and unprincipled determination it takes to serve the Oligarchs, it is Obama. They actually prefer war criminals who have proven that they will not let laws, morals, principles, or the Constitution and Bill of Rights stand in the way of 'good policy' which happens to be whatever benefits them enormously.

Besides, they aren't going to throw away their investment. They might have money but not real power until and unless they get their man ensconced in office. Not only is he working out well, but there is the added benefit that Democrats, their only opposition, are silenced by their party loyalty, so it's a win-win.

Bush-Cheney, Part 4, otherwise known as the continuing Reign of the Oligarchs is coming to a war theater near you.

Kat said...

Did anyone catch Scott Pelley's interview with Leon Panetta? Scary stuff.
I guess they've made up their mind. We'll be hearing more and more about Iran's nukes.

Denis Neville said...

Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!

Yet again another pending strategic disaster in the Middle East.

Shades of WMD Iraq 2003!

“You know what I really fear? ... It's another Iraq coming. It's war propaganda going on.” – Ron Paul, during the Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa on 12/15.

There are two central narratives that presume the Iranian state is likely to collapse under the pressure of sanctions and/or threats of war. In Adib-Moghaddam’s opinion, both are flawed:


“The argument that Iran is economically isolated does not hold.”

According to the most recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report, “Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Iran hit a new record in 2010 and surpassed 3.6 billion dollars despite sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.”


“This does not mean that there are no serious economic problems in the country…It means that there is another side to the Iran story that is subdued for ideological reasons. Ultimately, the US and to a lesser extent the European Union are disqualifying themselves from the Iranian market during a period of intense economic calamity. China and Russia say ‘thank you’.”

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Bertrand Russell

DreamsAmelia said...

Dear Kat,
Yes, it is bittersweet to realize that just as so many troops get to come home in time for the holidays, the sudden mass exodus from Iraq creates a lot of seemingly idle armed service people-- at least to guys like Panetta--and hasn't Iran been on that list for years that Michael Moore uncovered in his "Farenheit 9/11" movie about the conservative mid-east attack plan started by the Heritage foundation in the late 1980s? Since war is a continual way of life now, we have to immediately spring into the next war, much the way some people spring into rebound relationships after a divorce...

The drone strikes are a stealth mechanism that deflect media attention and public scrutiny--which makes me shudder to wonder, how ruffled would people get if drones started attacking dissident U.S. bloggers like Glen Greenwald (being in Brazil obviously no cover), or even Democracy Now correspondents while they were on assignment in a foreign country? If you've seen that Wikileaks video of the Reuters photographer being decimated at point blank range by a U.S. helicopter gun in Iraq, it doesn't seem like such a leap. There is less and less pretense of legality protecting anyone anymore. The crackdown on protest in Egypt this week and Occupy across the U.S. is a more discouraging, but all too predictable, precedent. Without a critical mass of millions waking up in outrage simultaneously, trigger-happy drone strike guys who give little thought to depth or meaning of life can just strike away, without a wrinkle in their conscience.

And I hope to blog soon about the story on Democracy Now this morning about the loss of all collective bargaining power if Obama cannot recess appoint another board member before Jan 1, 2012.

James F Traynor said...

Yes, the war drums began to beat months ago. Iran is next on the list. As to Obama, I've cleaned better from the soles of my boots. Even the goodwife is writing in Bernie Sanders. She who berated me about my early comments on our savior's behavior. Oh hell, let my South Bronx roots show - Obama is a sleazy pile of steaming shit. Mea culpa,mea maxima culpa.

4Runner said...

I was out on the beach yesterday and stopped to chat with a bunch of college kids who were parasailing. I'd seen a couple of them flying some kind of a small toy that flew in circles, dipped and doodled around. It is controlled by a smartphone. A couple of the guys told me it was a Parrot AR Drone & it's available @Amazon. Costs around $300 new. As I watched them manipulate this little flying zipper, I could foresee it soon being weaponized. Just wait until the NRA latches onto this--and the drones come home to roost.

Jay - Ottawa said...

"Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." -- Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, Jan 20, 2009

John in Lafayette said...

Now that Iran has gotten their hands on one of our drones, one wonders if Dick Cheney might find it advisable to head back to that undisclosed location.

Anne Lavoie said...


Check out this piece about an 'Occupcopter'!

"Now the protesters are fighting back with their own surveillance drone. Tim Pool, an Occupy Wall Street protester, has acquired a Parrot AR drone he amusingly calls the "occucopter". It is a lightweight four-rotor helicopter that you can buy cheaply on Amazon and control with your iPhone. It has an onboard camera so that you can view everything on your phone that it points at. Pool has modified the software to stream live video to the internet so that we can watch the action as it unfolds. You can see video clips of his first experiments here. He told us that the reason he is doing this "comes back to giving ordinary people the same tools that these multimillion-dollar news corporations have. It provides a clever loophole around certain restrictions such as when the police block press from taking shots of an incident."

To read the entire piece, go to

Anne Lavoie said...

@John in LaFayette

Just the thought of Cheney hiding out makes me smile!

The Drone arms race is in full swing all over the world. Warlords everywhere had better watch out. They can run but they cannot hide.

From Al Jazeera:

"Meanwhile, Chinese contractors unveiled 25 types of unmanned aircraft last year. In all, at least 50 countries now have some sort of unmanned aerial vehicles, and the New York Times reports that 'the number is rising every month'. That number also includes Iran, which is seeking to upgrade its fleet. Even the Libyan rebels had their own surveillance drone - provided to them by Canadian defence contractors - before they were in full control of their own country."

"As privacy advocates warn, 'drones can easily be equipped with facial recognition cameras, infrared cameras, or open Wi-Fi sniffers'. And while these drones will be used for many surveillance purposes (a scary thought in and of itself), contractors admit they are equipped to carry weapons, such as Tasers."

"There are birdlike drones, underwater drones, drones within drones, facial recognition drones, and perhaps most terrifying, completely autonomous drones - currently being tested in Georgia - which will require no human control at all."


Kat said...

I hate the phrase "game changer", but drones are a game changer.
Or maybe a game over.

Anne Lavoie said...


You know how upset Obama was that we Sanctimonious Purists couldn't let go of his Public Option betrayal? And you know how Gail Collins puts Mitt's dog on the roof of his car in all her columns to remind us constantly of his poor decision? And you know how the media recently ignored the National Defense Authorization Act?

Mic check!

I would like to ask all Sanctimonious Purists to join together in putting Obama's NDAA front and center anywhere and everywhere we can. Because the media won't do it, it leaves it up to us to shed light and a LOT of heat on this travesty of justice.

Mic check!

Obama has, with the simple stroke of his pen, undone 200+ year old constitutionally guaranteed personal rights and freedoms, the very foundation of our country. We owe a debt of gratitude for those rights and freedom that we have taken so much for granted. Speaking up relentlessly is exactly what we should be doing to exercise and retain those precious rights, while we still can.

Mic check!

This is, without question, the greatest betrayal by ANY President since this country was founded. It should NEVER be forgotten or forgiven, and especially not for the sake of keeping a so-called Democrat in the White House.

Mic check!

No President of any party should enjoy the dictatorial powers he just granted himself and all future Presidents. It wasn't done quite by stealth, but it might as well have been, given the silence of the corporate media.

Mic check!

Silence equals assent. This is the one issue we Americans could finally agree on and come together over, but citizens are deliberately not being told about it.


Fred Drumlevitch said...

Great column by Karen, great comments by everyone.

With regard to drones:

Their development and use certainly is accelerating at a frightening pace — drones for surveillance of foreigners, then drones to control/kill foreigners, then drones for domestic surveillance, then... . All that's bad enough, but it doesn't take a doctorate in logic to know where this trend is heading. And too much of the public is cheering it all on, of the mind that one can never be too "safe".

A couple of links, in case any readers here haven’t seen them:



Despite the title “Air Force Drone Operators Report High Levels of Stress” of that NYT article, a read of the piece shows that “4 percent or less of operators were at high risk of developing PTSD”, compared to 12-17% of those who had actually been in Iraq or Afghanistan. Duh! Is that a surprise? Not to me, but it apparently is to those studying it: “In one surprising finding that challenged some of the survey’s initial suppositions, the authors found limited stress related to a unique aspect of the operators’ jobs: watching hours of close-up video of people killed in drone strikes. ... The biggest sources of stress for drone operators remained long hours and frequent shift changes because of staff shortages.”

“Now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain't dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb”
— [Dire Straits, Money for Nothing, 1985]

The attacking of others without some personal risk to U.S. troops, or police, means that the dogs of war, and of domestic tyranny, will be all-too-easily unleashed.

With regard to Iran:

Yeah, I did see part of the Panetta interview referenced by Kat.

Mr. Panetta is another example of the “useful idiot” that is common in contemporary American politics. Or perhaps “useful senile idiot” would be more accurate. When he took a trip to Afghanistan a few months ago, he made several "misstatements" that shouldn't have come from the mouth of a Democratic Secretary of Defense in possession of all his faculties (though those statements wouldn't have been surprising from the current crop of Republican presidential candidates).

The repeated saber rattling by the U.S. at any indication that another country might begin to acquire a few nuclear weapons — even though we have thousands — is a combination of imperial arrogance, a belief in our exceptionalism and manifest destiny (now encompassing the entire globe, not just the American continent), plus a realization by the American military brass and civilian neocons that nothing will make their traditional roles obsolete faster than the Third World countries they demonize gaining a nuclear deterrent.

@Denis Neville: thanks for introducing me to that perpetually-applicable quote from Bertrand Russell.

Kat said...

Fred writes:
The repeated saber rattling by the U.S. at any indication that another country might begin to acquire a few nuclear weapons — even though we have thousands — is a combination of imperial arrogance, a belief in our exceptionalism and manifest destiny (now encompassing the entire globe, not just the American continent), plus a realization by the American military brass and civilian neocons that nothing will make their traditional roles obsolete faster than the Third World countries they demonize gaining a nuclear deterrent.

And I write: perfectly put.

Denis Neville said...

@ Fred

Re: our imperial arrogance and our demonization of the ‘evils’ of a foreign country and their ruling figures

“It is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to tell them is that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” - Hermann Goering in Nuremberg Diary by G.M. Gilbert