Actually, not just "anonymous administration officials," but CIA Director John O. Brennan and Obama himself. In one of the biggest scoops of the year, McClatchy reports that the reality of drone warfare sharply contradicts Obama administration officials' public statements:
Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.The Obama administration's defense of drone strikes is usually entrusted to "anonymous administration officials" selectively leaking to the Main-Stream-Media, which too often parrots back the administration talking points as if they are facts. (Paradoxically, the Justice Department has maintained in court that the administration can "neither confirm nor deny" the drone program's existence). McClatchy notes though that intelligence reports contradict those anonymous statements and even Obama himself:
“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”I've written previously about how drone targets fail to meet the shifting criteria put forth to justify droning suspected terrorists without due process (here, here, here and here), and about the obvious disconnect between the administration's oft-stated supposed preference that suspected terrorists be captured and the reality that most targets end up dead (here).
Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.
The must-read McClatchy article is a wake-up call that the administration has been selling the public a bill of goods on drone strikes, and the media has been - with a few notable exceptions - a willing accomplice.
Not only has the administration been misleading the public about who it targets, but McClatchy reports that sometimes operators didn't even know who they were droning:
The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”One example speaks volumes:
Consider one attack on Feb. 18, 2010.18 months of "work" after killing the wrong guy. A point I made earlier this week bears reiterating:
Information, according to one U.S. intelligence account, indicated that Badruddin Haqqani, the then-No. 2 leader of the Haqqani network, would be at a relative’s funeral that day in North Waziristan. Watching the video feed from a drone high above the mourners, CIA operators in the United States identified a man they believed could be Badruddin Haqqani from the deference and numerous greetings he received. The man also supervised a private family viewing of the body.
Yet despite a targeting process that the administration says meets “the highest possible standards,” it wasn’t Badruddin Haqqani who died when one of the drone’s missiles ripped apart the target’s car after he’d left the funeral.
It was his younger brother, Mohammad.
Friends later told reporters that Mohammad Haqqani was a religious student in his 20s uninvolved in terrorism; the U.S. intelligence report called him an active member – but not a leader – of the Haqqani network. At least one other unidentified occupant of his vehicle perished, according to the report.
It took the CIA another 18 months to find and kill Badruddin Haqqani.
The goal of a drone strike is to kill - the antithesis of capture. Drones do not capture. They do not distinguish between a suspected terrorist and a convicted one. There is no restitution for someone mistakenly droned - that person is dead. (See Anwar Al-Awlaki's innocent 16-year old son.)The Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will hold the first ever congressional hearing on using drones for targeted killings next Tuesday. Congress should take this opportunity to provide some much-needed oversight. The Executive branch is secretly targeting and killing suspects (or people that resemble suspects) without due process and misleading the public about it. If there was ever a time for checks and balances, this is it.
Administration officials talk of kill lists and playbooks and "disposition matrices", and it's all too easy to forget what should be obvious: killing is not a sport. Intentionally taking the life of another human being, whether with a drone or an order or an Apache helicopter, is not a game.