U.S.’s extra-judicial killings in Pakistan

Joshua Foust had a really thoughtful post at Registan today, in which he started to assess the “effectiveness” of the drone-implemented, extra-judicial killings that the U.S. military has undertaken against hundreds of claimed “militant leaders” in northwest Pakistan over the past six years.
His conclusion:

    The end result of this incessant drone war against militant leadership is that the leadership itself is far more radical and far less willing to negotiate an end to their insurgency than they were in 2004. While the drones could be called a stunning success in going after al Qaeda, they’ve also been used for years to go after the Pakistani Taliban—and in both cases the men who replaced the dead commanders were more vicious and less amenable to overtures from governments to discuss an end to the violence.
    While a (very) brief look at the leadership of these organizations cannot really say much about their success or failure in aggregate, it can highlight some of the second order consequences of a somewhat overly narrow focus on degrading leadership. Successful though it may be—and if [the figures presented here by researchers at the New America Foundation are] to be believed, then a large majority of drone targets are actual bad guys—the drone war still carries with it serious consequences. Even within the insurgency in Northwest Pakistan, we cannot conclusively say that drones have had a major effect on operations, considering how much worse the area has gotten as strike frequency increased (we cannot draw anything more than a correlation on this front). Al Qaeda’s expeditionary reach may have been curtailed, but it seems to have been at the cost of vast swaths of Pakistan… and even Afghanistan. Have we been shooting ourselves in the foot?

So Foust is identifying two significant negatives that, he says, either did follow, or may have followed, from the U.S. military’s launching of the “drone war” in Pakistan:

    1. “The leadership itself is far more radical and far less willing to negotiate an end to their insurgency than they were in 2004.” Foust describes this as unequivocally an “end result” of the drone war.
    2. The situation in Northwest Pakistan– I’m assuming he’s referring to the political situation, the socioeconomic situation and the general conditions in which the area’s people live– have gotten worse. Foust describes this only as an observable “correlation”, without claiming to establish any actual responsibility of the drone war for having caused it.

But still. Given how much respect I have for Foust’s grasp of the dynamics in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think we have to take seriously his argument that the net geostrategic effect of the drone war has probably been that it has been counter-productive.
To understand the scale of this “extra-judicial killing” phenomenon, go look at the NAF tables, which tell us that from 2004 until now, the U.S. military has launched 117 killer-drone strikes in Pakistan, killing somewhere between 846 and 1,238 people in Northwest Pakistan, of whom between 561 and 866 were described as “militants”.
Of the 117 killer-drone attacks, 21 have been launched in just the nine weeks of this year to date; and reportedly, a total of 55 since Pres. Obama’s inauguration.
I am very glad Foust has brought his thoughtful, public-policy form of cost-benefit analysis to the question of drone-based killings. But there is another form of analysis that should be applied, too, that I think is even more important: that is, an analysis of the validity/justifiability of these kinds of operations under international law.
I shall leave aside for the moment the issue of Pakistan’s national sovereignty. Not because I think it’s unimportant, but because I believe, as Foust does, that the strikes are carried out with the Pakistani government’s full knowledge and therefore, at some level with its acquiescence, or possibly cooperation.
Rather, I want to look at the whole ethics and legal situation of a policy whereby a network of U.S. military officers that spans several continents undertakes a process whereby a person is determined to be a “valid target for killing”; he is then located; and then, a series of steps are undertaken that send that inanimate killing machine, the drone, somewhere into his vicinity, and it targets and kills him.
Okay, first of all, this is not a precision, “one-bullet” type of killing. You can see from the NAF figures that if 117 strikes were reported, resulting in a minimum of 846 deaths, then each strike killed, on average, around seven people. Or perhaps, more than ten people.
Second, scroll down the NAF report through the incident-by-incident reporting for 2010. In 21 drone-killing strikes so far this year, between 112 and 186 people were reported killed. But the same local and global media reporting that arrived at those death tolls were able to name only ten actual identified “Al Qaeda/Taliban leaders” who were killed! Four of those named leaders were killed in one strike. In the majority of strikes, no named “leaders” were identified, at all. Thus, the drone killings seem not to be used only for killing known individuals identified (through some very opaque process) to be “leaders”, but also, very frequently, for killing anyone participating in what may look from a distance like a “gathering” of “Al Qaeda/Taliban militants”.
At the time of their being killed, are these alleged “militants” engaged in combat against the U.S. military? It would be hard to make such a claim, since the U.S. military has no publicly identified military units engaged in combat on Pakistani soil.
Therefore, it would seem to me that for the U.S. military to be going out at proactively hunting down and killing people, even allegedly “militant” people, who are located outside any zone of combat, is extra-judicial killing, not lawful combat.
The fact that the members of the U.S. military who “pull the trigger” on the drone are sitting in secure circumstances many hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the battlefield makes these killings feel even more dishonorable.
And then, let us look at the whole, presumed “information stream” on which the relevant commanders make their decisions to kill or not to kill. In a judicial killing (an execution), such as we have far too many of here in the U.S., the person to be killed is at least clearly identified by name, and the accusations against him or her have been extensively presented and tested in a court of law.
In the case of these killings carried out by our government in distant Pakistan, we have in most cases absolutely no idea what the “evidence” against any of the targets might be– or even, in most cases, who they are. They are simply individuals judged by some body or grouping inside the U.S. military to be “suspicious”, a “a threat”, or “possible militant leaders”, or whatever.
Where are the criteria? Where is the process that tests these accusations– that makes certain that a gathering, say, of men with guns in some corner of Waziristan is not simply a group going to accompany a groom to his wedding?
Nobody knows.
That is what makes this whole process of distance-killing so eery, so unaccountable and Star Chamber-like.
And it comes as no surprise that it really upsets the people on the ground, in Northwest Pakistan, a lot.
The U.S. military clearly seemed to “learn” a lot in this realm from the Israelis, who have used extra-judicial killings against distant enemies a lot, over the course of many decades, but most especially since the 1990s, in Gaza. It was the Israelis, too, who pioneered the use of airborne drones to execute those killings.
The Israelis’ use of extra-judicial killings (= assassinations) was never judged legal under international law, by anyone else. And nor should the U.S. military’s increasingly frequent use of this tactic– in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In addition, in Gaza, over the many years the Israelis used drone-based assassinations, they were never “effective” in terms of decapitating the leaderships of Hamas and its allied groups and leaving them in operational disarray. Instead, Israel’s repeated use of the tactic led Hamas to adapt in numerous ways, including by placing heavy stress on constantly raising up and testing new generations of successor leaders, by dispersing its assets, and so on.
In Pakistan, guess what, the militants have been doing the same thing. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the popular resentment aroused by the Americans’ use of the drone-based killings may result in the building of a well-entrenched popular movement where none was before.
Tragic. It’s like humankind has learned nothing over the last 200 years. Except now it is grown-up American boys in military uniforms, with video-games, who are sowing havoc many thousands of miles away from our shores.

Plus, he cooks daal and reads Urdu poetry?

Is our president a phenomenal mutli-culturalist or what?? Not only he has Kenyan relatives, grew up in gloriously multi-culti Hawaii, went to school in Indonesia and speaks some Bahasa Indonesia, can do Hawaiian hand gestures and African-American hand jives with equal ease, has studied and taught in the arcane language of the law, writes graceful and revealing English prose, etc etc….
But now we learn he also reads Urdu poetry and can cook some Pakistani dishes? Who knew?
This, from the interview with Anwar Iqbal that ran in Pakistan’s Dawn yesterday (HT: Tom Ricks):

    “Any plan to visit Pakistan in the near future?”
    “I would love to visit. As you know, I had Pakistani roommates in college who were very close friends of mine. I went to visit them when I was still in college; was in Karachi and went to Hyderabad. Their mothers taught me to cook,” said Mr Obama.
    “What can you cook?”
    “Oh, keema … daal … You name it, I can cook it. And so I have a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.
    “You read Urdu poetry?”
    “Absolutely. So my hope is that I’m going to have an opportunity at some point to visit Pakistan,” said Mr Obama.

Oh, and there was a bunch of politics there, too.

Advancing Security and Opportunity — US Style

The military effort to “advance security and opportunity, so that Pakistanis and Afghans can pursue the promise of a better life” is accelerating in both countries. It sounded good when President Obama said it at the White House:

    We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future. And to achieve that goal, we must deny them the space to threaten the Pakistani, Afghan, or American people. And we must also advance security and opportunity, so that Pakistanis and Afghans can pursue the promise of a better life.
    . . .But we must also meet the threat of extremism with a positive program of growth and opportunity. And that’s why my administration is working with members of Congress to create opportunity zones to spark development. That’s why I’m proud that we’ve helped advance negotiations towards landmark transit-trade agreements to open Afghanistan and Pakistan borders to more commerce.
    Within Afghanistan, we must help grow the economy, while developing alternatives to the drug trade by tapping the resilience and the ingenuity of the Afghan people. We must support free and open national elections later this fall, while helping to protect the hard-earned rights of all Afghans. And we must support the capacity of local governments and stand up to corruption that blocks progress
    . . .we must stand with those who want to build Pakistan. And that is why I’ve asked Congress for sustained funding, to build schools and roads and hospitals. I want the Pakistani people to understand that America is not simply against terrorism — we are on the side of their hopes and their aspirations, because we know that the future of Pakistan must be determined by the talent, innovation, and intelligence of its people.

Continue reading “Advancing Security and Opportunity — US Style”

Give Us Nine Leaders More

Let me explain:
from the Pakistan press:

    Lahore, Pakistan: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians.

Fourteen “wanted al-Qaeda leaders” and 687 innocent Pakistanis — men, women and children — killed by unmanned, controlled Predator airplanes firing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles with blast fragmentation warheads.

Continue reading “Give Us Nine Leaders More”

Black is Black, I Want My Barry Back

NOTE: Helena and I have been thinking quite independently along similar lines, which is not an isolated occurrence.
Approximately half of the CIA budget is reportedly devoted not to intelligence but to operations, such as targeted assassinations. New technology allows the US to use un-manned aircraft to kill people whever and wherever the President directs.
On February 13, 2009 Senator Diane Feinstein reported that the CIA has been flying Predator aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles from a Pakistan base.

    Reporting from Washington — A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an air base in that country, a revelation likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counter-terrorism collaboration with the United States.

    Continue reading “Black is Black, I Want My Barry Back”

US and Israel: End ‘Manhunting’ now!

Pres. Obama has apparently ‘seen the light’ regarding one of the anti-humane and illegal practices instituted by the Bush administration in its “Global war on terror”: the use of Guantanamo Bay as an extra-legal grey zone in which the US can carry out major human rights infractions at will. But he has shown no readiness yet to end the US’s indefinite detentions of alleged ‘enemy combatants’ in Bagram airbase, Afghanistan. And elsewhere in Afghanistan and even Pakistan, the US military has even under Obama, stepped up its recourse to extra-judicial executions of alleged “bad guys.”
Meantime, Israel continues to threaten the lives of numerous leaders and activists in movements that oppose it.
All these manhunting operations– that is, lethal operations conducted against people who are not currently engaged in armed hostilities— are quite illegal under international law. For this reason alone, they need to be ended, just as surely as the Guantanamo detention camp needs to be closed.
In addition, these manhunting operations, a.k.a. extra-judicial executions, or just plain assassinations, have a number of practical effects that are extremely detrimental to international peace and security:

    1. They rain down death and injury on large numbers of people who are in the vicinity of the identified targets.
    2. Because they rely on secret information that is never exposed to the light of day or tested in a fair courtroom, they run the real risk of misidentification of targets and of malicious false accusations being acted upon.
    3. Because of the breadth of the casualties, damage, and human displacement that ensue from these operations they frequently serve to strengthen the determination of targeted constituencies– and other constituencies that may be far afield– to become even harder-line and more violent.
    4. Plus, because these operations frequently target political leaders, they can considerably complicate and delay the politics and logistics of conflict termination.

The NYT reports today that

    With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.

The “attacking” in these cases and in many others in Pakistan and Afghanistan is carried out by “killer” drone aircraft whose weapons are controlled, I assume, from places very far away, using recon imaging provided by the drones and matching it against “information” or “accusations” that have been gathered from human sources.
The NYT writers report that these new CIA targets are “training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud”, who has been accused of having organized the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. They note that Pres. G.W. Bush, “included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.”
There are many tangled legal, jurisdictional, and diplomatic issues involved here. The Pakistani government denies any foreknowledge of or involvement in the US killer-drone strikes– though Sen. Dianne Feinstein [corrected from ‘Pelosi’. HT Mick] recently let slip that at least some of the US’s lethal “manhunting” ops inside Pakistan have been run out of Pakistani military bases and not, as people had previously thought was always the case, from US bases in Afghanistan.
The idea of the US waging this clandestine war inside Pakistan is very worrying, at all levels, regardless of whether Washington has the complicity of some portions of the Pakistani government or not. (This is the case even though Pakistan’s people face many extremely complex issues of internal conflict and atrocious governance… And even though accusations have come from credible sources that some parts of the country provide safe havens for Al-Qaeda or other terror networks with violent global ambitions. But why should the US arrogate to itself any “right” to act in response to these challenges unilaterally and using lethal violence? What if all the world’s nations felt they had a similar “right” to act like this wherever and whenever they pleased?)
But in this post, I want to focus on that deadly concept of my government having a “classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos [are] authorized to capture or kill.”
Not, you’ll note, people whom US security forces might be particularly interested in “capturing or killing” if they should discover them taking part in hostilities against the US… But people whom US operatives are authorized– or let’s say, even more actively encouraged– to hunt down and go out and “capture or kill” even if they’re sitting down for a bowl of cornflakes on a sunny day with their family all around.
Of course, the use of killer drones completely gives the lie to the “capture or– ” part of the authorization.
Were the drones programed to swoop down from the skies, grab Baitullah Mehsud by the scruff of his neck, and haul him back to Bagram air base for interrogation? I think not.
This “capture or ill” slogan is in 99% of the cases only a euphemism for flat-out, lethal manhunting, and should be recognized as such. The intention in the vast majority of these still ongoing US and Israeli operations is not to capture. It is to kill. This is what makes it completely unacceptable under any concept of international law.
(By the way, that Wikipedia page linked to there gives an interesting survey of the use of manhunting by various western militaries over the decades, and has some very informative source notes.)
Another aspect of this that should be a cause for huge concern is the completely secret nature of all the alleged “evidence” on the basis of which these assassination classifications/decisions are made.
As in so many of the extra-legal practices the US military developed– under Pres. Bush and before him under Pres. Clinton– the practice of lethal manhunting was pioneered in recent times by the Israelis. They have assassinated literally scores of Palestinians since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000– and many scores over the decades before that, too.
Recall the incredibly sympathetic piece of writing about the Israeli commanders who make these decisions that the WaPo published back in 2006. Writer Laura Blumenfeld never once asked the really tough questions about the nature of the “evidence” against the targeted men, and why Israel, with all its many huge capabilities on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank didn’t simply arrest these men and bring them to trial through legal means instead of hunting them down from the air like fish in a barrel… You’d think she’d never read a book or seen a movie about the way the Nazis behaved in the Warsaw Ghetto…
If you look down the right sidebar of this page on Btselem’s website you can learn that in each of the years 2001-2004, the number of targeted killings the IOF carried out in the occupied Palestinian territories was between 37 and 44. In each of 2005 and 2006 it was 22.
This is obscene.
Israel is the power that has been in military occupation of these lands since 1967 and is responsible for the welfare of all their residents. Systematically targeting some of these residents for assassination– on the basis of always secret “information”– is completely illegal.
During the most recent Gaza war, the policy of assassinations, which had fallen into disuse when the 6-month ceasefire started last June, was resumed again.
Both countries should end this vile practice.

NATO trucking woes in Pakistan continue

The Daily Telegraph’s Isambard Wilkinson reports that the main trade association for Pakistani trucking companies that haul NATO goods into Afghanistan from Karachi has now decided to halt all NATO trucking until the security of the trucks and their drivers can be assured.
(HT: Afghanistan Conflict Monitor, again. Great resource!)
Wilkinson quotes Khyber Transport Association head M.S. Afridi as saying, ” “We have stopped supplies to foreign forces in Afghanistan from today. We have around 3,500 trucks, tankers and other vehicles, we are the major suppliers to Afghanistan, transporting about 60-70 per cent of goods.”
He writes,

    the main weak point, according to the Tariq Hayat Khan, the political agent for the Khyber tribal area, is on the outskirts of Peshawar city, which falls outside his jurisdiction and where the truck depots stand.
    The hauliers are asking the government to shift the depots away from Peshawar’s ring-road, to a less vulnerable place.

3,500 trucks is, I believe around five days’ worth of supplies for the NATO force in Afghanistan? Anyway, it looks like a stoppage that will have a significant impact for many ISAF troops in Afghanistan.
Afridi’s statement comes a week after a big attack in the Peshawar area left 160 Afghanistan-bound trucks as charred remains. But evidently there have been other attacks, too, since Wilkinson writes that “Hundreds of Nato and US-led coalition vehicles have been destroyed in the last two weeks after depots were targeted by hundreds of militants in northwest Pakistan.”
He adds this:

    Qudratullah Khan, a transporter from Khyber Agency who runs Al Qadri Cargo Company, said: “Transportation of goods to Afghanistan has become a risky job and even our lives at stake while taking the goods.
    “The vehicles carrying containers for Afghanistan are being looted in a broad day light, the drivers are killed and kidnapped, but we do not see any security or protection to us.”
    He added that there suspicions that drivers were involved in looting vehicles and convoys in collusion with the militants.
    …Mr Khan said the Taliban is taking 30 per cent of the goods as for the Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud’s “Islamic treasury”, and 30 per cent are shared by the drivers and transporters when these vehicles are looted or kidnapped.

So there’s a major problem of trusting the drivers. (And maybe, also, of trusting some of the army and security force units sent in to help guard the convoys?)
This certainly does not look like a problem that will be solved satisfactorily any time soon.
All of which increases the urgency with which NATO needs to conclude the negotiations it’s now holding with Russia about opening a major trans-shipment route into Afghanistan via the Russian railroads. Even more so, since NATO is planning to beef up its presence in Afghanistan, which means it will require an even thicker pipeline of shipments into the country.
Over the past few months Russia has lost a considerable amount of that portion of “leverage” it had with western nations by virtue of its status as oil exporter (though the leverage it derives from its gas exports has not declined as much.) But now, thanks to the deterioration of the security situation in Pakistan, Russia is acquiring considerable new leverage with the west by virtue of its rail network.
Stay tuned for developments in all aspects of this story. The situation in Pakistan does not look stable.

Getting to Global Zero (Nuclear Weapons)

I went to a great press event today, for the new worldwide movement ‘Global Zero’, which has rolled out what looks like a quite achievable plan to verifiably rid the world of all nuclear weapons by 2035.
Hallelujah. A new day is dawning… (Sorry, I can’t get that spiritual out of my head today.)
One of the most striking aspects of today’s event was the participation of two retired high-level security officials from each of India and Pakistan… And they all seemed to agree that their countries’ nuclear weapons have no actual utility, either militarily or politically.
This judgment was particularly striking given the current tensions between the two countries in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Shaharyar Khan, the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, said explicitly, “Since India and Pakistan exploded their nuclear weapons in 1998 there has been a qualitative change in terms of seeing that they do not have utility. We’ve gained much maturity in this realm.”
His compatriot Lt. Gen. (ret) Talat Masood said,

Continue reading “Getting to Global Zero (Nuclear Weapons)”

Goal of the Mumbai attacks: Sparking India-Pakistan war?

The perpetrators of the recent wave of anti-civilian (i.e. terror) attacks in Mumbai were evidently well organized and well prepared for their mission. It was almost certainly planned as a series of suicide attacks. These indicators point to (but do not prove) the responsibility of Lashkar-i-Taiba, “Army of the pure”, a group that originated in Indian-occupied Kashmir but has also operated elsewhere throughout the subcontinent and in Afghanistan. The nature of their attacks evidently had a strong anti-western and anti-Jewish/Israeli cast to it, along with an even stronger readiness/willingness to kill Indian civilians. Those in the west who have centered on the deaths of westerners– who included two devoutly spiritual followers of a Hindu swami who live near my home-town Charlottesville, one of them a 13-year-old girl– should remember that westerners have made up fewer than ten percent of the deaths confirmed so far, with the rest being Indian citizens.
Given the amount of planning, coordination, dedication to martyrdom, and resources that went into this mission, it must have had a political purpose broader than “simply” killing people (for revenge, or for “expressive” purposes, or whatever.) One possible purpose may have been precisely to try to spur a strong Indian military “counter-attack” against Pakistan that would also– because of the western casualties involved– receive the backing of the US and other western nations.
India may oblige. In fact, its military, security, and political chiefs are meeting right now to decide how to respond to the attacks. On Friday, Indian Foreign Minister already accused unidentified “elements in Pakistan” of being behind the attacks.
Islamabad seems to be bracing for the possibility of some harsh Indian response. Earlier, the Pakistani government had said it would send the head of the powerful (but Hydra-like) ISI intelligence, Lieut-Gen, Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to help in the investigation. But now, as the cabinet holds an emergency session in Islamabad, it has also announced it will downgrade the level of that cooperation mission.
I’m sure the Indian government feels itself under a lot of pressure to “do something” forceful and rapid to re-assert an appearance of control over the national situation, to reassure its citizens and its foreign partners, and to “avenge” those who died.
Launching a military attack against Pakistan at this time would be the height of counter-productive folly. It would not solve, but rather would seriously exacerbate, the many problems India already has with its neighbor to the north. The governance system in Pakistan is already extremely shaky and stretched to near collapse. Does the Indian government want to push Pakistan– and with it much of the rest of the subcontinent– over the brink?
Where is the Security Council? It was precisely to deal with and defuse these kinds of crisis that the UN was established. But apart from issuing a pablum-y type of statement yesterday, the SC has taken no action on the crisis. Nor has Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon.