As Washington and Hollywood celebrities were busy getting ready for an evening of glamour and amusement at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, across town human rights and peace advocates, along with the family members of individuals who have been killed in US drone attacks, gathered to discuss the Obama Administration’s policies of targeted killing at the first International Drone Summit.
The event was organized by CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Reprieve, and facilitated by Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of CODEPINK and the author of a new book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.
Panelists and audience members alike spoke of the need for transparency and official acknowledgement of what the CIA is and has been doing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
One never sees any images of drone victims in the American mainstream media—but Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, which co-organized the Summit, showed the audience pictures of children who had been killed alongside images of missile parts from the weapons that took their lives. He asked, “How can we get people to pay attention?”
Chris Woods, a senior reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and a leader of the Bureau’s covert war investigation team, offered a PowerPoint presentation challenging the Obama Administration and CIA’s unwillingness to acknowledge that there have been civilian casualties. According to TBIJ’s reporting, between 2004 and 2012, the CIA launched 321 drone strikes in Pakistan, 269 of which were carried out under President Obama’s command. Between 2,429 and 3,097 people have been killed in these drone strikes, including 479 to 811 civilians and 174 children.
The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill had audience members riveted by his passion, depth of knowledge, and understanding of shadowy covert affairs. He said, “We need to disavow ourselves of any notion that this [targeted killing] policy is markedly different than that of Bush and Cheney.” He explained how the U.S. killed American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, and said, “This is lawless activity that the United States is engaged in around the world. It goes up against every fiber that the Constitution is supposed to embody. Every single fiber of that document is violated in the preemptive assassination policy that this Administration is unleashing around the world.”
Scahill also talked about Congress’ failure to carry out its oversight responsibilities, and how this allowed the CIA to wreak havoc under the cloak and dagger of covert warfare. He explained the significance of the word “persons” in the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” (AUMF) as a clear indicator that Congress was specifically authorizing assassination policy. The AUMF says: “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”