[UPDATE late Wednesday: President Obama suddenly orders release of key classified memos on justification for use of drones on eve Brennan confirmation hearings.]]
On Monday night, NBC News revealed that leaked sixteen-page memo outlining (at last) the administration’s rules for drone strikes against US citizens abroad. Ever since, the chorus of criticism—mainly from progressives and media outlets long accused by conservatives of being “in the tank” for Obama—has grown to a deafening level.
David Carr, The New York Times’s ace media reporter who does not often venture into these realms, put it this way this morning in a succinct (even for Twitter) comment: “Drones very effective at targeting and wiping out… Rule of law.”
And although the memo only covered the assassination/murder of Americans (see my piece here), it has sparked a long-overdue reappraisal of the entire drone war, which has taken the lives of thousands, including many non-combatants and children. This promises to get even hotter tomorrow with the start of the congressional confirmation hearings for drone champion (and keeper of the kill list) John Brennan as the new CIA director.
The secrets are now spilling out. Suddenly we find out that the US has operated a drone base in… wait for it… Saudi Arabia. The media have known about it for a year, and kept it secret. The Washington Post today explains: “The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”
[UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian hits yet another media "coverup" of vital information. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who had pushed for transparency on this issue since taking the job last summer, now hails the paper's belated reporting of secret site: “If it was ever appropriate to withhold the information, that time was over. The drone program needs as much sunlight as possible. This is another crucial step in the right direction.” On Twitter, she promises to respond to Greenwald this Sunday. ]
Tom Junod at the Esquire site wrote an angry piece titled “All the King’s Drones.” He closes with two questions: Do “informed, high-level officials” have the power to kill their own citizens? Are “informed, high-level officials” acting in the interests of the state “ever liable to the accusation that they have committed murder?”
The New York Times has a lengthy piece today on how the memo and the Brennan hearings finally produce a moment in the sun for the “dangers” of drone strikes. It opens with the wrongful killing of a man in Yemen who could have helped the US. There’s one chilling account of two innocent men killed simply because five suspected terrorists had hitched a ride with them.
Could the targeted killing campaign be creating more militants in Yemen than it is killing? And is it in America’s long-term interest to be waging war against a self-renewing insurgency inside a country about which Washington has at best a hazy understanding?
Several former top military and intelligence officials—including Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who led the Joint Special Operations Command, which has responsibility for the military’s drone strikes, and Michael V. Hayden, the former CIA director—have raised concerns that the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly targeting low-level militants who do not pose a direct threat to the United States.
In an interview with Reuters, General McChrystal said that drones could be a useful tool but were “hated on a visceral level” in some of the places where they were used and contributed to a “perception of American arrogance.”
And the Times in an editorial today observes that while the Obama drone kill policy outlined in the memo was not exactly a surprise “it was disturbing to see the twisted logic of the administration’s lawyers laid out in black and white. It had the air of a legal justification written after the fact for a policy decision that had already been made, and it brought back unwelcome memories of memos written for President George W. Bush to justify illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention, kidnapping, abuse and torture.”
For years, fifty-four other nations worked with the CIA to export torture to the world, David Cole writes.