Mar 15, 2014
Our Murderers in the Sky
Posted on Dec 10, 2009
By Scott Ritter
The “war on terror” has shredded the concept of the rule of law, at least as applied by the United States within the context of this struggle. While Obama has made moves to fix some of the symptoms of the flawed policies of his predecessor, the underlying foundation of American arrogance and exceptionalism from which such policies emerged remains unchanged. There is no more telling example of this than the current program of targeted assassination taking place under the guise of armed unmanned aerial drones (also known as remotely piloted vehicles, or RPVs) operating in the Af-Pak theater of operations.
All pretense of either Afghan or Pakistani sovereignty disappears when these drones take to the air. Ostensibly used for intelligence gathering and lethal direct-action operations against so-called high-value targets (i.e., senior al-Qaida or Taliban leadership), RPV missions have become increasingly popular within the U.S. military and intelligence communities as a risk-free means of bringing maximum harm, in highly discriminatory fashion, to the enemy. Expansion of the United States’ RPV effort in Af-Pak has become a central part of the surge ordered by Obama, complementing the 30,000 combat troops he has ordered deployed to the region. But exactly who is targeted by these RPV operations? While the U.S. military and intelligence community maintains that every effort is made to positively identify a target as hostile before the decision to fire a missile or drop a bomb is made, the criteria for making this call are often left in the hands of personnel ill-equipped to make it.
In the ideal world, one would see the fusion of real-time imagery, real-time communications intercept and human sources on the ground before making such a call. But in reality this “perfect storm” of intelligence intersection rarely occurs. In its stead, one is left with fragmentary pieces of data that are cobbled together by personnel far removed from the point of actual conflict whose motivations are geared more toward action than discretion. Often, the most critical piece of intelligence comes from a human source who is using the U.S. military as a means of settling a local score more than furthering the struggle against terror. The end result is dead people on the ground whose demise has little, if any, impact on the “war on terror,” other than motivating even more people to rise up and struggle against the American occupiers and their Afghan or Pakistani cohorts.
Supporters of the RPV program claim that these strikes have killed over 800 “bad guys,” with a loss of only about 20 or so civilians whose proximity to the targets made them suspect in any case. Detractors flip these figures around, noting that only a score or more kills of “high-value targets” can be confirmed, and that the vast majority of those who have died or have been wounded in these attacks were civilians. In a conflict that is being waged in villages and towns in regions traditionally prone to intense independence and religious fundamentalism, distinguishing good from bad can be a daunting task. Given the U.S. track record, under which tribal gatherings and family functions such as weddings have been frequently misidentified as “hostile” gatherings and thus attacked with tragic results, one is inclined to doubt the official casualty figures associated with the RPV strikes.
Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2007).
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