Tuesday, 5 June 2012

CIA, Obama and drones: a ‘no brainer’

For a US President in election year, the use of drones to kill Al Qaeda leaders seems a no-brainer. No American servicemen are killed with the resulting footage of grieving relatives and flag-draped coffins - the footage that the Bush regime suppressed. (They did not want the voters to see the true cost of their imperial engagements.) Drones are relatively cheap compared to launching manned fighter bombers and they are reported (by the CIA) to be extremely accurate. 
There are other points of view. Gregory Johnson is a lecturer at Princeton who told a BBC interviewer, "Look at Yemen on Christmas Day 2009, the day the so-called underwear bomber attempted to bring down a flight over Detroit. On that day al-Qaeda numbered about 200 to 300 individuals and they controlled no territory. Now today, two-and-a-half years later, despite all the drone strikes al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has tripled in size, it's now around 1,000 members and it controls significant territory.
"The more the US bombs, the more they grow."
“He says drones strikes have killed women and children and al-Qaeda are adept at using this to recruit people for revenge.” BBC Online 5/6/12
And what about our ‘ally’ Pakistan? They know what is happening on the ground.
“The Pakistan government says that, while the CIA-run pilotless drone campaign has advantages, it fuels anti-American sentiment in the country and is counterproductive because of collateral damage.
Drones are a sticking point in talks between the US and Pakistan aimed at repairing ties damaged by a series of events, including the recent imprisonment of the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA hunt down Bin Laden.
According to reports from North Waziristan, which American government sources did not contest, US-operated drones launched three attacks along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan between Saturday and Monday.
Reports from Pakistan said nearly 30 people were killed during the sequence of strikes, including four suspected militants on Saturday.” Guardian Online 5/6/12
It will take weeks, possibly even months, for the claims to be verified. 
“Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.” New York Times 29/5/12
The nature of this ‘kill list’ is debatable. Clive Stafford Smith reported back from a recent visit to Waziristan. It is important to stress that Waziristan is in Pakistan and therefore supposed to be on the side of the allies. It is on the border with Afghanistan and is therefore on the front line. The tribal elders there had a very different view of the so-called efficacy of drones. Many civilians die. This flies in the face of claims from the White House that great care is taken to protect civilians. 
Stafford Smith also had an insight into the way the CIA obtained information on Al Qaeda. They pay informants. There in a nutshell is a major problem. The money an informant can ‘earn’ by targeting a suspect is relatively huge. The informants are often asked to place a tracking device to the vehicle or house of the target. The drone is launched and an 18 year old sat at a computer screen in West Virginia locks onto the signal and the missile is launched. Bingo! Result! Or maybe not. Clive Stafford Smith explained that it is not easy to gain access to the leaders of Al Qaeda. They surround themselves with security. It is much easier to target someone you fell out with over land, a relationship or flock of goats, plant the homing device and claim your reward. Just as with the insidious use of rewards for rendition, many innocent people are swept up on the say-so of dodgy criminals.
Obama is reported to be fiercely bright. He will know that any gains made by the use of drones is very short term. Turning your allies against you and spawning thousands more recruits for Al Qaeda does not make any rational sense. It is a no-brainer: short-term some benefits; long term awful. So what on earth is he doing? His motivation in looking tough on terrorists and terrorism could not have anything to do with an upcoming election could it?

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