Exactly how many “suspected No 2 ISIS leaders” are there?

Yet again, all of the usual suspects have collaborated with the US government by spamming across the media the “news” that the suspected “No. 2 ISIS leader” du jour has reportedly been taken out by Predator drone. Anyone with any semblance of a memory capacity must be wondering how many of these “No. 2” evil leaders there can possibly be! The latest No. 2, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, was described by the White House as the Islamic State’s “Baghdad military emir and the emir of Ninawa Province.” Clearly, we should be very impressed that the target suspected to be Al-Hayali has now reportedly been eradicated from the face of the earth. Then again, maybe it was just somebody who looked like him.

The journalists dutifully parroting the “news” fed to them by the Pentagon are usually careful to qualify the announcements. The culprits are “suspected” and the fact of their demise is “reported”. No facts are ever really being exchanged in these announcements, which serve the purpose only of conveying the impression that the government is working hard to keep all of us safe. In reality, most readers of the headlines (usually too busy to digest the full article) now appear automatically to elide from their mind the words ‘suspected’ and ‘reportedly’ as they read, thereby arriving at the felicitous conclusion that, in fact, the “No 2 ISIS leader has been taken out!” Now No. 3 is the new No. 2, and he’s up next!

Some of the media outlets are helping even more, by changing ‘suspected’ to ‘likely’, or even dropping the qualifications altogether and appending, “says White House” to the end of the headline or embedding it more deeply within the article itself. Here’s an example of how the original, guarded announcement is subsequently picked up and redisseminated to “confirm” that in fact we are being kept safe:

Chalk up another high-value militant killed by a U.S. drone strike,” exults Brendan McGarry at the opening (the first line) of an article for Defense Tech.org.

If it later emerges, as has happened in the past, that the “suspected militants” were really tribal elders meeting to resolve a dispute in a jirga, or a group of happy families congregating for a big wedding, or a Bedouin camp of utterly harmless people, or even a grandmother picking okra in a large field all alone, nearly none of the mainstream media outlets ever seem to want to bother sharing the emended news. What would be the point of depressing their devoted readers and listeners? And why risk the loss in ratings, when there is so much other, more upbeat news to report?!

Instead, the big newspapers persist in focusing on the most recent round of “suspected” militants “reportedly” slain. Small wonder that most Americans continue to scratch their heads and puzzle over the perennial question: “Why do they hate us?”


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 9: Death and Politics

Generation Drone and Third-order Collateral Damage in Yemen

For years now, human rights groups and NGOs have been issuing disturbing reports about the harmful psychological effects on civilians living under drones. Recent findings from a study conducted in late 2014 reveal that the US government’s lethal drone policies are creating a new generation of persons who spend a large portion—in some cases all—of their life in a perpetual state of fear. These people are plagued by a sense of uncertainty about their own future and who the next victims of drone strikes will be. Alkarama’s results are laid out complete with survey batteries and graphs in “Traumatising Skies: U.S. Drone Operations and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” a 51-page report issued in May 2015.


This study corroborates previous reports on psychological harm to civilians, but its uniqueness inheres in its consideration of the effects on persons who have not lost a close family member … yet. Therein lies the source of these people’s “anxiety, stress, paranoia, insomnia, and other trauma symptoms across gender and age.” These findings reveal that, in addition to first-order collateral damage (wherein a person loses his life arbitrarily) and second-order collateral damage (wherein a person loses a loved one and suffers as a consequence), entire communities under lethal drone surveillance are suffering third-order collateral damage, which is manifesting itself in generalized depression and fear, and loss of interest in former sources of happiness.

Alkarama argues convincingly that the U.S. government is violating international conventions prohibiting “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” through the systematic disruption of these people’s ability to live in their very own communities without the constant fear of the arbitrary termination of their lives. Some US policymakers scoff at international conventions and human rights. (“International law?” asked George W. Bush sardonically on December 12, 2003, “I better call my lawyer.”) Government spokespersons reflexively mutter “collateral damage” whenever civilians are killed, and seem never to have given second- and third-order collateral damage a moment’s thought.

However, the Alkarama study also reveals that the trauma victims are filled with a desire for revenge against the people responsible for their state of unhappiness, and this is especially marked among boys, the most likely candidates for joining up with terrorist groups, particularly when their hopes for the future continue to be severely compromised by the fear that they may not live to see another day.

“Give me your blessing, I’ll kill them all!” henchman Gyp Rosetti tells his boss in season 3 of Boardwalk Empire. He may as well have been working for the US drone program.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 5: Strike First, Suppress Questions Later; and Chapter 7: The Operators

Obama-speak Drone Warfare Lexicon and the meaning of “near certainty”

For years now, the Obama administration has been following in the grand tradition of the George W. Bush administration by giving old words and expressions new meanings and basing institutional killing policy upon their neologisms and redefinitions. Bush got the ball rolling with offense = defense, but Obama has gone above and beyond the call of propaganda duty:

  1. imminent no longer implies immediacy. Imminent really means potential.
  1. combatants are military-age males located in hostile territories. Combatants need not bear arms, and need not pose any direct threat to the life of any human being when they are killed. They may be killed when the “opportunity” arises, because
  1. last resort now means feasible
  1. hostile territories are places where the US government may kill unarmed persons with impunity because of the infeasibility of capture, which usually translates as “not worth the trouble and expense”. In special cases (Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki), infeasibility of capture really means that “death is the preferred outcome”. Hostile territories need not be declared war zones, but they are the new battlefields.
  1. battlefields are the places at which the US government (CIA or DoD) has decided to launch missiles from weaponized drones lurking and stalking above where suspected militants are said to hide.
  1. suspected militants become terrorists upon their execution by the US government, unless they happen to be Western hostages, in which case the president himself will issue a public apology to the families of the victims and send them a large bag of money so that they will “let bygones be bygones”, in other words: shut up.
  1. acts of war need not be carried out by military personnel. Acts of war may be carried out by intelligence agents or private contractors (formerly known as mercenaries).
  1. All covert actions are now acts of war, but because they are still covert, there is no need to disclose to the public any of the gory details. Three magical words are all that are needed:
  1. State Secrets Privilege, which means that the US government can do whatever it wants to whomever it wants for whatever reasons it deems sufficient. CIA Director John Brennan said it best: “What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues and at the same time optimize secrecy”. So the “transparency” part is where we are (transparently) told that all information is privileged and therefore secret, and need not be shared with any citizen, not even the bereft survivors of tragic targeting errors.

Near certainty is the epistemic standard which must be met before carrying out a drone strike, according to President Obama in a speech delivered on May 23, 2013. There must be near certainty that no civilians are present before a missile is launched at the intended target. One way to achieve that lofty aim is to reason as follows:

  1. All military-age males in hostile territories are unlawful combatants incapable of surrender, because they are metaphysical terrorists who may be dispatched en masse in cost-effective (!) crowd killing.
  2. In a signature strike, a target’s actions reflect a disposition matrix of known terrorist behavior patterns. Every savvy analyst affirms that men who bear arms in remote tribal regions = terrorists. And a fortiori when they are Arabs.

In reality, the US government regularly kills people without having the slightest idea who they are, as was demonstrated in April 2015 when two hostages were slain along with a group of suspected terrorists. Therefore, in Obama-speak:

  1. near certainty means absolute uncertainty.

George Orwell must be turning over in his grave.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age (the whole book).

“It’s a hell of a hoot” to drone some people, and lucrative to boot!

Not everyone recalls the day back in February 2005 when Lieutenant General James Mattis told a San Diego audience that “It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people.” Those were the words of one of “the nation’s finest”, a decorated military officer. The statement caused a bit of an uproar, as Mattis had broken the solemn soldierly oath never to do anything in a public forum which might tarnish the noble image of the courageous warriors who continually battle for justice and to make the world a safer, more peaceful place… Nothing really happened to Mattis, except that he was apparently asked to avoid speaking engagements for a while. Later he was promoted to General and, in 2010, named the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM).

It was recently reported that General Mattis is among a number of retired officers who are in cahoots with the lethal drone industry and private military companies (PMCs), some of which are now logistics and analysis firms whose role in the drone program is to locate targets for drone operators to dispatch. Is it “targeted killing” or is it the once-upon-a-time taboo “assassination”? Six of one, half a dozen of the other. The people are pegged as posing an imminent threat—though not immediately so—and even when they are not armed, and no one has any idea what their name is, or whether they have ever participated in any act of terrorism, they are added to one of the US government’s hit lists to be eliminated as the opportunity presents itself. That’s because “last resort” in Obamaspeak means “feasible”.

Of course, the more evil terrorists killed, the better! No matter how many “Number 2 Al Qaeda leaders” are extirpated from the face of the earth, there will always be more. Especially when people are profiting from their deaths. In the age of PMCs, men such as James Mattis now have an extra financial incentive to add line items to hit lists in order to line their own pockets. “It’s a hell of a hoot” to drone some people, particularly when one grows rich from doing so.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 10: Death and Taxes

Clarification About the Nature and Existence of this Book Blog

I launched this blog several months ago but was too busy to provide much content. Now that We Kill Because We Can exists (and can no longer be edited or expanded by me!), I am posting news items and short commentaries on them (usually ~300 word essays) here.

My primary aim is to keep track of current events in the drone wars during the period since We Kill Because We Can went into production in early 2015. I was hoping that my book would become irrelevant and that the US populace might awaken to the reality of the drone program which they have been funding. Alas, that has not come to pass. When a news item relates directly to a chapter from the book, I therefore reference it at the end of my commentary as a place to find more information on the topic covered.

Comments and feedback are most welcome!


The Pentagon Pens Lethal Drone Policy for 2019, Implying that the Manchurian Presidency will Continue On No Matter Who is Elected in 2016

Once upon a time, the president of the United States was the person who determined US foreign policy. Those days have been over for at least fifteen years, as the Oval Office has been occupied by men who delegate the most delicate of all decisions, regarding the taking of human life, to the very institution whose raison d’être it is to kill.

By announcing that lethal drone sorties will be increased from the current 60 per day to 90 per day by 2019, the Pentagon has inadvertently implied that the Manchurian Presidency will continue beyond the departure of Barack Obama. Apparently, it does not matter who wins the 2016 election, since the Pentagon is now calling the shots and penning US foreign policy.

Less than two months ago, news outlets reported that lethal drone sorties would need to be curtailed from 65 to 60 per day because of the exodus of many drone operators whose enlistment terms are expiring. That some lethal drone operators are opting not to continue on in their capacity as professional killers was welcome news. Perhaps the burden on some of these people’s conscience has become too difficult to bear, just as happened to the brave Brandon Bryant who has shared his experience in the hopes that others can learn from his mistake.

Who will fill the gap between the 60 lethal drone sorties which the US Air Force can currently cover and the 90 which the Pentagon is projecting? In all likelihood, private military companies (PMCs) will be providing the manpower for the increase by 50% of the number of communities around the world to be terrorized by lethal drones hovering above their heads.

Shame on the presidents who let both the CIA and the Pentagon go rogue during their terms in office. Shame on the people of the United States of America for permitting this to transpire.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep

Should the brother of a war criminal be permitted to run for president? The curious case of Jeb Bush

Quite a few people seem to be supporting Jeb Bush’s bid for the US presidency. Oddly enough, they seem to be some of the very people who found nothing wrong with either the JSOC execution of Khalid bin Laden along with his father at the family compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, or the drone killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki not long after his father was taken out by a Hellfire missile in Yemen.

Given these data points, we must ask: Are the relatives of alleged terrorists guilty by association or not? When the US government dispatched Khalid bin Laden along with his father, was this not because they regarded him as guilty by association? When the US government killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki shortly after his sixteenth birthday (making him fair game according to the definition of all “military-age males” as combatants), was this not because they found him potentially guilty by association? Was it not because they feared that he might make a good terrorist, given what they took to be the nature of his father?

If the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was actually a mistake, and only coincidentally carried out shortly after his sixteenth birthday—a bizarre shot-in-the-dark missile aiming at someone else entirely—then the perpetrators may write it off as collateral damage. But how else can the intentional, premeditated killing of the unarmed son of Osama bin Laden be understood? This case (or pattern, if Abdulrahman was intentionally slain) suggests that US officials consider blood relations fair game for targeting because of their potential to become active terrorists in the future.

In consistency, should not the brother of a war criminal who actively terrorized millions and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, mostly innocent, at the very least be considered disqualified from being a candidate for the office of US president?

Why is Jeb Bush even a contender?


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 6: The New Banality of Killing

Is ISIS or Al Qaeda the Greater Threat to Peace and Stability? There is a Third Way.

US officials have been debating the all-important question: ISIS or Al Qaeda? I suggest that the policymakers need to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Before the 1991 Gulf War and the establishment of permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, Al Qaeda did not exist. Before the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, ISIS did not exist. Before 2012-13, when the “appropriately vetted moderate rebels” in Syria were furnished with 600 tons of weapons covertly by the caustic incompetence agency, President Obama derided ISIS as “JV”, that is, “junior varsity”. One year later, they had taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria. But wait, there’s more.

Before Obama ousted Libyan president Muammar Gaddaffi in 2011, Libya was not democratic, but it was far more stable than it is today. Before Bush ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq was being run by a dictator (empowered by the US govt), but it was far more stable than it is today. But wait, there’s more.

From 2002 to 2012, the US government bribed two successive presidents of Yemen to cede their country’s sovereignty, permitting the assassination of persons whose names had been added to hit lists by US analysts. Today Yemen lies in shambles, with security conditions far worse than before its leaders collaborated with the US “killing machine”.

US leaders denounce the “evil enemy” and then implement policies which create even more of them. Debating who is the most nefarious “bogeyman du jour” is a red herring. The sad truth is that US foreign policy is a disastrous Ponzi scheme, and it went from bad to much worse under both Bush and Obama. US interventions abroad now serve only one purpose: to provide politicians with rhetorical fodder, at the expense of the security of millions of people on the other side of the world.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 9: Death and Politics

Obama’s Lasting Legacy? The Global Drone Wars

President Obama had a choice when he entered office in January 2009. Instead of calling a halt to the Bush administration’s use of summary execution by Predator drone, he expanded the practice, with no thought to what the world would look like once other countries and leaders began dispatching their political enemies by remote control in the name of national self-defense. With the use of China-produced lethal drones by the Nigerian government, the Global Drone Wars have begun.


It’s hard to imagine how a Harvard-educated lawyer could fail to comprehend the concept of suspect, or to draw the obvious conclusion from the proportion of innocent men detained at Guantánamo Bay: that roughly the same proportion of men executed by Predator drone in so-called signature strikes have been innocent as well.

Obama’s persistent failure to consider anything but short-term political expedience as a guide in setting policy led him to embrace drone killing as “smart war”. The price paid later on down the line will be the global instability created by a precedent in some ways even worse than the US development and use of nuclear arms, because it is so much more insidious.

Lethal drones are within the reach of even the least powerful of political leaders and the pettiest of despots. They will follow Obama’s lead in denouncing their enemies as “evil” before stripping them of their rights along with their lives. By promoting remote-control killing under a delusional pretext of “just war” Obama has spearheaded a global war on universal human rights.

As Obama’s presidency draws to a close, the White House seems quite concerned with securing his legacy. What will it be? Relations with Cuba? Negotiations with Iran? Obamacare? No, the true legacy of the Obama administration will be the Global Drone Wars.


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep