British Drone Strike Targets in the Light of the Chilcot Report

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On July 6, 2016, the Report of the Iraq Inquiry, better known as the Chilcot Report, was finally published after more than six years of work by Chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot. The aim of the study, which began in 2009 and was initiated by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was to consider the UK’s policy on Iraq from 2001 to 2009 and to “identify lessons for the future” by answering two key questions:

  1. Whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in 2003, and
  2. Whether the UK could—and should—have been better prepared for what followed

The study ended up taking four years longer than the projected two years, and it cost more than £10 million to carry out. The conclusions have been widely affirmed as damning of Tony Blair, the prime minister who chose to ally the United Kingdom with the United States in its invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

The report spans multiple volumes, but The Guardian has put together a nice summary of the most important points, a few of which I’ll paraphrase here:

–The war was not a last resort. The UK joined the war effort before peaceful options had been exhausted.

–PM Tony Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. There was no imminent threat. Furthermore, Britain’s intelligence agencies produced “flawed information”, skewed by a confirmation bias that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD (weapons of mass destruction). Essentially, British intelligence accepted the burden of proof put forth by the US government: that Iraq needed to demonstrate that it had no WMD. (NB: such negative proofs are logically impossible. Try proving the nonexistence of Santa Claus–or God, for that matter.)

–Blair assured US President George W. Bush that he would join the war effort without fail: “I will be with you, whatever.”

For the most part, the six year, £10 million+ study basically concluded what millions of antiwar protesters had no difficulty recognizing back in 2002.

TonyBlair

Now that the UK government itself has concluded that Blair made serious errors while acting in the capacity of prime minister, many people have called for his criminal indictment. The most promising charge would have to be that he misled, and therefore coerced, the British people into participating in a war against their own national interest. In the wake of the report, Blair has stood by his decision to embroil the UK in the war in Iraq, claiming that he meant well. Once again we find that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (See: just war theory for more on that…)

One topic which has not been addressed by any of the many commentators on the Chilcot Report—at least not to my knowledge—is whether it does not also mandate a reconsideration of the treatment of Britain’s allegedly treasonous enemies, young men who have turned against the UK government as a direct result of its complicity in the destruction of the country of Iraq, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings, and the harm to millions more, many of whom were forced to flee their homeland as a result of the postwar violence and insecurity.

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Junaid Hussain

I am interested specifically in the cases of three young British nationals, Ruhul Amin, Reyaad Khan, and Junaid Hussein, all of whom were incinerated by lethal drone while living in Syria, to which they fled in order to join the ISIS effort. The reason why the stories of these young men, denounced by the UK government as “evil terrorists” and threats to national security, trouble me is because they were deliberately destroyed by their own government without ever having stood trial or even been indicted for their alleged crimes.

 

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Ruhul Amin

Two of the targets, Ruhul Amin and Reyaad Khan, were taken out on August 21, 2015, by missiles fired from drones by the RAF under the authorization of then-Prime Minister David Cameron. The third target, Junaid Hussein, was eliminated on August 25, 2015, by a US drone with the help of British intelligence. (Other persons were killed in a previous strike aiming for him.) All in all, August 2015 was a precedent-setting month for Britain, a nation in which capital punishment has been outlawed and which was not officially at war in Syria, where these British nationals were hunted down and killed.

 

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Reyaad Khan

Two of the three alleged enemies of the state were 21 years of age at the time of their death; the third was 26 years old. They all died in late 2015, which implies that two of the targets were 9 years old when the UK government joined the ill-advised war on Iraq; the third was 14 years old. This means that they were children or young adolescents at the time of the invasion of Iraq. Their entire worldview was obviously affected by the war on Iraq, for they later decided to team up with whoever was fighting those responsible.

In other words, if Britain had not joined forces with the United States, which would have made it very, very difficult for the war to proceed, as there would not have been a “coalition of the willing” but only a rogue aggressor state, then in all likelihood Iraq would not have been destroyed, and the group which came to be known as ISIS would not have grown and spread from Iraq to Syria.

These are all counterfactual conditionals, of course. My point is only that if ISIS never came to be in its present form, because the people of Iraq were not subjected to oppression and lawless aggression—night raids, summary executions, detentions and torture—then the British drone strike targets destroyed with the blessing of David Cameron could not and would not have joined forces with the group now known as ISIS.

I therefore find that, in addition to being responsible for all of the death and destruction in Iraq, Tony Blair bears responsibility not only for the deaths of Ruhul Amin, Reyaad Khan, and Junaid Hussain, but also for Prime Minister David Cameron’s summary execution without trial of these men. In saying this, I do not mean to absolve Cameron for his mistake, for he himself identified his victims as enemies of the state and arguably violated both British and international law by assassinating them. Cameron should never have followed US President Obama’s misguided precedent in summarily executing without trial his fellow citizens.

However, Tony Blair is equally culpable, in my view, for having contributed to this return to a medieval, pre-Magna Carta framework of justice being perpetrated by unjust warriors as necessary only because of their own prior crimes and the existence of a sophisticated modern technology, the unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), without which none of these deaths would have occurred (see: We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age).

It is tragic that so many young Muslim men are being annihilated for reacting violently to what they correctly identify to have been atrocious crimes committed in a misguided war (see: Chilcot Report). The state warriors and the factional terrorists sadly all embrace the same confused premise: that conflict can be resolved by obliterating anyone who disagrees. Ruhul Amin, Reyaad Khan and Junaid Hussain are graphic illustrations of how young people are being molded into jihadists by their witness of state-perpetrated war crimes, and their heartfelt desire to stop them.

ReyaadKhan

 

It’s Official: David Cameron is now Barack Obama’s Poodle

By ordering drone strikes against British nationals, Prime Minister David Cameron has followed in the ignominious footsteps of Tony Blair by effectively becoming the “poodle” of the current US president. Blair notoriously went along with the Bush administration scheme to wage a preemptive war against a sovereign nation at peace in 2003, violating international law, directly causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the exodus of millions of others, and wrecking Iraq, which remains in shambles still today.

Self-styled “drone warrior” Obama’s signature policy, “Kill don’t capture”, was implemented when he found it politically difficult to house detainees suspected of complicity in terrorism. Never troubled by the high proportion of innocent suspects found among the men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Obama decided to deal with the problem of suspects “lawyering up”—as former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney used to say—by killing them all, and inverting the burden of proof.

Terrorist suspects, in the Obama administration world view, are guilty until proven innocent, which no one is able to do pre-posthumously because targets are not informed that their names have been placed on secret kill lists. The Obama approach is slick, simple and politically satisfying: light them up with a Hellfire missile! No more embarrassing human rights issues arise over detainees mistreated and held without charges. No more nagging lawyers, no more hunger strikes.

Not content with simply “taking out” suspected militants/insurgents/terrorists (all of which have been conflated for years, following Bush) in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya, where war was never formally waged, Obama went one step further. He authorized the extrajudicial execution of Anwar al-Awlaki and other US nationals, including Al-Awlaki’s sixteen-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who was assassinated two weeks after his father. According to bureaucratically crafted rules of engagement (ROE), Abdulrahman was a “military-age male” and therefore fair game for slaughter in any territory labeled “hostile” by the “kill committee”. Painting himself as “strong on defense,” Obama proudly revealed himself to be a member of that committee during his 2012 election campaign.

ObamaCameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron has consistently stood by Obama during his various bellicose initiatives. Cameron was ready and willing to support Obama when he called for war on the Syrian government in 2013, and then again on the Syrian government’s worst enemies (ISIS) in 2014.

DavidCameronPoodleHowever, Cameron no longer simply applauds the Obama administration’s calls for war, including the drone strikes used to dispatch suspects who might possibly pose an imminent danger (though it need not be immediate). Now Cameron, too, selects British citizens for summary execution according to unknown criteria determined in secret proceedings, all said to be necessary for state security. Cameron, who authorized the drone killing by the RAF of Ruhul Amin and Reyaad Khan, is now a card-carrying member of the “kill committee”.

And, yes, Barack Obama’s poodle.

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For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; Chapter 5: Strike First, Ask Questions Later; Chapter 6: The New Banality of Killing; Chapter 9: Death and Politics; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do

Pakistan “Kill Committee” Office Now Open for Business on “Terror Tuesdays”

The US government has been dispatching people in Pakistan for years now, both in JSOC raids—as in May 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed—and in drone strikes. Now the Pakistan government has decided to form its own “Kill Committee” and execute suspects without trial, following its role model, the US government.

Is it war? That’s supposed to be the pretext for drone strikes. “This is war.” It starts to look much closer to extrajudicial execution when citizens are “taken out” by their very own government, as were Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan (and Al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, two weeks later) on Yemeni soil during the fall of 2011. The claim by government officials is that killing becomes permissible when capture is not possible.

When a home government such as Pakistan opts to eliminate people on sovereign soil using drones, what can the rationalization be? How can it be the case that capture is impossible? The security forces, the army, the police, all a part of the Pakistan government, are there, ready and willing to be deployed. Under such circumstances, to call a drone strike “necessary” on domestic soil becomes even less plausible than when the US government opted to kill rather than capture citizens located abroad.

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And so the ugly legacy of Barack Obama continues to unfold. Not long ago, the Nigerian government was reported to be using lethal drones in Nigeria to take out whoever their “Kill Committee” deemed fair game. Now the Pakistan government is doing the same. All of this was entirely predictable to anyone with a modicum of an understanding of history and, in particular, the precedent set by the United States in matters military. The peace and security of the people of more and more countries are being undermined by weaponized drones flying over their heads and threatening death from above.

What’s more, in the Drone Age, the people in the corners of the world in most need of political change will be the least likely ever to achieve it. How can democratic reform of a country possibly succeed, when the reigning regime possesses the power and the blessing of the US government to follow in its stead by summarily executing anyone it deems to have stepped out of line?

WeKillBecauseWeCanLaurieCalhoun

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; Chapter 6: The New Banality of Killing; Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants Do

Swedish and German Nationals Watch “Kill TV” and Vote in Roundtable Nomination Proceedings during “Terror Tuesday” Meetings in Afghanistan

“If you see any women or children, raise your hand.” This is the instruction given to members of the Afghanistan version of the current “kill committee”, with both Germans and Swedes now sitting at the table. US military and intelligence personnel have been summarily executing suspected militants/insurgents/terrorists (which are all conflated) for years, both in countries where there are “US boots on the ground” and in places where no formal war was ever waged.

“How about innocent brown-skinned men?” That question is not being asked by anyone during these meetings. The very concept appears to be oxymoronic to US military and CIA personnel, long inured to the “crowd killing” of military-age males in so-called hostile areas, who have been defined as guilty until proven innocent. No matter that, given the secrecy surrounding drone strikes, it is impossible for a suspect to prove his innocence before being liquidated. Only a carping crank would bother to point out that for others to demonstrate a target’s innocence post mortem is, shall we say, “too little, too late”.

Somehow all of the people involved in the drone killing of suspects missed (or have forgotten) the statistics on the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay. Most of them were mistakenly imprisoned, nearly always on the basis of intelligence provided by bribed locals, precisely the primary basis used in adding targets to “kill lists” to be dispatched by Hellfire missiles launched from Predator drones as the “opportunity” arises.

The recent report of German and Swedish participation in the US drone program is deeply disappointing, for such complicity significantly decreases the chance that the perpetrators will ever be brought to justice—or even that the practice will be curtailed. As the web of corruption continues to ensnare more people and nations, luring them to collaborate with the US killing machine, it will become ever more difficult to press human rights claims and reassert the authority of the United Nations in calling a halt to the summary execution of brown-skinned males regarded as suspicious by whoever the sitting “kill committee” members happen to be, using criteria to which only they are privy.

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For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep and Chapter 6: The New Banality of Killing

Lethal centrism is now everywhere on display

Egypt’s first freely elected president is sentenced to death by the perpetrators of a military coup condoned and armed by the US government:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32763215

US Federal court imposes death penalty on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for Boston marathon bombing in 2013. Bound to deter countless suicide bombers!

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/05/15/dzhokhar-tsarnaev-death-penalty-sentencing-jury-boston-marathon-bombing/canMEfLmeQJxQ4rFU0sERJ/story.html?camp=BGcard:Tsarnaev:article#