This has been all over the news, but I thought Slog might care as well—yesterday, in advance of Obama's speech on national security today, the administration admitted it has killed US citizens with drones, some on purpose and s...
This has been all over the news, but I thought Slog might care as well—yesterday, in advance of Obama's speech on national security today, the administration admitted it has killed US citizens with drones, some on purpose and some accidentally. From the Guardian:
Earlier, the White House marked this new effort to draw a line under the controversial drone-strike policy by admitting for the first time that four American citizens were among those killed by its covert attacks in Yemen and Pakistan since 2009.
In a letter to congressional leaders sent on Wednesday, attorney general Eric Holder Holder claimed one of the US citizens killed, Anwar al-Awlaki, was chief of external operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) and had been involved in plots to blow up aircraft over US soil.
However, Holder said three others killed by drones – Samir Khan, Abdul Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki and Jude Kenan – were not "specifically targeted". The second of these victims, Anwar al-Awlaki's son, is said by campaigners to have been 16 when he died in Yemen in 2011.
The US government carrying out assassinations of its own citizens is obviously a major problem—especially if they're accidentally killing other American citizens in the process.
But Obama did his artful pivot move by releasing this information into the public sphere just before announcing in the speech that he was going to bring the drone program out of the "legal shadows" of the CIA and transfer it to the Pentagon, giving Congress—and, ostensibly, the rest of us—more oversight.
(That move should go down in the history books as "the Obama": Announce something bad just before you announce that you're going to take strong action against that bad thing, making you the good guy in the situation, even if the bad thing happened under your watch.)
And how many non-American citizens have been assassinated—or accidentally killed—by our covert drone program?
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 240 and 347 people have been killed in total by confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen since 2002, with a further 2,541 to 3,533 killed by CIA drones in Pakistan.
That, I would venture to guess, has not been winning hearts and minds. But in general, Obama's speech (transcript here) promised to take the US off the "perpetual war-time footing" it has been on since 9/11, and recognized that our national security apparatus may undermining, and not simply defending, the democracy we claim to love:
All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact – in sometimes unintended ways – the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.
A protester/heckler tried to interrupt the speech—to condemn the Guantanamo facility, the drone strikes, etc.—but Obama handled it very suavely, and the crowd was happy to clap in order to drown her out. You can see video of that here.
And this part of the speech, in which he discusses closing the Guantanamo facility, is also worth quoting:
The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The original premise for opening GTMO – that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention – was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep G