Whistleblower's Leak of 'Drone Papers' Triggers Call for Investigation of Civilian Killings
October 18, 2015
Murtaza Hussain / The Intercept & Democracy Now!
Following publication of a cache of secret documents on the US military's drone assassination program, civil rights organizations are calling for an immediate congressional inquiry. The leaks undermine government claims that the drone strikes have been precise. In Afghanistan, strikes on 35 targets killed at least 219 other people. Among other revelations: unknown male victims were to be labeled as "enemies killed in action" unless evidence later proved otherwise.
Civil Liberties Groups Call For
Congressional Inquiry into Assassination Program
Murtaza Hussain / The Intercept
(October 15 2015) -- Following The Intercept's publication of a cache of secret documents on the US military's drone assassination program, civil rights organizations are calling for an immediate congressional inquiry and heightened oversight of the use of armed drones.
A statement issued Thursday by Amnesty International said the documents "raise serious concerns about whether the USA has systematically violated international law, including by classifying unidentified people as 'combatants' to justify their killings."
In subsequent comments to The Intercept, Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty's Security & Human Rights Program, reiterated that the revelations "warrant congressional inquiry," stating that "there is potential evidence here of decisions being made to hide the actual impact of drone strikes from the public, and to falsely characterize a rapidly expanding global killing program as something limited and precise."
Among the revelations included in the documents, provided to The Intercept by an anonymous source, are that US drone strikes routinely kill far more people than their intended targets, that drone operators frequently conduct strikes based on unreliable evidence, and that individuals killed in strikes whose identities are unknown are posthumously counted as "enemies killed in action," without any evidence that they had actually been combatants.
The disclosures have undermined the Obama administration's claim that its strikes are being conducted with respect for civilian life. "A review of the lethal force program must be transparent and include disclosure of the United States' compliance with its legal obligations," said Hina Shamsi of the ACLU's National Security Project.
Shamsi added that, given the nature of the revelations published today about the nature of the criteria used for drone targeting, the administration must disclose "the criteria it uses to determine civilian or 'militant' or 'combatant' status, the identities and numbers of civilians killed and injured in its operations, and an assessment of the strategic consequences for national security of this unprecedented lethal force program."
In a post on the ACLU's website, Shamsi added, "These eye-opening disclosures make a mockery of US government claims that its lethal force operations are based on reliable intelligence and limited to lawful targets."
Citing the distance between the administration's public statements about the drone program and the apparent reality of how it operates, Omar Shakir, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-author of Stanford University's 2012 study Living Under Drones, said that "these new documents underscore just how much we've been intentionally misled about this program."
He added that "the basis for identifying targets, authorizing strikes, and investigating civilian harm all raise serious questions about potential violations of international law. . . . If a subsequent investigation finds credible evidence of unlawful killings, those responsible need to face legal accountability."
Beyond the fallout from these specific revelations is the broader issue of whether the government is doing enough to monitor its drone assassination programs more generally. Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, called today's drone stories "a reminder of how dependent we are on whistleblowers -- on the men and women who risk their careers and even their liberty in order to give the public the ability to advocate for policy changes and hold political leaders accountable for their decisions."
A New Snowden? Whistleblower Leaks Trove of
Documents on Drones and Obama's Assassination Program
Amy Goodman & Jeremy Scahill Democracy Now!
(October 15, 2015) -- Newly leaked government documents have provided an unprecedented window into the secret US drone assassination program across the globe. In "The Drone Papers," The Intercept reveals drone strikes have resulted from unreliable intelligence, stemming in large part from electronic communications data, or "signals intelligence," that officials acknowledge is insufficient.
The documents also undermine government claims that the drone strikes have been precise. In Afghanistan, strikes on 35 direct targets killed at least 219 other people. Among other revelations, they also suggest the strikes have hurt intelligence gathering and that unknown male victims have been labeled as "enemies killed in action" unless evidence later proves otherwise. The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed US intelligence source.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Newly leaked government documents have provided an unprecedented window into the secret US drone assassination program across the globe. In "The Drone Papers," the website The Intercept reveals drone strikes have resulted from unreliable intelligence, stemming in large part from electronic communications data, or "signals intelligence," that officials acknowledge is insufficient.
The documents also undermine government claims that the drone strikes have been precise. In Afghanistan, strikes on 35 direct targets killed at least 219 other people.
This is Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, which just published an eight-part series on the leaked documents.
JEREMY SCAHILL: But the fact that this is the first time that primary source documents have been published that detail the chain of command for assassinating people around the globe. The banality of the bureaucracy of assassination is so clear in these documents -- the cold corporate words that they use to describe killing people. The "basics of manhunting" is one of the terms that they use.
The "tyranny of distance" is another term that they use. "Arab features," you know, to describe people that they’re looking at from thousands of feet above. The corporate coldness of the way that these documents reflect what is actually a process of systematically hunting down and assassinating human beings should send chills through the spine of people who care about democracy in this society.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill. The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed US intelligence source. The source told The Intercept, quote, "It's stunning the number of instances when I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty, when sources of information used to finish targets were misattributed to people.
And it isn’t until several months or years later that you realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this target, it was his mother’s phone the whole time. Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association -- it’s a phenomenal gamble," the source said. We will link to The Intercept’s expose on "The Drone Papers" on our website.
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