Are American Drones al-Qaeda’s Strongest Weapon in Yemen?
Things are getting really messy in Yemen at the moment. With soldiers being murdered in their sleep and embassies closing en masse in fear of an imminent wave of attacks and multiple drone strikes, the country seems to be the latest sandbox full of blood in our War on Terror.
Not that this warzone is all that new. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have had a presence in the area for years, their membership rose from around 300 in 2009 up to an estimated 1,000 today. In an attempt to combat this rise in manpower, the US has escalated its infamous drone program, allegedly targeting high-ranking AQAP members. Although, according to reports, they’ve yet to actually kill any of them.
Is this hit and hope policy really the best way to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen? Or are these drone strikes, which have a habit of killing civilians, exactly the PR ammo al-Qaeda need to lure new recruits in a country that is already as politically stable as a gang of jihadists on a bouncy castle?
A Lawyer Fighting for Guantanamo’s Hunger Strikers
Clive Stafford Smith spent years working as a death-row lawyer in the South before becoming the legal director of the UK branch of Reprieve. Reprieve is a non-profit organization that has long campaigned for the rights of death-row prisoners. Since 2002 Reprieve has helped release prisoners from Guantanamo Bay—a campaign led by Stafford Smith himself.
Not only has Stafford Smith seen first hand the inside of the prison, he’s also maintained relationships with former detainees and built relationships with those currently on hunger strike. The hunger strike in Guantanamo began on February 11, 2013, and it’s gotten to a stage where some prisoners are being force fed, arguably in violation of their human rights.
We discuss Guantanamo and the future of drone warfare—which Reprieve condemns as “the death penalty without trial.”
(Source: Vice Magazine)
Israel’s Killer Robots
Israel is the world’s biggest exporter of military drones, used around the world for everything from surveillance to precision rocket attacks on speeding cars in remote locales. Israel’s drone program hasn’t stirred as much controversy as its American counterpart, but not because their targeted killings are any less fatal. VICE sent Simon Ostrovsky to a drone testing airfield in Israel to find out what their latest eye-in-the-sky can see.
VICE Podcast Show: Jeremy Scahill on National Security and ‘Dirty Wars’
The VICE Podcast Show is a weekly unedited discussion which delves inside the minds of some of the most interesting, creative, and bizarre people we know. This week, we speak with Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for the Nation, whose work covering America’s special-operations forces and targeted killings in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia is chronicled in the recently released documentary, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. As the US continues to expand its use of covert counterterrorism measures worldwide, Scahill argues that far from making Americans safer, these measures are in fact undermining national security.
All Politicians Should Talk As Much As Rand Paul Just Did
Yesterday was one of those rare days when you could feel good about something that happened in Congress: Rand Paul stood up just before noon, started talking about drones, and didn’t stop for 13 hours. The point of Paul’s filibuster was to delay the appointment of drone-policy architect John Brennan as the new CIA director and to draw attention to Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to categorically rule out drone strikes on US soil, in response to a letter Paul wrote. There was no real hope of stopping Brennan’s appointment in the beginning, but as the afternoon turned into night, some mainstream Republicans voiced their support (like Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), and there’s now a chance that Brennan won’t get confirmed so easily, or at least not until Obama comes out and says, “We’re not going to use drones to kill Americans in America. That’s ridiculous.” The impressive thing about Paul’s effort, though, was that someone spoke in public passionately and at length about something he believes in, which is a pretty rare sight in politics.
There are tons of filibusters in the Senate, but very few are Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style oratorical workouts. Thanks to rule changes adopted back in the 60s, it’s enough for a senator to announce that he or she is filibustering a bill, and the chamber will move along to something else unless 60 senators vote to overrule. A few months ago, there were various reforms proposed to change this obstructionist state of affairs—one idea, from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, would have forced filibuster-happy legislators to do exactly what Paul did yesterday and literally stand up for what they believe in. But those efforts fell apart, since apparently senators are big fans of being able to quietly stall the progress of bills they don’t like. (The Senate is not a great place to get things done.)
Sorry Guys, Americans Love Obama’s Killer Drones
Right now, as you’re reading this, American remote-controlled planes are flying over mountains and deserts in the Middle East, occasionally firing missiles at people who—in the estimation of an “informed, high-level” official—are engaged in some kind of activities that might, conceivably, harm the United States. Sometimes, these missiles incinerate (as in, consume with fire until their bones and flesh are turned to ash) precisely the wrong people. Very occasionally, the missiles kill American citizens. The Obama administration is doing this without declaring war on any nation in particular, without getting the permission of Congress, and without explaining to the public in detail why it’s OK to order the death of pretty much anyone it wants to kill. Just how broad the administration believes its powers to be was revealed in a Justice Department memo obtained byMichael Isikoff of NBC. “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen,” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU told Isikoff.
If you are upset about all this, you’re not alone—there are plenty of people on both the right and left who aren’t happy that the executive branch can now kill whomever it wants. Call them antiwar isolationists or civil libertarians or simply people who don’t like to see other people die for little apparent reason and with no explanation. Whatever their name, they came out in force to attack Touré, the liberal writer and talking head who went on MSNBC, the “lean forward” progressive network, to say, in essence, It’s OK for the president to order the deaths of anyone, even American citizens, even 16-year-olds, since they probably hated the USA or whatever. Those who disagree with Obama’s drone policy are hardly shy about saying so.
The thing is, they’re in the minority, and few people in power have paid much attention to them. Sure, most voters, according to a Fairleigh-Dickinson poll, don’t think that it’s legal to assassinate American citizens abroad (even if you’ve never heard of drones, that’s got to sound like a pretty awful prospect), but take away the “American citizen” part of that question and voters are like, “Oh, sure, kill whoever.” In fact, according to aWashington Post-ABC poll, Americans are perfectly happy with the way Obama is running the war on terror. They like the fact that he’s kept Guantanamo Bay open, even though he said he’d close it—53 percent ofDemocrats feel terrific about him breaking that particular campaign promise. A whopping 83 percent of Americans and 77 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats approve of Obama’s use of drones to kill people. And remember, the administration has refused to discuss its drone policies in detail so these people are supporting a policy they have no way of understanding beyond, Terrorists bad. We kill bad people.
World Peace Update
Compared to last week's French air strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali, this week—world violence-wise—has been a bit of a wash out. If it weren't for some pissed off Egyptians, Turks, and the never-ending slaughter in Syria, I'd be so bored I'd have probably paid some attention to Obama's inauguration. Then again, when I think about Obama, I think about drone wars. So that's always a plus, I guess.