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U.K. University Takes Moral High Ground in Ending Its $2 Million Investment in U.S. Drones

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | October 5, 2013

Officials at a top university in the United Kingdom have bowed to public pressure and withdrawn the school’s investment in U.S. drones.

The University of Edinburgh had a $2 million (£1.2 million) stake in Ultra Electronics, a British firm that manufactures navigation controls for Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles and ground control stations.

Investing in drone development was deemed not “socially responsible” by the university as well as students and campaign groups that lobbied Edinburgh to pull out of the business.

“The covert US drone program has killed hundreds of civilians and traumatized populations in Pakistan and Yemen,” Catherine Gilfedder of the human rights group Reprieve told The Guardian. “In divesting from Ultra Electronics, Edinburgh University has demonstrated its disapproval of companies profiting from such killings, and the importance of socially responsible investment.”

American drones have been used on covert missions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism says more than 430 strikes have occurred since 2002, killing at least 428 civilians, of whom 173 were children.

In Afghanistan, British drones have been more than three times as likely to lead to strikes as American drones, according to the Bureau’s analysis of drone data recently released by the British government.

October 5, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on U.K. University Takes Moral High Ground in Ending Its $2 Million Investment in U.S. Drones

Only one in five of those killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have been named

By Alice K Ross | Bureau of Investigative Journalism | September 23, 2013

I am an invisible man. My name is unknown. My loves are a mystery. But an unmanned aerial vehicle from a secret location has come for me. – Teju Cole, Nigerian-American writer, from his Seven Short Stories about Drones

Just before noon on October 30 2011, a CIA drone attacked a vehicle near Datta Khel in Pakistan’s tribal northwest. At least four people were reported to have been killed and two injured. Pakistani intelligence officials said the dead men were militants. But local villagers disagreed. They said the dead men were ‘peaceful tribesmen’. They even named one of them: Saeedur Rahman, described as a local chromite dealer.

Five months later, in March 2012, journalists from the New York Times spoke with a 64-year-old farmer called Noor Magul. He said three of the men killed in the strike were relatives of his. He named them as Khastar Gul, Mamrud Khan and Noorzal Khan, and all three, he claimed, were not militants but worked in a local chromite mine.

This is just one of more than 370 drone strikes to hit Pakistan’s Afghan border region in the past nine years. More than 2,500 people have reportedly died in these strikes, including at least 400 civilians.

What makes Saeedur Rahman and his fellow passengers unusual is that they have been identified by name.

Although the US government claims drones are highly precise and target ‘high-value’ terrorists, including members of al Qaeda and affiliated organisations, it is only in exceptional circumstances that the administration will acknowledge responsibility for a particular strike – let alone admit to killing a specific person.

At the same time, reporting from the tribal regions is challenging. These are remote lands, largely out of bounds to foreign reporters, and even local journalists can face threats from the militant groups that control swathes of the area. Because of this, news reports can be vague and often lack details.

Tracking the drones

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been tracking drone strikes in Pakistan for more than two years. We have combed through thousands of credible press reports, as well as court documents and field studies. Our search has revealed that these reports identify fewer than 570 of the dead by name. This is little over one in five of those who have been clearly reported as killed. Of these, 295 are classed as civilians in the reports.

On the occasions when civilians are identified it is often only by a single name, as is common in this area. Just over 200 people, representing more than a third of those named, are identified in this way. Where full names have been reported, they have usually been supplied to journalists by local village elders or field researchers. But further details about the person killed are often in short supply.

With such limited information, it is impossible to definitively chronicle who is being killed.

‘In armed conflict, it is not necessary for an armed force to know the individual identities of those they are killing, but they must determine whether those persons are in fact combatants or fighters,’ says Professor Sarah Knuckey, who led Living Under Drones, a major study by New York University’s School of Law and Stanford Law School.

‘The troubling aspect of US strikes is that there have been numerous reports put forward of evidence of civilian casualties, which the US has failed to publicly address in any meaningful manner,’ she adds, ‘and that it is not sufficiently clear what criteria and standards the US is using for classifying someone as a lawful military target.’

A US official told the Bureau: ‘The notion that any US actions in Pakistan have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis is ludicrous. There is no credible information whatsoever to substantiate such claims and there are many who are interested in spreading this disinformation.’

The Bureau’s identification of high civilian casualties rests on hundreds of media reports and other sources, which are presented transparently.

Absent women

From the Bureau’s research, one group that is almost never identified by name is women. Just two adult women are identified using their own names, while more than 20 others are identified as the wife, mother or other relative of a named person.

Many others – men, women and children – are referred to only in the vaguest terms, described as ‘foreigners’ or ‘women and children’. It is often impossible to even say how many people died, let alone who they may have been.

There are a rare few cases in which a more detailed picture of the deceased emerges, usually because a field researcher working for a newspaper, campaign group or academic organisation has tracked down relatives of victims to get a deeper understanding of a particular attack.

It is thanks to the Living Under Drones report, for example, that we know about Akram Shah, who died on June 15 2011. He was a government driver, in his mid-30s, had three children, and worked for the Pakistani Water and Power Development Authority, according to those who knew him.

But as time passes, those details become harder to ascertain. It is already nine years since two boys aged 10 and 16 were killed in the very first strike in Pakistan in June 2004 – the first civilian deaths to be reported from a drone attack. Missiles hit their home as their father Sher Zaman Ashrafkhel was playing host to militant leader Nek Mohammad. The two children’s names have never emerged.

Militant commanders

For senior militant commanders, though, it is sometimes possible to develop a fuller picture. In the cases of Abu Yahya al Libi, the second-in-command of al Qaeda, or Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP), for example, there is a wealth of information.

The deaths of senior militants are often widely reported, both in the Pakistani press and in western news outlets. The US administration occasionally acknowledges that they have taken a major figure off the field, although in the few instances that this happens the information usually comes through anonymous officials.

In addition, there are often fairly extensive details available: most-wanted lists, terrorism databases and sanctions lists can all provide information. The deaths of leading figures are also often marked by militants through detailed obituaries and martyrdom videos posted in jihadist forums.

But it is only usually the top tier of militants whose lives are recorded so thoroughly. Major players rarely die alone – and the record is often almost silent on the details of those who died alongside them.

Followers of particular militant leaders are often identified only in the vaguest terms – press reporting will refer to ‘three Arabs’, ‘four militants’ or even just ‘non-locals’. More than 300 people are identified in similar terms – nearly all of them alleged militants.

‘Thus far, all we know and all we are told by the US government is that “we are killing militants”. We can’t start to get to the bottom of who’s being killed until we get the names of those people,’ says Jennifer Gibson, attorney at legal charity Reprieve.

On December 6 2012, for instance, drones attacked a house in Mubarak Shahi, North Waziristan, as its inhabitants were eating a pre-dawn meal. Parts of the building were completely destroyed. The attack killed Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman al Hussainan, described as a leading member of al Qaeda’s religious committee, and his wife. Up to nine others were also killed, but little is known about them aside from the suggestion they were ‘Arab nationals’.

While the Bureau’s data suggests that more than 2,000 of those who have died in drone strikes may have been militants, we have the names of just 255, including the 74 senior figures.

Discovering the stories of alleged militants is made all the more difficult by the fact that many use noms de guerre, chosen precisely to obscure their true identities.

‘You don’t want your family members to get in trouble, which could happen if you come out and say, “Here’s my name, here’s where I’m from”,’ explains terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn. ‘Also, people in war for centuries have taken noms de guerre – it’s a war tradition, and it’s helpful to conceal your identity to make it tricky for other people to catch you and know who you are.’

Fading memories

It is likely that we will never know the full story of everyone killed in CIA drone strikes. This is a common problem with armed violence of all kinds – information gets lost, and the record of who was killed loses definition. Memories fade and evidence disappears.

Casualty recording efforts such as Naming the Dead are a key step towards avoiding future conflicts, says Hamit Dardagan, co-director of the Every Casualty campaign, which calls for every death in conflict to be recorded. ‘Casualty recording is a way of recognising the humanity of people who have been killed, and making not just their death but also the manner of their death part of the public record – which is important if one is to prevent these kinds of deaths happening again.’

He adds: ‘If things such as human loss and suffering are important, then it’s important to have the correct facts: it’s in the self-interest of militaries to show that they have made every effort to confirm who was killed by their actions.

‘The recognition of human losses is a necessary part of peace and reconciliation efforts.’

Related story: Hidden even in death: Just two women killed by drones are identified

Related project: Covert Drone War

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Only one in five of those killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have been named

CIA targeted rescuers of drone victims in Pakistan: Report

Press TV – August 1, 2013

The CIA unmanned aircraft deliberately targeted rescuers attempting to help victims of previous drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found.

A field investigation by the Bureau focuses on drone strikes in a single village in North Waziristan last year when the CIA was after Yahya al-Libi, an alleged senior al-Qeada member who was finally killed in one of the aerial attacks on June 4, 2012.

The CIA had at the time shown a video to Congressional aides in which only Libi is killed in a drone strike.

It was first in February 2012 that an investigation by the Bureau found that the CIA had conducted 11 drone attacks on rescuers of previous strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2009 and 2011.

The tactic, called “double-tap” strikes, apparently stopped in July 2011 but new reports show that the CIA had resumed the strikes a year later.

Five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, killing 53 people and injuring 57 others. One of the attacks targeted a mosque, a report by Pakistani journalist Mushtaq Yusufzai, commissioned by the Bureau, found.

The US has always escaped from admitting that civilians have been killed in drone strikes. However, in investigation by legal charity Reprieve indicated that eight civilians died in a double-tap strike on July 6 2012 with the possibility of further civilian deaths in a July 23 attack.

“On both occasions [in July] our independent investigation showed a high number of civilians who were rescuers were killed in the strikes,” Shahzad Akbar, Islamabad-based lawyer, says, confirming the findings of Reprieve’s investigation.

UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Christof Heyns noted in June 2012 that double-tap strikes can be labeled as war crimes.

“If civilian ‘rescuers’ are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime,” he said.

Another UN official, Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on torture, also agreed with his colleague. “Christof Heyns… has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.”

August 2, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Comments Off on CIA targeted rescuers of drone victims in Pakistan: Report

At least 1 in 5 drone strike victims a confirmed civilian – leaked Pakistani records

RT | July 22, 2013

Leaked internal data produced by Pakistani officials documenting drone strikes on the ground reveal a high civilian death toll, countering US claims that the targeted assassination campaign results in “exceedingly rare” fatalities.

A 12-page report, titled ‘Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)’ describes 75 CIA drone attacks between 2006 and 2009, with death tolls compiled by officials in the turbulent border regions for internal use by the government. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a UK news website – says it obtained three identical copies of the classified document from various sources in Pakistan.

The numbers show a death toll of 746 people, 147 of whom were confirmed as civilians. Of those civilian deaths, 94 are children. Statistically, it means at least one in five victims of US precision strikes was a civilian, and more than 12 per cent were minors.

“There was no benefit in officials ‘cooking the books’ here, since this document was clearly never intended to be seen outside the civilian administration,” said Rauf Khan Khattak, who recently served as Pakistan’s interim finance minister.

The US President and the CIA do not have to disclose details of what is officially considered a classified program to Senate or to the public, so official American estimates have never been released. CIA Director John Brennan, considered to be the architect of the drone program, has said that “we only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances,” and that collateral deaths themselves are “exceedingly rare.” And an internal incomplete official report leaked earlier this year – covering a later period – showed that the CIA thought that only one out of every 482 people it killed was a civilian.

But the Pakistani numbers tally much closer with those provided by outside sources. The bipartisan New American Foundation estimates that at least 12 per cent of drone strike victims are definitely civilians, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism itself claims the number could be as high as 25 per cent.

Rauf Khan Khattak, a long-time opponent of foreign drone strikes, believes the newest figures could be the most reliable obtained so far.

“What you end up with in these reports is reasonably accurate, because it comes from on-the-ground sources cultivated over many years. And the political agent is only interested in properly understanding what actually happened,” he told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

But others have urged for these documents to be taken into consideration only when measured against other sources. For example, following Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, only three civilian death incidents are recorded through the year up until late October, when the data ends – even though media reports from the same time indicate that civilians and children had died in attacks included in the FATA document.

“Tribal documents might present a broad picture. But any accuracy is dependent on what data the military chooses to release to or withhold from the political agents. In the last eight years, for example, no precise casualty figures have ever been submitted to Pakistan’s parliament,” said former FATA official and minister Rustan Shah Mohmand.

Independent sources estimate that around 2,500 and perhaps more than 3,500 people have been killed in UAV strikes on Pakistan since 2004. Obama has ramped up the program significantly since coming into office.

The difficulty in establishing the precise number of civilians among those is also compounded by the identity of the supposed militants and the CIA’s own targeting protocols , known as ‘signature strikes’.

Militants may simply be a villager engaged in an insurgency, and will have little to separate himself from a civilian, and vice versa. There is also little incentive for relatives to inform the authorities that any UAV strike victim is a militant, and much of the data is compiled on hearsay and local knowledge.

In turn, the US has tacitly admitted that it picks the majority of its targets based on a pattern of behavior – suspicious movements, contact with established targets, attendance of training centers, and other indirect indicators. Drones sometimes target follow-up events that occur as a result of its previous strikes, such as funerals of past drone targets. The earlier leaked documents showed that out of the 482 people killed, only six were known al-Qaeda commanders.

But even when taking all these variables into consideration and interpreting them in the most favorable light possible to the US, it is hard to agree with Obama’s recent assertion that the CIA has a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” before each drone attack.

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on At least 1 in 5 drone strike victims a confirmed civilian – leaked Pakistani records

Two Sides to Every Drone Death

By Peter Hart | FAIR | March 18, 2013

John Brennan and Dianne Feinstein

A March 15 piece in the Washington Post tells us that the UN’s special human rights envoy found that the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan violate that country’s sovereignty. It also told readers that the drones had “resulted in far more civilian casualties than the U.S. government has recognized.”

Unfortunately, that message was muddled by reporter Richard Leiby‘s he said/she said approach to the question of civilian deaths:

Estimates of total militant deaths and civilian casualties vary widely. Independent confirmation is difficult in part because the strikes often occur in remote, dangerous tribal areas where Taliban insurgents and Al-Qaeda and its allied militants are active.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that at least 411 civilians–or as many as 884–were among some 2,536 to 3,577 people killed in the CIA strikes in Pakistan. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings last month that confirmed new CIA Director John O. Brennan, put the number of civilian deaths considerably lower.

“The figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits,” she said.

So, on the one hand,  the Bureau has done extensive work documenting drone strikes. But then again you have a senator who heard from the government that it’s much lower.

There is, of course, a way to report the difference between Feinstein’s claim and other estimates. Conor Friesdorf did so in the Atlantic (2/11/13), contrasting the Bureau‘s totals with those of the New America Foundation and other researchers. None of these projects supports Feinstein’s claim. His conclusion:

There is no reason to treat Feinstein’s claim about civilians killed as if it is credible. All the publicly available evidence is arrayed against her position.

Yet she’s treated by the Post as one of two sides of the drone deaths debate.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Two Sides to Every Drone Death

US drones violate Pakistan sovereignty: UN

Press TV | March 15, 2013

A UN team investigating civilian casualties from US assassination drone attacks in Pakistan has stated that the terror airstrikes violate sovereignty of Pakistan.

Ben Emmerson, head of the UN team, said in a statement on Friday that Pakistani government told him at least 400 civilians have been killed in US drone strikes.

The team paid a three-day research trip to Pakistan that ended on Wednesday. The trip was kept secret until the team left the country.

“The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Emmerson said.

The attacks “involve the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he added.

The UN launched an investigation into civilian casualties from drone attacks and other targeted killings in Pakistan in January 2013 and will publish the final report in October.

Pakistani officials have condemned the attacks as violation of the country’s sovereignty.

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism said in a report in February that the United States has carried out more than 360 drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004, killing nearly 3,500 people.

Over the past few months, demonstrations have been held across Pakistan to condemn the United States for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.

On February 13, hundreds of Pakistani tribesmen held an anti-US demonstration in Islamabad to protest against the killing of innocent civilians by the US drones.

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on US drones violate Pakistan sovereignty: UN

Obama’s Playbook: Still Killing Outside the Lines

By Matthew Harwood, ACLU | January 30, 2013

To hear the Obama administration tell it, through anonymous leaks to the press of course, the United States’ “targeted killing” program will soon be bound by clear and “more stringent” rules before a drone strike gets the green light. This counterterrorism “playbook,” so says the administration, will institutionalize the process for the remote-controlled killing program and keep it within the rule of law.

But that isn’t true for three reasons, Chris Anders, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, explained to PBS’s NewsHour on Wednesday night.  First, secret rules are inconsistent with the rule of law, which is predicated on everyone knowing the rules. Second, the Obama administration’s playbook rules will not apply to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan for at least a year if not more, according to the Post. Third, and most importantly, the rules undergirding the program, secret or not, violate the Constitution and international law.

Anders noted the Kafkaesque nature of the secrecy during the program. “To say we follow the rule of law, but we don’t even know what the rules are, and then the rules don’t apply to the biggest player is a little bit of a joke.”

Drone strikes occur frequently inside Pakistan, the only country in which the CIA is exempt from the secret rules. And contrary to the claims of CIA Director nominee John Brennan, arguably the most important cog in the remote-controlled killing machine, drone strikes do kill civilian bystanders, including children. In total, about 3,000 people, including 176 children, have been killed by over 300 drone strikes in Pakistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Although we’re not at war with Pakistan, Pakistanis feel under attack from the United States. “Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning,” a recent report, Living Under Drones, explained. “Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.” The impact as well as the legality of these kinds of drone attacks, and the larger “targeted killing” toolkit, is now the focus of a U.N. investigation.

Nevertheless, President Obama frequently makes reference to the importance of the rule of law in guiding our national security decisions.

“We will defend our people, and uphold our values through strength of arms, and the rule of law,” he said during his inaugural speech on Monday. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

Obama’s remote-controlled killing program, however, continues to instill suspicion and fear rather than lift it. It’s a dangerous legacy for a program that has become an illegal hallmark of his administration.

January 30, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

US drones “terrorize” communities: study

Al Akhbar | September 25, 2012

The US government’s drone program in Pakistan “terrorizes” local communities, kills large numbers of civilians and drives anti-American fervor in the country, a new study by the law schools of Stanford and New York University finds.

The study, titled “Living Under Drones,” finds that Pakistanis living in affected areas are afraid to attend public gatherings such as weddings and funerals as ground operators that guide the unmanned aircraft frequently mistake them as groups of al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

“Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities,” the study reads. “Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”

It adds: “These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.”

The study is based on interviews with victims, witnesses, humanitarian workers and medical professionals compiled over a nine-month period.

Drone attacks began being carried out in Pakistan under former US President George W. Bush, but the policy has been popularized under Barack Obama despite previous reports that they lead to a high number of civilian casualties.

There has been a dramatic increase in US drone strikes in Pakistan since May, when a NATO summit in Chicago failed to strike a deal to end a six-month blockade on convoys transporting supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan.

This most recent study cites figures compiled by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism that finds between 2,562 and 3,325 people were killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year. Among them, between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

In addition to the deaths, the bureau estimates that 1,300 people were injured in drone attacks in the same period.

It also refutes US claims that the drone program has made Americans safer through the targeted assassinations of dangerous militants.

“The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killings’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false,” the report states.

The study estimates that the number of “high-level” militants killed in drone attacks stands at just two percent, and that the strikes help facilitate recruitment to anti-US militant groups.

The UK-based Reprieve organization commissioned and helped write the report.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the organization said: “An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing. Kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups.”

He added: “George Bush wanted to create a global ‘war on terror’ without borders, but it has taken Obama’s drone war to achieve his dream.”

September 25, 2012 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, Video, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on US drones “terrorize” communities: study

US War on Yemen: Invisible Casualties

(Photo: Atiaf Alwazir)
By Atiaf Alwazir | Al Akhbar | August 20, 2012

The life of fourteen-year-old Ali Alkhadr from Abyan was changed forever on 9 May 2011. Returning from a family visit in al-Mihrab village, Ali was hit by shrapnel from an air-strike that tore his jaw wide open. Air-strikes in the South that target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) often indiscriminately kill or wound anyone in the surrounding area, including civilians, without a warning.

According to Ali’s father, Alkhadr Ali Hassan, Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) generously conducted 1 million Yemeni Riyal ($4,660) worth of reconstructive surgery. Yet Ali still needs a lot more. The once studious teenager dropped out of school due to depression.

“He refuses to see his classmates because he is disfigured. It’s been eight months and there is nothing I can do to help my son,” said the boy’s father. “He does not want to go to school and one time I hospitalized him because he overdosed on drugs. I believe he wanted to end his life, and it pains me to see that. I don’t know what to do,” he added.

Ali Alkhadr is not alone in a country were civilians are often caught in the middle between militants and the government. These civilians are often ignored in the mainstream media and their deaths denied by governments.

For a decade, US policy in Yemen has centered on counter-terrorism cooperation with Yemeni security forces through the training and funding of counter-terrorism units, targeted assassinations including US citizens, small on-the-ground operation units, and drone attacks.

Terrorism is of grave concern in Yemen, and its consequences are far reaching. On Saturday 4 August 2012, locals in Jaar were the targets of a bombing by militants that killed at least 40 people. The Yemeni and US government’s response to these attacks in Yemen has included arbitrary arrests, homes being demolished, death and injuries, and displacement of civilians.

Since January 2012, there have been over 60 US air-strikes in Yemen, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), killing approximately hundreds of civilians.

On 15 May 2012, an air-strike, believed to be a US drone, hit a civilian home. People nearby ran to see what had happened and to help the injured inside.

“About 15 minutes later, another plane suddenly struck the same building killing 15 people, including my brother,” said 19-year old Hassan Ahmed Abdullah recounting the incident. “He was wounded by shrapnel in his chest, liver, and neck. He also had burns on 50 percent of his body.”

From scarred people to destroyed buildings, Abyan carries many testaments to the war on terror.

Most of the civilian homes in the impoverished area of al-Kod were destroyed by air-strikes and heavy artillery. This area houses some of the poorest people in Yemen.

Bombs did not only hit homes but also struck schools and even the largest hospital in Abyan, al-Razi hospital.

“The bombing of al-Razi hospital was a tragedy, and I believe we will suffer from it for years to come, especially in light of Yemen’s economic social and political deterioration,” said psychologist and Jaar resident, Wahib Saad who also stressed the psychological trauma of such attacks.

“Today, when I hear a plane I immediately run to the house” said seven-year-old Ahmed. Ahmed’s drawings and the other children’s show images of darkness, death, and destruction, indicating that the generations to come will need much more than financial compensation to recover.

While many residents of Abyan believe that US strikes are more accurate in hitting their desired targets than Yemeni ones, the majority believes that the implications of US bombing are disastrous.

This is seen from the fact that US strikes are seen as an invasion, an occupation and a breach of sovereignty. A citizen journalist who preferred to remain anonymous said to me, “Let’s be honest, I am against US intervention. The Yemeni government has the right to rely on the US for help but not when the US is using Yemenis against their own brothers. As a southern separatist, I believe that we are already under two occupations, by the North and the militants, and I don’t want a third occupation by the Americans,” he said. … Full article

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on US War on Yemen: Invisible Casualties

Assassination Nation

Fifty Years of US Targeted ‘Kill Lists’: From the Phoenix Program to Predator Drones

By DOUG NOBLE | July 19, 2012

A broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced counterinsurgency as the prevailing expression of the American way of war.” – Andrew Bacevich [1]

This spring the US drone killing program has come out of the closet. Attorney General Eric Holder publicly defended the drone killing of an American citizen [2], while Obama’s counter terrorism czar John Brennan publicly explained and justified the target killing program [3]. And a New York Times article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane chronicled Obama’s personal role in vetting a secret “Kill List.” [4]

This striking new transparency, the official acknowledgment for the first time of a broad-based US assassination and targeted killing program, has resulted from the unprecedented and controversial visibility of drone warfare. Drones now make news every day, and those of us who have been protesting their use for years have heightened their visibility in the public eye, forcing official acknowledgment and fostering worldwide scrutiny.  This new scrutiny focuses not only on drone use but also, and perhaps more importantly, on the targeted killing itself – and the “kill lists” that make them possible.

This new exposure has set off a firestorm of reaction around the globe. Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism told Democracy Now! “The kill list got really heavy coverage … newspapers have all expressed significant concern about the existence of the kill list, the idea of this level of executive power.”  [5] A Washington Post editorial noted that “No president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.” [6] Becker and Shane of the Times pronounced Obama’s role “without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war …” [7]  And former president Jimmy Carter insisted,  in a recent editorial in The New York Times, “We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these [drone] attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.” [8]


In fact, US assassination and targeted killing, with presidential approval, has been going on covertly for at least half a century. Ironically, all this drone killing now offers us a  new opportunity: to pry open the Pandora’s box hiding long-held secrets of covert US assassination and targeted killing, and to expose them to the light of day. What we would find is that the only things new in the latest, more publicized revelations about kill lists and assassinations are the use of drones, the president’s hands-on approach in vetting targets, and the global scope of the drone killing.

Those of us in the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones, Code Pink and other groups protesting US drones for years have correctly focused on the use of drones as illegal, immoral and strategically counterproductive. We have abhorred the schizophrenic ease of remote killing, the uniquely frightening horror of a drone strike, and the unavoidable (even intentional) killing of countless civilian “terrorist suspects” in “signature strikes.” We have also warned of the proliferation of drones in countries around the globe and of their procurement by US police forces and border patrols, for surveillance and “non-lethal” targeting.

But drones are not the only, or even the most important, concern. It’s the targeted killing itself, past and present. In this article I start to unravel what the latest demands for transparency should lead us to investigate fully: the fifty year history of US assassination and targeted killing that has resulted, quite directly, in the present moment. Those who are mortified by the latest revelations of Obama’s kill list have much to learn from a more comprehensive, historical perspective on US killing around the globe.  Who knows: Perhaps someone in Congress might even be prodded to do what Senators Fulbright and Church did in years past: hold hearings on this continuing execration taking place in our name. Until then, what follows is an introduction to this ongoing horror story.

Section 1 of this article briefly reviews the lethal history of the US Phoenix Program in Vietnam, the original source of subsequent US counter terrorist tactics and strategies.  Section 2 revisits briefly the well-worn history of US kill lists and assassinations in Latin American countries, followed by the somewhat less-well-known history of US kill lists and assassinations in countries on other continents. Section 3 traces the direct legacy of Phoenix, even its explicit resurrection by the key architects of the US targeted killing programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in a growing number of “countries we are not at war with.”

One point of clarification and definition. It is well known that in recent history the US has orchestrated assassination attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, on major world leaders. Examples include: Lumumba under Eisenhower, Castro and Diem under Kennedy, Gaddhafi under Reagan, Saddam Hussein under Bush, and Allende under Nixon. [9]  The term “assassination” is typically restricted to such killings of political leaders, and President Ford’s executive order banning assassination applies only to the assassination of foreign heads of state. [10] The focus of this article is different. Here we discuss the US-generated kill lists used over the last half century, under direct presidential authority, for the targeted killing of thousands of civilians suspected of being or harboring terrorists/ insurgents, from Vietnam to Guatemala, from Indonesia to Iraq, right up to the present day.

The Phoenix Program 

The US Phoenix Program was a secret, large scale counter terrorist effort in Vietnam. Developed in 1967 by the CIA, the Phoenix Program, called Phung Hoang by the Vietnamese, aimed a concerted effort to “neutralize” the Vietcong Infrastructure (VCI) consisting of South Vietnamese civilians suspected of supporting North Vietnamese or Viet Cong soldiers. The euphemism “neutralize” meant to kill or detain indefinitely. Then CIA Director William Colby, while insisting in 1971 Congressional hearings that “the Phoenix program is not a program of assassination,” nonetheless conceded that Phoenix operations killed over 20,000 people between 1967 and 1972. [11]

Phoenix targeted civilians, not soldiers. Operations were carried out by “hunter-killer teams” consisting both of US Green Berets and Navy Seals and by South Vietnamese Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs), units of mercenaries set up for assassination and “counter terror.” A Newsweek article in January 1970 described Phoenix as “a highly secret and unconventional operation that counters VC terror with terror of its own.” [12]  Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post reported Phoenix being called “an instrument of mass political murder…sort of Vietnamese Murder Inc.,” designed to terrorize the civilian population into submission.” [13]

Until 1970 the computerized VCI blacklist was a unilateral American operation. After the devastating 1968 Tet offensive, South Vietnamese President Thieu declared: “The VCI must be eliminated…and will be defeated by the Phoenix program.” [14] Phoenix became a ruthless “bounty hunting” program to eliminate the opposition. [15] The US and South Vietnamese created a list of tens of thousands of suspects for assassination. These names were centralized and distributed to Phoenix coordinators. From 1965-68 U.S. and Saigon intelligence services maintained an active list of Viet Cong cadre marked for assassination. The program for 1969 called for “neutralizing” 1800 a month.

The VCI blacklist became corrupted by officers inserting their personal enemies’ names to get even. Due process was nonexistent.  Names supplied by anonymous informers showed up on blacklists. [16] CIA Director Colby admitted in 1971 that the blacklists had been “inaccurate.” [17] Few senior VCI leaders were caught in the Phoenix net. Instead its victims were typically innocent civilians. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. [18] By 1973, Phoenix generated 300,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam. Military operations such as My Lai used Phoenix intelligence; in fact, the My Lai massacre, hardly an isolated incident, was itself a Phoenix operation. [19]

Apologists  have offered rationales for Phoenix that sound eerily similar to those used to defend current drone attacks. Phoenix was typically referred to as a “scalpel” replacing the “bludgeon” of search and destroy, aerial bombardment or artillery barrages. Alternatively, it was called a precision “rifle shot rather than a shotgun approach to target key political leaders … and activists in VCI.” [20] Military historian Dale Andrade explains, “Both SEALS and PRUs killed many VCI guerrillas – that was war. They also inevitably killed innocent civilians – that was regrettable….but [Phoenix] operations were much more discerning than the massive affairs launched by conventional …forces. That fact was often lost in the rhetoric of assassination and murder …”[21]

Phoenix was created, organized, and funded by the CIA. Quotas were set by Americans. Informers were paid with US funds. The national system of identifying suspects, the elaboration of numerical goals and their use as measures of merit, was designed and funded by Americans. One former US Phoenix soldier conceded, “It was “heinous,” far worse than the things attributed to it.” [22]

Kill Lists from Phoenix to Latin America

The US intelligence community formalized the lessons of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam by commissioning Project X, the Army’s top-secret program for transmitting Vietnam’s lessons to South America. [23] By the mid-1970s, the Project X materials were going to armies all over the world. These were textbooks for global counterinsurgency and terror warfare. These included a murder manual, “Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare,” which openly instructed in the assassination of public officials, and was distributed to the Nicaraguan Contras. Another manual, “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual,” was used widely in Honduran counterrorism efforts.

Use of the Project X material was temporarily suspended by Congress and the Carter administration for probable human rights violations, but the program was restored by the Reagan administration in 1982. By the mid-1980s, according to one detailed history, “counterguerrilla operations in Colombia and Central America would thus bear an eerie but explicable resemblance to South Vietnam.” [24]

What follows is a brief sketch of the widespread application of  US-promulgated Phoenix-derived  reigns of terror, kill lists, and death squads throughout Latin America and beyond. Much of this is familiar territory to many activists and scholars, and is merely the tip of the iceberg, but it merits review as a backdrop for the current context of kill lists and targeted assassination. [25]


The U.S. Army’s School of Americas (SOA), started in 1946, trained mass murderers and orchestrated coups in Peru, Panama, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. The SOA trained more than 61,000 Latin American officers implicated in widespread slaughter of civilian populations across Latin America. From 1966-1976 the SOA trained hundreds of Latin American officers in Phoenix-derived methods. Between 1989-1991 the SOA issued almost 700 copies of Project X handbooks to at least ten Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Honduras. In 2001, SOA was renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), but peace activists know it as School of Assassins. [26]

The CIA trained assassination groups such as Halcones in Mexico, the Mano Blanca in Guatemala, and the Escuadron de la Muerte in Brazil. In South America, in 1970-79, Operation Condor, the code-name for collection, exchange and storage of intelligence, was established among intelligence services in South America to eradicate Marxist activities. Operation Condor promoted joint operations including assassination against targets in member countries. In Central America, the CIA-supported death toll under the Reagan presidency alone exceeded 150,000. The CIA set up Ansesal and other networks of terror in El Salvador, Guatemala (Ansegat) and pre-Sandinista Nicaragua (Ansenic).

Honduran death squads were active through the 1980s, the most infamous of which was Battalion 3–16, which assassinated hundreds of people, including teachers, politicians, and union leaders. Battalion 316 received substantial CIA support and training, and at least 19 members graduated from the School of the Americas.

In Colombia, about 20,000 people were killed since 1986 and much of U.S. aid for counternarcotics was diverted to what Amnesty International labeled “one of the worst killing fields.” The US State Department also supported the Colombian army in creating a database of subversives, terrorists and drug dealers.

In Bolivia, Amnesty International reported that from 1966-68 between 3,000 and 8,000 people were killed by death squads. The CIA supplied names of U.S. and other foreign missionaries and progressive priests.

In Ecuador, the CIA maintained what was called the lynx list, aka the subversive control watch list of the most important left-wing activists to arrest. In Uruguay. Every CIA station maintained a subversive control watch list of most important left wing activists. From 1970-72 the CIA helped set up the Department of Information and Intelligence (DII), which served as a cover for death squads, and also co-ordinated meetings between Brazilian and Uruguayan death squads.

In Nicaragua, the US provided illegal funds to the Contras, and Marine intelligence helped maintain a list of civilians marked for assassination when Contra forces entered the country.

In Chile, 1970-73, CIA-created unions organized CIA-financed strikes leading to Allende’s overthrow and subsequent suicide. By late 1971 the CIA was involved in the preparation of lists of nearly 20,000 middle-level leaders of people’s organizations, scheduled to be assassinated after the Pinochet coup.

In Haiti, U.S. officials with CIA backgrounds in Phoenix-like program activities coordinated with the Ton-Ton Macoute, “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s private death squad, responsible for killing at least 3,000 people.

For over thirty years the US military and the CIA  helped organize, train, and fund death squad activity in El Salvador. From 1980-93, at least 63,000 Salvadoran civilians were killed, mostly by the government directly supported by the U.S. The CIA routinely supplied ANSESAL, the security forces, and the general staff with electronic, photographic, and personal surveillance of suspected dissidents and Salvadorans abroad who were later assassinated by death squads. US militray involvement in El Salvador allowed “the lessons learned in Vietnam to be put into practice … assisting an allied country in counterinsurgency operations.” [27]

In Guatemala, as early as 1954, the U.S. Ambassador, after the CIA-orchestrated  overthrow of the Arbenz government, gave to the new Armas government lists of radical opponents to be assassinated. Years later, throughout Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, Washington continuously to supported the Guatemalan military’s excesses against civilians, which killed 200,000 people.

US Assassination Programs Exported to Other Countries

In Indonesia, 1965-66, the US embassy and the CIA provided the Indonesian military with lists of the names of PKI militants, which were used by Suharto to crush the PKI regime.  This resulted in “one of the worst episodes of mass murder of the twentieth century,” with estimates as high as one million deaths. [28]

In Thailand, in 1976, the new junta used CIA-trained forces to crush student demonstrators during coup; two right-wing terrorist squads suspected for assassinations tied directly to CIA operations.

In Iran, the CIA launched a coup installing the shah in power and helped establish the lethal secret police unit SAVAK. [29] The CIA and SAVAK then exchanged intelligence, including information and arrest lists on the communist Tudeh party. Years later, in 1983, the CIA gave the Khomeni government a list of USSR KGB agents and collaborators operating in Iran, which the Khomeni regime used to execute 200 suspects and close down the communist Tudeh party.

In the Philippines, in 1986, Reagan increased CIA involvement in Philippine counterinsurgency operations, carried out by more than 50 death squads. In 2001, before 9/11, the Bush administration sent a unit of SOF to the Philippines “to help train Philippine counter terrorist forces fighting against Muslim separatists” within groups like Abu Sayyaf. After 9/11 US-Filipino cooperation was stepped up and the ongoing separatist conflict was cast, to the benefit of both sides, as “the second front in the war on terror.”[30] In Feb, 2012, a US drone strike targeting leaders of Abu Sayyaf and other separatist groups killed 15 people, the first use of killer drones in Southeast Asia. [31]

A “global Phoenix Program”: drone targets worldwide

“A global Phoenix program … would provide a useful start point” for “a new strategic approach to the Global War on Terrorism.”

–David Kilcullen [32]


Despite the US-perpetrated counter terrorist slaughter in Latin America and elsewhere in the 1970s-1990s, the US Special Forces debacle in Mogadishu in 1993, popularized in the film Black Hawk Down, severely impacted US willingness to use Special Forces in counter terrorist missions for the next decade. But then, after 9/11, things changed drastically. On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. The pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense, and in the scramble, a search of the C.I.A.’s archives turned up – the Phoenix Program. [33]

In July , 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent an order for a plan to make sure that special forces  could be authorized to use lethal force ‘in minutes and hours, not days and weeks.’” [34] Rumsfeld prompted Bush to authorize the military to “find and finish” terrorist targets. Here he was referring to “the F3EA targeting cycle” used in anti-infrastructure operations by Special Operations Forces. F3EA, an abbreviation of find, fix, finish, exploit, analyze, utilizes comprehensive intelligence to “find a target amidst civilian clutter and fix his exact location . . . . enabling surgical finish operations … to catch a fleeting target.” [35]

Lt General William (Jerry) Boykin, Delta commander in Mogadishu, deputy undersecretary for Defense for Intelligence and a key planner of the Special Forces offensive in Iraq, announced, “We’re going after these people. Killing or capturing them … doing what the Phoenix program was designed to do, without all the secrecy.” [36]

Back in 1963, the CIA had supplied lists of communists to the Baath party coup so that communists could be rounded up and eliminated. [37] Now, forty years later, it was the Baathists’ turn to be rounded up by Special Forces and CIA and executed. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military notoriously developed a set of playing cards to help troops identify the most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein‘s government, mostly high-ranking Baath Party members. Less well-known was the secret targeted killing of thousands of Baathist civilians by US Special Forces.

Seymour Hersh wrote in 2003 that “The Bush Administration authorized a major escalation of the Special Forces covert war in Iraq. … Its highest priority [being] the neutralization of the Baathist insurgents, by capture or assassination. [38] A former C.I.A. station chief described the strategy: “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” [39] The US even hired thousands of contract killers previously responsible for US-sponsored extra-judicial killings and death squad activity in Latin America.  The operation—called “preëmptive manhunting” by one Pentagon adviser—had, according to Hersh, “the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program.” [40]

Global Phoenix 

In 2009, the Office of the Secretary of Defense sponsored a paper by the National Defense Research Institute entitled “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.” The paper notes, “The persistent insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated fresh interest among military officers, policymakers, and civilian analysts in the history of counterinsurgency. The Phoenix Program in Vietnam—the U.S. effort to improve intelligence coordination and operations aimed at identifying and dismantling the communist underground—is the subject of much renewed attention.” [41]

The paper continues, “As the United States and its allies shift their focus to Afghanistan and weigh counterinsurgency alternatives for that country, decisionmakers would be wise to consider how Phoenix-style approaches might serve to pry open Taliban and Al-Qaeda black boxes.” [42]

Two key architects of the current Phoenix-style global counterinsurgency efforts by the US are David Kilcullen and Michael Vickers.  David Kilcullen has been counterinsurgency advisor to two former Middle East commanders, General Stanley McChrystal (formerly head of Special Operations) and General David Petraeus, now CIA Director. Michael G. Vickers, made famous in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War about the CIA’s anti-Soviet Afghan campaign of the 1980s, is currently Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, wielding such vast authority over the US war on terror that, according to a Washington Post profile, Pentagon colleagues refer to as his “take-over-the-world-plan.” [43]

Kilcullen wrote in a much-quoted 2004 paper entitled “Countering Global Insurgency” that “Counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have reawakened official and analytical interest in the Phoenix Program.” He proposed that “a global Phoenix program … would provide a useful start point” for “a new strategic approach to the Global War on Terrorism,” one which would focus on “interdicting links … between jihad theatres, denying sanctuary areas, … isolating Islamists from local populations and … disrupting inputs” from others. [44]

Vickers issued a Phoenix-style directive in December 2008 to “develop capabilities for extending U.S. reach into denied areas and uncertain environments by operating with and through indigenous foreign forces or by conducting low visibility operations.” “It’s not just the Middle East. It’s not just the developing world. It’s not just non-democratic countries – it’s a global problem. Threats can emanate from Denmark, the United Kingdom, you name it.” [45] According to a Washington Post profile, “the most critical aspect of Vicker’s plan targeting al-Qaeda-affiliated networks around the world involves US Special Forces working through foreign partners to uproot and fight terrorism.” [46] US military and Special Operations forces would “pay indigenous fighters and paramilitaries who work with them in gathering intelligence, hunting terrorists, fomenting guerrilla warfare or putting down an insurgency.” [47]

Pentagon colleagues have said of Vickers, “he tends to think like a gangster.” [48] Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell revealed that getting Bin Laden in Pakistan was Vicker’s “baby,” and “more than anyone else in the department, he drove the issue.” [49] 2011 New York Times Vickers summarizes his strategy this: “You make a deal with the devil to defeat another devil.”[50] “I just want to kill those guys.”  [51] A 2011 Such is the megalomaniacal mission underlying the US global war on terror, its kill lists and worldwide program of targeted assassination.

Killer Drones Revisited

Engaging in any assassination blurs the line between the good guys and the bad.” It is also “a proclamation of weakness and an admission of failure.”

–John Jacob Nutter, The CIA’s Black Ops [52]

The purpose of this article is to reframe the current attention on killer drones and Obama’s “kill list” within an historical perspective. The goal here is not to discourage the escalating protest against killer drones or against Obama’s targeted assassination program around the globe. As stated at the outset, the unprecedented visibility of these nefarious activities and of the outraged public response to them  is precisely what is needed at this time. This heightened awareness also affords a perfect opportunity to revisit the extraordinary history of US assassination and targeted killing that has led directly and explicitly to these activities.

Focus on the drones alone will not be sufficient. For even the major counter terrorist mastermind David Kilcullen himself, an avid proponent of the global targeted killing program, has argued against the use of drones. In a 2009 New York Times editorial he argues that “The goal should be to isolate extremists from their communities; [they] must be defeated by indigenous forces…Drone strikes make this harder, not easier.” He adds, “The use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic – or, more accurately, a piece of technology – substituting for a strategy, [with minimal understanding] of the tribal dynamics of the local population. This creates public outrage and a desire for revenge.” [53]

Scholar Maria Ryan, in a 2011 article entitled “War in Countries We Are Not at War With,” writes: “In 2006 the Pentagon announced that it had sent small teams of Special Operations troops to US embassies to gather intelligence on terrorism in  Africa, South East Asia and South America…There is, then, a covert side to the Global War on Terrorism  that is not visible and not currently knowable in the absence of whistleblowers, leaks, or things gone wrong.” [54]

The heightened public attention paid to drone killing might very well, in time, lead to some welcome success in curtailing their use. But too narrow a focus on the US deployment of Predator and Reaper drones might also distract us from other forms of Phoenix-derived targeted killing still being perpetrated globally – and covertly – by our Assassination Nation.

Doug Noble is an activist with Occupy Rochester NY and Rochester Against War.


1 Andrew Bacevich, “Uncle Sam, Global Gangster” Feb 19, 2012

2 Eric Holder, speech at Northwestern University March 1, 2012

3 John Brennan, speech at Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, May 1, 2012

4 Jo Becker and Scott Shane New York Times 5/29/12 “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will”

5 Chris Woods, interview with Democracy Now! June 5, 2012

6 Michael Gerson, “America’s Remote-controlled War on Terror,” The Washington Post May 3, 2012

7 Becker and Shane, Secret Kill List”

8 Jimmy Carter “A Cruel and Unusual Record,”The New York Times, June 25, 2012

9 John Jacob Nutter,The CIA’s Black Ops, Prometheus Books 2000, p152

10 Nutter,The CIA’s Black Ops, p.145 

11 John Prados, Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby,  Oxford University Press, 2003, p235ff 

12 Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program. William Morrow & Co., 1990, p313 

13 Valentine, p 315

14 Prados, p 224 

15 Valentine,  p309

16 Valentine,  p13

17 Prados, p 235 

18 Jane Mayer, The Black Sites: A Rare look inside the CIA’s Secret Interrogation Program,” The New Yorker August 13, 2007

19 Valentine, p13ff

20 Valentine, p346

21 Dale Andrade, Ashes to Ashes: The Phoenix Program and the Vietnam War. Lexington Books, 1990, p.175

22 Valentine, p 310

23 Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture Metropolitan Books, 2006, p 86

24 McCoy, p 71

25 Unless otherwise noted, the following information comes from the comprehensive “CIA Death Squad Timeline” by Ralph McGehee,

26 Mary Turck, “School of Assassins,” Common Dreams Nov 18, 2003

27 Michael Smith, Killer Elite, St Martin’s Press, 2006, p 49

28 Prados, p 155-157

29 McCoy 74

30 Maria Ryan, “’War in Countries We Are Not at War With’: The War on Terror on the Periphery from Bush to Obama” International Politics, v.48 (2011)

31 Deadly Drone Strike on Muslims in the Southern Philippines March 5, 2012

32 David Kilcullen, “Countering Global Insurgency” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2004

33 Mayer, “Black Sites”

34 Smith, p230-232

35 William Rosenau & Austin Long, “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency,” National Defense Research Institute, RAND Corp, 2009

36 Smith, p 273

37 McGehee, “CIA Death Squad Timeline”

38 Seymour Hersh, “Moving Targets: Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?” The New Yorker Dec. 15, 2003

39 Hersh, “Moving Targets”

40 Hersh, “Moving Targets”

41 Rosenau and Long

42 Rosenau and Long

43 Profile of Michael G. Vickers, Washington Post

44 Kilcullen, 2004

45 Ann Scott Tyson, “Sorry Charlie, This is Michael Vickers’s War,” Washington Post

Dec 28, 2007

46 Profile of Michael G. Vickers

47 Tyson, 2007

48 Elisabeth Bumiller, “Soldier, Thinker, Hunter, Spy: Drawing a Bead on Al Qaeda” New York Times, Sept 4, 2011

49 Bumiller

50 Bumiller

51 Bumiller

52 Nutter, p 149

53 David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum “Death from Above, Outrage Down Below.” New York Times  May 17, 2009

54 Ryan, 2011


July 19, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | 2 Comments

CNN expert’s civilian drone death numbers don’t add up

 By Chris Woods | The Bureau of Investigative Journalism | July 17th, 2012
Peter Bergen speaking in May 2012 (Pic Miller Center/ Flickr)

CNN’s national security expert Peter Bergen speaking at a recent event (Miller Center/ Flickr)

Following recent revelations by the New York Times that all military-aged males in Waziristan are considered fair game by the CIA in its drone strikes, many US journalists have been reassessing how they report on deaths in the attacks.

So when CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen produced a graph claiming that no civilians have been killed in Pakistan this year by US drones, his views were bound to attract criticism. Conor Friedersdorf, a columnist at The Atlantic, accused CNN and Bergen of running ‘bogus data‘, for example.

Bergen is also a director of the New America Foundation, which for more than three years has run a database on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and produces estimates of numbers killed. That data is the most frequent source of statistics for the US media, including CNN itself. So the accuracy of its material is important.

Yet there are credible reports of civilian deaths in Pakistan this year. And unlike the New America Foundation the Bureau actively tracks those claims.

Up to July 16 for example, between three and 27 civilians have been reported killed in Pakistan this year, out of 148 – 220 deaths. Some were actively defined as civilians by news organisations including Reuters and AFP. But these are not necessarily the only civilian deaths. Ambivalent reports might sometimes refer only to ‘people’ or ‘local tribesmen’ killed. More research is needed. And of the remaining alleged militants killed, we have so far been able to name just 13 individuals.

Bergen’s claim of zero reported civilian casualties this year is therefore factually inaccurate.

To be so categoric is also problematic. The Bureau’s own data shows that of at least 2,500 people killed by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004, we publicly only know the identities of around 500. Most of the others were reported to be alleged militants by local and international media. We can say no more than that.

It is not just in NAF’s 2012 data that credible reports of civilian deaths have been missed or ignored. NAF’s Pakistan data also contains many other inaccuracies. A number of confirmed strikes are omitted, for instance, and its overall estimates of those killed are significantly below even the CIA’s own count. The consequence is a skewed picture of drone activity which continues to inform many opinion-makers.

Subjective choices

On July 13 Peter Bergen responded to his recent critics in a CNN article which stated that reported civilian casualties in Pakistan are in decline – as the Bureau itself recently noted. He also repeated his claim of no civilian casualties in Pakistan this year. And he attacked the Bureau for its own recording work in this area:

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s high estimate of 24 civilian deaths in 2012 came in part from reports provided by an unreliable Pakistani news outlet as well as the claims of a local Taliban commander, which contradicted all other reports.

It’s worth unpicking Bergen’s claims in some detail.

His comments appear to refer to a CIA drone strike on February 9 in which local Taliban commander Badar Mansoor died. Citing just four sources, NAF’s data reports only that three to five ‘militants’, including Mansoor, died in the attack.

But this is a misrepresentation which ignores credible claims of civilian casualties, as the Bureau’s own Pakistan database makes clear.

Among 18 unique sources we cite, the Bureau links to a story by Reuters, the international news agency. Reuters notes a Taliban commander’s claims that Mansoor’s wife and child died in the February 9 attack. Local paper The News also reported that Mansoor’s wife and children were either injured or killed; and a Bureau field researcher reported anecdotal claims from the town that some of the leader’s family had died.

As the Bureau notes, these overt claims of civilian deaths on February 9 remain contested. We state that between zero and two civilians reportedly died in the strike. It is not clear either way. What cannot be stated is that no civilians died.

Bergen’s reference to an ‘unreliable Pakistani news outlet’ is also confusing. Dawn, The Nation and The News are all reputable Pakistani dailies, cited on occasion by CNN and NAF themselves. And Central Asia Online states clearly that ‘a woman and a girl child were injured’ in the strike, not killed.

In fact Bergen’s comments undermine further the credibility of the NAF data he constantly cites. A partial list of media reports has not been updated since the day of the attack – despite a number of salient facts since emerging. And as Bergen notes in his CNN article, the Reuters report of civilian deaths is rejected as a NAF source on the (inaccurate) grounds that it involved ‘the claims of a local Taliban commander, which contradicted all other reports.’

In their CNN article Bergen and co-reporter Jennifer Rowland make no mention of a second strike in which civilians were also reported killed in Pakistan this year. According to credible media, along with a number of alleged militants between three and eight worshipers died when a mosque was struck (possibly accidentally) on May 24.

That claim is independently supported by Britain’s Channel 4 News; by Pakistan’s The News (generally the most accurate local source for information on casualties); and by French news agency AFP. The Bureau cites 17 unique sources overall in its coverage, noting reports of damage to the mosque and of civilian casualties.

Bergen’s New America Foundation, relying on just four sources, says only that 10 ‘militants’ were killed in a ‘compound.’

NAF’s claims of ‘zero civilians killed’ by the CIA in Pakistan in 2012 is reached by the simple expedient of not including in its data any of the credible reports of civilian deaths.

Full of errors

When the Bureau began looking in earnest at US drone strikes in summer 2010, we started to work with NAF’s data, and that of the Long War Journal. At that time we had no interest in the time-consuming (and expensive) effort of compiling and maintaining accurate data on covert US strikes.

But the more we worked with NAF’s material, the more troubled we became. In February 2011 for example, the Bureau wrote to NAF noting a number of errors.

We pointed out a strike that it had missed entirely (November 5 2005). The Bureau also drew NAF’s attention to a number of date errors. The Foundation claimed a strike had taken place on May 14 2005, for example. In fact that attack took place on May 8th.

Bergen personally acknowledged the email, saying ‘thanks for drawing attention to these.’ Yet almost 18 months on, those errors – easily verifiable – remain uncorrected.

Our concerns about the data – particularly on the question of civilian deaths – ultimately compelled us to start from scratch, re-examining every US drone strike in Pakistan to try and understand what had really been going on.

We now know, for example, that eight years in to the CIA’s bombing campaign in Pakistan, NAF still lists the wrong date (June 18 2004) for the very first strike. Citing just one source, NAF also makes no reference to the civilians killed that day, including two children.

That first attack actually took place on Thursday June 17 as CNN and many other sources correctly noted at the time. Militant commander Nek Mohammed died along with up to eight others. These included, it was widely reported, the two young sons of Sher Zaman Ashrafkhel.

On another occasion in October 2006, an attack on a seminary killed at least 81 people. New America Foundation does not count these ‘militants’ in its data, reporting that the attack was

Allegedly conducted by Pakistani military, but may have been conducted by US forces. Noted here for the record but not included in above fatality totals.’

Claims that the Pakistan military carried out this attack were long ago dismissed. A senior aide to Pakistan’s then-leader Pervez Musharraf told the Sunday Times within weeks that ‘we thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US.’ Last August former ISI director General Asad Durrani confirmed in an interview that the CIA carried out the strike. And just weeks ago General Musharraf himself pointedly refused to deny US involvement.

There are also reports that up to 69 children died in the October 2006 attack. While some contest this claim, local media has listed the full names, ages, family details and home villages of every child reported killed.

Bergen and New America Foundation continue to make no reference to any of these salient facts. Nor do they count these 81 deaths in their figures.

‘Civilian deaths not new’

The New America Foundation regularly publishes definitive numbers on the overall civilian death tolls in Pakistan.

On March 27 for example, Bergen and co-worker Jennifer Rowland claimed that ‘according to our data, 7% of the fatalities resulting from drone strikes [in Pakistan] in 2011 were civilians.’ The duo lowered that estimate on June 10, now claiming that civilian deaths in Pakistan ‘averaged 5.5% in 2011.’

The Bureau has been unable to replicate either of NAF’s recent statistical claims from the Foundation’s published data.

In contrast, our own data shows that between 465 and 659 people died overall in 2011. Of these between 75 and 127 were reportedly civilians. Since we cannot know where, within these ranges, accurate figures lie, the best that can be said is that reported civilian deaths account for between 11% and 27% of all of those killed by the CIA in Pakistan last year.

In July 2011 the Bureau issued a major report based on its first field investigation in Pakistan. This directly challenged US claims that it wasn’t killing civilians in the tribal areas, presenting the CIA with the details of 45 civilians killed in the specified period and raising significant concerns about a further 66 deaths.

Initially the Bureau’s report received little coverage in the US, not only by the mainstream US media but also by the influential AfPak Channel, which is edited by Bergen and Rowland. When we challenged this omission, New America Foundation senior advisor Patrick Doherty shed some light in a July 19 email on why our study had been ignored:

One reason is that the tallies on civilian deaths in PAK is not particularly new. We’ve been monitoring drone strikes for a few years and tracking civilian and militant deaths. The mainstream media has been reporting on our numbers, quite thoroughly, in fact. The gotcha on John Brennan, as a result, kind of rings hollow.

In fact no US media organisation had challenged US intelligence community assertions that civilians were no longer being killed by the CIA in Pakistan. Those extraordinary claims went uncontested for six months, when the Bureau published its investigation.

Snapshot nature

Perhaps the greatest issue with New America Foundation’s data is its incomplete, snapshot nature.

Public understanding of US covert drone strikes changes all the time. That’s why the Bureau’s eight databases change constantly, incorporating the latest understanding of each attack – and seeking information from as wide a pool of credible sources as possible.

Last year, for example, we learned that a 2009 attack in Pakistan which had initially been reported as killing alleged militants, women and children appeared to have been a strike on a child suicide bomber training camp, run by the Taliban. More recently, we incorporated evidence from sworn affidavits filed in the London High Court, relating to the deaths of many civilians in March 2011.

In contrast NAF’s data represents at best a partial snapshot of an attack, often based on just a few media reports on the day. No effort appears to be made to update, amend or correct its data.

In his most recent article for CNN looking at civilian deaths in Pakistan, Bergen cites a major Associated Press investigation into drone strike casualties published in February of this year. As the Bureau reported at the time, that investigation, based on 80 witness statements, uncovered previously unknown evidence of civilian deaths in a number of strikes. We amended our data records accordingly, to reflect these findings.

NAF has yet to change any of its records – despite Bergen citing AP’s study in his own defence. So while AP reports that seven civilians died alongside seven Taliban on August 14 2010, NAF continues to state only that ’7-13 militants were killed.’

The cumulative effect of all these omissions and errors is that NAF’s data substantially under-estimates both the overall numbers of those killed, and the reports of civilians who have died in Pakistan strikes.

In August 2010, in response to the Bureau publishing its Pakistan data, the US government issued its first overall estimate of the numbers killed in CIA drone strikes since 2001, stating that approximately 2,050 had died – all but fifty of them combatants.

Eleven months on, and 47 strikes later, a minimum of 262 further deaths have occurred in Pakistan. Yet the New America Foundation still gives a low estimate of 1,870 killed. That indicates that its estimates are some 400 below the CIA’s own numbers.

The New America Foundation has undoubtedly done valuable work in recent years in bringing to the attention of the US public the scale of America’s covert wars. Its data represents a useful snapshot of most strikes, a helpful base upon which further research can be built.

But NAF cannot claim that its data represents an accurate record of what we publicly know about US drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. And without radically overhauling its methodology, Bergen and NAF cannot credibly continue to offer up such precise estimates of ‘civilian deaths’ in Pakistan.

Follow @chrisjwoods on Twitter.

July 19, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Comments Off on CNN expert’s civilian drone death numbers don’t add up

Body Counts

The Human Cost of the War on Terror

By M. REZA PIRBHAI | CounterPunch | June 8, 2012

In the early days of the ‘War on Terror,’ US General Tommy Franks declared, “We don’t do body counts.”  He was referring, of course, to the dead of Afghanistan. That the names of 9/11 victims have been appropriately written in stone, only makes it doubly striking that the war waged in their names generates little interest on non-US or NATO civilian deaths. In fact, a war now in its 11th year, comprising the invasion and occupation of two countries, as well as the ongoing bombing of at least three more, has not produced any holistic studies on its direct and indirect casualties.

That a global war can rage so long with no official will to ascertain the number of ‘others’ killed is indicative of the manner in which the cost of war is calculated by those states prosecuting it. Non-US and NATO dead, maimed, disappeared or displaced can’t be part of the equation if official policy is not to count. That there appears to be little public will to change that policy speaks of a more broadly worrying attitude toward ‘others,’ particularly Muslims. The UN and some NGO’s are attempting to count, however, mostly in the variety of local contexts engulfed in the conflict. Despite the hurdles of official obfuscation and public indifference, a catalogue of deadly consequences has begun to emerge.

Beginning in Afghanistan, most commonly cited studies on the 2001 invasion find that approximately 4,000 to 8,000 Afghani civilians died as a direct result of military operations. There are no figures for 2003-05, but in 2006 Human Rights Watch recorded just under 1,000 civilians killed in fighting. From 2007 to July 2011, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tallies at least 10,292 non-combatants killed. These figures, it should be emphasized, do include indirect deaths or injuries. Some thing of the scope of indirect deaths can be gleaned from a Guardian article – the most thorough journalistic report on the subject – which calculated that at least 20,000 more died as a result of displacement and famine due to the disruption in food supplies in the first year of the war alone. As well, according to Amnesty International, approximately 250,000 people fled to other countries in 2001 and at least 500,000 more have been internally displaced since.

Moving to Iraq, the Iraq Body Count project records approximately 115,000 civilians killed in the cross-fire from 2003 to August 2011. However, the World Health Organization’s Iraq Family Health Survey reports a figure of approximately 150,000 in just the first three years of the occupation. With indirect deaths added, The Lancet Study placed the estimate at approximately 600,000 in the same period. Moreover, an Opinion Research Business study estimated 1,000,000 violent deaths to have occurred by mid-2007. In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported approximately 2,000,000 Iraqis displaced to other countries and 2,000,000 more internally displaced as of 2007. There is no solid information on indirect death or injury rates, but the documented collapse of the Iraqi healthcare system and infrastructure more generally (foremost in the region before 1991) does not suggest anything less than another atrocity.

Beyond the two states under occupation, the ‘War on Terror’ spills into a number of neighboring countries including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Prime weapons deployed in these theatres have been US ‘drones,’ special operations groups, intelligence agents and the governments/armed forces of the countries involved. Given the often extra-judicial and covert nature of this theatre, calculating casualties is hampered by the virtual absence of independent data. Indeed, this is also a problem in Afghanistan and Iraq, but even so, considering only ‘drones’ thought to have been used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the numbers of strikes is agreed to be on the rise. To date, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that at least 357 strikes have occurred in Pakistan between 2004 and June 2012 (more than 300 under the Obama administration). At least 2,464 people have been killed, including a minimum of 484 civilians (168 children). The Washington Post adds 38 strikes resulting in 241 deaths (56 civilian) in Yemen. There are no figures for Somalia, but the New York Times confirms that operations have been ongoing since at least 2007.

Proponents of the war, official and public, will rush to retort that many of the citations in this article list most civilian deaths as the work of enemy combatants. But how can anyone confirm this when dependent on such a dearth of study? And as best highlighted by the ‘drone’ campaign, how can anyone transparently distinguish between civilians and combatants, when the latter’s assassins are also their judges?  Indeed, even if accepted at face value, these attacks make the US government one of the most prolific, self-professed ‘target killers’ in history. Moreover, as a representative from UMANA commented on his study, “if the non-combatant status of one or more victim(s) remains under significant doubt, such deaths are not included in the overall number of civilian casualties. Thus, there is a significant possibility that UNAMA is under-reporting civilian casualties.” In fact, such problems are admitted by the authors of every study.

Pasting this patchy set of statistics together, the bottom end of the total non-US and NATO civilian deaths exceeds 140,000. The top end easily reaches 1,100,000. That’s 14,000 to 110,000 per year. To put these figures in some context, it is worth recalling that 40,000 civilians were killed by the Nazi ‘Blitz’ on Britain during WWII. As well, it should be recalled that in both low and high scenarios, figures for direct deaths in Afghanistan for 2003-5, and indirect deaths from 2003 to the present, are not available. Furthermore, civilian deaths caused by means other than drones, such as renditions and disappearances, are not counted from any arena, and casualties stemming from the military campaigns of proxies (e.g., the governments of Pakistan or Yemen) have not been tallied. The number alive, but injured, orphaned or otherwise disenfranchised, let alone those tortured in public and private prisons across the world, is also not tolled. And finally, the suffering of millions of displaced persons from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere remains incalculable.

What has been counted here, even though tragically incomplete, illumines the reason US and NATO officials are reticent to publically do the same. To consider the staggering human cost of the ‘War on Terror’ would mean admitting that ‘terrorism’ is a two-way street and states, not militias, drive the heaviest weapons. General Franks’ preference not to count bodies is egregious, but unsurprising. That his lack of interest is echoed in the public spheres of the US and NATO countries, exposes the more astonishing consent (manufactured or not) of general populations, at least in the case of these Muslim victims. Nothing less than this official and public indifference explains the absence of any holistic study on civilian casualties, particularly while mourning the nearly 3,000 civilians killed on 9/11 and in whose name the ‘War on Terror’ is still waged.

M. Reza Pirbhai is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Louisiana State University. He can be reached at:

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Body Counts