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DRONE WATCH: Brennan Defends Drones in Yemen

In a speech yesterday in Washington, administration counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan defended the campaign of drone strikes in Yemen. As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

“In his most explicit comments on Washington's largely hidden military and intelligence operations in Yemen, John Brennan said no evidence indicates that the drone strikes are helping recruit members for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the Yemen-based group that is Al Qaeda's most active branch. ...

"Brennan said that the drone pilots, who operate the aircraft from remote ground stations, make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. 'And contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP.... In short, targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem, they are part of the solution.' "

Addressing a common concern, Brennan said that the only targets for drones are militants whose goal is to attack the US or its allies, not those fighting against the Yemeni government. He added that U.S. officials do provide intelligence information to Yemeni armed forces fighting against militants.

The report noted that the drone attacks are part of a larger strategy.

“U.S. special operations forces have been advising Yemeni military units, and Washington is providing $337 million in aid to Yemen this year, the largest American aid package ever disbursed to the impoverished nation.”

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Where is the U.S. Response in Syria?

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Nick Kristof asks how the United States should be tackling the conflict in Syria:

President Obama’s finest moments in foreign policy, like the Osama bin Laden raid or the Libya intervention, resulted from close engagement and calculated risks.

His lapses come when he’s passive or AWOL — as in Syria. I’m generally a fan of Obama’s foreign policy, but on Syria there’s a growing puzzlement around the world that he seems stuck behind the curve.

The United States shouldn’t invade Syria. But we should work with allies to supply weapons, training and intelligence to rebels who pass our vetting.

Learn more here

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DRONE WATCH: Two Strikes in Yemen Kill 10

According to the Associated Press, over the past two days, in two separate strikes, U.S. drones killed 10 al-Qaida militants in Yemen.

The first attack late Monday hit two vehicles carrying seven passengers in the southern town of Radda, killing them all. Another U.S. drone targeted a second vehicle on Tuesday carrying three militants in the Zoukaika region of Hadramawt. One of the dead was identified as Abdullah Awad al-Masri, described as one of the "most dangerous elements" of al-Qaida in the militant stronghold of Bayda province and the man in charge of a bomb-making lab.

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DRONE WATCH: Questioning Drones

The Deseret News (Salt Lake City) published a thoughtful editorial this week raising some of the questions that need to be asked about drones. After citing the statistics on drone strikes and deaths over the last number of years, the editorial continues:

“This raises ethical questions about the way drones are changing modern warfare. As with nuclear weapons, which likewise changed war and its moral calculus, they prompt the question: Just because we can do something, does it mean we should?

Drones enable a warfare of focused assassinations. This strategy risks fewer American lives and is relatively easy to execute from a distance. But should risk and convenience drive the way we think about targeted killings? Do we have a clear sense of whether or when they cross a moral line? Who in our military hierarchy decides who lives and who dies, and what criteria do they use?

For a country that stands for the idea that justice should be decided fairly in courts of law rather than through contests of might, is there a line between justified killings and war crimes? How does our moral framework account for the hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children, chalked up to collateral damage? …

The country may well come down on the side of drone strikes as a new keystone of national security. But it should do so as the result of a full discussion of the facts and a careful shaping of policies. This discussion has not yet happened. It needs to.”

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DRONE WATCH: Activists Turned Away from Drone Convention

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is holding a convention this week in Las Vegas, with an expected 8,000 attendees, 500 exhibitors, and representatives from 40 countries. The Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith writes this morning that on Sunday, Franciscan Father Louis Vitale and CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin were informed their attendance was not desired as they were attempting to secure convention credentials. Smith explains:

“For Vitale, who served in the Air Force before joining the Franciscans, the advanced technology hasn't translated into cleaner combat. The much-touted precision of the drone aircraft has kept American military out of harm's way, but it hasn't eliminated the high price of civilian casualties in the war zones.

To many, this is part of the price paid to defeat a treacherous enemy and maintain our national security. To Vitale, Benjamin and their colleagues, it's too great a price. And then he asks, "What is the impact on the people, what is the impact on our own people?"

The priest believes the incidents of predator operators suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will be epidemic. His own experiences are anecdotal, he admits, but his conversations with British and U.S. military drone operators have been deeply troubling. Those onboard cameras not only spot suspected enemy targets, he notes, but they also reveal the damage wrought in unprecedented detail.”

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Syria: Medical Supplies Critically Low

From The Los Angeles Times:

Escalating violence in Syria has shut down pharmaceutical plants, piling another worry onto the woes facing the Syrian people: Severe shortages of medicine.

The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that growing clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and opposition fighters around the cities of Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo have damaged and closed many of the local plants that make the vast majority of medicines. The country produces most of its own pharmaceuticals.

Drugs to treat tuberculosis, hepatitis, diabetes and other maladies are urgently needed, along with chemical reagents to screen blood before it can be used for infusions for trauma and surgery patients, according to reports received by the United Nations agency.

Learn more here

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The Uncomfortable Questions Around Terrorism and Race

Conor Friedersdorf writes for The Atlantic:

Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they've tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)     

In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.

What if white Americans were as likely as Muslims to be victimized by those policies? What if the sprawling national security bureaucracy we've created starts directing attention not just to Muslims and their schools and charities, but to right-wing militias and left-wing environmental groups (or folks falsely accused of being in those groups because they seem like the sort who would be)?

Read more here

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Drone Strike Kills 5 in Yemen

The Long War Journal, citing AFP, reports that the first known U.S. drone strike in Yemen in more than a month took place Saturday:

“The U.S. killed five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a drone airstrike in eastern Yemen. The strike is the first in Yemen in more than a month.

The unmanned Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle in Al Qotn in Hadramout province earlier today, AFP reported. Five AQAP fighters were killed in the strike.

No senior AQAP leaders or operatives are reported to have been killed in the strike. The identities of those killed have not been disclosed.”

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On Africa Visit, Clinton Focuses On Tackling AIDS

From The Washington Post:

If this small nation, with a per capita income of less than $3 a day and a life expectancy of 53, offers a hopeful model for fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa, then large and relatively prosperous Uganda shows how quickly progress can run off track.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw Malawi’s more promising example Sunday as part of an eight-nation African visit. Last week in Uganda, she highlighted an alarming rise in infection rates there after years when the country was a leader in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. About 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are believed infected, and the United Nations has estimated that the region had 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2010.

Read more here

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DRONE WATCH: An Emerging Drone Culture

Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post takes a look at an emerging “drone culture.”

“There has been far too little discussion of the moral calculus involved in using flying robots as tools of assassination. At the very least, the whole thing should leave us uneasy. Collateral damage — the killing of innocents — can be minimized but not eliminated. And even if only “bad” people are killed, this isn’t war as we’ve traditionally understood it. Drone attacks are more like state-sponsored homicide.”

After also looking at proposals for the domestic use of surveillance drones, and urging a “much-needed debate,” he concludes,

“The idea of robots acting as guardians of public order has become a staple of dystopian fantasy — “Terminator,” “Minority Report,” “The Matrix.” It is our duty to keep that stuff in the movies, where it belongs.”

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DRONE WATCH: Mapping Drone Strikes.

Using data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian has created an interactive map of drone strikes in Pakistan, showing the location of known strikes. Each is marked with a red dot, clicking on it shows the date and number of casualties. According to the data, there have been more than 330 strikes, with estimates of up to 3,247 casualties — including up to 852 civilians. The map is a useful and educational tool.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Update for July

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released its update for July of drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The major conclusions:

Pakistan: CIA drones kill more people in July than any month so far this year after Pakistan reopens its border to Nato supply convoys.

Yemen: The US restarts Yemen’s $112m military aid programme as al Qaeda appears to return to more familiar terror tactics.

Somalia: Three al Shabaab militants are executed for ‘spying’ for western agencies, as the UN claims that more than 60 unknown air sorties took place over Somalia in the past year.

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What It’s Like to Go to War

On the PBS Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently interviewed Karl Marlantes, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor. Their deeply moving discussion focused on what happens to young soldiers in combat, the eventual trauma of having killed fellow human beings, and the assistance they need upon returning home.

"'Thou shalt not kill' is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.' And then you come back and it's like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill' again. Believe me, that's a difficult thing to deal with," Marlantes tells Bill. "You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life - that's something no 19-year-old is able to handle." …

“The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.”

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When 'Extremism' is Normalized

An interesting article from Glenn Greenwald examines how previously radical legislation has become accepted as normal in the U.S.:

Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.

Read more here

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Attack Kills Seven.

A U.S. drone attack on Sunday killed at least seven suspected militants in Pakistan. The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reported that the seven were Uzbek nationals living in the compound that was hit by six missiles.

This latest attack comes just before Pakistan’s head of intelligence is to visit Washington.  CBS News reported drones will be a topic of the discussions:

“Pakistan will press the U.S. at a top-level intelligence summit this week to end unilateral drone strikes aimed at suspected militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Though the Thursday meeting in Washington between Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus is meant to ease the tension between the two allies, Pakistani and Western officials warn the issue of drone strikes may yield little common ground.”

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