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DRONE WATCH: Drone Crashes Increasing

Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of U.S. drones crashing at civilian airports. Craig Whitlock reported in the Washington Post:

“A review of thousands of pages of unclassified Air Force investigation reports, obtained by The Washington Post under public-records requests, shows that drones flying from civilian airports have been plagued by setbacks.

“Among the problems repeatedly cited are pilot error, mechanical failure, software bugs in the “brains” of the aircraft and poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers.”

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DRONE WATCH: The Year of the Drone

Most drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen are eventually reported. Not so in Afghanistan. Since they are part of an ongoing war, they don’t make the news. But Stuart Ackerman, writing in Wired, finds that the Air Force reported last week that there have been 447 drone strikes in Afghanistan this year.

“Never before in Afghanistan have there been so many drone strikes. For the past three years, the strikes have never topped 300 annually, even during the height of the surge. Never mind 2014, when U.S. troops are supposed to take a diminished role in the war and focus largely on counterterrorism. Afghanistan’s past year, heavy on insurgent-hunting robots, shows that the war’s future has already been on display.”

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DRONE WATCH: Deaths in Pakistan

One of the remaining Al Qaeda leaders was killed Thursday in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan. The Associated Press reports:

“Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who was also known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti, was killed when missiles slammed into a house Thursday near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in the North Waziristan tribal area, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.”

The report added that his wife and daughter were also injured, and his wife died Friday.

Reuters reports another senior leader killed on Sunday when a drone fired missiles at a house with Mohammad Ahmed Almansoor inside, in the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. Three other suspected militants were killed in the attack.

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DRONE WATCH: Rules for Drones

The New York Times reports that before the election, the Obama administration was working to develop rules and procedures for killing by drone strikes. The impetus for the project was a concern that if Mitt Romney were to win the presidency, there was nothing in place to guide a new administration. Resolving internal disagreements also appears to be a goal, as The Times notes:

“Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.”

The Guardian adds that there already are rules – known as international law.

“Human-rights groups and peace groups opposed to the CIA-operated targeted-killing programme, which remains officially classified, said the administration had already rejected international law in pursuing its drone operations.

"To say they are rewriting the rulebook implies that there isn't already a rulebook" said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Center for Democracy. "But what they are already doing is rejecting a rulebook – of international law – that has been in place since [the second world war]."

Also this weekend, the Washington Post reported that drones are also playing a role in the selection of a new CIA Director to replace David Petraeus.

“As Obama approaches a second term with an unexpected opening for CIA director, agency officials are watching to see whether the president’s pick signals even a modest adjustment in the main counterterrorism program he kept: the use of armed drones to kill suspected extremists. … The list of possible replacements is led by three CIA veterans who have all contributed to the agency’s pronounced shift toward paramilitary operations. Obama’s choice could determine whether the trajectory continues or begins to taper off.”

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DRONE WATCH: Awake to Drones

An Awake to Drones blog has been started by Protest Chaplains of Chicago to begin a conversation about the use of drones for warfare and surveillance. They hope that such a conversation “will guide and lead us to take actions to stop this warring madness, to ground the drones.” 

“We invite you to wake up and join us in theological conversation or dialogue about the use of drones for warfare and surveillance. A few of us here in the Chicago area from a variety of faith and spiritual backgrounds have begun to wake up and talk about the horror of it all. We are beginning to question our country’s use of drones instead of due process, our President’s Kill List, the naming of all men above 18 years of ages as “enemy combatants.” It’s made some of us go back and study Just War theory again, dig deep into our sacred texts, examine our consciences. It’s brought us together and made us want to reach out to you.”

Protest Chaplains are “imams, ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, friars, sisters, monks, as well as non-ordained, from all traditions, or none, supporting Occupy Chicago as chaplains/spiritual presence.” 

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DRONE WATCH: Educating About Drones

Brian Terrell, co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, will begin a six-month prison sentence the end of November after being arrested for trespassing while protesting drones at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The Columbia Missouri Daily Tribune reports that he is using his remaining time to educate about the use of drones.

Last week Terrell spoke to students at the University of Missouri: 

“Terrell told students the program at face value seems like a "no-brainer" because it keeps American troops out of harm's way. But he also challenged them to consider how the United States would respond if other countries were firing missiles into America from a video game console overseas. "If someone else was doing this to us, we would try to bring them to justice," he said.”

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Amid Israel-Hamas Violence, Reconciliation Between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Continues

Christianity Today reports:

As violence flares anew between Hamas and Israel, which is preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks reaching as far as Tel Aviv, CT checked in with Jerusalem-based reconciliation ministry Musalaha for an update on reconciliation efforts between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews.

In 2009, CT reported how three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting—which killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis—left Gaza's beleaguered Christians beginning 2009 in their worst situation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. However, reconciliation work between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews continued.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Kill Less and Spy More

Noah Shachtman points out in Wired’s Danger Room that since 9/11, U.S. intelligence agencies have had counter-terrorism as their primary focus, including hundreds of drone strikes. Then he notes two former heads of the CIA who are urging a return to intelligence-gathering.

“We have been tremendously focused on counterterrorism for the last 11 years [since 9/11]. How do you now begin to make sure that you cover other necessary things without making the country less safe?” asks former CIA director and retired Gen. Michael Hayden.

“Nearly every major international security concern facing Petraeus’ successors is, in essence, a question of intelligence: What is Iran’s nuclear capability, really? Which way will the Syrian civil war go? Why is China building up its Navy so fast? What the hell is Kim Jong-Un up to? “Those are things that you’re not going to learn through diplomacy or through press reporting. And that takes you to intelligence,” notes John E. McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director.” 

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BREAKING: Israel Attack Kills Hamas Military Chief

There are multiple news reports that an Israeli air strike has killed senior Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari in Gaza City. The Associated Press is reporting that “The Israeli military says its assassination of the Hamas military commander marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants.” 

Al Jazeera adds that Palestinian security sources reported a total of four air strikes across Gaza late Wednesday afternoon. A BBC reporter in Gaza City says the sound of gunfire echoed through the streets after the air strike. This follows several days of cross border attacks by Hamas on Israel and Israeli retaliation.

Haaretz is running a live blog, and on Twitter #Gaza, there are live reports of continued shooting and explosions from further air strikes.

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DRONE WATCH: Pakistan Developing Drones

As it continues to condemn U.S. drone attacks, it appears that Pakistan is close to manufacturing its own drones. The Guardian reports that at a major arms fair held in Karachi last week, a senior Pakistani defense official briefed allies on their progress.

"The foreign delegates were quite excited by what Pakistan has achieved," said the official, who was closely involved with organising the four-day International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (Ideas). "They were briefed about a UAV that can be armed and has the capability to carry a weapon payload."

“The official said Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to friendly countries, principally Turkey and the Gulf, that it can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionising warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability.”

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DRONE WATCH: Rice and Albright Question Drones

Alexis Simendinger at RealClearPolitics reports on an appearance by former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright at the Global Financial Leadership Conference In Naples, Fla. While the two disagreed on many topics, they also found some agreement:

“But looking ahead, the duo found issues on which they agree, and the government’s reliance on unmanned drones was one. Albright and Rice concurred that drone warfare saves American lives and is effective, but both expressed worries about the long-range implications and encouraged the Obama administration to focus during its second term on the issues surrounding deployment of such weapons.

“Albright said she was “not sure” about the human targets who wind up on the administration’s drone-strike lists, and she raised concerns about the use of unmanned drones by other nations. Rice predicted the technology “will become ubiquitous,” and she questioned how the United States would be able to protest if Russia decided to use drones domestically in Chechnya, or China used them against targets in Tibet. “It makes me quite uncomfortable,” Rice said.”

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DRONE WATCH: Changing the Nature of War

Tom Roberts in the National Catholic Reporter, writes on questions raised by the rapidly growing use of unpiloted drones.

“Each expansion of drone use magnifies the concerns of the legal and human rights communities about whether the United States is dangerously pressing the limits of -- or even violating -- international law. Just as worrisome, experts say, is whether the increasing use of drones in such circumstances will slowly erode the force of international law, rendering it ineffective.”

After noting comments from several leading Catholic law professors, Roberts raises what many consider is the central question: must traditional international law change in this new era of non-state terrorism?

“Terrorists don't conform to national boundaries, national allegiances or recognized governments, raising the question of whether a war on terrorism necessarily changes the nature of war itself.”

It’s a question the U.S. and the international community will have to answer, better sooner than later.

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Permanent Preparations for War

Most of us have read President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech warning of the growing military-industrial complex in the U.S.  Fifty years later, many of his fears have become realities. Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer, points out in a New York Times column the part of Ike’s speech we don’t often remember: Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever.”

He explains:

“Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.”

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DRONE WATCH: Out of the Shadows

In an editorial this morning, the Washington Post sums up the legal and political problems with a continuing war based on “kill lists,” then concludes with its recommendations for greater transparency and accountability:

“Drone strikes should be carried out by military forces rather than by the CIA; as with other military activities, they should be publicly disclosed and subject to congressional review. The process and criteria for adding names to kill lists in non-battlefield zones should be disclosed and authorized by Congress — just like the rules for military detention and interrogation. Before operations begin in a country, the administration should, as with other military operations, consult with Congress and, if possible, seek a vote of authorization. It should seek open agreements with host countries and other allies.

“There may be cases where the president must act immediately against an imminent threat to the country, perhaps from an unexpected place. But to institutionalize a secret process of conducting covert drone strikes against militants across the world is contrary to U.S. interests and ultimately unsustainable.”

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DRONE WATCH: The Risks of Relying on Drones

Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to NATO from July 2008 to May 2009, wrote in the Washington Post on the risks associated with the increasing U.S. reliance on drones as its “principal and permanent component in fighting global terrorism.” According to Volker, these risks are moral, the consequences, the U.S. monopoly on drone warfare will not last, and our national identity. He proposes that we need a standard for the use of drones and suggests

“A more useful standard comes from our country’s basic approach to warfare. For a conventional military engagement, we would take into account the costs and risks of: sending a force to carry out the strike; generating public support; seeking congressional authorization; attracting allies to the cause; the regional effects of military action; and the duration and end of the mission, not just the beginning.”

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