(MintPress) – It’s open season for the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) aggressive drone war in Pakistan.
The CIA is in the midst of creating a “rules of force playbook” to provide guidance on how the increasing drone war will be carried out under President Barack Obama’s second term. Yet the playbook leaves out a major component of that war — Pakistan drone strikes.
Drone strikes account for 95 percent of the target killings carried out by the United States since Sept. 11, calling into question what the playbook is intended to tackle for the next year, if those very drone strikes are being left out.
A story published this week in the Washington Post on the issue cited anonymous sources, including a former U.S. official who had been involved in discussions related to the playbook. The newspaper reported the playbook was introduced last year, but was tabled after consensus could not be reached on the handling of Pakistan.
Eventually, an agreement was reached to allow the CIA to work uninhibited in Pakistan, which led to the draft of the CIA playbook, to be delivered to Obama for approval within the next few weeks.
The CIA has one year, or more, to operate without any guidelines related to drone strikes in Pakistan, according to the new manual, until it is required to act within the rules that call for White House and State Department approval. Until then, the book addresses the process of adding names to the “kill list” and legal qualifications necessary to do so.
The primary guidelines author is former counterterrorism chief John Brennan, who was recently named by Obama to head the CIA. It was under Brennan that the Obama administration’s drone war escalated, grown from a campaign that Brennan oversaw while serving for former president George W. Bush.
While Obama has yet to sign off on the finished version of the playbook, it’s likely he and Brennan will disagree on much. It’s also unlikely the drone war will come to end, becoming a permanent part of American foreign policy — an ongoing war from the sky that has no realistic goal in sight.
“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst told the Washington Post. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”
Although the handbook seeks to create some foundation for the new arm of American foreign policy, the program will continue to be shrouded in secrecy.
In January 2012, a federal judge ruled in favor of the attacks, claiming that such operations, including those that target U.S. citizens, can remain blanketed from the public, citing national security. The ruling came after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesting information relating to the death of three Americans killed by U.S. drone strikes in 2011.
A look at the numbers
The handbook touches on necessary permissions to operate drone wars outside of war zones, although provisions such as this will not immediately apply.
The playbook was created out of a need to outwardly address controversy surrounding kill lists and drone strikes that have killed hundreds of noncombatants.
Since 2004, drone strikes have killed 880 civilians, according to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Efforts have been exponentially increased under Obama, with 49 civilians victims for every one terrorist killed, according to research conducted by New York and Stanford University law schools.
In May 2012, the New York Times published a shocking article detailing Obama’s secret “kill list,” highlighting a campaign of widespread drone attack targets outside of war zones throughout the globe. The list included several Americans and two teenagers — one boy, one girl.
The piece shined a light on a drone campaign largely hidden from the U.S. people, sparking outrage among those who learned that Obama was acting outside of Congress, carrying out drone campaigns in areas not dedicated as war zones.
A growing conversation — fueling the fire or solving a problem?
In the 2012 presidential debates, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney was asked to address the drone campaign for the first time, ever. His response was one of support for the program and lacked acknowledgement of civilian casualties — a move that was criticized by human rights organizations aiming to highlight the drone war and its impact.
While the answer wasn’t one activists were looking for, it was at least seen as progress.
“This has been such a covert program that even asking the question is positive,” Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin told Mint Press News in an October interview. “The fact that Romney was put on the spot to speak about drones is a good thing. It’s better than not having it mentioned at all in the debate.”
Before the New York Times article on drone strikes and the now infamous “kill list,” published in May, the drone strikes were largely an issue only covered by alternative media, including the Bureau of Investigative Reporting. Now, it’s moved into the realm of public debate, slowly.
And the opinions are mixed.
“Every U.S. citizen should be concerned about the use of this aggressive type of warfare and demand international dialogue about the direction, ethics and legality of the use of drones by the United States,” Francine Porter, coordinator of Code Pink Pittsburgh for Peace, wrote recently in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Yet there are those who see the drone wars as a way to skirt around the issue of on-the-ground war, saving American troops the agony of battle. Yet, as Riedel pointed out to the Post, what end is there in sight once the U.S. adopts the drone program as a staple of U.S. foreign policy? The casualties on the American end will diminish, but will the root of the problem go along with it — or will it intensify?
Critics claim that drone strikes, considering their propensity to make victims out of civilians, are counterproductive, in some cases.
Haykal Bafana, a Yemeni lawyer, tweeted a message to Obama on May 11, urging the president to take into consideration the impact inaccurate drone strikes could have on the world: “Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with al Qaeda.”
As statistics show, U.S. drone strikes are not always accurate. In November 2011, drone strikes accidentally killed 20 Pakistani soldiers, a move that angered the Pakistani government and led to the temporary closure of a U.S. trade route to Afghanistan.
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