The Obama administration is again allowing the CIA to use drone strikes to secretly kill people that the spy agency does not know the identities of in multiple countries - despite to the contrary.
That’s what we learned this week, when Nasir al-Wuhayshi, in Yemen. While this time the CIA seems to have guessed right, apparently the drone operators didn’t even know at the time - only that they thought the target was possibly a terrorist hideout. It’s what’s known as a “signature” strike, where the CIA is not clear who its drone strikes are killing, only that the targets seem like they are terrorists from the sky.
Signature strikes has led to scores of civilians being killed over the past decade, including two . It’s a way of killing that’s been roundly condemned by human rights organizations and that some members of Congress . The incredible dangers behind such a policy are obvious. Here’s it when the White House’s ‘kill list’ was first revealed in 2012:
The joke was that when the sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers – but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
It was so controversial that, in 2013, President Obama that tightened requirements for when the CIA or any government agency could attempt to kill someone and were, in theory, meant to be the end of signature strikes. One of the rules was that a drone target had to be an “imminent threat” to the US and there had to be a near certainty that civilians would not be killed. (One would assume it’s close to impossible to call someone an “imminent threat” when you don’t even know who that person is.)
But it has become increasingly clear that the “rules” are virtually meaningless and the is setting a terrifying precedent for the next president who can change or expand them on a whim.
A were announced in 2013, the Associated Press the US was going to stop signature strikes everywhere, including in Pakistan. Then we found out, through the Wall Street Journal, that actually, no, the president and part of the rules didn’t apply there. Now just this week, we’ve learned that Obama, at some point, issued another waiver on the “imminent” rule for Yemen, allowing the CIA to continue signature strikes there unabated. According to their report: “US officials insisted that there was never a comprehensive ban on the use of signature strikes in that country” to begin with.
In other words, a key part of the drone “rules” Obama laid out in public don’t apply in the two countries where the CIA conducts virtually all of its drone strikes. Oh, and the “imminent threat” rule , the only other country where the US military is regularly conducting its strikes.
As is typical with the US government’s extrajudicial killing policy, there was no public debate about any of the changes to the supposed rules, or even announcement that they ever changed - only an unofficial leak to a journalist after the latest killing.
Beyond the enormous human rights consequences related to such a dangerous policy, these types of strikes backfire on the United States, where there was none before. This is why, as the Washington Post suggested , drone strikes might be as effective at helping the spread of al-Qaida as killing its leaders.
It was only two months ago when a US drone accidentally killed two innocent hostages, one of whom was a US citizen, via a signature strike. At the time, President Obama - even while absurdly it was a drone strike that actually killed them. What happened to that investigation? If the government’s extreme secrecy surrounding drones is any indication, we’ll probably never know. It’ll likely be locked in a safe with a classified stamp on it, destined never see the light of day. In its place, the CIA has a new example to only extend its grip on extrajudicial killing.