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Questions on Drones_ Unanswered Still



Questions on Drones, Unanswered Still

Published: October 13, 2012 64 Comments

UNDERSTANDING American drone strikes is like a deadly version of the old telephone
game: I whisper to you and you whisper to someone else, and eventually all meaning is lost.

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   Times Topic:Predator Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

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    You start with uncertain information from dubious sources. Pass it along, run it through the
    media blender, add pundits, and you’ve got something that may or may not be close to the

    How many people have been killed by these unmanned aircraft in the Central Intelligence
    Agency’s strikes in Yemen and Pakistan? How many of the dead identified as “militants” are
    really civilians? How many are children?

    The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain has estimated that, in the first three years
    after President Obama took office, between 282 and 535 civilians were credibly reported
    killed by drone strikes — including more than 60 children. The United States government
    says the number of civilians killed has been far lower.

    Accurate information is hard to come by. The Obama administration and the C.I.A. are
    secretive about the fast-growing drone program. The strikes in Pakistan are taking place in
    areas where reporters can’t go, or would be in extreme danger if they did. And it is all
    happening at a time when the American public seems tired of hearing about this part of the
    world anyway.

    How does The New York Times fit into this hazy picture?

    Some of the most important reporting on drone strikes has been done at The Times,
    particularly the “kill list” article by Scott Shane and Jo Becker last May. Those stories, based
    on administration leaks, detailed President Obama’s personal role in approving whom
    drones should set out to kill.

    Groundbreaking as that article was, it left a host of unanswered questions. The Times and
    the American Civil Liberties Union have filed Freedom of Information requests to learn
    more about the drone program, so far in vain. The Times and the A.C.L.U. also want to
    know more about the drone killing of an American teenager in Yemen, Abdulrahman al-
    Awlaki, also shrouded in secrecy.

    But The Times has not been without fault. Since the article in May, its reporting has not
    aggressively challenged the administration’s description of those killed as “militants” —
    itself an undefined term. And it has been criticized for giving administration officials the
    cover of anonymity when they suggest that critics of drones are terrorist sympathizers.
Americans, according to polls, have a positive view of drones, but critics say that’s because
the news media have not informed them well. The use of drones is deepening the
resentment of the United States in volatile parts of the world and potentially undermining
fragile democracies, said Naureen Shah, who directs the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia
University’s law school.

“It’s portrayed as picking off the bad guys from a plane,” she said. “But it’s actually
surveilling entire communities, locating behavior that might be suspicious and striking
groups of unknown individuals based on video data that may or may not be corroborated by
eyeballing it on the ground.”

On Sunday, Ms. Shah’s organization will release a report that raises important questions
about media accuracy on drone strikes. But accuracy is only one of the concerns that have
been raised about coverage of the issue.

“It’s very narrow,” said David Rohde, a columnist for Reuters who was kidnapped by the
Taliban in 2008 when he was a Times reporter. “What’s missing is the human cost and the
big strategic picture.”

Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer who has written extensively on this subject for Salon and now
for The Guardian, told me he sees “a Western media aversion to focusing on the victims of
U.S. militarism. As long as you keep the victims dehumanized it’s somehow all right.”

Mr. Rohde raised another objection: “If a Republican president had been carrying out this
many drone strikes in such a secretive way, it would get much more scrutiny,” he said. Scott
Shane, the Times reporter, finds the topic knotty and the secrecy hard to penetrate. “This is
a category of public yet classified information,” he told me. “It’s impossible to keep the
strikes themselves secret, but you’ve never had a serious public debate by Congress on it.”
Last month, ProPublica admirably framed the issue in an article titled “How the
Government Talks About a Drone Problem It Won’t Acknowledge Exists.”

As for the human cost, Sarah Knuckey, a veteran human rights investigator now at New
York University School of Law, says she got a strong sense of everyday fear while spending
10 days in Pakistan last spring.

“I was struck by how afraid people are of the constant presence of drones,” said Ms.
Knuckey, a co-author of a recent Stanford/N.Y.U. report on the drone campaign’s impact on
Pakistanis. “They had the sense that they could be struck as collateral damage at any time.”
She is also troubled by the government’s lack of transparency. “The U.S. is creating a
precedent by carrying out strikes in secrecy without accountability to anyone,” Ms. Knuckey
said. “What if all countries did what the U.S. is doing?”

The Taliban and Al Qaeda are much worse problems for the Pakistani and Yemeni people
than American drone strikes are. But acknowledging that doesn’t answer the moral and
ethical questions of this push-button combat conducted without public accountability.

With its vast talent and resources, The Times has a responsibility to lead the way in covering
this topic as aggressively and as forcefully as possible, and to keep pushing for transparency
so that Americans can understand just what their government is doing.

Follow the public editor on Twitter at and read her blog at The public editor can also be reached by e-mail:

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 14, 2012, on page SR12 of the New York edition with the headline:
Questions on Drones, Unanswered Still.

Predator Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

                                                                               Tom Tschida/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Updated: Sept. 26, 2012

From blimps to bugs, aerial drones are transforming the way America fights and thinks about its
wars. United States intelligence officials call unmanned aerial vehicles, often referred to as
drones, their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda. The remotely piloted planes are used to
transmit live video from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to American forces, and to carry out air
strikes. More Central Intelligence Agency drone attacks have been conducted under President
Obama than under President George W. Bush.

Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod
over national sovereignty and sometimes killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the
United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies
including, in at least a few cases, its own citizens.

The Obama administration has argued that the drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its allies are
lawful as part of the military action authorized by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as
well as under the general principle of self-defense. By those rules, such targeted killing is not
assassination, which is banned by executive order.

The Pentagon now has about 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago,
and asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones in the 2012 budget.

Drones have become crucial in fighting terrorism. The C.I.A. spied on Osama bin Laden’s
compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a drone. One of Pakistan’s most wanted
militants, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported dead in a June 2011 C.I.A. drone strike, part of an
aggressive drone campaign that administration officials say has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the
region. More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas have been killed by American
drones since 2006, according to the Web site, which closely tracks the
strikes as part of its focus on the war on terror.

In September 2011, a drone missile killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric,
using live video on Yemeni tribal turf where it is too dangerous for American troops to go. It was
another sign that, disillusioned by huge costs and uncertain outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan,
the Obama administration has decisively embraced the drone as the future of the fight against
terrorist networks.

President Obama authorized the use of drones early in the NATO-led air campaign against Col.
Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya. In October 2011, an American Predator drone and a
French warplane hit two vehicles in a convoy fleeing his hometown of Surt. Though neither
vehicle carried Colonel Qaddafi, the rest of the convoy detoured and scattered; Mr. Qaddafi was
soon caught by rebels and killed.

Report Cites High Civilian Toll in Pakistan

In December 2009, the Obama administration authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone
program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

The program has been quietly hailed by counterterrorism officials as a resounding success,
eliminating key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray. But it has generated
public anger in Pakistan, and some counterinsurgency experts wonder whether it does more
harm than good.

In September 2012, a new report on targeted killing by C.I.A. drones in tribal areas concluded
that the strikes have killed more civilians than American officials have acknowledged, alienated
Pakistani public opinion and set a dangerous precedent under international law.

The report, by human rights researchers at the Stanford and New York University law schools,
urged the United States to “conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing
practices” including “short- and long-term costs and benefits.” It also called on the
administration to make public still-secret legal opinions justifying the strikes.

Human rights groups have previously reached similar conclusions, and the report drew heavily
on previous reporting, notably by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism in London. But the
study was among the most thorough on the subject to date and was based on interviews with
people injured by drone-fired missiles, their family members, Pakistani officials, lawyers and


Predator spy planes were first used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. The Air Force’s fleet has
grown quickly in recent years. But despite their popularity, the drones have many shortcomings
that have resulted from the rush to deploy them. Air Force officials acknowledge that more than
a third of their Predators have crashed. Complaints about civilian casualties have also stirred
concern among human rights advocates.

Though the political consensus is in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech
appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is; for the first time in history, a civilian
intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in
a country where the United States is not officially at war.

The Recruiting Tool of Choice

The administration’s success at killing terrorism suspects has been shadowed by a suspicion:
that Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no
prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been
taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new prisoners to

Mr. Obama’s aides deny such a policy, arguing that capture is often impossible in the rugged
tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen and that many terrorist suspects are in foreign prisons
because of American tips.

Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010
guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting
civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
The very first strike under Mr. Obama’s watch on Dec. 17, 2009, in Yemen, not only killed its
intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that
subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of precise operation that Mr. Obama
favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts
flooded YouTube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.

In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In
addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near
certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide
personally whether to go ahead.

A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Mr. Obama believes that he
should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish
America’s image and derail diplomacy.

Campaign in Pakistan Deeply Unpopular

The C.I.A. drone strikes in tribal regions of Pakistan have cast a pall of fear over North
Waziristan, an area that was once a free zone for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, forcing militants to
abandon satellite phones and large gatherings in favor of communicating by courier and moving
stealthily in small groups.

The Pakistan military has done its best to shut down the drone campaign as relations with the
United States soured after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 by American commandos
operating deep inside Pakistan.

In October 2011, drone-fired missiles were used to kill Janbaz Zadran, a ranking member of the
militant Haqqani network in northwestern Pakistan, and two other militants, according to a
senior U.S. official. The Haqqani network is a top threat in Afghanistan and is widely believed to
have been behind the siege of the American Embassy and NATO’s headquarters in Kabul in
September 2011. According to top-ranking American officials, the Haqqani network is supported
by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Relations between the two countries took another turn for the worse in November 2011 when a
NATO air attack killed 26 Pakistani soldiers in strikes against two military posts at the country’s
northwestern border with Afghanistan.

Diplomatic relations broke off entirely until, in March 2012, both Pakistan and the United States
decided to try to restart their troubled relationship.

But in mainstream Pakistan, where the talk was of breached sovereignty and civilian casualties,
the C.I.A. campaign remained deeply unpopular.

In late March, a major parliamentary review of relations with the United States opened with
calls for an end to drone strikes and an unconditional apology for an American attack on
Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. The demands set a tough tone for a long-awaited debate
that the United States hopes will set off a resumption of full diplomatic relations and the
reopening of NATO supply lines through Pakistan.
Stressing that the United States should respect Pakistani “sovereignty, independence and
territorial integrity,” the committee called on the C.I.A. to halt its drone strike campaign in the
tribal belt, which has resulted in at least 265 attacks since January 2008.

Unarmed Drones to Shield Diplomats

In January 2012, Iraqi officials expressed outrage about the use of small fleet of surveillance
drones to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American

The program foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the
diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of
the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. American contractors say they have been told
that the State Department is considering fielding unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a
handful of other potentially “high-threat” countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in
Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave.

The State Department began operating some drones in Iraq in 2011 on a trial basis, and stepped
up their use after the last American troops left Iraq taking the military drones with them.

The State Department drones carry no weapons and are meant to provide data and images of
possible hazards, like public protests or roadblocks, to security personnel on the ground. They
are much smaller than armed drones, with wingspans as short as 18 inches, compared with 55
feet for the Predators.

Commercial Drones in U.S. Skies

A federal law, signed by President Obama on Feb. 14, 2012, compelled the Federal Aviation
Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors — from selling
real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood
films. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones.

But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are celebrating the opening of the
skies to these unmanned aerial vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the
drones will capture about lives down below — and what will be done with that information.
Safety concerns like midair collisions and property damage on the ground are also an issue.

American courts have generally permitted surveillance of private property from public airspace.
But scholars of privacy law expect that the likely proliferation of drones will force Americans to
re-examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with.

The new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came after intense lobbying by drone
makers and potential customers.

The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to double in the next decade,
according to industry figures. Drones can cost millions of dollars for the most sophisticated
varieties to as little as $300 for one that can be piloted from an iPhone.

The Obama Policy and a Legal Challenge
In early March 2012, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. spoke at Northwestern University’s
law school in Chicago describing the Obama administration’s view that it is lawful for the
government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda
and if capturing them alive is not feasible.

While Mr. Holder was not the first administration official to address the targeted killing of
citizens, it was notable for the nation’s top law enforcement official to declare that it is
constitutional for the government to kill citizens without any judicial review under certain

Mr. Holder’s speech had been planned since fall 2011, when questions were first raised about the
Obama administration’s legal justification for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki a New
Mexico-born radical Muslim cleric who died in an American drone strike in Yemen, along with
another American citizen, Samir Khan.

That policy was challenged in a lawsuit filed in July 2012 by relatives of Mr. Awlaki, Mr. Khan,
and Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, also an American citizen, who was killed by a drone strike in
Yemen in October 2011; the younger Mr. Awlaki was not the target of the drone.

“The killings violated fundamental rights afforded to all U.S. citizens, including the right not to
be deprived of life without due process of law,” the complaint said.

But the new lawsuit may face other procedural impediments before it would reach any
substantive ruling on whether the strikes violated the Constitution — or even a public
acknowledgment that the United States government did carry them out and an explanation of
the evidence and decision-making behind them.

The Justice Department, which is likely to provide lawyers for the defendants, may ask a judge
to dismiss the case by asserting that the evidence necessary to litigate it would disclose state
secrets, or that decisions about whom to kill are “political questions” not fit for judicial review.
The government asserted both arguments in the 2010 case, and the judge who dismissed that
lawsuit also cited the “political question” doctrine.

Even if a judge declined to dismiss the case on those grounds, the officials could assert that
“qualified immunity” protected them from lawsuits alleging that they violated someone’s
constitutional rights while performing official actions that did not violate “clearly established
law” at the time.

Method for Counting Civilian Casualties

Mr. Obama has embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties. It in effect counts
all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration
officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known
terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral
deaths. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency
that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association”
that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

His focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the
Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and
more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.

Growing Need for Drone Pilots

The Air Force has more than 1,300 drone pilots, about 300 less than it needs, stationed at 13 or
more bases across the United States. They fly the unmanned aircraft mostly in Afghanistan. (The
numbers do not include the classified program of the C.I.A., which conducts drone strikes in
Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.) Although the Afghan war is winding down, the military expects
drones to help compensate for fewer troops on the ground.

By 2015, the Pentagon projects that the Air Force will need more than 2,000 drone pilots for
combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day worldwide. The Air Force is already training more
drone pilots — 350 last year — than fighter and bomber pilots combined. Until 2012, drone
pilots went through traditional flight training before learning how to operate Predators, Reapers
and unarmed Global Hawks. Now the pilots are on a fast track and spend only 40 hours in a
basic Cessna-type plane before starting their drone training.

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said it was “conceivable” that drone pilots
in the Air Force would outnumber those in cockpits in the foreseeable future, although he
predicted that the Air Force would have traditional pilots for at least 30 more years

Covert War on Terror
Obama terror drones: CIA tactics in Pakistan include targeting rescuers and

February 4th, 2012 | by Chris Woods and Christina Lamb | Published in All Stories, Covert War
on Terror, Drones carousel

Please support our work - share this article
               Missiles being loaded onto a military Reaper drone in Afghanistan.

The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help
rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times
has revealed.

The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in
Pakistan was a ‘targeted, focused effort’ that ‘has not caused a huge number of civilian

Speaking publicly for the first time on the controversial CIA drone strikes, Obama claimed last
week they are used strictly to target terrorists, rejecting what he called ‘this perception we’re just
sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly’.

‘Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’, he told a questioner at an on-line
forum. ‘This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists trying to
go in and harm Americans’.

But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282
and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three
month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians
were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have
also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been
condemned by leading legal experts.

Although the drone attacks were started under the Bush administration in 2004, they have been
stepped up enormously under Obama.

There have been 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan by Obama’s
administration – averaging one every four days. Because the attacks are carried out by the CIA,
no information is given on the numbers killed.

Administration officials insist that these covert attacks are legal. John Brennan, the president’s
top counterterrorism adviser, argues that the US has the right to unilaterally strike terrorists
anywhere in the world, not just what he called ‘hot battlefields’.

‘Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the legal
position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action against
al-Qaeda and its associated forces,’ he told a conference at Harvard Law School last year. ‘The
United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being
restricted solely to”hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.’

State-sanctioned extra-judicial executions
But some international law specialists fiercely disagree, arguing that the strikes amount to little
more than state-sanctioned extra-judicial executions and questioning how the US government
would react if another state such as China or Russia started taking such action against those they
declare as enemies.

Related article: A question of legality

The first confirmed attack on rescuers took place in North Waziristan on May 16 2009.
According to Mushtaq Yusufzai, a local journalist, Taliban militants had gathered in the village
of Khaisor. After praying at the local mosque, they were preparing to cross the nearby border
into Afghanistan to launch an attack on US forces. But the US struck first.

 Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the
very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution.
Naz Modirzadeh, Harvard University

A CIA drone fired its missiles into the Taliban group, killing at least a dozen people. Villagers
joined surviving Taliban as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured.

But as rescuers clambered through the demolished house the drones struck again. Two missiles
slammed into the rubble, killing many more. At least 29 people died in total.

‘We lost very trained and sincere friends‘, a local Taliban commander told The News, a
Pakistani newspaper. ‘Some of them were very senior Taliban commanders and had taken part in
successful actions in Afghanistan. Bodies of most of them were beyond recognition.’
Related article: Witnesses speak out

For the Americans the attack was a success. A surprise tactic had resulted in the deaths of many
Taliban. But locals say that six ordinary villagers also died that day, identified by Bureau field
researchers as Sabir, Ikram, Mohib, Zahid, Mashal and Syed Noor (most people in the area use
only one name).

Yusufzai, who reported on the attack, says those killed in the follow-up strike ‘were trying to
pull out the bodies, to help clear the rubble, and take people to hospital.’ The impact of drone
attacks on rescuers has been to scare people off, he says: ‘They’ve learnt that something will
happen. No one wants to go close to these damaged building anymore.’

The legal view
Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict
Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal

‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very
narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even
need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each
death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’
    Waziristan residents hold up missile fragments from drone strikes in October 2010 / Noor

The Khaisoor incident was not a one-off. Between May 2009 and June 2011, at least fifteen
attacks on rescuers were reported by credible news media, including the New York Times, CNN,
Associated Press, ABC News and Al Jazeera.

It is notoriously difficult for the media to operate safely in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Both militants
and the military routinely threaten journalists. Yet for three months a team of local researchers
has been seeking independent confirmation of these strikes.

Eyewitness accounts
The researchers have found credible, independently sourced evidence of civilians killed in ten of
the reported attacks on rescuers. In five other reported attacks, the researchers found no evidence
of any rescuers – civilians or otherwise – killed.

  Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the
legal position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action
against al-Qaeda and its associated forces.
John Brennan, counterterrorism adviser to Obama

The researchers were told by villagers that strikes on rescuers began as early as March 2008,
although no media carried reports at the time. The Bureau is seeking testimony relating to nine
additional incidents.

Often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the
dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also
shows frequent references to civilian rescuers. Mosques often exhort villagers to come forward
and help, for example – particularly following attacks that mistakenly kill civilians.

Other tactics are also raising concerns. On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a
mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger
fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

‘A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,’
according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his recent book
The Triple Agent. ‘True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took
shape. But he would not be for long.’

The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others.
Speaking with the Bureau, Pulitzer Prize-winner Warrick confirmed what his US intelligence
sources had told him: ‘The initial target was no doubt a target anyway, as it was described to me,
as someone that they were interested in. And as they were planning this attack, a possible
windfall from that is that it would shake Mehsud himself out of his hiding place.’
Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only
Taliban fighters but many civilians. US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as
45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. Taliban leader
Baitullah Mehsud escaped unharmed, dying six weeks later along with his wife in a fresh CIA
                            A funeral for victims of a US drone strike.

Clive Stafford-Smith, the lawyer who heads the Anglo-US legal charity Reprieve, believes that
such strikes ‘are like attacking the Red Cross on the battlefield. It’s not legitimate to attack
anyone who is not a combatant.’

Christof Heyns, a South African law professor who is United Nations Special Rapporteur on
Extra- judicial Executions, agrees. ‘Allegations of repeat strikes coming back after half an hour
when medical personnel are on the ground are very worrying’, he said. ‘To target civilians would
be crimes of war.’ Heyns is calling for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings.

One of the most devastating attacks took place on March 17 last year, the day after Pakistan had
released American CIA contractor Raymond Davis, jailed for shooting dead two men in Lahore.
Davis had been held for two months and was released after the payment of blood money said to
be around $2.3m.

A case of retaliation?
The Agency was said to be furious at the affair. The following day when a massive drone strike
killed up to 42 people gathered at a meeting in North Waziristan, Pakistani officials believed it to
be retaliation.

 Such strikes ‘are like attacking the Red Cross on the battlefield. It’s not legitimate to attack
anyone who is not a combatant.
Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve

The commander of Pakistan forces in the area at the time was Brigadier Abdullah Dogar. He
admits that in drone attacks in general ‘people invariably get reported as innocent bystanders’.
But in that case he has no doubt. ‘I was sitting there where our friends say they were targeting
terrorists and I know they were innocent people’, he said.

Related article: Get the Data: Obama’s terror drones

The mountains in the area contain chromite mines and the ownership was disputed between two
tribes, so a Jirga or tribal meeting had been called to resolve the issue.

‘We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting’, he said, ‘we’d got the request ten days

‘It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile
strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga – they have their people
attending – but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?’

‘Drones may make tactical gains but I don’t see how there’s any strategic advantage’, he added.
‘When innocent people die, then you’re creating a whole lot more people with an issue.’
Growing tensions
Drone attacks have long been a source of tension between the US and Pakistan despite the fact
that the Pakistan government gave tacit agreement, even allowing them to fly from Shamsi
airbase in the western province of Baluchistan, while publicly denouncing the attacks.

In return the US made sure that some of the terrorists killed were those targeting Pakistan.

However the relationship has been stretched to breaking point, first with the raid to kill Osama
bin Laden in May and subsequent US accusations of Pakistani complicity, then the NATO
bombing of a Pakistani post in November, killing 24 soldiers. In December Pakistan ordered the
CIA to vacate the Shamsi base. For a while drone attacks stopped but they resumed two weeks

  I was sitting there where our friends say they were targeting terrorists and I know they were
innocent people.
Brigadier Abdullah Dogar, former commander Pakistan forces

The US claims the drones are a vital tool that have helped them almost wipe out the leadership of
al Qaeda in Pakistan. But others point out they have stoked enormous anti-American sentiment
in a country with an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons.

Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Initiative at the Brookings Institution, points out the
operation has never been debated in Congress which has to approve sending US forces to war.

So dramatic is the switch to unmanned war that he says the US now has 7,000 drones operating
and 12,000 more on the ground, while not a single new manned combat aircraft is under research
or development at any western aerospace company.

After a remarkable lack of debate, there is starting to be unease in the US at the lack of
transparency and accountability in the use of drones particularly as the campaign has expanded
to hit targets in Libya, Yemen and Somalia and until recently to patrol the skies in Iraq.

Three US citizens were killed by missiles fired from drones in Yemen last September. Anwar al
Awlaqi, an alleged al Qaeda operative, was deliberately targeted in what some have described as
the US government’s first ever execution of one of its own citizens without trial. His colleague
and fellow citizen Samir Khan also died in the attack. Two weeks later Awlaqi’s 16 year old son
Abdulrahman died in a strike on alleged al Qaeda militants.

Such unmanned war is a politician’s dream, avoiding the inconvenience of sending someone’s
son or daughter, mother or father, into harm’s way.

The fact that the operations are carried out by the CIA rather than the US military enables the
administration to evade questions. The Agency press office responds to media inquiries on the
subject with no comment and refusal to give names of those killed or who are on the target list.
Until Obama’s comments last week, the White House would not even confirm the programme

‘We don’t discuss classified programs or comment on alleged strikes’, said a senior
administration official in response to the findings presented by the Sunday Times.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit last week demanding the Obama administration release legal and
intelligence records on the killing of the three US citizens in in Yemen.

Privately some senior US military officers say they are extremely uncomfortable at the way the
administration is carrying out these operations using the CIA which is not covered by laws of
war or the Geneva Convention.

The use of drones outside a declared war zone is seen by many legal experts as setting a
dangerous precedent. Aside from allies such as Israel, Britain and France, other countries have
drone technology including China, Russia and Pakistan. Iran recently captured a downed US

Heyns, the UN rapporteur, said an international legal framework is urgently needed to govern
their use.

‘Our concern is how far does it go – will the whole world be a theatre of war?’ he asked. ‘Drones
in principle allow collateral damage to be minimised but because they can be used without
danger to a country’s own troops they tend to be used more widely. One doesn’t want to use the
term ticking bomb but it’s extremely seductive.’

Additional reporting by Rahimullah Yusufzai in Peshawar, Pakistan

Christina Lamb is the Washington Bureau Chief of the Sunday Times

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Text of John Brennan’s Speech on
Drone Strikes Today at the Wilson
By Robert Chesney
Monday, April 30, 2012 at 12:50 PM

                                     THE WHITE HOUSE

                                  Office of the Press Secretary



April 30, 2012

                  Remarks of John O. Brennan – As Prepared for Delivery

          Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

                     Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

                                       Washington, DC

                                    Monday, April 30, 2012

          “The Ethics and Efficacy of the President’s Counterterrorism Strategy”

As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you, Jane, for your very kind introduction and for your leadership, here at the Woodrow
Wilson Center and in your decades of public service. Few individuals can match the range of
Jane Harman’s expertise—from the armed services to intelligence to homeland security. And
anyone who ever appeared before her committees knew it. So Jane, I’ll just say that I’m finally
glad to be sharing the stage with you instead of testifying before you.

To you and everyone here at the Woodrow Wilson Center, thank you for your invaluable
contributions—your research, your scholarship—which help further our national security every
day. I very much appreciate this opportunity to discuss President Obama’s counterterrorism
strategy, in particular, its ethics and efficacy.

It is fitting that we have this discussion here at the Woodrow Wilson Center. It was here in
August 2007 that then-Senator Obama described how he would bring the war in Iraq to a
responsible end and refocus our efforts on “the war that has to be won”—the war against al-
Qa’ida, particularly in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said that we would carry on this fight while upholding our laws and our values and that he
would work with allies and partners whenever possible. But he also made it clear that he would
not hesitate to use military force against terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. And he
said that if he had actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, including in Pakistan,
he would act to protect the American people.

So it is especially fitting that we have this discussion today. One year ago today, President
Obama faced the scenario that he discussed here at the Wilson Center five years ago, and he did
not hesitate to act. Soon thereafter, our Special Operations Forces were moving toward that
compound in Pakistan where we believed Usama bin Laden might be hiding. By the end of the
next day, President Obama could confirm that justice had finally been delivered to the terrorist
responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, and for so many other deaths around the

The death of bin Laden was our most strategic blow yet against al-Qa’ida. Credit for that success
belongs to the courageous forces who carried out that mission, at extraordinary risk to their lives;
to the many intelligence professionals who pieced together the clues that led to bin Laden’s
hideout; and to President Obama, who gave the order to go in.

One year later, it’s appropriate to assess where we stand in this fight. We’ve always been clear
that the end of bin Laden would neither mark the end of al-Qa’ida, nor our resolve to destroy it.
So along with allies and partners, we’ve been unrelenting. And when we assess the al-Qa’ida of
2012, I think it is fair to say that, as a result of our efforts, the United States is more secure and
the American people are safer. Here’s why.

In Pakistan, al-Qa’ida’s leadership ranks have continued to suffer heavy losses. This includes
Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al-Qa’ida’s top operational planners, killed a month after bin Laden. It
includes Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, killed when he succeeded Ayman al-Zawahiri as al-Qa’ida’s
deputy leader. It includes Younis al-Mauritani, a planner of attacks against the United States and
Europe—until he was captured by Pakistani forces.

With its most skilled and experienced commanders being lost so quickly, al-Qa’ida has had
trouble replacing them. This is one of the many conclusions we have been able to draw from
documents seized at bin Laden’s compound, some of which will be published online, for the first
time, this week by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. For example, bin Laden worried
about—and I quote—“the rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced and this would lead to
the repeat of mistakes.”
Al-Qa’ida leaders continue to struggle to communicate with subordinates and affiliates. Under
intense pressure in the tribal regions of Pakistan, they have fewer places to train and groom the
next generation of operatives. They’re struggling to attract new recruits. Morale is low, with
intelligence indicating that some members are giving up and returning home, no doubt aware that
this is a fight they will never win. In short, al-Qa’ida is losing, badly. And bin Laden knew it. In
documents we seized, he confessed to “disaster after disaster.” He even urged his leaders to flee
the tribal regions, and go to places, “away from aircraft photography and bombardment.”

For all these reasons, it is harder than ever for the al-Qa’ida core in Pakistan to plan and execute
large-scale, potentially catastrophic attacks against our homeland. Today, it is increasingly clear
that—compared to 9/11—the core al-Qa’ida leadership is a shadow of its former self. Al-Qa’ida
has been left with just a handful of capable leaders and operatives, and with continued pressure is
on the path to its destruction. And for the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and
envision a world in which the al-Qa’ida core is simply no longer relevant.

Nevertheless, the dangerous threat from al-Qa’ida has not disappeared. As the al-Qa’ida core
falters, it continues to look to its affiliates and adherents to carry on its murderous cause. Yet
these affiliates continue to lose key commanders and capabilities as well. In Somalia, it is indeed
worrying to witness al-Qa’ida’s merger with al-Shabaab, whose ranks include foreign fighters,
some with U.S. passports. At the same time, al-Shabaab continues to focus primarily on
launching regional attacks, and ultimately, this is a merger between two organizations in decline.

In Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, continues to feel the effects of the
death last year of Anwar al-Awlaki, its leader of external operations who was responsible for
planning and directing terrorist attacks against the United States. Nevertheless, AQAP continues
to be al-Qa’ida’s most active affiliate, and it continues to seek the opportunity to strike our
homeland. We therefore continue to support the government of Yemen in its efforts against
AQAP, which is being forced to fight for the territory it needs to plan attacks beyond Yemen.

In North and West Africa, another al-Qa’ida affiliate, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, or
AQIM, continues its efforts to destabilize regional governments and engages in kidnapping of
Western citizens for ransom activities designed to fund its terrorist agenda. And in Nigeria, we
are monitoring closely the emergence of Boko Haram, a group that appears to be aligning itself
with al-Qa’ida’s violent agenda and is increasingly looking to attack Western interests in Nigeria
in addition to Nigerian government targets.

More broadly, al-Qa’ida’s killing of innocents—mostly Muslim men, women and children—has
badly tarnished its image and appeal in the eyes of Muslims around the world. Even bin Laden
and his lieutenants knew this. His propagandist, Adam Gadahn, admitted that they were now
seen “as a group that does not hesitate to take people’s money by falsehood, detonating mosques,
[and] spilling the blood of scores of people.” Bin Laden agreed that “a large portion” of Muslims
around the world “have lost their trust” in al-Qa’ida.

So damaged is al-Qa’ida’s image that bin Laden even considered changing its name. And one of
the reasons? As bin Laden said himself, U.S. officials “have largely stopped using the phrase ‘the
war on terror’ in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims.” Simply calling them al-Qa’ida,
bin Laden said, “reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them.” To which I would add,
that is because al-Qa’ida does not belong to Muslims. Al-Qa’ida is the antithesis of the peace,
tolerance and humanity that is at the heart of Islam.

Despite the great progress we’ve made against al-Qa’ida, it would be a mistake to believe this
threat has passed. Al-Qa’ida and its associated forces still have the intent to attack the United
States. And we have seen lone individuals, including American citizens—often inspired by al-
Qa’ida’s murderous ideology—kill innocent Americans and seek to do us harm.

Still, the damage that has been inflicted on the leadership core in Pakistan, combined with how
al-Qa’ida has alienated itself from so much of the world, allows us to look forward. Indeed, if the
decade before 9/11 was the time of al-Qa’ida’s rise, and the decade after 9/11 was the time of its
decline, then I believe this decade will be the one that sees its demise.

This progress is no accident. It is a direct result of intense efforts over more than a decade, across
two administrations, across the U.S. government and in concert with allies and partners. This
includes the comprehensive counterterrorism strategy being directed by President Obama, a
strategy guided by the President’s highest responsibility—to protect the safety and security of the
American people.

In this fight, we are harnessing every element of American power—intelligence, military,
diplomatic, development, economic, financial, law enforcement, homeland security and the
power of our values, including our commitment to the rule of law. That’s why, for instance, in
his first days in office, President Obama banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques,
which are not needed to keep our country safe.

Staying true to our values as a nation also includes upholding the transparency upon which our
democracy depends. A few months after taking office, the President travelled to the National
Archives where he discussed how national security requires a delicate balance between secrecy
and transparency. He pledged to share as much information as possible with the American
people “so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.” He has consistently
encouraged those of us on his national security team to be as open and candid as possible as well.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Holder discussed how our counterterrorism efforts are rooted
in, and are strengthened by, adherence to the law, including the legal authorities that allow us to
pursue members of al-Qa’ida—including U.S. citizens—and to do so using “technologically
advanced weapons.”

In addition, Jeh Johnson, the general counsel at the Department of Defense, has addressed the
legal basis for our military efforts against al-Qa’ida. Stephen Preston, the general counsel at the
CIA, has discussed how the Agency operates under U.S. law. These speeches build on a lecture
two years ago by Harold Koh, the State Department Legal Adviser, who noted that “U.S.
targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial
vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.”
Given these efforts, I venture to say that the United States government has never been so open
regarding its counterterrorism policies and their legal justification. Still, there continues to be
considerable public and legal debate surrounding these technologies and how they are sometimes
used in our fight against al-Qa’ida.

Now, I want to be very clear. In the course of the war in Afghanistan and the fight against al-
Qa’ida, I think the American people expect us to use advanced technologies, for example, to
prevent attacks on U.S. forces and to remove terrorists from the battlefield. We do, and it has
saved the lives of our men and women in uniform.

What has clearly captured the attention of many, however, is a different practice, beyond hot
battlefields like Afghanistan—identifying specific members of al-Qa’ida and then targeting them
with lethal force, often using aircraft remotely operated by pilots who can be hundreds if not
thousands of miles away. This is what I want to focus on today.

Jack Goldsmith—a former assistant attorney general in the administration of George W. Bush
and now a professor at Harvard Law School—captured the situation well. He wrote:

The government needs a way to credibly convey to the public that its decisions about who is
being targeted — especially when the target is a U.S. citizen — are sound…. First, the
government can and should tell us more about the process by which it reaches its high-value
targeting decisions…The more the government tells us about the eyeballs on the issue and the
robustness of the process, the more credible will be its claims about the accuracy of its factual
determinations and the soundness of its legal ones. All of this information can be disclosed in
some form without endangering critical intelligence.

Well, President Obama agrees. And that is why I am here today.

I stand here as someone who has been involved with our nation’s security for more than thirty
years. I have a profound appreciation for the truly remarkable capabilities of our
counterterrorism professionals—and our relationships with other nations—and we must never
compromise them. I will not discuss the sensitive details of any specific operation today. I will
not, nor will I ever, publicly divulge sensitive intelligence sources and methods. For when that
happens, our national security is endangered and lives can be lost.

At the same time, we reject the notion that any discussion of these matters is to step onto a
slippery slope that inevitably endangers our national security. Too often, that fear can become an
excuse for saying nothing at all—which creates a void that is then filled with myths and
falsehoods. That, in turn, can erode our credibility with the American people and with foreign
partners, and it can undermine the public’s understanding and support for our efforts. In contrast,
President Obama believes that—done carefully, deliberately and responsibly—we can be more
transparent and still ensure our nation’s security.

So let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law—and in order to prevent
terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives—the United States Government
conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qa’ida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted
aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones. And I’m here today because President Obama has
instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.

Broadly speaking, the debate over strikes targeted at individual members of al-Qa’ida has
centered on their legality, their ethics, the wisdom of using them, and the standards by which
they are approved. With the remainder of my time today, I would like to address each of these in

First, these targeted strikes are legal. Attorney General Holder, Harold Koh and Jeh Johnson
have all addressed this question at length. To briefly recap, as a matter of domestic law, the
Constitution empowers the President to protect the nation from any imminent threat of attack.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force—the AUMF—passed by Congress after the
September 11th attacks authorizes the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force”
against those nations, organizations and individuals responsible for 9/11. There is nothing in the
AUMF that restricts the use of military force against al-Qa’ida to Afghanistan.

As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the
Taliban, and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force
consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense. There is nothing in international law
that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using
lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country
involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.

Second, targeted strikes are ethical. Without question, the ability to target a specific individual—
from hundreds or thousands of miles away—raises profound questions. Here, I think it’s useful
to consider such strikes against the basic principles of the law of war that govern the use of force.

Targeted strikes conform to the principle of necessity—the requirement that the target have
definite military value. In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qa’ida or its
associated forces are legitimate military targets. We have the authority to target them with lethal
force just as we targeted enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as German and Japanese
commanders during World War II.

Targeted strikes conform to the principle of distinction—the idea that only military objectives
may be intentionally targeted and that civilians are protected from being intentionally targeted.
With the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective
while minimizing collateral damage, one could argue that never before has there been a weapon
that allows us to distinguish more effectively between an al-Qa’ida terrorist and innocent

Targeted strikes conform to the principle of proportionality—the notion that the anticipated
collateral damage of an action cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military
advantage. By targeting an individual terrorist or small numbers of terrorists with ordnance that
can be adapted to avoid harming others in the immediate vicinity, it is hard to imagine a tool that
can better minimize the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft.
For the same reason, targeted strikes conform to the principle of humanity which requires us to
use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering. For all these reasons, I suggest to you
that these targeted strikes against al-Qa’ida terrorists are indeed ethical and just.

Of course, even if a tool is legal and ethical, that doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate or
advisable in a given circumstance. This brings me to my next point.

Targeted strikes are wise. Remotely piloted aircraft in particular can be a wise choice because of
geography, with their ability to fly hundreds of miles over the most treacherous terrain, strike
their targets with astonishing precision, and then return to base. They can be a wise choice
because of time, when windows of opportunity can close quickly and there may be just minutes
to act.

They can be a wise choice because they dramatically reduce the danger to U.S. personnel, even
eliminating the danger altogether. Yet they are also a wise choice because they dramatically
reduce the danger to innocent civilians, especially considered against massive ordinance that can
cause injury and death far beyond its intended target.

In addition, compared against other options, a pilot operating this aircraft remotely —with the
benefit of technology and with the safety of distance—might actually have a clearer picture of
the target and its surroundings, including the presence of innocent civilians. It’s this surgical
precision—the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al-Qa’ida
terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it—that makes this counterterrorism tool so

There’s another reason that targeted strikes can be a wise choice—the strategic consequences
that inevitably come with the use of force. As we’ve seen, deploying large armies abroad won’t
always be our best offense. Countries typically don’t want foreign soldiers in their cities and
towns. In fact, large, intrusive military deployments risk playing into al-Qa’ida’s strategy of
trying to draw us into long, costly wars that drain us financially, inflame anti-American
resentment and inspire the next generation of terrorists. In comparison, there is the precision of
targeted strikes.

I acknowledge that we—as a government—along with our foreign partners, can and must do a
better job of addressing the mistaken belief among some foreign publics that we engage in these
strikes casually, as if we are simply unwilling to expose U.S forces to the dangers faced every
day by people in those regions. For, as I’ll describe today, there is absolutely nothing casual
about the extraordinary care we take in making the decision to pursue an al-Qa’ida terrorist, and
the lengths to which we go to ensure precision and avoid the loss of innocent life.

Still, there is no more consequential a decision than deciding whether to use lethal force against
another human being—even a terrorist dedicated to killing American citizens. So in order to
ensure that our counterterrorism operations involving the use of lethal force are legal, ethical and
wise, President Obama has demanded that we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards
and processes.
This reflects his approach to broader questions regarding the use of force. In his speech in Oslo
accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the President said that “all nations, strong and weak alike, must
adhere to standards that govern the use of force.” And he added:

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain
rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe
the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what
makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.

The United States is the first nation to regularly conduct strikes using remotely piloted aircraft in
an armed conflict. Other nations also possess this technology. Many more nations are seeking it,
and more will succeed in acquiring it. President Obama and those of us on his national security
team are very mindful that as our nation uses this technology, we are establishing precedents that
other nations may follow, and not all of them will be nations that share our interests or the
premium we put on protecting human life, including innocent civilians.

If we want other nations to use these technologies responsibly, we must use them responsibly. If
we want other nations to adhere to high and rigorous standards for their use, then we must do so
as well. We cannot expect of others what we will not do ourselves. President Obama has
therefore demanded that we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards—that, at every step,
we be as thorough and deliberate as possible.

This leads me to the final point I want to discuss today — the rigorous standards and process of
review to which we hold ourselves today when considering and authorizing strikes against a
specific member of al-Qa’ida outside the “hot” battlefield of Afghanistan. What I hope to do is to
give you a general sense, in broad terms, of the high bar we require ourselves to meet when
making these profound decisions today. That includes not only whether a specific member of al-
Qa’ida can legally be pursued with lethal force, but also whether he should be.

Over time, we’ve worked to refine, clarify, and strengthen this process and our standards, and we
continue to do so. If our counterterrorism professionals assess, for example, that a suspected
member of al-Qa’ida poses such a threat to the United States as to warrant lethal action, they
may raise that individual’s name for consideration. The proposal will go through a careful review
and, as appropriate, will be evaluated by the very most senior officials in our government for

First and foremost, the individual must be a legitimate target under the law. Earlier, I described
how the use of force against members of al-Qa’ida is authorized under both international and
U.S. law, including both the inherent right of national self-defense and the 2001 Authorization
for Use of Military Force, which courts have held extends to those who are part of al-Qa’ida, the
Taliban, and associated forces. If, after a legal review, we determine that the individual is not a
lawful target, end of discussion. We are a nation of laws, and we will always act within the
bounds of the law.

Of course, the law only establishes the outer limits of the authority in which counterterrorism
professionals can operate. Even if we determine that it is lawful to pursue the terrorist in question
with lethal force, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. There are, after all, literally thousands
of individuals who are part of al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, or associated forces—thousands. Even if it
were possible, going after every single one of these individuals with lethal force would neither be
wise nor an effective use of our intelligence and counterterrorism resources.

As a result, we have to be strategic. Even if it is lawful to pursue a specific member of al-Qa’ida,
we ask ourselves whether that individual’s activities rise to a certain threshold for action, and
whether taking action will, in fact, enhance our security.

For example, when considering lethal force we ask ourselves whether the individual poses a
significant threat to U.S. interests. This is absolutely critical, and it goes to the very essence of
why we take this kind of exceptional action. We do not engage in lethal action in order to
eliminate every single member of al-Qa’ida in the world. Most times, and as we have done for
more than a decade, we rely on cooperation with other countries that are also interested in
removing these terrorists with their own capabilities and within their own laws. Nor is lethal
action about punishing terrorists for past crimes; we are not seeking vengeance. Rather, we
conduct targeted strikes because they are necessary to mitigate an actual ongoing threat — to
stop plots, prevent future attacks, and save American lives.

And what do we mean by a significant threat? I am not referring to some hypothetical threat—
the mere possibility that a member of al-Qa’ida might try to attack us at some point in the future.
A significant threat might be posed by an individual who is an operational leader of al-Qa’ida or
one of its associated forces. Or perhaps the individual is himself an operative—in the midst of
actually training for or planning to carry out attacks against U.S. interests. Or perhaps the
individual possesses unique operational skills that are being leveraged in a planned attack. The
purpose of a strike against a particular individual is to stop him before he can carry out his attack
and kill innocents. The purpose is to disrupt his plots and plans before they come to fruition.

In addition, our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that
capturing the individual is not feasible. I have heard it suggested that the Obama Administration
somehow prefers killing al-Qa’ida members rather than capturing them. Nothing could be further
from the truth. It is our preference to capture suspected terrorists whenever feasible.

For one reason, this allows us to gather valuable intelligence that we might not be able to obtain
any other way. In fact, the members of al-Qa’ida that we or other nations have captured have
been one of our greatest sources of information about al-Qa’ida, its plans, and its intentions. And
once in U.S. custody, we often can prosecute them in our federal courts or reformed military
commissions—both of which are used for gathering intelligence and preventing terrorist attacks.

You see our preference for capture in the case of Ahmed Warsame, a member of al-Shabaab who
had significant ties to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. Last year, when we learned that he
would be traveling from Yemen to Somalia, U.S. forces captured him in route and we
subsequently charged him in federal court.

The reality, however, is that since 2001 such unilateral captures by U.S. forces outside of “hot”
battlefields, like Afghanistan, have been exceedingly rare. This is due in part to the fact that in
many parts of the world our counterterrorism partners have been able to capture or kill dangerous
individuals themselves.

Moreover, after being subjected to more than a decade of relentless pressure, al-Qa’ida’s ranks
have dwindled and scattered. These terrorists are skilled at seeking remote, inhospitable terrain—
places where the United States and our partners simply do not have the ability to arrest or capture
them. At other times, our forces might have the ability to attempt capture, but only by putting the
lives of our personnel at too great a risk. Often times, attempting capture could subject civilians
to unacceptable risks. There are many reasons why capture might not be feasible, in which case
lethal force might be the only remaining option to address the threat and prevent an attack.

Finally, when considering lethal force we are of course mindful that there are important checks
on our ability to act unilaterally in foreign territories. We do not use force whenever we want,
wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and
the laws of war, impose constraints. The United States of America respects national sovereignty
and international law.

Those are some of the questions we consider; the high standards we strive to meet. And in the
end, we make a decision—we decide whether a particular member of al-Qa’ida warrants being
pursued in this manner. Given the stakes involved and the consequence of our decision, we
consider all the information available to us, carefully, responsibly.

We review the most up-to-date intelligence, drawing on the full range of our intelligence
capabilities. And we do what sound intelligence demands—we challenge it, we question it,
including any assumptions on which it might be based. If we want to know more, we may ask the
Intelligence Community to go back and collect additional intelligence or refine its analysis so
that a more informed decision can be made.

We listen to departments and agencies across our national security team. We don’t just hear out
differing views, we ask for them and encourage them. We discuss. We debate. We disagree. We
consider the advantages and disadvantages of taking action. We also carefully consider the costs
of inaction and whether a decision not to carry out a strike could allow a terrorist attack to
proceed and potentially kill scores of innocents.

Nor do we limit ourselves narrowly to counterterrorism considerations. We consider the broader
strategic implications of any action, including what effect, if any, an action might have on our
relationships with other countries. And we don’t simply make a decision and never revisit it
again. Quite the opposite. Over time, we refresh the intelligence and continue to consider
whether lethal force is still warranted.

In some cases—such as senior al-Qa’ida leaders who are directing and planning attacks against
the United States—the individual clearly meets our standards for taking action. In other cases,
individuals have not met our standards. Indeed, there have been numerous occasions where, after
careful review, we have, working on a consensus basis, concluded that lethal force was not
justified in a given case.
Finally, as the President’s counterterrorism advisor, I feel that it is important for the American
people to know that these efforts are overseen with extraordinary care and thoughtfulness. The
President expects us to address all of the tough questions I have discussed today. Is capture really
not feasible? Is this individual a significant threat to U.S. interests? Is this really the best option?
Have we thought through the consequences, especially any unintended ones? Is this really going
to help protect our country from further attacks? Is it going to save lives?

Our commitment to upholding the ethics and efficacy of this counterterrorism tool continues
even after we decide to pursue a specific terrorist in this way. For example, we only authorize a
particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the
individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing. This is a very high bar. Of
course, how we identify an individual naturally involves intelligence sources and methods, which
I will not discuss. Suffice it to say, our Intelligence Community has multiple ways to determine,
with a high degree of confidence, that the individual being targeted is indeed the al-Qa’ida
terrorist we are seeking.

In addition, 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. The unprecedented
advances we have made in technology provide us greater proximity to targets for a longer period
of time, and as a result allow us to better understand what is happening in real time on the ground
in ways that were previously impossible. We can be much more discriminating and we can make
more informed judgments about factors that might contribute to collateral damage.

I can tell you today that there have indeed been occasions when we have decided against
conducting a strike in order to avoid the injury or death of innocent civilians. This reflects our
commitment to doing everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties—even if it means
having to come back another day to take out that terrorist, as we have done. And I would note
that these standards—for identifying a target and avoiding the loss of innocent civilians—exceed
what is required as a matter of international law on a typical battlefield. That’s another example
of the high standards to which we hold ourselves.

Our commitment to ensuring accuracy and effectiveness continues even after a strike. In the
wake of a strike, we harness the full range of our intelligence capabilities to assess whether the
mission in fact achieved its objective. We try to determine whether there was any collateral
damage, including civilian deaths. There is, of course, no such thing as a perfect weapon, and
remotely piloted aircraft are no exception.

As the President and others have acknowledged, there have indeed been instances when—despite
the extraordinary precautions we take—civilians have been accidently injured, or worse, killed in
these strikes. It is exceedingly rare, but it has happened. When it does, it pains us and we regret it
deeply, as we do any time innocents are killed in war. And when this happens we take it
seriously. We go back and review our actions. We examine our practices. And we constantly
work to improve and refine our efforts so that we are doing everything in our power to prevent
the loss of innocent life. This too is a reflection of our values as Americans.
Ensuring the ethics and efficacy of these strikes also includes regularly informing appropriate
members of Congress and the committees who have oversight of our counterterrorism programs.
Indeed, our counterterrorism programs—including the use of lethal force—have grown more
effective over time because of congressional oversight and our ongoing dialogue with Members
and staff.

This is the seriousness, the extraordinary care, that President Obama and those of us on his
national security team bring to this weightiest of questions—whether to pursue lethal force
against a terrorist who is plotting to attack our country.

When that person is a U.S. citizen, we ask ourselves additional questions. Attorney General
Holder has already described the legal authorities that clearly allow us to use lethal force against
an American citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida. He has discussed the
thorough and careful review, including all relevant constitutional considerations, that is to be
undertaken by the U.S. government when determining whether the individual poses an imminent
threat of violent attack against the United States.

To recap, the standards and processes I’ve described today—which we have refined and
strengthened over time—reflect our commitment to: ensuring the individual is a legitimate target
under the law; determining whether the individual poses a significant threat to U.S. interests;
determining that capture is not feasible; being mindful of the important checks on our ability to
act unilaterally in foreign territories; having that high degree of confidence, both in the identity
of the target and that innocent civilians will not be harmed; and, of course, engaging in additional
review if the al-Qa’ida terrorist is a U.S. citizen.

Going forward, we’ll continue to strengthen and refine these standards and processes. As we do,
we’ll look to institutionalize our approach more formally so that the high standards we set for
ourselves endure over time, including as an example for other nations that pursue these
capabilities. As the President said at Oslo, in the conduct of war, America must be the standard

This includes our continuing commitment to greater transparency. With that in mind, I have
made a sincere effort today to address some of the main questions that citizens and scholars have
raised regarding the use of targeted lethal force against al-Qa’ida. I suspect there are those,
perhaps some in this audience, who feel we have not been transparent enough. I suspect there are
those—both inside and outside our government—who feel I have been perhaps too open. If both
groups feel a little unsatisfied, then I’ve probably struck the right balance.

Again, there are some lines we simply will not and cannot cross because, at times, our national
security demands secrecy. But we are a democracy. The people are sovereign. And our
counterterrorism tools do not exist in a vacuum. They are stronger and more sustainable when
the American people understand and support them. They are weaker and less sustainable when
the American people do not. As a result of my remarks today, I hope the American people have a
better understanding of this critical tool—why we use it, what we do, how carefully we use it,
and why it is absolutely essential to protecting our country and our citizens.
I would just like to close on a personal note. I know that for many people—in our government
and across the country—the issue of targeted strikes raised profound moral questions. It forces us
to confront deeply held personal beliefs and our values as a nation. If anyone in government who
works in this area tells you they haven’t struggled with this, then they haven’t spent much time
thinking about it. I know I have, and I will continue to struggle with it as long as I remain
involved in counterterrorism.

But I am certain about one thing. We are at war. We are at war against a terrorist organization
called al-Qa’ida that has brutally murdered thousands of Americans—men, women and
children—as well as thousands of other innocent people around the world. In recent years, with
the help of targeted strikes we have turned al-Qa’ida into a shadow of what it once was. They are
on the road to destruction.

Until that finally happens, however, there are still terrorists in hard-to-reach places who are
actively planning attacks against us. If given the chance, they will gladly strike again and kill
more of our citizens. And the President has a Constitutional and solemn obligation to do
everything in his power to protect the safety and security of the American people.

Yes, war is hell. It is awful. It involves human beings killing other human beings, sometimes
innocent civilians. That is why we despise war. That is why we want this war against al-Qa’ida
to be over as soon as possible, and not a moment longer. And over time, as al-Qa’ida fades into
history and as our partners grow stronger, I’d hope that the United States would have to rely less
on lethal force to keep our country safe.

Until that happens, as President Obama said here five years ago, if another nation cannot or will
not take action, we will. And it is an unfortunate fact that to save many innocent lives we are
sometimes obliged to take lives—the lives of terrorists who seek to murder our fellow citizens.

On behalf of President Obama and his administration, I am here to say to the American people
that we will continue to work to safeguard this Nation and its citizens responsibly, adhering to
the laws of this land and staying true to the values that define us as Americans.

Thank you very much.

C.I.A. to Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan
Published: December 3, 2009

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago in Pakistan, Central Intelligence Agency
sharpshooters killed eight people suspected of being militants of the
Taliban and Al Qaeda, and wounded two others in a compound that was
said to be used for terrorist training.

                                                                                       Enlarge This Image

                                                                                      Dawn Newspaper, via Reuters

Baitullah Mehsud, right, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in 2005. He was killed by a remotely piloted
drone aircraft.

Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11
era. Go to the Blog »

Missile Strikes Inside the Tribal Areas

Clinton to Press NATO Allies on Afghanistan Effort        (December 4, 2009)
Italy May Add 1,000 Extra Troops in Afghanistan (December                4, 2009)
Afghans See Sharp Shift in U.S. Tone      (December 4, 2009)
Gates Says Afghan Drawdown Timing Is Flexible          (December 4, 2009)
At War: The More Things Change....
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                                                                                    Fareed Khan/Associated Press

Internally displaced people from Pakistan’s troubled Swat valley read about the death of Taliban leader
Baitullah Mehsud in Karachi, Pakistan.

Then, the job in North Waziristan done, the C.I.A. officers could head home
from the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters, facing only the hazards of the
area’s famously snarled suburban traffic.

It was only the latest strike by the agency’s covert program to kill operatives
of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies using Hellfire missiles fired from
Predator aircraft controlled from half a world away.

The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone
program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to
parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more
troops to Afghanistan. American officials are talking with Pakistan about
the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial
move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan
Taliban leaders are believed to hide.

By increasing covert pressure on Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, while
ground forces push back the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan, American
officials hope to eliminate any haven for militants in the region.

One of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, the drone program is quietly
hailed by counterterrorism officials as a resounding success, eliminating
key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray. But despite close
cooperation from Pakistani intelligence, the program has generated public
anger in Pakistan, and some counterinsurgency experts wonder whether it
does more harm than good.
Assessments of the drone campaign have relied largely on sketchy reports
in the Pakistani press, and some have estimated several hundred civilian
casualties. Saying that such numbers are wrong, one government official
agreed to speak about the program on the condition of anonymity. About
80 missile attacks from drones in less than two years have killed “more
than 400” enemy fighters, the official said, offering a number lower than
most estimates but in the same range. His account of collateral damage,
however, was strikingly lower than many unofficial counts: “We believe the
number of civilian casualties is just over 20, and those were people who
were either at the side of major terrorists or were at facilities used by

That claim, which the official said reflected the Predators’ ability to loiter
over a target feeding video images for hours before and after a strike, is
likely to come under scrutiny from human rights advocates. Tom Parker,
policy director for counterterrorism at Amnesty International, said he
found the estimate “unlikely,” noting that reassessments of strikes in past
wars had usually found civilian deaths undercounted. Mr. Parker said his
group was uneasy about drone attacks anyway: “Anything that
dehumanizes the process makes it easier to pull the trigger.”

Yet with few other tools to use against Al Qaeda, the drone program has
enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and was escalated by the Obama
administration in January. More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted
under President Obama than under President George W. Bush. The
political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-
tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first
time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a
military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United
States is not officially at war.

In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, C.I.A. officials were not
eager to embrace killing terrorists from afar with video-game controls, said
one former intelligence official. “There was also a lot of reluctance at
Langley to get into a lethal program like this,” the official said. But officers
grew comfortable with the program as they checked off their hit list more
than a dozen notorious figures, including Abu Khabab al-Masri, a Qaeda
expert on explosives; Rashid Rauf, accused of being the planner of the 2006
trans-Atlantic airliner plot; and Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani

The drone warfare pioneered by the C.I.A. in Pakistan and the Air Force in
Iraq and Afghanistan is the leading edge of a wave of push-button combat
that will raise legal, moral and political questions around the world, said P.
W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and author of the book
“Wired for War.”

Forty-four countries have unmanned aircraft for surveillance, Mr. Singer
said. So far, only the United States and Israel have used the planes for
strikes, but that number will grow.

“We’re talking about a technology that’s not going away,” he said.

There is little doubt that “warheads on foreheads,” in the macho lingo of
intelligence officers, have been disruptive to the militants in Pakistan,
removing leaders and fighters, slowing movement and sowing dissension as
survivors hunt for spies who may be tipping off the Americans. Yet the
drones are unpopular with many Pakistanis, who see them as a violation of
their country’s sovereignty — one reason the United States refuses to
officially acknowledge the attacks. A poll by Gallup Pakistan last summer
found only 9 percent of Pakistanis in favor of the attacks and 67 percent
against, with a majority ranking the United States as a greater threat to
Pakistan than its archrival, India, or the Pakistani Taliban.

Interestingly, residents of the tribal areas where the attacks actually occur,
who bitterly resent the militants’ brutal rule, are far less critical of the
drones, said Farhat Taj, an anthropologist with the Aryana Institute for
Regional Research and Advocacy. A study of 550 professional people living
in the tribal areas was conducted late last year by the institute, a Pakistani
research group. About half of those interviewed called the drone strikes
“accurate,” 6 in 10 said they damaged militant organizations, and almost as
many denied they increased anti-Americanism.
Dr. Taj, who lived at the edge of the tribal areas until 2002, said residents
would prefer to be protected by the Pakistani Army. “But they feel
powerless toward the militants and they see the drones as their liberator,”
she said.

In an interview this week with the German magazine Der Spiegel, the
Pakistani prime minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the drone strikes
“do no good, because they boost anti-American resentment throughout the
country.” American officials say that despite such public comments,
Pakistan privately supplies crucial intelligence, proposes targets and allows
the Predators to take off from a base in Baluchistan.

Pakistan’s public criticism of the drone attacks has muddied the legal status
of the strikes, which United States officials say are justified as defensive
measures against groups that have vowed to attack Americans. Philip
Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions
and a prominent critic of the program, has said it is impossible to judge
whether the program violates international law without knowing whether
Pakistan permits the incursions, how targets are selected and what is done
to minimize civilian casualties.

A spokesman for the C.I.A., Paul Gimigliano, defended the program without
quite acknowledging its existence. “While the C.I.A. does not comment on
reports of Predator operations, the tools we use in the fight against Al
Qaeda and its violent allies are exceptionally accurate, precise and
effective,” he said. “Press reports suggesting that hundreds of Pakistani
civilians have somehow been killed as a result of alleged or supposed U.S.
activities are — to state what should be obvious under any circumstances —
flat-out false.”

From 2004 to 2007, the C.I.A. carried out only a handful of strikes. But
pressure from the Congressional intelligence committees, greater
confidence in the technology and reduced resistance from Pakistan led to a
sharp increase starting in the summer of 2008.

Former C.I.A. officials say there is a rigorous protocol for identifying
militants, using video from the Predators, intercepted cellphone calls and
tips from Pakistani intelligence, often originating with militants’ resentful
neighbors. Operators at C.I.A. headquarters can use the drones’ video feed
to study a militant’s identity and follow fighters to training areas or
weapons caches, officials say. Targeters often can see where wives and
children are located in a compound or wait until fighters drive away from a
house or village before they are hit.

Mr. Mehsud’s wife and parents-in-law were killed with him, but that was an
exceptional decision prompted by the rare chance to attack him, the official

The New America Foundation, a policy group in Washington, studied press
reports and estimated that since 2006 at least 500 militants and 250
civilians had been killed in the drone strikes. A separate count, by The Long
War Journal, found 885 militants’ deaths and 94 civilians’.

But the government official insisted on the accuracy of his far lower figure
of approximately 20 civilian deaths, noting that the Pakistani press rarely
reported local protests about civilian deaths, routine occurrences when
bombs in Afghanistan have gone astray.

Daniel S. Markey, who studies South Asia at the Council on Foreign
Relations, said the comments of two anti-Taliban tribal leaders he spoke
with on a recent trip to Pakistan seemed to capture the paradox of the

The tribal leaders told him that the strikes were eliminating dangerous
militants while causing few civilian deaths. But they pleaded for a halt to
the attacks, saying the strikes stirred up anger toward the United States and
the Pakistani Army, and “made them look like puppets,” he said.

“It gave the lie,” Mr. Markey said, “to the argument we’ve made for a long
time: that this fight is theirs, too.”

More Articles in World »A version of this article appeared in print on
December 4, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.

    Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and

                                                                                                       Pete Souza/The White House

    President Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top
    counterterrorism adviser.

    Published: May 29, 2012 1208 Comments

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    WASHINGTON — This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence
    agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief
    biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were
    teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

    A Measure of Change

    The Shadow War

    This is the third article in a series assessing President Obama’s record.

    Previous Articles in This Series »


    Striking Al Qaeda
    Assessing Obama’s Counterterrorism Record

    Excerpts of remarks from some of nearly 40 current and former officials who had direct knowledge about the United
    States’ classified counterterrorism efforts.

    Interview Excerpts »
   Top U.S. Security Official Says ‘Rigorous Standards’ Are Used for Drone Strikes(May 1, 2012)
   Assessing Obama’s Counterterrorism Record(May 29, 2012)
   U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis(March 23, 2012)
   U.S. Law May Allow Killings, Holder Says(March 6, 2012)
   Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen(October 9, 2011)
   C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan(September 28, 2010)
   Drones Batter Al Qaeda and Its Allies Within Pakistan(April 5, 2010)
    Related in Opinion

   Editorial: Too Much Power for a President(May 31, 2012)
   Taking Note: President Obama’s Kill List(May 29, 2012)

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                                                                                                   Pool photo by Brennan Linsley

  picture of President   eor e     ush is replaced with one of President   bama at   uant namo ay       uba

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                                                                                                 Ishtiaq Mehsud/Associated Press

A house destroyed by authorities in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan.

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                                                                                                Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Tribesmen protested in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, against ties with the United States, just days after President Obama
took office in January 2009.
                                                                                                 Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Gen. James L. Jones

                                                                                                 Doug Mills/The New York Times

Dennis C. Blair, former director of national intelligence.

                                                                                Site Intelligence, via European Pressphoto Agency

The cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who coached Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his plot to blow up an American airliner over
                                                                                                      United States Marshals Service

    Mr. Abdulmutallab

    Enlarge This Image

                                                                                               Moises Saman for The New York Times

    Iraqis listened to Mr   bama’s speech from   airo in June 2009 intended to reach out to the Muslim world

      Readers’ Comments

    "Would it be o.k. for this hit list to exist if it prevented you and your immediate loved ones from a certain terrorist


    K. Yates, CT

   Read Full Comment »
    President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen
    security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It
    was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and
    culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a
    successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms,
    often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.

    “How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting
    to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”
It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret
“nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part
has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with
American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to
order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture,
and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over
terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an
unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises —
but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these
operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that
he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s
determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded
conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often
remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary
and the president’s own deep reserve.

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers
described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential
history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.

They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to
close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without
hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations
with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous
lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not
constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an
American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a “Whac-A-Mole” approach
to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of
careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths
that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers.

The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression
among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama’s
ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s
strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,”
a colleague said.

Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is
variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his
cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become
indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war”
theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.

But the strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda — just since April, there have been 14 in
Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan — have also tested both men’s commitment to the principles they
have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have
replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea,
Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting
civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that
discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined
by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only
game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral
who began his Navy service during that war.

Mr. Blair’s criticism, dismissed by White House officials as personal pique, nonetheless
resonates inside the government.

William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers
understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the
Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough.

“One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said,
describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with
‘Maintain My Options’

A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of
his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good
on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniques were banned, he declared. And the
prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes.
They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent
supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his
lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism
as he saw fit.

It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints
that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for
counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had
called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating
detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where
interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.

“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo
told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized
practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for
interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held
such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.

Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only
its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of
“detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term,
transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in
March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.
Even before he was sworn in, Mr. Obama’s advisers had warned him against taking a
categorical position on what would be done with Guantánamo detainees. The deft insertion
of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice was followed.

Some detainees would be transferred to prisons in other countries, or released, it said. Some
would be prosecuted — if “feasible” — in criminal courts. Military commissions, which Mr.
Obama had criticized, were not mentioned — and thus not ruled out.

As for those who could not be transferred or tried but were judged too dangerous for
release? Their “disposition” would be handled by “lawful means, consistent with the
national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of

A few sharp-eyed observers inside and outside the government understood what the public
did not. Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies —
rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human
rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

But a year later, with Congress trying to force him to try all terrorism suspects using
revamped military commissions, he deployed his legal skills differently — to preserve trials
in civilian courts.

It was shortly after Dec. 25, 2009, following a close call in which a Qaeda-trained operative
named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had boarded a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb
sewn into his underwear.

Mr. Obama was taking a drubbing from Republicans over the government’s decision to read
the suspect his rights, a prerequisite for bringing criminal charges against him in civilian

The president “seems to think that if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them
lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war,” former Vice President
Dick Cheney charged.

Sensing vulnerability on both a practical and political level, the president summoned his
attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to the White House.

F.B.I. agents had questioned Mr. Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes and gained valuable
intelligence before giving him the warning. They had relied on a 1984 case called New York
v. Quarles, in which the Supreme Court ruled that statements made by a suspect in response
to urgent public safety questions — the case involved the location of a gun — could be
introduced into evidence even if the suspect had not been advised of the right to remain

Mr. Obama, who Mr. Holder said misses the legal profession, got into a colloquy with the
attorney general. How far, he asked, could Quarles be stretched? Mr. Holder felt that in
terrorism cases, the court would allow indefinite questioning on a fairly broad range of

Satisfied with the edgy new interpretation, Mr. Obama gave his blessing, Mr. Holder

“Barack Obama believes in options: ‘Maintain my options,’ “ said Jeh C. Johnson, a
campaign adviser and now general counsel of the Defense Department.

‘They Must All Be Militants’

That same mind-set would be brought to bear as the president intensified what would
become a withering campaign to use unmanned aircraft to kill Qaeda terrorists.

Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his
administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp
on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser

In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In
addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near
certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide
personally whether to go ahead.

The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but
did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent
life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director
under President George W. Bush.

It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties
that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as
combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence
posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of
known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.
“Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in
the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who
requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral
deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a
single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior
administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan
under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or
hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the
number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials
outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it
“guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the
official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

‘A No-Brainer’

About four months into his presidency, as Republicans accused him of reckless naïveté on
terrorism, Mr. Obama quickly pulled together a speech defending his policies. Standing
before the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington, he mentioned Guantánamo
28 times, repeating his campaign pledge to close the prison.

But it was too late, and his defensive tone suggested that Mr. Obama knew it. Though
President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate, had
supported closing the Guantánamo prison, Republicans in Congress had reversed course
and discovered they could use the issue to portray Mr. Obama as soft on terrorism.

Walking out of the Archives, the president turned to his national security adviser at the
time, Gen. James L. Jones, and admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade
Congress to shut down the prison.
“We’re never going to make that mistake again,” Mr. Obama told the retired Marine general.

General Jones said the president and his aides had assumed that closing the prison was “a
no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world.” The trouble was, he
added, “nobody asked, ‘O.K., let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’ “

It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also
part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the
president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his
really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”

In fact, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the attorney general, Mr.
Holder, had warned that the plan to close the Guantánamo prison was in peril, and they
volunteered to fight for it on Capitol Hill, according to officials. But with Mr. Obama’s
backing, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked them, saying health care reform had to
go first.

When the administration floated a plan to transfer from Guantánamo to Northern Virginia
two Uighurs, members of a largely Muslim ethnic minority from China who are considered
no threat to the United States, Virginia Republicans led by Representative Frank R. Wolf
denounced the idea. The administration backed down.

That show of weakness doomed the effort to close Guantánamo, the same administration
official said. “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy,” he said. “That’s not what
happened. It’s like a boxing match where a cut opens over a guy’s eye.”

The Use of Force

It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the
government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference,
to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be
the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim
debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of
suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.
The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries,
and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind
accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.

“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges.
“If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious
discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the
list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel,
more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency
conducts strikes.

The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr.
Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and
Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the

Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal
counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas
Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows
that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.

“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human
intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a
certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious

But the control he exercises also appears to reflect Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence: he
believes, according to several people who have worked closely with him, that his own
judgment should be brought to bear on strikes.

Asked what surprised him most about Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon, the national security
adviser, answered immediately: “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of
force on behalf of the United States.”

In fact, in a 2007 campaign speech in which he vowed to pull the United States out of Iraq
and refocus on Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama had trumpeted his plan to go after terrorist bases in
Pakistan — even if Pakistani leaders objected. His rivals at the time, including Mitt Romney,
Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mrs. Clinton, had all pounced on what they considered a
greenhorn’s campaign bluster. (Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had become “Dr.

In office, however, Mr. Obama has done exactly what he had promised, coming quickly to
rely on the judgment of Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Brennan, a son of Irish immigrants, is a grizzled 25-year veteran of the C.I.A. whose
work as a top agency official during the brutal interrogations of the Bush administration
made him a target of fierce criticism from the left. He had been forced, under fire, to
withdraw his name from consideration to lead the C.I.A. under Mr. Obama, becoming
counterterrorism chief instead.

Some critics of the drone strategy still vilify Mr. Brennan, suggesting that he is the C.I.A.’s
agent in the White House, steering Mr. Obama to a targeted killing strategy. But in office,
Mr. Brennan has surprised many former detractors by speaking forcefully for closing
Guantánamo and respecting civil liberties.

Harold H. Koh, for instance, as dean of Yale Law School was a leading liberal critic of the
Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. But since becoming the State
Department’s top lawyer, Mr. Koh said, he has found in Mr. Brennan a principled ally.

“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because
Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a
priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

The president values Mr. Brennan’s experience in assessing intelligence, from his own
agency or others, and for the sobriety with which he approaches lethal operations, other
aides say.

“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said
in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here,
don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through
a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the
imminence of the threat, all of these things.”

Yet the administration’s very success at killing terrorism suspects has been shadowed by a
suspicion: that Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect,
to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only
one has been taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new
prisoners to Guantánamo.

“Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets,” said
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee.
“They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing.”

Mr. Obama’s aides deny such a policy, arguing that capture is often impossible in the rugged
tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen and that many terrorist suspects are in foreign prisons
because of American tips. Still, senior officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon
acknowledge that they worry about the public perception.

“We have to be vigilant to avoid a no-quarter, or take-no-prisoners policy,” said Mr.
Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief lawyer.


The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their
reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency
to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our

But he has found that war is a messy business, and his actions show that pursuing an enemy
unbound by rules has required moral, legal and practical trade-offs that his speeches did not

One early test involved Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The case was
problematic on two fronts, according to interviews with both administration and Pakistani

The C.I.A. worried that Mr. Mehsud, whose group then mainly targeted the Pakistan
government, did not meet the Obama administration’s criteria for targeted killing: he was
not an imminent threat to the United States. But Pakistani officials wanted him dead, and
the American drone program rested on their tacit approval. The issue was resolved after the
president and his advisers found that he represented a threat, if not to the homeland, to
American personnel in Pakistan.

Then, in August 2009, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, told Mr. Brennan that the agency
had Mr. Mehsud in its sights. But taking out the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mr. Panetta
warned, did not meet Mr. Obama’s standard of “near certainty” of no innocents being killed.
In fact, a strike would certainly result in such deaths: he was with his wife at his in-laws’

“Many times,” General Jones said, in similar circumstances, “at the 11th hour we waved off a
mission simply because the target had people around them and we were able to loiter on
station until they didn’t.”

But not this time. Mr. Obama, through Mr. Brennan, told the C.I.A. to take the shot, and Mr.
Mehsud was killed, along with his wife and, by some reports, other family members as well,
said a senior intelligence official.

The attempted bombing of an airliner a few months later, on Dec. 25, stiffened the
president’s resolve, aides say. It was the culmination of a series of plots, including the killing
of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex. by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam.

Mr. Obama is a good poker player, but he has a tell when he is angry. His questions become
rapid-fire, said his attorney general, Mr. Holder. “He’ll inject the phrase, ‘I just want to
make sure you understand that.’ “ And it was clear to everyone, Mr. Holder said, that he was
simmering about how a 23-year-old bomber had penetrated billions of dollars worth of
American security measures.

When a few officials tentatively offered a defense, noting that the attack had failed because
the terrorists were forced to rely on a novice bomber and an untested formula because of
stepped-up airport security, Mr. Obama cut them short.

“Well, he could have gotten it right and we’d all be sitting here with an airplane that blew up
and killed over a hundred people,” he said, according to a participant. He asked them to use
the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In
characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had
gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.

“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said
Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Even John
Brennan, someone who was already a hardened veteran of counterterrorism, tightened the
straps on his rucksack after that.”

David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the “Terror
Tuesday” meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone
understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and

In the most dramatic possible way, the Fort Hood shootings in November and the attempted
Christmas Day bombing had shown the new danger from Yemen. Mr. Obama, who had
rejected the Bush-era concept of a global war on terrorism and had promised to narrow the
American focus to Al Qaeda’s core, suddenly found himself directing strikes in another
complicated Muslim country.

The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of
the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that
we weren’t really familiar with.”

It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a
trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of
precise operation that Mr. Obama favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen
holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that
Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.

The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they
tried to impose some discipline.

In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-
value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious
compounds in areas controlled by militants.

But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria
used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when
the C.I.A. 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.

Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and
intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well.

“We are not going to war with Yemen,” he admonished in one meeting, according to
His guidance was formalized in a memo by General Jones, who called it a “governor, if you
will, on the throttle,” intended to remind everyone that “one should not assume that it’s just
O.K. to do these things because we spot a bad guy somewhere in the world.”

Mr. Obama had drawn a line. But within two years, he stepped across it. Signature strikes in
Pakistan were killing a large number of terrorist suspects, even when C.I.A. analysts were
not certain beforehand of their presence. And in Yemen, roiled by the Arab Spring unrest,
the Qaeda affiliate was seizing territory.

Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not
know. Officials say the criteria are tighter than those for signature strikes, requiring
evidence of a threat to the United States, and they have even given them a new name —
TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. But the details are a closely guarded secret —
part of a pattern for a president who came into office promising transparency.

The Ultimate Test

On that front, perhaps no case would test Mr. Obama’s principles as starkly as that of Anwar
al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen, who had
recently risen to prominence and had taunted the president by name in some of his online

The president “was very interested in obviously trying to understand how a guy like Awlaki
developed,” said General Jones. The cleric’s fiery sermons had helped inspire a dozen plots,
including the shootings at Fort Hood. Then he had gone “operational,” plotting with Mr.
Abdulmutallab and coaching him to ignite his explosives only after the airliner was over the
United States.

That record, and Mr. Awlaki’s calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent
question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which
the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that
extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process
applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Mr. Obama gave his approval, and Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011, along with a
fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was
traveling with him.
If the president had qualms about this momentous step, aides said he did not share them.
Mr. Obama focused instead on the weight of the evidence showing that the cleric had joined
the enemy and was plotting more terrorist attacks.

“This is an easy one,” Mr. Daley recalled him saying, though the president warned that in
future cases, the evidence might well not be so clear.

In the wake of Mr. Awlaki’s death, some administration officials, including the attorney
general, argued that the Justice Department’s legal memo should be made public. In 2009,
after all, Mr. Obama had released Bush administration legal opinions on interrogation over
the vociferous objections of six former C.I.A. directors.

This time, contemplating his own secrets, he chose to keep the Awlaki opinion secret.

“Once it’s your pop stand, you look at things a little differently,” said Mr. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s
former general counsel.

Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s Republican
challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president’s aggressive counterterrorism record,
which he said had a “Nixon to China” quality. But, he said, “secrecy has its costs” and Mr.
Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny.

“This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,”
Mr. Hayden said. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C.
memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos
locked in a D.O.J. safe.”

Tactics Over Strategy

In his June 2009 speech in Cairo, aimed at resetting relations with the Muslim world, Mr.
Obama had spoken eloquently of his childhood years in Indonesia, hearing the call to prayer
“at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.”

“The United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” he declared.

But in the months that followed, some officials felt the urgency of counterterrorism strikes
was crowding out consideration of a broader strategy against radicalization. Though Mrs.
Clinton strongly supported the strikes, she complained to colleagues about the drones-only
approach at Situation Room meetings, in which discussion would focus exclusively on the
pros, cons and timing of particular strikes.

At their weekly lunch, Mrs. Clinton told the president she thought there should be more
attention paid to the root causes of radicalization, and Mr. Obama agreed. But it was
September 2011 before he issued an executive order setting up a sophisticated, interagency
war room at the State Department to counter the jihadi narrative on an hour-by-hour basis,
posting messages and video online and providing talking points to embassies.

Mr. Obama was heartened, aides say, by a letter discovered in the raid on Osama bin
Laden’s compound in Pakistan. It complained that the American president had undermined
Al Qaeda’s support by repeatedly declaring that the United States was at war not with Islam,
but with the terrorist network. “We must be doing a good job,” Mr. Obama told his secretary
of state.

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s record has not drawn anything like the sweeping criticism from
allies that his predecessor faced. John B. Bellinger III, a top national security lawyer under
the Bush administration, said that was because Mr. Obama’s liberal reputation and “softer
packaging” have protected him. “After the global outrage over Guantánamo, it’s remarkable
that the rest of the world has looked the other way while the Obama administration has
conducted hundreds of drone strikes in several different countries, including killing at least
some civilians,” said Mr. Bellinger, who supports the strikes.

By withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has
refocused the fight on Al Qaeda and hugely reduced the death toll both of American soldiers
and Muslim civilians. But in moments of reflection, Mr. Obama may have reason to wonder
about unfinished business and unintended consequences.

His focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the
Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and
more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.

Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running
roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia
watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over
borders to kill enemies.

Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was
dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S.
casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is
unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows
up over the long term.”

But Mr. Blair’s dissent puts him in a small minority of security experts. Mr. Obama’s record
has eroded the political perception that Democrats are weak on national security. No one
would have imagined four years ago that his counterterrorism policies would come under
far more fierce attack from the American Civil Liberties Union than from Mr. Romney.

Aides say that Mr. Obama’s choices, though, are not surprising. The president’s reliance on
strikes, said Mr. Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “is far
from a lurid fascination with covert action and special forces. It’s much more practical. He’s
the president. He faces a post-Abdulmutallab situation, where he’s being told people might
attack the United States tomorrow.”

“You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “Those laws are not going to get Bin Laden

A version of this article appeared in print on May 29, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Secret ‘Kill
List’ Proves a Test   f   bama’s Principles and   ill

Times Wants Info on 'Killing as a Policy Tool'


                                       MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Times sued the Department of
                                       Justice for "at least one legal memorandum" government lawyers are
                                       believed to have written detailing "the scope of the circumstances in
                                       which it is lawful for government officials to employ targeted killing as a
policy tool."
Times reporters Charlie Savage and Scott Shane particularly want to see what the Washington Post
reported on Sept. 30 as "a 'secret memorandum authorizing the legal targeting' of Anwar al-Awlaki, an
American citizen who had been killed earlier that day in Yemen."
"Questions surrounding the legality of targeted killing - especially the extrajudicial use of lethal force away
from any so-called 'hot' battlefield where United States forces are engaged in active combat - have
generated extensive public debate since October 2001, when the Bush Administration first contemplated
whether covert lethal force could be used against people deemed to be al-Qaeda operatives," the federal
complaint states.
"Most recently, the death of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in
Yemen in September, has kindled widespread interest in - and controversy over - the scope of the
circumstances in which it is lawful for government officials to employ targeted killing as a policy tool.
"Given the questions surrounding the legality of the practice under both U.S. and international law,
notable legal scholars, human rights activists, and current and former government officials have called for
the government to disclose its legal analysis justifying the use of targeted lethal force, especially as it
applies to American citizens."
NYT claims, "Both before and after the death of al-Awlaki, NYT duly filed FOIA [Freedom of Information
Act] requests seeking memoranda that detail the legal analysis behind the government's use of targeted
lethal force. To date, DOJ has refused to release any such memoranda or any segregable portions,
claiming them to be properly classified and privileged and in respect to certain memoranda has declined
to say whether they in fact exist."
The complaint adds: "Upon information and belief, there exists at least one legal memorandum detailing
the legal analysis justifying the government's use of targeted killing."
A Feb. 11 Newsweek story about "targeted killing operations by the Central Intelligence Agency" quoted
"an anonymous government official as saying such actions were 'governed by legal guidance provided by
the Department of Justice,'" the Times says.
Awlaki, born in the United States, was "perhaps the most prominent English-speaking advocate of violent
jihad against the United States, with his message carried extensively over the Internet. His online lectures
and sermons had been linked to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain
and Canada," the Times reported on Oct. 10.
According to the FOIA complaint: "To date, the government has not offered a thorough and transparent
legal analysis of the issue of targeted killing. Instead, several government officials have made statements
broadly asserting the legality of such actions in a conc1usory fashion. ...
"On February 3, 2010, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair testified to the House Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence that 'we take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence
community. If we think that direct action will involve killing an American citizen, we get specific
permission to do that.'
"A number of senators, representatives, and government officials - including both supporters and
opponents of the practice - have since urged the Department of Justice to make public its legal
justification for the targeted killing of individuals.
"For example, on October 2, 2011, Jane Harman, a former United States representative and a former
ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, argued that 'targeted killing of anyone should give
us pause, and there has to be a legal framework around doing that. Reports say there is a lengthy memo
that the Office of Legal Counsel and the Department of Justice has prepared making the case. I believe
there is a good case. But I think the Justice Department should release that memo.'
"Similarly, on October 7, 2011, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence, called on the administration to 'make public its legal analysis on its counterterrorism
authorities' because 'for transparency and to maintain public support of secret operations, it is important
to explain the general framework for counterterrorism actions.'
"Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said: 'I would urge them to
release the memo. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't.'
"Other officials have complained that much of the publicly available information on targeted killing
results from off-the-record comments by government officials reported in the media. As a former United
States representative and a former chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Peter
Hoekstra, has noted: 'The targeting of Americans - it is a very sensitive issue, but again there's been more
information in the public domain than what has been shared with this committee. There is no clarity.
Where is the legal framework?'
"Former attorneys for the OLC have also recommended the release of memoranda detailing the legality of
targeted killing.
"Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general who headed the OLC, has argued that 'a legal
analysis of the U.S. ability to target and kill enemy combatants (including U.S. citizens) outside
Afghanistan can be disclosed without revealing means or methods of intelligence-gathering or
jeopardizing technical covertness. The public legal explanation need not say anything about the means of
fire (e.g. drones or something else), or particular countries, or which agencies of the U.S. government are
involved, or the intelligence basis for the attacks ... A full legal analysis, as opposed to conclusory
explanations in government speeches and leaks, would permit a robust debate about targeted killings -
especially of U.S. citizens - that is troubling to many people.'
"Only extremely limited legal analysis has been made available by government officials with knowledge of
the program.
"For example, in a speech on March 10, 2010, Harold Koh, legal adviser of the United States Department
of State, assured members of the American Society of International Law that 'it is the considered view of
this administration - and it has certainly been in my experience during my time as legal adviser - that U.S.
targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles,
comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.'
"On September 16, 2011, John O. Brennan, a senior adviser to President Obama on homeland security and
counterterrorism, provided similar reassurance: 'We will uphold the core values that define us as
Americans, and that includes adhering to the rule of law. And when I say 'all our actions,' that includes
covert actions, which we undertake under the authorities provided to us by Congress. President Obama
has directed that all our actions - even when conducted out of public view - remain consistent with our
laws and values.'
"Upon information and belief, there exists at least one official OLC memorandum that details the legal
argument justifying targeted killing," the complaint states. (Ellipsis and parentheses as in complaint.)
    The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel assists the attorney general as legal adviser to the
    president and all executive branch agencies.
    The Justice Department refused to produce documents responsive to Shane's and Savage's FOIA requests,
    and appeals.
    The Office of Legal Counsel wrote that it "neither confirms nor denies the existence of the documents
    described in your request," according to the complaint.
    The Times wants to see the memo.
    It is represented by David McCraw.


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    Targeted Killings
In Court Today: Fighting the CIA's Secrecy Claims on
By Brett Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 7:41am

This morning the ACLU will appear before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about
the I ’s use of drone aircraft to carry out targeted killings around the world. We will argue that the court should put an end to the
 overnment’s double ame of selectively disclosin information about the pro ram in public while obstinately refusin to confirm or deny the
very existence of the program in federal court.

The central legal issue before the appellate court today is whether the government, through its officials—including President Obama and
former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—has officially and publicly acknowled ed the existence of the I ’s use of
drone airstrikes. Under FOIA, once the government has acknowledged a fact in public, it is prohibited from refusing to confirm the same fact
in court. This rule ensures that the government cannot make self-serving claims about its actions when convenient, but then deny the public
access to the full and accurate information about those actions to which the public is entitled under FOIA.

In our two briefs to the appeals court we have hi hli hted statements by bama administration officials that belie the overnment’s
incredible position that it has not, continuously and repeatedly, officially acknowledged the existence of the program. For example, in
response to a question about drone strikes at a public forum in 2009, then-Director Panetta called such strikes “the only ame in town in
terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership ” (The statement is even published on the I ’s own website ) More
recently, Panetta revealed to 60 Minutes that, as CIA director, he made recommendations to the president regarding the lethal targeting of
U.S. citizens. President Obama has also repeatedly discussed the drone program, including by taking credit for the drone strike that killed
U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen last year. (In another FOIA lawsuit, the ACLU is seeking the legal and factual justifications for that
killing, and those of two other U.S. citizens, including 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.)

Today we will argue that, as these statements make clear, government officials have acknowledged the CIA's drone program. That
conclusion is inescapable, particularly when the statements are read against the ever-accumulating, voluminous background of on-the-record
accounts provided by unnamed administration officials trumpeting the program to the American public. Indeed, last week, we highlighted a
ProPublica interactive web feature that starkly compared more than three years of administration officials’ public statements about I
drones with the I ’s blanket refusals to acknowled e the matter in court

As ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who will argue the case today, said:

The notion that the I ’s tar eted killin pro ram is a secret is nothin short of absurd For more than two years senior officials have been
makin claims about the pro ram both on the record and off They’ve claimed that the pro ram is effective lawful and closely supervised. If
they can make these claims, there is no reason why they should not be required to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information

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Targeted Killings

    Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen

    Published: October 8, 2011

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s secret legal memorandum that opened the
    door to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in
    Yemen, found that it would be lawful only if it were not feasible to take him alive, according
    to people who have read the document.

                                                                                      Site Intelligence, via European Pressphoto Agency

    Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant cleric who was an American citizen, was killed in Yemen.

                                         Interactive Feature

    Killing of Awlaki Is Latest in Campaign Against Qaeda Leaders
   News Analysis: Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race(October 9, 2011)
   Two-Year Manhunt Led to Killing of Awlaki in Yemen(October 1, 2011)
   News Analysis: Judging a Long, Deadly Reach(October 1, 2011)
   Times Topic:Anwar al-Awlaki

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    The memo, written last year, followed months of extensive interagency deliberations and
    offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to one of the most significant decisions made
    by President Obama — to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without a trial.

    The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning
    assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various
    strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis.
    The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki’s case and did not
    establish a broad new legal doctrine to permit the targeted killing of any Americans believed
    to pose a terrorist threat.

    The Obama administration has refused to acknowledge or discuss its role in the drone strike
    that killed Mr. Awlaki last month and that technically remains a covert operation. The
    government has also resisted growing calls that it provide a detailed public explanation of
    why officials deemed it lawful to kill an American citizen, setting a precedent that scholars,
    rights activists and others say has raised concerns about the rule of law and civil liberties.

    But the document that laid out the administration’s justification — a roughly 50-page
    memorandum by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, completed around June
    2010 — was described on the condition of anonymity by people who have read it.

    The legal analysis, in essence, concluded that Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not
    feasible to capture him, because intelligence agencies said he was taking part in the war
    between the United States and Al Qaeda and posed a significant threat to Americans, as well
    as because Yemeni authorities were unable or unwilling to stop him.

    The memorandum, which was written more than a year before Mr. Awlaki was killed, does
    not independently analyze the quality of the evidence against him.
The administration did not respond to requests for comment on this article.

The deliberations to craft the memo included meetings in the White House Situation Room
involving top lawyers for the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and
intelligence agencies.

It was principally drafted by David Barron and Martin Lederman, who were both lawyers in
the Office of Legal Counsel at the time, and was signed by Mr. Barron. The office may have
given oral approval for an attack on Mr. Awlaki before completing its detailed
memorandum. Several news reports before June 2010 quoted anonymous counterterrorism
officials as saying that Mr. Awlaki had been placed on a kill-or-capture list around the time
of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009. Mr. Awlaki was
accused of helping to recruit the attacker for that operation.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was also accused of playing a role in a failed plot
to bomb two cargo planes last year, part of a pattern of activities that counterterrorism
officials have said showed that he had evolved from merely being a propagandist — in
sermons justifying violence by Muslims against the United States — to playing an
operational role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s continuing efforts to carry out
terrorist attacks.

Other assertions about Mr. Awlaki included that he was a leader of the group, which had
become a “cobelligerent” with Al Qaeda, and he was pushing it to focus on trying to attack
the United States again. The lawyers were also told that capturing him alive among hostile
armed allies might not be feasible if and when he were located.

Based on those premises, the Justice Department concluded that Mr. Awlaki was covered by
the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda that Congress enacted shortly after
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — meaning that he was a lawful target in the armed
conflict unless some other legal prohibition trumped that authority.

It then considered possible obstacles and rejected each in turn.

Among them was an executive order that bans assassinations. That order, the lawyers
found, blocked unlawful killings of political leaders outside of war, but not the killing of a
lawful target in an armed conflict.
A federal statute that prohibits Americans from murdering other Americans abroad, the
lawyers wrote, did not apply either, because it is not “murder” to kill a wartime enemy in
compliance with the laws of war.

But that raised another pressing question: would it comply with the laws of war if the drone
operator who fired the missile was a Central Intelligence Agency official, who, unlike a
soldier, wore no uniform? The memorandum concluded that such a case would not be a war
crime, although the operator might be in theoretical jeopardy of being prosecuted in a
Yemeni court for violating Yemen’s domestic laws against murder, a highly unlikely

Then there was the Bill of Rights: the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that a “person”
cannot be seized by the government unreasonably, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee
that the government may not deprive a person of life “without due process of law.”

The memo concluded that what was reasonable, and the process that was due, was different
for Mr. Awlaki than for an ordinary criminal. It cited court cases allowing American citizens
who had joined an enemy’s forces to be detained or prosecuted in a military court just like
noncitizen enemies.

It also cited several other Supreme Court precedents, like a 2007 case involving a high-
speed chase and a 1985 case involving the shooting of a fleeing suspect, finding that it was
constitutional for the police to take actions that put a suspect in serious risk of death in
order to curtail an imminent risk to innocent people.

The document’s authors argued that “imminent” risks could include those by an enemy
leader who is in the business of attacking the United States whenever possible, even if he is
not in the midst of launching an attack at the precise moment he is located.

There remained, however, the question of whether — when the target is known to be a
citizen — it was permissible to kill him if capturing him instead were a feasible way of
suppressing the threat.

Killed in the strike alongside Mr. Awlaki was another American citizen, Samir Khan, who
had produced a magazine for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula promoting terrorism. He
was apparently not on the targeting list, making his death collateral damage. His family has
issued a statement citing the Fifth Amendment and asking whether it was necessary for the
government to have “assassinated two of its citizens.”
“Was this style of execution the only solution?” the Khan family asked in its statement.
“Why couldn’t there have been a capture and trial?”

Last month, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, delivered a
speech in which he strongly denied the accusation that the administration had sometimes
chosen to kill militants when capturing them was possible, saying the policy preference is to
interrogate them for intelligence.

The memorandum is said to declare that in the case of a citizen, it is legally required to
capture the militant if feasible — raising a question: was capturing Mr. Awlaki in fact

It is possible that officials decided last month that it was not feasible to attempt to capture
him because of factors like the risk it could pose to American commandos and the
diplomatic problems that could arise from putting ground forces on Yemeni soil. Still, the
raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan demonstrates that officials have deemed
such operations feasible at times.

Last year, Yemeni commandos surrounded a village in which Mr. Awlaki was believed to be
hiding, but he managed to slip away.

The administration had already expressed in public some of the arguments about issues of
international law addressed by the memo, in a speech delivered in March 2010 by Harold
Hongju Koh, the top State Department lawyer.

The memorandum examined whether it was relevant that Mr. Awlaki was in Yemen, far
from Afghanistan. It concluded that Mr. Awlaki’s geographical distance from the so-called
hot battlefield did not preclude him from the armed conflict; given his presumed
circumstances, the United States still had a right to use force to defend itself against him.

As to whether it would violate Yemen’s sovereignty to fire a missile at someone on Yemeni
soil, Yemen’s president secretly granted the United States that permission, as secret
diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks have revealed.

The memorandum did assert that other limitations on the use of force under the laws of war
— like avoiding the use of disproportionate force that would increase the possibility of
civilian deaths — would constrain any operation against Mr. Awlaki.
That apparently constrained the attack when it finally came. Details about Mr. Awlaki’s
location surfaced about a month ago, American officials have said, but his hunters delayed
the strike until he left a village and was on a road away from populated areas.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 9, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Secret
U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen.

15 Killed in U.S. Drone Strike in Pakistan

Published: July 6, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 15 people suspected of being Taliban militants were killed
by an American drone strike late Friday in northwestern Pakistan, according to a Pakistani
intelligence official and local residents.

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The strike, the first since Pakistan reopened NATO supply routes this week, took place in
the village of Zoi Narai of the Datta Khel subdivision, the third-largest town in North
Waziristan. A drone fired four missiles at a compound owned by a Taliban commander
named Rahimullah, said a local resident who was reached by telephone.

The commander, who apparently was not present at the time of the strike, is thought to be a
close aide of a local warlord, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who controls a vast part of North
Waziristan, a restive tribal region used as a haven by many local and foreign militants.
Mr. Rahimullah, who uses one name, helps recruit militants to take part in offensives
against Western troops across the border in Afghanistan, according to local residents.

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that all of
those killed by the drone’s missiles were loyalists of Mr. Bahadur.

Local residents said that soon after the strike Taliban militants cordoned off the area around
the compound and searched for bodies in the debris.

American drone strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan, where anti-American
sentiment has been growing. A survey released in June by the Pew Research Center showed
that 74 percent of respondents considered the United States an enemy, compared with 69
percent last year and 64 percent three years ago.

While the United States views the remotely piloted aircraft as vital in the fight against
militants, in Pakistan the drones are seen as a breach of national sovereignty that also cause
civilian deaths.

Also on Friday, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, visited the
northwestern border district of Dir, which has recently endured a spate of attacks by Taliban
militants from across the border in Afghanistan.

In another development on Friday, gunmen on motorcycles opened fire at a roadside
restaurant in southwestern Pakistan, killing 18 people, officials said. Pakistanis who were
trying to travel to Europe with smugglers were the target of the attack in the remote town of
Turbat in Baluchistan Province, said Abdul Razzaq, a government official in the area.

The motive for the killings was unclear.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 7, 2012, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: 15 Killed in
U.S. Drone Strike in Pakistan.
    Yemen Sets Terms of a War on Al Qaeda



                                                                                                     European Pressphoto Agency

    SEPT. 4, 2010 | LAHJ, YEMEN | The aftermath of a clash between troops and gunmen. Poverty, illicit arms and tribal

    conflicts could make Yemen “worse than Somalia ” a cable said in 2009


    Published: December 3, 2010

    WASHINGTON — One Obama administration security official after another was visiting to
    talk about terrorism, and Yemen’s redoubtable president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, seemed to be
    savoring his newfound leverage.

    State's Secrets

    Day 6

    Articles in this series will examine American diplomatic cables as a window on relations with the rest of the world in
    an age of war and terrorism.

    Other Articles in the Series »

    Related Documents

       Americans Arrested in Yemen for Militant Ties
       Yemeni President on U.S. Missile Strikes
       Yemeni President Gives U.S. Free Reign
       Hunting for Dangerous Weapons in Yemen
   Yemeni President on Guantánamo Prisoners

The Lede
Updates on the reaction to the leak of diplomatic cables.

Talk to the Newsroom
Editors and reporters are answering questions.

    Send Questions

The Americans are “hot-blooded and hasty when you need us,” Mr. Saleh chided one visitor,
Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief, but “cold-blooded and
British when we need you.”

It was Jan. 31, just a few weeks after a young Nigerian trained and equipped in Yemen had
tried to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit. The wave of attention to Al Qaeda’s
Yemen branch and its American-born propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki, might not do much
for tourism, but paradoxically it did give the Yemeni leader more influence.

Mr. Saleh said coyly that while he was “satisfied” with the military equipment the United
States was supplying, he “would like to be more satisfied in the future,” according to an
account of the meeting sent to Washington.

Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations
offer the most intimate view to date of the wily, irreverent and sometimes erratic Yemeni
autocrat, who over the past year has become steadily more aggressive against Al Qaeda. But
he appears determined to join the fight on his own terms, sometimes accommodating and
other times rebuffing American requests on counterterrrorism.

The cables do not substantially alter the public picture of Mr. Saleh (pronounced SAH-leh),
68, a former military officer who has led Yemen for three decades. But with direct
quotations from private meetings, the cables are like crisp color photographs of what was
previously in fuzzy black and white.

Yemen, long an arid, impoverished afterthought for the United States, now draws high-level
American attention far out of proportion to its size. In October, militants in Yemen sent off
printer cartridges packed with explosives to Chicago addresses. The bombs were
intercepted, but the plot set off a furor and prompted the latest in a series of phone calls
between President Obama and his Yemeni counterpart about counterterrorism and aid.

At times, the cables show, Mr. Saleh has not hesitated to use his country’s daunting
problems as a kind of threat.

“Referencing the high poverty rate and illicit arms flows into both Yemen and Somalia,
Saleh concluded by saying, ‘If you don’t help, this country will become worse than Somalia,’
” said a September 2009 cable from the American ambassador, Stephen A. Seche,
describing Mr. Saleh as being in “vintage form.”

The cables portray Yemen, a land of 23 million people that is nearly the size of Texas, as a
beleaguered, often baffling place, bristling with arms and riven by tribal conflict, where
shoulder-launched missiles go missing and the jihad-curious arrive from all over the world.
The Americans are seen coaxing the Yemenis to go after Al Qaeda, working out the rules for
American missile strikes, seeking a safe way to send Yemeni prisoners home from the
Guantánamo Bay prison and sizing up Americans caught in Yemeni security sweeps.

Always at the center of the diplomatic traffic is Mr. Saleh, who first appears seeking a half-
million tons of wheat in a 1990 meeting with James A. Baker III, then the secretary of state.
These days, his most pressing requests are for heavy weapons and military training. But he
also has become more cooperative with the American campaign against Al Qaeda.

In a 2009 meeting with John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser,
Mr. Saleh offered an unusual bargain. He “insisted that Yemen’s national territory is
available for unilateral CT operations by the U.S.” — but with a catch. If there were to be an
attack on a Western target, Mr. Saleh said, it would not be his fault.

“I have given you an open door on terrorism,” he said, “so I am not responsible.”

In fact, despite such rhetoric, Mr. Saleh has imposed strict limits over American operations
in his country, even as he has helped disguise them as his own.

When the first two American missile strikes against Qaeda camps in Yemen took place in
December 2009, Mr. Saleh publicly claimed that they were Yemeni strikes to avert any anti-
American backlash. Gen. David H. Petraeus flew to Yemen to thank the president, who
promised to keep up the ruse. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr.
Saleh said, according to a cable.
A deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, had already assured the Americans that “U.S.
munitions found at the sites” of strikes “could be explained away as equipment purchased
from the U.S.”

Moreover, Mr. Alimi implied that Yemeni officials accepted as inevitable that the missiles
had killed civilians along with militants. They were Bedouin families — “poor people selling
food and supplies to the terrorists” and thus “acting in collusion with the terrorists and
benefiting financially,” he said.

Still, Mr. Saleh told General Petraeus that “mistakes were made” in the killing of civilians.
He agreed to the American commander’s proposal that to improve accuracy, future strikes
would be carried out by American aircraft rather than by cruise missiles fired from distant

But he firmly denied General Petraeus’s request to send American advisers along on Yemeni
counterterrorism operations. For his part, General Petraeus put off Mr. Saleh’s request for
12 armed helicopters, even though the president promised to use them “only against Al
Qaeda.” The United States has been wary of fueling the Yemeni government’s long-running
conflicts with the so-called Houthi rebels in the north and secessionists in the south.

State's Secrets

Day 6

Articles in this series will examine American diplomatic cables as a window on relations with the rest of the world in
an age of war and terrorism.

Other Articles in the Series »

Related Documents

   Americans Arrested in Yemen for Militant Ties
   Yemeni President on U.S. Missile Strikes
   Yemeni President Gives U.S. Free Reign
   Hunting for Dangerous Weapons in Yemen
   Yemeni President on Guantánamo Prisoners

The Lede
Updates on the reaction to the leak of diplomatic cables.
Talk to the Newsroom
Editors and reporters are answering questions.

    Send Questions

The two sides also sparred over Yemen’s restrictions on material the United States shipped
to its embassy in the diplomatic pouch, which the Yemenis evidently suspected was being
used to import eavesdropping equipment. The Americans have complained about poor
security at the airport in Sana, Yemen’s capital, including X-ray screeners who do not watch
their monitors, and also security officers who “harass” American diplomats.

Beyond such testy bargaining, emptying the Guantánamo Bay prison, where Yemenis are
the single largest group remaining, has been a regular source of tension. When Mr. Saleh
rejected an American plan to send the Yemenis to a Saudi rehabilitation program in March
2009, a cable described him as “dismissive, bored and impatient” and said he had “missed a
good chance to engage the new administration on one of its key foreign policy priorities.”

At the same time, the embassy was tracking the growing number of Yemeni arrests of
expatriate Americans suspected of having links to militants. By last February, such arrests
were occurring about once a week, and Mr. Seche wrote to Washington that the embassy’s
“sharply increased workload” urgently required more personnel.

“In the past two years, the Muslim convert community of Amcits living in Yemen,” Mr.
Seche wrote, using shorthand for American citizens, “has been increasingly linked to
extremist activities.” Sorting out such cases was difficult, a February cable said, citing an
American woman who had reported the midnight arrest of her husband but appeared to be
“omitting or manipulating critical details.”

Yemen had become a magnet for would-be jihadists from around the globe, and a January
cable listed 23 Australian citizens and residents to be added to terrorism watch lists because
of activities in Yemen or connections to Mr. Awlaki, the radical cleric hiding there. Many of
the Australians were women, and Qaeda operatives in Yemen were seeking “to identify a
female for a future attack,” the cable said.

The cables report on American and Yemeni attempts to track down and destroy stocks of the
shoulder-fired missiles known as “manpads,” for man-portable air-defense systems. Their
lethality against aircraft make them a major counterterrorism concern.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry insisted that it had no stocks of such missiles, but Yemen’s
National Security Bureau — a newer agency that works closely with the United States — told
the Americans that the Defense Ministry “does indeed have MANPADS, but would never
speak of them because they are considered a state secret.”

A close ally in the counterterrorism efforts, the cables make clear, is Prince Muhammad bin
Nayef, the deputy interior minister in neighboring Saudi Arabia, who in October tipped off
American officials about the parcel bomb plot. Shortly after the attempted bombing of the
airliner bound for Detroit, Prince Nayef told Gen. James L. Jones, then President Obama’s
national security adviser, that the only way to combat Al Qaeda in Yemen was to “keep them
on the run” and that Yemeni and American strikes on Al Qaeda were proving effective.

Saudi authorities “have been monitoring conversations of Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen
very closely, and whereas before the attack they were hearing relaxed 20-minute phone
conversations over cellphones, after the attack the phones went virtually silent,” Prince
Nayef said, according to a cable. That showed that Qaeda operatives “are more focused on
their own security rather than on planning operations,” he said.

Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.


                                                                           Fareed Khan/Associated Press

Updated: Aug. 16, 2012
WikiLeaks is a whistle-blowing Web site that became the focus of a global debate over its role in
the release of thousands of confidential messages about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and
the conduct of American diplomacy around the world.

The once-fringe Web site, which aims to bring to light secret information about governments
and corporations, was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian activist and journalist,
along with a group of like-minded activists and computer experts.

Wikileaks made its initial reputation by publishing material as diverse as documents about toxic
dumping in Africa, protocols from Guantánamo Bay, e-mail messages from Sarah Palin’s
personal account and 9/11 pager messages.

In 2010, WikiLeaks posted 391,832 secret documents on the Iraqi war and 77,000 classified
Pentagon documents on the Afghan conflict. It also made available about 250,000 individual
cables — the daily traffic between the State Department and more than 270 American
diplomatic outposts around the world.

The Web site made the material on Iraq and Afghanistan available to a number of news
organizations, including The New York Times, in advance. The Guardian shared the diplomatic
cable collection with The New York Times.

Assange: Legal Battles; Political Asylum

WikiLeaks has foundered since Mr. Assange was arrested in December 2010, in Britain, on a
Swedish warrant issued in connection with accusations of rape and molestation involving two
Swedish women. He was at first denied bail, but a week later was granted bail of $315,000 and
placed under house arrest at the country mansion of a wealthy friend.

He has consistently denied the accusations and suggested that they are part of a global
conspiracy to silence him. A British court ruled in November 2011 that he could be extradited,
and on June 14, 2012, the Supreme Court denied his final appeal and said that barring a last-
minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, he would be on a plane to face his
accusers by midnight on July 7.

On June 19, Mr. Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. According to
statements from the embassy and officials in Quito, Mr. Assange wanted “protective asylum”
from the Swedish and American governments.

Two months later, on Aug. 16, Ecuador said that it had decided to grant Mr. Assange political
asylum. The announcement was made by the Ecuadorean foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, at a
news conference in Quito, where the government set a defiant tone over pressure from Britain.
Just before the announcement, President Rafael Correa said: “No one is going to terrorize us!”

Mr. Patiño said he hoped Britain would permit Mr. Assange to leave the embassy in London for
Ecuador — a request Britain has rejected, saying it has a legal obligation to extradite Mr.
Assange to Sweden, where is wanted to face questioning about allegations of sexual
The minister said his government had taken the decision after the authorities in Britain, Sweden
and the United States had refused to give guarantees that, if Mr. Assange were extradited to
Sweden, he would not then be sent on to America to face other charges.

The British Foreign Office said it was disappointed by the Ecuadorean announcement but
remained committed to a negotiated outcome to the standoff.

Those close to Mr. Assange have said one reason he does not want to be sent to Sweden is that
he fears being charged with crimes in the United States for the release in 2010 of thousands of
secret documents and diplomatic cables relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as
to American relations with other governments.

An Ecuadorean official said that the British government had made it clear it would not allow Mr.
Assange to leave the country to travel to Ecuador, so even with a grant of asylum or similar
protection, he would probably remain stuck in the embassy.

Mr. Patiño, the foreign minister, said that the British authorities had threatened to barge into
the country’s embassy in London if officials did not hand over Mr. Assange. “Today we have
received from the United Kingdom an explicit threat in writing that they could assault our
embassy in London if Ecuador does not hand over Julian Assange,” Mr. Patiño said at a news
conference in Quito, adding defiantly, “We are not a British colony.”

Military Court for Suspected Source

Bradley Manning, the United States Army intelligence analyst accused of giving hundreds of
thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, underwent a military hearing in December
2011. The evidentiary proceeding at Fort Meade, Md., known as an Article 32 hearing, was to
determine whether the charges, which include aiding the enemy, should proceed to a court
martial or be dismissed.

The presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to
believe that Private Manning committed the crimes he is accused of, including aiding the enemy,
theft of public records and computer fraud.

Colonel Almanza’s recommendation went to senior military officers, who can dismiss the
charges or permit them to proceed to a full military trial.

If convicted on all charges, Private Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.

During the hearing, the prosecutors showed what they described as a Qaeda propaganda video
in which terrorist operatives talked about the ways they had been able to exploit the leaks, with
one of them saying that Private Manning “aided in the publication of those files, knowing that
our enemies would use those files.”

The defense lawyers portrayed Private Manning as a man struggling with myriad emotional
problems, stemming primarily from years of having to hide that he is gay. His lawyers said he
reached out to his commanding officers for help and emotional support, but they ignored his
problems. And, the lawyers said, Private Manning saw himself as a whistle-blower, not a traitor.
The Web Site

WikiLeaks has had a core group of five full-time volunteers and 800 to 1,000 people whom the
group could call on for expertise in areas like encryption, programming and writing news

Mr. Assange used years of computer hacking and what friends call a near genius I.Q. to establish
WikiLeaks, redefining whistle-blowing by gathering secrets in bulk, storing them beyond the
reach of governments and others determined to retrieve them, then releasing them instantly,
and globally.

WikiLeaks publishes its material on its own site, which is housed on a few dozen servers around
the globe, including places like Sweden, Belgium and the United States that the organization
considers friendly to journalists and document leakers.

By being everywhere, yet in no exact place, WikiLeaks is, in effect, beyond the reach of any
institution or government that hopes to silence it.

WikiLeaks has been severely weakened since Mr. Assange’s arrest by a spate of defections from
its core of specialist computer-programmer volunteers, insiders have said. Many, tired of what
they described as Mr. Assange’s eccentricity and imperiousness, have formed their own
document leaking sites.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German computer scientist and former staff member, wrote a tell-all
book titled “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous
Website,” which was released in 2011.

Mr. Domscheit-Berg and the other defectors have started another leaking site, OpenLeaks.


Hundreds of Internet activists mounted retaliatory attacks in early December 2010 on the Web
sites of multinational companies and other organizations they deemed hostile to WikiLeaks and
its jailed founder.

Targets of the attacks, in which activists overwhelmed the sites with traffic, included the Web
site of MasterCard, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks;, which
revoked the use of its computer servers; and PayPal, which stopped accepting donations for Mr.
Assange’s group. was also affected by the attacks, as were the Web sites of the Swedish
prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the two women whose allegations of sexual
misconduct were the basis of Sweden’s extradition bid.

The cyberattacks in Mr. Assange’s defense seem to have been coordinated by Anonymous, a
loosely affiliated group of activist computer hackers. Anonymous claimed responsibility for the
MasterCard attack in Web messages and, according to one activist associated with the group,
conducted waves of attacks on other companies. The group said the actions were part of an
effort called Operation Payback, which began as a way of punishing companies that attempted to
stop Internet file-sharing and movie downloads.
The cyberattacks on corporations were seen by many supporters as a counterstrike against the
United States. Mr. Assange’s online supporters have widely condemned the Obama
administration as the unseen hand coordinating efforts to choke off WikiLeaks by denying it
financing and suppressing its network of computer servers.

Trove of Syria Documents

In July 2012, WikiLeaks announced that it would begin releasing a cache of more than 2.4
million e-mails between Syrian politicians, government officials and companies dating from
2006 until March 2012.

In a statement announced in London, WikiLeaks said that it aimed to “shine a light on the inner
workings of the Syrian government and economy” and that the disclosures in the e-mails would
embarrass not only President Bashar al-Assad of Syria but also adversaries of Mr. Assad and his
ruling Baath Party.

The statement cited the “violent internal conflict” that has riven that country and led to
widespread condemnation of Mr. Assad for ordering a crackdown of the uprising against him,
which he has called a war against terrorists.

It was not immediately possible to independently authenticate the e-mails, or establish whether
the release was related to an earlier leak of internal communications involving Mr. Assad
published by the Guardian newspaper.

The WikiLeaks statement said the e-mails, totaling 2,434,899, are written in Arabic, Russian
and English. “In such a large collection of information, it is not possible to verify every single e-
mail at once,” it said, but it is “statistically confident that the vast majority of the data are what
they purport to be.”

Stirring Fears About Antiterrorist Software

In August 2012, a release of stolen corporate e-mails by WikiLeaks set off a flurry of concern and
speculation around the world about a counterterrorist software program called TrapWire, which
analyzes images from surveillance cameras and other data to try to identify terrorists planning
attacks. PC Magazine described TrapWire as “a secret, comprehensive U.S. surveillance effort.”

But the reports appeared to be wildly exaggerated. TrapWire was tried out on 15 surveillance
cameras in Washington and Seattle by the Homeland Security Department, but officials said it
ended the trial in 2011 because it did not seem promising.

A claim in the leaked e-mails that 500 cameras in the New York subway were linked to TrapWire
is false, said Paul J. Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman. “We don’t use

TrapWire is discussed in dozens of e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, a private security
firm in Austin, Tex., that were posted online earlier in August by WikiLeaks. The e-mails were
part of a large cache captured late in 2011 and early 2012 by hackers associated with the loose-
knit international collective called Anonymous, which gave the e-mails to WikiLeaks.
TrapWire was originally developed in 2004 by the Abraxas Corporation, which was founded by
several former C.I.A. employees. TrapWire’s marketing materials say it uses video cameras and
observations by security guards to develop a 10-point description of people near a potential
terrorist target and an eight-point description of vehicles.

If the same person or car is picked up in multiple locations engaging in suspicious behavior, the
software is supposed to make the connection. But a privacy statement on the TrapWire Web site
says the software does not capture “personal information.”

Why is the New York Times
enabling a U.S. government
smear campaign against
reporters exposing the drone
ASK THIS | May 11, 2012

The Times let government officials
anonymously attack a group of journalists
and a lawyer who have uncovered evidence
that belies the White House's claim that drones aren't killing many civilians. Was
their rationale for that justified?

By John Hanrahan

A human rights lawyer and a group of investigative journalists who have exposed the
extensive civilian casualties from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are being smeared by
anonymous U.S. government officials, who have even accused them of being sympathetic to
al Qaeda.

Two of the anonymous accusations came in articles in The New York Times, despite the
paper's own rules against personal attacks by unnamed sources.
Pakistani human rights attorney Shahzad Akbar and the London-based Bureau of
Investigative Journalism (BIJ) say the campaign is intended to deter mainstream news
organizations from reporting that the White House is lying about how many innocent people
are being killed by the drone strikes.

President Obama's top terrorism adviser John O. Brennan recently contended that civilian
deaths were "exceedingly rare." The BIJ, though, puts total drone deaths in Pakistan since
2004 at between 2,440 and 3,113, and they say between 479 and 821 of the dead were
civilians, including 174 children. Drone attacks in Pakistan have dramatically increased since
Obama took office: President Bush was responsible for 52; Obama for 270 and counting.

Relying on the BIJ’s comprehensive research and his own investigations in support of a
number of clients who are drone victims or families of victims and who are suing the CIA,
Akbar has for the last two years sharply challenged U.S. government assertions regarding
civilian casualties, most recently by filing two lawsuits in Pakistan, demanding a criminal
investigation into the killings by Hellfire missile of some 50 people, including tribal elders in
Waziristan in March 2011. (See's May 10 story, Civilian drone victims,
unrecognized by the U.S. government and public, seek justice.)

Akbar's public criticisms of the program, including naming the CIA station chief in Pakistan
and calling for his trial on murder charges for drone killings of civilians, has made him a
particular thorn in the side of U.S. officials.

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism is a not-for-profit organization made
up of former editors and reporters for major U.K. news organizations that undertakes
investigations on a variety of subjects for various print and broadcast outlets in the United
Kingdom and elsewhere. Akbar and BIJ senior reporter Chris Woods both spoke recently at
an international drone conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the peace group Code
Pink, the U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve, and the Pakistan-based Foundation for
Fundamental Rights, which Akbar heads.

Woods told the conference audience that his organization had been subjected to an
anonymous smear campaign by the CIA. The agency, he said, has attacked his
organization’s findings aggressively “and has asked our partners” -- newspapers and
broadcasters who have collaborated with BIJ -- not to use BIJ’s reports.

Two of the anonymous smears came from unnamed U.S. government sources quoted in two
separate New York Times articles reporting on Akbar’s and BIJ’s findings. The writer of both
stories was the Times's highly regarded national security reporter, Scott Shane.

Brennan, in June 2011, asserted that in the preceding 12 months, "there hasn't been a
single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities
that we've been able to develop."

In an August 11, 2011 Times article, Shane reported Akbar and BIJ's evidence to the
contrary. But he also wrote: “American officials accuse Mr. Akbar of working to discredit the
drone program at the behest of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the
Pakistani spy service. Mr. Akbar and others who know him strongly deny the accusation.”

Shane quoted another human rights lawyer who worked with Akbar in Pakistan and who
described the anonymous charges of ISI connections as “not credible at all.” But the article
also allowed unnamed officials to take a shot at BIJ: “American officials said the Bureau of
Investigative Journalism report was suspect because it relied in part on information supplied
by Mr. Akbar, who publicly named the C.I.A.’s undercover Pakistan station chief in
December when announcing his legal campaign against the drones.”

More recently, on February 8, the Times reported the BIJ’s findings that the CIA’s drone
attacks in Pakistan “have repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a
strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.” But after highlighting BIJ’s report, the
article then allowed a “senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition
of anonymity” to not just question the report’s findings, but to state: “One must wonder
why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been
subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions -- there are a number of
elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help al Qaeda

That latter direct quote essentially allowed the anonymous source to declare critics of the
drone program as traitors and dupes.

Shane, in written responses to a number of questions that Nieman Watchdog posed to him
about the two articles, said he believes this particular quote was not necessarily directed at
BIJ, calling it “ambiguous, and I wish I had been able to clarify it.” He added: “Based on all
my reporting over the last couple of years, I believe U.S. government officials have in mind
not BIJ or other journalists as sympathizers of Al Qaeda but militants and perhaps ISI
officers who supply what they consider disinformation on strikes to journalists.”

The Times’ own “Confidential News Sources Policy,” in an effort to stop the overuse or unfair
use of anonymous sources, states, among other things: “We do not grant anonymity to
people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack.”

But Shane defended the use of the anonymous quotes in the two articles, saying that he
and his editors agreed that the quotes were needed to give “some voice from the other
side” -- that is, the government -- in articles reporting allegations of civilian deaths. Until
the drone-strike program is made overt and government officials can talk more freely about
it, Shane said, “journalists often have a choice of quoting anonymous officials or writing
stories about accusations of bad strikes and innocent deaths and including no response at
all. I feel it's important to include some voice from the other side, and my editors have
agreed. In addition, it seems to me important to citizens to know what the government
says, even if some citizens find the statements unpersuasive or worse.”

The problem, though, with the U.S. government as the anonymous “voice from the other
side,” is that the real unrepresented “voice from the other side” in the mainstream news
media is that of the civilian victims. Their voices and names seldom appear in the
mainstream media.

Shane should be credited for writing the two articles that gave headlines and space to the
drone-strike critics. But those government officials are not so oppressed that they should be
allowed to anonymously trash their critics’ reputations and motivations. Readers might
reasonably assume that the Times wouldn’t run such quotes anonymously and without proof
unless there were some truth to them.

Because the drone strikes occur in remote, inaccessible areas, Akbar said at the conference,
“The CIA is the only source as to what’s happening on the ground in Waziristan,” so U.S.
officials always tell western reporters that only armed “militants” were targeted and killed.
Relying on that as the truth would be comparable, he said, to reporters relying on only the
Taliban’s or other militants’ version of events when they “administer horrible punishment on
citizens.” His goal, Akbar said, is to publicize cases of drone killings of civilians, using the
names of the civilian dead, to force the “American president to admit that he is klling
children and women in your name” and to show that the drone attacks “are not making
America safer, because you are only creating more enemies.”


Since Shane’s response sheds light on what he describes as the dilemma of dealing with
government officials on programs that are classified, but nevertheless very public, here is
his response in full to our questions:

      “The drone program, as I have written, is in the strange category of classified but
      public information, which creates difficulties both for government officials and for
      journalists. Many outsiders and some government officials think the situation is
      untenable and that the program should be made overt, so that real debates could
      take place on Congress and the public on these issues.

      “In the meantime, journalists often have a choice of quoting anonymous officials or
      writing stories about accusations of bad strikes and innocent deaths and including no
      response at all. I feel it's important to include some voice from the other side, and my
      editors have agreed. In addition, it seems to me important to citizens to know what
      the government says, even if some citizens find the statements unpersuasive or

      “In the first [August 11] story you mention, read carefully everything about Shahzad
      Akbar. The story subjects to scrutiny the claim that he's an ISI tool and presents
      evidence to the contrary. The quote in the second story is ambiguous, and I wish I
      had been able to clarify it. Based on all my reporting over the last couple of years, I
      believe US government officials have in mind not BIJ or other journalists as
      sympathizers of Al Qaeda but militants and perhaps ISI officers who supply what they
      consider disinformation on strikes to journalists.

      “It's interesting and useful to criticize journalists struggling with such dilemmas -- it's
      a sport I have often enjoyed myself -- but for a reporter this story poses real
      challenges without easy choices.”

                  John Hanrahan is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative
                  Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star,
                  UPI, and other news organizations. He is now on special assignment for
                  Nieman Watchdog.

Jump to bottom of list

Posted by samarkand
05/11/2012, 03:55 PM
It seems that "the other side" --the government-- already has the opportunity to offer
its voice on the matter being reported, should it wish to do so on the record. Why in
the world should the Times take on the burden of violating its own policy to let
government officials make anonymous attacks on the veracity of the information in the
report? Would they have equivalently published the BIJ's findings if that organization
passed them on anonymously, or had hidden its methodology?

Special Correspondent, The News International, Karachi
Posted by Shahid Husain
05/12/2012, 11:43 AM
Brilliant piece of work! I am a senior journalist based in Karachi and my very first story
was a cover story! I guess the "Long War" as was dubbed by an American think tank
and used by LATimes has begun. The proponents of the so called "war on terror" have
a very simple strategy: Leak some information to NYT, and then go for attack, even if
innocent civilians, including children and women become victims.
I know my country and there are wonderful stories on our heritage, poetry, prose,
environment, people and nationalities that needs to be written but the bulk of foreign
correspondents simply confine themselves to write on terrorism in Pakistan, an
offspring of the myopic policies of American leaders. Not only the innocent US citizens
are been shown a distorted picture of Pakistan but a very large number of Pakistani
journalists too are being purchased.
The US is no longer the sole super power. We are witnessing the "Great Game" at a
higher plane.

Posted by DC
05/14/2012, 12:20 AM
This is exactly the kind of critique of our anonymous-leak-dependent "national
security"/Washington journalists that we need (when whistleblowing's not at issue).

THANK YOU, John Hanrahan and NiemanWatchdog.

I would vastly prefer it if reporters like Scott Shane, denied a quote from anyone in the
government, would simply note that the government refused to speak to the paper on
the record. That fact alone would speak volumes, and, importantly, should, over time,
help force the government ON the record if it wants 'its side' told. Of course (and
probably uppermost in the minds of the media), there will always be competitors who'll
carry the anonymous leak if the NYTimes doesn't. But are such momentary "scoops"
that much more important than open government?

Surely the NYTimes has enough clout and market share to at least TRY a different
approach, hopefully joined by some other similarly-sized media outlets. Shane and
others who have cultivated anonymous government-insider sources may find
themselves at a disadvantage, but the American people and, I think, the truth, would
gain from the losses of the anonymous government spinners.

There's another case I'm following, regarding the Panjwai Massacre reporting, to which
this statement from Hanrahan's piece above compellingly applies, with equal force:

"[T]he real unrepresented 'voice from the other side' in the mainstream news media is
that of the civilian victims."

For some reason, a month after broadcast, the Australian DatelineSBS report about
Panjwai - "Anatomy of a Massacre" - came under attack on New Zealand television by a
McClatchy reporter. His criticisms were quickly picked up by a media program on
Australia's major public broadcaster ABC-TV, whose April 30 broadcast led to a formal
complaint and request for an apology from the smaller public broadcaster SBS-TV. See: ...

Last Thursday ABC refused to correct its criticism of SBS, even though ABC had publicly
asserted that the McClatchy reporter spoke to three "witnesses" in Panjwai - which, it
developed after the ABC broadcast, he had NOT. See: ...

[One of the critical comments following that transcript is from me.]

Notably, these new criticisms of SBS seem to be primarily aimed at the accounts and
indications from Panjwai civilian victims carried by SBS that reported MULTIPLE soldiers
seen on March 11.

Posted by taikan
05/16/2012, 06:58 PM
According to Shane, "journalists often have a choice of quoting anonymous officials or
writing stories about accusations of bad strikes and innocent deaths and including no
response at all. I feel it's important to include some voice from the other side."

The only reason Shane, other journalists and the newspapers in which their stories are
printed are faced with a choice between "quoting anonymous officials" and "including
no response at all" is because they continue to print the quotes from "anonymous
officials." If they made it clear that the only statements they are willing to print that
present the "other side" are quotes that can be attributed to a specific government
official identified by name, title or both, the government would soon begin to come
forward with identifiable officials to state its case. Of course, that assumes that any
government official would be willing to make the same allegedly factual statements
knowing that his/her future credibility with the public may be damaged if those
statements later are shown to have been false.

Naureen Shah
Associate Director, Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project;
Lecturer-in-Law & Acting Director, Human Rights Clinic

             Phone: (212) 854-2795
             Email:

Naureen Shah develops research and advocacy on human rights and
counterterrorism policy, including covert drone strikes, investigations and
prosecutions of Muslims in the United States for terrorism offenses, and
safeguards against torture. Since joining the Human Rights Institute in
2009, Naureen has produced major reports on on drone strikes, diplomatic
assurances against torture and Afghan detention practices.

Prior to joining Columbia, Naureen was a Leonard H. Sandler Fellow at
Human Rights Watch, based in London. Prior to Human Rights Watch,
Naureen worked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on
refugee appeals cases.

Naureen holds a B.S. from Northwestern University in Journalism and
Gender Studies, cum laude. She holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School,
where she was a James Kent Scholar and Harlan Fiske Stone scholar, and
received the Lowenstein Fellowship awarded to outstanding graduates
pursuing public interest law. She served as articles editor on the Columbia
Human Rights Law Review.

Her recent articles include President Obama's Dangerous Drone Legacy
(USA Today, Oct. 1, 2012); The CIA’s Unchecked Quasi-Military Role
(Politico, May 10, 2012); Drone Attacks and the Brennan Doctrine
(Guardian, May 2, 2012); They Can't Go Home Again (Jurist, Feb. 15,
2011); Don’t Deliver Afghans to Torture on a Promise Alone (The
Age/Sydney Morning Herald/National Times online, Jan. 7, 2011);
Growing Up Before Ground Zero (Fort Worth Weekly, Sept. 8, 2011) and
Abusive and Abused (International Herald Tribune, Aug. 3, 2009).

Follow on Twitter @naureenshah

Counting Deaths from Drone
Debate about drone strikes often centers on who is killed: "militants" or
civilians. In the absence of official information, casualty estimates provided
by media fill the gap; however, the estimates are incomplete and may
significantly undercount the extent of reported civilian deaths. The US
government owes the public an accounting of who is really being killed.

Read the press release.

Get the Report

Download the summary and recommendations (PDF)

Download this report (PDF)

Download the Columbia dataset (PDF)
View related material Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined
Costs, Unanswered Questions

Follow us: @CLSHumanRights #DroneDeaths

Selected Media Coverage
Questions on Drones, Unanswered Still, New York Times

Counting the bodies in the Pakistani drone campaign, Bureau of
Investigative Journalism

Columbia Study: Media Drone Strike Reporting Flawed, Huffington Post

Apple Rejects Phone App That Tracks Worldwide Drone Strikes,

The Brookings Institution Demands Servile Journalism, The Guardian

Yemen’s Leader Praises U.S. Drone Strikes

Published: September 29, 2012

WASHINGTON — The president of Yemen gave an unqualified endorsement of American
drone strikes in his country during a visit here on Friday, cementing his status as a favored
counterterrorism partner of the United States.

Enlarge This Image

                                                                                  Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen.
Connect With Us on Twitter
Follow @nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.

Twitter List: Reporters and Editors

President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, elected in a one-candidate election in February, said
at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that the precision afforded by
drones gave them a marked advantage over the aging Soviet aircraft in the Yemeni Air

“They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re
aiming at,” said Mr. Hadi, a former army officer and the successor to Ali Abdullah Saleh,
who stepped down after protests against his three-decade rule.

The United States “helped with their drones because the Yemeni Air Force cannot carry out
missions at night,” he said. “The electronic brain’s precision is unmatched by the human

Mr. Hadi expressed no concerns about any reaction against drone strikes, which critics and
some government officials have said can fuel anti-American sentiment and feed militancy.

Though Mr. Saleh permitted counterterrorism strikes by American drones, cruise missiles
and jets beginning in 2009, American officials have found Mr. Hadi a more reliable partner
than his capricious predecessor. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s
affiliate in Yemen, has mounted several plots against the United States.

On Tuesday, President Obama underscored America’s gratitude to Mr. Hadi by dropping by
as the Yemeni president met in New York with John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s
counterterrorism adviser. While Mr. Obama spoke briefly with several heads of state at a
reception during the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Mr. Hadi was the only one
singled out for a meeting.

Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Hadi for protecting the American Embassy and diplomats in Sana,
the Yemeni capital, during the recent wave of protests against a crude American video
insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
American military strikes in Yemen against those suspected of terrorism began in December
2009 and were suspended for months after May 2010, in part because of concern about
civilian casualties and the killing of a deputy provincial governor. The C.I.A. and the United
States military later resumed strikes using missiles fired from drone aircraft, including the
strike in 2011 that killed the American-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and another

By the count of The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks counterterrorism operations,
there have been 33 American strikes in Yemen this year, compared with 10 last year.

The attacks increased as Al Qaeda and its allies seized parts of two provinces, Abyan and
Shabwa, amid the chaos related to a power struggle in Sana. Yemeni forces, which Mr. Hadi
said were led by paramilitary groups, later ousted Qaeda fighters from several towns.

“Now they are scattered all over,” Mr. Hadi said of the Qaeda supporters. “But they will
never regain the force they once had.”

Mr. Hadi said the deep poverty of Yemen, which is running out of oil and water, “is
nurturing Al Qaeda.” He said the $1.5 billion pledged by international donors on Thursday
would help Yemen avoid civil war, which he said would be “catastrophic” for the region and
the world.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 29, 2012, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline:
Drone Strikes Draw Praise From Leader Of Yemen.

How the Gov’t Talks About a
Drone Program it Won’t
Acknowledge Exists
An armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft sits in a shelter Oct. 15 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, before a
mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

by Cora Currier
ProPublica, Sept. 13, 2012, 12:14 p.m.

Related Interactive: Stacking Up the Administration's Drone Claims

Drones have become the go-to weapon of the U.S.’s counter-terrorism strategy, with strikes in Yemen in
particular increasing steadily. U.S. drones reportedly killedtwenty-nine people in Yemen recently,
including perhaps ten civilians.

Administration officials regularly celebrate the drone war’s apparent successes— often avoiding details or
staying anonymous, but claiming tacit credit for the U.S.

In June, a day after Abu Yahya Al-Libi was killed in Pakistan, White House spokesman Jay Carney
trumpeted the death of “Al Qaeda’s Number-Two.” Unnamed officials confirmed the strike in at least ten
media outlets. Similarly, the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by a CIA drone last September was
confirmed in many news outlets by anonymous officials. President Obama called Awlaki’s death “a tribute
to our intelligence community."

Just last week President Obama spoke about drone warfare on CNN, saying the decision to target
individuals for killing rather than capture involves “an extensive process with a lot of checks.”

But when it comes to details of that process, the administration clams up.
The government refuses to formally acknowledge that the CIA even has a drone program, let alone discuss
its thornier elements, like how many civilians have been killed, or how the CIA chooses targets.

Officials have given speeches on the legal rationale for targeted killing and the use of drones in broad
terms. The administration has alsoacknowledged “military operations”outside the “hot” battlefields of
Iraq and Afghanistan, but again, details have remained under wraps.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times have both filed multiple Freedom of
Information Act requests for documents relating to the CIA’s drones. The agency has responded by saying
that it can“neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.”

As part of a lawsuit challenging the CIA’s response, the ACLU collected nearly two hundred on- and off-
the-record statements to the media by current and former U.S. officials about the CIA’s use of drones for
targeted killing. In a graphic accompanying this story, we’ve laid out many of the statements, alongside
the CIA’s legal stances refusing to confirm or deny the program. The statements cover most of Obama’s
first term in office. Taken together, they show the extent to which the government keeps disclosures about
the CIA’s drone war mostly on its own terms.

In court briefs, Justice Department lawyers argue that widespread “unofficial” discussion
notwithstanding, revealing the existence of any number of documents relating to the drone program or
targeted killing would convey sensitive information about the nature and scope of such a program. They
add that quotes from unnamed sources or former CIA officers don’t constitute official acknowledgment.
As for public remarks about drones by President Obama and other officials—the government argues that
they never explicitly mention the CIA and could be referring to military operations.

A federal judge in D.C. already ruled in favor of the CIA in one suit last September, a decision the ACLU is
appealing. A hearing is scheduled for next week.

A White House spokesman declined to comment to ProPublica on the FOIA suit or on the CIA’s drone
program. The CIA did not respond to our requests for comment.

Some top administration officials have become well-practiced at coy references to the classified program.

In October 2011, Defense Secretary—and former CIA director—Leon Panetta said, “I have a hell of a lot
more weapons available to me in this job than I had at the CIA, although the Predators aren't bad.” In the
ACLU suit, the government arguesthat Panetta’s comments were too vague to constitute an
acknowledgement that the CIA actually had drones, or whether it used them for targeted killing, “as
opposed to surveillance and intelligence-gathering.”

A year earlier, Panetta said that Al Qaeda in Pakistan had been beaten back in part to due “the most
aggressive operation the CIA has been involved in in our history.” The government notes that he never
said the word “drone.”

Semantics aside, details on the most controversial aspects of the program have been revealed through a
patchwork of these unofficial comments. For example, in May the New York Times reported that the CIA
counts any military-aged male killed in a drone strike as a “militant,” even if his identity isn’t known.
Many outlets had previously reported that the CIA conducted“signature strikes” in Pakistan, and now in
Yemen, which target men believed to be militants whose identities aren’t known. But neither the Times
story nor subsequent reporting by ProPublica garnered much detail on how the CIA actually assesses
casualties after a strike. As usual, neither the White House nor the CIA would comment on the record.

It has also been widely reported that mainly the CIA conducts strikes in Pakistan, because the U.S.’s tense
diplomatic relationship with the country requires the patina of deniability provided by a covert program.
When Obama referred to drone strikes in a public video chat this January, saying that that “obviously a lot
of these strikes have been in the FATA,” the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, many
assumed he had to be talking about the CIA.

The government insists the president’s comments didn’t count as disclosure of anything, saying he could
have been talking not about CIA strikes but military (though, as a government brief in the ACLU suit
points out, those haven’t been acknowledged in Pakistan either). As the government argues, “It is
precisely this sort of unbridled speculation that is insufficient to support a claim of official disclosure.”

The same brief framed it another way: “Even if there is speculation about a fact, unless an agency officially
confirms that fact, the public does not know whether it is so.”

Sarah Knuckey
Director, Project on Extrajudicial Executions (

Sarah Knuckey has worked with non-governmental and international organisations in
Australia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, the UK and the USA, leading human
rights fact-finding missions, reporting on human rights violations and providing
humanitarian and human rights legal and policy advice. Her work has addressed a
range of humanitarian and human rights concerns, including refugee rights and
detention, indigenous rights, counter-terrorism, torture, rape, the right to life, forced
relocation, and the liability of transnational corporations and other non-state actors for
human rights abuses. Previously, she was a Clerk to the Hon Justice Michael Kirby at
the High Court of Australia, Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar, Lionel Murphy
Postgraduate Scholar, Harvard Human Rights Program Summer Fellow, and Everett
Public Interest Internship recipient (at Human Rights Watch). She has a BA and LLB
(Hons) (University of Western Australia), an LLM (Harvard), and is currently a PhD
candidate (University of London).

Stanford/N.Y.U. report on the drone campaign’s impact on Pakistanis

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