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Leaked documents show the extent of America's drone war

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drone (public domain)
drone (public domain)

Top-secret documents acquired by McClatchy have revealed the extent of US drone usage. Despite previous claims that drones were used for "targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists," it's now clear that the unmanned aircraft are being used far more widely. According to McClatchy's Jonathan Landay, at least 265 of the 482 people the CIA killed over a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were assessed to be "unknown extremists;" a far cry from the targeted campaign that counterterrorism adviser (and new CIA chief) John Brennan revealed last year.

In Brennan's 2012 speech, he publicly acknowledged the administration's use of armed drones for the first time, saying the attacks were "in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives." Although Brennan hammered home the focus on Al Qaeda targets — mentioning the terrorist organization 73 times — he did say that other legitimate targets could be potential attackers who are actively training or militants with skills like bomb-making. With that additional justification, and without precise knowledge of those that were targeted by drones, it's difficult to condemn the more extensive campaign entirely, but it seems fair to say that Brennan's original disclosure was at the least disingenuous.

McClatchy also details "a lack of precision" in the US' identification of targets, recounting a single attack on February 18th, 2010:

"Information, according to one U.S. intelligence account, indicated that Badruddin Haqqani, the then-No. 2 leader of the Haqqani network, would be at a relative’s funeral that day in North Waziristan. Watching the video feed from a drone high above the mourners, CIA operators in the United States identified a man they believed could be Badruddin Haqqani from the deference and numerous greetings he received. The man also supervised a private family viewing of the body.

Yet despite a targeting process that the administration says meets "the highest possible standards," it wasn’t Badruddin Haqqani who died when one of the drone’s missiles ripped apart the target’s car after he’d left the funeral. It was his younger brother, Mohammad.

Friends later told reporters that Mohammad Haqqani was a religious student in his 20s uninvolved in terrorism; the U.S. intelligence report called him an active member – but not a leader – of the Haqqani network. At least one other unidentified occupant of his vehicle perished, according to the report. It took the CIA another 18 months to find and kill Badruddin Haqqani."

Micah Zenko, an expert from the bipartisan think tank the Council on Foreign Relations, told McClatchy that the Obama administration is "misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted." He claims the present US "hyprocrisy" is setting a "dangerous precedent" that other countries could emulate.