Obama Accused of 'Double Standard' in US Drone Assassination Program
April 24, 2015
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Spencer Kimball / Deutsche Welle
President Obama accepted blame for the deaths of two hostages killed in a Pakistan raid but the families of innocent civilians killed in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have not received the same consideration. The families of the two slain aid workers are already criticizing Washington for its "inconsistent" response to the hostage-taking and are likely to see the pledge of money as an attempt to buy their silence. Also killed: Adam Gadahn, a California resident who became a spokesperson for Al Qaeda.
Botched US Drone Strike Kills Two al-Qaeda-Held Hostages
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(April 23, 2015) -- A January drone strike against a "suspected al-Qaeda compound" in Pakistan has killed at least two innocent hostages, the White House admitted today, identified as American aid worker Dr. Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto.
While President Obama expressed a rudimentary level of "regret" in his statement on the killings and said he takes "full responsibility" for them, and spent much of his prepared statement patting himself on the back for his "transparency" on the killings.
It was unclear how long the administration had known about the killings, but other White House officials said they had been "classified" for at least some time, and that today just marked the decision to "declassify" the killings.
Obama said his decision to eventually declassify the matter reflected his desire that the families of the slain hostages "know the truth," though other administration officials defended the killings as "lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies."
Officials say their initial intelligence gave them "near certainty" that there were no hostages at the targeted site, and much of the commentary defending the killings on cable news focuses on the idea that this was not a "hostage rescue mission" at any rate.
US Accused of Double Standards
On Civilians Killed by Drones
Spencer Kimball / Deutsche Welle
GERMANY (April 23, 2015) -- President Barack Obama has publicly acknowledged that a US drone strike killed two Western aid workers. But hundreds of civilian deaths in similar strikes across the Muslim world remain shrouded in official secrecy.
The United States government has never revealed how many civilians have been killed by its drones, the weapon of choice in its campaign against Islamist militants. But on Thursday, President Barack Obama did publicly admit that two Western aid workers had become collateral damage.
Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were killed with their al Qaeda captors in a US drone strike in January. Though the strike occurred months ago, the White House claims that it confirmed the deaths of the two Western hostages only in the past few days, and has said it will compensate their families.
The strike hit a compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, according to the US government. But it's unclear who, if anybody, was specifically targeted. Ahmed Farouq, an alleged American member of al Qaeda, was killed in the same strike. But the White House says it had no knowledge of his presence in the compound beforehand. A separate operation in the same region killed another alleged American member of al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn. He too was not specifically targeted, according to the administration.
Drone Program Shrouded in Secrecy
Weinstein, a 73-year-old American doctor, was taken hostage in 2011 in the city of Lahore. Lo Porto, a 39-year-old Italian, went missing in 2012 after arriving in Pakistan to work for the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe. The White House said it also had no knowledge of their presence in the compound prior to the strike.
"As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today," President Obama said in a press conference. "I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there's nothing I can ever say or do to ease their heartache."
"As president and commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni," the president said. "I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families."
'Unconscionable Double Standard'
Obama went on to say that as soon as the US determined the cause of Warren and Giovanni's deaths, he ordered the operation declassified, because "the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth" and America is a "democracy committed to openness in good times and in bad."
But the families of Pakistani, Somali and Yemeni civilians have not been given the same consideration, according to Letta Tayler, a senior counter-terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Though the US government has not revealed the number of civilians killed in its drone war, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that at least 486 innocent people have been killed by strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in the past decade. More than 1,000 civilians may have died in the clandestine campaign, according to the Bureau. Drone strikes have also occurred in Somalia and Afghanistan.
"It's exceedingly rare that the US acknowledges killing a civilian in a drone strike," Tayler told DW. "In the cases that I've looked at, the US has only made this acknowledgment when it's killed an American, or in this the case the citizen of a country that's allied with the United States."
"This is an unconscionable double standard," Tayler said. "It is outrageous that the US will not own up to killing non-Western civilians in the same fashion."
'US Didn't Know Who It Was Killing'
According to Tayler, part of the problem is that the US drone war has largely been conducted by the CIA, which by its nature is a clandestine organization. She said the president should place the program under the supervision of the Defense Department, which is governed -- at least in theory -- by stricter rules on transparency.
"I hope these two tragic killings will prompt the Obama administration and the American public to revisit the policy of silence that hangs over this vast secret killing program," Tayler said. "President Obama himself promised greater transparency on drone strikes in what his administration touted as a landmark speech in May of 2013 and two years later we've seen almost no progress."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed three lawsuits to make details about the drone program public. The suits would force the US government to disclose information regarding the legal justification for drone strikes, how targets are picked, "before-the-fact" assessments of civilian casualties, "after-action" investigations of who was killed, and the number people killed and their affiliations.
"These new disclosures raise troubling questions about the reliability of the intelligence that the government is using to justify drone strikes," Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, said in a press release responding to the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto. "In each of the operations acknowledged today, the US quite literally didn't know who it was killing."
"Unfortunately, the president's stated commitment to transparency can't be squared with the secrecy that still shrouds virtually every aspect of the government's drone program," Jaffer said.
White House to Pay Families of Hostages They Killed
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(April 23, 2015) -- Between the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, the United States has had an awful lot of occasions to kill innocent civilians, and has adopted the regional practice of paying "blood money" to the families of the slain, in compensation for the deaths. This amount can vary from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on how keen the US is to placate a given victim's family.
In the wake of today's admission that they killed a pair of Western hostages in Pakistan, the White House seems to be trying to adapt this practice to Western victims as well, saying they intend to make payments of "compensation" to the families of American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto.
While wrongful death compensation isn't an entirely foreign concept in the West, the White House's combination of these payments with an insistence that the killings were in accordance with international law likely won't sit well with many.
The families of the slain aid workers are already criticizing the administration for its "inconsistent" response to the initial hostage-taking, and are likely to see the pledge of money as trying to buy their silence on the matter, particularly with the administration so clear that the killings aren't going to spark any real policy changes.
January US Drone Strike Killed
Two American al-Qaeda Members
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com
(April 23, 2015) -- While most of the focus on the White House's eventual revelation of details on a drone strike against Pakistan were the two Western hostages slain, a pair of Americans affiliated with al-Qaeda were also killed in the same strike.
Orange County-born Adam Gadahn, a 36-year-old who had been something of a spokesman for al-Qaeda, was among the slain. He was charged with treason in 2006, the first such charge against a US citizen since World War II.
The other slain American was Ahmed Farouq, who had been deputy emir of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a small branch organization.
White House officials concede that neither of the men was on the secretive "kill list" of American citizens they intend to bump off overseas, and their killings appear to have been coincidental to a strike on a "suspected compound" which they similarly maintain they had no idea contained innocent hostages.
Either way, US officials are doing what they always do when they kill al-Qaeda members whose names they know, and that's posthumously promote them to "top leaders" with serious operational roles.
This is true in this case despite Gadahn never being used as anything more than a public spokesman for America-centric videos, and Farouq being the sub-leader of a scarcely active auxiliary group, which has taken credit for no more than a handful of attempted attacks.
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