Obama Administration Officials Admit Some Flaws of the Violent Drone Programs

The officials don’t go far enough, as they fail to admit that the systematic U.S. killings of civilians via drone strikes are egregious war crimes, but I give them some amount of credit for admitting certain shortcomings of the drone programs. Once a lot of people are situated in those high-level governmental environments that direct institutionalized murder, they often internalize truly horrible values. The Obama administration notably had a day of the week referred to as Terror Tuesday, and I have to wonder what that did to the minds of those who sat through those gatherings.

“The Uncounted,”Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal’s groundbreaking piece about the civilians killed in the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State—and the considerable gap between their tally of such deaths and the numbers reported by the Pentagon—is one of them. We cannot speak to the precise data, but their New York Times Magazine piece, and the verified tragedy of the Razzo family at its center, are emblematic of a bigger story that unfortunately rings true.

Basim Razzo was a member of one of the oldest families in Mosul, and the article recounts the night he woke up to find his roof collapsed and home destroyed—the result of an American bomb. Though Razzo himself survived, the attack took from him his wife and daughter, and the story chronicles his investigation into why it occurred. He finds, to his horror, that his house was deliberately targeted; American drones had monitored it for three days before striking, apparently acting on outdated reports that it was an ISIS command center.  The drone footage failed to confirm those reports. It also failed to refute them. That, apparently, was sufficient for the U.S. military to proceed.

The Times story is one of faulty intelligence driving wrong-headed assumptions that decimate innocent lives and embitter survivors. It is a story about how a legal and bureaucratic fog can make it almost impossible for tragic mistakes to come to light, too often leaving instead a false sense of comfort that such mistakes never happened at all. And it is a story about a policy that warrants honest discussion, and change. We both worked with that policy up close. In the Obama White House, one of us was responsible for human rights, the other for coordinating the counter-ISIS campaign. In this respect, we were part of an administration that fell short.

Trump Regime to Drop Some Constraints on Drone Strikes and Raids

Unfortunately, this will mean an increase in the U.S. military’s war crimes abroad. The revealed plans of loosening drone restrictions are also noted to be around when Human Rights Watch reported that 84 civilians were killed in a U.S. air strike on a school and market in March.

The Trump administration is preparing to dismantle key Obama-era limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. The changes would lay the groundwork for possible counterterrorism missions in countries where Islamic militants are active but the United States has not previously tried to kill or capture them.

President Trump’s top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules, the officials said. First, the targets of kill missions by the military and the C.I.A., now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles. And second, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting.

But administration officials have also agreed that they should keep in place one important constraint for such attacks: a requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be killed.

The proposal to overhaul the rules has quietly taken shape over months of debate among administration officials and awaits Mr. Trump’s expected signature. Despite the preservation of the protections for civilians, the other changes seemed likely to draw criticism from human rights groups.

“Near certainty” contrasted with actual reporting:

A new report by Human Rights Watch says the U.S. military killed at least 84 civilians in Syria in March, when it bombed a school and a marketplace in two towns outside Raqqa. On March 20, U.S. airstrikes hit a school where displaced people were taking shelter in the village of Mansoura. Two days later, U.S. airstrikes hit a crowded market and bakery in the city of Tabqa. Local residents told Human Rights Watch the death toll from the two attacks is likely far higher than 84 civilians, because bodies were still buried underneath the rubble.