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On Thursday, the Intercept published a major package of stories that reveals the inner workings of the US military’s drone program, including how and why people are targeted for assassination on the amorphous battlefields of Yemen, Somalia, and other countries. “The Drone Papers,” according to the Intercept, is based on a trove of a classified documents leaked by a whistleblower who grew concerned by the government’s methods of targeting individuals for lethal action.
“This outrageous explosion of watchlisting—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.
The package is a deep look into how the US military has conducted its counterterrorism operations around the world, and it comes on the same day that President Barack Obama cited the counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda as one of the two reasons to keep nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for at least another year.
Amnesty International called for an immediate congressional inquiry into the drone program, saying the leaked documents “raise serious concerns about whether the USA has systematically violated international law, including by classifying unidentified people as ‘combatants’ to justify their killings.”
The entire series is worth your time, so please go read it. But for now, here are some key takeaways:
The US government kills a lot of people who aren’t military targets.War is an inherently deadly exercise, but the whole point of using armed drones, theoretically, is to minimize US military deaths and offer a more precise way to attack targets so that innocent people don’t get killed. And while it’s been known for some time that many innocent people die in US drone strikes, much of the information came from independent sources. The Intercept’s package adds internal US military data to the conversation, putting into stark reality just how bad the accidental killing problem has been: Between January 2012 and February 2013, US drone strikes in northeastern Afghanistan killed more than 200 people, only 35 of whom were the intended targets. Nearly 90 percent of the people killed in one five-month period were not the intended targets, according to the Intercept. The documents suggest the situation could be worse in Yemen and Somalia, where there are less US special operations teams on the ground to verify kills and targets.
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