Activists, lawyers, human rights advocates, civil liberties defenders and others came together for a major international summit on drone warfare and the issues created by drone use yesterday. The summit was co-organized by CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve. An exceptional lineup of speakers addressed participants detailing salient and significant aspects around the Obama administration’s expansion of the covert drone wars in countries like Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
The day wrapped up with a speech from Jeremy Scahill of The Nation, who has been one of the few journalists to actually travel to these countries where the covert drone war is playing out. Scahill has produced reports on Yemen and Somalia that show how the US is carrying out its “war on terrorism” and using drones to target and kill people.
Scahill opens his speech by saying, “The real death panels that we have in this country were unleashed on our own citizens. Republicans like to talk about death panels having to do with health care. President Obama is the one that is operating secret death panels” that include United States citizens and often include non-US citizens. The vast majority of the victims of this policy around the world are not US citizens.
He strongly condemns the al-Majalah massacre that was authorized by Obama and was a brutal massacre, more brutal than anything that has been done in Yemen in the past decade. The strike was authorized on a Bedouin village because “intelligence” showed it was an al Qaeda training facility at the time. “Cruise missiles and cluster bombs rained down.” The US was not mentioned and did not take credit for the attack. Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a journalist, who is now imprisoned by order of the Obama administration, went and took photos. His photos gave human rights groups evidence that weapons used were not weapons the Yemen government had. And then WikiLeaks released cables that “confirmed” what was suspected—that there was a coverup. General David Petraeus conspired with Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh to prevent anyone from knowing the US was bombing Yemen.
Noting how the Obama administration has approved expanded authority for the CIA to carry out “signature strikes,” which basically is profiling, he explains:
The “signature strikes” are anything but surgical. The idea of the signature strikes is that you can develop a pattern of life and you can study a pattern of life being engaged in by certain people in Yemen and you can determine without knowing their identity or knowing that they’ve had any connection to terrorism whatsoever that they are a terrorist – because of how they act, because of who they associate with. And that once you develop that pattern of life, you then create a very efficient pattern of death for those people, which is to bring in the drones and take them out.
He mentions how Anwar al-Awlaki was not an al-Qaeda leader. Only after he was killed was he the “head of external operations” for al Qaeda. Obama was able to get away with this because of the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was passed under President George W. Bush and is still in effect. Al-Awlaki was killed by the President of the United States, who served as “judge, jury and executioner.”
Scahill then gives a stirring account of a meeting he had with the mother of Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike that killed al-Awlaki.
She told me about how disturbed he was when he saw the images that came out of Abu Ghraib in the mid-2000s and he started blogging about US policy and eventually he went to Yemen to study Arabic and somehow he got hooked up with Anwar al-Awlaki. But, the reason I am bringing up is this: the FBI began visiting that family in 2007, when Samir Khan was still living in the United States, and they were concerned about his speech. They visited Samir Khan’s mother and father to express concern about his blogging and the things that he was saying. And they were very clear with the Khans. They said he’s engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. And they were sort of incredulous. “Well, then why are you here?” Well, we’re just concerned about your son.
And then they got in touch with them multiple other times when Samir was in Yemen. And each time the FBI came to the Khans, they told them that they have no evidence that he had done anything criminal and that he was engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. The next time they heard from the United States government was the State Department calling them to tell them that Samir had been killed in Yemen. When they asked who killed them, they said we can’t talk about that.
The critical nature of this anecdote from Scahill cannot be overstated. Tarek Mehanna, who refused to become an FBI informant, was charged and convicted of “terrorism” for venting his frustrations with US policies. The FBI has spied on Muslims looking for “suspicious” speech. They have manipulated impoverished and sometimes mentally unstable Muslims and pushed those who have engaged in aggressive rhetoric against the US to take that rhetoric to the next level and engage in “plots” against the US.
The FBI has also targeted activists like Hatem Abuddayeh, who engages in Palestinian solidarity activism. Abuddayeh is one of twenty-three activists in the Midwest to have his home raided by the FBI. He was given a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury. He also has had his bank account frozen by the Treasury Department. This is presumably all because of the “First Amendment-protected activities,” which the FBI has “concern” about.
Here is Scahill’s speech, up on YouTube in four parts: