The Washington Post has published a third story in its series on the Obama administration’s institutionalization of its targeted killing program. This story highlights Camp Lemmonier, the United States military base in Djibouti where drones land or take off around sixteen times a day, and is reportedly the first time the US military has confirmed publicly drones are present at this base.
Written by Craig Whitlock, the story reports this base has become the main combat hub for “the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and Middle East.” Drones either head for “the collapsed state” of Somalia, which is just 10 miles southeast, or “north across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, another unstable country where they are being used in an increasingly deadly war with an al Qaeda franchise.”
The Predator drones being flown are prone to accidents. In a few cases, they have even become sentient.
In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.
“After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”
“All told, about 3,200 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors are assigned to the camp,” according to The Post. Foreign militaries are trained, intelligence is gathered and humanitarian aid to East Africa to hopefully combat extremism is handed out. And, this information is not known because, suddenly, the Obama administration has chosen to be transparent in its operations.
As has been typical of the Obama administration’s national security operations, Whitlock writes, “The Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the legal and operational details of its targeted-killing program.”
A Post reporter had to show up uninvited to talk to officers and receive answers to general queries about the camp. According to Whitlock, “The U.S. military rejected requests from The Washington Post to tour Lemonnier last month. Officials cited “operational security concerns,” although they have permitted journalists to visit in the past.” But, The Post obtained “thousands of pages” of “construction blueprints, drone accident reports and internal planning memos.” The news organization was able to dig through and pull out some details that paint a fuller picture of operations at the base.
The 500-acre camp is the location where “orders to find, track or kill” people in the targeting database the Obama administration has termed the “disposition matrix.” It is a launch pad for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces and where the drone that executed Anwar al-Awlaki took off.
The military recognizes the value of the outpost in Djibouti:
…[A]s far as the U.S. military is concerned, the country’s strategic value is unparalleled. Sandwiched between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Camp
Lemonnier enables U.S. aircraft to reach hot spots such as Yemen or Somalia in minutes. Djibouti’s port also offers easy access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
“This is not an outpost in the middle of nowhere that is of marginal interest,” said Amanda J. Dory, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa. “This is a very important location in terms of US interests, in terms of freedom of navigation, when it comes to power projection.”…
What Dory’s comment clearly indicates is the United States is engaged in contemporary colonialism.
Sasha Davis of the University of Hawaii wrote in 2011 that US military bases are a part of a global network of bases “designed to be a permanent infrastructure that allows military power to be shifted with post-Fordist efficiency from some sites in the network to other places ‘just-in-time’ and according to perceived crisis that challenge US hegemony.”
…For instance in 2004 both former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Deputy Undersecretary Ryan Henry discussed the new base network side-by-side with a refusal to pinpoint geographically where they thought threats to the United States might be located. Henry only commented that the US “strove to base forces in locations that supported ﬂexibility and speed of response to anywhere in an unpredictable environment”…
These hundreds of bases are not for the national defense of America. They are for offensive operations that are often covert. The people of the country hosting operations do not get to know how land in their country is being used (i.e. to assassinate people on a kill list). They are also in places where resistance to a US military presence is not likely to pose a threat to continued operations (to avoid problems that have arisen in places like Okinawa, Japan).
The US State Department acknowledges policies that are generally repressive exist in Djibouti: “harsh but improving prison conditions, corruption, prolonged pretrial detention, and restrictions on freedom of the press and assembly.”
A “Security Questionnaire” on Djibouti from the State Department released by WikiLeaks, as part of the US State Embassy cables release, details anti-government demonstrations in 2008.
The country suffers from poverty and hunger. Demonstrations were held to protest “inadequate social services and poor economic conditions, particularly the lack of food, electricity and water, coupled with increasing prices and high unemployment.” Demonstrations in July and August 2008 were over “food and the host government’s relocation of poor residents.”
On July 31, 2008, an estimated 200 poor immigrants from the Ariba district of the capital city of Djibouti engaged in a violent clash with police as they protested the government’s removal and displacement of residents in the capital’s Balballa area. Tear gas was dispersed on the excitable crowd, and calm and order was restored within two hours.
On August 11, 2008, over 500 people, mainly nomads from rural communities and Ethiopian immigrants, protested at the offices of the host government’s refugee agency, in the neighborhood near the Presidential residence (within 2 miles from Embassy residences) over the lack of food in the country and the improper distribution of food aid.
As Reporters Without Borders describes the country, “There is no media freedom in Djibouti. This is one of the few African countries without any privately-owned or independent media. At the same time, the international media show little interest in this small Horn of Africa country although it is strategically located at the entrance to the Red Sea and has French, US and Japanese military bases.”
Djibouti is a dream paradise for a hub, where covert military operations are launched to assassinate individuals in areas away from any current theaters of declared war. It is a perfect sanctuary for America’s perpetual war to further normalize the idea that the world is a battlefield, where the US can launch attacks anywhere it deems appropriate.
The increasingly entrenched policy of state-sanctioned murder is intentionally shielded. A counterterrorism adviser that the Senate does not confirm oversees the program. Congress is kept from providing oversight. A president can share aspects of the program that make it look tough and righteous, while concealing the aspects that invite scrutiny of operations. There is no requirement of transparency because all can be cloaked in secrecy in the name of national security. It is completely dictatorial and paves the way for a robotic death squad to be unleashed and operate in whatever manner it chooses without any constraints whatsoever.