The Drones Team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism writes:
The Bureau is launching an ambitious new investigation, which will seek to identify as many as possible of those killed in US covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.
The Bureau is raising some of the money for this project through a crowd-funding appeal.
As part of our ongoing monitoring and reporting of CIA and Pentagon drone strikes, the Bureau has already recorded the names of hundreds of people killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
At the end of January 2013, the Bureau was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle- or senior-ranking militants.
A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children.
But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.
‘At the moment we know the names of fewer than 20% of those killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At least 2,000 deaths still remain publicly anonymous,’ said Chris Woods, who leads the Bureau’s covert drone war team.
‘Our aim will be to identify by name many hundreds more of those killed. A significant number of those identities will be known by local communities, by US and Pakistani officials, and by militant groups. We hope to convince them to share that information.’
The project has already secured substantial funding from a UK foundation – but it still needs more funds.
Today the US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, a crowd-funding organisation aimed at raising money for public interest journalism, announced it is backing the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. The Bureau’s new investigation will be one of four recipients of Freedom of the Press Foundation’s latest campaign.
Crowd-funding is an established way of supporting journalism in the US and it is increasingly being used in the UK as a way of funding projects, which established organisations ignore or will not fund.
Using the reach of the web, many people (the crowd) are able to give small amounts of money to back a cause or project in which they believe.
‘In the face of official secrecy, having the full facts about who is killed is essential for an informed debate about the effectiveness and ethics of the drone campaign,’ said Christopher Hird, managing editor of the Bureau. ‘And it is exciting to be able to give all of our supporters worldwide the chance to be part of our first venture in this democratic form of funding.’
A challenging task
Government officials, media organisations and even militant groups are often quick to identify senior militants such as Yahya al-Libi and Ilyas Kashmiri when they are killed.
Yet little is said of the hundreds more alleged militants and civilians among at least 2,629 deaths in Pakistan drone strikes.
Both the US and Pakistani governments are likely to keep detailed records. A recent case at the Peshawar High Court heard that officials in the tribal agencies had prepared a confidential report which ‘included details of each and every drone attack and the number, names and ages of the people killed’.
Anonymous US intelligence officials have also revealed details of CIA video surveillance on particular strikes. And the ‘Terror Tuesday’ process – in which hundreds of named alleged militants have been selected by US agencies for targeted killing – has been widely reported.
Photographs and other documents also occasionally surface. When a civilian family was killed in the first drone strike of Barack Obama’s presidency, local officials issued formal paperwork (see right) that was later obtained by the campaign group Center for Civilians in Conflict.
ID cards, family photographs and eyewitness testimony of attacks can all provide useful corroborating evidence. The graves of militants killed in drone strikes can also name them as ‘martyrs’ and give details of the strikes in which they died.
Drawing on information from a wide array of sources, the Bureau’s team will seek to build a detailed understanding of those killed.
Focus on Pakistan
While the Bureau will seek to extend the project to Yemen and Somalia in the near future, the initial focus will be on the nation where most US covert drone strikes have taken place.
Researchers based in Pakistan and the UK will seek to build up biographical information for all of those killed, whether civilian or militant – their name, age, gender, tribe, and village, for example. Where possible, photographs, witness statements and official documentation will also be published.
The team will seek assistance from the Pakistan and US governments in identifying those killed. And researchers will also call on Taliban factions and other militant groups to release information on the many hundreds of fighters killed in more than 360 US drone strikes since 2004.
Malala Yousafzai has released two videos in the past few days, one before her surgery to put a plate in her skull, and after she came out of the successful operation. She announced that she has created a foundation to promote the education of girls. She also spoke of her ordeal and said that she was willing to be shot all over again for her cause.
In the pre-operation video, she said,
“Today you can see that I am alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone and … I am getting better day by day. It’s just because of the prayers of people. Because all people – men, women, children – all of them have prayed for me.
“And because of these prayers God has given me this new life … and this is a second life. And I want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated.”
Malala was shot in the forehead last October by a young member of the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley after she stood up publicly for women’s education there. Although there is no discouragement in mainstream Islam for the education of women, the weird Taliban ideology, born in the maelstrom of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and its aftermath, is highly misogynistic. The early Muslim community transmitted what it believed were sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, one of which says, “Seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, man or woman.”
The Pakistani Taliban had taken over Swat, formerly a green, beautiful tourist attraction, in 2008. In spring of 2009, under pressure from the incoming Obama administration, the Pakistani military cleared the Taliban from the valley and garrisoned it. But some young men there still have Taliban ideas and loyalties. Many supporters of the Taliban are desperately poor, having lost farm land to big landlords.
Pakistan has 5 million children who should be in school but aren’t, the second highest in the world. Two-thirds of those unschooled childred are women (i.e. 3 million). 1 in every 12 school-aged children in the world who are not in school are Pakistani.
Pakistan has made some progress in basic literacy. Among young women from their teenaged years through their late 20s, some 61% are literate. Some 79% of young men in that age cohort are literate. Older women are much less literate.
Despite Pakistan’s progress in attacking illiteracy, the country is not doing enough to educate its children, and in rural areas there is resistance to girls’ education past a certain age, for fear it will make it difficult for her to find a husband. There is also a pervasive fear that if young women are not married off young, they might lose their virginity to a classmate. Solution? No schooling, no classmate. Given Pakistan’s rapid population growth and enormous youth bulge, the government needs vastly to expand the resources it devotes to education, both of girls and boys.
The United Nations also launched a major investigation into the legality and casualties of drone strikes by the United States, Britain and Israel.
January 2013 actions
Total CIA strikes in January: 6
Total killed in strikes in January: 27-54, of whom 0-2 were reportedly civilians . . .
The CIA began 2013 with six drone strikes in nine days – more in any single month since August 2012.
With double the strikes hitting Pakistan this month compared with January last year, 2013 could see renewed intensity in the CIA drone programme.
The month’s first strike killed powerful Taliban commander Maulvi (or Mullah) Nazir, ‘perhaps the most prized feather in [the] cap’ of the drone programme to date, according to one commentator. Nazir co-ordinated attacks on Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and had long been a target of the CIA.
However his group refrained from terrorist attacks within Pakistan, earning the label ’good’ Taliban. Brigadier Asad Munir, a retired commander of the ISI, told the Bureau his death could cause serious problems for Islamabad. He said peace with Nazir was essential since Pakistan’s army cannot simultaneously fight both Nazir’s militants and the TTP – the so-called ‘bad’ Taliban behind numerous lethal attacks in Pakistani cities.
Despite this, Pakistan’s response to the strikes in January was muted – notably so, according to Associated Press, as loud protestations had followed almost every strike in 2012.
This could indicate that relations between the allies have improved from their 2012 nadir. The CIA may also have tried to mollify Islamabad by killing senior TTP commander Wali Muhammad Mahsud and announcing that Maulana Fazlullah, commander of the Swat Taliban,is now high on its kill list. The Swat Taliban shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and launches attacks on Pakistan from its bases in Afghanistan. Islamabad has repeatedly called on Nato and Afghan forces to crack down on the group.
Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 8 Total reported killed in US operations: 0-38 Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-7 Children reported killed in US strikes . . . 0-2
* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range in the total strikes and total drone strikes we have recorded reflects this.
An important problem with the narrative line of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the Central Intelligence Agency’s quest for Usama Bin Laden, is not just that it comes across as pro-torture but that it ignores the elephant in the room: Bad intelligence elicited by torture almost derailed that quest to put down al-Qaeda by diverting most resources to Iraq.
The film is misleading precisely because it does what the Bush administration did not do. It stays with Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda. At one point a CIA official complains that there are no other working groups concentrating on al-Qaeda, that it is just the handful of field officers around the table. But he does not say that the Bush administration ran off to Iraq and closed down the Bin Laden desk at the CIA. Nor do any of the characters admit that bad intelligence, including that gathered by torture, helped send the United States off on the Great Iraq Wild Goose Chase.
I care about this issue in part for reasons of my own biography. As a Baby Boomer who was against the Vietnam War, I had never had much to do with the US government until the September 11 attacks. Had I not been on the doorstep of 50 when they took place, I might well have enlisted. I felt 9/11 profoundly, to my very soul, and was depressed about it for years. I wanted to do what I could to understand al-Qaeda and help destroy it. When RAND and other providers of speakers in Washington asked me to come out and talk to analysts from various government agencies, I was pleased to do it. At the time, Arabists and Islam experts in the US were not so numerous, and pernicious self-proclaimed experts had proliferated. There was a lot of Islamophobia around, and most Americans who did not know the Middle East first hand did not realize that al-Qaeda was a tiny fringe, not representative of Islam.
I don’t know if all those talks I gave in DC to inter-agency audiences were ever useful in fighting al-Qaeda, but I certainly hope so, and I was proud to do my bit in presenting an informed and analytical approach to fighting the phenomenon. I was trying to model for them social analysis as academics understand it. I was also honored to address people who were doing their best to confront a major security challenge.
Bush and Cheney exploited al-Qaeda and the threat of terrorism to erode civil liberties at home and to reshape Iraq and its oil riches abroad. But they weren’t that interested in actually finding Bin Laden or rolling up al-Qaeda. Someone like myself, who could see that Iraq was a massive train wreck and that it actually prolonged al-Qaeda’s significance, was most inconvenient in 2005 and 2006.
So, I mind the the narrative of “Zero Dark Thirty” for personal reasons. It leaves out a key obstacle to the quest it recounts. Some of what is wrong with the film may derive from its beginnings, as a story about how the quest for Bin Laden failed. That premise had to be changed after May 2, 2011, of course. But a film that began with an exploration of failure should have highlighted the Iraq distraction and the bad intel from torture all the more.
Al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured trying to escape from Afghanistan in late 2001. He was sent to Egypt to be tortured, and under duress alleged that Saddam Hussein was training al-Qaeda agents in chemical weapons techniques. It was a total crock, and alleged solely to escape further pain. Al-Libi disavowed the allegation when he was returned to CIA custody. But Cheney and Condi Rice ran with the single-source, torture-induced assertion and it was inserted by Scooter Libby in Colin Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations.
‘ “We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of Al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time,” Rice said. “We know too that several of the [Al Qaeda] detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to Al Qaeda in chemical weapons development.” ‘
In my book, Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, I note that Gen. Bonaparte forbade the use of torture by French military interrogators in Cairo, on the grounds that it produced too much misinformation. Napoleon was not exactly squeamish. And even he would have been ashamed of the crew we had in Washington before last January.
In the end, I’m not entirely sure that the film shows torture succeeding for the CIA. In fact, al-Kuwaiti’s identity is confirmed by other techniques in the film. In one instance a man (“Ammar”) who was tortured to no effect is tricked into believing that he had already given up operational information. This kind of technique is called in intelligence work ‘false flag tradecraft,’ i.e. fooling an informant by feeding him or her a set of false premises. In part, this success comes from a rapport the man made with “Maya,” the relentless woman field officer. Again, in real life interrogations, such rapport and such false flag techniques are always more successful than torture.
In another scene, a Pakistani man who is interrogated begins by saying that he had been tortured in the past by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, and is willing to cooperate to avoid further mistreatment at American hands. I suppose that exchange serves as a suggestion that torture works in the long run, but what he gives the Americans is this case freely given.
The screenplay does, nevertheless, have a fascination with torture, and implies at several points its utility, as Karen Greenberg showed in these pages last week. Thus, when al-Kuwaiti’s true identity is established, a field officer complains that it can no longer be double-checked with detainees because President Obama had closed down the torture program. This odd complaint assumes that detainees who had protected his identity despite years of abuse and brutalization would have fingered al-Kuwaiti if only waterboarded a few times more.
“I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda. In fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.”
McCain was tortured while a POW in Vietnam and is among the few prominent American politicians to stand forthrightly against what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did in committing the US to war crimes. He is a critic of the film, and I think his view of this matter should be taken extremely seriously.
I did not like “Zero Dark Thirty” as a film. I found it emotionally thin, grim and relentless. It failed to establish an emotional connection to any of the characters, or to flesh them out as characters. The violence is deployed for the purposes of surprise rather than suspense, so that its dramatic effect is limited. It is episodic (we know that the Islamabad Marriott was blown up; shouldn’t the film present a theory as to why?) Any suspense is further blunted by our lack of connection to the protagonist. Whereas in “Argo,” my heart was in my mouth when the embassy employees were in danger, I just couldn’t summon that kind of interest in Jessica Chastain’s “Maya.” The characters remain undeveloped because this film is plot driven, but also because it is primarily didactic, intended to send a message. Unfortunately, instead of glorifying the genuine heroes who have mostly rolled up al-Qaeda (an evil organization that wants to kill your children), it covers many of them with the shame of war crimes.
You might have heard about the “kill list.” You’ve certainly heard about drones. But the details of the U.S. campaign against militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s national security approach – remain shrouded in secrecy. Here’s our guide to what we know— and what we don’t know.
Where is the drone war? Who carries it out?
Drones have been the Obama administration’s tool of choice for taking out militants outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Drones aren’t the exclusive weapon – traditional airstrikes and other attacks have also been reported. But by one estimate, 95 percent of targeted killings since 9/11 have been conducted by drones. Among the benefits of drones: they don’t put American troops in harm’s way.
The CIA isn’t alone in conducting drone strikes. The military has acknowledged “direct action” in Yemen and Somalia. Strikes in those countries are reportedly carried out by the secretive, elite Joint Special Operations Command. Since 9/11, JSOC has grown more than tenfold, taking on intelligence-gathering as well as combat roles. (For example, JSOC was responsible for the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.)
The drone war is carried out remotely, from the U.S. and a network of secret bases around the world. The Washington Post got a glimpse – through examining construction contracts and showing up uninvited – at the base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti from which many of the strikes on Yemen and Somalia are carried out. Earlier this year, Wired pieced together an account of the war against Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group and the U.S.’s expanded military presence throughout Africa.
The number of strikes in Pakistan has ebbed in recent years, from a peak of more than 100 in 2008, to an estimated 46 last year. Meanwhile, the pace in Yemen picked up, with more than 40 last year. But there have been seven strikes in Pakistan in the first ten days of 2013.
How are targets chosen?
A seriesofarticles based largely on anonymous comments from administration officials have given partial picture of how the U.S. picks targets and carries out strikes. Two recent reports – from researchers at Columbia Law School and from the Council on Foreign Relations– also give detailed overviews of what’s known about the process.
Pakistan on Thursday descended into the kind of violence that tends to occur in Iraq, with a distinct Sunni-Shiite cast to it. But the larger context was a spillover of enmities from Afghanistan.
Three bombs were set off in Quetta. The first targeted a pool hall in a Hazara Shiite neighborhood. When people came to the scene, including police and rescue workers, the attackers set off another bomb, killing many of the rescue workers.
People in Quetta complained bitterly about the lack of central government interest in their security problem. Pakistan’s government is weak and inefficient, and the government of President Asaf Ali Zardari is highly corrupt.
Baluchistan is a very lightly populated province, where only 8 million of Pakistan’s 180 million people live. Baluchistan as a territory, though, is huge and mostly desert and mountains, comprising 44% of Pakistan’s land mass. It is sort of like Pakistan’s Wyoming, only if Wyoming were nearly half the US. Baluchistan has natural gas, which its people feel is appropriated by other Pakistanis, so that they don’t benefit from it and even don’t have much electricity.
Its capital is Quetta, a city of 2 million. Quetta grew in the 1980s as Afghan refugees fled there, and after the US overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan, many of them relocated to Quetta.
Some 300,000 Hazara Shiites now live in Quetta, refugees from Afghanistan, which was occupied by the Soviets in the 1980s and then by the Taliban from the mid-1990s. Hazara are probably about 22 percent of Afghanistan’s 34 million people, that is, likely there are over 7 million of them. They are Shiites, unlike the Pashtuns and Baluch that are their neighbors, many of whom are hard line Sunnis. Afghans and Pashtuns often look down on Hazaras as menials.
Hazara speak Dari Persian and have distinctive East Asian facial features. They are said to be descendants of tho Mongol invaders of the 13th century.
There is a major Sunni-Shiite struggle in Pakistan that has cost minority Shiites hundreds of lives. The Taliban, hyper-Sunni fighters of Pashtun heritage, have a long set of grudges with the Shiites. There has been a deadly targetting of Hazara in Quetta for some years. The culprits are usually called Lashkar-e Jhagvi or Sipah-e sahaba (army of the Companions of the Prophet). They are technically banned but operate freely in the country.
On the other hand, Dawn newspaper blames one of the three blasts in Quetta on a Baluch separatist movement. [Not, as a kind reader pointed out, the bombings in the Hazara neighborhood but another one that struck Pakistani security forces.] Some Baluch may be upset about 300,000 Shiite immigrants.
Likewise, there is a Saudi-Iran rivalry inside Pakistan, with the Saudis supporting hard line Sunnis and Iran supporting Shiites. In that regard, Thursday’s events in Pakistan are part of a larger Sunni-Shiite struggle that affects Syria and Bahrain, as well.
On the other hand, Quetta is a major smuggling thoroughfare between Pakistan and Iran, and you could imagine ethnic gangs involved in a turf war (the kind of thing that happens in Karachi).
There was also a bombing in Swat Valley, where the Taliban have been weakened but not expelled by the government.
The American obsession with guns and violence is not unique, but it is distinctive. The US ranks 12th in the world for rate of firearm-related deaths. El Salvador, Colombia, Swaziland, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines and some others are worse. But that is the company the US is in– not, say, relatively peaceful places like Japan, Singapore and the Netherlands.
It turns out that the Newtown shooter used a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle and he had lots of thirty-round high-capacity clips for it. Authorities have revealed that each of the 20 children and six adults he killed was shot multiple times, but given the number of clips Lanza brought with him, the number of victims could have been much, much higher. The Federal ban on weapons such as the Bushmaster, in place 1994-2004, was allowed to lapse by the George W. Bush administration and his Republican Congress, all of whom received massive campaign donations from the gun lobby. There is a Connecticut ban, but the maker of the Bushmaster used a loophole in the poorly written state law to continue to sell the gun in the state. The Bushmaster is manufactured by a subsidiary of the Wall Street hedge fund, Cerberus Capital Management, called the “Freedom Group”– which also owns Remington and DPMS Firearms. It is the largest single maker of semi-automatic rifles in the US, and they are expected to be a major growing profit center in the coming years. The Freedom Group was sued over the Washington, DC, sniper attacks, and paid $500,000 without admitting culpability.
So, the hedge funds are doing us in every which way.
But the weird idea of letting people buy military weaponry at will, with less trouble than you would have to buy a car, is only one manifestation of America’s cult of high-powered weaponry.
Saudi Arabia bought F-15s and Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. Oman bought F-16s. The UAE got a missile shield. And, of course, Israel gets very sophisticated weapons from the US, as well.
The US share of the arms trade to the Middle East has burgeoned so much in the past decade that it now dwarfs the other suppliers, as this chart [pdf] from a Congressional study makes clear.
The University of Michigan “Correlates of War” project, run by my late colleague David Singer, tried to crunch numbers on potential causes of the wars of the past two centuries. Getting a statistically valid correlation for a cause was almost impossible. But there was one promising lead, as it was explained to me. When countries made large arms purchases, they seemed more likely to go to war in the aftermath. It may be that if you have invested in state of the art weapons, you want to use them before they become antiquated or before your enemies get them too.
So the very worst thing the US could do for Middle East peace is to sell the region billions in new, sophisticated weapons.
Moreover if you give sophisticated conventional weapons to some countries but deny them to their rivals, the rivals will try to level the playing field with unconventional weapons. The US is creating an artificial and unnecessary impetus to nuclear proliferation by this policy.
I first went to Pakistan in 1981. At that time it was not a society with either drugs or guns. But President Ronald Reagan decided to use private Afghan militias to foment a guerrilla war against the Soviets, who sent troops into Afghanistan in late 1979. Reagan ended up sending billions of dollars worth of arms to the Mujahidin annually, and twisting Saudi Arabia’s arm to match what the US sent. The Mujahidin were also encouraged by the US to grow poppies for heroin production so that they could buy even more weapons.
Over the decade of the 1980s, I saw the weapons begin to show up in the markets of Pakistan, and began hearing for the first time about drug addicts (there came to be a million of them by 1990). I had seen the arms market expand in Lebanon in the 1970s, and was alarmed that now it was happening in Pakistan, at that time a relatively peaceful and secure society. The US filled Pakistan up with guns to get at the Soviets, creating a gun culture where such a thing had been rare (with the exception of some Pashtuns who made home-made knock-offs of Western rifles). Ultimately the gun culture promoted by Reagan came back to bite the US on the ass (not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan!) And not to mention the drugs.
Now the US views Pakistan as peculiarly violent, and pundits often blame it on Islamism. But no, it is just garden-variety Americanism. You’re welcome.