As skeptics I believe open and honest debate is necessary to get as close to the truth as possible. This pertains not only to the truth claims of religion, but also foreign policy and the role (if any) of government in our daily lives. A fellow SkepticInk blogger, who blogs at No Cross No Crescent, has written a series about why he believes the on-going drone wars are a “necessary evil.” I very much disagree so I’ve decided to respond in detail to each of his points. I will break up my response into a three-part series. The first two will rebut each of No Cross No Crescent’s arguments, and the third and final piece will be my own case for why the drone wars must be stopped: why they are counterproductive, why they are immoral, and why they are illegal.
In the first post of No Cross No Crescent’s series he lays out his reasons for supporting the drone strikes by the U.S. government. He begins by writing, “The number one objection, coming from many on the Left (but also from some on the Right such as Ron Paul), is that the government cannot carry out executions without the due process” and quotes Ron Paul’s objections about due process. Despite presenting this argument No Cross No Crescent oddly has nothing to say about it.
Next, he begins discussing the much talked about case of the American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and says,
There have been objections to the drone strikes on other grounds as well. The one coming most loudly from Pakistan is “violation of sovereignty”. And of course, there is the issue of innocent life that is lost as a result of such strikes. (Blogger PZ Myers has specifically condemned the drone strikes for this reason.)
But the specific condemnation from the ACLU (quoted above) was made in the wake of the killing of Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki. So why did the administration would want to kill Awlaki? Well, the “victim” had a rather “impressived” resume. For starters, he was the instigator behind the Fort Hood massacre. The massacre which left these men and women dead.
In the media there has been much talk about Al-Awlaki’s ties to the Fort Hood shooter and his alleged participation, to quote No Cross No Crescent, in the “2009 Christmas Day airline bombing, and the plot to bring down commercial airliners using bombs hiddens in parcels.” [sic] I have heard these claims on numerous occasions in the media. However, one thing I have not heard is one shred of evidence these accusations are true. Regarding the Fort Hood shooting, to which there is evidence one can examine to determine the guilt or innocence of Al-Awlaki, No Cross No Crescent argues that he was the “instigator” behind these attacks. Unfortunately, it seems to me that No Cross No Crescent failed to check any primary sources for his accusations, choosing instead to repeat government propaganda (let’s just call it what it is here).
After having read the entire email exchange between al-Awlaki and Nidal Hasan, the accused Fort Hood, Texas shooter, there is not a single instance where al-Awlaki even hints at advocating any use of violence. Even the FBI noted this fact. CNN reported:
“While e-mail contact with (al-Awlaki) does not necessarily indicate participation in terrorist-related matters, (al-Awlaki’s) reputation, background and anti-U.S. sentiments are well known. Although the content of these messages was not overtly nefarious, this type of contact with (al-Awlaki) would be of concern if the writer is actually the individual identified above.”
In a newly released book about the drone wars titled Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, it’s author, Jeremy Scahill, writes about the email exchange and the government’s reactions:
[W]hen counterterror officials reviewed the e-mails, they determined them to be innocuous. According to the New York Times, “a counterterrorism analyst who examined the messages shortly after they were sent decided that they were consistent with authorized research Major Hasan was conducting and did not alert his military superiors.” (285-286)
Let us rationally examine the above evidence. Did al-Awlaki say a word about advocating any form of violence? Did he try to incite violence in any way? No, and even the government officials who poured over his emails came to that same conclusion. However, despite not instigating or planning the attacks, after the attacks had been carried out al-Awlaki did praise Hasan’s actions, saying in an interview:
I did not recruit Nidal Hasan, but America did with its crimes and injustice, and this is what America does not want to admit. […] Nidal Hasan, before he became an American, is a Muslim, and he is also from Palestine and he sees what the Jews are doing through oppressing his people under American cover and support. Yes, I may have a role in the intellectual direction of Nidal, but the matter does not exceed that, as I don’t try to disconnect myself with what Nidal has done because of disagreement with it, but it would be an honor to me if I had a bigger role in it.” (Dirty Wars; 315-316)
It’s often been argued how it was al-Awlaki’s statements that sealed his fate here because of his rhetoric against the U.S. However, let’s take a look at what has actually been said and done, and not allow ourselves to be overtaken by anger. Let me be clear, given these statements, I can understand peoples’ feelings of disgust and anger (I feel it myself), but agreeing with someone’s actions is dramatically different than instigating them, let alone actually carrying out plans of violence, which is the issue under discussion, and most importantly, it’s the justification for his murder.
Thus far, No Cross No Crescent has failed to provide a single piece of evidence that al-Awlaki was connected in any way with the Fort Hood massacre. As far as the Christmas Day and other reported attack that al-Awlaki was supposedly apart of, neither No Cross No Crescent or the U.S. government have provided any evidence of his guilt.
This is the issue that is being ignored here by most who write about this issue, and who support the murder (let’s not mince words here, that’s exactly what it was) of Al-Awlaki. He was a U.S. citizen, who was supposed to be protected under the fifth amendment to the Constitution, which says that under no circumstances are Americans to be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This does not mean to kill an American, and afterward begin to leak stories to the press about all of the criminal acts they allegedly committed to justify their murder. That’s what a trial is for: to detain an individual to keep them from doing the public harm, put them on trial and present all the evidence against them, and if the evidence is strong enough, punishment will be the final stage. The proper process of law does not allow a punishment to be allotted out and then their trial held. That’s nothing more than a perversion of justice!
I am sure that someone will now chime in with, “Well, what about justice for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting?” In fact, No Cross No Crescent employs precisely that tactic when he writes: “How about their rights, ACLU?”
I’m sorry, but I don’t believe killing a man innocent of the victims’ deaths is any form of “justice.” Justice is when the people who are actually responsible for their deaths are meted out punishment. Not a man who had nothing to do with it. To my mind, I believe going that route would be an incredible injustice, not only to the victims’ memory, and to the persecuted person, but to the very concept of law itself.
After having failed to provide any accurate evidence against al-Awlaki No Cross No Crescent continues to explain why he believes the drone strikes have been a successful strategy against terrorism. He writes,
Aside from taking out individual targets, how has this campaign affected terrorists, broadly speaking? Well, it seems that the martyrdom loving militants are really in no hurry to meet the 72 virgins” and quotes a CNN article that says, in part, “A list of 22 techniques for evading drone strikes shows that militants are trying to share their knowledge and reduce the number of casualties that American attacks are costing them.” He continues to argue how “the stress is showing itself in how they are attacking their targets. They have had to come up with a new strategy.
In response to these findings, No Cross No Crescent concludes,
So the Drone War is making the lives of terrorists difficult and stressful, and forcing them to come up with new and potentially fraught strategies. It is “working”, if you will.
I’m sorry, but this is an incredibly inane statement and for two reasons. First, according to the government, drone strikes are a necessary and effective strategy against preventing terrorist-related attacks because they’re allegedly killing people before they can carry out attacks.
Perhaps No Cross No Crescent hasn’t paid very much attention to the news but the reasons for these terrorist attacks is precisely because of the drone strikes that the government (and others, like No Cross No Crescent) says are keeping us safe!
Second, the very act of combat necessitates changing tactics based upon your adversaries’ actions. However, this does not mean that one side is losing. All it means is that they’ve been forced to change tactics. It doesn’t say whether or not said tactics and counter-tactics are effective. The battle must be played out to see which tactics will win out against another.
For example, let’s take two boxers in a ring. They begin to circle and the taller boxer begins to pump jabs into the face of his shorter adversary, keeping him at a distance. This forces the shorter boxer to change tactics, but does this automatically mean he is losing the fight? Of course not! The fight is not even over yet! What if the shorter boxer bobs and weaves to get inside the reach of his taller adversary and begins to pound the body and then the head of the taller fighter? Finally, the shorter boxer has the taller one on the ropes. Now, the tide has changed. Just because the shorter boxer had to change tactics doesn’t mean he’s on the losing end.
I wanted to give this illustration and discussion about tactics because I believe No Cross No Crescent’s criteria is seriously flawed. A change of tactics is not what you should be looking at to determine who is winning and who is losing. What matters is who has who on the ropes. And regarding the terror war, the drone program doesn’t appear to be doing much at all to repel terrorist-related attacks. As a matter of fact, the drone strikes are creating more terrorists and terrorist attacks! To prove my point, allow me to quote just a few justifications behind many of these terrorist attacks when their motives can be ascertained.
I want to plead guilty and I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times forward because until the hour the US pulls it forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands and stops killing the Muslims and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking US, and I plead guilty to that. Well, I am part of that. I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people, and on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attacks, because only – like living in US, the Americans only care about their people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.” (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,34v. 10-CR-541 (MGC) 45 FAISAL SHAHZAD,56 Defendant Plea) [emphasis mine]
I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants. [emphasis mine]
Finally, allow me to quote Ibrahim Mothana, a 24-year-old Yemeni writer and activist, in a New York Times Op Ed from June, 2012. He wrote very clearly,
Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair. Robert Grenier, the former head of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, has warned that the American drone program in Yemen risks turning the country into a safe haven for Al Qaeda like the tribal areas of Pakistan — “the Arabian equivalent of Waziristan.”
When he testified before a Senate sub-committee, whose purpose was to determine the legality and effectiveness of Obama’s drone strike program, Mothana more fully explained how drone strikes are counterproductive by creating more hostility towards the U.S. and cause those affected to seek revenge. He said,
Many of us in Yemen believe that even strikes that kill AQAP leaders can be counterproductive. The short-term military gains are miniscule compared to the long-term damage that the targeted killing program causes. In the place of one slain leader, new leaders swiftly emerge in furious retaliation for attacks in their territories. And with each strike, it becomes ever easier to belong to a militant group in the region where your tribe lives.
As Khaled Toayman, a young Sheikh from Marib and a son of a Yemeni member of parliament told me, “We are against terrorism and we seek to live in peace and dignity like anyone else in the world. I don’t hate America or Americans. I just want to know why my relatives are killed.”
In my visits to the areas affected by drone strikes, I observed an increasing sentiment that America is part of a problem and not a solution, something that is hard for diplomats to feel while living disconnected from Yemenis in the emerging Green Zones of Sanaa. In Yemen, it’s impossible to win a war with drone strikes where basic services and human needs remain unmet. For a loaf of bread, you can push a hungry, desperate and angry young man to fight for al-Qaeda, possibly regardless of his ideological beliefs.
This view is nothing new, however. It’s actually common knowledge among those who – you know – actually read information from sources other than the government’s sock puppet media. Given No Cross No Crescent’s sources in his post, I guess I can’t be surprised by his current views, but I’d hope that after reading the facts he might hopefully change his mind. That is, after all, what freethinkers should do when faced with overwhelming evidence against their views.
In the next piece I will deconstruct his attempted rebuttals to some of the arguments used by the opponents of the drone war.