Lethal Drone Strikes — Not Just for American Citizens Any More!

by Kevin Jon Heller

Not surprisingly, drone strikes that kill American citizens have received the most attention in the press. So it’s important to emphasize that the US kills citizens of its allies, as well, such as the two Australians recently vaporized in Yemen:

TWO Australian citizens have been killed in a US airstrike in Yemen in what is the first known example of Australian extremists dying as a result of Washington’s highly controversial use of predator drones.

The Australian has been told the two men, believed to be in their 20s, were killed in a Predator drone strike on five al-Qa’ida militants travelling in a convoy of cars in Hadramout, in eastern Yemen, on November 19.

The men were Christopher Havard of Townsville and a New Zealand dual citizen who went by the name “Muslim bin John’’ and fought under the alias “Abu ­Suhaib al-Australi’’.

The Australian government, which insists it was given no ­advance warning of the strike, has positively identified the remains of the men using DNA analysis, with samples taken from families of the two men.

[snip]

A senior counter-terrorism source told The Australian the men were “foot soldiers’’ for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida’s regional franchise based in Yemen.

It is understood US authorities notified Australian officials about the possibility Australian citizens might have been “collateral damage’’ in the strike, part of an ongoing campaign by the US and Yemeni governments to wipe out AQAP militants.

“The Americans advised us that they had intelligence that suggested they may have been in the car and may have been collateral damage,’’ the source said.

Note that although the drone strike did not target the two Australians, the Australian government knows for a fact that the men were “foot soldiers” for AQAP. And how does it know this? What evidence does it have? Who knows — taking a page from the US, the government won’t say. And some journalists are not impressed. Here is The Guardian‘s Antony Loewenstein:

Yet, uncertainty be damned, the Australian government seems to keep on supporting the CIA killings with most of the media following without question.

Fairfax Media headlined one story “Abbott government defends drone strike that killed two Australian Al-Qaeda militants” without challenging that the two men were, indeed, militants or affiliated with Al-Qaida – they may or may not have been, but innocent civilians have been killed by drones before. The sentence “alleged militants, according to the government” never appeared in the article (this is a relatively common habit in journalism – see for example this essential take-down of a New York Times report on drone killings in Yemen).

I’ve reported independently from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and accurate journalism requires finding reliable sources on the ground (or corresponding with individuals through email, phone, encryption or Twitter) who can confirm or challenge the official version. It’s not rocket science, though definitive information can be scarce in a war zone.

In the last days I’ve reached out to various sources in Yemen (some of the best are herehere and here) and asked Sanaa-based Baraa Shiban to comment. His answer is revealing. “The lack of transparency has became a fixed strategy for the US in its drone war. The US announced recently the death of almost 30 militants in a training camp in Abyan, south of Yemen, but can’t release a single name; this tells it all.”

Taking the word of security sources and the state, when this information is so often wrong or deliberately skewed by anonymous officials whostrategically leak to justify their counter-terrorism policies, is sadly all too common. “We don’t know the facts” is not a shameful statement. To be skeptical shouldn’t be a flaw, but an asset.

Skepticism as an asset, not a flaw. What a radical idea…

Hat-Tip: Bianca Dillon.

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/06/16/lethal-drone-strikes-just-american-citizens/

One Response

  1. It is pretty obvious that these lives are cheap for the US and Australia.
    Best,
    Ben

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