Civil Liberties

U.S. Doesn't Need To Know A Person's Name to Kill Him in a Drone Strike


The U.S. drone strike program in Yemen keeps droning on, now with even less personalized service. 

As J.D. Tuccille noted in yesterday's P.M. links, CIA officials now officially don't even need to know an individual's name in order to make the person a target. Unofficially, they've probably been operating this way for a while.

Via Wired's Noah Shachtman:

The Yemeni drone campaign — actually, two separate efforts run by the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command — will still be more tightly restricted than the Pakistan drone war at its peak. Potential targets need to be seen or heard doing something that indicates that they are plotting against the West, or are high up in the militant hierarchy.

"You don't necessarily need to know the guy's name. You don't have to have a 10-sheet dossier on him. But you have to know the activities this person has been engaged in," a U.S. official tells the Journal.

Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University, believes these "signature" strikes — "or something an awful lot like them" — have actually been going on for a quite a while in Yemen. Awlaki's son was killed just a month after his dad. And there have been 13 attacks in Yemen in 2012, according the Long War Journal. Many of them have hit lower-level militants, not top terror names. This authorization only makes targeting killings legally and bureaucratically kosher.

Bonus interventionist (no) fun: The strike targets don't always turn out to be the grave threats they're supposed to be in order to qualify for death-by-drone. And as a result, at least one official believes that America may be "percieved as taking sides in a civil war." Shachtman links to this depressing Washington Post piece:

A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to talk about what he described as U.S. "tactics" in Yemen, but he said that "there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States."

U.S. officials acknowledge that the standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.

Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.

"How discriminating can they be?" asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen "is joined at the hip" with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country's government, the official said. "I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war."


On the other hand, at least we have a president who is super cool