Scarecrow has already gone on in this space about the New York Times’ big takeout today about the “kill list” – the President’s leadership in presiding over a list of suspected terrorists that the US then assassinates with Predator drone strikes. There’s a lot that can be said about this article, most of it from Glenn Greenwald. Note that the Administration has minimized civilian casualties by changing semantics, using the term militants to refer to all adult males within a particular kill zone. And Marcy Wheeler adds that John Brennan has been proven as a liar through this article on the subject of civilian casualties.
I want to focus on the incredible context for this article. For despite the participation of dozens of Administration officials – many of them on the record – in detailing the inner workings of the targeted assassination program, we’re still operating in a world where the US government officially denies that any such program exists.
In this article, you have President Obama’s current national security advisor, Thomas Donilon, speaking on the record. Former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair – who gives the distinct impression that he resigned over these drone strikes – is on the record. Former chief of staff Bill Daley is on the record. Plenty of other senior intelligence officials are quoted on background. The word “drone” appears 17 times in the article. That includes this passage:
It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent [...]
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
This acknowledgment of civilians killed in drone strikes effectively acknowledges the existence of a drone program, as does the rest of the article, multiple reporting on drone strikes that continue to this day, entire books about the drone program, on-the-record quotes in the recent past from the Defense Secretary and the President himself, and on and on.
But the official position of the government is that the program is classified, and its existence cannot be verified. As I reported last week, in a recent filing in federal court, the government sought to cancel a FOIA request on documents about the drone program from the ACLU, arguing that even though Administration officials have spoken about the program in public, it remains a secret. They claim in the brief that national security would be threatened if they publicly acknowledged the program. But here’s a long takeout with plenty of participation from the White House, entirely about that same program.
This is absolutely maddening. We can’t have a debate about the efficacy of drones in the Obama era, because Obama’s Administration will never admit its existence, in the process keeping facts about the program that would offer a broader discussion a secret. Instead we get one-sided pieces like this, told from the Administration’s preferred perspective, the information in which comes only from a particular worldview. It happens to still be fairly damning in this case, but it’s not a complete picture. And the continued appeal to state secrets on the drone program at this point, after an article like this, is revealed to be mostly a joke.