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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Obama selects people US drones will kill. "He's a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.” NY Times, 5/29/2012. In June 2013, Taliban killed 10 Himalayan tourists in revenge for Obama's drone killings-AP

NY Times, May 2012: "Asked what surprised him most about Mr.  Obama, Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, answered immediately: “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.”"...Obama's "drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants." Drone killings "drive American policy" in Pakistan.  

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May 2012 article
 
5/29/2012, "Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will," NY Times, Jo Becker, Scott Shane
 

"This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years. President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. 

It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day [12/25/2009, the Underwear Bomber], a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.

“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises-but his family is with him-it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation. 
 
He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda. 
 
They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.

 His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a “Whac-A-Mole” approach to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers. 
 
The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s (drone) strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said....
 
Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
 
Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on (drone) strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.

Mr. Blair’s criticism, dismissed by White House officials as personal pique, nonetheless resonates inside the government.
William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough.... 

A few sharp-eyed observers inside and outside the government understood what the public did not. Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.... 

It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.

The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda....

A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.

The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total....

The control he exercises also appears to reflect Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence: he believes, according to several people who have worked closely with him, that his own judgment should be brought to bear on strikes.

Asked what surprised him most about Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, answered immediately: “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.”...

He (Obama) has found that war is a messy business, and his actions show that pursuing an enemy unbound by rules has required moral, legal and practical trade-offs that his speeches did not envision.... 

Mr. Obama, who had rejected the Bush-era concept of a global war on terrorism and had promised to narrow the American focus to Al Qaeda’s core, suddenly found himself directing strikes in another complicated Muslim country.

The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.”

It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of precise operation that Mr. Obama favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.

The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they tried to impose some discipline.
In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.

But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. [which reports to Obama] for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.

Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well.

“We are not going to war with Yemen,” he admonished in one meeting, according to participants....

Mr. Obama had drawn a line. But within two years, he stepped across it. Signature strikes in Pakistan were killing a large number of terrorist suspects, even when C.I.A. analysts were not certain beforehand of their presence. And in Yemen, roiled by the Arab Spring unrest, the Qaeda affiliate was seizing territory.
Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not know. Officials say the criteria are tighter than those for signature strikes, requiring evidence of a threat to the United States, and they have even given them a new name — TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. But the details are a closely guarded secret — part of a pattern for a president who came into office promising transparency....

His (Obama's) focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.

Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.

Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”"...
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Added: In June 2013, 10 Himalayan tourists including one American are killed by Taliban in retaliation for Obama drone killings:

6/23/2013, "Taliban kill 10 foreign climbers, Pakistani guide," AP

"Islamic militants disguised as policemen killed 10 foreign climbers and a Pakistani guide in a brazen overnight raid against their campsite at the base of one of the world's tallest mountains in northern Pakistan, officials said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed it carried out the attack at Nanga Parbat to avenge the death of their deputy leader in a U.S. drone strike last month....
 
"By killing foreigners, we wanted to give a message to the world to play their role in bringing an end to the drone attacks," Ahsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
  
The U.S. insists the CIA strikes primarily kill al-Qaida and other militants who threaten the West as well as efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan. In a recent speech, President Barack Obama outlined tighter restrictions on the highly secretive program."...

This was in the Himalayas:

7/24/2013, "Pakistan Taliban Kill Mountain Climbers in Himalayas," Huffington Post, Ben Barber

"They forced climbers from the United States, Ukraine, China, Slovakia, Lithuania, Nepal and Pakistan to kneel before shooting each one in the head. A Taliban spokesman said it was the start of revenge killings for the U.S.-drone attack that killed their deputy leader Waliur Rehman in May."...


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