New Exposés in The Intercept:
U.S. Drones—Remote Control Mass Murder

October 19, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


A murderous policy of remote controlled drone bombing has become a centerpiece of U.S. imperialism’s global wars. Over the past dozen years the U.S. has killed—murdered—thousands of people by drones. It has developed a vocabulary to conceal thousands of civilian deaths. Its leaders—especially Barack Obama—have routinely lied about the extent of death by drone.

October 15, The Intercept 1 released an important series of articles on U.S. use of drones. These articles are based on documents on the U.S. military’s assassination policy provided to them by a whistleblower. The Intercept articles and the material they are based on reveal that the U.S. has coldly and callously murdered thousands of civilians, as a matter of official political and military policy. Another study, by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, concludes that from the initial U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to today, between 3,492 and 5,545 people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes.

The Intercept report reveals that as many as 90 percent of the people killed in some drone strikes are people who weren’t even intended targets. Many of them are women and children.

Obama described U.S. policy on drones in a major policy speech at the National Defense University. He said that in Afghanistan, the U.S. “will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces.... Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. And even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained.”

This is bullshit. It is a straight up lie to cover up systematic murder, including of children. The U.S. has been using its drones as a method of targeted assassination. It also spreads mass terror through drone bombing of weddings, market places, urban areas. It killed 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki—who was a U.S. citizen—while he ate lunch with some cousins. The Intercept reports that Larry Lewis, who was principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, concluded that “drone strikes in Afghanistan were 10 times more likely to kill civilians than conventional aircraft.”

The U.S. government routinely lies about who it is targeting and killing, and has developed a whole vocabulary to conceal the amount of civilian deaths. The old euphemism “collateral damage” used by the military to cover up civilians killed by the military has been changed. The report explains that “when drone operators hit their target, killing the person they intend to kill, that person is called a ‘jackpot.’ When they miss their target and end up killing someone else, they label that person EKIA, or ‘enemy killed in action.’”

The U.S.’s “Operation Haymaker” between January 2012 and February 2013 killed more than 200 people in its “special operation airstrikes.” Of these, even according to the military’s own account, only 35 of the dead were “intended targets.” The government documents leaked to the Intercept show that during one five-month period of “Haymaker,” almost 90 percent of the people killed by drone bombing were not “intended targets.” Military reports labeled each of these deaths as “enemy killed in action.”

Virtually everyone specifically targeted by a drone strike is an adult male, who in the language of the drone policy makers is a MAM, or “military age male.” The whistleblower explained how every mangled and shredded corpse left in the aftermath of a bombing was determined to be that of an “enemy.” “If there is no evidence that proves a person killed in a strike was either not a MAM, or was a MAM but not an unlawful enemy combatant, then there is no question. They label them EKIA.”

Barack Obama has direct authority and responsibility for the development of drone policy and its implementation.

A detailed and specific hierarchy The Intercept calls a “Kill Chain” has been structured to carry out drone policy. There are two steps to the process to approve a strike on an individual. First a packet of information on the individual, which the military refers to as a “baseball card,” is drawn up and “staffed up to higher echelons—ultimately to the president.”

The “baseball card” contains “intelligence” (supposedly specific information about particular targeted “jackpots”) developed from spy drones, electronic spying, and on the ground spies up through generals on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, to a group of top Obama administration political leaders and lawyers called the “Principals Committee of the National Security Council,” then to Obama himself. Then, when a decision is made, it goes back down through the military command.

The Intercept report states that a document provided by the whistleblower “detailing the kill chain indicates that while Obama approved each target, he did not approve each individual strike.” In other words, Obama—who certainly is aware of the thousands of civilian deaths U.S. drone bombing has caused—makes the general decision to launch an attack, but the specifics of when are left to others. Obama’s National Security Advisor said: “He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations go.”

Find, Fix, Finish

The doctrine of assassination and massive murder by drone, called “find, fix, finish” by its architects, is in the process of being further refined, expanded, and institutionalized in military and political doctrine.

Michael Flynn, who once headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Intercept that “the drone campaign right now really is only about killing. In the drone strategy that we have, ‘capture’ is a lower case c. We don’t capture people anymore”. Another former official disputed some of Flynn’s details, but accepted the overall premise of massive drone use by the Obama administration. “The Obama administration has been quite ruthless in its pursuit of terrorists. If there are people who we, in our best efforts, assess to be trying to kill us, we can make their life as short as possible. And we do it.”

What they have actually done is bomb a hospital, bomb wedding parties, bomb family gatherings, bomb children herding animals, bomb rural villages in the deep of night, bomb markets. Drone bombing has increased exponentially in the Obama years. Under Bush, Obama’s predecessor, there had been one drone attack in Yemen. In the first four years of Obama’s presidency, there was a reported drone strike in Yemen on the average of every six days. By August 2015, more than 490 people had been killed by drone strikes in Yemen. In Pakistan alone, as of September 1, Obama had ordered 370 drone strikes, which killed up to 965 civilians, including as many as 207 children.

Every one of the drone missions, according to the material leaked to The Intercept, “begins as an objective to find one person for whatever reason. Every jackpot is one person off the list.” U.S. use of drones in its assassination program is criminally illegitimate in any circumstances. But the massive civilian death it causes—hundreds and thousands of people the government deceitfully and foully calls “EKIAs”—doesn’t even factor into its plans, its reports, its summations. What the U.S. routinely does is bomb people’s homes and gatherings with weapons that tear them into unrecognizable pieces, then declare them “enemies.”

A Great Crime—and a Moral Challenge to STOP It

This is a war crime, a crime against humanity of the highest order. The U.S. rains remote-controlled death on people, bombing them from the safety of air conditioned computer rooms hundreds of miles from their intended targets, in its fight to defend and extend its global empire. It terrorizes thousands beyond those directly killed, both by the seeming randomness of the attacks, and by the drones that buzz and hover overhead, sometimes for weeks, always threatening.

Drone usage as an arm of U.S. policy and military planning has expanded massively under Obama. Now the government plans to significantly expand and hone its use of drones both for surveillance and its inevitable companion, bombing. Reports that came out in August said the Pentagon plans for drone use to grow by 50 percent in the next few years, using the military itself and “civilian contractors.”

Air Force Major General J.D. Harris told a reporter the expansion is because “the combatant commanders, they need more. They’re tasked to do our nation’s business overseas so they feel that stress on them, and it’s not getting better.” Currently the CIA and U.S. military conduct drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The plans are to extend use of drones to “Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, the South China Sea, and North Africa.”

The Intercept journalists and the whistleblower who provided the documents have done a great service to the people of the world in exposing the inner workings of U.S. policy and use of drones. As the whistleblower explained, they leaked these documents because the public needs to know about the assassinations carried out in their name. “We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”

Now there is a great moral challenge before people, especially people in this country.

STOP Wars of Empire, Armies of Occupation, and Crimes Against Humanity!


1. The Intercept was founded in 2014 by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill. It is, in the words of its mission statement, “dedicated to producing fearless, adversarial journalism.” [back]


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