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The Vietnam war ended 40 years ago – Murray Rothbard on Vietnam

29 Mar

How Murray Rothbard Single-Handedly Brought Down the Saigon Government with Malice Aforethought

by Joseph R. Stromberg
by Joseph R. Stromberg
A Hardy Weed
As the current US foreign policy adventure drags on, it seems as good a time as any to address a recurring charge brought against Murray Rothbard by sundry libertarians (sic), Randians, near-Neo-Conservatives, and other worthies. Strictly speaking, the complaint is not that Rothbard, alone and unaided, brought down the Saigon Government in 1975; even Rothbard’s enemies do not go quite that far. The complaint seems to be that Rothbard “cheered” when that government fell, proving that he was “pro-communist,” had a bad attitude about these things, was crazy and immoral, etc. 
To get a proper handle on this apparently controversial subject, it is best to begin with Rothbard’s writings on the deaths of states.
I. Deaths of States
Rothbard the “Pro-Communist”
In 1975, Murray Rothbard penned two essays on the fall of the Saigon government, a government largely invented, bankrolled, and sustained by the United States. This invention was part of the American project of incorporating Southeast Asia into a kind of US-directed “Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.” [1] The US had of course objected, in the 1930s, to the Japanese version of such a project.
The two articles on the collapse of the Republic of South Vietnam have caused much angst among those conservatives and libertarians who never managed to question any important assumptions about the Cold War. This angst reverberates down the halls of time. Its echo, for some reason, is with us still. 
The first essay, “The Death of a State,” appeared in Rothbard’s newsletter, the Libertarian Forum in April 1975. It began on this note:
What we are seeing these last weeks in Indochina is, for libertarians, a particularly exhilarating experience: the death of a State, or rather two States: Cambodia and South Vietnam. The exhilaration stems from the fact that here is not just another coup d’état, in which the State apparatus remains virtually intact and only a few oligarchs are shuffled at the top. Here is the total and sudden collapse – the smashing – of an entire State apparatus. Its accelerating and rapid disintegration. Of course, the process does not now usher in any sort of libertarian Nirvana, since another bloody State is in the process of taking over. But the disintegration remains, and offers us many instructive lessons. [2]
Thus, at the very outset, Rothbard says in effect, “Yes, another state will replace the one that fell, but the process itself may prove to be interesting and instructive.” The excitement – that which initially draws our interest – has to do with the complete implosion of a state. As for how such an Einsturz might happen, Rothbard writes that Étienne de La Boétie, David Hume, and Ludwig von Mises have long since given the explanation.
Simply put, “no matter how bloody or despotic any State may be, it rests for its existence in the long-run (and not-so-long run) on the consent of the majority of its subjects….” This consent may be “passive resignation, but the important thing is that it rests on the willingness of the masses to obey the orders and the commands of the State apparatus” up to the point, where we see “a sudden and infectious decision of the masses to say: Enough! We’ve had it; we quit.” [3]
So it was with ARVN, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam – “trained for decades by American commanders, armed to the teeth by the United States” – which, in the end, just quit. Rothbard noted that the South Vietnamese government “had no real roots in popular support…. Hence its supporters were mainly only the recipients of American largesse.” Further:
A corollary lesson of the collapse, then, is the long-run impossibility for an imperialist-dominated regime to survive, when opposed by guerrilla warfare backed by the great majority of the population. And this despite the enormous advantage in firepower and in modern weaponry that the imperialist power, and its puppets, initially enjoy.
Rothbard concluded:
Imperialism, then, cannot win; and we have learned this lesson after the Johnson-Nixon regimes managed to murder a million or more Vietnamese, North and South, along with over 50,000 American soldiers. All that blood and treasure just to postpone the inevitable! [4]
(I shall refrain from making a comparison with any current events, given the unpredictability involved – i.e., whether or not any current resistance is “backed by the great majority of the population.”)
Rothbard also observed that “it comes with ill grace indeed” for US spokesmen to lament the looming “bloodbath,” should the communists prevail. “Vietnamization” had been an abject failure, as had US interference in Cambodia. The Ford administration – clinging to the wreckage of the war in Indo-China, was “the true legatee of the Nixon administration,” but at least it had given up “the budding Cowboy police state at home.” [5]  
If Rothbard’s first essay provoked consternation in some libertarian circles, the second must have increased it.
Rothbard’s second salvo, also entitled “The Death of a State,” appeared in Reason Magazine, July 1975. He repeated his theme that state collapse in Indo-China was “exhilarating” and elaborated his interest in it as process. With every mathematically inclined political scientist and international relations scholar in the world (then and now) ransacking history for “case studies” to “test” their dreaded “robust” [6] hypotheses and propositions, we might well think that Rothbard could be allowed to look at events in the light of some generalizations drawn from political history (but apparently not).
Rothbard wrote:
The process by which these states [South Vietnam and Cambodia] have crumpled vindicates once again the insights of the theorists of mass guerrilla warfare, from libertarians such as Charles Lee in the late 18th century to the elaborations of modern Communist theoreticians… that, after a slow, patient protracted struggle, in which the guerrilla armies (backed by the populace) whittle and wear down the massively superior fire power of the State armies (generally backed by other, imperial governments), the final blow occurs in which the State dissolves and disintegrates with remarkable speed. [7]
Again, Rothbard notes that “in Vietnam and Cambodia, one State has been immediately displaced by another – not surprisingly, since the communist-led insurgents are scarcely anarchists or libertarians. But States exist everywhere; there is nothing remarkable in that. What is inspiring is to actually see the final and swift disintegration of a State.”
Those who want to quibble about the words “exhilarating,” “inspiring,” and “rejoicing” might want to answer whether or not the continuance of a state, at the price being then exacted by the RVN and US, could be so described.
Again, Rothbard observes that a state that forfeits “majority support” will fall: “In the end, the ARVN army simply laid down their arms and fled, ignoring the orders of their hierarchical chain of commanders, from the President down to the non-coms.”
Now Rothbard expressed another forbidden thought, noting that “the body blow that these events have delivered to U.S. imperialism” was a “cause for libertarian rejoicing.” It was a blow to the idea that “the United States has the moral duty, and the permanent power, to install, prop up, and rule governments and peoples throughout the world.” Given this blow, a rebirth of non-intervention seemed more than possible.
Hence the “rejoicing.”
After all, Americans “were sick and tired of our long and losing intervention in Vietnam” in a “continuation of the American policy of imperialism – the Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon-Ford policy – that was responsible for pushing Indochina into the arms of communism.” The US accomplished that feat by “bolstering and then replacing French imperialism; by propping up unpopular and corrupt dictatorial regimes in the name of ‘freedom’; by suppressing peasant property and returning it to the imperially-created feudal landlords,” and so on. Further, “it was precisely the idiotic CIA-directed right-wing coup against the popular neutralist Prince Norodom Sihanouk that has now led to the Communist regime there.”
Free Enterprise in South Vietnam
In passing, I wish to note an article that appeared in the Miami Herald on South Vietnamese inflation remedies in late 1971:
The South Vietnamese government announced Friday that it is imposing price controls to curb rises that followed devaluation of the piaster.
The government also announced that it would start strict implementation of a seldom-used 1965 law providing penalties ranging from 10 years in jail to death for spreading rumors harmful to the national economy or seeking to increase the cost of living.
The death penalty will be applied only in extreme cases of hoarding for profit or causing very harmful rumors, such as that currency devaluation is imminent, a government spokesman said.
Prices of some commodities shot up this week, largely because of speculation and hoarding, after Economic Minister Pham Kim Ngoc announced on Monday that the piaster would be devalued 45 to 55 percent as part of an economic reform package. [8]
So, on the face of it, “harmful rumors” about coming devaluations would have been true, and from this we may conclude that the Saigon government, like any other despotic state, wanted to be able to tax the people via inflation, repress the inevitably rising prices by controls, and arrest and possibly kill anyone who mentioned it out loud.
In this regard, the Saigon sideshow was acting in the tradition of Chiang Kai-shek – Chinese despot and Cold War hero to the interventionist right wing (they weren’t called “the China Lobby” for nothing!). Under the economic “management” of Chiang and his close relatives, who made up the core of the Nationalist Government, prices in China rose by a factor of 2,167 between 1937 and 1945. As Joyce and Gabriel Kolko put it, “In the end, the soldiers would not or could not fight, and much of the government bureaucracy was forced into graft and corruption. Translated into social and political terms, Chiang mobilized vital potential support for the Communists and melted the possible resistance to them.” [9]
Between 1965 and 1970, the Saigon government managed to inflate by 604%. This was not quite up to Chiang’s standards, but it did erode the confidence of bureaucrats, soldiers, and pretty much everyone else. [10]         
State Building in South Vietnam     
The key, however, is that had the Saigon government really been “up to it,” it would have effectively turned itself into a rather totalitarian regime in pursuit, no doubt, of some rather fictitious liberty to be realized after it succeeded. But I jest, since the Saigonistas were no more about liberty than the communists were, in the end, about equality. But at the time, if I may be so rude as to mention it, a program of quasi-totalitarian state-building was precisely what high-toned US Cold War liberals, social engineers, and counterinsurgency experts were urging upon the scattered attention of the Saigon state. [11]
Consider what the soft, “winning hearts and minds” school of US counterinsurgency theorists had in mind for South Vietnam, as summarized by D. Michael Shafer: “rapid incorporation of the vulnerable inhabitants of the periphery into the center,” brought about by “physical control of territory and populace; penetration of authority throughout the country; and promotion of economic and social development.” And of course these goals entailed “relocation of people to defended villages” – that is, to the so-called strategic hamlets.
Further, in the eyes of US planners, it was necessary for South Vietnam to “address distributional, racial, and communal problems and remove corrupt or abusive officials.” Along with these reforms, should come general “increases in the quantity of government.” By carrying out their own social revolution, assisted by US advice and superabundant firepower, the Saigon crew would win the wavering people over, by really giving them “the benefits only promised by the insurgents.” [12] (This last point was an especially tall order to the extent that one of the “benefits” sought was precisely to be rid of the Saigon regime.)
The soft school erred, Shafer continues, in “assuming that leaders’ interests are the same as the national interest.” Don’t we all! Thus they overlooked “the possibility that for certain elites the aim of fighting is to defend power and privilege,” and consequently, the commitment of these elites to reform might be a bit limited. Under such circumstances, “increasing the government’s security may decrease that of the population,” driving them into the arms of the insurgents.
Committed to sundry flawed assumptions rooted in the then universally loved modernization theory, the soft school ended with “a prescriptive bent for centralized, paternalistic government.”[13]  
Historian Bruce Miroff underscores the connection between modernization theory and counterinsurgency:
Modernization and counterinsurgency were closely interwoven in New Frontier ideology. Walt W. Rostow was a key figure here in establishing the linkage. The Administration’s leading theoretician of economic development and modernization, Rostow was also one of its most fervent proponents of counterinsurgency. He considered counterinsurgency an integral branch of modernization; hence, he told a graduating class of Green Berets at Fort Bragg in 1961: “Your job is to work with understanding with your fellow citizens in the whole creative process of modernization. From our perspective in Washington you take your place side by side with those others who are committed to help fashion independent, modern societies out of the revolutionary process now going forward. I salute you as I would a group of doctors, teachers, economic planners, agricultural experts, civil servants, or those others who are now leading the way in fashioning new nations and societies.” [14]
According to US planners (as depicted by Shafer), success in the war demanded “the ability to manage modernization.” The state had to make “hard decisions: to invest, not consume; rationalize administration; root out corruption; attack parochial political groupings, etc.” Further, the planners believed “that more government is better government. But this presupposes the very issues at question… that government and populace share the same goals that will be advanced by greater government capabilities at the grassroots level.” And, worse luck, “improving administrative capacity has often meant greater governmental ability to collect taxes, enforce skewed land tenure arrangements, raise conscripts, etc. In short, improved administrative capacity may mean better enforcement of the status quo.” [15]   
Of course, counterinsurgency theory was a general Western fad at the time, resting on a strong record of failure or dubious successes in Algeria, Malaya, Kenya, and elsewhere. The theorists called for “civic action” and “revolutionary war.” Here, the threatened state, or its allies, would use military forces to seize, transform, and carry out the popular revolution in an approved form. The neo-Jacobinism of the project hardly needs underlining. [16]    
Of course none of this actually worked all that well and the hearts-and-minds gang were soon out, replaced by the harder-nosed cost/benefit folk of the RAND Corporation type, who focused on how to coerce the Vietnamese laboratory rats into submission along the lines of rational actor models drawn from mathematized neoclassical economics, or behaviorist psychology.[17]
Noam Chomsky quotes one of these writers, Morton Halperin, as follows:
The events in Vietnam also illustrate the fact that most people tend to be motivated not by abstract appeals, but rather by their perception of the course of action that is most likely to lead to their own personal security and to the satisfaction of their economic, social, and psychological desires. Thus, for example, large-scale American bombing in South Vietnam may have antagonized a number of people; but at the same time it demonstrated to these people that the Vietcong could not guarantee their security as it had been able to do before the bombing…. [18]  
Any burglar or home invader could say as much. And one begins to wonder if states are not only “stationary bandits” but also stationary terrorists. This certainly wasn’t going to win any hearts and minds, but for the planners, if those “subjective factors” could not be dealt with “scientifically” and mathematically, they could not be considered at all. 
So what were the insurgents doing all this while? Eqbal Ahmad suggests that overall, they were behaving better than the Saigon bureaucrats and soldiers – not a difficult feat, apparently. He writes that support for the guerrillas rested on “moral alienation of the masses from the existing government.” Accordingly, the rebels had to “outadminister” more than “outfight” the government. Thus the guerrillas were working with the “human factor” so invisible to US planners. 
Ahmad notes that there are cases like Algeria in which the rebels “lost” militarily but won politically – and this goes straight to the problems of obedience and legitimacy [19] that interested Rothbard.
The National Liberation Front operated by creating parallel hierarchies that displaced official ones. Despite the assumptions of US officials, this was not a case of rule by terror, despite the occasional “conversion or killing of village officials.” Serious and disciplined guerrillas rejected wholesale terrorism and laid “stress on scrupulously ‘correct and just’ behavior toward civilians.” Their “use of terror, therefore, [was] sociologically and psychologically selective.” Thus, “[s]uccessful parallel hierarchies” were “generally based on extant local patterns and experiences….” [20]  
Here, the revolutionaries played to what Eric Wolf refers to as the “natural anarchism” of rebelling peasants – that is, the peasant’s instinctive wish to continue his way of life, but without tax collectors, bureaucrats, and feudal landlords. [21]   That NLF cadres built up an incipient state in the course of the struggle is consistent with the history of other 20th-century peasant-based revolutions led by Marxists. The NLF had on their side the powerful cement of Vietnamese nationalism, another factor the Americans contrived to miss.
In response, Ahmad writes, the US unleashed total war, “punitive measures, and widespread, systematic use of torture.” He observes: “these wars are ‘limited’ only in their consequences for the intervening power. For the country and people under assault they are total.” [22]   
Let us once more consider what the US sought to do in South Vietnam, namely, to build a state able to “incorporate” the people via “physical control” and effective administration, while carrying on an ersatz, top-down social revolution and making a great forward leap into “centralized, paternalistic government,” with the burgeoning state undertaking “economic and social development”; making “hard decisions” about investment vs. consumption, rationalizing administration, rooting out corruption, and “attack[ing] parochial political groupings”; and serving as the vanguard of forced-draft “urbanization” by bombing the rural population into new living arrangements. [23] One theorist even suggested that the South Vietnamese state substitute itself for “intermediate structures” where those were, lamentably, missing. [24] I leave to one side the obvious problem that if the state supplies the intermediate structures, they no longer seem very intermediate and perhaps another word will be needed for them.
From about 1965 on, American policymakers tried to substitute unrestrained US firepower for the “administrative failure” of the Saigon regime, so as to drive peasants into the “protection” of that regime, and where they could not provide support for the guerrillas. But an ineffective and unpopular regime cannot be bombed into strength and public esteem. So here it is: whichever side won, the people were going to get a stronger state than they were used to; absent the Americans, however, they would not be carpet-bombed. Let us leave to one side for a moment, the moral and subjective factors that seem to have been decisive. That done, even on the American theorists’ own argument, a peasant able to see past next week into some middle term might in fact “rationally calculate” that he would be better off under the NLF.
Between their methodologically narrow definition of rationality and their neoclassical inability to treat (and then distinguish degrees of) time-preference, the US counterinsurgency theorists were thoroughly at sea.
Rothbard v. Chomsky, 1977
It is probably worth mentioning the letters-to-the-editor exchanged between Rothbard and Noam Chomsky in Libertarian Review in December 1977. Rothbard had written a piece in the September issue in which he argued that democratic socialism was a chimera. Any serious attempt to realize socialism would necessarily lead in the direction of totalitarian rule. In a footnote, he chided Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman for their skepticism regarding some chilling statements attributed to Cambodian communist officials. [25]
Chomsky wrote an angry letter to Libertarian Review, saying that Rothbard had misrepresented his and Herman’s position. Rothbard replied in kind, reiterating his point that socialism, if undertaken seriously, required violence, brutality and statism. [26] As a lifelong advocate of a laissez-faire market economy, Rothbard was not about to defend any form of socialism. This exchange of letters took place just when former opponents of US intervention in Southeast Asia, many of them socialists, were debating among themselves whether or not it was “moral” to criticize the successor states in Southeast Asia.
In Rothbard’s view, if the bulk of a country’s people opted for socialism in reaction to feudalism, mercantilism, and foreign domination, that did not give the US government the right to wage a savage imperialist war against them. In any case, Rothbard had long rejected the Cold Warriors’ claim that all movements against the status quo, and against western powers that propped up existing regimes, were somehow parts of a centrally-directed campaign of communist aggression, and that therefore, US intervention anywhere and everywhere constituted a form of “defense.”
Hence, Rothbard had no problem opposing the war and criticizing those who came to power in its aftermath, especially since, absent the war, the outcomes would have been substantially different.

read the rest at

The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago today – Obama drones

29 Mar

Obama terror drones: CIA tactics in Pakistan include targeting rescuers and funerals

Missiles being loaded onto a military Reaper drone in Afghanistan.
The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of  civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.
The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a ‘targeted, focused effort’ that ‘has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.’
Speaking publicly for the first time on the controversial CIA drone strikes, Obama claimed last week they are used strictly to target terrorists, rejecting what he called ‘this perception we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly’.
‘Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’, he told a questioner at an on-line forum. ‘This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists trying to go in and harm Americans’.
But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children.  A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.
Although the drone attacks were started under the Bush administration in 2004, they have been stepped up enormously under Obama.
There have been 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan by Obama’s administration – averaging one every four days. Because the attacks are carried out by the CIA, no information is given on the numbers killed.
Administration officials insist that these covert attacks are legal. John Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, argues that the US has the right to unilaterally strike terrorists anywhere in the world, not just what he called ‘hot battlefields’.
‘Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the legal position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces,’ he told a conference at Harvard Law School last year. ‘The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to”hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.’
State-sanctioned extra-judicial executions
But some international law specialists fiercely disagree, arguing that the strikes amount to little more than state-sanctioned extra-judicial executions and questioning how the US government would react if another state such as China or Russia started taking such action against those they declare as enemies.

Related article: A question of legality
The first confirmed attack on rescuers took place in North Waziristan on May 16 2009. According to Mushtaq Yusufzai, a local journalist, Taliban militants had gathered in the village of Khaisor. After praying at the local mosque, they were preparing to cross the nearby border into Afghanistan to launch an attack on US forces. But the US struck first.
Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution.

Naz Modirzadeh, Harvard University

A CIA drone fired its missiles into the Taliban group, killing at least a dozen people. Villagers joined surviving Taliban as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured.
But as rescuers clambered through the demolished house the drones struck again. Two missiles slammed into the rubble, killing many more. At least 29 people died in total.
We lost very trained and sincere friends‘, a local Taliban commander told The News, a Pakistani newspaper. ‘Some of them were very senior Taliban commanders and had taken part in successful actions in Afghanistan. Bodies of most of them were beyond recognition.’
Related article: Witnesses speak out
For the Americans the attack was a success. A surprise tactic had resulted in the deaths of many Taliban. But locals say that six ordinary villagers also died that day, identified by Bureau field researchers as Sabir, Ikram, Mohib, Zahid, Mashal and Syed Noor (most people in the area use only one name).
Yusufzai, who reported on the attack, says those killed in the follow-up strike ‘were trying to pull out the bodies, to help clear the rubble, and take people to hospital.’  The impact of drone attacks on rescuers has been to scare people off, he says: ‘They’ve learnt that something will happen. No one wants to go close to these damaged building anymore.’
The legal view
Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal justification.

‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’
Waziristan residents hold up missile fragments from drone strikes in October 2010 / Noor Behram
The Khaisoor incident was not a one-off. Between May 2009 and June 2011, at least fifteen attacks on rescuers were reported by credible news media, including the New York TimesCNN,Associated PressABC News and Al Jazeera.
It is notoriously difficult for the media to operate safely in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Both militants and the military routinely threaten journalists. Yet for three months a team of local researchers has been seeking independent confirmation of these strikes.
Eyewitness accounts
The researchers have found credible, independently sourced evidence of civilians killed in ten of the reported attacks on rescuers. In five other reported attacks, the researchers found no evidence of any rescuers – civilians or otherwise – killed.

Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the legal position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces.

John Brennan, counterterrorism adviser to Obama

The researchers were told by villagers that strikes on rescuers began as early as March 2008, although no media carried reports at the time. The Bureau is seeking testimony relating to nine additional incidents.
Often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers. Mosques often exhort villagers to come forward and help, for example – particularly following attacks that mistakenly kill civilians.
Other tactics are also raising concerns.  On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.
‘A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,’ according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his recent bookThe Triple Agent. ‘True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long.’
The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others. Speaking with the Bureau, Pulitzer Prize-winner Warrick confirmed what his US intelligence sources had told him: ‘The initial target was no doubt a target anyway, as it was described to me, as someone that they were interested in. And as they were planning this attack, a possible windfall from that is that it would shake Mehsud himself out of his hiding place.’
Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians.  US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud escaped unharmed, dying six weeks later along with his wife in a fresh CIA attack.
 A funeral for victims of a US drone strike.
Clive Stafford-Smith, the lawyer who heads the Anglo-US legal charity Reprieve, believes that such strikes ‘are like attacking the Red Cross on the battlefield. It’s not legitimate to attack anyone who is not a combatant.’
Christof Heyns, a South African law professor who is United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial Executions, agrees. ‘Allegations of repeat strikes coming back after half an hour when medical personnel are on the ground are very worrying’, he said. ‘To target civilians would be crimes of war.’ Heyns is calling for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings.
One of the most devastating attacks took place on March 17 last year, the day after Pakistan had released American CIA contractor Raymond Davis, jailed for shooting dead two men in Lahore. Davis had been held for two months and was released after the payment of blood money said to be around $2.3m.
A case of retaliation?
The Agency was said to be furious at the affair. The following day when a massive drone strike killed up to 42 people gathered at a meeting in North Waziristan, Pakistani officials believed it to be retaliation.

Such strikes ‘are like attacking the Red Cross on the battlefield. It’s not legitimate to attack anyone who is not a combatant.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve

The commander of Pakistan forces in the area at the time was Brigadier Abdullah Dogar. He admits that in drone attacks in general ‘people invariably get reported as innocent bystanders’. But in that case he has no doubt. ‘I was sitting there where our friends say they were targeting terrorists and I know they were innocent people’, he said.
Related article: Get the Data: Obama’s terror drones
The mountains in the area contain chromite mines and the ownership was disputed between two tribes, so a Jirga or tribal meeting had been called to resolve the issue.
‘We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting’, he said, ‘we’d got the request ten days earlier.’
‘It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga – they have their people attending – but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?’
‘Drones may make tactical gains but I don’t see how there’s any strategic advantage’, he added. ‘When innocent people die, then you’re creating a whole lot more people with an issue.’
Growing tensions
Drone attacks have long been a source of tension between the US and Pakistan despite the fact that the Pakistan government gave tacit agreement, even allowing them to fly from Shamsi airbase in the western province of Baluchistan, while publicly denouncing the attacks.

In return the US made sure that some of the terrorists killed were those targeting Pakistan.
However the relationship has been stretched to breaking point, first with the raid to kill Osama bin Laden in May and subsequent US accusations of Pakistani complicity, then the NATO bombing of a Pakistani post in November, killing 24 soldiers. In December Pakistan ordered the CIA to vacate the Shamsi base. For a while drone attacks stopped but they resumed two weeks ago.
I was sitting there where our friends say they were targeting terrorists and I know they were innocent people.

Brigadier Abdullah Dogar, former commander Pakistan forces

The US claims the drones are a vital tool that have helped them almost wipe out the leadership of al Qaeda in Pakistan. But others point out they have stoked enormous anti-American sentiment in a country with an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons.
Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Initiative at the Brookings Institution, points out the operation has never been debated in Congress which has to approve sending US forces to war.
So dramatic is the switch to unmanned war that he says the US now has 7,000 drones operating and 12,000 more on the ground, while not a single new manned combat aircraft is under research or development at any western aerospace company.
After a remarkable lack of debate, there is starting to be unease in the US at the lack of transparency and accountability in the use of drones particularly as the campaign has expanded to hit targets in Libya, Yemen and Somalia and until recently to patrol the skies in Iraq.
Three US citizens were killed by missiles fired from drones in Yemen last September. Anwar al Awlaqi, an alleged al Qaeda operative, was deliberately targeted in what some have described as the US government’s first ever execution of one of its own citizens without trial. His colleague and fellow citizen Samir Khan also died in the attack. Two weeks later Awlaqi’s 16 year old son Abdulrahman died in a strike on alleged  al Qaeda militants.
Such unmanned war is a politician’s dream, avoiding the inconvenience of sending someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, into harm’s way.
The fact that the operations are carried out by the CIA rather than the US military enables the administration to evade questions. The Agency press office responds to media inquiries on the subject with no comment and refusal to give names of those killed or who are on the target list.
Until Obama’s comments last week, the White House would not even confirm the programme existed.
‘We don’t discuss classified programs or comment on alleged strikes’, said a senior administration official in response to the findings presented by the Sunday Times.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit last week demanding the Obama administration release legal and intelligence records on the killing of the three US citizens in in Yemen.

Privately some senior US military officers say they are extremely uncomfortable at the way the administration is carrying out these operations using the CIA which is not covered by laws of war or the Geneva Convention.
The use of drones outside a declared war zone is seen by many legal experts as setting a dangerous precedent. Aside from allies such as Israel, Britain and France, other countries have drone technology including China, Russia and Pakistan. Iran recently captured a downed US drone.
Heyns, the UN rapporteur, said an international legal framework is urgently needed to govern their use.
‘Our concern is how far does it go – will the whole world be a theatre of war?’ he asked. ‘Drones in principle allow collateral damage to be minimised but because they can be used without danger to a country’s own troops they tend to be used more widely. One doesn’t want to use the term ticking bomb but it’s extremely seductive.’
Additional reporting by Rahimullah Yusufzai in Peshawar, Pakistan
Christina Lamb is the Washington Bureau Chief of the Sunday Times

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Casualty Estimates

CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004–2013

Total US strikes: 366 
Obama strikes: 314 
Total reported killed: 2,537-3,581 
Civilians reported killed: 411-884 
Children reported killed: 168-197 
Total reported injured: 1,174-1,465

US Covert Action in Yemen 2002–2013

Confirmed US drone strikes: 43-53
Total reported killed: 228-325 
Civilians reported killed: 12-45 
Children reported killed: 
Reported injured: 62-144

Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-95
Total reported killed: 277-443
Civilians reported killed: 23-49
Children reported killed: 9-10
Reported injured: 73-94

All other US covert operations: 12-76
Total reported killed: 148-366
Civilians reported killed: 60-87
Children reported killed: 25
Reported injured: 22-111

US Covert Action in Somalia 2007–2013

US drone strikes: 3-9
Total reported killed: 7-27
Civilians reported killed: 0-15
Children reported killed: 0
Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 7-14
Total reported killed: 51-143
Civilians reported killed: 11-42
Children reported killed: 1-3
Reported injured: 15-20

The Data

Covert Drone War - the Data
The databases of all known secret war strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.


The methodology behind the research on US drone attacks.

Drone Infographics

Yemen strikes visualised
July 2, 2012 | by  | Comments Off
Bureau Visualisations - Emma Slater
A series of data sets on what the numbers mean.
Pakistan drone statistics visualised
July 2, 2012 | by  | 6 Comments
Graph - Joakim Sorthe
These graphs illustrate the Bureau’s key findings.
Interactive timeline of all recorded CIA drone strikes
August 10, 2011 | by  | Comments Off
Timeglider tall image
An interactive timeline of drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and the present date.
Interactive map
August 10, 2011 | by  | 1 Comment
Globe - Flickr / joelthomas
This map details the locations of CIA drone strikes in the remote Pakistani tribal areas.

Join the Debate

triixiie79 profile
triixiie79 Arlington police unveils unmanned helicopter #drone – Dallas News |…7 hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite
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techno_id_com “Caribbean Sea – Mer Caraïbe” #Drone Music with video of a sailing moment near St Barth in 2011 #ambient short hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite
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towards_freedom America’s deadly double tap #drone attacks are ‘killing 49 people for every known terrorist in Pakistan’ hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite
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leoofborg That’s what pisses off foreigners when we #Drone them, and the internet at large when they “spot” “fakery”. Duly note those quotes.5 hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite
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Mari_Matsuo Predatory Dreams:#Drone warfare – neither cheap, nor surgical, nor…via @tomdispatch5 hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite