When I joined the Marine Corps, I knew I would kill people. I was trained to do it in a number of ways, from pulling a trigger to ordering a bomb strike to beating someone to death with a rock. As I got closer to deploying to war in 2009, my lethal abilities were refined, but my ethical understanding of killing was not.
I held two seemingly contradictory beliefs: Killing is always wrong, but in war, it is necessary. How could something be both immoral and necessary?
Timothy Kudo, Marine Captain
Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They’re careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.
This Week in War. A Friday round-up of what happened and what’s been written in the world of war and military/security affairs this week. It’s a mix of news reports, policy briefs, blog posts and longform journalism.
- A small group of CIA officers in southern Turkey are assisting the Syrian resistance in getting weapons which include automatic rifles, RPGs and anti-tank weaponry.
- Photojournalist Robert King writes about what he saw while photographing Syria, accompanied by a slideshow of his work.
- A defected Syrian fighter pilot has been granted asylum in Jordan.
- Hamas has accepted the terms of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel that ends three days of fighting.
- Members of Nigeria’s Boko Haram have, for the first time, been listed as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” by the State Dept.
- Mother Jones has obtained a document that corroborate parts of the story told by US citizen Sharif Mobley, who claims to have been detained and interrogated in Yemen in 2010 at the request of the US. MJ can confirm his assertion that FBI members visited him in detention and that they knew his whereabouts despite repeated denial.
- Maj. Gen. Salim Ali Qatn, a senior military commander, was killed in the southern Yemeni city of Aden by a suicide bomber.
- After a scandal over emails, Brett McGurk, the nominee for ambassador to Iraq has withdrawn his name from consideration.
- Turkey has carried out strikes inside northern Iraq against members of the separatist Kurdish Workers Party.
- Sixteen are reported dead in a Taliban fighter raid on a lakeside hotel in Kabul last night. Gunmen stormed the Spozhmai hotel, killing sixteen and taking hostages. The standoff ended with the killing of the militants 12 hours later.
- Officials are warning of a tough and trying summer ahead in Afghanistan for the Afghan security forces.
- The Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is opening an investigation into Afghanistan’s practices of taxing US companies involved in the reconstruction effort.
- Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV has been accused of obstructing inquiry into corruption in and mismanagement of the Afghan forces in order to protect the President politically.
- Many Afghan refugees, some of whom have spent decades in exile, are returning home: some voluntarily, but many because Pakistan is unwilling to let them remain with refugee status.
- The US worries that hundreds of missing night vision goggles purchased for Afghan forces have fallen into Taliban hands.
- Yousef Raza Gilani is out as Pakistan’s Prime Minister after a ruling by the Supreme Court of Pakistan declaring him ineligible to hold office. The first nominee for his replacement, Makhdoom Shahabuddin of the Pakistan People’s Party, had an arrest warrant issued for him by a narcotics judge in Rawalpindi. The new nominee is Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
- A Pakistani Taliban commander in North Waziristan has banned polio vaccinations shortly before a push to vaccinate more than 150k children over fears that the vaccinations are a cover for espionage.
- The 20th of June was the three-year anniversary of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a symbol of Iran’s Green Movement and their thwarted 2009 post-election uprising.
- Nuclear talks with Iran came up short without resolution or commitment to further negotiations.
- Israel and the US worked together on both the Flame and Stuxnet computer viruses in order to slow Iran’s nuclear efforts.
- A veteran Jordanian television reporter, Baker Atyani, noted for having interviewed Osama Bin Laden just months prior to the 9/11 attacks, has been reported by Jordan as having been kidnapped earlier this month in the Philippines.
- You can now follow a Russian warlord on Twitter!
- The trial of Ratko Mladic, former Bosnian Serb military commander on trial for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, has been put on hold indefinitely over complications with failure to disclose documents to the defense.
- Environmental activists globally are being killed at a rate of 1 per week.
- ProPublica investigates the administration’s claims about civilian casualties as a result of drone strikes and finds the figures don’t add up.
- David Graham at The Atlantic rounds up what you need to know about Attorney General Eric Holder being held in contempt of Congress over for refusing to turn over documents related to the investigation of the Fast and Furious operation.
- A new Dartmouth poll of American opinion reveals some interesting things about foreign policy beliefs: a significant majority (60% of Dems and 80% of Reps) believe that we face greater threats today than during the Cold War.
- A new documentary, “Service: When Women Come Marching Home,” documents the return home of female service members.
About the photo: This is one of a collection of stunning photos of Iraq and Afghanistan in Peter Van Agtmael’s “Disco Night Sept 11,” which got Honorable Mention in CENTER’s Project Competition. (HT: Eric Spiegelman)
While the government’s use of drones in other countries has drawn scrutiny, there are plenty of drones flying in American skies on behalf of the military, law enforcement, universities, and local governments.
Just how many drones are zipping around is not clear, but thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Transportation, at least we now know which government agencies can fly drones. There are 58 institutions in total, including both active and expired “certificates of authorization” from the Federal Aviation Administration. They range from DARPA to the city of Herrington, Kansas to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The individual list is interesting, but we thought the aggregated pie chart above made it easier to take in the data at a glance.
Perhaps most interesting is how many universities have applied for permits. Some may be working with military grant money. There are relatively few law enforcement agencies using drones, maybe because of the expense involved. Only 11 local law enforcement districts have tried out the technology: Arlington PD, Gadsden PD, Georgia Tech PD, Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade PD, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Ogden Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and the Seattle PD.
Keep in mind, as the EFF points out, the number of certificates are not equal to the number of drones. So the military may have many, many drones flying while a city government might just have one.
In the days following the rogue US soldier’s shooting spree in Kandahar, most of the media, us included, focused on the “backlash” and how it might further strain the relations with the US.
Many mainstream media outlets channelled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.
But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.
In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim
Bradley Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yes, there is rape in the military, just as there is in civilian life. There is rape at home on military bases all over the United States, and also abroad. Being barred from combat jobs hasn’t kept it from happening. I spent three weeks in the hands of the “enemy” in Iraq as a prisoner, and I was not raped. Unfortunately, many of my fellow female soldiers were raped—sometimes by the very people who were supposed to “have their back.” Rape happens every day to women; giving women front-line combat jobs will not increase that threat.
Shoshana Johnson, a former POW in Iraq, argues in support of allowing women on the front lines, despite arguments like “rape.”
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”
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.