Part of President Obama's daily briefing must include the report of the number of u201Csuspected militantsu201D killed by his drones. That is, it would be part of the briefing but he reportedly doesn't count the casualties.
In the pre-dawn hours Thursday Hellfire missiles fired from a U.S. drone turned a farmhouse in rural Yemen into a smoldering heap of charred wood that served as a bier for at least eight of those u201Csuspected militants.u201D
For President Obama and those pulling the triggers on the joysticks guiding the missiles toward their human targets, u201Csuspected militantu201D means (presumably) u201Call military-age males in a strike zone.u201D For those of us more concerned with the Constitution and with the rule of law than the President, u201Csuspected militantu201D means nothing other than a person not charged with any crime, not afforded even the most perfunctory due process protections, but summarily executed upon order of the president anyway.
The president's lexicon is apparently shared by some of his functionaries, as well. Harold Koh was sent by the president to make a pitch to the United Nations for the United States to maintain its seat on the U.N.'s Human Rights Council (HRC). During a brief question and answer period after Koh's presentation, a reporter from Inner City Press asked Koh if the United States would use its position on the HRC to investigate the use of drones in executions. Koh's answer was faithful to the party line:
He said that killings by drone “in the course of armed conflict or in self defense is consistent with international law.” He cited Al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces” – presumably including Al Shabab in Somalia and forces in norther Mali or Azawad – and said it is “not illegal to target an individual who is leader of an opposing force.”
Was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki a u201Cleader of an opposing forceu201D? No. He was a 16-year-old American citizen searching for his father in Yemen. He and some relatives with whom he was eating supper were killed nonetheless by a U.S. drone. Presumably that's because his cousins were old enough to be considered by the president terrorists by default.
That question is crucial, but this pretext for the killings brings up another question: When did militancy become a crime? If it is a crime, moreover, where is it defined? How can anyone know if he is guilty of militancy if such a crime is not defined? Could one hypothetically be a militant without knowing it, given that the crime is nowhere defined?
Reuters reports the scene in the southern Yemeni town of Jaar where the hiss of incoming missiles and the explosions that follow shattered the stillness of the dawn:
The farmhouse just west of Jaar, one of two southern towns that Yemen’s army took back from rebel control this summer, was hit by three separate missile strikes at dawn, they said.
The residents said they found six charred bodies and the scattered remains of three other people, including Nader al-Shaddadi, a senior al Qaeda militant in the southern Abyan province who led the group that occupied Jaar.
The security source confirmed that Shaddadi was among the dead and that four others were from the town of Jaar.
A u201Csenior al Qaeda militantu201D was reportedly found among the dead – thus qualifying one-ninth of the victims for execution by the president – but what of the others? News Track India reports:
Some of the dead were believed to be foreign fighters, but the security sources did not know where they were from.
“The identities of the terrorists killed in the aerial attack were not immediately clear. Some of the dead were foreigners,” the source said.
According to data published by Long War Journal, since 2002, 358 people have died in Yemen in U.S. drone strikes.
That tally is low when compared to Pakistan, but the number has spiked significantly since the inauguration of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Although U.S. officials typically do not comment on this or any other drone strike in Yemen or elsewhere, Hadi isn't quite so close-mouthed about the arrangement between the two u201Callies.u201D
In a statement made to the Washington Post in an interview published September 29, President Hadi said he u201Cpersonally approves every U.S. drone strike in his country.u201D
Hadi's praise for the Predators continued during a speech delivered at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “They [drones] pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at,” Hadi said, according to the New York Times.