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The Assassination Complex (Book Review)

Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program by Jeremy Scahill

In 2015 The Intercept (of which author Jeremy Scahill is a founding editor) published “The Drone Papers” which detailed the US military’s drone wars in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan and revealed that drone strikes kill far greater number of people than are on the kill lists, and the US military labels unknown people it kills as “enemies killed in action.”

Scahill writes about how while drone warfare is at its most basic level the definition of assassination, US foreign policy has chosen the softer word of “targeted killings” to describe the practice.

Drone assassinations usually pinpoint their targets using metadata:

“Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.”

Drone assassinations by the US are focused predominantly in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan/Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the only country that has actual US personnel on the ground, so strikes there are most reliable than the other countries.

Schahill write about how the U.S. government makes it impossible for individuals to know if they have been placed on a watchlist until they are interrogated, and once someone is on a list, it’s almost impossible to get off:

“The difficulty of getting off [a watchlist] is highlighted by a passage in ‘Watchlisting Guidance’ stating that an individual can be kept on a watchlist, despite being acquitted of a terrorism-related crime. The guidelines justify this by noting that conviction in U.S. courts requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas watchlisting requires only a reasonable suspicion. Once suspicion is raised, even a jury’s verdict cannot erase it.”

In the Afterward of the book, Glenn Greenwald states:

“It is hard to overstate the conflict between Obama’s statements before he became president and his presidential actions. Bush’s CIA and NSA chief Hayden said about Obama’s drone assassination of Anwar a Awlaki, ‘We need a court order to eavesdrop on him but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?’”

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