CIA playbook: A sour attempt at legalising terror via drones

The al Qaeda is an ideology and missiles cannot kill ideologies.

Amna Baig February 17, 2013
With John O Brennan’s brainchild, the ‘play book’, almost ready for the president to sign and the leak of the Justice Department’s document explaining the legal rationale for the killing of American citizens who join al Qaeda, the drone debate is a hot topic once again. But for all the wrong reasons.

A brief introduction to the playbook would be that it sets rules regarding the clandestine drone operations of CIA around the world, a vague attempt at legalising the attacks and ‘minimising’ them to an extent. Something like this needed to be done by the US government as it was facing heavy criticism not only from its allies but also from its own people regarding the heavy reliance on technological warfare. Maybe the entire clamour around the globe for a reduction in drone strikes is way of securing or asking what the future holds as the US is blatantly using its might to carry out operations attacking the sovereignty of fragile third world countries.

Countries where it’s not even fighting a conventional war.

But the most intriguing aspect of the Brennan playbook story is that all of these ‘laws’ regarding drone strikes don’t apply to Pakistan and Yemen.


You can’t question.

The justice department’s document’s leak has also led to public outrage over the unjust killings of US citizens in drone strikes and other military operations by the state. Al-Aulaqi’s case is getting a lot of attention as a result of the leak and common US citizens have started to raise questions regarding the definition that state uses before categorising someone as a ‘prospective terrorist’.

All of this isn’t going to put an end to drone strikes. In fact as the US is now unwinding its military involvement in Afghanistan, soldiers are likely to be replaced by technology and more unmanned aerial strikes are expected in the region.

There has been a gradual escalation in number of these attacks since the start of this year. Around 11 civilians died within the first two weeks of January in four attacks as reported by Bill Roggio of the Long war journal.

During March 2011, a single ‘Signature (precision)’strike killed 38 civilians. It’s almost close to impossible to assess the civilian death toll of such strikes as the areas targeted by the CIA drones are inaccessible to government functionaries, journalists and other monitors.

Those who favour the drones argue that a conventional war would result in extensive collateral damage.

But is this really a war?

Do we know who exactly our enemy is?

Has killing Osama led to world peace?

Will killing more militants like him put an end to terrorism?

Terrorism cannot be defeated with military might alone.

Al Qaeda is not some regular disciplined force of militants, which can be bombed into oblivion. Al Qaeda is an ideology and missiles cannot kill ideologies.

Jason Burke, in his book ‘Al-Qaeda: Casting a shadow of terror’ described it as “broad and diverse movement of radical Islamic militancy” involving tens of thousands of people, some merely individuals, some who have formed groups.

According to him “these groups shift and change and grow and disappear”. Killing some in one region wouldn’t defeat terrorism. In fact it would result in more innocent civilian’s casualties.

“Al Qaeda is established in Syria. They’ve been there for about a year,” King Abdullah of Jordan revealed in an interview to Fareed Zakaria of CNN last month. This proves the notion that bombing is not the solution. It just leads to a geographical shift of the organisation. Perhaps the most troubling fact about this drone debate is CIA’s control over the institution, which is actually an extension of conventional warfare and should be under the direct command of military leadership.

Terrorism can only be eradicated by encouraging democratically elected and stable governments in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most importantly economic growth should be stimulated in such countries so that the underprivileged don’t fall prey to militants offering money in return for terrorist activities.

Over the recent past, there has been no civilian death in the US due to a terrorist activity conducted by al Qaeda, whereas almost 150 kids have died in school shootings since 2003.

It is probably time for the US to pay more attention to its own gun laws rather than persisting with counter terrorism activities around the world.
Amna Baig A baker by profession and has studied Economics at NUST Business School.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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