The US’s secretive ‘PSPs’ and how they legalise the killing of civilians by drones

2018-05-01T16:07:49+00:00 April 10th, 2018|Articles, Drones|

This is a short account of some of the effects of the war on terror in Somalia, the global media-PR machine and the Trump executive order that is making the murder of Muslims in Africa and other far-flung regions not only possible, but easy.

It is also the story of the sickening and ongoing devaluation of in particular black Muslim life and the arrogance and superiority of the West in the endless, self-perpetuating war on terror.

In August last year, a US drone strike near the Somalian town of Jilib killed seven civilians. They were all from the same family and they included women and children. The family was not a prominent (read ‘wealthy’) one, so they had no recourse to justice.

How the story was told and shaped is telling. Initially it made local newspapers and pictures of the human remains were circulated on Somali media. Now this information is unavailable. A local online news report acknowledges the civilian deaths but does not mention the cause as an American drone strike. Rather the ‘planes’ were ‘unidentified’.

Of course, these deaths did not make even a blip on the US evening news. But just in case it turned up somehow, CENTCOM, the central point for US ‘operations’ in Africa, released a PR, claiming – in contrast to the local media reports – that those killed were al-Shabaab militants. Local officials echoed their paymasters with slightly less severity, and insisted those killed were ‘extremists’.

The apparent deceit and spin went unquestioned by journalists. Conditioned by now to accept and repeat verbatim the abusive and deceptive language of the war on terror – ‘enhanced interrogation’ (torture), ‘precision air strikes’ (indiscriminate drone attacks), ‘militants’ (any military aged male in a ‘combat zone’) and we could go on – most African-based reporters do not have the time, editorial support or the security to cut through the bureaucracy and sheer military might that not only whitewashes, but enables what in ordinary reasonable parlance would be called mass murder.

Legislation in the name of counter-terrorism brings about more terror

This state of play has been entrenched by both local and US governments signing various counter-terrorism laws which in effect legalise the oppression of, and now, the killing of civilians. The most important of these laws was signed just two months after the entire nameless family we mentioned above was wiped out.

In October 2017, US President Donald Trump replaced the Obama rules pertaining to drone strikes with his own ‘rules’ called – clinically we might add –  the “Principles, Standards, and Procedures,” or PSPs (notice the language: the acronym slides easily over the tongue and brings to mind a computer game).

These laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “make it easier to kill more people in more places outside recognized battlefields, posing grave risks of death and injury to civilians”.

They do this by eliminating the requirement that a person must present a “continuing, imminent” threat to the United States before being targeted for killing.

There is also no more high-level vetting process required for each individual strike. This means strikes can be okayed by other, more trigger-happy (if this is possible) officials of lower rank. This also means there are fewer lines of command to follow in the event of deaths, less chance of objectivity, and less likelihood of accountability.

CAGE called out these laws even before they were formally ratified.

A more secretive approach and a cover for what could be war crimes

On top of the PSPs, the current US administration has also adopted a more secretive approach to drone strikes, denying requests for information or, in October 2017, simply halting the reporting of strikes to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism and other NGOs that document drone casualties.

Last month, the US Air Force, according to the Bureau, “ordered an overhaul of its public affairs operations aimed at preventing the release of information deemed sensitive”. This is all being done, naturally, for the sake of “practicing sound operational security”.

According to Defense News, the US said: “As we engage the public, we must avoid giving insights to our adversaries that could erode our military advantage.”

A quick pause here.

What ‘military advantage’ are we talking about? Why are we even repeating this heinous and deceptive language when whole families are being wiped out in the name of maintaining a so-called ‘military advantage’?

The whole thing is a cover.

Writes Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:

“Now, the Trump administration is killing people in multiple countries, with strikes taking place at a virtually unprecedented rate—in some countries, the number has doubled or tripled in Trump’s first year in office. The U.S. is conducting strikes in recognized wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, but also in operations governed by the secret rules whose public release our new lawsuit demands — those conducted outside “areas of active hostilities” in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere. Untold, officially unrecognized numbers of civilians have died and continue to die at increasing rates. Most strikes take place in majority-Muslim countries, and most of the civilians killed are brown or Black.”

Shamsi also points out that the countries in which drone attacks are most frequent, are those that are subject to the so-called ‘Muslim ban’. In other words, the US is preventing solace to those whose countries and lives it is destroying. It is like a cruel, petulant child incinerating ants in a honey jar.

This is nothing short of a form of mass torture. Just ask the parents of children who wake up screaming at night in terror at the sound of buzzing drones overhead.

Somalia is not alone. According to the Bureau, US drone strikes have doubled in Afghanistan and tripled in Yemen last year compared to the previous one.

There is an urgent need for respect and empathy

In reaction to the signing of the PSPs, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit to force the disclosure of these new laws so that they can be open for public scrutiny.

We laud this attempt to compel the Trump regime to come clean on just how broad and dangerous their new laws are to civilians, and to allow lawyers to challenge them.

But we also acknowledge that for people on the ground in countries like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan and now many others, legal challenges like these are little more than a game of the privileged.

Living in poverty and hunger wrought by a US-led ‘war’ and constantly being under the threat of death leads most people to a state of perpetual terror. As a result, for some, the lure of fighting back through violent groups will be too strong to resist.

Until we have a global acknowledgement at government level that all lives are equal and precious, and all countries have the right to govern themselves in a manner they see most fit for their people, we – the population of the world – will continue to witness ongoing and increasing cycles of violence.

And the West, in a deft move to maintain its power, will call this their war on ‘Islamist’ terror.

We call for an end to extrajudicial killings by drone or otherwise, in favour of a dialogue-based approach to end violence and full accountability for war crimes for all perpetrators of civilian deaths and terror. The people of Somalia and other countries around the world deserve nothing less.

 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)