Domestic drones and their unique dangers
AR Drone: almost certainly the world's first Wi-Fi enabled iPhone-controllable miniature flying device.The use of drones by domestic US law enforcement agencies is growing rapidly, both in terms of numbers and types of usage. As a result, civil liberties and privacy groups led by the ACLU - while accepting that domestic drones are inevitable - have been devoting increasing efforts to publicizing their unique dangers and agitating for statutory limits. These efforts are being impeded by those who mock the idea that domestic drones pose unique dangers (often the same people who mock concern over their usage on foreign soil). This dismissive posture is grounded not only in soft authoritarianism (a religious-type faith in the Goodness of US political leaders and state power generally) but also ignorance over current drone capabilities, the ways drones are now being developed and marketed for domestic use, and the activities of the increasingly powerful domestic drone lobby. So it's quite worthwhile to lay out the key under-discussed facts shaping this issue.
Dismissive claims that drones do nothing more than helicopters and satellites already do are wildly misinformed
I'm going to focus here most on domestic surveillance drones, but I want to say a few words about weaponized drones. The belief that weaponized drones won't be used on US soil is patently irrational. Of course they will be. It's not just likely but inevitable. Police departments are already speaking openly about how their drones "could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun." The drone industry has already developed and is now aggressively marketing precisely such weaponized drones for domestic law enforcement use. It likely won't be in the form that has received the most media attention: the type of large Predator or Reaper drones that shoot Hellfire missiles which destroy homes and cars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and multiple other countries aimed at Muslims (although US law enforcement agencies already possess Predator drones and have used them over US soil for surveillance).
Instead, as I detailed in a 2012 examination of the drone industry's own promotional materials and reports to their shareholders, domestic weaponized drones will be much smaller and cheaper, as well as more agile - but just as lethal. The nation's leading manufacturer of small "unmanned aircraft systems" (UAS), used both for surveillance and attack purposes, is AeroVironment, Inc. (AV). Its 2011 Annual Report filed with the SEC repeatedly emphasizes that its business strategy depends upon expanding its market from foreign wars to domestic usage including law enforcement:
AV's annual report added: "Initial likely non-military users of small UAS include public safety organizations such as law enforcement agencies. . . ." These domestic marketing efforts are intensifying with the perception that US spending on foreign wars will decrease. As a February, 2013 CBS News report noted, focusing on AV's surveillance drones:
Like many drone manufacturers, AV is now focused on drone products - such as the "Qube" - that are so small that they can be "transported in the trunk of a police vehicle or carried in a backpack" and assembled and deployed within a matter of minutes. One news report AV touts is headlined "Drone technology could be coming to a Police Department near you", which focuses on the Qube.
But another article prominently touted on AV's website describes the tiny UAS product dubbed the "Switchblade", which, says the article, is "the leading edge of what is likely to be the broader, even wholesale, weaponization of unmanned systems." The article creepily hails the Switchblade drone as "the ultimate assassin bug". That's because, as I wrote back in 2011, "it is controlled by the operator at the scene, and it worms its way around buildings and into small areas, sending its surveillance imagery to an i-Pad held by the operator, who can then direct the Switchblade to lunge toward and kill the target (hence the name) by exploding in his face." AV's website right now proudly touts a February, 2013 Defense News article describing how much the US Army loves the "Switchblade" and how it is preparing to purchase more. Time Magazine heralded this tiny drone weapon as "one of the best inventions of 2012", gushing: "the Switchblade drone can be carried into battle in a backpack. It's a kamikaze: the person controlling it uses a real-time video feed from the drone to crash it into a precise target - say, a sniper. Its tiny warhead detonates on impact."
What possible reason could someone identify as to why these small, portable weaponized UAS products will not imminently be used by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the US? They're designed to protect their users in dangerous situations and to enable a target to be more easily killed. Police agencies and the increasingly powerful drone industry will tout their utility in capturing and killing dangerous criminals and their ability to keep officers safe, and media reports will do the same. The handful of genuinely positive uses from drones will be endlessly touted to distract attention away from the dangers they pose.
One has to be incredibly naïve to think that these "assassin bugs" and other lethal drone products will not be widely used on US soil by an already para-militarized domestic police force. As Radley Balko's forthcoming book "Rise of the Warrior Cop" details, the primary trend in US law enforcement is what its title describes as "The Militarization of America's Police Forces". The history of domestic law enforcement particularly after 9/11 has been the importation of military techniques and weapons into domestic policing. It would be shocking if these weapons were not imminently used by domestic law enforcement agencies.
In contrast to weaponized drones, even the most naïve among us do not doubt the imminent proliferation of domestic surveillance drones. With little debate, they have already arrived. As the ACLU put it in their recent report: "US law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance." An LA Times article from last month reported that "federal authorities have stepped up efforts to license surveillance drones for law enforcement and other uses in US airspace" and that "the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, far more than were previously known." Moreover, the agency "has estimated 10,000 drones could be aloft five years later" and "local and state law enforcement agencies are expected to be among the largest customers."
Concerns about the proliferation of domestic surveillance drones are typically dismissed with the claim that they do nothing more than police helicopters and satellites already do. Such claims are completely misinformed. As the ACLU's 2011 comprehensive report on domestic drones explained: "Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life."
Multiple attributes of surveillance drones make them uniquely threatening. Because they are so cheap and getting cheaper, huge numbers of them can be deployed to create ubiquitous surveillance in a way that helicopters or satellites never could. How this works can already been seen in Afghanistan, where the US military has dubbed its drone surveillance system "the Gorgon Stare", named after the "mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them". That drone surveillance system is "able to scan an area the size of a small town" and "the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity". Boasted one US General: "Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."
The NSA already maintains ubiquitous surveillance of electronic communications, but the Surveillance State faces serious limits on its ability to replicate that for physical surveillance. Drones easily overcome those barriers. As the ACLU report put it:
I've spoken previously about why a ubiquitous Surveillance State ushers in unique and deeply harmful effects on human behavior and a nation's political culture and won't repeat that here (here's the video (also embedded below) and the transcript of one speech where I focus on how that works). Suffice to say, as the ACLU explains in its domestic drone report: "routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America" because only drone technology enables such omnipresent physical surveillance.
Beyond that, the tiny size of surveillance drones enables them to reach places that helicopters obviously cannot, and to do so without detection. They can remain in the sky, hovering over a single place, for up to 20 hours, a duration that is always increasing - obviously far more than manned helicopters can achieve. As AV's own report put it (see page 11), their hovering capability also means they can surveil a single spot for much longer than many military satellites, most of which move with the earth's rotation (the few satellites that remain fixed "operate nearly 25,000 miles from the surface of the earth, therefore limiting the bandwidth they can provide and requiring relatively larger, higher power ground stations"). In sum, surveillance drones enable a pervasive, stealth and constantly hovering Surveillance State that is now well beyond the technological and financial abilities of law enforcement agencies.
One significant reason why this proliferation of domestic drones has become so likely is the emergence of a powerful drone lobby. I detailed some of how that lobby is functioning here, so will simply note this passage from a recent report from the ACLU of Iowa on its attempts to persuade legislators to enact statutory limits on the use of domestic drones:
"Drones have their own trade group, the Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International, which includes some of the nation's leading aerospace companies. And Congress now has 'drone caucuses' in both the Senate and House."Howie Klein has been one of the few people focusing on the massive amounts of money from the drone industry now flowing into the coffers of key Congressional members from both parties in this "drone caucus". Suffice to say, there is an enormous profit to be made from exploiting the domestic drone market, and as usual, that factor is thus far driving the (basically nonexistent) political response to these threats.
What is most often ignored by drone proponents, or those who scoff at anti-drone activism, are the unique features of drones: the way they enable more warfare, more aggression, and more surveillance. Drones make war more likely precisely because they entail so little risk to the war-making country. Similarly, while the propensity of drones to kill innocent people receives the bulk of media attention, the way in which drones psychologically terrorize the population - simply by constantly hovering over them: unseen but heard - is usually ignored, because it's not happening in the US, so few people care (seethis AP report from yesterday on how the increasing use of drone attacks in Afghanistan is truly terrorizing local villagers). It remains to be seen how Americans will react to drones constantly hovering over their homes and their childrens' schools, though by that point, their presence will be so institutionalized that it will be likely be too late to stop.
Notably, this may be one area where an actual bipartisan/trans-partisan alliance can meaningfully emerge, as most advocates working on these issues with whom I've spoken say that libertarian-minded GOP state legislators have been as responsive as more left-wing Democratic ones in working to impose some limits. One bill now pending in Congress would prohibit the use of surveillance drones on US soil in the absence of a specific search warrant, and has bipartisan support.
Only the most authoritarian among us will be incapable of understanding the multiple dangers posed by a domestic drone regime (particularly when their party is in control of the government and they are incapable of perceiving threats from increased state police power). But the proliferation of domestic drones affords a real opportunity to forge an enduring coalition in defense of core privacy and other rights that transcends partisan allegiance, by working toward meaningful limits on their use. Making people aware of exactly what these unique threats are from a domestic drone regime is the key first step in constructing that coalition.
Harms from the Surveillance StateOne of the most difficult challenges in all discussions of privacy rights is articulating what most people instinctively already know: why privacy is so vital and why a ubiquitous Surveillance State is so destructive. Here is the speech I gave last year in Chicago in which I attempted to articulate those reasons:
الأحد، 31 مارس 2013
Israeli soldiers force nine-year-old to act as human shield
Mustafa Wahdan (9), forced to act as a human shield. (DCI-Palestine)
March 29, 2013
Israeli soldiers used nine-year-old Mustafa Wahdan as a human shield during confrontations with Palestinian demonstrators on 17 February, Defence for Children International-Palestine Section has reported. The soldiers forced the boy at gunpoint to walk among them to protect themselves from the anger of the protestors.
Mustafa testified that he was on his way home from his brother’s car-wash service, which is located about 300 meters from a checkpoint near Ofer, an Israeli prison in the West Bank, when clashes intensified. After he took shelter in a nearby store, Israeli soldiers rushed after him.
Mustafa was taken into custody and ordered to raise his hands behind his head. The soldiers allegedly used him as a human shield for several hours while firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at stone-throwing protestors, according to DCI-PS. All the time, one of the soldiers kept his rifle pointed at Mustafa’s back.
"Whenever they wanted to fire tear gas or shoot bullets at the protesters, they would take me with them. I was really scared that a stone might hit me or something," said Mustafa.
Mustafa was released after his father, Mohammad, arrived on the scene and pleaded with the soldiers for his son’s release. "At home, Mustafa was still very scared. He was silent and did not have his dinner. In the morning, my wife told me that Mustafa was shaking while he was sleeping. The following night, he wet himself," Mohammad Wahdan told DCI-PS.
The use of human shields is prohibited by international humanitarian law. Since 2004, DCI-Palestine has documented 20 cases of Palestinian children being used as human shields by Israeli forces. Nineteen of these cases occurred after 2005, the year the Israeli high court prohibited the practice under Israeli domestic law.
Settler injures nine-year-old boy in Hebron
Meanwhile, the video above shows images of another nine-year-old called Yassin, who was attacked recently by Israeli settlers. DCI-PS has reported that a settler pelted Yassin and his younger brother with rocks on 12 March after spotting them on the roof of their home in Hebron.
One stone hit Yassin near his eye and caused him to fall on the concrete below him. The same day, Yassin was admitted to hospital with a severely swollen face. Yassin’s younger brother was unharmed. Eyewitnesses described the perpetrator as a tall, bearded man in his thirties, who was crouching behind a plastic bin filled with stones on a nearby rooftop in the al-Qazazin neighborhood of Hebron’s old city.
According to Ayed Abu Eqtaish, DCI-PS’ accountability program director, a small, but extremely violent, settler presence in Hebron routinely torments the Palestinian residents, subjecting them to all forms of abuse and harassment. "This highly abnormal situation instills a deep-grounded fear in children who grow up witnessing settler attacks carried out with complete impunity."
Islam, a nine-year-old girl, was the target of settlers’ violence last month. On 13 February, a group of approximately six female settlers attacked the girl and her mother while they were standing on the sidewalk at Salfit junction close to Zaatara checkpoint near Nablus.
Islam and her mother tried to flee but the settlers chased them, pushing and knocking Islam’s mother to the ground. The February Violations Bulletin, published by DCI-PS notes:
As the settlers kicked her mother, Islam screamed and tried to push them away. Two more settlers soon arrived and shoved Islam against a fence. Then one of them grabbed her by the neck and choked her while the other slapped her in the face. She was then shoved to the ground."I was shaking because I was very scared and worried about my mother," said Islam. "I burst into tears." The settlers ran off as a Palestinian man approached to help. Israeli soldiers in military jeeps arrived shortly after and ushered the settlers back to Tappuah settlement.
DCI-PS has documented more than 100 cases of settler violence such as stone throwing, beatings, shootings and destruction of property since 2005.
The number of child detainees held by Israel is increasing, DCI-PS has found. In September last year, 189 Palestinian children were in detention. Although this figure dropped to 164 in October, it then began to climb again. In November, the number stood at 178, rising to 195 in December 2012 and to 223 in January this year.
A total of 236 Palestinian children were behind Israeli bars last month.
The scandalous underestimation of Iraqi civilian casualties
by Dirk Adriaensens
When considering the number of civilian casualties during the Iraq occupation 2003-2013, it would be a good idea to use the scientific studies of the Lancet, ORB or even BBC to estimate the number of victims of the Iraq war.
When considering the number of civilian casualties during the Iraq occupation 2003-2013, it would be a good idea to use the scientific studies of the Lancet, ORB or even BBC to estimate the number of victims of the Iraq war. We shouldn't use media related counts like IraqBodyCount or CostOfWar. This is very unfair towards the hundreds of thousands Iraqi victims of the Iraqi catastrophe. Every death of this illegal occupation should be remembered, not only the soldiers of the invading and occupying powers.
A study, published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, estimated that over 600,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the invasion as of July 2006. Iraqis have continued to be killed since then. Since the researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths were attributable to the U.S.-led invasion as of July 2006, it necessarily does not include Iraqis who have been killed since then. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/156 has updated this number both to provide a more relevant day-to-day estimate of the Iraqi dead and to emphasize that the human tragedy mounts each day this brutal war continues. Their counter stopped in 2010 at 1.455.590 civilian casualties.
The estimate that over a million Iraqis have died received independent confirmation from a prestigious British polling agency in January 2008. Opinion Research Business estimated that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 was 1,033,000.
CostofWar (http://costsofwar.org/article/iraqi-civilians) grossly underestimates the figures of direct deaths by using the IraqBodyCount figures. Robert Fisk already wrote on 27/08/2005 about the numbers of bodies that were brought to the morgue of Baghdad: "By comparison, equivalent figures for 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all less than 200 a month." That was before the invasion, at the height of the murderous sanctions. In 2003 the number was 70 a day, in 2004 800 every month. In July 2005 the number stood at 1.100 a month, and then the worst days of sectarian violence hadn’t started yet.
Please read with me: Disappearances missing persons
Baghdad morgue figures
As violence in the Iraqi capital continued to rise in 2006, the task of tracking down missing people had become a grim ordeal. Iraq's anemic investigative agencies have been ill-equipped to keep up with soaring crime, so for families seeking information, the morgues have often provided the only certainty. According to Baghdad’s central morgue Director Munjid al-Rezali on April 16, 2009, at least 30,000 unidentified bodies had been delivered to Baghdad's central morgue since sectarian violence surged in 2006, and only about a third had since been identified. "In 2006, there was an average of 3,000 bodies a month ... I call this a year of horror. The Baghdad morgue took in about 16,000 unidentified bodies in 2006 alone, the bulk of them victims of death squads and other sectarian violence, a source at the morgue said on 14 January 2007. "Ninety percent of the bodies received in 2006 were unidentified, compared with 50 percent in 2007 and 15 percent in 2008," said Dr. Munjid Salahuddin, the director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine on 25 October 2009. The United Nations, citing Health Ministry numbers, reported that 1,471 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad in September 2006 and 1,782 in October 2006.
The unidentified bodies of Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf
There are clues to count the number of unidentified bodies, such as the number of people buried at the main Shiite cemetery in the holy city of Najaf. A large percentage of the people buried there remain unidentified. But even there, the deaths are limited mostly to Shiites and include natural as well as violent causes, so they cannot be considered definitive. The director of the cemetery's statistics office, Ammar al-Ithari, said the number of burials jumped from just over 32,000 in 2004 and 2005 to nearly 50,000 in 2006 and 54,000 in 2007. It fell to nearly 40,000 last year, as violence declined. There are no statistics from before the war because records were destroyed in the fighting. An Iraqi witness told us: "I wonder if you know that the puppet government decided to bury a lot of unidentified bodies found in Baghdad in the Shia cemetery in Najaf (Dar al-Salam) just to give the impression that a lot of the killing was aimed at the Shia also when its militias were slaughtering Sunnis in Baghdad and its suburbs" Middle East Online reported on September 9, 2007 that since the US-led invasion of Iraq began, as many as 40,000 unidentified corpses had been buried in Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf, according to figures released by Ahmed Di’aibil, a Najaf governate spokesperson. All corpses are numbered and photographed and the location of burial is noted. Figures are recorded in a register in the hope that families will eventually be able to identify the bodies. Thousands more bodies may have been hastily buried in the deserts surrounding Najaf. Before the US invasion of Iraq, the volunteers buried up to 40 people every month. In the occupation's worst months, that figure increased 50-fold as volunteers buried an average of more than 2,000 anonymous occupation victims every month, CNN journalist Michael Ware reported on September 15, 2007. Already on September 17, 2003, Robert Fisk wrote: "In Baghdad, up to 70 corpses - of Iraqis killed by gunfire ‐ are brought to the mortuaries each day. In Najaf, for example, the cemetery authorities record the arrival of the bodies of up to 20 victims of violence a day," a 15-fold increase compared to pre-war levels. And the situation gradually worsened from 2003. It is worth mentioning that the buried bodies before the occupation were also from different parts of Iraq, because Shia used to bury their dead in Najaf as it is the holy place.
When we take all these figures into account, a simple calculation suffices to conclude that probably 80,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in the cemetery of Najaf since March 2003. And remember: bodies that are brought to the morgue, be they identified or unidentified, are mostly direct victims of violence.
Let's Count !
Let’s do a rough count of the bodies brought to the mortuary in Baghdad between 2003-2008 and the unidentified bodies buried in Najaf:
2003 – 17.100 (70x30-200x9) 2004 – 7.200 (800-200x12)
2005 – 10.800 (1.100-200 x 12) 2006 – 33.600 (3.000-200 x 12)
2007 - A report from IraqSlogger of August 2007 revealed that the U.S. presence in Baghdad during the "surge" had shown virtually no progress in stemming the gruesome sectarian death squads pervading the capital. Between June 18 and July 18, 2007, up to 592 unidentified bodies were found dumped in different parts of Baghdad. Most of the bodies found by the police - an average of 20 a day - were bound, blindfolded and shot execution style, victims of sectarian violence carried out by death squads. Many also bore signs of torture or mutilation. Despite official Iraqi and U.S. statements to the contrary, the reports indicated that the number of unidentified bodies in the capital had risen again to pre-surge levels in May and June 2007.
Let’s take for 2007 the same number as in 2005, OK?
2008 - UNAMI's Human Rights report for the period from January to June 2008 stated: "Large numbers of unidentified bodies were found in Diyala, Nineveh, Anbar and Diwaniyah and mainly in Baghdad. Many of these bodies bore signs of torture, some were blind‐folded and others were decapitated."
And maybe for 2008 we can take the number of 2004. Reasonable, no?
If we add these numbers, we count for the Baghdad morgue already..... 86.700 extra bodies that were brought to the morgue compared to pre-invasion levels. Then we add the 80,000 corpses of the cemetery in Najaf and the figure rises to 166,700 bodies. These figures do not include Fallujah, Basra, Mosul, Ramadi, Baquba, Al Qaim, Nassiriya, Kerbala, Haditha etc, and neither the victims of the bombing during the "surge".
Need I go on to show that a simple calculation shows that the figure of 120.000, 150.000 or 189,000 is completely ridiculous?
Further: Fallujah was not included in the cluster of the Lancet 2 study of 2006. In that case we would have seen even higher estimates.
Brown University's "Cost of War" Project garnered a fair amount of media attention this month by announcing that a new report had tallied 190,000 deaths, a significantly lower figure than 1.4 million. But there was no new report, no new research. There was just a paper by Brown professor Neta Crawford from a year-and-a-half ago in which she picked and chose what numbers to use from other sources. She said she was choosing not to use the Johns Hopkins (a.k.a. Lancet) studies or the Opinion Research Bureau study because they had not been updated and had been criticized. She chose instead to use Iraq Body Count, even while quoting an MIT professor pointing out that IBC admits its tally is probably half the size of actual deaths. What IBC means is that it is aware it is missing huge numbers of deaths; it has no basis for knowing how many. Even doubling IBC data, which would have produced 215,000 as of the 2010 paper Crawford quotes, leaves out combatants, and leaves out indirect or nonviolent deaths caused by war, and even leaves out civilians we know to have been counted by the U.S. government thanks to WikiLeaks. Crawford admits that, even adding up all these numbers may give a very low count. "Iraqi officials at the Ministry of Health," she notes, "may have been systematically encouraged to under-report deaths. One person who works at the Baghdad central morgue statistics office told National Public Radio that 'By orders of the minister's office, we cannot talk about the real numbers of deaths. This has been the case since 2004. . . . I would go home and look at the news. The minister would say 10 people got killed all over Iraq, while I had received in that day more then 50 dead bodies just in Baghdad. It's always been like that -- they would say one thing, but the reality was much worse.'" And so, given all those concerns, Crawford chose to stand by Iraq Body Count. After all, it doesn't get criticized.
INJURIES: How Many People Has the United States Wounded in Iraq?
Iraq Body Count estimates three people with injuries for every death. At that rate, 1.4 million deaths (thus far) would mean 4.2 million injured. That is a calculation that does not include every form of trauma or suffering; the Iraqi victims of mental trauma are almost certainly in the millions. Nor does the statistic include injuries to future generations in the form of birth defects - which have become so common in Fallujah.
(From David Swanson's report on 18 maart 2013: Iraq War Among World's Worst Events - Ever More Shocked, Never Yet Awed http://warisacrime.org/Iraq)
Please continue reading:
The Iraqi government has issued instructions to all security and health offices not to give out body count numbers to the media. Dozens of bodies are found every day across Baghdad. "We are not authorized to issue any numbers, but I can tell you that we are still receiving human bodies every day; the men have no identity on them," a doctor at the Baghdad morgue told IPS on February 19, 2008. Between 50 and 180 bodies were dumped on Baghdad's streets each day at the height of the killing, and many bore signs of torture, such as drill holes or cigarette burns. Political pressure to lower death toll On August 10, 2006 Reuters mentioned that Iraq's Health, Interior and Defence ministries consistently provided lower figures than those released by the morgue.
The Guardian reported on March 19, 2008: "There is no shortage of estimates, but they vary enormously. The Iraqi ministry of health initially tried to keep a count based on morgue records, but then stopped releasing figures under pressure from the US-‐supported government in the Green Zone. The director of the Baghdad morgue, already under stress because of the mounting horror of his work, was threatened with death on the grounds that by publishing statistics he was causing embarrassment. The families of the bereaved wanted him to tell the truth, but like other professionals he came to the view that he had to flee Iraq. Dr Salih Mahdi Motlab al-Hasanawi, the health minister appointed after the ministry's ban on releasing official morgue figures, said the survey was prompted by controversy over civilian casualties.
Media-based estimates miss 70-95% of all Iraqi deaths
The press and thus also IraqBodyCount use the twisted and downplayed figures released by the Quisling Iraqi government. Most journalists in the mainstream press keep on fixing the number of civilian casualties at around 120.000. IraqBodyCount does valuable work in collecting data of the deaths that are reported in the mainstream press. But their figures cannot serve as a scientific norm to establish a relevant estimate of Iraqi casualties.
Let’s give a few examples: Twenty thousand of Iraq’s 34,000 registered physicians left Iraq after the U.S. invasion. As of April 2009, fewer than 2,000 returned, the same as the number who were killed during the course of the war. Iraq bodycount has some 70 doctors in their database of casualties, which means that they have only listed 3,5% of the estimated number of killed physicians.
Iraq Bodycount has 108 academics listed in its database. The BRussells Tribunal has a partial list of 448 murdered academics, compiled from different sources. Although that list is very incomplete, Iraq Bodycount lists only 24% of the academic casualties reported by the BRussells Tribunal.
Perhaps the best monitored category of victims in this war are the media professionals. The BRussells Tribunal has a list of 354 killed media professionals. Al-Iraqiya director general Habib al-Sadr told AFP in September 2007 that at least 75 members of his staff have been killed since he took over the channel in 2005 and another 68 wounded. The BRussells Tribunal list of killed media professionals had at that moment less than 1/3rd of this number in its database. But the number of Iraq Bodycount stands at only 241 casualties.
Les Roberts, author of the two Lancet studies of Iraq mortality, defended himself on 20 September 2007 against allegations that his surveys were "deeply flawed": "A study of 13 war affected countries presented at a recent Harvard conference found over 80% of violent deaths in conflicts go unreported by the press and governments. City officials in the Iraqi city of Najaf were recently quoted on Middle East Online stating that 40,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in that city since the start of the conflict. When speaking to the Rotarians in a speech covered on C-SPAN on September 5th, H.E. Samir Sumaida’ie, the Iraqi Ambassador to the US, stated that there were 500,000 new widows in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton Commission similarly found that the Pentagon under-counted violent incidents by a factor of 10. Finally, the respected British polling firm ORB released the results of a poll estimating that 22% of households had lost a member to violence during the occupation of Iraq, equating to 1.2 million deaths. This finding roughly verifies a less precisely worded BBC poll last February that reported 17% of Iraqis had a household member who was a victim of violence. There are now two polls and three scientific surveys all suggesting the official figures and media-based estimates in Iraq have missed 70-95% of all deaths. The evidence suggests that the extent of under-reporting by the media is only increasing with time."
A memo by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, stated that: "The (Lancet) study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq."
In an e-mail, released by the British Foreign Office, in which an official asks about the Lancet report, the official writes: "However, the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones."
Medialens wrote on 03/10/2007:
Consider that a study of deaths in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996 by Patrick Ball et al at the University of California, Berkeley (1999) found that numbers of murders reported by the media in fact decreased as violence increased. Ball described the "problem of relying on the journalistic record" in evaluating numbers killed:
"When the level of violence increased dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, numbers of reported violations in the press stayed very low. In 1981, one of the worst years of state violence, the numbers fall towards zero. The press reported almost none of the rural violence." (Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer, 'State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-1996: A Quantitative Reflection’, 1999; http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ciidh/qr/english/chap7.html)
"Throughout the 1980 to 1983 period newspapers documented only a fraction of the killings and disappearances committed by the State. The maximum monthly value on the graph [see link above] is only 60 for a period when monthly extra-judicial murders regularly totaled in the thousands."
Ball explained that "the press stopped reporting the violence beginning in September 1980. Perhaps not coincidentally, the database lists seven murders of journalists in July and August of that year".
And here's Les Roberts again in March 2011, comparing the Wikileaks war logs with IraqBodyCount's figures:
The release which supposedly included over 391,000 classified DoD reports described violent events after 2003 including 109,000 deaths, the majority (66,000) being Iraqi civilians. At the time of the release, the most commonly cited figure for civilian casualties came from Iraqbodycount.org (IBC), a group based in England that compiles press and other descriptions of killings in Iraq. In late October, IBC estimated the civilian war death tally to be about 104,000. Virtually all authorities, including IBC themselves, acknowledge that this count must be incomplete, although the fraction missed is debated. The press coverage of the Iraq War Logs release tended to focus on the crude consistency between the number recorded by WikiLeaks, 66,000 since the start of 2004, and the roughly 104,000 recorded deaths from Iraqbodycount since March of 2003. The Washington Post even ran an editorial entitled, "WikiLeaks’s leaks mostly confirm earlier Iraq reporting" concluding that the Iraq War Log reports revealed nothing new.
A research team from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health released a report this week analyzing the amount of overlap between the 66,000 WikiLeaks reports and the previously known listing of IBC. The team developed a system for grading the likelihood that the WikiLeaks War Log record matched an entry in IBC, scoring the match between 0 (not a match) to 3 (very likely a match). The matching records were graded by at least two reviewers and then a third reviewer arbitrated any discrepancies. The conclusion? Only 19% of the WikiLeaks reports of civilian deaths had been previously recorded by IBC. With so little overlap between the two lists, it is almost certain that both tallies combined are missing the majority of civilian deaths, suggesting many hundreds of thousands have died.
The discussion about casualties is not over yet, but we can safely put forward the number of 1,5 million excess deaths caused by this war, most of them from violent causes. An archive of articles about the heated discussions in the press and blogs on civilian death counts during the US occupation can be found on the BRussells Tribunal website:http://www.brusselstribunal.org/Lancet111006.htm
Let me conclude with the words of Prof. Raymond Baker in his keynote speech at the International Seminar in Defense of Iraqi Academia in Ghent 9-11 March 2011:
There is something blinding about destruction on so terrible a scale. There is something just too painful about debating methods for calculating the number of slaughtered innocents when the figures almost immediately take us well beyond hundreds and hundreds of thousands of human souls. How many pages and pages of WikiLeaks reports of killings at checkpoints, unspeakable torture, random murders by unchecked contractors can one read with the revulsion for the occupiers and compassion for the victims they deserve. The mind closes down, or so it seems. That may be one of God’s mercies but it is one that should be resisted.
الخميس، 28 مارس 2013
Graphic new visualisation for CIA’s drone war in Pakistan
by Jack Serle
Pitch Interactive have visualised every CIA drone strike and every casualty in Pakistan.A new interactive graphic, which uses the Bureau’s drone data, has brought a fresh perspective to the CIA’s nine-year drone campaign in Pakistan.
A team of developers has pulled together every known drone strike and casualty from data provided by the Bureau and New America Foundation. This data has been represented in an interactive timeline which allows the viewer to see how the campaign builds over time, as well as the number of people killed.
Pitch Interactive, a California-based commercial web-development studio, has produced the interactive as part of a pro-bono programme.
The project, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, aims to capture the scale and human cost of the drone war in Pakistan through its visual representation of the CIA’s covert Pakistan drone war from the first event in 2004 to the latest strike.
Wesley Grubbs, who leads the team at Pitch Interactive, told the Bureau that the team set out 'to cause people to pause for a moment and say "Wow I’ve never seen this in that light before".’
The visualisation uses an average of the casualty data collected by the Bureau’s Covert Drone War project, combined with data collected by New America Foundation which tallies the number of high value targets reported killed in the strikes.
The CIA drone campaign in Pakistan has received much attention in recent months. The debate intensified after last month’s Senate confirmation hearing for new CIA director John Brennan, a leading architect of President Obama’s drone strategy.
Earlier this month Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, added to the debate after stating that Pakistan did not support the drone strikes. His statement was made following a visit to the country as part of a UN investigation into the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes. Emmerson also said CIA drones had killed 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians, according to Pakistan authorities.
But despite the public debate that has played-out over recent months, Grubbs believes the full scope and consequences of the drone war are still obscured. ’We feel that drone strikes are a very hot topic right now but we feel people are being misled,’ he said.
Click here for the interactive graphic.
In March and April, support the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project identifying those killed in drone strikes, through the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Click here to donate.
The racism that fuels the 'war on terror'
The Denver-born American, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, killed by a US drone strike in Yemen at the age of 16 Photograph: Facebook memorial pageA new Gallup poll released Monday morning has a surprising finding: a majorityof Americans - while supporting air strikes in foreign countries against foreign nationals suspected of Terrorism - oppose such air strikes when used to target US citizens who are suspected Terrorists, whether at home or on foreign soil:
March 25, 2013
A new Gallup poll finds a majority of Americans oppose the drone-executions of US citizens on foreign soil. Then why do they support the Awlaki killing?
The reason this is surprising is that when the US actually killed a US citizen on foreign soil on the grounds that he was a suspected Terrorist - Anwar al-Awlaki - large majorities approved. One poll at the time reported that "a large proportion of Americans believe the US Government made the correct decision in killing a US born Islamist militant in a drone strike last month" - specifically, that "69 per cent of respondents think the action taken by the US Government to kill Anwar al-Awlaki was justified" (that included 77% Republicans and 73% Democrats approving). Another poll at the time reported that Obama's approval ratings on national security increased eight points in the wake of the Awlaki killing. Meanwhile, Obama aides ran to Politico to boast that Awlaki's corpse would be a significant asset in Obama's re-election bid, leading to this Politico headline:
What can explain this obvious discrepancy? How can it be that a policy which a majority of Americans oppose (killing Americans on foreign soil on the grounds of suspected Terrorism) was so popular and politically beneficial for Obama when it was actually done to Awlaki? I'm not speaking here about those who support the US Government's right to kill US citizens on foreign soil without a trial: people who believe that and support the Awlaki execution are at least being consistent. I'm focusing here on how it can be that a majority of Americans say they oppose having Americans so targeted on foreign soil yet still support the Awlaki killing.
There are several possible factors explaining this discrepancy. It is probably easier to oppose such killings when considered in the abstract than it is when asked specifically about a person like Awlaki who had been subjected to such an intense government and media demonization campaign. It's also possible that intervening events between these polls - particularly the Rand Paul filibuster - created unprecedented media debate about the dangers of Obama's claimed assassination powers and caused people to re-think their wisdom (that was the ground cited by the ACLU's Laura Murphy when she praised Paul's protest: "As a result of Sen. Paul's historic filibuster, civil liberties got two wins: . . . Americans learned about the breathtakingly broad claims of executive authority undergirding the Obama administration's vast killing program").
But it seems clear there is a much more odious factor driving some of this. Many Americans can (a) say that they oppose the targeted killings of Americans on foreign soil while simultaneously (b) supporting the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen because, for them, the term "Americans" doesn't include people like Anwar al-Awlaki. "Americans" means their aunts and uncles, their nice neighbors down the street, and anyone else who looks like them, who looks and seems "American". They don't think those people - Americans - should be killed without charges by the US government if they travel on vacation to Paris or go to study for a semester in London. But the concept of "Americans" most definitely does not include people with foreign and Muslim-ish names like "Anwar al-Awlaki" who wear the white robes of a Muslim imam and spend time in a place like Yemen.
Legally - which is the only way that matters for this question - the New-Mexico-born Awlaki was every bit as much of an American citizen as the nice couple down the street. His citizenship was never legally revoked. He never formally renounced it. He was never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime that could lead to the revocation of citizenship. No court ever considered revoking his citizenship, let alone did so. From a legal and constitutional perspective, there was not a single person "more American" than he. That's because those gradations of citizenship do not exist. One is either an American citizen or one is not. There is no such thing as "more American" or "less American", nor can one's citizenship be revoked by presidential decree. This does not exist.
But the effort to depict Muslims as something other than "real Americans" has long been a centerpiece of the US political climate in the era of the War on Terror. When it was first revealed in 2005 that the Bush administration was spying on the communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, a Bush White House spokesman sought to assure everyonethat this wasn't targeting Real Americans, but only those Bad Ones that should be surveilled (meaning Muslims the Bush administration decided, without due process, were guilty):
"This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches."Identically, when the Israelis attacked the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 and killed 9 people including the US-born teenager Furkan Dogan, some conservatives insisted that he was not a Real American because his parents were Turkish and he grew up in Turkey ("it is silly to call him an 'American of Turkish descent'. He, like the other members of his family, was a Turk"). Thestark contrast in reactions between the sustained fury of the Turkish government over the killing of their citizens by the Israelis versus the support for those killings given by the US government was accounted for in part by the blind US support for whatever Israel does (including killing Americans), but also by the belief that Dogan wasn't really an American, not the Real Kind you get upset about when a foreign army kills them.
This decade-long Othering of Muslims - a process necessary to sustain public support for their continuous killing, imprisonment, and various forms of rights abridgments - has taken its toll. I'm most certainly not suggesting that anyone who supports Awlaki's killing is driven by racism or anti-Muslim bigotry. I am suggesting that the belief that Muslims are somehow less American, or even less human, is widespread, and is a substantial factor in explaining the discrepancy I began by identifying.
Does anyone doubt that if Obama's bombs were killing nice white British teeangers or smiling blond Swiss infants - rather than unnamed Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Somalis - that the reaction to this sustained killing would be drastically different? Does anyone doubt that if his overhead buzzingdrones were terrorizing Western European nations rather than predominantly Muslim ones, the horror of them would be much easier to grasp?
Does it really take any debate to know that if the 16-year-old American suspiciously killed by the US government two weeks after killing his father had been Jimmy Martin in Sweden rather than Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen, the media interest and public outcry would be far more substantial, and Robert Gibbs would have been widely scorned if he had offered this vile blame-the-victim justification for killing Jimmy rather than Abdulrahman? It is indisputably true that - just as conservatives argued that Furkan Dogan was not a Real American - large numbers of Americans believe the same about the Denver-born teenager named Abdulrahman. This ugly mindset is not the only factor that leads the US public to support more than a decade of US killing and rights abridgments aimed primarily at Muslims, including their fellow citizens, but it is certainly a significant one.
Amazingly, some Democratic partisans, in order to belittle these injustices, like to claim that only those who enjoy the luxury of racial and socioeconomic privilege would care so much about these issues. That claim is supremely ironic. It reverses reality. That type of privilege is not what leads one to care about and work against these injustices. To the contrary, it's exactly that privilege that causes one to dismiss concerns over these injustices and mock and scorn those who work against them. The people who insist that these abuses are insignificant and get too much attention are not the ones affected by them, because they're not Muslim, and thus do not care.
The perception that the state violence, rights abridgments and expansions of government power ushered in by the War on Terror affect only Muslims long ago stopped being true. But ensuring that people continue to believe that is the key reason why it has been permitted to continue for so long.
Domestic surveillance aimed at MuslimsThe New Jersey Star Ledger this morning has an excellent interview with CUNY Professor Diala Shamas, who just co-authored a new report on the devastating impact of the NYPD's shockingly invasive and indsicriminate surveillance program aimed at Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey. She documents in particular how this type of surveillance, aimed at innocent Muslims, creates an intense climate of fear and chills political speech. Would anyone tolerate having such sweeping surveillance programs infiltrating Jewish or Christian communities in the US? I once asked this question of leading New York Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, who supports the NYPD program, and she refused to answer). But the answer is obvious: of course not. That is the point.
UPDATEThe ACLU's Jameel Jaffer perfectly summarizes the point I am making from those polls:
Creating Terror in North Africa
by Jacob Mundy
by Jacob Mundy
This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.
"Did the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership find terrorism in the Sahara or did it help make it?"
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies." – Osama Bin Laden, October 2004
Scenes of a hostage crisis at a natural gas installation in eastern Algeria likely came as a shock to many longtime observers of the region. During the last two decades of armed violence in Algeria, very rarely did Islamists groups attack energy infrastructure, and almost never in the Sahara. Yet the ease with which it seems that a small group of Algerian and internationalist fighters were able to seize the energy facilities in In Amenas raises several difficult questions. Why has the Achilles heel of the Algerian state never been targeted by groups allegedly bent on its overthrow? Groups, that is, who seem to have absolute freedom of movement across vast stretches of the Sahara, picking and choosing targets at will?
Embarrassment, however, is not Algiers’ alone. The prolonged crisis in Mali, which has finally been subjected to a long intimated French intervention, points towards a more disturbing complex of factors driving the transnational destabilization of the Sahara-Sahel. Attempts to historicize current events in the region have often pointed to the coup in Mali, the flood of arms unleashed during the 2011 Libyan civil war, the presence of an Al-Qaida franchise (AQIM, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghrib), and the cycles of Tuareg rebellion since the end of French colonialism.
"A disturbing complex of factors is driving the transnational destabilization of the Sahara-Sahel."
What has often been missing from these conversations is an appreciation of the US role in the destabilization of the region. Mali, after all, was the centerpiece of US counterterrorism doctrine in the Sahara-Sahel under the Obama administration and his predecessor. As has been noted by many commentators, the coup leaders had been the recipients of US military training and Azawad separatists easily confiscated military equipment supplied to Mali in the name of countering terrorism. But the processes by which US efforts to stabilize the Sahara-Sahel region have actually resulted in its profound destabilization are much longer in the making. These processes are simple to understand and not uncommon in the world of counterterrorism. That is to say, counterterrorism doctrines seem to have an amazing ability to produce, and then reproduce, the conditions of its own necessity.
It is one thing to say that the current crisis in the Sahara has been deliberately engineered, as that begs the questions "By whom?" and "For what purpose?" That is not what is being suggested here. The processes by which we have arrived at France’s intervention in Mali and the attack in In Amenas, I believe, lack coherence or a unitary logic. These processes can nonetheless be accounted for within a framework that seeks to appreciate the hegemony of US power in global affairs, a hegemony that is inefficient and obtuse but is nonetheless built upon a structure of historically and globally unrivaled capacities to appropriate and mobilize political, financial and military power.
"Counterterrorism doctrines seem to have an amazing ability to produce, and then reproduce, the conditions of its own necessity."
Here are some analogies. Scholars working on the problem of persistent and protracted famines, notably in Africa’s Sahel (though more historical cases bear mention), have long recognized that mass starvation is not always intended but there are nonetheless benefits to be reaped. The process here is not unlike the one identified in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. In its more abstract form, the basic proposition is quite simple: those who are best able to manage — and thus benefit from — the chaos of catastrophic situations are often those who made the catastrophe possible in the first place, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes serendipitously, and sometimes deliberately. Yes, it is a conspiracy theory. But it is a conspiracy in which the world’s most pervasive and powerful ideology is in the driver’s seat (for Klein, Neoclassical Economics and Neoliberal governance). We do not need a bunch of smoking men in a dimly lit room in the Pentagon to make sense of the world.
Like capitalism, terrorism — that is, late counterterrorism doctrine — has had a similar propensity to manufacture the conditions of its own necessity. In the world of (counter)terrorism studies, Joseba Zulaika has stood out as one of the few scholars to recognize and warn against the dangers of this pathology. Adam Curtis’ documentary, vividly narrates the ways in which Al-Qaida and the US Neoconservative movement had, for decades, been mutually constituting each other through their blind dedication to ideology and a politics of fear. Lisa Stampnitzky’s forthcoming DiscipliningTerror: How Experts Invented "Terrorism" promises to be the definitive account of how terrorism has been more made than found.
In the Sahara-Sahel, a similar pattern has emerged, albeit constrained by local specificities. In other words, US counterterrorism doctrine has helped make the conflict we see today possible. Invention is the mother of necessity.
"Either the Pentagon was extremely prescient or something else is going on here."
To better understand what is going on in the central Sahara and the western Sahel today, one has to first look at the ways in which US counterterrorism doctrine in the region has understood itself. At the ideational level, US securitization — or rather terrorization — of the Sahara-Sahel is rooted in the problematization of 9/11 style terrorism as a confluence of vast spaces allotted to weak governments where radical ideologies can stage global war. That is, the safe haven myth. Early US initiatives were not premised on the existence of terrorism in the Sahara, but rather on an imaginative cartography of anticipation.
Roughly three months before the GSPC shocked the world by abducting several dozen European tourists in Algeria in early 2003, the US government was already implementing the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI). The language of this counterterrorism program is drenched in the rhetoric of empty spaces, porous borders, and suspect mobilities. Nearly three years into these initiatives, the International Crisis Group, well known for its on the ground research, was still asking the basic question Is there even a threat here? Contrary to this critique, journalists like Robert Kaplan and Joshua Hammer, who were allowed to report on US Special Forces training programs in the Niger and Mali, respectively, were quick to note the uncharacteristically preventative nature of these programs.
The symmetry between the anticipatory cartography driving these preventative programs in the early 2000s and the now extant conflicts that materially populate Africa’s "arc of instability" is startling. The Pentagon has postulated many arcs of instability across the globe, but across the Sahara an arc of instability has been said to run 4,000 miles from Somalia through the Sahel to the central Sahara. This arc was imagined early in the war on terror, when there were only vague indications that the GSPC was operating in the Algerian desert. Now experts debate whether or not there are "operational" linkages between several groups that did not even exist before military planners in Washington constellated this arc — that is, between Al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, and AQIM in the central Sahara. Either the Pentagon was extremely prescient or something else is going on here.
"Al-Qaida and the US Neoconservative movement had, for decades, been mutually constituting each other."
For its part, the Obama administration has done little to change his predecessor’s Saharan initiatives. Late in the George W. Bush administration, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), citing key deficiencies in its implementation. Yet if one scrolls through the GAO’s list of recommendations to the State Department (which leads the "partnership") and the Department of Defense (which gets most of the money), all say "Closed – Not implemented." According to the GAO, the TSCTP — five months into the 2012 Mali crisis — was still largely running on documents created in 2005. Yet the beauty of US counterterrorism doctrine’s self-understanding is the extent to which abject failure (e.g., Mali today) is also a key rationale for more of the same (e.g., new drone base in Niger. The now demonstrated power of armed Jihadi groups in the Sahara-Sahel will not force a rethink of US counterterrorism in the region; it will likely constitute a key argument to justify the amplification of Africom’s budget.
What US counterterrorism doctrine in the Sahara-Sahel is unable to account for is its participation in the imaginative and material elaboration of the very conditions that have led to the crisis we see today. Did the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership find terrorism in the Sahara or did it help make it? A good place to start looking for an answer is to trace the effects these initiatives have had on the region’s political economy. A number of competing and evolving factors likely affect the forces that are now driving armed conflict in the region, but central to the recent "radicalization" of Tuareg and Arab communities in the western and central Sahara is the loss of tourism revenue. The loss of wholesale tourism witnessed in the movement of the Paris-Dakar Rally to South America is but an indicator of the loss of smaller scale tourism across the region, a loss that has hit Tuareg and Arab communities especially hard. The counterterrorism policies of the United States did nothing to address this flight of tourism and, in many ways, they exacerbated it by insinuating a threat that had yet to take significant material form.
"US counterterrorism policy has allied itself and worked through regimes that have historically seen indigenous Saharan populations as threats."
Furthermore, in working closely with the governments in Bamako and Niamey (capitals gerrymandered by French colonialism to rule over far off Saharan populations), the US government was arming and training militaries that the Tuaregs have been fighting since the 1960s. Morocco, another key US partner in the region, has been at war with Arab Sahrawi nationalists since 1975. Thus it should come as little surprise that Rabat has been very keen to promote the arc of instability idea too, such that the western tip of the arc conveniently lands at the headquarters of the Frente POLISARIO, the Western Sahara independence movement based near Tindouf, Algeria. Washington’s support for the new revolutionary regime in Tripoli is also likely to exacerbate a disturbing native/settler discourse in contemporary Libya. Northern Arab and Berber revolutionaries are portraying supposedly darker skinned populations (Tawergha, Tebu, and Tuareg) not only as Gaddafi loyalists to be mistrusted and imprisoned, but also as non-indigenous populations to be denied citizenship and expelled, by force if needed.
A more thoughtful approach to Saharan-Sahelian security might begin with the simple acknowledgement that the core stakeholders should be, first and foremost, the people who live there, not the corrupt politicians who claim to rule there. Yet US counterterrorism policy has allied itself and worked through regimes that have historically seen indigenous Saharan populations as threats to their access to the wealth of the Sahara. These are conflicts that predate 9/11 by decades.
There is also an important knock-on effect of US securitization/terrorization of Saharan life and mobility. This is the loss of any incentive for the Sahelian and Saharan governments or local communities to combat smuggling, or at least keep the routes far away from tourism sites. Shifts in global narcotics flows also help to account for the recent transformations in the Saharan livelihoods, from one dependent on foreign travelers to one increasingly dependent on trafficking human and goods. Compounding the issues at the micro level, the region as a whole is being acutely affected by global warming, which has likely contributed to increased frequency of crop failures and famines along the Sahel. Moreover, the global food price index has not significantly abated since peaking with the outbreak the Arab Spring in early 2011. And so what little food is available remains dangerously expensive.
Life in the Sahara and Sahel is not essentially precarious. As we know from Judith Butler, the life is made precariousness by our politics. Life in the Sahara-Sahel has been recently produced as extremely precarious by forces largely beyond the control of the people who live there. One of the most potent forces is US counterterrorism doctrine. After a decade of US counterterrorism initiatives in the Sahara-Sahel, the greatest achievement of these programs (to which we can now add the US Africa Command) is in having made their warrant real and durable.
Jacob Mundy is an Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he also teaches African and Middle East studies. He is the coauthor (with Stephen Zunes) of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution and coeditor (with Daniel Monk) of the forthcoming The Post-conflict Environment. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Kent State conference 'Humanitarian Dilemmas: Debating Interventions in Africa and the Middle East’ in April 2012.