Throughout the intensely secretive drone campaign the CIA under the Obama administration has undertaken over the last several years, high level government officials including President Barack Obama himself have gone to great lengths to assure everyone that not only are drone strikes used as a last resort, but only on high level Al-Qaeda targets that pose an imminent threat to the security of the United States. However, according to a recent report put out by McClatchy Newspapers, this has not been the case in numerous instances.
According to the report, which analyzed top-secret CIA documents, over half of the targets (not collateral deaths) between September 2010 and September 2011 were assessed before they were killed as unknown Afghan, Pakistani, or other extremists. During this period, only six top Al Qaida members were killed. Additionally, around half of the drone strikes during that period purposefully targeted groups other than Al-Qaeda, many of which did not exist before September 11, 2001.
The report also confirms that the CIA has targeted individuals merely suspected of association with various militant groups.
While this is not the first overview of casualties of the drone war that has demonstrated Obama's dubious adherence to his own (rather lax) standards, it is the first report based solely on top-secret internal U.S. intelligence reports. The problem is not that faulty intelligence has lead to the deaths of numerous "unknowns" or "unidentified" militants, but rather that these deaths were premeditated and purposeful, despite a lack of evidence implicating the targets in a crime.
During an interview in September 2012, President Obama, referring to targets of drone strikes, said "It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative."
He is not doing a very good job of following his own advice.
These new revelations, which corroborate much speculation that has been reported in the New York Times and other media outlets, should not be that surprising. The executive branch has given itself sweeping powers of global execution without any oversight, and it is only natural that it has continually and systematically increased those powers.
The Department of Justice has cited the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter to Self-Defense as justification for the drone strikes. However, both documents require that drone targets be Al-Qaeda members (the only group that has attacked the U.S. within its sovereign territory) that pose an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. Clearly this has not been the case, and every strike the CIA makes against non-Al-Qaeda members is not only illegal under international law, but under the Obama administration's own law and regulations.