Drones: Why we should question White House statement on droning of western hostages

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US drone victims Dr Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto (image, Sky)

The White House has just released the following statement on the killing of American hostages Dr Warren Weinstein held by al Qaida since 2011 and Giovanni Lo Porto an Italian national held by al Qaida since 2012. I will follow by arguing why we should question the statement.

Statement by the Press Secretary (White House)

“It is with tremendous sorrow that we recently concluded that a U.S. Government counterterrorism operation in January killed two innocent hostages held by al-Qa’ida.  Our hearts go out to the families of Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held by al-Qa’ida since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national who had been an al-Qa’ida hostage since 2012.  Analysis of all available information has led the Intelligence Community to judge with high confidence that the operation accidentally killed both hostages.  The operation targeted an al-Qa’ida-associated compound, where we had no reason to believe either hostage was present, located in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy.

We also believe two other Americans were recently killed in U.S. Government counterterrorism operations in the same region.  We have concluded that Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al-Qa’ida leader, was killed in the same operation that resulted in the deaths of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto.  We have also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent member of al-Qa’ida, was killed in January, likely in a separate U.S. Government counterterrorism operation.  While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qa’ida members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations.

The President directed that the information being shared today, which was properly classified until now, be declassified and shared with the American people.  He takes full responsibility for these operations and believes it is important to provide the American people with as much information as possible about our counterterrorism operations, particularly when they take the lives of fellow citizens.  The uniquely tragic nature of the operation that resulted in the deaths of two innocent hostages is something we will do our utmost to ensure is not repeated.  To this end, although the operation was lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies, we are conducting a thorough independent review to understand fully what happened and how we can prevent this type of tragic incident in the future.

Many within our government spent years attempting to locate and free Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto.  The pain of their deaths will remain with us as we rededicate ourselves to adhering to the most exacting standards in doing all we can to protect the American people.”

End

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What are the issues arising from press release?

We should not assume because the White House releases a statement it is automatically correct and truthful… let us not forget the lies of “Tricky Dicky” Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, “I am not a crook” said Nixon on Nov. 17, 1973… and look how that turned out.

It is easy to write off the drone killing of Weinstein and Lo Porto as “collateral damage” in the “fog of war” but where is the independent investigation? Back in January 2014, I became concerned that the US might be trying to drone US hostage, Private Bowe Bergdahl held captive for 5 years after going missing from his base in Afghanistan. I received word from the Taliban that he was still alive and in Pakistan. This is what I wrote at that time after talking with a local journalist who alleged that Bergdahl was almost killed in drone strikes and bombings and gave me the following quote,

“an airstrike was launched to bomb the area where he (Bergdahl) was kept. To kill them all…. His captors died and surprisingly Bowe survived. He ran away but could not track the path to break lose and after 3 to 4 days of wandering in plains and jungle he was caught again by Taliban…. So, he is still there .. bad luck for him. His (alleged) captor was Mullah Sangeen Zadran who was killed in a drone strike around 2 months back.”

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I then wrote,

“The following article by Rob Crilly, Telegraph details the drone strike which killed Zadran in September 3013

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10291144/Pakistan-Drones-kill-senior-militant-commander-who-appeared-in-video-with-kidnapped-US-soldier.html

I understand that Bergdahl is being treated humanely as a prisoner of war according to Geneva Convention and was informed by Taliban a few months ago that he is well and in a “safe house”. The question I feel compelled to ask however is, did US intend to take out Bergdahl through a drone strike as they have done with so many others? Let’s face it, his capture remains an embarrassment to the US government and they have repeatedly stated they don’t negotiate with “terrorists”. Droning Bergdahl may be seen by US as a solution to the problem…

Bergdahl is allegedly moved around for safety between groups. activists call on the US to cease drone strikes that are killing Pakistanis and putting an American citizen at risk also. The US which is viewed by many around the world to be a “terrorist state” must surely now drop its hypocrisy and at this crucial time rethink its stance on prisoner exchange.”

See following link,

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/2014-activists-and-afghan-taliban-slate-guantanamo-and-did-us-attempt-to-drone-bowe-bergdahl/

End

Part of my reason for writing this article was to alert the public that I believed Bowe was still alive and was afraid that droning him might be an easy way out for the US to avoid negotiations… it was essential those close to Bowe (with whom I was in contact) and I re-energized the campaign for peaceful prisoner exchange (Bowe for Taliban) which would hopefully save lives.

The exchange was seen as controversial and not without criticism. The US still had Weinstein to consider along with Lo Porto… would they want to go through more prisoner exchange and challenges when an “accidental” drone strike would be another way out saying money and avoiding casualties sending in special forces to rescue hostages? As the New York Times reported on Yemen hostage situation back in December 2014,

“hostages — Luke Somers, an American photojournalist, and Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher — were killed by their captors, militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, when they realized the rescue effort was underway. President Obama said he had authorized the operation, led by about three dozen Navy SEAL Team 6 commandos, after concluding that Mr. Somers’s life was in ‘imminent danger’”

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Adam Gadahn killed in drone strike though not “specifically targeted”

There were two other Americans affiliated with al-Qaida who were also killed in US counter-terrorism operations involving drones, Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn. As the White House stated, these men were not “specifically targeted” yet they were killed. Farouq had been a leader of al Qaeda’s branch in India whilst Gadahn appeared on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists and was indicted on charges of providing material support to Al Qaeda.

The White House is now aiming to be seen as “open” and “caring” providing the public with information on these drone strikes as a gesture of “democracy” and goodwill… but is it? Weinstein and LoPorto are westerners said to have been involved in aid work and it would be hard not to mention those killed alongside them or in the near vicinity but what about the hundreds of non-white Muslim civilian victims? Where is the inquiry into these deaths by drone… do their lives not matter? Is this the message from the White House?

Human rights group Reprieve gave the following statement, 

“Commenting on today’s news that a US drone mistakenly killed two hostages, an Italian and an American, in a January strike, Reprieve US attorney Alka Pradhan, who represents other civilian victims of drone attacks, said:

“It’s right that the White House has come clean and admitted its tragic mistake in killing these hostages, and our hearts go out to their families.

“It’s worth remembering, however, that Dr. Weinstein and Mr Lo Porto are far from the first innocents to die by our drones, and in no other case has the US apologized for its mistake.

“The White House is setting a dangerous precedent – that if you are Western and hit by accident we’ll say we are sorry, but we’ll put up a stone wall of silence if you are a Yemeni or Pakistani civilian who lost an innocent loved one. Inconsistencies like this are seen around the world as hypocritical, and do the United States’ image real harm.  

“Greater transparency is just the start of what we need: we also need a fundamental reassessment of whether the secret drone war does more harm than good.”

End

It appears the US may now pay compensation to Weinstein and Lo Porto… will US now pay compensation to other victims of drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere?

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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