This roundup, curated by ReThink Media, looks at how the media is talking about drone warfare (and related topics) and what stories are being told.
With little transparency from governments on this topic, this roundup aims to be as comprehensive as possible, identifying breaking news, trends, developing stories, or interesting narratives. Rethink Media also use media coverage to compile a snapshot of strikes each week. The short version can be read here.
Trump’s Secret Rules for Drone Strikes
The Biden administration disclosed a set of rules former President Trump issued in 2017 for counterterrorism operations outside war zones. The disclosure comes as the current White House mulls whether to keep them in place. The operations covered under the rules include commando attacks and drone strikes. The release from the Biden administration shows that under the Trump-era rules, commanders were given the authority to launch attacks if there was “near certainty” no harm would come to civilians. Exceptions to those rules were also permitted “where necessary.”
Brett Max Kaufman, a senior staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U.’s Center for Democracy, portrayed the Trump-era rules as having “stripped down even the minimal safeguards President Obama established in his rules for lethal strikes outside recognized conflicts” and called on Mr. Biden to end “secretive and unaccountable use of lethal force.”
Thomas P Bossert, one of Trump’s top counterterrorism advisers who helped oversee interagency development of the rules in 2017, defended the policy and said it ‘should not be dismissed or replaced without careful consideration and an examination of the results it produced’. Mr. Bossert said he had unsuccessfully pushed then to declassify and make public its key parts. “I suggested relevant parts of the policy be declassified — from the outset,” he said. “My suggestion was not followed. Nevertheless, this debate and our core principles of valuing innocent life, while taking only the most evil, should always be open to the light of day.”
The Biden review and deliberations over a potential new direct-action policy were initially expected to last 60 days, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. But officials are now talking about extending them to six months, they said. The policy discussions, they said, were slowed by an effort to obtain reliable comparative data about civilian casualties from past strikes — and disputes over whether the military’s estimates were accurate. Claims of civilian casualties are often murky from strikes in remote and inaccessible regions.
Letta Tayler, associate director and counterterrorism lead with Human Rights Watch’s Crisis and Conflict Division, shared the Times reporting on Saturday with a tweet saying the deadly force rules document was “Not surprising but no less repugnant: Trump stripped down already minimal safeguards from U.S. targeted killings.” [NYT / Charlie Savage] [The Hill / Tal Axelrod] [Salon / Andrea Germanos] [CNN / Caroline Kelly]
COMMENTARY: “Trump easily did away with virtually all the policy constraints and scholarly debates. His rules glance at law, and lay bare how easily a president thinks it may be set aside in service of vague “national security interests.” It’s hard not to see these rules as a license to kill.” [Just Security / Hina Shamsi]
Report US drone policy
The Stimson Center released their annual report reflecting on the current status of US drone policy and the use of lethal force . Since 2013, the Stimson Center has researched the ways in which drone strikes facilitated the evolution of U.S. lethal engagements abroad, and analyzed the risks and challenges posed by the U.S. government’s dependence on armed drones and lethal airstrikes as principal tools for counterterrorism. This report builds on that body of work and examines the consequences of the United States’ permissive use of lethal force around the world – often exhibited by airstrikes. This report reflects on the current status of the U.S. program of lethal airstrikes outside war zones – or what the U.S. government refers to as “areas of active hostilities” – and critically examines the narratives used to rationalize U.S. lethal activities abroad and perpetuate America’s “endless wars.” The report concludes with a series of recommendations for advancing appropriate and responsible U.S. policies guiding the use of force and better aligning U.S. actions with U.S. principles in 2021 and beyond. [Stimson Center / Rachel Stohl and Shannon Dick]
President Biden touted his planned withdrawal from Afghanistan on Wednesday night during his first address to Congress, declaring that “American leadership means ending the forever war.” Still, Biden stressed the U.S. military would retain the ability to strike threats in Afghanistan from afar, pledging that “we will maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland.” As William Arkin explains in The Military Times, “one might think that America’s endless wars are finally starting to come to an end. And yet nothing could be further from the truth.” If you’re interested in getting more involved in the effort to reign in the drone war, World Beyond War let us know that they launched the Campaign to Ban Killer Drones.
In the skies above Somalia, the armed drones have gone quiet. Since Joe Biden’s inauguration in January, not a single U.S. air strike has been recorded in Somalia, a respite for a country where such attacks had become routine. [The Globe and Mail / Geoffrey York] COMMENTARY: “It raises a question the president didn’t answer: What about the other wars? The war in Afghanistan is not our only “forever war,” to use Biden’s favored phrase. It is the longest of Washington’s ongoing military interventions in the greater Middle East, but it is only one among many, and the logic of Biden’s speech, applied to those other conflicts, should lead to their conclusions, too.” [Military.com / Bonnie Kristian]
Recommended Reading: In Just Security, experts grade Biden’s progress towards a more responsible US arms trade policy and found that his words are not matching his actions. The Intercept examined President Biden’s 50-year record on US militarism, the CIA and executive power.
Border police wants a bite of burgeoning anti-drone industry [The Intercept / Ken Klippenstein and Alex Emmons]
Saudis destroy armed drone boat ‘targeting Red Sea ships’ [The Times UK / Richard Spencer]