Stop Unlawful Drone Strikes Update

Trump’s secret assassinations programme 

One year on from a disastrous operation in Yemen that left 10 children dead, we take a look at President Trump’s secret assassinations programme, its origins in the Bush and Obama administrations, and its horrifying escalation in the last year.   

It was approved by President Trump casually over dinner – a midnight raid and drone strike on the village of Yakla in Yemen. Concerns about the quality of the intelligence and legality of the operation would later prove to be warnings he should have heeded, but he gave the order anyway. What happened next left 10 children dead and was described by President Trump as a “win”. Reprieve’s investigations have revealed that it was anything but. Instead, we have uncovered violations of international law that led to an appalling loss of life.

23 innocent people were killed in Yakla, including 10 children aged 12 years and under, and an elderly man of 80. Even senior officials in the US administration have said the raid produced “no significant intelligence” and that “almost everything went wrong” on the night in question.

To understand what happened that night, we have to go back to a promise made by the Bush administration. Following the horrors of Guantanamo and the CIA’s programme of rendition and torture, the US decided to do away with the discomfort of detaining people. In an attempt to avoid scrutiny, legal accountability and international condemnation for its barbaric practices, the US decided it would resort to killing people – covertly – instead.

The targeted killing programme began. Drones circled villages in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia – watching, listening and killing. The programme grew exponentially under President Obama, and so did the death toll.

The US government compiled a ‘Kill List’ of suspected enemies, who are targeted for assassination. Following their tradition of using sinister euphemisms to conceal wrongdoing, it was named ‘the disposition matrix’.

Over 250 children have been killed in Pakistan and Yemen.

But the targeted killing programme turned out to be anything but targeted. The CIA’s own leaked documents concede that the US often does not know who it is killing, and that militant leaders’ account for just 2% of drone-related deaths. Over 250 children have been killed in Pakistan and Yemen.

The program requires no clear evidence that an attack will take place, due process is laid to waste and there is no scrutiny or accountability for US actions.

More than 80% of those killed have never even been identified by name. In numerous attempts to kill one individual, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults, while totally failing to assassinate their target. To get around the problem of civilian casualties, everyone in a strike zone was classified as a combatant.

Then Trump became president.

In his first year in office, President Trump has overseen a dramatic increase in drone strikes in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia – all countries against which the US is not officially engaged in a war.

The first year of the Trump administration has resulted in more loss of life from drone strikes than all eight years of Obama’s presidency.[1] Trump ripped up the limited safeguards President Obama put in place.This is now industrial-scale executions, hugely expanded in both scale and callousness, conducted with no regard for human life or human rights.

The first year of the Trump administration has resulted in more loss of life from drone strikes than all eight years of Obama’s presidency.

The international human rights law that governs the use of lethal force outside of armed conflict permits the use of lethal force only in very narrow circumstances; specifically, only where it is “strictly unavoidable” in order to defend against an “imminent threat of death.”

But Trump’s raids and strikes across the globe, exemplified by the disastrous operation in Yakla, follow a pattern of ill-considered and legally questionable operations.

The purpose of the raid in Yakla was initially reported as being to capture or kill a suspected terrorist leader. However, it quickly emerged that he was not in the village at the time. Then the story changed. The US indicated that the aim of the “highly successful” mission was, instead, to gather intelligence. Once again, it was a case of targeted killing missing the target and massacring civilians instead.

In the words of US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, this operation, carried out a year ago today,  was a “game changer”. He is right – now the world can see the scale and reckless brutality of the atrocities being committed by the Trump Administration as part of an ill-conceived, unchecked and never-ending “War on Terror”.