America’s Secret Wars: A Failure of Transparency That Puts National Security at Risk

Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest Standard we can set.” – Former U.S. President Barrack Obama, May 23, 2013

Three drone strike accounts are included in the report prepared by NYU and Stanford University entitled, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan.”

    1. March 17, 2011, an American drone strike was conducted in the town of Datta Khel. At approximately 10:45 a.m., a missile was fired into a Jirga, which is analogous to a city council, and forty-two people were killed. Twenty-one of those killed were later confirmed, by name, as innocent civilians. Nearly all those killed were heads of households and village leaders. Despite this fact, official reports from the government maintained that all those killed were insurgents. However, according to the Stanford/NYU report, the government’s story was contradicted by the Pakistani military, the Associated Press, interviews with attorneys, and the testimony of 9 witnesses.
    2. June 15, 2011, in North Waziristan, a drone strike was launched against a car driving the road between Miranshah and Sirkot. According to an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, five innocent civilians were found killed, each identified and described by family members.
  1. January 23, 2009, two houses were targeted in North Waziristan. While the official narrative claimed that ten insurgents had been killed in the strike, other reports surfaced claiming that four civilians had been killed, some of whom were children. Other citizens were reported to have been severely injured by the attack, including a fourteen-year-old boy who lost his eye.

The detailed report prepared by NYU and Stanford University goes into thorough analysis and detail not only of the civilian deaths affiliated with Drone Strikes, but with such things as their negative psychological and economic effects, their inefficacy with respect to maintaining national security, and finally how they undermine international laws and set dangerous precedents.

The report concludes:

A significant rethinking of current U.S. targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. U.S. policymakers and the American public cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counterproductive impacts of U.S. targeted killing.”

Essentially, drone strikes have proven to be inefficient


at killing the right people, and as the wrong people are killed, resentment is fomented in the hearts of the families who have lost loved ones to unjust warfare. This radicalizes them against the United States and causes us to create enemies as fast, or faster, then we can eliminate them.

It is important to keep in mind that these facts come from only one report, and furthermore that these facts are related, primarily, to drone strikes. If we begin to take into account the entire spectrum of American Special and Kinetic operations, the picture becomes even more disturbing.

For example, the assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011. Awlaki was killed by his own government without due process of law. Weeks later his fourteen-year-old American son, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, was also killed, without explanation. Finally, as one of President Trump’s first foreign military orders, Nawar al-Awlaki was killed in an American raid in Yemen. She was the eight-year-old sister of Abdulrahman.

One of the more disturbing cases is the brutal slaughter that took place at the village of Al-Majalah, Yemen. Forty-two innocent civilians were killed by a United States airstrike: twenty-one of them children, twelve of them women. Eventually, it was determined that America used cluster munitions during this attack. These munitions are known to turn human bodies into shredded meat and are considered by many countries to be inhumane. It should also be noted that Al-Majalah was outside of any declared war-zone.

Finally, there is the Gardez Massacre –

a JSOC night raid that resulted in seven innocent civilians being gunned down, two of those killed were women. One witness described how the American forces returned and tried to cut the bullets out of the women’s bodies in order to cover up their criminal activity.

The little evidence that is available suggests that special operations abuses are much more frequent and horrific than the government claims. As can be seen in the NYU/Stanford report, there is often significant discrepancies between the U.S. Government’s official narrative regarding anti-terror operations and the eyewitness accounts of those who were actually there. In short, evidence suggests that the government is misleading the public with regard to the civilian suffering caused by U.S. special military operations.

This brings us to the final point of transparency.


If the government has been misleading the public about the previously mentioned abuses, then it is reasonable to assume that other abuses have been distorted or covered up as well. Therefore, in the name of checks and balances, there needs to be a fuller, more rigorous, and honest disclosure of the true negative effects of United States Special Operations, and an expansion of tougher oversight.

This is something that should be demanded of the new Trump administration. Especially given the transparency issues of the Obama administration. The public needs a more substantial understanding of what is being done in its name militarily, and if every mistake and abuse committed by the government is deemed classified, and concealed from the public, the people will continue to operate without the necessary information.

The United States Government needs to stop hiding behind the State Secrets Privilege, and honestly, appraise the American citizens of the negative aspects of its secretive global war. President Trump, in order to truly improve American foreign policy, must correct the Obama administration’s mistakes regarding transparency. So far, he has made no effort to do so and claiming that the media is the enemy only indicates he will fail more significantly than Obama with regard to transparency.

[By Lance Cheung, USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

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