National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition
Position Paper on Drones targeting American citizens:
Ever since “UBL died” and “Obama lied”, this administration has had a record of smoke and mirrors unrivaled in the annals of American political history. The latest is the “wise” and “legal” and “ethical” drone strikes on Americans and others associated with Al Qaeda and its “associates.”
The Coalition has examined the sixteen page document “leaked” to NBC News justifying these drone strikes and finds several problems with this “document.” First, it found justification for the much maligned operation(s) into Cambodia during the Vietnam era. Second, it found justification for enhanced interrogation, also much maligned. Third, but not finally, it found justification for the much maligned operation into Iraq. All justifications made by the very same political forces that maligned these operations in their different time frames.
To a degree, it also found justification for drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its allies. They were justifications for normal counterinsurgency operations using these advanced weapons. However, missing was justification for going outside Executive Order 12333 banning assassinations as a national policy, outside the normal bounds of the rules of land warfare. The so-called justifications showed that the Obama Administration is either contemplating or justifying a national policy of assassination against the terrorist network that the administration has belatedly acknowledged we are at war with.
Previously, most notably in Vietnam through the Phoenix Program, the legally accepted way to operate against a “terrorist” organization was to identify first the positions that were to be “targeted” (regardless of who held those positions) and previously made illegal by whatever appropriate means. Once the prior illegality had been established and decision made to dismantle the organization, priorities were set.
First would be recruit in place. Second would be to cause the target to defect to the legitimate side. Third would be to run an operation to capture the target. Fourth would be to run an operation; and due to circumstances of the operation, the target is killed. The other priorities will not be discussed because of the nature of the new threat and the probability they have no relevance today.
The document “leaked” shows none of these backgrounds and legalities. The bulk of the document deals with details not relevant to operations against American citizens in a terrorist organization. It lacks in details making these operations “legal” under the rules of land warfare. It stretches the outer boundaries of the rules of land warfare, almost to extinction. For example, “National Self Defense” (page 15) appears to be a huge stretch, if not an outright violation of Executive Order 12333.
The rules on the “feasibility of capture” bear little relevance to what is known about operations, like the assassination of Usama Bin Laden and the drone assassination of Anwar al Awlaki. Bin Laden was unarmed and unresisting when shot and killed. This was a violation of “Further, under this framework, the United States would also be required to accept a surrender if it were feasible to do so…” (page 9). Rules of land warfare require an acceptance of an unresisting surrender. What happened to Bin Laden was also a violation of rules listed on page 14.
The Coalition is not against drone strikes, when necessary, regardless of the nationality involved. It is totally against the policy when it violates the rules of land warfare. In the case of Awlaki, printed stories of the strike show him under surveillance for at least 30 days with the strike occurring in the middle of nowhere. This implies a violation of the rules listed for capture. None of them were of relevance to the hit. The attack on Bin Laden carried more risk and was effectuated in a country that did not welcome it. The window of opportunity was sufficient, given the time element, to effectuate a probable capture. The time frame in the Bin Laden raid was extraordinarily long and suggested a hesitation on even beginning the raid. The time frame on Awlaki suggests a decision was made to take him out regardless.
This “leak” has all the appearances of being a smoke screen to ease through the nominations of Brennan and Hagel, both of whom have given the impression of approving assassinations as policy. This is the real debate – does Executive Order 12333 still have the force of law, or does the new imperial policy listed in the “leak” take precedence? Does international law take precedence, or does the unilateralist policy of the Obama Administration take precedence?
Will the United States continue the departure from a sound counterinsurgency policy advocated by the best minds in the military, or will it continue the now “controversial” and probably unsound policy of “whack a mole”? The present policy has departing Secretaries Clinton and Panetta belatedly warning of a new resurgence of Al Qaeda because of the diversity of the adversary. This was known by the same military minds years before the Obama Administration. These belated warnings have all the appearance of “post election” epiphanies.
Taking apart Al Qaeda requires intelligence, live persons, and live captures. It cannot be done on the cheap. The “leak” does correctly state this war is going to be long and widespread. The Obama administration is attempting to fight it on the cheap, meaning lost intelligence, as in the Bin Laden assassination. The Coalition fears for the safety of present day warriors because of the strategy being used, not the nationality of the targets.
Larry J O’Daniel is a former CPT, MI, USAR. He was cross trained in Intelligence, Infantry, Electronic Warfare, Tactical Cover and Deception, Insurgency, and Military History. In Vietnam, he was a field operative in the Phoenix Program and ran capture operations successfully. An author of two books on Vietnam, he also wrote an unpublished book on Phoenix, including previously unpublished declassified histories of the rationales shown here at the Presidential level and including the five point “neutralization” plans of Phoenix as outlined by Ambassador Colby for field operatives. He holds the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star (equivalent to the US Bronze Star with V device), the CIB, and other unit citations for Gallantry and Civic Action. Pending is an Air Medal and commendation from Vietnam. He recently helped jump start information sharing programs for Arizona and CENTCOM Iraq. He is also the recipient of an award (2001) from the Special Forces Association and the Colt Leadership Award (2008) for veterans. Currently, he serves the Coalition as POW Chair and member of the Counterterrorist committee. The Coalition has 250,000 members.