Opinion

David Rohde

How covert drone strikes turn murderers into martyrs

David Rohde
Nov 6, 2013 16:02 UTC

Five days after an American drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani politicians are accusing the United States of “murder.” And a militant leader responsible for attacks that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani civilians is being viewed as a victim.

On one level, the response was nothing new in the warped, post-2001 relationship between Pakistan and the United States. For 12 years, interactions between these purported “allies” have been marked by distrust, recriminations and lies.

American officials should admit that covert U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are now counterproductive. The strikes cause Pakistanis to vilify the United States, glorify militants and coddle duplicitous elements of the Pakistani military.

For the last decade, the Bush and Obama administrations have allowed Pakistani military officials to lie to their own people about Pakistan’s tacit support of the strikes. In exchange for the ability to carry out drone strikes, the United States serves as the Pakistan military’s punching bag.

Pakistan’s military and its ultra-nationalist allies blame foreign powers for the country’s woes. They whip up anti-American street demonstrations and say that American drones kill only civilians. They declare that civilian politicians who threaten the military’s power are “American agents.”

How fear of al Qaeda hurts U.S. more than al Qaeda

David Rohde
Oct 25, 2013 23:46 UTC

Three disclosures this week show that the United States is losing its way in the struggle against terrorism. Sweeping government efforts to stop attacks are backfiring abroad and infringing on basic rights at home.

CIA drone strikes are killing scores of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.  The National Security Agency is eavesdropping on tens of millions of phone calls worldwide — including those of 35 foreign leaders — in the name of U.S. security.

And the Department of Homeland Security is using algorithms to “prescreen” travelers before they board domestic flights, reviewing government and private databases that include Americans’ tax identification numbers, car registrations and property records.

Washington-gate

David Rohde
May 16, 2013 21:56 UTC

President Barack Obama listens to a question in the rain in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Unprecedented Justice Department searches of journalists’ phone records. IRS targeting of conservative political groups. Spiraling sexual assault rates in the military. And the downplaying of the first killing of an American ambassador in 30 years.

In a matter of days, alarming accounts have emerged regarding the actions of five key federal government bureaucracies: the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon.

Obama’s legacy of secrecy

David Rohde
Feb 8, 2013 19:00 UTC

John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was a microcosm of the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism: The right assurances, with little transparency.

Brennan said the United States should publicly disclose when American drone attacks kill civilians. He called waterboarding “reprehensible” and vowed it would never occur under his watch. And he said that countering militancy should be “comprehensive,” not just  “kinetic,” and involve diplomatic and development efforts as well.

What any of that means in practice, though, remains unknown.

Brennan failed to clearly answer questions about the administration’s excessive embrace of drone strikes and secrecy. He flatly defended the quadrupling of drone strikes that has occurred on Obama’s watch. He gave no clear explanation for why  the public has been denied access to vital Justice Department legal opinions that give the president the power to kill U.S. citizens without judicial review. And his statement that the establishment of a special court to review the targeting of Americans was “worthy of discussion” was noncommittal.

The ‘trust me’ administration

David Rohde
Feb 6, 2013 21:21 UTC

In a bold second inaugural address, one line was my favorite.

“We will defend our people and uphold our values,” President Barack Obama declared, “through strength of arms and rule of law.”

Obama was right to describe the “rule of law” as a weapon the United States can use to defend itself. But the administration’s insistence on enveloping its counter-terrorism efforts in excessive secrecy flouts the rule of law. A proud American ideal is being turned into a liability, not an asset.

“It’s not sufficient for the administration to say, ‘Trust us, we’re taking care of it,’ ” said Amrit Singh, author of a new Open Society Institute report that raises numerous questions about the United States’ use of rendition and torture since 2001. “There needs to be greater transparency.”

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