Torture? Fuhgedaboudit. Easier to just kill 'em

OK, we’ve had our week of public, self flagellation about torture in the aftermath of hte 9/11/01 attacks. Not to worry, though-- we found a better method. We just kill the folks we suspect of being terrorists. We’re not stuck with a bunch of detainees that we can’t get rid of, and there are no bodies that we have to dispose of.

Yep, that’s right. These aren’t “known al Qaeda operatives plotting the next 9/11”. They’re young males whose movements match some “signature”. We don’t know who they are when we strike, and we might not ever know who they were.

As reported by Richard Engel (ABC’s chief foreign correspondent who has gone places few of us would dare in order to report the news) in Meet the Press today:

This to me seems as bad as rounding people up and subjecting them to “enhanced interrogation techniques”. We’re just killing them outright.

Now, it won’t surprise me in the least if those who defend the CIA “EITs” will also defend this practice of “signature strikes”. But… is there anyone who condemns the former practice, but is OK with the latter? If so, can you explain why? How many innocent people is it OK to kill in order to prevent some unknown attack on the US? When is the War on Terror ever going to be over? Obviously, never. I’m not buying the usual arguments about war and collateral damage in a war that will never end.

And how do we know we’re not doing more harm than good? It’s not like al Qaeda and affiliates are 100% geared towards attacking the US. Much of what these terror groups are doing have nothing whatsoever to do with the US, but we sure are making ourselves look like The Evil Empire in going after them!

Seems that we have moved from:

  1. Let’s fire a missile at this known aQ operative, because he’s in an area not accessible to conventional methods of capture.


  1. Let’s fire a missile at this known aQ operative, even though we know that he’s also with some innocent civilians and we’re going to kill them, too.


  1. Let’s fire a missile at this group of folks who may or may not be aQ operatives, but who seem to be traveling in way that aQ does.

The way that policing works in many countries (e.g. Japan) is that, when the police think you did it, they force you to confess, and then lock you up or execute you.

These countries also tend to have low crime rates.

Say that you can identify that someone is plausibly a criminal or terrorist (e.g. a greater than 50/50 chance). And the sum total of all those people added together is 1/1000th the total population of the country. It’s likely that say 30% of them are innocent - they just have questionable hobbies and friends - but the other 70% are guilty or would have been had they been left to mill about among the general populace.

Let’s further say that the harm and suffering that each of those 70% will impart on society affects an average of 5 people (one victim and his close family and friends). That’s an area of effect of 0.7 * 5/1000ths (3.5/1000ths) of the total population.

If you lock up or kill the 1/1000ths, then you are actively visiting harm and suffering on the 0.3/1000ths that were innocent. If you let the guilty persist, then you’re are passively visiting harm on 3.5/1000ths of the population.

We have it enshrined in the Bill of Rights that we have to provide due process to confirm the guilt of a crime, when talking about citizens, under the US court system. But just because one can argue the moral high ground over active vs. passive harm, doesn’t mean that one is necessarily truly on the higher moral ground.

Or basically, yes, Obama is probably having a good number of innocents assassinated, but based on circumstantial evidence, there may be good argument that the ends will justify the means.

I tend to be on the extreme edges of American thought, but yes, I hope that folks–including Obama–who pursue such programs are prosecuted under any applicable laws, and if no laws apply, I hope that laws are written.

I also hope I get a magical pony that poops rainbows.

That said, this is repellent foreign policy, both morally and practically. There is a reason why the United States is such a ginormous boogeyman around the world, despite the significant good we do; we also do significant evil. We need to cut that shit out. Killing someone with the pattern of acting like a terrorist is about the best way we can convince other aggro teens to become terrorists that I can imagine.

Has there been an evolution? Double tapping has been a thing for a long time. Or bombing the funerals. Signature strikes were first talked about a couple years ago, so that’s more recent I suppose.

We’ve been killing indiscriminately from the beginning; it wasn’t really an escalation, just a progressive admission that we’re not really targeting anyone in particular. Blowing up funerals and weddings, killing emergency workers and family members, killing pro-American people who came out in the open at the wrong time, even.

It’s no different really than how will killed all the males in Fallujah, and declared that they were all terrorists/insurgents *ex post facto. *We’re just doing it with drones instead of rifles.

You mean Japan, where the Yakuza is practically a shadow government?

Garbage; what we are doing manufactures enemies. It turns neutral and pro-American groups and people against us. Your entire argument rests on the false idea that there’s a fixed number of anti-American people, and that indiscriminately killing innocents won’t turn more people against us.

It’s the standard American tendency to look at non-Americans as not being people, but things. In the real world, foreigners are not scripted NPCs from some computer game, they react to what we do.

And we’ve already killed far more people than the big, bad “terrorists” ever have. In reality the worst terrorists on the planet are us.

I think the signature strikes evolved out of the drone program. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think we were doing this from the beginning. You have to build up a data base of what a “signature” is before you can use it.

Also, to be clear, I’m not even sure what we’re doing is illegal (per US law). The 2001 AUMF is pretty broad. But I don’t think it’s something we should be doing, and I would like to see it made illegal. If Russia was doing this, say, in South America, we’d be going ape-shit over it.

It says in your article that the first of these ‘signature strikes’ started in 2008…how is any of this new? To me, this is like the ‘new’ report released last week…I mean, how was any of that new in any way?? We’ve known about what happened in that report literally for years. We’ve known about drone strikes for years as well. We’ve been debating this stuff for years on this board. There are hundreds of threads and thousands of posts on this subject starting from BEFORE we invade Iraq and going until the week before the stunning Senate report. Anyway, from your article:

I’m not thrilled by this, but do ya really think anyone in our government is going to go back to “or-be-killed” if they have another option?

CMC fnord!

Is this a reference your previous claim that you “remembered a story” about how the US military deliberately trapped a bunch of young 12 and 13-year old boys in Fallujah and then murdered them.

When I and Marley asked you to provide evidence you complained that it was an eight year old story and you were unable to look it up and it was unreasonable to ask us to look it up.

Someone pointed out that your claim, that you couldn’t find this on the internet, where you can find stories that are centuries old was bizarre and that if you can’t find evidence of the story the evidence probably doesn’t exist.

Do you have evidence for this story of 12 and 13 year old boys being deliberately trapped in Fallujah, falsely accused of being insurgents and then murdered or have you yet to find a credible source?

Or is this a completely different unrelated story?

FTR, I completely agree with Mace’s OP and wish we had a like button.

Hm. Well I condemn torture because maintaining certain bright lines is important. And that’s a bright line that we can afford, given the ineffectiveness and dubious effectiveness of torture. Yeah, they exist certain hypotheticals, which somehow never materialize so cleanly in RL.

In an active war zone, OTOH, wearing the wrong uniform and carrying a weapon sounds like a good way to get shot. This is just an extension of that principle.

Except it’s not, which I why I’m not exactly ok with this. I think the American public should know more about these signatures, Congress should know more than that, and the whole program should receive a full information external review.

Regarding Q1, that’s a matter of opinion. Personally, I think it’s bullshit to drop bombs on others in exchange for near-zero risk. I’ll take risk on for the sake of freedom, mine and others. If the authorities want to close Guantanamo and start trials in the US, that’s fine with me. Furthermore they are invited to do so in the center of the nearest military base to MfM HQ, wherever I may be. If a terrorist escapes, me and the boys will handle it. [/bravado]

In general though I can imagine a role for signature strikes. But first I would need to know in general terms what exactly we’re discussing.

Drones replace boots on the ground. They don’t come back with PTSD. They don’t require congressional approval. They’re used by Presidents of both major parties. Nobody see’s the results unless someone important gets killed and then it’s noted in the newspapers in the win column.

We’re at odds with people who wish us great harm and the playing field has no boundaries so there’s no practical way to send in troops.

In this light they practically launch themselves.

Had you heard of “signature strikes” before? If so, you’re more of a news junkie than I am. I have not heard of them until very recently. Just because something happened several years ago doesn’t mean people knew about it. You’re drawing an equivalence to the torture report based on nothing more than the fact that both happened in the past. But, as you know, we’ve had many threads here for many years about water boarding and the other things noted in the Senate report. How many threads have we had on “signature strikes”?

If you don’t use the buzz word bingo ‘signature strikes’, what about it is news? No, we haven’t had any threads, as far as I know, on ‘signature strikes’…but we’ve had tons on drone strikes that pretty much describe exactly what these ‘new’ ‘signature strikes’ are. In detail. Slapping a new name on something doesn’t make it new and interesting, just like the Senate releasing a ‘new’ report on torture (much of which happened years or even a decade ago) doesn’t make that any different than what we all know and discussed in detail. For years. Ad nauseum.

I’m not saying that it’s not worthy of discussion (again), or that the government should get an automatic pass, just that all of this stuff isn’t new. Hell, the Obama administration investigated (officially) the torture AND filed a report in, IIRC, 2009 that is pretty much everything in the Senate report. And we’ve discussed Obama’s (and Bush’s) drone strike policy in detail, with many 'dopers bringing up their distaste and disgust with policies that are the exact same thing except the catchy ‘signature strikes’ name.

Most people don’t know about this, so it’s news. If it bothers you to call it news, then call it old information that we haven’t discussed before. I really don’t care. The fact is, we haven’t discussed “signature strikes” before. If you think you have, then you needn’t participate in this thread if you don’t want to. Perhaps you can just link to your earlier posts on the subject.

Otherwise, I’m at a loss as to what point you are trying to make.

What we’re discussing is the targeted killing of individuals in another country based, not on intelligence that tells us they are plotting attacks on the US, but only that they fit the pattern (age, travel routes) of people who might be. Not people who are, but people who might be.

IOW, these people targeted MIGHT be people who belong to a group that MIGHT be plotting terror attacks agains the US. This is a mindset that treats much of the world as expendable if we have some reason to fear it, whether that fear is rational or not. And then we wonder why they hate us.

I’ve never heard of it and don’t know what to make of your cite: According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

This is an article with a photo of Brennan and Feinstein together which visually implies they know about the subject matter. Is this a real thing because Feinstein should be apoplectic over it?

Me neither. Solid GD topic.

The article says that Congress hasn’t been briefed on it. They should be IMHO.

Feinstein isn’t much of a civil libertarian actually. That she’s against torture shouldn’t be extraordinary. Though I guess among some it is. I’m not a DiFi fan.

Actually we don’t know what the hell the rationale is. I mean if there are a bunch of guys marching to a known [del]terrorist[/del] insurgent hideout carrying missile launchers and flying an ISIS flag, maybe a drone attack would have military justification. You think the drone standards are less stringent than that? Me too. But we need to find this stuff out.

Oh c’mon. Drones need bases. You think we’d be helpless without them? You think we’re the only people in the world with enemies? We are way beyond cost/benefit here. Hey why not just declare an empire and demand fealty from other governments? The security would be awesome, though the US body count would skyrocket. But if we’re discussing this in emotional terms, it’s a total win.

Realistically, policy can’t be framed in that manner, except in the roughest sense. Which admittedly is better than nothing. Still, I wonder about the overarching security goals we are pursuing in Yemen et al.

There was an evacuation of civilians in Fallujah before the US invasion. The marines reported that 500 remained.

Of course there’s a lot of he-said she-said. For example it’s not disputed that men of fighting age were not permitted to leave the city. And there are accounts (and footage) of women and children injured in the attack. The Guardian estimated the number of civilians left behind at 30,000 to 50,000. Still one side says this, the other that: opinions differ and we shouldn’t rule out preposterous and self-serving claims from military sources.

Also, the US didn’t just use rifles. They used phospherous bombs on houses. You know, incendiaries in a civilian area.

Anyway, that’s what I got when I tried to track down your story. Another link: Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre - Wikipedia

I view “EITs” as torture. Any treatment of non-American prisoners beyond asking questions, rewarding for good behavior, providing sufficient food, and a roof over the head is torture in my opinion. These prisoners probably have useful information, but its value diminishes by the day and they have ceased to be a threat because they are imprisoned.

I am fine with signature strikes. I think it is a very clever way of dealing with the problem of militarily engaging with our enemy. They are much cheaper than invading a sovereign state, they seem to be effective in that they are mostly killing militants, and they help to keep our enemies on the defensive. Although on some level I care about the killing of civilians in the targeted countries, I care more about the civilians of the USA and our allies than the deaths of civilians who probably share much of the identity and ideology of our enemy.

Ceasing to attack al-Qaeda will only allow the organization more opportunity to carry out new attacks on allied targets. To efficiently continue to attack al-Qaeda we have to use this signature strike tactic. I hope we continue to do it for a long time to come while resolving the legalities in a way that fits with how we think of ourselves as Americans.

In your OP and other posts on the topic, you seem very distressed by the idea that the War on Terror is a never-ending war. On the other hand I am distressed by the idea that we unilaterally declare it over. It’s going to last well beyond our lifetimes and I think all Americans should get used to the idea. Attacking the USA is the highest aspiration of these militants because of the precedent set by Osama bin Laden and their narrative on American involvement with Muslims and the Middle East. They will continue to plan attacks on the US and our allies, and so we should continue to fight. In the past decade I’ve seen American become more and more efficient at killing these militants so I think this fight can be sustainable without adversely effecting our economy.

Well then I am glad we are adopting better tactics.