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Drone Wars and Gang Injunctions: Tools of Militarization

Hey fellow BPFers,

Been sapped of energy by a seasonal cold, so I don’t have any helpful analysis to add to this, but it seems like codifying the expanding targets of remote air strikes is something we’d want to give some attention.

In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.

“Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an attack, they were not an imminent threat to the United States,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the strikes. “We don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are.”

Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown. In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.

Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.

Many people inside and outside the government have argued for far greater candor about all of the strikes, saying excessive secrecy has prevented public debate in Congress or a full explanation of their rationale. Experts say the strikes are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part because of allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties, which American officials say are exaggerated.

(Emphasis mine.)

One thought that immediately came to mind, for me, is that the targeting of young men toting arms in certain areas reminds me of the racist, pro-policing gang injunction measures afflicting certain neighborhoods of Oakland.  As prison-industrial-complex abolition group Critical Resistance explains in their report:

Gang injunctions lead to increased harassment of people who “fit the description” of anyone on the list, namely Black and Latino youth who already have strained relations with police.

And of course, an ever-expanding subset of “suspects” provides convenient justification for escalating militarization in a region: whether in the Middle East or East Oakland.

You can read the entire NYTimes article here, and please feel free to share thoughts with the rest of us.

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Top photo: Pakistanis hold up a burning mock drone aircraft during a May rally against drone attacks in Peshawar. In 2009, the Brookings Institution estimated that unmanned drone attacks were killing about 10 civilians for every 1 insurgent in Pakistan. K. Pervez/Reuters

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