The Obama administration is again allowing the CIA to use drone strikes to secretly kill people that the spy agency does not know the identities of in multiple countries – despite repeated statements to the contrary.
That’s what we learned this week, when Nasir al-Wuhayshi, an alleged leader of al-Qaida, died in a strike in Yemen. While this time the CIA seems to have guessed right, apparently the drone operators didn’t even know at the time who they were aiming at – only that they thought the target was possibly a terrorist hideout. It’s what’s known as a “signature” strike, where the CIA is not clear who its drone strikes are killing, only that the targets seem like they are terrorists from the sky.
Signature strikes has led to scores of civilians being killed over the past decade, including two completely innocent hostages less than two months ago. It’s a way of killing that’s been roundly condemned by human rights organizations and that some members of Congress have tried to outlaw. The incredible dangers behind such a policy are obvious. Here’s how the New York Times described it when the White House’s ‘kill list’ was first revealed in 2012:
The joke was that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers – but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.