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Robert Naiman | The Huffington Post

difi what upDifferent Senate committees are supposed to do oversight of different federal agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to oversee the Department of Justice. The Senate Armed Services committee is supposed to do oversight of the Pentagon. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to do oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the CIA is conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and since this is, to say the least, a controversial policy, the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be doing oversight of that.

But contemplating the Senate Intelligence Committee’s past oversight of the drone strike policy evokes the quote attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”

Now that criticisms of the drone strike policy are getting some play in the press, people are floating ideas for various reforms. That’s great! Let a hundred flowers bloom. But please call on me. I have an idea for a reform.

Why don’t we ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to do its job of overseeing the CIA? Read More

Robert Naiman | The Huffington Post

This is slightly adapted from a presentation given at aCongressional briefing on drone strike policy on November 16, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

I want to talk about what Congress could do about drone strikes in the next 1-2 years.

To begin with, some political context, as I see it.

First, I don’t think anyone will argue with me if I say that for the last ten years Congress has done very little.

Second, I think it would be extremely helpful if Congress would do something. I think Congress doing something is intrinsically important in itself, in addition to whatever the thing is. The reason is that the media, the public and the Administration take cues from what Congress is talking about. If Congress isn’t talking about something, then it’s perceived as not very controversial. More people would contact Congress if we had a vehicle for them to contact Congress about.

Third, I don’t think it’s as hard for Congress to do things on this as some people seem to think. There’s a kind of conventional wisdom that Congress can’t do anything because no-one cares because no U.S. soldiers are being killed by the policy. I think this conventional wisdom is completely wrong. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Honduras and yet a hundred Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Honduras, and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Bahrain but Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Bahrain and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. Conversely, plenty of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan before 2009 and Congress didn’t do much about that. So whether or not American soldiers are being killed is not as decisive as some people seem to think.

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Robert Naiman | The Huffington Post

Before Monday night’s presidential debate, many of usurged Bob Schieffer to ask a question about drone strikes.

And, in fact — credit where credit is due — Bob Schiefferdid ask a question about drones.

It can’t be said that we learned a great deal directly from the interaction. For reasons that aren’t really clear, Schieffer asked his question only of Mitt Romney. Here was the exchange:

SCHIEFFER: Let — let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?

ROMNEY: Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

Schieffer’s choice to exclude President Obama was odd. About any current administration policy one could say that we know Obama’s policy; after all, he’s in charge. The point is to give him the opportunity to defend his policy and to say what he intends to do going forward. Arguably we know Obama’s policy on health care reform, because he’s in charge of a policy that is being implemented. Would a debate moderator say: “let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on health care reform?”

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Robert Naiman | The Huffington Post

Early in the Iraq war, I heard a radio story that interviewed a woman whose son had been deployed to Iraq. She said something that pierced my heart: “I just have to trust President Bush when he says that this war is necessary.”

She wasn’t saying: I sincerely believe in my heart that this war is necessary. She was saying: I have to believe this, because the alternative belief that the president has put my boy in harm’s way for no damn good reason is just too awful for me to contemplate, and I need to get through my day.

On the one hand: I take it as obvious that we can’t have a properly functioning Schoolhouse Rock democracy if there are a whole lot of people running around saying: “We memorized in Church that whatever government officials say is Jesus, Mary, and the Saints.” If we want to have a functioning democracy, we need more people to say: I have heard what the government official said. I’m curious to know: what evidence was offered for that? Are there plausible alternative views? What’s the evidence for them?

On the other hand: If you have no empathy for this woman, then you have a heart of stone.

I try to keep this woman in mind as I work to goad people into to doing a little something to help reform U.S. foreign policy, because while I prefer to play on the field of facts, evidence, logic and argument — it’s the only field I know how to play on — I’m keenly aware that there are a bunch of people running around saying things that clearly come from somewhere else.

There are a lot of people who say that they support the current policy of drone strikes. It doesn’t seem likely that much of this support is based on a careful weighing of the evidence: Until now, the government hasn’t produced any evidence in support of its key claims in defense of the policy, such as its claim that civilian deaths have been “exceedingly rare,” or its claim that the drone strikes are narrowly targeted on top-level terrorist leaders. So it’s not clear what evidence drone strike supporters would have been weighing to make their judgment.

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Medea Benjamin and Robert Naiman | Common Dreams

The US peace delegation photographed in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 4th, 2012. (Photo: Flickr / 23rdstudios.com)

Islamabad, Pakistan – Many Americans have an image of Pakistan and its people as “teeming with anti-Americanism.”Americans see images on TV of angry Pakistani demonstrators burning American flags. Indeed, polls say three of four Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy.

But in the last week, we and thirty other Americans have been blessed with an experience few Americans have shared, seeing a more hopeful side of the relationship of the people of Pakistan to Americans. For the last week in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and then in the nation’s tribal areas, our delegation that came to Pakistan to protest U.S. drones has been showered with tremendous hospitality, warmth and friendship.

The tribal area our peace delegation visited last weekend borders Waziristan, which since 2004 has been continuously hit with U.S. drone strikes. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,500 and 3,200 people have been killed in these drone strikes. A recent report from Stanford and NYU law schools noted that only 2 percent of these deaths were “high-level” targets. The rest were civilians, including women and children, and low-level fighters.

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Robert Naiman | The Huffington Post

It’s Official Dogma in political Washington right now that you can’t touch the Pakistan drone strike policy. “Wasting bad guys for free” is too popular, the story says; besides, Democrats have to have some military killing of foreigners that they’re for, to give them political cover for the military killing of foreigners that they’re against. Most Democrats want to get U.S. troops the hell out of Afghanistan (outside of Official Washington, most Republicans agree.) But, the story goes, these Democrats have to have an “alternative,” and the “alternative” is drone strikes.

As a political matter, this story is true as far as it goes: it’s true because people believe it to be true. But in order for this political story to continue to work, drone strikes have to continue to be a black box, about which you can claim “success,” regardless of whether it is true. If people have to confront the actual reality of the Pakistan drone strike policy — the reality in which its impact is mostly about killing and terrorizing civilians and alienating Pakistani public opinion from the United States as opposed to the fairy tale in which it is all about wasting top-level “bad guys” — the political story will fall apart. A policy that does more harm than good isn’t an alternative to anything.

Recall that in 2006-8 there was very little Democratic criticism of the war in Afghanistan. It was the “good war” and the “right war,” unlike Iraq, which was the “bad war” and the “wrong war.” If you pressed Democrats on why they were cheerleaders for the war in Afghanistan while they slammed the war in Iraq, some would say what amounted to: “well, we have to be for some war.”

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