Brian Terrell: US Drone Campaign Needs To Be Acknowledged A Failure – Interview


The assassination drone campaign on the tribal areas of Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan has been one of the controversial plans of the US government in the recent years.

The White House, State Department and Pentagon officials maintain that the drone attacks are aimed at targeting the Al-Qaeda terrorists in these countries and crushing their strongholds; however, figures indicate that the majority of the victims of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles dispatched to the region are civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has recently revealed that between 2004 and 2015, there have been 418 drone strikes against Pakistan alone, resulting in the killing of 2,460 to 3,967 people, including at least 423 civilians. That’s while some sources put the number of civilian casualties in Pakistan during the 11-year period at 962.

An American peace activist and speaker tells Fars News Agency that the drone strategy was not a blunder which President Bush committed, rather it was a “crime” that he perpetrated and President Obama perpetuated.

According to the 58-year-old Brian Terrell, the US government is not only claiming innocent lives through drone attacks, but endangering its own security and undermining its public stature.

“The reality that US drone strikes are a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda is good news for war profiteers, even as it is alarming to anyone who is interested in the security of the US and the peace and stability of the counties where they are occurring,” he said.

“Instead of manufacturing weapons in order to wage war, the US is now waging war in order to manufacture more weapons,” Terrell noted.

Brian Terrell lives and works on a small farm in Maloy, Iowa. He has traveled to many regions across the world for public speaking events, including in Europe, Latin America, and Korea. He has also visited Palestine, Bahrain, and Iraq and returned from his second visit to Afghanistan last February. He is a co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Non-Violence and event coordinator for the Nevada Desert Experience.

FNA talked to Mr. Terrell about the US government’s military policy and its conduct with regard to the crisis-hit Middle East, the drone attacks and the legacy of the “War on Terror.” The following is the full text of the interview.

Q: The US drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have taken a heavy toll on the civilian population of these countries, although it’s being purported that the drone campaigns are aimed at targeting the Al-Qaeda strongholds. Has the US government been able to achieve this goal through dispatching unmanned drones to these already impoverished and underdeveloped areas?

A: If the goals of US drone strikes were actually to destroy Al-Qaeda and bring stability to the regions under attack, then the drone campaign would need to be acknowledged a failure. Nabeel Khoury, the deputy chief of mission in Yemen from 2004 to 2007, has noted that “given Yemen’s tribal structure, the US generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] operative killed by drones” and this perception is shared by many former diplomats and military commanders experienced in the region.

Before he retired in 1960, US President Eisenhower cautioned of the emergence of a self-perpetuating “military-industrial complex.” The profit to be made by the private sector in the production of armaments was growing out of proportion to the economy and he warned that this gives incentive to provoke conflict. Since that time, the profitability has grown along with corporate influence on the electoral process and corporate control over the media. President Eisenhower’s fears for the future are today’s reality.

Instead of manufacturing weapons in order to wage war, the US is now waging war in order to manufacture more weapons. The reality that US drone strikes are a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda is good news for war profiteers, even as it is alarming to anyone who is interested in the security of the US and the peace and stability of the counties where they are occurring.

In February of this year, for example, the US Navy’s $122.4 million contract modification to Raytheon Missile Systems Co. to buy more than 100 Tomahawk missiles to replace those fired into Syria was celebrated in the media and by members of Congress without regard to the moral, legal or strategic efficacy of those attacks. The only justification needed for these lethal attacks, it seems, is that they sell missiles.

Q: In October 2013, a group of countries at the United Nations, led by Brazil, China and Venezuela, officially protested against the deployment of unmanned aerial attacks against sovereign nations by the Obama administration. The debate at the UN was the first time when the legality of US’s use of remotely piloted aircraft and its human cost was discussed on a global level. Christof  Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions warned about the proliferation of UAVs among states and terrorist groups. What’s your reaction to this ongoing debate regarding the legal basis of using drones and the fact that the international community has started to voice its opposition to this dangerous practice?

A: Every state employs lawyers to give justification for that state’s actions, no matter how egregious, but there is no real debate about the legality of the use of drones to attack or surveille over countries where the US is not at war. The official policy is that before lethal force can be used against someone who is not a combatant on a battlefield, it must be made certain “that he or she poses ‘an imminent threat of violent attack’ against America.” This might give the mistaken impression that at least an effort is made to conduct the drone campaign in compliance to international law.

In February 2013, however, a US Department of Justice White Paper, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or an Associated Force,” was leaked that elucidates the administration’s new and more flexible definition of the word “imminent.” “First,” it declares, “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

The position of the US government is that it can kill anyone anywhere whether their identity is known or not, if their “patterns of behavior” or “signature” is consistent with that of someone who might possibly pose a threat at any time in the future. The “signature” of an imminent threat “is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,”says former US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.”Another senior State Department official has been quoted as saying that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp.

There is clearly no legal support to the claim that these killings are legitimate acts of war. When the military acts outside the law, it is a gang or a mob. Whether the victims of drone attacks are known and positively identified –  this rarely happens – or suspicious due to their behavior or “collateral damage,” men, women and children unintentionally killed, these are no more than gang style hits or drive by shootings. When a lawless mob kills someone because of suspected misconduct without a trial, [then] that is called lynching. Among the most horrific violations of law and human values is the practice of “double tapping,” where drones hover above their original victims and then strike the first responders who come to the aid of the wounded and dead, following the logic that anyone coming to the aid of someone who was following a suspicious pattern of behavior is also following a suspicious pattern of behavior.

One more layer of criminality encrusting this program is the fact that often drone attacks are carried out by members of the uniformed military on the orders of the CIA, bypassing the ordinary chain of command.

As deployed by the US, drones are proving to be a weapons system with little or no defensive capability, useful for assassinations, but “useless in a contested environment,” admitted the chief of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command two years ago. It may be arguable that even the possession of such weapons is illegal.

These killings are simply murders. They are acts of terror. They are crimes. It is gratifying that some in the international community and in the US are speaking out and attempting to put an end to them.

Q: Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism noted in a report that as of October 2013, there were 33 drone strikes by the United States, which caused the massive killing of civilians in violation of the international law. Are the United Nations and its associated bodies capable of holding the United States accountable, or is it that the international law is not necessarily going to be observed in this specific matter?

A: This is an essential question, is it not? If the US is not held accountable for its crimes, what credibility do the UN and other international institutions have? How can international law be applied to any nation?

The drone technology allows for war crimes to be committed from the midst of American communities- if the victims are in Yemen, Pakistan or Afghanistan, the perpetrators are right here at home and stopping them is also the responsibility of local law enforcement. The Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the US Constitution reads: “…all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” I have been arrested while nonviolently protesting at drone operation bases in Nevada, New York and Missouri and no judge has ever considered that those actions are justified as attempts to stop a crime from being committed. Before sentencing me to six months in prison for the petty offense of trespassing, one federal judge ruled, “Domestic law always trumps international law!”

Allowing the US to get away with murder threatens public order and security at home as well as abroad.

Q: Some UN officials have warned that technology is being misused as a form of “global policing”. The US government has expanded its drone operations in the recent years and taken its unpiloted aerial vehicles to areas such as Iraq, Libya and Gaza Strip. Even there’ve been cases that the American drones have flown over Iran’s airspace. Won’t such actions create mistrust between the United States and the nations in the region whose countries are subject to drone attacks?

A: The concept of any one nation taking the role of “global policing” is troubling in itself, even more so when that nation has shown such distain for rule of law as the US has. Drone strikes, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, testing nuclear weapons on native treaty lands, all call into question the US role of world police.

The US polices the globe the same as it increasingly polices its own streets. The federal government issues attack weapons, even armored cars and tanks, to local police departments in cities large and small and police are trained to view the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving as enemies.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, the US has more than 25% of the world’s prisoners and the prison population is disproportionally made up of people of color. Police departments in the US often arrest and all too often kill American citizens on American streets based on “racial profiling,” which is only a domestic version of the “signature strike.” Young men of certain demographics can be killed based on their “patterns of behavior” in Baltimore as in Waziristan.

A large portion of the residual US troops and contractors in Afghanistan are there to train the Afghan police! The irony of this may be lost on American’s, but not on the world community.

Q: A recent study indicates that 74% of the Pakistanis, especially following the intensification of drone attacks under President Obama, consider the United States an enemy. This is while the government of Pakistan is cooperating with the United States in the “War on Terror” scheme. Does the drone campaign have an influence on the public image of the United States in the countries that become the subject of unpiloted aircraft missiles?

A: While cooperating with the US in the “war on terror,” Pakistan has also been actively protesting the drone killings and has repeatedly ordered the US to stop them. Last year, the UN adopted a resolution, jointly presented by Pakistan, Yemen and Switzerland, against drone strikes, to no avail. The administration’s position is that the government in Islamabad has to tell the people of Pakistan that they are objecting to the strikes, but secretly they approve of them. What can it mean for a government to give secret permission to anyone to do anything? Still, more, for a government to give permission to a foreign military to use its skies to summarily execute its citizens? Whether this is true or not, for the US to operate lethally inside Pakistan against the expressed orders of its government is an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty and undermines its institutions. Of course, these actions have an appropriate influence on the public image of the US in the countries subject to drone strikes and around the world.

Q: Generally, what do you think about the civilian cost of the US government’s project of the War on Terror? It was a movement started by President Bush, and although President Obama had criticized it during the 2007 presidential debates, he continued the practices of his predecessor, including an intensive military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintaining the overseas detention facilities where the terrorism suspects are kept. President Obama had criticized Mr. Bush’s “foreign policy based on a flawed ideology” but it seems that he is repeating the same mistakes. What’s your perspective on that?

A: In the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama told a rally in Iowa, the state where I live, that it might actually be necessary to “bump up” the military budget beyond the record levels established by the Bush administration. The cost of bumping up the already bloated military budget is borne by the poorest people here and abroad. In several ways, Obama signaled before he was elected that he would continue some of Bush’s worst policies. These policies were not “mistakes” when Bush implemented them, they were crimes. Maintaining them are not mistakes now.

The US will not solve its domestic crises or find internal security, nor will it be able to make any contribution to the peace of the world without reordering its priorities and pursuing what Dr. Martin Luther King called a “radical revolution of values.”

This article first appeared at FARS and is reprinted with permission.

Kourosh Ziabari

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, writer and media correspondent.

One thought on “Brian Terrell: US Drone Campaign Needs To Be Acknowledged A Failure – Interview

  • August 8, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    KILL THE MESSENGER! That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we have been doing for the last 50 or 60 years. Every time natural leaders come up from the Arab people who express their legitimate dissatisfactions with American behavior in the Middle East, we murder them. This drone war is just a program of murder that doesn’t solve any problems. It makes the whole situation in the Middle East worse.


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