7. The United States isn't involved in an insurgency in Yemen, or maybe it is.
"So while we have aided Yemen, the Yemeni government, in building their capacity to deal with an AQAP insurgency that exists on the ground there, we're not involved in working with the Yemeni government in terms of direct action or lethal action as part of that insurgency.… A lot of these, you know, Yemenis in [AQAP] are not determined, you know, only to carry out attacks against the Americans wherever they may be. A lot of them are trying to gain ground. And unlike in a place like the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan] or somewhere else, they actually put up their flags, you know, controlling the territory. You know, they're trying to unseat the government of Sanaa. So we're trying to help the Yemenis, you know, thwart that insurgency and push it back because that certainly is counter to our interests." ("U.S. Policy Toward Yemen," speech, Aug. 8, 2012)
This puzzling contradiction gets to the faulty premise that underscores the low threshold for who can be targeted by U.S. lethal force. Brennan initially claims, "We're not involved" with lethal action against an insurgency, but, seconds later, says, "We're trying to help the Yemenis … thwart that insurgency." What exactly is the core mission of U.S. drone strikes: counterterrorism or counterinsurgency? As is true in Pakistan, the vast majority of individuals killed by U.S. drones were seeking to impose some degree of sharia law, fight a defensive jihad against the security services of the central government, or ultimately unseat what they perceived as an apostate regime running the country.
After militants were killed in a drone strike on Aug. 31, Reuters reported, citing a Yemeni Defense Ministry without evidence: "The men were heavily armed, carrying machine guns and explosives.… [They] were thought to have been on the way to carry out an attack." Unless they were boarding a flight to the United States to conduct this attack, they did not pose direct threats to the U.S. homeland, which is the threshold Brennan has repeatedly stated. Nor did they meet the implausible standard that Obama claimed in early September: "Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America." So why would America bother to kill them?
Soon after Obama entered office, Brennan proclaimed, "We will harness perhaps our greatest asset of all -- the power of America's moral example.… We will uphold the values of justice, liberty, dignity, and rule of law." It would be hard to conceive of a U.S. moral example that the rest of the world has so strongly rejected as targeted killings. In a Pew Global Attitudes Project public opinion poll released in June, the overwhelming majority of respondents opposed drone strikes, including those among America's allies and partners: Greece (90 percent), Egypt (89 percent), Jordan (85 percent), Pakistan (83 percent), Turkey (81 percent), Spain (76 percent), Brazil (76 percent), and Japan (75 percent). The same people, including Obama, Brennan, and Holder, who decried the Bush administration for perverting America's morals for the detention and questioning of suspected terrorists now implement and defend the practice of how they are killed -- at seven times the rate that they were killed under Bush.