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Context of 'February 4, 2002: Remote Drone Targeting Bin Laden Kills Three Innocent Civilians Instead'

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President Bush signs a directive giving the CIA the authority to kill or capture suspected al-Qaeda members and to set up a global network of secret detention facilities—“black sites”—for imprisoning and interrogating them. [Truthout (.org), 8/27/2004]
Secret Prison System - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will later call the sites a “hidden global internment network” designed for secret detentions, interrogations, and ultimately, torture. At least 100 prisoners will be remanded to this secret system of “extraordinary rendition.” The network will have its own fleet of aircraft (see October 4, 2001) and relatively standardized transfer procedures. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, will become the foundation for the CIA’s secret prison system. The directive does not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Secret Assassination List - Bush also approves a secret “high-value target list” containing about two dozen names, giving the CIA executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those on the list (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). The president is not required to approve each name added to the list and the CIA does not need presidential approval for specific attacks. Further, a presidential finding gives the CIA broad authority to capture or kill terrorists not on the list; the list is merely the CIA’s primary focus. The CIA will use these authorities to hunt for al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and elsewhere. [New York Times, 12/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, International Committee of the Red Cross, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. [Reuters, 5/12/2011] The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, US Military, Ayman al-Zawahiri, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US Central Command watches as a Predator drone captures images of a very tall man being greeted by a small group of people in the Zawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan. It is quickly agreed the man could be Osama bin Laden, who is known to be unusually tall. Within minutes, approval is given to launch a Hellfire missile from the drone. By this time, the tall man has broken off from the group with two others. The missile hones in on him and kills him and his two companions. Journalists will later report that the men were villagers who had been scavenging in the woods for scrap metal. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002; Reuters, 5/12/2011] But in trying to determine the identity of the target, US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA (see Shortly After February 4, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Central Command, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after a US Predator drone strike on a target that might be Osama bin Laden (see February 4, 2002), US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA with help from the Saudi government to help determine the identity of the target. The target turns out to be some innocent Afghan men instead. But now the US has DNA for any future bin Laden identity checks. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld issues a secret directive to Special Operations forces allowing them to “capture terrorists for interrogation or, if necessary, to kill them” anywhere in the world. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The policy appears to actually prefer the killing or secret interrogation of terrorists over legally arresting and then charging them (see July 22, 2002). Bush already issued a presidential finding authorizing the killing of terrorist leaders (see September 17, 2001), and a list of “high-value” target has been created (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but this increases such efforts. [New York Times, 12/15/2002] However, Bush has not rescinded a presidential executive order dating from the 1970s that bans all assassinations, claiming that terrorists are military combatants. “Many past and present military and intelligence officials have expressed alarm” at the legality, wisdom, ethics, and effectiveness of the assassination program. Apparently much of the leadership of Special Operations is against it, worrying about the blowback effect. In February 2002, a Predator missile targeting someone intelligence agents thought was bin Laden hit its target, but killed three innocent Afghan farmers instead (see February 4, 2002). [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The first successful assassination will take place in November (see November 3, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Special Operations Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Qaed Senyan al-Harethi.Qaed Senyan al-Harethi. [Source: Yemen Observer]A CIA-operated Predator drone fires a missile that destroys a truck of suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The target of the attack is Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a top al-Qaeda operative, but five others are also killed, including American citizen Kamal Derwish. [Washington Post, 11/4/2002; Associated Press, 12/3/2002] Al-Harethi is said to have been involved in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Bush administration officials say Derwish was the ringleader of a sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see September 13, 2002). [Washington Post, 11/9/2002; Newsweek, 11/11/2002] A former high-level intelligence officer complains that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants “to take guys out for political effect.” Al-Harethi was being tracked for weeks through his cell phone. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The attack happens one day before mid-term elections in the US. Newsweek will note that timing of the strike “was, at the very least, fortuitous” for the Bush administration. [Newsweek, 11/11/2002] New Yorker magazine will later report, “The Yemeni government had planned to delay an announcement of the attack until it could issue a joint statement with Washington. When American officials released the story unilaterally, in time for Election Day, the Yemenis were angry and dismayed.” [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] Initial reports suggest the truck was destroyed by a car bomb. But on November 5, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will brag about the strike on CNN, thus ruining the cover story and revealing that the truck was destroyed by a US missile (see November 5, 2002). [Newsweek, 11/11/2002] US intelligence appears to have learned of al-Harethi’s whereabouts after interrogating Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, captured the month before (see Early October 2002).

Entity Tags: Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, Scott L. Silliman, Kamal Derwish, Condoleezza Rice, Al-Qaeda, Paul Wolfowitz, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Kamal Derwish.Kamal Derwish. [Source: PBS]The revelation that the US killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in Yemen with a Predator missile strike (see November 3, 2002 and November 5, 2002) sparks a debate about the morality and legality of remote attacks outside of war zones. The Bush administration had previously criticized Israel’s policy of “targeted killings” of Palestinian militants. Newsweek comments, “A State Department spokesman bobbed and weaved and tried to draw distinctions. But, privately, administration officials say the difference is really one of scale and frequency.” [Newsweek, 11/11/2002] Many international lawyers and some foreign governments question the legality of the assassination. [Guardian, 11/6/2002] For decades, the US government has been prohibited from conducting assassinations. The Bush administration says it still adheres to that policy but makes an exception for “enemy combatants” such as al-Qaeda leaders. In December 2002, it will be revealed that President Bush approved a secret “high-value target list” of about two dozen terrorist leaders, giving the CIA basic executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those in the list. The CIA is also empowered to capture or kill terrorists not mentioned in the list (see September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 12/15/2002] Additional controversy is generated when it is discovered that US citizen Kamal Derwish was one of those killed in the strike. Derwish is alleged to have been connected to an al-Qaeda cell in Buffalo, New York. US officials say the CIA has the legal authority to target and kill US citizens it believes are working for al-Qaeda (see July 22, 2002). [Associated Press, 12/3/2002] The New Yorker reveals that there were two planned Predator strikes in Yemen called off at the last minute that turned out to be aimed at innocent people instead of al-Harethi. One recently retired Special Forces operative who served on high-level planning staffs at the Pentagon warns that the civilians running the military are no longer trying to “avoid the gray area.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is reportedly behind the effort to use the CIA and special forces for more remote killings (see July 22, 2002). One former high-level intelligence officer complains, “They want to turn these guys into assassins. They want to go on rumors—not facts—and go for political effect, and that’s what the Special Forces Command is really afraid of.” [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] Noting that in its battle against al-Qaeda, the US has effectively deemed the entire planet a combat zone, Scott Silliman, director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security says, “Could you put a Hellfire missile into a car in Washington, DC?…The answer is yes, you could.” But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says, “No constitutional questions are raised here.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/24/2002; Associated Press, 12/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Scott L. Silliman, Condoleezza Rice, Kamal Derwish, Donald Rumsfeld, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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