On Targeted Killing: The Establishment Media & Administration Officials are One and the Same


Today’s editorial in the Chicago Tribune, which proclaims that the U.S. government’s targeted killing program “needs to keep flying,” is perhaps the worst editorial on the subject we have ever read. Since the editorial raises a number of arguments that are consistently raised by those who support “death by unreliable metadata,” to quote Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill’s memorable phrase to describe drone strikes, here at the Fourth Estate Watch (FEW) we wanted to take the opportunity to debunk some of these baseless claims, many of which have been advocated by Administration officials as well.

In the context of the recent report from the Associated Press that President Obama is again weighing the decision whether to kill a U.S. citizen abroad, the Tribune declares: “we know [that] U.S. government officials have been debating since last summer whether to authorize a strike against the man. What’s taking so long? If he poses an imminent threat…” (emphasis ours). Clearly impatient that blood has not yet been drawn in the matter, the Tribune blindly accepts the Administration’s assertion that the man in question poses an “imminent threat.” But based on what evidence, and what definition of “imminent”? The AP article itself was based on statements from anonymous U.S. officials, who should not be viewed as having credibility on these matters as Dan Froomkin’s latest article in The Intercept shows us that “[t]he White House’s record of truth-telling when it comes to drone warfare is appalling.” One wonders what media organizations are doing, then, if they are content to repeat anonymous government claims without even the slightest attempt to square them with existing evidence.

Caught in the matrix of the Administration’s deceit and deception regarding the drone war, then, the Tribune appears happy to take the blue pill when it describes targeted killing as “extraordinarily effective” and “[o]ne of America’s most effective anti-terrorist programs” (emphasis ours). But that makes no sense, unless an “effective” anti-terrorist program is one that is designed to create more terrorists. As we know from Scott Shane and Jo Becker’s reporting in The New York Times, “[d]rones have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants” (emphasis ours). Similarly, Glenn Greenwald has extensively documented how those engaged in attacks against the United States “emphatically all say the same thing: that they were motivated by the continuous, horrific violence brought by the US and its allies to the Muslim world[.]” Not to mention that civilians on the receiving end of a drone strike are often afflicted with terrible, constant psychological trauma and fear regardless of whether the drone strike is aimed at them or not. To proclaim that the targeted killing program is an effective anti-terrorist tool, as both the Tribune and Administration Officials have argued, is to engage in self-deception and a willful blindness to the facts on the ground.


Second, the Tribune—again like the Obama Administration—treats the question of national sovereignty as somewhat of a joke, mocking Pakistan’s leaders who “have loudly denounced drone strikes as a violation of their country’s sovereignty.” Instead of offering a serious analysis on sovereignty, then, the Tribune prefers to gloss over the issue and implicitly assert that the United States government must exercise its innate authority to seek, surveil, and strike anyone in the world it deems an imminent threat. We’re not necessarily surprised by this cavalier attitude. After all, why would the Tribune want a serious discussion about sovereignty when the government itself doesn’t appear interested in that conversation?

Lastly, the Tribune argues that the U.S. should “wait until a new [Afghan] president is elected in April” in order to get the new Afghan President to sign the currently-stalled U.S.-Afghan security agreement. Readers interested in the U.S.-Afghan pact should review our previous article on the subject, but for the moment it is sufficient to note that the Tribune—and the Obama Administration—generally tend to ignore a critical provision when discussing the proposed agreement: that the U.S. demands immunity for U.S. troops as a condition of the agreement. In other words, given that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan have been videotaped urinating on deceased Afghanis, have killed civilians in numerous instances, and have sent drone strikes to various Afghan villages, is it any wonder the Afghan government would hesitate to sign an agreement that affords U.S. soldiers immunity? How would the people of Afghanistan benefit from this? The short answer is as follows: the only ones who benefit from such an arrangement are the ones endowed with immunity.

In sum, today’s editorial in the Tribune offers a classic example of establishment media organizations publishing material that belongs more to public relations experts than serious journalists. Virtually all of the claims in the Tribune have been advanced by Administration officials at one point or another and all are demonstrably false or exaggerated. Here at the FEW, we believe in Judge Gurfein’s observation from the Pentagon Papers case that the press must fight to preserve “the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.” The right of the people to know, however, is seriously and perhaps irreparably harmed when major media outlets are content writing articles and editorials packed with demonstrable lies. The public deserves better.