Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren't confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedly may account for the majority of strikes.
The government apparently calls such attacks signature strikes because the targets are identified based on intelligence "signatures" that suggest involvement in terror plots or militant activity.
So what signatures does the U.S. look for and how much evidence is needed to justify a strike?
The Obama administration has never spoken publicly about signature strikes. Instead, generally anonymous officials have offered often vague examples of signatures. The resulting fragmentary picture leaves many questions unanswered.
In Pakistan, a signature might include:
Convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run. – Senior American and Pakistani officials,New York Times, February 2008.
"Terrorist training camps." – U.S.Diplomatic Cable released by Wikileaks, October 2009.
Gatherings of militant groups or training complexes. – Current and former officials, Los Angeles Times, January 2010.
Bomb-making or fighters training for possible operations in Afghanistan…. a compound where unknown individuals were seen assembling a car bomb. – Officials, Los Angeles Times, May 2010.
Travel in or out of a known al-Qaeda compound or possession of explosives. – U.S. officials, Washington Post, February 2011.
Operating a training camp… consorting with known militants. – High-level American official, The New Yorker, September 2011.
Al Jazeera's Darren Jordon had quite a confrontational discussion with a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister over a series of attacks on a media building in Gaza over the past two days.
Israeli missiles hit the building twice, injuring at least six journalists in the process. The strikes were condemned by world press freedom organizations, although Israel said it was aiming for Hamas communications equipment on the roof of the buildings. On Monday, it killed a member of the Islamic Jihad group in one of the buildings.
Speaking to Darren Jordon, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev defended the strikes.
"We don't target journalists," he said. "We target Hamas."
"Rockets don't stop at a roof," Jordon replied in response. "You've got the intelligence that journalists were all over that building. It's never going to be precise enough that you can't stop injuring people below the roof."
"As far as I know, no foreign journalists were hurt whatsoever," Regev said. "We were surgical. We took out the target that we wanted to take out."
"You cannot sit there and say no journalists were injured," Jordon replied sharply. "One person had their leg blown off. That is a fact."
Indeed, one man lost his leg -- a cameraman with the local al-Quds TV -- the attack was focused on the 11th floor, where the office of al-Quds TV is located.
"Maybe we have a discussion about who is a journalist," Regev said. He called Al-Aqsa, one of the outlets targeted in the strikes, a "Hamas command and control facility," adding, "Just as in other totalitarian regimes, the media is used by the regime for command and control and also for security purposes. From our point of view, that's not a legitimate journalist."
"There were foreign journalists in that building," Jordon said. "There were foreign journalists near to that building."
"None of whom were hurt," Regev said.
"What are you saying, that a local Arab journalist's life is any less than an international journalist?" Jordon asked.
"Unconditionally, no. We see all journalists as legitimate people," Regev responded, after some prodding from Jordon. "We respect the free press ... if you can bring me someone who is a bona fide journalist who was injured, I want to know about it."
"You seem to be saying that Palestinians can't have a free press too," Jordon shot back. "Will Israel apologize for the injuries caused in this attack?"
"Israel does not target journalists, and I think there are very legitimate questions about Hamas using journalists as human shields," Regev said.
"Let me remind you, journalists are not armed combatants," Jordon said. "Those journalists have a job to get the story out ... you clearly are targeting the media, aren't you? You're shooting the messenger."
"Not true at all," Regev replied.
This discussion was about as productive as one of those "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" dialogues.
Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip have continued for a seventh day, despite calls for a truce, with the overall death toll reaching 111, according to medical sources.
On Monday evening, two boys, aged two and four, and their parents were killed in Jabaliya refugee camp located in a residential area. More than a dozen people were injured, mostly women and children.
And in an early Tuesday morning air raid, at least four people were injured when F-16 fighter jets hit the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City, also located in a residential area.
Diplomatic efforts are said to have intensified, yet a report Monday evening states Israel's preparations for a ground offensive are now complete:
Monday saw more carnage, more heated words and more damage on both sides. There was also more movement toward a possible intensification as Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said Israel had finished its planning for a ground invasion of Gaza.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor confirmed late Monday that "negotiations are going on" that may lead to a cease-fire, though he didn't offer any details.
The hacktivist collective Anonymous launched an attack on various Swedish government and banking websites in the name of The Pirate Bay and Wikileaks editor Julian Assange.
In the Youtube video above, organizers pledged to "launch major attacks on several vital portals that represent Swedish society" in the next few days.
The effort, dubbed #OpPRQ #OpPirateBay, will be "the biggest thing ever done in anonymous history," the video claimed. It requested the help of Anonymous supporters, likely to conduct distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
"Free Assange. Free internet. Expect us," the video concluded.
The Wall Street Journal today reported that attacks took down the websites for the Swedish Security Service, the Swedish Prosecutors' Office, and Sweden's central bank. All but the Swedish Security Service appear to now be back online.
The NYPD on Sunday spoke with glowing praise of their under-fire "Stop and Frisk" policy that allows them to throw anyone they please up against a wall, and sometimes worse (See Jateik Reed video above).
Comparing numbers from the first three months of 2012 to the same period last year, the number of such stops increased 10% while the number of illicit guns taken away went up 31%, according to a New York Police Department statement from Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.
Meanwhile, New York's murder rate has plunged 21% year-to-date as of last Friday -- meaning, if the current trend continues, the yearly number of murders in the city would be the lowest since such statistics first were recorded, as such, in 1963.
"New York City continues to be the safest big city in America, and one of the safest of any size, with significantly less crime per capita ... than even small cities," the department said.
Police cited Operation Impact and the "stop and frisk" policy as key reasons for the improving crime statistics. But the policy has been criticized sharply by some as grounds for racial profiling.
The statement drew a harsh response from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as executive director Donna Lieberman accused the NYPD of trying to "massage the numbers to make this look like an effective and worthwhile program."
More young black men were stopped and frisked by police last year than actually live in the city, according to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
About 168,000 black men between the ages of 14 and 24 were stopped under the controversial NYPD program in 2011 -- compared to the 158,406 who live in the five boroughs.
The NYCLU report also revealed of five precincts with blacks and latinos comprising as little as 8 percent of the population, they still accounted for up to 77 percent of of the stops in those areas.
The NYPD denies any claims of racial profiling, and says that it targets only "those who commit crimes." Yet as was revealed in the case of Jateik Reed, claims by police that he was carrying drugs have been shown to be false, and that his arrest was unfounded and he shouldn't have even been stopped when an outdoor surveillance camera video surfaced.