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TNR: The Drone War

Authors: Peter Lampert Bergen, and Katherine Tiedemann
June 3, 2009

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The drone war against al-Qaeda's leaders--and, increasingly, their Pakistan-based Taliban allies--has been waged with little public discussion or congressional investigation of its legality or efficacy, even though the offensive is essentially a program of assassination that kills not only militant leaders, but also civilians in a country that is, at least nominally, a close ally of the United States.

The Al Qaeda videotape shows a small white dog tied up inside a glass cage. A milky gas slowly filters in. An Arab man with an Egyptian accent says: "Start counting the time." Nervous, the dog starts barking and then moaning. After flailing about for some minutes, it succumbs to the poisonous gas and stops moving.

This experiment almost certainly occurred at the Derunta training camp near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, conducted by an Egyptian with the nom de jihad of "Abu Khabab." In the late 1990s, under the direction of Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman Al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab set up the terrorist group's WMD research program, which was given the innocuous codename "Yogurt." Abu Khabab taught hundreds of militants how to deploy poisonous chemicals, such as ricin and cyanide gas. The Egyptian WMD expert also explored the possible uses of radioactive materials, writing in a 2001 memo to his superiors, "As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, among which are radioactive elements that could be used for military operations." In the memo, Abu Khabab asked if it were possible to get more information about the matter "from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere." This was likely a reference to the retired Pakistani senior nuclear scientists who were meeting then with Osama bin Laden.

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