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Secret drone base in Saudi Arabia a delicate issue for many

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Drone strikes on Obama-selected targets in Yemen  are being launched from a secret base in Saudi Arabia. The exact location of the base is not being disclosed, however its mere presence is a political risk for Saudi Arabia.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Earlier this week, news broke about the existence of a secret military base in Saudi Arabia where the U.S. was conducting secret drone missions. The details of the operation remains shrouded in mystery, but it is now known that the base was responsible for launching the September 2011 attacks that killed American al-Qaeda members, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.

The mere presence of the base is controversial for Saudi Arabia, which has its own problems with al-Qaeda. The conservative Arab state was the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and has a significant number of citizens who despise the American presence there.

Although the base is in Saudi Arabia, the extreme flying range of the drones means that it can fly sorties across a wide area including as far away as Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. The base could also launch drones into Iran, although no connections between the base and alleged drone flights into that country has been established.

Back in the United States, the existence of the secret base has invited new scrutiny from Americans who are concerned about U.S. drone operations.

According to statistics released by a number of agencies, U.S. drone strikes kill as many as 50 non-terrorists for each legitimate terrorist they eliminate. The 50 to 1 ratio seems high, however strikes are conducted against homes and vehicle convoys that are used by targeted individuals and others. It is very difficult to separate the innocent from the guilty for the purposes of a drone strike. Mistakes can also occur.

In addition, some of the strikes have targeted American civilians who chose to affiliate themselves with al-Qaeda. A secret justice department memo was leaked last week, which concluded that the President, or other authorized individuals, were within legal bounds to order strikes against Americans overseas.

This memo has become the subject of intense scrutiny and legal challenge as it provides no due process for the accused. Defenders of the memo say that due process is impossible for these individuals and that because of the unique threat they pose to their country, they must be eliminated. White House spokesman Jay Carney has called the strikes, "Legal, ethical, and wise."

The memo is particularly important because the man tapped to become the next director of the CIA is John Brennan, an architect behind the ongoing drone program. It is likely that if he is confirmed, U.S. drone operations will expand rather than contract.

What implications that has for the government of Saudi Arabia, and the Obama administration remains to be seen.

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