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277 Million Boston Bombings April 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in armaments, Arms, Asia, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Laols, Vietnam, War.
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Posted on Apr 23, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
AP/Brendon Smialowski

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks at a memorial about cluster bombing during a tour of the Cooperative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Center in Vientiane, Laos, in 2012.

By Robert Scheer

The horror of Boston should be a reminder that the choice of weaponry can be in itself an act of evil. “Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim” is the way The New York Times defined the hideousness of the weapons used, and President Obama made clear that “anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.” But are we as a society prepared to be judged by that standard?

The president’s deployment of drones that all too often treat innocent civilians as collateral damage comes quickly to mind. It should also be pointed out that the U.S. still maintains a nuclear arsenal and, as our killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese demonstrated, those weapons are inherently, by the president’s definition, weapons of terror. But it is America’s role in the deployment of antipersonnel land mines, and our country’s refusal to sign off on a ban on cluster munitions agreed to by most of the world’s nations, that offers the most glaring analogy with the carnage of Boston.

To this day, antipersonnel weapons—the technologically refined version of the primitive pressure cooker fragmentation bombs exploded in Boston—maim and kill farmers and their children in the Southeast Asian killing fields left over from our country’s past experiment in genocide. An experiment that as a sideshow to our obsession with replacing French colonialism in Vietnam involved dropping 277 million cluster bomblets on Laos between 1964 and 1973.

The whole point of a cluster weapon is to target an area the size of several football fields with the same bits of maiming steel that did so much damage in Boston. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been active in attempting to clear land of remaining bomblets, estimates 10,000 Lao civilian casualties to date from such weapons. As many as twenty-seven million unexploded bomblets remain in the country, according to the committee.

Back in 1964 at the start of that bombing campaign, I reported from Laos, an economically primitive land where a pencil was a prize gift to students. It is staggering to me that the death we visited upon a people, then largely ignorant of life in America, still should be ongoing.and the deadly bomblets they contain has since expanded to most of the world, and they have been used by at least 15 nations. As a recent Congressional Research Service report noted:

“Cluster munitions were used by the Soviets in Afghanistan, by the British in the Falklands, by the Coalition in the Gulf War, and by the warring factions in Yugoslavia. In Kosovo and Yugoslavia in 1999, NATO forces dropped 1,765 cluster bombs containing approximately 295,000 submunitions. From 2001 through 2002, the United States dropped 1,228 cluster bombs containing 248,056 submunitions in Afghanistan, and U.S. and British forces used almost 13,000 cluster munitions containing an estimated 1.8 million to 2 million submunitions during the first three weeks of combat in Iraq in 2003.”

Israel is said to have dropped almost 1 million unexploded bomblets in Lebanon in the 2006 war against Hezbollah, which fired 113 cluster bombs filled with thousands of bomblets at targets in northern Israel.

I list all those dreary statistics to drive home the point that the horror of two pressure cooker bombs in Boston that has so traumatized us should help us grasp the significance of the 1.8 million bomblets dropped in Iraq over a three-week period.

Obama was right to blast the use of weapons that targeted civilians in Boston as inherent acts of terrorism, but by what standard do such weapons change their nature when they are deployed by governments against civilians?

On Aug. 1, 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning such weapons, became a matter of international law for the 111 nations, including 18 NATO members, that signed the agreement. The U.S. was not one of them. Current American policy, according to the Congressional Research Service report, is that “cluster munitions are available for use by every combat aircraft in the U.S. inventory; they are integral to every Army or Marine maneuver element and in some cases constitute up to 50 percent of tactical indirect fire support.”

However, there is new legislation pending in Congress that would require the president to certify that cluster munitions would “only be used against clearly defined military targets” and not deployed “where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.” Lots of luck with that.

Obama: A GOP President Should Have Rules Limiting the Kill List November 27, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: No one says it better than Glenn Greenwald.

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by The Guardian/UK

The president’s flattering view of himself reflects the political sentiments in his party and the citizenry generally

  by  Glenn Greenwald

For the last four years, Barack Obama has not only asserted, but aggressively exercised, the power to target for execution anyone he wants, including US citizens, anywhere in the world. He has vigorously resisted not only legal limits on this assassination power, but even efforts to bring some minimal transparency to the execution orders he issues.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the second US presidential debate. (Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters)

This claimed power has resulted in four straight years of air bombings in multiple Muslim countries in which no war has been declared – using drones, cruise missiles and cluster bombs – ending the lives of more than 2,500 people, almost always far away from any actual battlefield. They are typically targeted while riding in cars, at work, at home, and while even rescuing or attending funerals for others whom Obama has targeted. A substantial portion of those whom he has killed – at the very least – have been civilians, including dozens of children.

Worse still, his administration has worked to ensure that this power is subject to the fewest constraints possible. This was accomplished first by advocating the vague, sweeping Bush/Cheney interpretation of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) – whereby the President can target not only the groups which perpetrated the 9/11 attack (as the AUMF provides) but also those he claims are “associated” which such groups, and can target not only members of such groups (as the AUMF states) but also individuals he claims provide “substantial support” to those groups. Obama then entrenched these broad theories by signing into law the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which permanently codified those Bush/Cheney interpretation of these war powers.

From the start, Obama officials have also ensured that these powers have no physical limits, as they unequivocally embraced what was once the core and highly controversial precept of Bush/Cheney radicalism: that the US is fighting a “global war” in which the “whole world is a battlefield”, which means there are no geographical constraints to the president’s war powers. In sum, we have had four straight years of a president who has wielded what is literally the most extreme and tyrannical power a government can claim – to execute anyone the leader wants, even his own citizens, in total secrecy and without a whiff of due process – and who has resisted all efforts to impose a framework of limits or even transparency.

But finally, according to a new article on Sunday by The New York Times’ Scott Shane, President Obama was recently convinced that some limits and a real legal framework might be needed to govern the exercise of this assassination power. What was it that prompted Obama finally to reach this conclusion? It was the fear that he might lose the election, which meant that a Big, Bad Republican would wield these powers, rather than a benevolent, trustworthy, noble Democrat – i.e., himself [emphasis added]:

“Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials. . . .

“The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But . . . Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory. . . .

For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.

“But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies wherever they are found.

“Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American drone strikes. . . .

“The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for compiling ‘kill lists’ and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.

“‘There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,’ said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an ‘amorphous’ program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.”

Now that Obama rather than Romney won, such rules will be developed “at a more leisurely pace”. Despite Obama’s suggestion that it might be good if even he had some legal framework in which to operate, he’s been in no rush to subject himself to any such rules in four full years of killing thousands of people. This makes it safe to assume that by “a more leisurely pace”, this anonymous Obama official means: “never”.

There are many important points raised by this report: Kevin Gosztola and Marcy Wheeler, among others, have done their typically excellent job of discussing some of them, while this Guardian article from Sunday reports on the reaction of the ACLU and others to the typical Obama manipulation of secrecy powers on display here (as usual, these matters are too secret to permit any FOIA disclosure or judicial scrutiny, but Obama officials are free to selectively leak what they want us to know to the front page of the New York Times). I want to focus on one key point highlighted by all of this:

Democratic Party benevolence

The hubris and self-regard driving this is stunning – but also quite typical of Democratic thinking generally in the Obama era. The premise here is as self-evident as it is repellent:

I’m a Good Democrat and a benevolent leader; therefore, no limits, oversight, checks and balances, legal or Constitutional constraints, transparency or due process are necessary for me to exercise even the most awesome powers, such as ordering people executed. Because of my inherent Goodness and proven progressive wisdom, I can be trusted to wield these unlimited powers unilaterally and in the dark.

Things like checks, oversight and due process are desperately needed only for Republicans, because – unlike me – those people are malevolent and therefore might abuse these powers and thus shouldn’t be trusted with absolute, unchecked authority. They – but not I – urgently need restrictions on their powers.

This mentality is not only the animating belief of President Obama, but also the sizable portion of American Democrats which adores him.

There are many reasons why so many self-identified progressives in the US have so radically changed their posture on these issues when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush. Those include (a) the subordination of all ostensible beliefs to their hunger for partisan power; (b) they never actually believed these claimed principles in the first place but only advocated them for partisan opportunism, i.e., as a way to discredit the GOP President; and (c) they are now convinced that these abuses will only be used against Muslims and, consumed by self-interest, they concluded that these abuses are not worth caring about because it only affects Others (this is the non-Muslim privilege enjoyed by most US progressives, which shields them from ever being targeted, so they simply do not care; the more honest ones of this type even admit this motivation).

But the primary reason for this fundamental change in posture is that they genuinely share the self-glorifying worldview driving Obama here. The core premise is that the political world is shaped by a clean battle of Good v. Evil. The side of Good is the Democratic Party; the side of Evil is the GOP. All political truths are ascertainable through this Manichean prism.

This is the simplistic, self-flattering morality narrative that gets reinforced for them over and over as they sit for hours every day having their assumptions flattered and validated (and never questioned or challenged) by watching MSNBC, reading pro-Obama blogs that regularly churn out paeans to his greatness, and drinking up the hundreds of millions of dollars of expertly crafted election-year propaganda from the Party that peddles this Justice League cartoon.

The result is that, for so many, it is genuinely inconceivable that a leader as noble, kind and wise as Barack Obama would abuse his assassination and detention powers. It isn’t just rank partisan opportunism or privilege that leads them not to object to Obama’s embrace of these radical powers and the dangerous theories that shield those powers from checks or scrutiny. It’s that they sincerely admire him as a leader and a man so much that they believe in their heart (like Obama himself obviously believes) that due process, checks and transparency are not necessary when he wields these powers. Unlike when a GOP villain is empowered, Obama’s Goodness and his wisdom are the only safeguards we need.

Thus, when Obama orders someone killed, no due process is necessary and we don’t need to see any evidence of their guilt; we can (and do) just assume that the targeted person is a Terrorist and deserves death because Obama has decreed this to be so. When Obama orders a person to remain indefinitely in a cage without any charges or any opportunity to contest the validity of the imprisonment, that’s unobjectionable because the person must be a Terrorist or otherwise dangerous – or else Obama wouldn’t order him imprisoned. We don’t need proof, or disclosed evidence, or due process to determine the validity of these accusations; that it is Obama making these decisions is all the assurance we need because we trust him.

Similar sentiments shaping the Bush era

This mindset is so recognizable because it is also what drove Bush followers for years as they defended his seizures of unchecked authority and secrecy powers. Those who spent years arguing against the Bush/Cheney seizure of extremist powers always confronted this mentality at bottom, once the pseudo-intellectual justifications were debunked: George Bush is a Good man and a noble leader who can be trusted to exercise these powers in secret and with no checks, because he only wants to keep us safe and will only target the Terrorists.

Molded by exactly the same species of drooling presidential hagiography now so prevalent in progressive circles – compare this from the Bush era to things like this and this – conservatives believed that Bush was a good man and a great leader and thus needed no safeguards or transparency. If Bush wanted to eavesdrop on someone, or wanted to imprison someone, then – solely by virtue of his decree – we could and should assume the person was a Terrorist, or at least there was ample evidence to believe he was.

We were graced with a leader we could trust to exercise unlimited war powers in the dark. This is precisely the same mentality applied by Democrats (and by Obama himself) to the current President, except it not only justifies due-process-free eavesdropping and detention but also execution.

Faith v. reason and evidence

It is, for several reasons, extraordinary that so many citizens have been successfully trained to so venerate their Party’s leaders that they literally believe no checks or transparency are necessary, even as those leaders wield the most extremist powers: executing people, bombing multiple countries, imprisoning people with no charges, mass monitoring and surveilling of entire communities.

For one, there is ample evidence that virtually every leader of both major parties over the last century systematically abused these powers because they were able to exercise them in the dark. It was this discovery by the Church Committee that led to the reforms of the mid-1970s – reforms grounded in the premise that virtually all leaders, by virtue of human nature, will inevitably abuse these powers, exercise them for ignoble ends, if they operate without serious restraints and oversight. One has to ignore all of this historic evidence in order to place trust in any particular leader to exercise these powers without checks.

Then there is all the specific evidence of all the post-9/11 abuses. Over the last decade, the US government – under both parties – has repeatedly accused people of being Terrorists and punished them as Terrorists who were nothing of the sort. Whether due to gross error or more corrupt motives, the Executive Branch and its various intelligence and military agencies have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that their mere accusation that someone is a Terrorist – unproven with evidence and untested by any independent tribunal – is definitively unreliable.

Even beyond that, it is well-documented that the US government, under Obama, often targets people for death when they don’t even know the identity of the person they’re trying to kill. From the Sunday New York Times article:

“Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown. In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as ‘a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.’ But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to ‘personality strikes’ against named terrorists, the CIA and the military have carried out ‘signature strikes’ against groups of suspected, unknown militants.

“Originally that term was used to suggest the specific ‘signature’ of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the ‘signature’ of militants in general – for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.”

It is truly staggering to watch citizens assert that their government is killing “Terrorists” when those citizens have no clue who is being killed. But that becomes even more astounding when one realizes that not even the US government knows who they’re killing: they’re just killing anyone whose behavior they think generally tracks the profile of a Terrorist (“young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups”). And, of course, the Obama administration has re-defined “militant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone” – reflecting their propagandistic sloganeering that they are killing Terrorists even when they, in fact, have no idea who they are killing.

In light of all this evidence, to continue to blindly assume that unproven government accusations of “Terrorist” are tantamount to proof of those accusations is to embrace the type of faith-based trust that lies at the core of religious allegiance and faith in a god, not rational citizenship. Yet over and over, one encounters some form of this dialogue whenever this issue arises:

ARGUMENT: The US government shouldn’t imprison/kill/surveil people without providing evidence of their guilt.

GOVERNMENT-DEFENDING RESPONSE: But these are Terrorists, and they have to be stopped.

OBVIOUS QUESTION: How do you know they’re Terrorists if no evidence of their guilt has been presented and no due process accorded?

Ultimately, the only possible answer to that question – the only explanation for why this definitively authoritarian mentality persists – is because people have been so indoctrinated with the core Goodness of their particular party leader that they disregard all empirical evidence, and their own rational faculties, in order to place their blind faith in the leader they have grown to love and admire (if my leader says someone is a Terrorist, then I believe they are, and I don’t need to see evidence of that).

One can reasonably debate the extent to which democracy requires that some degree of trust be vested in the capabilities and judgment of whichever political leaders one supports. But however far that trust should extend, surely it must stop well before the vesting of the power to imprison and kill in total secrecy, far from any battlefield and without any checks or due process.

Core principles disregarded in lieu of leader-love

The Times article describes the view of Obama that some “drone rules” would be needed to be developed in light of the possibility of Romney’s victory. But at least some such rules already exist: they’re found in these things called “the Constitution” and “the Bill of Rights”, the Fifth Amendment to which provides:

“No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;”

Yet all of that has been tossed aside in lieu of a deeply disturbing and unhealthy faith-based belief that our leader can make these determinations without the need for any such bothersome impediments.

To me, this comment, left in response to a Gawker post from Sunday on the new NYT article, perfectly conveys the sentiment I heard for years in right-wing circles to justify everything Bush did in secret, and is now just as miserably common in progressive circles to justify Obama’s wielding of the same and even greater powers:

“The fact of the matter is that the complexities of security and war go far beyond what those interested in appearing morally superior are willing to concede. It just so happens that a lot of liberals are most interested in the appearance of moral superiority. . . .

“I used to be the exact same way, but then I actually genuinely considered how I would feel if I held the weight of the presidency and these decisions. I have no doubt that most liberals, when presented with that, would act just as Obama has. . . .

“I’m liberal, I’m no fan of war, I’m no fan of Republican fanaticism and thumping America-is-the-best nonsense across the globe. But I can understand why drone strikes might be the most expedient option in a war. Or, perhaps more precisely, can understand just how incapable I am of understanding. And instead of supposing myself worthy of understanding the complexity and therefore offering criticism, I trust those more intelligent than myself. But a lot of my fellow liberals don’t believe there are people more intelligent than themselves. I have no self-loathing of liberals. Its just like a moderate Republican finding the right wing of their party crazy even if they believe in most of the same stuff.”

That’s the Platonic form of authoritarian leader-faith:

I don’t need to know anything; my leader doesn’t need to prove the truth of his accusations; he should punish whomever he wants in total secrecy and without safeguards, and I will assume that he is right to do so (as long as I and others like me are not the ones targeted) because he is superior to me and I place my faith in Him.

Anyone who thinks the leader (when he’s of my party) should have to show proof before killing someone, or allow them due process, is being a childish purist. I used to be like that – until Obama got in office, and now I see how vital it is to trust him and not bother him with all this “due process” fanaticism. That’s what being an adult citizen means: trusting one’s leader the way children trust their parent.

This is the only sentiment that can explain the comfort with allowing Obama (and, before him, Bush) to exercise these extreme powers without checks or transparency. This is exactly the sentiment any Obama critic confronts constantly, even if expressed a bit more subtly and with a bit more dignity.

Ultimately, what is most extraordinary about all of this – most confounding to me – is how violently contrary this mentality is to the ethos with which all Americans are instilled: namely, that the first and most inviolable rule of government is that leaders must not be trusted to exercise powers without constant restraints – without what we’re all taught in elementary school are called “checks and balances”. Here is how Thomas Jefferson expressed this warning in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:

“In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

And here is what John Adams said in his 1772 Journal:

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty”.

It is literally impossible to conceive of any mindset more at odds with these basic principles than the one that urges that Barack Obama – unlike George Bush or Mitt Romney or whoever the scary GOP villain of the day is – can be trusted to unilaterally and secretly kill or imprison or surveil anyone he wants because he is a Good man and a trustworthy leader and therefore his unproven accusations should be assumed true. But this is, overwhelmingly, the warped and authoritarian sentiment that now prevails in the bulk of the Democratic Party and its self-identified “progressive” faction, just as it did in the GOP and its conservative wing for eight years.

Ultimately, this unhealthy and dangerous trust in one’s own leader – beyond just the normal human desire to follow – is the by-product of over-identifying with the brand-marketed personality of politicians. Many East and West Coast progressives (which is overwhelmingly what Democratic Party opinion leaders are) have been trained to see themselves and the personality traits to which they aspire in Obama (the urbane, sophisticated, erudite Harvard-educated lawyer and devoted father and husband), just as religious conservatives and other types of Republicans were trained to see Bush in that way (the devout evangelical Christian, the brush-clearing, patriotic swaggering cowboy, and devoted father and husband).

Politicians are thus perceived like contestants in a reality TV show: viewers decide who they like personally and who they dislike – but the difference is that these images are bolstered with hundreds of millions of dollars of relentless, sophisticated, highly manipulative propaganda campaigns (there’s a reason the Obama 2008 campaign won multiple branding awards from the advertising and marketing industry). When one is taught to relate to a politician based on a fictitious personal relationship, one comes to place excessive trust in those with whom one identifies (the way one comes to trust, say, a close family member or loved one), and to harbor excessive contempt for those one is trained to see as the villain character. In sum, citizens are being trained to view politicians exactly the way Jefferson warned was so dangerous: “In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man.”

There’s one final irony worth noting in all of this. Political leaders and political movements convinced of their own Goodness are usually those who need greater, not fewer, constraints in the exercise of power. That’s because – like religious True Believers – those who are convinced of their inherent moral superiority can find all manner to justify even the most corrupted acts on the ground that they are justified by the noble ends to which they are put, or are cleansed by the nobility of those perpetrating those acts.

Political factions driven by self-flattering convictions of their own moral superiority – along with their leaders – are the ones most likely to abuse power. Anyone who ever listened to Bush era conservatives knows that this conviction drove them at their core (“you are with us or with the Terrorists”), and it is just as true of Obama-era progressives who genuinely see the political landscape as an overarching battle between forces of Good (Democrats: i.e., themselves) and forces of Evil (Republicans).

Thus should it be completely unsurprising that Obama (and his most ardent followers) genuinely believe that rules are urgently necessary to constrain Republicans from killing whoever they want, but that such urgency ceases to exist when that power rests in the hands of the current benevolent leader. Such a dangerous and perverse mindset is incredibly pervasive in the citizenry, and goes a long way toward explaining why and how the US government has been able to seize the powers it has wielded over the last decade with so little resistance, and with no end in sight.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

The killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son October 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 5:21 AM 21:23:15 CDT

 

Extreme secrecy, as usual, shrouds this act, but it underscores how often the U.S. uses violence around the world

By Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com
 

 (Credit: Reuters/AP)

 

(updated below)

Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people. News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki’s son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: “anyone killed by the U.S.”), but a birth certificate published by The Washington Post proved that he was born only 16 years ago in Denver. As The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson wrote: “Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government’s evidence — or the honesty of its claims — and about our own capacity for self-deception.” The boy’s grandfather said that he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when the U.S. attacked them by air and ended their lives. There are two points worth making about this:

(1) It is unknown whether the U.S. targeted the teenager or whether he was merely “collateral damage.” The reason that’s unknown is because the Obama administration refuses to tell us. Said the Post: “The officials would not discuss the attack in any detail, including who the target was.” So here we have yet again one of the most consequential acts a government can take — killing one of its own citizens, in this case a teenage boy — and the government refuses even to talk about what it did, why it did it, what its justification is, what evidence it possesses, or what principles it has embraced in general for such actions. Indeed, it refuses even to admit it did this, since it refuses even to admit that it has a drone program at all and that it is engaged in military action in Yemen. It’s just all shrouded in total secrecy.

Of course, the same thing happened with the killing of Awlaki himself. The Executive Branch decided it has the authority to target U.S. citizens for death without due process, but told nobody (until it was leaked) and refuses to identify the principles that guide these decisions. It then concluded in a secret legal memo that Awlaki specifically could be killed, but refuses to disclose what it ruled or in which principles this ruling was grounded. And although the Obama administration repeatedly accused Awlaki of having an “operational role” in Terrorist plots, it has — as Davidson put it — “so far kept the evidence for that to itself.”

This is all part and parcel of the Obama administration’s extreme — at times unprecedentedfixation on secrecy. Even with Senators in the President’s own party warning that the administration’s secret interpretation of its domestic surveillance powers under the Patriot Act is so warped and radical that it would shock the public if they knew, Obama officials simply refuse even to release its legal memos setting forth how it is interpreting those powers. As EFF’s Trevor Timm told The Daily Beast today: “The government classified a staggering 77 million documents last year, a 40 percent increase on the year before.” And as I wrote about many times, the Obama administration even tried — and failed — to force The New York Times‘ James Risen to reveal his source for his story about an inept, disastrous CIA effort to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, but as Politico‘s Josh Gerstein reports today, the Obama DOJ is now appealing the decision in Risen’s favor. Gerstein writes:

The executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, said the appeal was troubling for First Amendment advocates, but not unexpected.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Dalglish said “The Obama administration has made it absolutely clear they detest leakers and they are going to be very aggressive against leakers.”

Since Obama took office, his administration has initiated five prosecutions of alleged leakers under the Espionage Act — a sum roughly equal to the total number of such prosecutions in all prior administrations combined. . . .

“It’s really looking like they want to put Risen in prison,” [the defendant's lawyer Edward] MacMahon said in a brief interview. . . . “For the journalists in the world, it’s quite a significant First Amendment appeal.”

You can offer the ability to citizens to choose from one of the two parties and elect their leaders as much as you want. But “democracy” is an illusion — a sham — if the most significant acts taken by those leaders are kept concealed from the citizenry. Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote a multi-part series, and followed it up with a book, describing “Top Secret America”: the sprawling, secret government/private-sector apparatus accountable to nobody. Leaks and whistleblowers are the only real avenue remaining for citizens to know what their government does, and it’s why the Obama administration is so obsessed with persecuting whistleblowers, crushing WikiLeaks, and now even trying to imprison one of the nation’s best investigative journalists.

For many people, this type of secrecy is not bothersome because — when their party controls the White House — they trust their leader to be honest and act properly; that’s what Bush followers who viewed Bush as a good, earnest Christian constantly said in response to objections over radical secrecy, and it’s what many Obama followers say now (if Obama says someone is a Terrorist, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure he is – if Obama says Iran is behind a Terrorist plot, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure they are). But that obviously isn’t a healthy mindset when forming expectations of political leaders. More so, you can’t have a functioning democracy if the government refuses even to discuss its most radical and significant acts. The Obama administration is just off waging a secret war in Yemen, killing its own citizens from the sky, and refusing to account to anyone for what it’s doing. If you accept that level of secrecy, what don’t you accept?

(2) Every now and then it’s worth pausing to reflect on how often we talk about the killing of people by the U.S. Literally, the U.S. government is just continuously killing people in multiple countries around the world. Who else does that? Nobody — certainly nowhere near on this scale. The U.S. President expressly claims the power to target anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, for death, including his own citizens; he does it in total secrecy and with no oversight; and this power is not just asserted but routinely exercised. The U.S., over and over, eradicates people’s lives by the dozens from the sky, with bombs, with checkpoint shootings, with night raids — in far more places and far more frequently than any other nation or group on the planet. Those are just facts.

What’s most striking about this is how little effort is needed to induce America’s political and media elites to acquiesce to it. The government need do nothing more than utter empty nationalistic phrases such as “we’re at war” and “Terrorist!” and this unparalleled, endless state violence all becomes instantly justified. Yesterday, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen wrote about the Awlaki killings: “Many Yemenis can understand (if disagree) killing the father, few can understand killing the son,” and pointed to this Facebook entry from a young Yemeni as illustration of what he meant; read the text:

I have no doubt that many Americans, probably most, would consider this comparison to be outrageous hyperbole, even offensive and slanderous. I have just as little doubt that many Americans, probably most, would be saying things quite similar to this if it were another country, engaging in far more violence than all others, routinely zapping innocent teeangers, children, women and men out out of existence on American soil using sky robots and cluster bombs (just look at America’s ongoing reaction to a single, one-day attack on its soil a full decade ago). But the U.S. does this so often, and has for so long, that most of the citizenry has either concocted or ingested mental and intellectual strategies for pretending this doesn’t happen or justifying it when they can’t. So we just killed an American teenager and his teenage cousin by drone-bombing them to death? They merely join a very long list of similar recent victims — a list that, paradoxically, makes less of an impact the longer it becomes.

UPDATE: Those who believe evidence and transparency in such matters are unnecessary because the government under Obama — unlike under Bush — would never issue false claims about such things and can be trusted without accountability should review this and this.

Companies Ejected From London Arms Fair for ‘Promoting Cluster Bombs’ September 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, War.
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Roger’s note: there is a half serious joke that goes like this: when the revolution succeeds, the capitalists will sell the revolutionaries the ropes by which they are going to be hanged.  In the insane world of free market corporate capitalism, otherwise known as Murder Incorporated, the merchants of death openly and proudly display their anti-human wares, and the blood-thirsty buyers come a running.  Oh, let’s here it for the Brits for banning cluster bombs.  Now only if we could get them and the Yankees and the rest of the world governments to ban atomic weapons, predator missiles, napalm, and … well,  all weaponry of war.  Be it by a nuclear holocaust or environmental disaster, one way or another corporate capitalism (via the military-industrial complex and their puppets who govern us) are out to destroy the very biosphere that sustains us. 
Published on Friday, September 16, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

Violation of Oslo accord discovered by MP who calls for action to investigate ‘what other breaches are occurring’ at the fair

  by Nick Hopkins

The world’s largest arms fair has thrown out two exhibitors after they were found to be promoting cluster munitions that have been banned by the UK and condemned by more than 100 other countries.

Protesters against the Defence and Security Equipment International fair. Photograph: Pete Riches / Demotix/ Pete Riches / Demotix/Demotix/Corbis The organisers of the London exhibition said they had been unaware that the material was available and an investigation had been launched. But campaigners rounded on the Defense and Security Equipment International fair, saying it was “unbelievable” that more thorough checks had not been undertaken.

The action was taken after Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader, discovered that Pakistani arms manufacturers were actively promoting “banned cluster bombs” at their pavilions. Details of the munitions were in brochures readily available to potential customers.

A statement from DSEI confirmed that the two stands had been closed on Thursday evening. “(We) can confirm that the Pakistan Ordnance Factory stand and Pakistan’s Defense Export Promotion Organization pavilion have both been permanently shut down after promotional material was found … containing references to equipment, which after close examination, was found to breach UK government export controls and our own contractual requirements. [The] government fully supports the decision by DSEI to close the stand and the pavilion. We are currently investigating how this breach of our compliance system occurred.”

Three years ago, the UK joined other signatories to the Oslo accord, which specifically prohibits “all use, stockpiling, production and transfer” of cluster weapons; they are considered particularly lethal because they are designed to release dozens, sometimes hundreds of “bomblets” on their targets.

They have been widely condemned because they have killed and injured hundreds of civilians long after conflicts have ended. One third of all such casualties are thought to have been children.

The episode is an embarrassment to the fair, which has had 1,300 firms from more than 40 countries seeking orders for weapons. Earlier this week, the defense secretary Liam Fox gave a speech there, saying that “defense and security exports play a key role in promoting our foreign policy objectives”.

Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, has now written to Vince Cable, the business secretary, saying she remains “deeply concerned” at the level of scrutiny given to the companies who exhibit at DSEI, which has been running all week at the Excel center in London’s Docklands.

“I was able to find illegal advertising materials on the basis of one short visit to the exhibition with few resources at my disposal,” she said. “There’s no telling what other breaches are occurring and might be uncovered with further research.” It should not be left to MPs and campaigners to police illegal promotion of banned arms on British soil.

Lucas said there is an “inherent conflict between the government’s promotion of military exports and its stated desire to help protect human rights overseas.”

Oliver Sprague, of Amnesty International, said: “It is almost unbelievable. It’s not just cluster bombs, either. Earlier this week we found brochures (on different stands) which appear to show illegal torture equipment being advertised. It is quite amazing that it has taken a Green MP and Amnesty international to find things that are clearly illegal.”

Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, condemned the “laxness” that had allowed the companies to promote illegal equipment. “They should never have been allowed in,” she added.

A spokesman for DSEI said it had no further comment. The Pakistan Ordnance Factory could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this week the Guardian reported that Pakistan was also advertising an “arms for peace” exhibition in Karachi next year as well as “gold-plated” submachine guns, “for collectors”.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

Article 51: Israel’s false claim February 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Reza Nasri

17 – 02 – 2009. www.opendemocracy.net

Both opponents and supporters of Israel’s attacks on Gaza fail to see how deep its breach of international law and norms really runs

“In its military operation, Israel exercised its inherent right to self-defence, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Any other State would have acted in the same manner faced with similar terrorist threats.”

Later on, the Permanent mission of Israel reiterates this position in a letter addressed to the Secretary General. Once again, Israel officially claims that:

“In response to Hamas’ continuous terrorist attacks, Israel has been acting in accordance with its inherent right to self-defence enshrined in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.”

To counter Israel’s assertion, opponents argue that the right to self-defence – while being an inherent right of States – is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity. They note that Israel’s massive military operations in Gaza do not meet these two conditions (the military operations are excessively violent compared to the alleged attacks that provoked them) and conclude that they are therefore illegal under international law.  

Non-applicability of Article 51 in occupied territories

The right to self-defence – as recognized by Article 51 of the Charter – is a right attributable to “States” only in their “international” relations. A State is allowed to recourse to self-defence if it is subject to another State‘s unlawful use of force. The situation must involve:

a) An armed attack (of sufficient gravity);

b) Conducted between States (or from one State territory) - as main subjects of international law;

c) And be of an international character.

Article 51 does not apply to a situation that involves an Occupying Power (the State of Israel) acting within occupied territories under its own authority and responsibility. In legal terms, Israel cannot invoke the right to self-defence under Article 51 to justify the use of military force in territories on which Israel itself exercises effective control, at least since 1967. (Although Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza under the “disengagement plan” in 2005, Israel’s relocation of its troops from the occupied land does not end its status as the “Occupying power”. Israel continuously maintained control over Gaza’s borders, air and sea space, water, electricity, sewage and telecommunication systems and because of that, Gaza remains an occupied territory as defined in international law. In fact, UN Security Council resolution 1860 (pdf) issued on January 8, 2009 clearly notes that: “the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967″.)

Indeed, it would be inconceivable for most of us to imagine any other country barricading a city or a district within a territory under its own watch, then use F-16 fire jets, high-tech Cobra helicopters, ground troops, cluster bombs, white phosphorus and depleted uranium ammunition, killing thousands of its inhabitants under the pretext of combating, for instance, street gang criminality. It would be even more absurd if that country justified all that by invoking an extraneous right under the UN Charter. Yet, this is exactly what Israel has done in Gaza.

Palestine (Gaza strip and the West Bank) is not yet considered an independent sovereign State – especially not by Israel. The swath of land known as “Palestine” (which encompasses Gaza) is an inhabited territory under Israeli mandate and occupation since 1967. For Israel to become entitled to invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter (which is a multilateral inter-state treaty) and benefit from its relevant rules of self-defence, Israel needs at least to recognize that it is dealing with another “State” (be it a State that directly commits armed attacks against Israel or a State whose territory is being used by an autonomous hostile group to mount attacks against Israel). But Israel cannot persistently rebuff Palestine’s Statehood on one hand, and, on the other hand, treat Palestine as a State whenever it needs to utilise the Charter to legitimise its use of force against.

In other words, Israel’s self-defence argument entails the precondition of recognising Palestinian Statehood; while not doing so entails setting the Charter’s legal subterfuges aside and solely complying with the strictures of Humanitarian law (especially the Geneva Conventions) regarding occupation.

The world court’s position

In its July 2004 advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had already established the non-applicability of “self-defence” under Article 51 in the situation between Israel and the Occupied Territories (a key point that most commentators seem to have forgotten). Just as it claims today, Israel had argued in the Wall case that the construction of a wall around the West Bank was an act of self-defence consistent with Article 51 of the Charter. According to Israel, Article 51 supported its right to build the wall to protect itself against terrorist attacks emanating from the occupied territories.

But the Court dismissed this argument as follows (pdf):

“Article 51 of the Charter thus recognizes the existence of an inherent right of self-defence in the case of armed attack by one State against another State. However, Israel does not claim that the attacks against it are imputable to a foreign State. The Court also notes that Israel exercises control in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and that, as Israel itself states, the threat which it regards as justifying the construction of the wall originates within, and not outside, that territory. [...] Consequently, the Court concludes that Article 51 of the Charter has no relevance in this case” (emphasis added by author).

A fortiori, the Court’s position is also valid regarding the recent situation in Gaza.

In fact, there seems to be a growing consensus among prominent international law experts regarding the issue. In a document entitled “The Chatham House Principles of International Law on the Use of Force in Self-Defence”, the Royal Institute of International Affairs also confirmed the non-applicability of Article 51 by stressing that “unless an attack is directed from outside territory under the control of the defending State, the question of self-defence in the sense of Article 51 does not normally arise”.

The impermissible confusion: Jus ad bellum vs Jus in bello

The law of the use of force is composed of two distinct branches:

a) the law governing the recourse to force (jus ad bellum) and;

b) the law governing the conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).

The first set of laws refers to the reasons States may invoke to justify war, while the second set governs the means they may adopt in executing war or the way they should act in a post-war situation, such as occupation. The jus ad bellum rules are mostly enshrined in the UN Charter (i.e. article 2(4) and article 51), while the jus in bello rules are mostly to be found in the four Geneva Conventions, the Hague regulations and relevant customary norms. Self-defence logically belongs to the realm of jus ad bellum while “occupation” is naturally governed by the jus in bello.

As Georges Abi-Saab – Professor Emeritus at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva – explained in his oral pleading before the ICJ in the wall case:

“[S]elf-defence does not belong to international humanitarian law or the jus in bello, but to the jus ad bellum [the branch of law that defines the legitimate reasons a State may engage in war]. Israel makes here an impermissible confusion between the two branches of the law of war that have to be kept radically apart”.

As it did in the wall case, Israel still attempts to sustain that confusion, for good reason.

Israel has already exhausted its right to self-defence when it pre-emptively seized the West Bank and Gaza from neighbouring belligerent States in an international conflict in 1967. Since then, the only set of laws that govern the Israeli-Palestinian situation is the customary and treaty-based norms of “Humanitarian law” that regulate occupation (Jus in bello). According to the applicable law, Israel is not only proscribed from harming the inhabitants of these territories, but it is obliged to ensure their safety and security (Article 43 of The Hague regulations). Israel is also under the obligation to provide protection to their private properties (Arts. 46 and 47 of the Fourth Geneva convention), and to keep intact their “public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural estates” (Art. 55 of the Fourth Geneva convention).

Israel’s recent massive bombardments and use of heavy artillery against Gaza cannot be reconciled with these obligations. In fact, Israel’s recent actions constitute, under Article 147 of the Fourth Convention, as well as Article 85 of Protocol I and Article 8 of the Rome Statute, grave breaches of international law which entail individual criminal responsibility.

By constantly alluding to the notion of self-defence as per Article 51 and by framing the military operations in Gaza solely in terms of necessity and proportionality, even the opponents of Israel unconsciously affirm the “impermissible confusion” that Israel is deliberately trying to disseminate.

Reza Nasri is an international lawyer based at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.In my opinion, both sides miss a crucial point.

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