First known attempt to kill Anwar al Awlaki was Dec. 2009. Legal memo justifying US plot to kill him is dated July 2010.
New Snowden Docs Reveal Wider Net of NATO ‘Kill List’ Targets January 1, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan drugs, Afghanistan War, andrea germanos, civilian casualties, kill list, narco state, NATO, snowden, Taliban
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Roger’s note: you will note that in the first paragraph of this article the valiant armies of the free world who call themselves NATO (and for all intents and purposes serve only the interests of the United States’ imperial adventures) have been targeting and killing those “suspected of being low- and mid-level operatives as well as drug traffickers.” I call your attention to the word “suspected.” As the beloved Queen of Hears once said, “execution first, trial afterwards.” The Queen is also happy to note that the United States government has officially declared the end of the War in Afghanistan, which it started. The United States, however, are still leaving over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan (no doubt to go around the country handing out chocolate to the children), plus what is left of the NATO lapdog allies and god knows how many highly paid mercenaries (think the ubiquitous renamed Blackwater). And NATO will continue to bomb, even though the war is over, presumably to stay in practice. It strikes me as noteworthy that victory has not been claimed, just that the war (that really is not over) is over. On the positive side, the Afghani opium industry is doing better than ever. Otherwise, it continues to get curiouser and curiouser.
Reporting by Der Spiegel shows low-level suspected Taliban, drug traffickers targeted for killing
Newly revealed documents show that NATO’s “kill list” for Afghanistan operations included not just senior Taliban leaders but those suspected of being low- and mid-level operatives as well as drug traffickers, Der Spiegel has reported.
Some of the secret documents, which are from 2009 to 2011, are from the trove released by Edward Snowden, the German paper states.
“The documents show that the deadly missions were not just viewed as a last resort to prevent attacks, but were in fact part of everyday life in the guerrilla war in Afghanistan,” Der Spiegel reports.
As part of a strategy the White House called “escalate and exit” that started in 2009, NATO troops would start with a “cleansing” phase—killing insurgents. The paper cites Michael T. Flynn, the head of ISAF intelligence in Afghanistan, as saying during a briefing: “The only good Talib is a dead Talib.”
Among the documents cited and made publicly available by Der Spiegel is the Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL). It lists, with names redacted by the paper, 669 targets, their code names and one of four priority levels. The location for some of those on the list is across the border in Pakistan.
In contrast to claims made by the U.S. government regarding those targeted for assassination, one person who was put on the list in the summer of 2010 was an Afghan soldier named Hussein. Not a senior operational leader posing an imminent threat, Hussein was merely suspected of being part of an attack on ISAF forces, and his placement on the list was meant to use his death as a deterrent, the paper reports.
Der Spiegel reports that the search for the men on the list relied sometimes on only their cell phone signal, and that the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, maintained a list of these numbers. Voice recognition could be used to warrant an airstrike.
The paper quotes a secret British report from October 2010 as stating that the use of cell phone signals was “central to the success of operations.”
Risks of civilian casualties from strikes against those on the list were weighed, but seemed to be often accepted, and “civilian” only referred to women, children and elderly.
“The rule of thumb was that when there was estimated collateral damage of up to 10 civilians, the ISAF commander in Kabul was to decide whether the risk was justifiable,” Der Spiegel quotes an ISAF officer who worked with the lists for years as saying.
An example of civilian casualties caused by the hunt for those put on the list is given in another document cited by Der Spiegel, which reveals a botched missile strike at supposed mid-level operative Mullah Niaz Mohammed. It instead killed a boy and wounded his father.
The reporting also explains how the wide net of those targeted for assassination covered those deemed to be narcotics traffickers.
It cites an NSA document as saying insurgents “could not be defeated without disrupting the drug trade.” Drug traffickers’ names were added to the JPEL in October 2008.
This exposes a vicious death cycle. While the U.S.-led war purported to combat opium poppy cultivation, years of occupation have rendered record high cultivation levels.
As Matthieu Aikins exposes in a Rolling Stone article this month, Afghanistan: The Making of a Narco State, “the Afghan narcotics trade has gotten undeniably worse since the U.S.-led invasion,” and the U.S. has “all[ied] with many of the same people who turned the country into the world’s biggest source of heroin.”
The new reporting comes a day after the United States and NATO formally ended the 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan, though President Obama announced the extension of that war just a month ago. Thousands of troops are remaining, and, as the Los Angeles Times reports Monday, combat operations rules will allow continued U.S. airstrikes on the country.
Tags: aumf, david barron, doj, drone memo, drone wars, eric holder, kill list, olc, presidential assassination, roger hollander, sarah lazare
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Roger’s note: As I have noted more than once on this Blog, the major crimes in history, including the death of Socrates, Jesus, and the Holocaust, were carried out and justified by the existing “legal’ system, that is under the color of law. Again, history repeats itself, and David Barron of the OLC joins the disgraced criminal ranks of John Yoo, Bruce Bybee and the other torture memo conspirators.
Lynch Law: The Root of US imperialism April 3, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Human Rights, Imperialism, Race, Racism, Torture, War.
Tags: danny haiphong, history, ho chi minh, imperialism, jim crow, kill list, KKK, lynch law, lynching, ndaa, Race, racism, roger hollander, slavery, solitary confinement, torture, white power
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Roger’s note: there are strong words. Back in the late 1960s those of us protesting the US aggression in Vietnam were criticized for using the word “fascist” to characterize the U.S. government. It seemed to many then, as it may seem to many now, that the use of such language was going overboard. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. And believe me, friends, in terms of the kinds of governmental actions that can be described as fascist, we have come a long way since then.
Domestic U.S. lynch has morphed into imperialist terrorism. “Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources.”
by Danny Haiphong; http://www.blackagendareport.com, April 1, 2014
“The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s ‘kill list’ or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a ‘terrorist’ label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its ‘national security.’”
The political and economic foundation of the United States is built on the corpses of legal lynching, or “lynch law.” Without the genocide and enslavement of Black and indigenous peoples, the US capitalist class could not have amassed its profits, wealth, or power. Following the passage of the 13th Amendment that supposedly ended Black chattel slavery at the close of the Civil War, the US capitalist class moved quickly to reorganize the capitalist economy so newly “freed” Blacks would remain enslaved. Convict-leasing, sharecropping, and legalized segregation ensured Black exploitation and white power. These brutal forms of exploitation were kept intact by white terrorism in the form of lynching.
Thousands of Black people were lynched by white supremacists from the end of the Civil War until 1968. Ho Chi Minh, the first revolutionary president of socialist Vietnam, worked in the US in the mid-1920s and examined the horrors of lynching. He described the gruesome details of white vigilantes torturing and killing Black people with impunity. Local law enforcement officials protected white lynch mobs like the KKK and Black Legion and often participated in lynching alongside their white counterparts. ‘Uncle Ho’ states in his work Lyching (1924) that “the principal culprits [of lynching] were never troubled, for the simple reason that they were always incited . . . then protected by the politicians, financiers, and authorities . . . “ It wasn’t until Black people organized themselves to defend and arm their communities that white mobs were forced to curtail their racist murder sprees.
“80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law.”
The so-called end of “Jim Crow” racism only changed the form in which Black people would be lynched by the US racist order. The US capitalist class responded to the force of the Black liberation movement by institutionalizing “lynch law” into its criminal injustice system. Today, some form of law enforcement murders a Black person in this country every 28 hours. Nearly half of the estimated 3 million US prisoners are Black and nearly all are “people of color.” 80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law. Numerous states in the US have “Stand your ground” laws that allow white supremacists to murder Black people with impunity. Sound familiar? And President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of US imperialism, is too concerned with pathologizing Black America than forwarding substantive policies that address “lynch law” on behalf of his most loyal constituency.
In this period of heightened exploitation for the oppressed in general and Black America in particular, the propertied classes are becoming increasingly paranoid about the potential for popular unrest. “Lynch law” is becoming the law of the land for the entire populace. A homeless man in Albuquerque, New Mexico was shot dead by local police for being homeless on March 16th. More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period. The surveillance US imperialism had to conduct in secret on radical dissent in the past has expanded to the entire population through a massive surveillance state of federal intelligence agencies, private contractors, and US multinational corporations. The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s “kill list” or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a “terrorist” label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its “national security.”
“More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period.”
“Lynch law” is also a global tactic for US imperialism to maintain its global domination. Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources. This can be examined in specific instances like the thousands of people in the Middle East and Africa murdered by Obama Administration drone strikes or the NATO bombing of Libya that killed tens of thousands and nearly exterminated the Black Libyan population. The CIA has overthrown over 50 foreign governments since the end of World War II. These are just a few important examples of how Washington and its masters, the capitalist class, must lynch the majority of the world’s people to obtain their wealth and power.
The increasing violence, suffering, and social death imposed on oppressed people by US imperialist “lynch law” exposes the bankruptcy of the liberal wing of the capitalist class. Propped up by the corporate media like MSNBC, this self-proclaimed “left” actively participates in bi-partisan lynching in all of its forms to further their careers with the liberal imperialist Democratic Party and the untouchable fascist Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Any movement that depends on this corporate brand of leftism to bring about the end of US lynch law is destined to fail. A people’s movement for complete justice will have to be led by the struggle of Black America’s oppressed majority and all communities suffering from US fascist rule. We must spend each day building a movement that empowers oppressed people to demand the power to collectively determine their own destiny. This movement is far from victory’s reach, but each day we fail to act, another exploited human being is lynched by the US imperialist system.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager. You can contact Danny at: email@example.com.
“Really Good At Killing People” Sez Obama Article Cites Grandma Killed, Too. Still Love the Dude? December 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
Tags: cindy casella, civilian casualties, collateral damage, drone missiles, drones, hellfire missile, kill list, momina bibi, obama killer, pakistan, pakistani victims, president obama, presidential assassination, roger hollander, war
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Roger’s note: There is no hard evidence that Obama said that he is good at killing people, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong (watch the video below). Of course, it doesn’t matter what he says, it is what he does, which is to use his unfettered powers to authorize the murder of innocent civilians, including American citizens, with neither transparency or due judicial process. This is known quaintly as collateral damage. The Fog of War? Just Wars? War is Hell?
Try instead War is a Racquet. Here is the Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket). Better yet, read the book.
http://www.dailykos.com, December 13, 2013
Yesterday, I was flamed for writing a diary that juxtaposed Obama’s alleged statement to aides that he’s “really good at killing people” with the story of a Pakistani family who came to Washington to testify about how drones killed their mother/grandmother. Among the pies tossed my way was the accusation I was deliberately flame baiting by pairing these two concepts side by side in the title of my diary: Son Told Truant Congress Drones Killed His Mom; Obama: “I’m good at killing people”.
When I wrote my diary, my intention wasn’t fishing for flames as one commenter kept accusing me. Obama’s comment popped into my head when I read this article, Please tell me, Mr President, why a US drone assassinated my mother, written by Rafiq ur Rehman, the son of the 67 year old midwife, Momina Bibi, who was targeted by the bright lights of a drone and blown up while picking okra with her 9 grandchildren, who witnessed the “dum dum” sound of the drone hovering overhead and then smelled the “weird” scent of their grandmother being blown up by a hellfire missile as their world before them darkened. I thought this dreadful statement is the only explanation that Obama has even remotely given the grief stricken family so far about the death of their mother and grandmother, albeit indirectly.
I recommend reading this Huffington Post article: Obama Told Aides He’s ‘Really Good At Killing People,’ New Book ‘Double Down’ Claims by Mollie Reilly and urge you to watch the video, in which the reporter says the following:
“The quote, the relish that he seems to take in the taking of human life is sort of unseemly, I’d say, and not the best thing for a politician to say.””Pretty nasty stuff.”
Will the detractors who changed the subject away from a Pakistani family traveling 7000 miles to testify before Congress, most of whom didn’t bother to show up and listen to the innocent drone victims, who according to the REAL LIARS don’t even exist, libel the Huffington Post reporter’s integrity, too, for finding Obama’s statement “unseemly,” “pretty nasty stuff,” and noting “the relish that he seems to take in the taking of human life”?
Just using the phrase “being good at killing” in and of itself, whether or not it was said quietly, is creepy to most people with any shred of humanity or even a modicum of social acumen. But when it is said by the world leader who gave his OK for drone strikes that killed and maimed hundreds of innocent victims, including this grandmother, whose families’ suffering he ignores and does not compensate, it is beyond unseemly to anyone with even half a conscience.
The MSM reported that instead of a grandmother being droned in a field alongside her 9 grandchildren, 3-5 militants were droned in their car/house.
Now, that’s what I call a lie.
Ms. Reilly also included in her article the story about the Pakistani family losing their grandmother as an example of one of the many civilians Obama has killed with drones. So, I was not alone in pairing Obama’s statement about “being good at killing people” with the sweet grandmother droned to death.
The claim that Obama is remorseful about the grandmother’s death rings hollow since he has never apologized for it or given any compensation to her family for her loss or the medical expenses to remove hellfire missile shrapnel from her 11 year old grandson’s, Zubair’s, leg or treating her 9 year old granddaughter’s, Nabila’s, hand wounds, who awoke in a hospital after running and running away from the explosion. Not only that, but the very next day after the family voiced their sad testimony in our Nation’s Capitol, Obama was scheduled to meet, not with them, but with the very company that manufactured the hellfire missile that killed their grandmother and two companies that manufacture drones. He never met the grieving school teacher or his two injured children while they were in Washington. This snub alone says it all.
If these angry Kossacks believe Obama feels rueful about “being good at killing” and maiming innocent people by the softness of his voice, why do they accept the fact that he isn’t apologizing to the innocent victims, helping them, or even acknowledging that they exist? Why are they accepting his continuance of a drone program considered a war crime by many legal minds?
As I commented yesterday:
I was trying to show the horrible reality of who Obama was really good at killing…many of whom are innocent people.
A commenter wisely made this point about Obama’s explanation on drones:
He doesn’t need words or legal construct….He can either reduce or stop their use, he can explain to these families WHY they were targeted, as was the case with al-Awlaki’s 16 year old, American citizen son, whose family members still have not heard why the strike that killed him was ordered. He can set up a system where targets can somehow contest the evidence against them…
But I don’t accept the current system, where secret evidence is gathered secretly, where the approval for strikes is done in secrecy, and where the government refuses to even allow an assassination target to see the evidence against him or contest any of it, because again, secrecy. These are not the policies of an enlightened, transparent, and peaceful country.
And the truth is, none of us have any idea as to how Obama actually feels about these strikes….
How anyone could attack someone for pointing out the obvious about a statement that is truly horrible coming from a world leader, instead of demanding the world leader STOP KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE is WHY he is getting away with secretly killing grandmothers without a trial, without any apology, without any compensation, and without any acknowledgment.To quote Bill Clinton about his indiscretion that pales in comparison to droning a grandmother, Obama can answer Momina Bibi’s grieving son, “I did it, because I could.”
Yes, he can.
Tags: constitution, drone policy, drone strikes, due process, extrajudicial, fbi, george monbiot, habeas corpus, ibragim todashev, judicial process, kill list, obama doctrine, Obama presidency, roger hollander
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Once a state gets used to abusing the rights of foreigners in distant lands, it’s almost inevitable it will import the habit
Did the FBI execute Ibragim Todashev? He appears to have been shot seven times while being interviewed at home in Orlando, Florida, about his connection to one of the Boston bombing suspects. Among the shots was the assassin’s hallmark: a bullet to the back of the head. What kind of an interview was it?
An irregular one. There was no lawyer present. It was not recorded. By the time Todashev was shot, he had apparently been interrogated by three agents for five hours. And then? Who knows? First, we were told, he lunged at them with a knife. How he acquired it, five hours into a police interview, was not explained. How he posed such a threat while recovering from a knee operation also remains perplexing.
At first he drew the knife while being interviewed. Then he acquired it during a break from the interview. Then it ceased to be a knife and became a sword, then a pipe, then a metal pole, then a broomstick, then a table, then a chair. In one account all the agents were in the room at the time of the attack; in another, all but one had mysteriously departed, leaving the remaining officer to face his assailant alone.
If – and it remains a big if – this was an extrajudicial execution, it was one of hundreds commissioned by US agencies since Barack Obama first took office. The difference in this case is that it took place on American soil. Elsewhere, suspects are bumped off without even the right to the lawyerless interview Ibragim Todashev was given.
In his speech two days after Todashev was killed, President Obama maintained that “our commitment to constitutional principles has weathered every war“. But he failed to explain which constitutional principles permit him to authorise the killing of people in nations with which the US is not at war. When his attorney general, Eric Holder, tried to do so last year, he got himself into a terrible mess, ending with the extraordinary claim that “‘due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same … the constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process”. So what is due process if it doesn’t involve the courts? Whatever the president says it is?
Er, yes. In the same speech Obama admitted for the first time that four American citizens have been killed by US drone strikes in other countries. In the next sentence, he said: “I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process.” This suggests he believes that the legal rights of those four people had been respected before they were killed.
Given that they might not even have known that they were accused of the alleged crimes for which they were executed, that they had no opportunities to contest the charges, let alone be granted judge or jury, this suggests that the former law professor’s interpretation of constitutional rights is somewhat elastic. If Obama and his nameless advisers say someone is a terrorist, he stands convicted and can be put to death.
Left hanging in his speech is the implication that non-US citizens may be killed without even the pretence of due process. The many hundreds killed by drone strikes (who, civilian or combatant, retrospectively become terrorists by virtue of having been killed in a US anti-terrorism operation) are afforded no rights even in principle.
As the process of decision-making remains secret, as the US government refuses even to acknowledge – let alone to document or investigate – the killing by its drones of people who patently had nothing to do with terrorism or any other known crime, miscarriages of justice are not just a risk emerging from the deployment of the president’s kill list. They are an inevitable outcome. Under the Obama doctrine, innocent until proved guilty has mutated to innocent until proved dead.
The president made his rejection of habeas corpus and his assumption of a godlike capacity for judgment explicit later in the speech, while discussing another matter. How, he wondered, should the US deal with detainees in Guantánamo Bay “who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law”? If the evidence has been compromised or is inadmissible, how can he know that they have participated? He can suspect, he can allege, but he cannot know until his suspicion has been tested in a court of law.
Global powers have an antisocial habit of bringing their work back home. The British government imported some of the methods it used against its colonial subjects to suppress domestic protests and strikes. Once an administrative class becomes accustomed to treating foreigners as if they have no rights, and once the domestic population broadly accepts their justifications, it is almost inevitable that the habit migrates from one arena into another. If hundreds of people living abroad can be executed by American agents on no more than suspicion, should we be surprised if residents of the United States began to be treated the same way?
Obama Inherits and Normalizes the Arrogance and Impunity of Nixon, Reagan and Both Bushes February 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War.
Tags: bruce a. dixon, constitution, democracy, drones, george h.w. bush, George W. Bush, history, kill list, nixon, presidents, reagan, roger hollander, rule of law, terror tuesday, war president
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When Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush waged secret wars based on mountains of lies and deceit, they were nearly impeached, but in each case Democrats in control of Congress could not pull the trigger. As a result, the Obama White House basks in a presidential culture of murderous arrogance and lawless impunity.
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon
Back in the early seventies, when Richard Nixon secretly bombed Laos and Cambodia, two countries the US was not at war with, and concealed it from Congress and the public, the crime was serious enough to be the fourth article of impeachment drawn up against him. A dozen years later, when Ronald Reagan defied Congress to wage a bloody contra war in Central America funded by running drugs into the US from Central America and selling arms to Iran, Reagan only avoided impeachment by pretending he just couldn’t remember much of it any more and letting his henchmen take the fall. George W. Bush too was widely reviled as a murderous fraud for his lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and more, with millions of Americans and millions more around the world protesting his invasion of Iraq before it even began.
But in the end, none of these Republican warmongers were impeached while in office or indicted afterward because Democrats, in control of Congress every time, could never bring themselves to pull the trigger. So Tricky Dick Nixon stepped down. Reagan doddered off to the ranch, and Dubya’s at home right now watching American Idol. Barack Hussein Obama may be a different color and from a different party but he inherits their arrogance, their immunity, their impunity.
This White House openly brags about its “Terror Tuesday” meetings in which US special forces and drones have been dispatched to and from dozens of undisclosed countries to kidnap, torture or murder thousands of people, in the case of drone strikes mostly innocents, to the cheers and jokes of cruise missile liberals like Ed Schulz and Bill Maher, who calls Obama the “black ninja president.” The potent symbol of a black face in that high place has normalized the conduct of lawless aggressive war and secretive state murder among parts of the population which had no trouble calling a crime a crime when committed by a white Republican. In that sense, the First Black President is a little bit unlike, but mostly very much like his nefarious predecessors.
It’s worth noting that in the debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, kill-at-will drone wars, the militarization of Africa, Wall Street’s immunity from prosecution, and the push to privatize and charterize public education were points upon which both candidates were in complete agreement. But if Mitt Romney were president today wouldn’t many more of us be in the street about these things? Black apologists, as Davey D notes, try to shut criticism of this president down in the misguided name of black unity, and some white activists stay home because they don’t want to be seen as racist whites hating on the black president.
A Facebook friend in Atlanta remarked last week that whenever George Bush was rumored coming to town, his inbox would be full of emergency mobilization notices. But with the current War President about to visit, he said, it looked like his only correspondent might be the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It’s going to be a long, long four more years.
For Black Agenda Radio, I‘m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
The White House Un-Reality Show January 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, War.
Tags: austerity, black unemployment, climate change, democrtic party, drone wars, gay rights, Immigrant Rights, kill list, libor, militarize africa, mlk, obama wars, one percent, pakistan war, robo=signing, roger hollander
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by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Despite the fact that “it was Barack Obama who began the current austerity offensive in the weeks before delivering his first inaugural address,” the president was allowed to pose as a champion of the social safety net. Having redefined war, he once again claims to be a peacemaker. “By cheering the inaugural speech, progressives are only encouraging Obama’s gaming and mendacity.”
The White House Un-Reality Show
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“He merely peppered the speech with progressive buzzwords and references – just enough notes to get the faithful to fill in the empty spaces with their own internal music.”
Like an abusive spouse who preys on the emotional desperation and dependency of his domestic victim, Barack Obama knows that all he need do is offer some cheap street corner flowers and a few sweet words, and the previous nights and months and years of beatings will be forgiven. Just hum a bar or two of an old, shared song, and the battered partner will supply a full symphony of Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra – because she needs to hear it, if only inside her own head.
After four years of chasing Republican skirts in search of a grand austerity bargain; of debauching himself in marathon binges of global lawlessness and aggressive war; of defiling the Bill of Rights through preventive detention and massive domestic spying; of callous neglect of the jobs and lost wealth crisis afflicting the most loyal members of his political family; and of brazen cavorting with the vile and filthy rich, sheltering them from incarceration for crimes against the national and global economy, Barack Obama slunk home on the morning of January 21, to be smothered with kisses.
Much of what passes for the Left, and for traditional African American leadership, agreed with the New York Times’ assessment that Barack Obama’s second inaugural address represented a firm embrace of “a progressive agenda centered on equality and opportunity.” Significantly, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell echoed the sentiment: ”The era of liberalism is back…the speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party inages past.”
It is in the mutual interest of corporate media and rightwing Republicans tomove the bar of “progressive” politics ever rightward. However, for African Americans and white progressives, it amounts to erasing their own political legacies from history.
“There is no agreement to end U.S. combat involvement in Afghanistan, and no intention of achieving one.”
Actuality, Obama embraced nothing: he merely peppered the speech with progressive buzzwords and references – just enough notes to get the faithful to fill in the empty spaces with their own internal music. It was classic Obama.
“A decade of war is now ending,” said the Second Incarnation of Obama, sounding a false “peace” note. If he was talking about Afghanistan, that’s a damnable lie. There is no agreement to end U.S. combat involvement in Afghanistan, and no intention of achieving one – only the stated goal to lower troop levels. The Pentagon is fielding contingencies to reduce U.S. troop strength to between 6,000 and 20,000. (When Obama entered office there were 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which he raised to about 100,000 in the “surge” of 2011.) Although the administration line is that most of the remaining Americans will be “trainers,” they will include thousands of Special Forces troops to continue “counterinsurgency” and “counterterrorism” operations. Special Forces are “trainers” and “force multipliers” by U.S. military definition, “training” native troops while engaged in combat missions. U.S. air forces, drone and manned, will continue to pound targets. Obama’s nearly completed “codification” of U.S. drone policies exempts the CIA from any clear rules for “targeted-killing” drone operations in neighboring Pakistan for at least a year, to allow them to do as much damage as possible in the quest for Obama’s version of peace.
But history may record Obama’s greatest crime against peace as changing the definition of war. According to his unique doctrine, the U.S. cannot be in a state of war, or even “hostilities” with another people or country, unless Americans are killed in the process. Thus, Obama refused to report to the U.S. Congress under the War Powers Act following eight months of bombardment of Libya, claiming no state of war had existed since no Americans had died. By this logic, the U.S. is empowered to bomb anyone, anywhere on the planet at will, without the constraints of national or international law, as long as care is taken to protect the lives of U.S. personnel.
“History may record Obama’s greatest crime against peace as changing the definition of war.”
Obama rhetorically abolishes war while promulgating a doctrine of general immunity from the rules of war. Armed with such a concept and vocabulary, he can proceed with the militarization of Africa policy, his “pivot” to contain the Chinese in the Pacific, the terror campaign in Syria, the virtual state of war against Iran, and update of his Kill List in perpetuity. What, then, is the president’s meaning when he tells hundreds of thousands on the National Mall that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war?” This, from a man who makes war on language, itself.
“An economic recovery has begun,” said Obama. Not for Blacks, whose official 14 percent unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites (6.9 percent), and whose median household wealth has fallen to one-twentieth that of white families – a catastrophe of historical proportions. The “recovery” is mainly confined to Wall Street, which is awash in cash, thanks to more than four years of free money (for banks, only). This administration’s jobs policy, like the Republicans’, consists almost entirely of tax incentives to business: trickle down. The One Percent’s “rising tide” has lifted only their yachts.
Obama admits that “a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” but has done nothing to curtail the hegemony of Wall Street, the mighty engine of economic inequality. Quite the opposite. His Justice Department has granted blanket immunities from prosecution in both “Scandals of the Century” – the LIBOR interest rate rigging scheme and mortgage robo-signing – letting the mega-crooks off with fines. Nevertheless, liberals were heartened when Obama fixed his lips to say “the free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play” – as if there were even a hint of substance in the verbal exercise.
“His Justice Department has granted blanket immunities from prosecution in both ‘Scandals of the Century.’”
As much as 80 percent of the public supports Social Security and Medicare, including the entirety of the president’s Democratic base. Yet, it was Barack Obama who began the current austerity offensive in the weeks before delivering his first inaugural address, informing the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards that all entitlements would be on the table for chopping during his administration. He followed through by appointing a Deficit Reduction Commission chaired by a far-right Republican and the farthest-right Democrat he could find (Simpson and Bowles), who crafted the blueprint for austerity that became Obama’s model for a grand bargain with the GOP. The deal fell through in 2011 when Republicans balked at even “modest” tax increases on the rich, but there is not a scintilla of evidence that the president has abandoned his long, ideologically-based opposition to the safety net as presently constituted.
Only last month, he offered to alter the way Social Security benefits are calculated – as an opener to negotiations. Obama has shown, by word and deed, that he poses the greatest threat to Social Security in its history – far greater than George W. Bush, whose assault on the New Deal program met ferocious Democratic resistance. Obama will carry much of the Party with him – which is why we at Black Agenda Report call the First Black President “the more effective evil.”
“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the president has abandoned his long, ideologically-based opposition to the safety net as presently constituted.”
So, when Obama uses a ceremonial occasion to declare that: “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us” and “…a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune,” it is only cheap rhetoric, signifying nothing. Obama claims he wants to “reform” entitlements in order to “strengthen” them – which is precisely the Republican line. By cheering the inaugural speech, progressives are only encouraging Obama’s gaming and mendacity.
And so it goes. The Great Deporter becomes the great protector of immigrant rights. The man who killed the Kyoto Agreement is heralded as a champion of the environment because he expresses respect for “science” and pledges to somehow “respond to the threat of climate change.” The mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name signifies…what? Nowadays, not a thing.
It is true: Obama is the most gay-friendly president to date. I don’t think U.S. imperialism and Wall Street hegemons have a fundamental problem with that, either.
Apparently, being gay-friendly is all it takes to be considered a champion of a “progressive agenda” in 2013.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
John Brennan vs. a Sixteen-Year-Old Boy January 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: cia director, collateral damage, drone casualties, drone missile, drone strikes, hellfire missile, International law, john brennan, kill list, medea benjamin, obama kill list, pakistan, roger hollander, rule of law, tariq aziz, yemen
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In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile. With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.Tariq Aziz (circled) at the Grand Jirga in Islamabad just days before he was killed by a US drone hellfire missile.
Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.
The main architect of this drone policy that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents, including 176 children in Pakistan alone, is President Obama’s counterterrorism chief and his pick for the next director of the CIA: John Brennan.
On my recent trip to Pakistan, I met with people whose loved ones had been blown to bits by drone attacks, people who have been maimed for life, young victims with no hope for the future and aching for revenge. For all of them, there has been no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.
That’s why when John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC last April and described our policies as ethical, wise and in compliance with international law, I felt compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz and so many others. As they dragged me out of the room, my parting words were: “I love the rule of law and I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people. Shame on you, John Brennan.”
Rather than expressing remorse for any civilian deaths, John Brennan made the extraordinary statement in 2011 that during the preceding year, there hadn’t been a single collateral death “because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.” We later learned why Brennan’s count was so low: the administration had come up with a semantic solution of simply counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.
The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented over 350 drones strikes in Pakistan that have killed 2,600-3,400 people since 2004. Drone strikes in Yemen have been on the rise, with at least 42 strikes carried out in 2012, including one just hours after President Obama’s reelection. The first strike in 2013 took place just four days into the new year.
A May 29, 2011 New York Times exposé showed John Brennan as President Obama’s top advisor in formulating a “kill list” for drone strikes. The people Brennan recommends for the hit list are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law. The kind of intelligence Brennan uses to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?
In addition to kill lists, Brennan pushed for the CIA to have the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” also known as “crowd killing,” which are strikes based solely on suspicious behavior.
When President Obama announced his nomination of John Brennan, he talked about Brennan’s integrity and commitment to the values that define us as Americans. He said Brennan has worked to “embed our efforts in a strong legal framework” and that he “understands we are a nation of laws.”
A nation of laws? Really? Going around the world killing anyone we want, whenever we want, based on secret information? Just think of the precedent John Brennan is setting for a world of lawlessness and chaos, now that 76 countries have drones—mostly surveillance drones but many in the process of weaponizing them. Why shouldn’t China declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan, or Russia launch a drone attack against a Chechen living in London? Or why shouldn’t a relative of a drone victim retaliate against us here at home? It’s not so far-fetched. In 2011, 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus, a Massachusetts-based graduate with a degree in physics, was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol with small drones filled with explosives.
In his search for a new CIA chief, Obama said he looked at who is going to do the best job in securing America. Yet the blowback from Brennan’s drone attacks is creating enemies far faster than we can kill them. Three out of four Pakistanis now see the US as their enemy—that’s about 133 million people, which certainly can’t be good for US security. When Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked the source of US enmity, she had a one word answer: drones.
In Yemen, escalating U.S. drones strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. Since the January 4, 2013 attack in Yemen, militants in the tribal areas have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. According to Abduh Rahman Berman, executive director of a Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, the drone war is failing. “If the Americans kill 10, al-Qaeda will recruit 100,” he said.
Around the world, the drone program constructed by John Brennan has become a provocative symbol of American hubris, showing contempt for national sovereignty and innocent lives.
If Obama thinks John Brennan is a good choice to head the CIA and secure America, he should contemplate the tragic deaths of victims like 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, and think again.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org), cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. Her previous books include Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart., and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide).
‘Death of a Prisoner’ at Obama’s Guantánamo January 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: adnan latif, death of a prisoner, documentary, documentary film, Guantanamo, human rights, kill list, laura poitras, Obama Guantanamo, president obama, roger hollander, solitary confinement, torture
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Roger’s note: WATCH THE VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO2gwKLKHOo
When President Obama pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay prison on his first day in office as president in 2009, I believed the country had shifted direction. I was wrong. Four years later, President Obama has not only institutionalized Guantánamo and all the horrors it symbolizes, but he has initiated new extrajudicial programs, like the president’s secret kill list.
In September 2012 I read the news that another prisoner at Guantánamo had died, and I knew I had probably met his family. I traveled to Yemen in 2007 with the idea of making a film about a Guantánamo prisoner. I went there with the Guantánamo lawyer David Remes. He met with families and delivered the news of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands. I had hoped to film the journey of someone being released from Guantánamo and returning home. Five years later, I find myself making that film, but under tragic circumstances.
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif recently died in solitary confinement at Guantánamo at age 36, after nearly 11 years of imprisonment there, despite never having been charged with a crime. Last month his body was returned to his family in Yemen, but we are left with many unanswered questions about his imprisonment and death.
Mr. Latif’s death is under investigation by the United States military, which claims he committed suicide from an overdose of prescription medication complicated by acute pneumonia. But that’s hard to take at face value. Why was he placed in solitary confinement when he was suffering from acute pneumonia? How could he have overdosed on medication, given the strict protocols at Guantánamo? Why did it take three months for the body to be returned to Yemen? And finally, why are his autopsy and toxicology report classified and being withheld from his family?
These questions are not just about Adnan Latif. They also address the injustices that our government has instituted and normalized in the war on terror.
Obama: A GOP President Should Have Rules Limiting the Kill List November 27, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, cluster bombs, constitution, cruise missiles, democratic party, drone missile, due process, fifth amendment, George Bush, glenn greenwald, kill list, Muslims, Obama, presidential assassination, roger hollander, targetede killing, terrorists, War Crimes, 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
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.
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 Politics, A 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.