Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Don't drone me, bro

If you didn't see it splashed across the pages of The New York Times, the very definition of mainstream media, you might think it was a work of dystopian fiction, or the product of a paranoid conspiracy theorist. But no, there it was, on the pages of the Old Gray Lady herself:
Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret "nominations" process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding "kill list," poring over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre "baseball cards" of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises -- but his family is with him -- it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

"He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go," said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser.

[ ... ]

When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda -- even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was "an easy one."

[ ... ]

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.

[ ... ]

Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government's sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects' biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret "nominations" process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia's Shabab militia.

[ ... ]

The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence ... Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan -- about a third of the total.
In short: The president of the United States unilaterally decides who lives and dies from a "kill list," even if the target is an American citizen, and even if some civilians are murdered in the process -- since anyone in the vicinity of a terrorist was probably "up to no good" anyway.

This is beyond any semblance of checks and balances, or of observing international law. These are, to put it plainly, the actions of an out-of-control dictator.

What may be the most frightening thing is that this is an election year, and you just know the Obama administration fed this story to the Times, in hopes of making the president look tough on terror. It says a lot about just how arrogant and out of touch from reality this administration is that it was apparently never considered that this would paint Obama in the worst possible light, as an out-of-control tyrant who acts as the sole arbiter over the lives of other human beings on a regular basis.

The criticism of this insane policy pulls no punches. From The Nation:
The kill list makes a mockery of due process by circumventing judicial review, and turning the executive into judge, jury and executioner. Even worse, the “signature” strikes described in theTimesarticle, in which nameless individuals are assassinated based merely on patterns of behavior, dispense with any semblance of habeas corpus altogether.

[ ... ]

The drone strikes are inciting even more anti-American hatred in troubled places like Yemen as well as Pakistan. ... It is hard to argue that they are making us safer when, for every suspect killed, one or more newly embittered militants emerge to take his place. This is not a prescription for American security but for an endless war that will sap our moral core and put in jeopardy our most cherished freedoms at home.

 From The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel, writing in The Washington Post:
Our founders were eager to curb the prerogative of kings to wage war and foreign adventures. That is why the Constitution gave Congress the power to declare war. Yet the president now claims the right to attack anywhere in the world in an apparently endless war against terrorism.
And from AlterNet:
Obama owns his newspeak-drenched "kill list." He decides on a "personality strike" (a single suspect) or a "signature strike" (a group). "Nominations" are scrutinized by Obama and his associate producer, counter-terrorism czar John Brennan. The logic is straight from Kafka; anyone lurking around an alleged "terrorist" is a terrorist. The only way to know for sure is after he's dead. 

And the winner of the Humanitarian Oscar for Best Targeted Assassination with No Collateral Damage goes to … the Barack Obama White House death squad. 

Targeted -- and dissolved -- throughout this grim process are also a pile of outdated concepts such as national sovereignty, set-in-stone principles of U.S. and international law, and any category which until the collapse of the Soviet Union used to define what is war and what is peace. Anyway, those categories started to be dissolved for good already during the Bush administration -- which "legalized" widespread CIA and Special Ops torture sessions and death squads. 

Any self-respecting jurist would have to draw the inevitable conclusion; the United States of America is now outside international law -- as rogue a state as they come, with The Drone Empire enshrined as the ultimate expression of shadow war.
The AlterNet article really says it all. We are a rogue state, indiscriminately flying drones into the airspace of other sovereign nations, whether with their consent or not, and opening fire on alleged terrorist targets and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity. If another nation were doing this, we would openly condemn it -- and we would be right to do so.

At least the U.N. commissioner for human rights is saying something. So are 26 members of Congress -- including Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, two upstanding, principled men from opposite ends of the political spectrum -- who sent a letter to Obama essentially challenging him to justify his actions.

Unfortunately, most of the outrage over the Times story hasn't been about how our president has turned America into a loose cannon that's become virtually indistinguishable from a banana republic. Oh, no. The criticism has been that the story was leaked in the first place, since the revelation could supposedly jeopardize national security, according to treasonous traitors like John McCain. As Vanden Heuvel points out:
Please. Al-Qaeda knows that U.S. drones are hunting them. The Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Afghanis and others know the U.S. is behind the drones that strike suddenly from above. The only people aided by these revelations are the American people who have an overriding right and need to know.

The problem isn't the leaks, it's the policy. It's the assertion of a presidential prerogative that the administration can target for death people it decides are terrorists -- even American citizens -- anywhere in the world, at any time, on secret evidence with no review.
Not that informing the American people about any of this is going to make a whit of difference, since the overwhelming majority of Americans -- 83% -- support our drone attacks overseas.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this country is screwed.

But hey, drones are doing more than killing suspected terrorists, anyone unlucky enough to be near them, and both rescuers who come to collect the bodies and the funerals where the dead are laid to rest. They're coming to the skies over you! Back in February, Obama signed a bill that authorizes the use of drones over American airspace. There could be as many as 30,000 flying over our heads by 2020, and the military is already flying them over our soil; in fact, one just recently crashed in Maryland. Virginia's governor thinks drones over American skies are "great," and the chief of police in Fairfax County, Va., is looking forward to their increased use. They're already being used to spy on American citizens, in a flagrant violation of any reading of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. If these eyes in the sky pick up anything deemed suspicious, the information can be turned over to the police and government agencies, in an obvious end-run around the need for a search warrant. And that's not even to mention the obvious violation of the Posse Comitatus Act prohibiting the use of the military to enforce domestic law.

In case this point is not clear enough, the United States military is now spying on its own citizens. The information that's gathered is being shared with government agencies and local police -- many of whom are eager to start arming drones, for "crowd control" and the like, of course. Because, of course, the police would never abuse that power.

If this isn't all 1984 enough for you, the British media reports that there are insect-sized drones already in the works that could fly around virtually unnoticed and go pretty much wherever they pleased.

To his eternal credit, Sen. Rand Paul has proposed a bill that would require a warrant before drones could go snooping around through your private affairs. This bill is just common sense, in keeping with our Constitutional rights to privacy and due process. And that's why it will probably be fought tooth-and-nail in Congress, where putting Constitutional restraints on the government is now seen as aiding terrorism.

Naturally, none of this drone activity will actually help us defeat terrorism. If anything, the indiscriminate drone strikes overseas are swelling the ranks of Al Qaeda even more, proving once again that we've learned nothing about blowback. Meanwhile, back on the homefront, we have cops who think they can suspend your First Amendment rights at will; a young man who gets three life sentences for witnessing a drug deal; a mayor who wants to ban big, sugary drinks because he's "simply forcing you to understand" the health consequences of your actions; and a 4-year-old girl terrorized by TSA perverts who order her to "spread her arms and legs" for a search or else cause the entire airport to be shut down over the supposed threat she posed.

Welcome to a nation that continues to delude itself into thinking it's free. A nation that seems to think it has a God-given right to blast the rest of the world to smithereens and force everyone to play by its rules. It seems somehow fitting that even among Obama's supporters, the list of his "accomplishments" is littered with people he's killed.

Pity that the Nobel committee doesn't rescind peace prizes. An even greater pity that all the antiwar protestors during the Bush years turn a blind eye to their hero's warmongering -- which in some cases is even worse than what Bush ever engaged in. But the biggest pity of all is that no one cares that our Constitution is effectively dead. The bad guys didn't even have to put up a fight -- the spineless, cowering masses willingly handed their freedoms over and sealed the deal.

Will the last patriot out please turn off the lights.

No comments:

Post a Comment