CNN Reporter: "You were quite rude to the President"
Medea Benjamin: "I think killing innocent people with drones is rude."
Like the “War on Drugs,” a rhetorical phrase that the Obama administration has rejected even while continuing to wage the policy it describes, many ongoing activities of the government he presides over came under verbal attack from President Barack Obama this afternoon.
So the president says “journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” even though journalists are at legal risk—from his administration—for doing their jobs. “History will cast a harsh judgment” on the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, the president warned, even though (in the words of Human Rights Watch’s Laura Pitter) “there are still a number of steps the Obama administration could have taken — and can still take now — to begin closing the facility and ending indefinite detention without trial.”
Obama worries, rightly, that “in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.” And yet at perpetual war we remain, altering our way of life by the day. “The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites.” And yet we drone on, boats against the current of international opinion, borne ceaselessly back to the awesome responsibility of wielding lethal power.
There was much to like in Obama’s speech today if you like words, and share the broad worries he outlined above. And it is surely true that changing policy becomes easier after you make public arguments about changing policy. But the fact is Barack Obama is the president of the United States, and according to both the Constitution and especially the way executive power has accrued over the past century, Obama actually has quite a bit of latitude to impose his values on the waging of American war. After 52 months in office, it’s long since past time to stop judging the man by his words alone.
President Obama is dealing with revelations about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists and other scandals by changing the subject.
In a major national security address Thursday, he announced the phaseout of the Guantanamo prison facility and the CIA’s oversight of the drone program. But these are cosmetic changes that can’t conceal his record on the war on terrorism, which is arguably even more Draconian than President George W. Bush’s.
The question is whether liberals will protect their principles or their man.
The administration finally admitted this week that it has been using its weapon of choice — drone strikes — not just to kill foreign terrorists on the president’s kill list, but Americans as well. As atonement, the president pledged to transfer oversight of the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon.
But the problem with the program is not who runs it but what it does. …
[This administration] has escalated drone strikes against alleged militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. According to the liberal AlterNet, the Bush administration conducted 52 drone strikes in this region, killing 438 people, including 182 civilians.
This administration ordered 300 strikes in just its first term, killing 2,152 people, including 260 civilians. The constant buzzing in the sky traumatizes the local population and violates Pakistani sovereignty, which has caused America’s popularity in Pakistan to plummet from 36 percent under Bush to 24 percent under Nobel Peace Prize-winner Obama.
But the administration hasn’t just expanded the number of drone strikes but also their geographical footprint. Its battlefield now extends to Somalia and Yemen. In Yemen, the president has used what are called “signature strikes” against anyone who “signs up” for al Qaeda — and not because they threaten America but its ally, the Yemeni government.
In other words, Obama’s drones have become a tool for protecting a corrupt monarchy against those trying to topple it. Talk about mission creep! The president is promising to end such strikes but what are such promises worth when no one is holding him accountable?
Equally meaningless is Obama’s belated move to close the Guantanamo facility. Bush needed a place to warehouse “enemy combatants” captured in the battlefield. But Obama can close it because drone strikes take no prisoners. Strikes under Obama have killed four times more people than Bush imprisoned in Guantanamo. …
If former Vice President Dick Cheney had authored the drone program, liberals would demand his indictment as a war criminal. But Obama has made it the defining feature of his war on terrorism and they remain silent.
When Bush departed from bedrock conservative principles and started spending like a drunken sailor, he triggered a revolt that ultimately culminated in the Tea Party movement. It remains to be seen if liberals will hold Obama similarly accountable.
[Obama’s] words will be little consolation for 8-year-old Nabila, who, on Oct. 24, had just returned from school and was playing in a field outside her house with her siblings and cousins while her grandmother picked flowers. At 2:30 p.m., a Hellfire missile came out of the sky and struck right in front of Nabila. Her grandmother was badly burned and succumbed to her injuries; Nabila survived with severe burns and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder. Nabila doesn’t know who Mr. Obama is, or where the Hellfire missile that killed her grandmother came from.
“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. … The fundamental concept in any legal system is that one is innocent until proven guilty. In this case you have people who have not even been charged. … I’ve seen several cases where the evidence did not support the accusation. When those cases were moved forward to trial level, federal judges ruled in favour of the prisoners in over 75 percent of the cases. I am not saying that there aren’t any criminals at Guantanamo. If they are suspected criminals, they should be charged in a court of law that recognises the basic principles of fair process: presumption of innocence, no secret evidence, reliable evidence not extracted under torture. … The U.S. government is reluctant [to bring Guantanamo detainees to court] because if you have torture, the case does not fly in court. All the prisoners of Guantanamo have been tortured one way or another.
“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. …
The fundamental concept in any legal system is that one is innocent until proven guilty. In this case you have people who have not even been charged. …
I’ve seen several cases where the evidence did not support the accusation. When those cases were moved forward to trial level, federal judges ruled in favour of the prisoners in over 75 percent of the cases.
I am not saying that there aren’t any criminals at Guantanamo. If they are suspected criminals, they should be charged in a court of law that recognises the basic principles of fair process: presumption of innocence, no secret evidence, reliable evidence not extracted under torture. …
The U.S. government is reluctant [to bring Guantanamo detainees to court] because if you have torture, the case does not fly in court. All the prisoners of Guantanamo have been tortured one way or another.
— Ramzi Kassem, lawyer who represents seven detainees of various nationalities at Guantanamo and one at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Anthony Gregory does yeoman’s work collecting books, essays, and opinions on the libertarian stance on war.
Read it, click the copious embedded links and spend a few days reading those, and be sure to bookmark it for future reference. It’s a veritable bounty of knowledge and insight…
Yes, President Obama has broken the law on multiple occasions. Despite clearly stating, in a 2008 questionnaire, that the commander-in-chief is not lawfully empowered to ignore treaties duly ratified by the Senate, Obama has willfully failed to enforce the torture treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and duly ratified by the Senate, that compels him to investigate and prosecute torture. As Sullivan put it earlier this year, “what Obama and Holder have done (or rather not done) is illegal.”
Obama also violated the War Powers Resolution, a law he has specifically proclaimed to be Constitutionally valid, when committing U.S. troops to Libya without Congressional approval. …
Has he ordered the assassination of any American citizens in secret without due process? Did he kill any of their teenage kids without ever explaining how or why that happened?
Has he refused to reveal even the legal reasoning he used to conclude his targeted killing program is lawful?
Has he waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers?
Has he spied on millions of innocent Americans without a warrant or probable cause?
Does he automatically count dead military-aged males killed by U.S. drones as “militants”?
Did he “sign a bill that enshrines in law the previously merely alleged executive power of indefinite detention without trial of terror suspects”?
Yes. He. Has.
Amidst all the justified outrage over the apparent targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups by the IRS, not to mention the Associated Press phone tapping brouhaha, an important point is being lost: this is nothing new. The Tea Partiers may be shocked – shocked! – that the Big Government they have spent the last few years complaining about really is a threat to our liberties, but the government targeting certain political groups wholly on account of their views is hardly breaking news. …
The Tea Partiers’ problem is that their protests come far too late – because the legal and political precedents targeting dissident groups were established long ago, with the full complicity and even enthusiastic support of most of those who call themselves “conservatives” these days. The“Patriot” Act – passed with conservative support – gives the government the “right” to not only spy on such groups, it also gives them the means to spy on anyone, for any reason, as well as the prosecutorial “tools” to put them away forever. Law enforcement agencies have set up “fusion centers” in order to collect information on American citizens who might be considered a “threat.” A recent report on “right-wing extremism” issued by the Department of Homeland Security” listed groups local law enforcement should keep tabs on, including members of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, as well as Ron Paul supporters. Efforts by the FBI and local police to infiltrate and set up members of the “Occupy” movement have been widespread. …
This is the way our civil liberties are continually eroded, with virtually no pushback when the government singles out, demonizes, and tries to destroy a targeted group. When the government went after David Koresh and his followers at Waco, liberals were either silent or else actively cheerleading the slaughter. When the headquarters of MOVE, a Philadelphia black nationalist group, was bombed, and the entire neighborhood decimated, not a peep of protest was heard on the right. When the Tea Partiers complain about being targeted, and Rand Paul launches a filibuster conjuring up images of Americans being targeted by drones on American soil, liberals and their media megaphones descry the “black helicopters crowd” and talk about the “paranoia” of the “far right.” When it’s the liberals and the left warning about the dangers of an encroaching police state in the age of terrorism, conservatives start ranting about how “terrorist-loving” liberals and the ACLU are out to destroy America.
While right and left go at each other, the machinery of repression is being readied. The most recent – and chilling – example: a recent Pentagon-initiated change to the US Code would give military commanders powers equal to the President in wartime. As the revised language of the Code puts it:
“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”
When is it “impossible” for the President to duly authorize military action? This is never defined. What is “temporary”? This, too, goes undefined. And what about the Insurrection and Posse Comitatus Acts which limit and regulate the manner in which the military may intervene in domestic affairs? The revised regulations eviscerate both acts, and throw the door wide open to rule by the military in an ill-defined “emergency.” And hardly anybody notices!
That’s the state of civil liberties in the US these days: the government is spying on reporters, IRS agents are harassing political activists, FBI agents are raiding antiwar organizations, and the Pentagon is busy getting the legal machinery up and running in the event they feel the need to impose martial law. The reason they can get away with this, politically, is because the right doesn’t care if the government comes down hard on the left, while the left openly agitates for the instruments of repression to be used against the right. There is no sense that we’re all in this together: that if the government can move against the Tea Partiers, then the antiwar activists are next. It’s all about whose ox is being gored – not whether our liberties are endangered by a regime emboldened by unaccountable power.
First, the billboard you are referring to speaks nothing of “culture.”
It reads: “CELEBRATING HISPANIC VALUES AND THE MARINES WHO ACT ON THEM.”
“Values” and “culture” are not synonyms. A culture can abide by a set of values but the terms are not interchangeable.
Still, hispanic “culture” is as meaningless as hispanic “values.” As the post I linked to noted: “[S]ince Mexicans, Dominicans, Canary Islanders, Argentinians, and Cubans have about as much in common culturally as New Yorkers, Alabamians, Jamaicans, Texans, and Australians - resist the urge to group people, when unnecessary, by something as trivial as their native tongue.” There is no “hispanic culture” any more than there is some unified “anglo culture.”
And as for “hispanic values,” some take that to mean “family values” or putting importance on family. Which is, as I called it, trite. After all, what culture doesn’t place the family as the most important societal unit? Few people outside of fascists and communists wish to dissolve and abolish the “family.”
And even supposing that “hispanic values” mean all the clichéd platitudes we’d expect (that can ultimately apply to any group of people, and is therefore meaningless): family, trust, honor, commitment, etc. - they are not at all what Marines “act on.”
Marines only “act on” whatever the whims of politicians, and often their corporate cronies, wish for them to act on. The only true military value is unflinching obedience.
It would matter nothing if a marine or soldier or sailor acted selflessly or protected innocents or showed commitment to protecting his “brothers” or anything else if he did not follow orders. Absolute acquiescence is the value that trumps all others. And, more often than not, it is the very act of abiding by that fundamental military value of following orders that goes against all other noble values. After all, their ultimate purpose is to kill. Indeed: all bad deeds done by states since the beginning of time - from pillaging to bombing to “spreading democracy” - have been done by troops following orders.
And thus it would be outrageous to ascribe obedience and killing as values held by a group of people whose unifying characteristic is speaking the same language.
Wtf…Hispanic values? What does that even mean? And what does that have to do with killing people?
What an outrageously trite, and ultimately meaningless, billboard.
We Yemenis are deeply worried that the Obama administration appears to be avoiding the Guantanamo dilemma of indefinite detentions without charge by killing suspects in Yemen rather than trying to capture them. An example is the November 7, 2012 targeted killing of Adnan al-Qadhi, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Yemeni army and reported to be a suspected al-Qaida militant in Sanhan, a district 22 miles east from the Yemeni capital and a 15-minute drive from where I live. Sanhan is near to one of the biggest bases of the Republican Guard, at the time one of Yemen’s most powerful military units. According to his family members, Yemeni authorities could have arrested Adnan any time. Adnan’s brother Hemyar al-Qadhi told me, “Adnan was arrested and released by the government in 2008 and we would’ve taken him ourselves to the authorities if they requested him again.”
We Yemenis ask ourselves, how many more of our citizens were killed without any attempt at capture instead? …
With drones flying overhead 24/7, people are living in constant fear and anxiety over the possibility of another strike. During my visits to these areas, I shared their fear. I felt as Adel al-Jonaidi, a high school student living in Radaa did, when he told me, “Whenever drones are hovering in the area, it’s like being in a state of waiting endlessly for execution.”
The more unjustified the drone strike victim, the more rage it creates within local communities. Angry reaction followed in Hadramout when Salem Ahmed Bin Ali Jaber, a moderate cleric who often denounced violence and publicly opposed al-Qaeda, was killed in a drone strike on August 25, 2012. Such strikes call into question US claims of tidy surgical strikes and explain why the number of AQAP estimated fighters increased from a few hundred in 2009 to a few thousand in 2013, according to Yemeni and US government estimates.
In another botched strike, a missile struck a passenger van in central al-Bayda governorate on September 2, 2012, killing 12 civilians, 3 of them children. Local and international media initially quoted anonymous Yemeni officials as saying the strike targeted militants, but state-run media later conceded the killings were an “accident” that killed civilians. During a recent visit to Radaa, the city near the attack site, I met Mohamed Mabkhoot, a relative of one of the civilians who was killed. Mabkhoot explained how months after the attack there is still mounting rage at the apathy and inability of the Yemeni government to bring justice for those affected by the strike.
“Our lives are not worthless and it’s common sense that people start hating America when their innocent relatives and family members are killed. Young people here are desperate and will fight to die if they don’t have anything left for them to live for,” he told me.
Drone strikes and US military intervention are the rallying cry that al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen use to recruit more fighters. In a country like Iraq, al-Qaeda was created from scratch after 2003, seizing on the existing local grievances the war created. Something similar is happening here in Yemen. During my visits to different parts of my country, even though I hear broad opposition to AQAP, I also hear objections to foreign intervention by the United States.
Even natural allies of the United States like young leaders, intelligentsia and the upper middle class feel that the targeted killings infringe on Yemen’s sovereignty. Many of us ruefully repeat a line from one President Obama’s press conference on November 18, 2012: “There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”
In my visits to the areas affected by drone strikes, I observed an increasing sentiment that America is part of a problem and not a solution, something that is hard for diplomats to feel while living disconnected from Yemenis in the emerging Green Zones of Sanaa. In Yemen, it’s impossible to win a war with drone strikes where basic services and human needs remain unmet. For a loaf of bread, you can push a hungry, desperate and angry young man to fight for al-Qaeda, possibly regardless of his ideological beliefs. …
[W]e Yemenis are the ones who suffer the most from the presence of Al Qaeda and getting rid of this exhausting plague is a top priority for the majority of people in the country. But we also see that there is no easy way to end terrorism. Only a long-term approach that strengthens democracy, accountability and justice, together with programs to address structural economic and social drivers of extremism can bring about security in my country.
When I think of solutions, I think of our common ideals. The drone program is far from these. Edward S. Herman offers us a critique and an opportunity in his reflection on Hana’s Arendt concept of the Banality of Evil: “Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on ‘normalization.’ This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as ‘the way things are done.’ “
As a Yemeni citizen, I urge the US government not normalize crimes committed under the name of your great country. I call on the US administration to be transparent regarding the strikes it has authorized in Yemen and to compensate affected civilians. I call on the United States to critically reflect on using targeted strikes and the existing counterterrorism policy in Yemen and to see that, it is insecurity and not security that these are creating in my country, the region, the US, and the entire world.
I suggest reading the whole piece.
… In the few instances in which the United States is attacked, we learn the names of the victims, we know their lives, we hear from how their family members are grieving. We never hear any of that in terms of the children, the women, and innocent men whom [the U.S. government] kill[s] in the Muslim world. And it’s sort of an out of sight out of mind dynamic, where we never hear about them so we never think about them. We forget that they exist. So, when somebody attacks the United States it leads to this bewilderment like, ‘What have we ever done to anybody that would make them want to attack us’?