Sunday, June 3, 2012

Death From Above 2012: Obama's Kill List Furthers the Imperial Presidency

Professor Noam Chomsky offered an astute comparison of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism policies to those of George W. Bush during a recent interview on Democracy Now! “If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers,” he told host Amy Goodman. “If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.”

Turns out, Chomsky was not being hyperbolic.

A lengthy article in last week's New York Times (5/29/2012) gives an in-depth look at Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list.” The president’s practice of ordering the assassination of high-level terrorists has long been known. But the sprawling Times article offers fresh and altogether unsettling, insight into President Obama’s approach—as well as his apparent lack of ethical reservations--to the terror list.

As has long been assumed, President Obama personally oversees the terror list, and, as such, maintains ultimate executive authority over which high-value targets are placed on it. The list includes several Americans (perhaps most notably the U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki who was assassinated last September in Yemen), including a 17-year-old girl. Though the suspects are designated for “kill or capture,” authors Jo Becker and Scott Shane note “the capture part has become largely theoretical.”

The article also examines the administration’s fuzzy math when estimating civilian casualties from predator drone strikes. Obama maintains such pinpointed drone strikes are highly precise, often citing Pakistani civilian deaths in the “single digits.” However, according to the story, these estimates are based on a highly selective method of counting enemy combatants as “all military-age males in a strike zone.” This logic is based on top counterterrorism officials’ insistence anyone within the general proximity of a known al-Qaeda member is “probably up to no good.”

The article quotes one anonymous C.I.A. official who criticized this loose approach to reporting civilian deaths. “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys [killed], so they must all be militants,” the official said. They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

Yet, perhaps the story’s most revelatory details are those depicting the president’s ethical regard for these undoubtedly radical procedures.

His decision, for instance, to execute Awlaki was, according to former chief of staff, William M. Daley, “an easy one.”

While making difficult and perhaps morally ambiguous decisions is certainly part of the president’s job, the fact that he had absolutely no qualms about ordering the killing of an American citizen is unnerving, to say the least. Yet according to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon the president is “quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.”

What may be even more unnerving is how little public criticism Obama’s draconian policies have received.

Indeed, President George W. Bush was rightly denounced as a war criminal, guilty of multiple violations of constitutional power, yet the left has remained largely silent on Obama’s glorified assassination program—even though it goes far beyond any of Bush’s crimes.

In fact, a recent blog entry by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) activist Peter Hart, finds even the left-leaning MSNBC seems to have little interest in the Times’ findings. According to Hart, a search on the Nexis news database for any mention of Obama’s “kill list” on MSNBC pulled up zero results.

Witness the irrational, almost hypnotic effects of partisan loyalty at work. Essentially it is OK with liberals when Obama breaks the law and frighteningly expands the scope of executive power because he is “their guy.” This is precisely why I left the Democratic Party for the Greens. Liberals, I have become convinced, only care about peace and justice when it is politically expedient for them to.

As former Bush national security lawyer, John B. Bellinger III states in the article, Obama has not received the same level of criticism as President Bush because his “liberal reputation and ‘softer packaging’ have protected him.”

His quote reminds me of something I wrote in the University of Maine’s Maine Campus back in 2009 after Obama had announced his troop surge in Afghanistan: “Obama may present himself as a kinder, gentler machine-gun president, but he is a machine-gun president nonetheless.”
The Democratic Party refused to impeach Bush and Cheney for their numerous high crimes and misdemeanors—and that refusal is precisely why Obama currently enjoys the expanded, heretofore unconstitutional executive authority he now does. Michigan Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, then head of the House Judiciary Committee, claimed he was opposed to initiating impeachment hearings because Fox News would criticize him. Seriously.

And the Democrats’ liberal supporters were just as spineless. I remember being chastised by a fellow progressive for advocating Bush/Cheney’s impeachment. Impeachment would be a “distraction,” he lectured me. It would “tear the country apart,” whatever that is supposed to mean. And, most tellingly, it could “cost the Democrats the election,” which I think illustrates where liberals’ real priorities are. (Hint: They are not with the rule of law.)

This cowardice has come at a great cost to our democracy. A dangerous precedent has been established. The president now has far more power than the framers of the Constitution ever intended. And yet, liberals still drive around with bumper stickers announcing their support for both “Obama/Bidden, 2012” and world peace. Given the president’s "comfort" with foreign assassinations, it seems the two things are quite at odds.

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