Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kill Switch Engaged

It's difficult to know which is more frightening: Obama's penchant for targeted assassinations, his codification of the imperial presidency, or the technocratic media's refusal to report war crimes as such.

Political bumper-stickers are funny things.
Drivers who adorn their vehicles with numerous stickers can sometimes inadvertently convey conflicting messages. For example, I often see vehicles with peace symbol stickers or phrases like, “No War with Iran!” next to “Obama/Bidden ’12.” If only there truly was a correlation between the former and the latter.

As I have noted many times on this blog, President Barack Obama is not the peacenik supporters and the corporate media constantly paint him as. Quite the reverse, Obama has lamentably proven himself more of a warmonger than George W. Bush—who once bragged to the late Tim Russert he is a “war president.” In fact, both overall Pentagon spending and our military’s global presence have increased under Obama. The U.S. allocates more money to military-spending than the rest of the world combined. Yet the president’s use of Dr. Martin Luther King’s bible for his second swearing-in, and bumper stickers like this one have successfully convinced liberals otherwise.

What is that quote again about truth being the first casualty of war…?

The release of the Obama administration’s “white paper” on the use of unmanned predator drones and targeted assassinations last week was not only a sad reminder of the president’s penchant for militarism, but also a frightening look at his continued expansion of unlawful executive powers. As the leaked White House legal memo makes clear, Obama asserts the authority to assassinate any person his administration deems a threat—including American citizens—anywhere in the world, without charge, trial or judicial oversight. This legal reasoning also applies to foreign reporters who are believed to have provided “material support” to terrorists.

And this policy is not merely theoretical. The White House carried it out with the killing of American-born al-Qaeda cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, and his 16-year-old son a few months later.

CIA Director nominee and Bush-era torture proponent, John Brennan went to great lengths to defend the administration’s counterterrorism program during his confirmation hearings last week, assuring the Senate Intelligence Committee drones are only used as a “last resort.” Compare Brennan’s claim with a New York Times expose on Obama’s use of targeted killings from last year (5/29/2012) which stated of the administration’s capture-or-kill program, “the capture part is largely theoretical.”

Brennan’s playing-down of the number of innocent civilian bystanders accidentally killed in unmanned predator drone strikes is further challenged by the White House’s official policy of counting such deaths (referred to in the dehumanizing military jargon as “collateral damage”) outlined in the same NYT article. According to the story, the administration considers “all military-age males” in the general area of a strike zone to be enemy combatants—whether or not they actually are. This rationale conveniently lets the U.S. off the hook for any unintended civilian deaths because, according to top counterterrorism officials, anyone within the general proximity of a known al-Qaeda member is “probably up to no good.”
In Pakistan alone, U.S. drone strikes have killed close to 168 children in the last four years, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  

(Incidentally, it should be noted the extent to which these confirmation hearings have become vacuous political theater. The only pressing questions on the program’s legality came from Code Pink protesters who frequently disrupted the hearing to call out the names of those killed. Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Diane Feinstein—a Democrat—eventually became fed-up with the protesters and barred them from the room, Max Baucus style. Pertinent legal, ethical and constitutional questions avoided, Brennan is all but assured of being confirmed.)

Barack Obama has, in effect, made himself—and potentially all presidents hereafter--judge, jury and executioner of the globe.

As Alan Maass writes for the current issue of The Socialist Worker (“The Empire’s New Clothes,” Feb. 2013),

We can leave it to the foreign policy establishment to debate whether the “Obama doctrine” is preferable to the “Bush doctrine” in safeguarding U.S. dominance against its rivals and challengers. But we can say for certain that this is Barack Obama’s goal—to prove that he’s a better manager of the U.S. empire than Bush and the neo-cons, not to find ways to make the world more peaceful and just.

If only the corporate media were as candid as Maass in their reporting. Instead, mainstream news coverage of Obama’s drone program has focused exclusively on congressional efforts to create a “legal framework” for the process. This is precisely how the Bush administration avoided legal repercussions for its blatant violation of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) law with its now-legal warrantless wiretapping initiative. The goal here is the same: Retroactively legalize a criminal act after the law has been broken.

Maine Senator Angus King is one of those calling for a “quasi-judicial” review process for drone strikes. King told the Portland Press Herald this week he supports a “system in which an independent but secretive panel—likely made up of judges—would review White House proposals to use unmanned drone aircraft to kill U.S. citizens working abroad with terrorist groups” (“King: Check on president ‘is healthy’,” 2/11/2013).

“I think some independent check on the executive (branch) is healthy for our system,” King said. Yet, the Constitution already establishes an “independent check on the executive.” It’s called impeachment.

A few days earlier on MSNBC’s Morning Joe (2/08/2013), Sen. King praised the precision targeting capabilities of drones as being more technologically superior to earlier modes of warfare. He said:

To be honest, I believe drones are a lot more civilized than what we’ve used to do. You know, when Sherman shelled Atlanta or the Allies firebombed Dresden in World War II, it was all collateral damage. It was virtually all civilians… I think there’s just something creepy about drones that they can be controlled and people are uneasy about it. But if you put it in the context of a thousand years of war, I think it’s actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to a specific enemy.

Hey, don’t blame me. I voted for Dill.

Creating a judicial review process and other congressional policy to accommodate the counterterrorism measures obscures the fact that such targeted assassinations are already illegal, unconstitutional and morally dubious at best. It is further proof—for those who still need any—that the Democratic Party is not interested in upholding the Constitution.

Unless Obama’s drone program is halted entirely, it is all but certain to become cemented into place—another blow to our already crippled democracy.



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