Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Obama N. Sec. Chief Calls Drone Strikes “Just,” “Wise,” Concedes We Attacked Militants Knowing Civilians Would Be Killed -

Obama N. Sec. Chief Calls Drone Strikes “Just,” “Wise,” Concedes We Attacked Militants Knowing Civilians Would Be Killed - 

As we near the first anniversary of the assassination of Osama bin Laden (tomorrow) and the 2012 presidential election, the Obama administration is trying to prove how much hair it has on its chest regarding national security.  Possibly, Medea Benjamin’s Drone Summit has spooked them a bit too.  So they trotted out John Brennan, the national security advisor, who claimed his speech was an attempt to be more “transparent” about U.S. policy on drones and similar counter-terror measures:
I’m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts…I venture to say that the United States government has never been so open regarding its counterterrorism policies and their legal justification.
…We reject the notion that any discussion of these matters is to step onto a slippery slope that inevitably endangers our national security.  Too often, that fear can become an excuse for saying nothing at all—which creates a void that is then filled with myths and falsehoods.  That, in turn, can erode our credibility with the American people and with foreign partners, and it can undermine the public’s understanding and support for our efforts.  In contrast, President Obama believes that—done carefully, deliberately and responsibly—we can be more transparent and still ensure our nation’s security.
But if you read the speech closely you realize there’s been no substantive change and this speech in fact is little better than “saying nothing at all.”   For example, what happened in the bin Laden compound?  Was he assassinated?  The U.S. has video and conveniently says the live feed went dead as soon as the Navy Seals entered the residence.  But it won’t show you the video.  In fact, I’m virtually certain they intended to assassinate him all along and deliberately shut down the feed so as not to enable human rights NGOs to subpoena administration figures to testify to what they saw.
About Anwar al-Awlaki, he makes the following unsubstantiated claims:
[He was the] leader of external operations who was responsible for planning and directing terrorist attacks against the United States.
This is precisely the problem with targeted killings.  There is no evidence, no court proceedings, no standards of proof.  There are secret deliberations by a secret cabal of unknown officials who use procedures and follow criteria no one ever sees.  The U.S. never presented any evidence that al Awlaki was any more than an ideological firebrand and preacher.  If it had evidence, even if it intended to assassinate him, it should present it.  It didn’t.  Brennan’s vague word is simply not good enough.
Brennan attempts to argue that targeted killings are just because of the meticulous process by which we vet targets and the safeguards we impose to ensure the victims are bad guys and worthy of death.  But listen to how vague and empty are his claims of accountability:
President Obama has demanded that we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and processes…This leads me to the…rigorous standards and process of review to which we hold ourselves today when considering and authorizing strikes…
…We require ourselves to meet [a high bar] when making these profound decisions today.
…We’ve worked to refine, clarify, and strengthen this process and our standards, and we continue to do so.  If our counterterrorism professionals assess, for example, that a suspected member of al-Qa’ida poses such a threat to the United States as to warrant lethal action, they may raise that individual’s name for consideration.  The proposal will go through a careful review and, as appropriate, will be evaluated by the very most senior officials in our government for decision.
…The individual must be a legitimate target under the law…If, after a legal review, we determine that the individual is not a lawful target, end of discussion.  We are a nation of laws, and we will always act within the bounds of the law.
…Even if it is lawful to pursue a specific member of al-Qa’ida, we ask ourselves whether that individual’s activities rise to a certain threshold for action, and whether taking action will, in fact, enhance our security.
…We review the most up-to-date intelligence, drawing on the full range of our intelligence capabilities.  And we…challenge it, we question it, including any assumptions on which it might be based…We don’t just hear out differing views, we ask for them and encourage them.  We discuss.  We debate.  We disagree.
…As the President’s counterterrorism advisor, I feel that it is important for the American people to know that these efforts are overseen with extraordinary care and thoughtfulness.
Not so fast.  I’ve posted here about a major Reuters review of the procedures and criteria Brennan outlines above.  Here’s what I wrote then:
What’s astonishing about all this is that the names of those on the panel are unknown, how they decide someone should die is unknown, and what evidence is used to determine on a death sentence is unknown.  Everything about this process is deliberately opaque.  And there is no written record of the panel’s deliberations in order to further insulate participants, especially the president himself.
In short, Brennan talks a good game.  But in reality the entire process by which we target our victims is opaque, anonymous, and lacking accountability.
Obama’s national security czar makes a laughingstock of national sovereignty as well.  Keep in mind what we’ve been doing in Pakistan as you read the following:
We do not use force whenever we want, wherever we want.  International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and the laws of war, impose constraints.  The United States of America respects national sovereignty and international law.
How are we respecting Pakistani sovereignty?  We clearly do not have Pakistani permission for our drone strikes.  If we do, then present it for public review.
Here Brennan says with a straight face that we consider our relations with countries like Pakistan when we kill their citizens:
We consider the broader strategic implications of any action, including what effect, if any, an action might have on our relationships with other countries.
Brennan further dissembles in this passage in which he magically conjures an “armed conflict” sanctioned by “international law” to justify the worst depredations of our counter-terror policies:
As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks.   and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense.
Though the national security advisor concedes that his government no longer uses the term “war on terror,” apparently he still needs the 9/11 attacks to justify wars and violence which have gone far, far beyond 9/11.  Once again, what we are doing in Pakistan has very little, if anything to do with 9/11 or with protecting our homeland.  It has everything to do with a president who sees political utility in mounting his own personal war on terror.  In some ways, it’s not that dissimilar to the ways in which Bush-Cheney exploited 9/11 to create a permanent counter-terror constituency that guaranteed them two terms in office.
The true danger of Obama’s counter-terror presidency is that it has no ultimate goal beyond the immediate one of liquidating Al Qaeda.  What do you do when you’ve killed it off?  No answer.  What vision or image do you project for the U.S. in the Middle East?  No answer.  Do we think a single well-meaning speech in Cairo constitutes a policy?  Obama has nothing after Al Qaeda.  Which is why we will never fully rid the world of radical Islam and perhaps don’t even deserve to.
Even if we do end this threat, with what will we replace it?  How will this vacuum be filled?  By our golden values of democracy and freedom?  What example have we set that any Middle Eastern nation will seek to emulate?  In truth, we offer them nothing but drones, Navy Seals, and cruise missiles.

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