“relapses into barbarism”

Another precision operation

Glenn Greenwald notices that now the Obama Administration doesn’t distinguish between U.S. citizens and non-citizens when it comes to targeting them for assassination. From the Post (italics are Greenwald’s):

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

I almost always agree with Greenwald but I don’t quite share the outrage over the U.S. citizen part.

I mean, really, once the President declares he has the right to order someone killed, without anything resembling due process, in a country with which we may or may not be “at war”, the citizenship of that poor misfortunate bastard (or the equally misfortunate bastards who happen to be in the vicinity when the Hellfire missiles come screaming down) seems like a quibble.

The issue is that the President and some anonymous spooks can, as a matter of everyday routine business, get together and say “Today, we are going to smoke some guy in Yemen,  who may be what we call a terrorist, and anyone standing near him. And if we miss him this time, we will keep trying to kill him WITH ROCKETS until we do.” Also, if you’re a major drug lord, but NOT one of OUR major drug lords, you’re on the list, too. Got that?

According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article last October there are ten–ten!–collateral damage kills for every successful murder of an intended target, and that’s taking the Government’s word that the target was indeed worth targeting. (Imagine a SWAT team blowing away ten women and children in a gunfight with a suspected terrorist, and then high-fives all around because they got the guy. Actually, not that hard to imagine….)

This has not always been OK. You can go back to Ronald Reagan, that high-minded man of peace, or even further to Abraham Lincoln. Targeted assassinations, extrajudicial murders, have always been forbidden (at least officially).

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

These days, such relapses into barbarism aren’t hidden from the public eye. They’re bragged about.  In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said,  “Many [suspected terrorists] have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States.” He gave that weird chortle, and there was thunderous applause. Obama has not only continued targeted assassinations, he has expanded them, via a surge in missiles fired from those newfangled drones, and quainter methods such as dragging schoolchildren hardened terrorists from their beds, tying their hands, and shooting them.

He’ll probably have the decency not to chortle about that in his State of the Union address tonight, though.

Killing hundreds of innocent civilians, with robots, in a country we’re not at war with

child bombing victim

I realize that in the “Chair Force” post below I might have lost some of the moral perspective Chris Floyd lends in this piece:

Again, the point here is that a truly serious and sophisticated analysis of the situation would have stopped at the very beginning: “We are killing hundreds of innocent civilians, with robots, in a country we’re not at war with — one of our allies, in fact. What in the name of all that’s holy – and all that’s human – is driving our nation to commit these monstrous crimes, and how can we stop it?” That would be the issue under discussion. A truly serious and sophisticated analysis would not accept the hideous assertions and assumptions of state terrorists at face value, would not concern itself with the “process” by which imperial factions fight it out for the honor of perpetrating these atrocities – and would certainly not offer as its conclusion the earnest hope that the authors of these war crimes will find some way of doing them better….

In fact, losing moral perspective is the one thing Floyd finds wanting in Mayer’s piece. But would she be staff writer for the New Yorker with all the access that implies if she screamed out the obvious? Probably not….

Yet here she is blatantly contradicting her own reportage, the indisputable facts that she herself has uncovered. But such are the inevitable, wrenching cognitive dissonances that arise when you accept the basic assumptions of the militarist system — which you must do, to some extent, to get a seat at the “serious” table in America’s media-political establishment. She is probably not even aware that she is doing it; she is simply following the standard template for “process stories,” which require stark contrasts between the protagonists, who are usually cast in good guy-bad guy mold. In this case, the protagonists are the two state apparatuses — the Pentagon and the CIA — who wield the power of faceless, remote-control death over innocent, undefended human beings. In this “process,” it is the unregulated CIA killers who are the bad guys, and so the Pentagon must be recast as a stickler for accountability all the way up the line, despite the mountain of evidence against this ludicrous interpretation — evidence which, we must emphasize again, Mayer herself has been instrumental in compiling.

Floyd’s written a very good piece here. Where’s the outrage on the Predator story? Right here. Read the whole piece.

The Chair Force

Fascinating article on the operators of Predator and Reaper drones, who sit in naugahyde chairs in Nevada, monitor the war zone, sometimes launch Hellfire missiles that kill people (many people) in Iraq or Afghanisgtan–then clock out, and get home in time for soccer practice.

“Combat is a very personal event,” [Col. Pete] Gersten [commander of the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing] said. Getting questions at home at the end of each shift means “that compartment is being breached to a degree.” Even for those willing to share that aspect of their lives with their spouse, they feel limited by the secret nature of their job.

“It’s more frustrating than anything else. Your family doesn’t have a security clearance, so it makes for really boring dinner conversation,” said Lt. Col. David Kent, an F-15E pilot who was recently stationed at Creech and now teaches at the Air Force Academy. “You feel really good about something you did that day, but you can’t say anything. Your family can’t share the triumphs and trials with you.”

Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on drone warfare states that there are about 10 collateral damage kills for every successful “take out” of intended targets. But to be fair her article discusses both the above-board military drone program discussed in this article, as well as the secret one run by the CIA, out of an unspecified location, and perhaps with hired contractors.

The Predator “pilots” emerge here as yet one more overworked and stressed out arm of the far-reaching ambitions of the U.S. military:

In 2006, a military study found Predator crews are at least as fatigued, if not more so, than pilots deployed downrange. Changes were made to the shifts, but a follow-up survey last year still showed “emotional exhaustion and burnout.”

The studies found many crew members are chronically fatigued, with about 40 percent reporting “a moderate to high likelihood of falling asleep in the [ground control station] while operating a weaponized, remotely piloted aircraft.”

Mathewson said conditions have improved, but sleep deprivation hasn’t stopped being an issue. Gersten said the fatigue is being “realized in vehicle accidents” on the drive home from base.

“It’s insane,” Kent said. “You can’t run an Air Force like this without burning your people out.”

I didn’t expect to feel any sympathy for these guys, but I sort of do. Given my basic problem with anyone being willing to kill on command, whether it be Raymond strangling his buddy with a white scarf in The Manchurian Candidate, Civil War soldiers standing toe to toe and bayonetting one another, or pulling a trigger, or pushing a button on a joystick, the warriors of the “chair force” do have a pretty sucky job in the great scheme of things.

Tom Englehardt is all over this subject, and has been for years. Here is a collection of articles on

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