Wednesday, May 30, 2012

They Call It Terror Tuesday

Vast Left Conspiracy
A distressing front page article in the New York Times yesterday, entitled "Secret Kill List" Tests Obama's Principles And Will, describes how Obama has placed himself “at the helm of a top-secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, for which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”  Or, as Glenn Greenwald put it, "an actual presidential-led death panel (as always in American media parlance, “Terrorist” means: individuals alleged by the U.S. Government — with no evidence, transparency or due process — to be Terrorists)."

Specifically, as Greenwald continues, "Obama himself 'insisted on approving every new name on an expanding ‘kill list,’ poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.'  In total secrecy — with no transparency or oversight of any kind — he then selects who will live and who will die."

David Swanson has more:
Obama is depicted as "keeping the tether short" by personally deciding on each and every drone kill. And yet, despite this personal care and attention, Obama has dramatically increased drone kills. The New York Times writes that Obama's role of "personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda" is "without precedent in presidential history." This is either because whatever the "shadow war with Al Qaeda" is has been created by Obama, or it's because Bush let subordinate(s) oversee it. This meaningless claim immediately follows bragging about how many of Obama's advisers the New York Times interviewed in order to produce it, and yet somehow the underwhelmed reader is still left to simply guess what is supposed to be meant. Presumably it is that Obama has created a new form of murder.

In fact, Obama has created drone wars, and an insider picture of how he runs them is found at the end of the article:

"Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government's sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects' biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret 'nominations' process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia's Shabab militia."

How do Obama's principles and will manifest themselves in this "due process" as he bestows it upon his victims? Well, according to the New York Times, he kills "without hand-wringing" and calls the decision to kill a U.S. citizen "an easy one." (Killing the same man's teenage son is so easy it goes unmentioned.) Obama is "a realist," who is "never carried away" by any campaign promises he may have made. He shrewdly maneuvers to keep in place Bush's powers of rendition, detention, and war . . . .
The Obama Administration is no doubt thrilled with the Times piece as illustrating the President's toughness in the fight against the terrorists.  But I find it chilling how we have come to accept from Obama programs and policies that would have been (and were) harshly condemned when conducted by Bush-Cheney.  As Greenwald writes today, we now see "how rapidly true extremism becomes normalized."

The key difference between Obama and his predecessor is not the policy but the personality.  While we could not contemplate that Bush-Cheney would carefully balance national security and human rights, Obama, the former-constitutional law professor, can surely be trusted to take a principled and prudent approach with the awesome powers bestowed upon the "commander in chief" in the never-ending war on terror. 

Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial editor at the Times correctly worries about this "just trust me" approach to targeted killings:
 If Mr. Obama wants to authorize every drone strike, fine—but even the president requires oversight (remember checks and balances?) which he won’t allow. The administration refuses to accept judicial review (from a FISA-style court, say) prior to a strike directed at an American citizen, and won’t deign to release the legal documents written to justify the targeted killing program. The Times and the ACLU have both sued to force disclosure of these documents. No luck yet.

Apologists for the president’s “just trust me” approach to targeted killings emphasize that the program is highly successful and claim that the drone strikes are extraordinarily precise. John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser, said in a recent speech that not a single non-combatant had been killed in a year of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And today’s Times article quoted a senior administration official who said that civilian deaths were in the “single digits.”

But it turns out that even this hey-it’s-better-than-carpet-bombing justification is rather flimsy. The Times article says “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties …It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
The logic, such as it is, is that people who hang around places where Qaeda operatives hang around must be up to no good. That’s the sort of approach that led to the false imprisonment of thousands of Iraqis, including the ones tortured at Abu Ghraib.
As Rosenthal concludes, " Mr. Obama used to denounce that kind of thinking."  So did we.


Sean Francisco said...

Impeachment is the only solution.

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