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article imageOp-Ed: When criminals are the police

By David Delmar     Sep 6, 2013 in Politics
What happens when the world's criminal elite double as its police force? Recent events have provided a good opportunity to observe.
On December 17, 2009, to the remote Yemeni village of Al-Majalah, US cruise missiles and illegal cluster bombs delivered fire and evisceration, claiming the lives of forty-six people. Though the majority of the victims were innocent women and children (at least 36, according to credible sources) Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh nonetheless assumed a braggart’s posture and happily took responsibility for these murdered “militants,” as he described them, borrowing a vapid US military phrase (the Obama Administration’s official definition of “militant” is any military-aged male in the vicinity of a strike zone. To fully appreciate the absurdity of this, imagine if prosecutors tried to define “criminal” as “anyone we accuse of a crime.”).
Thanks to cables leaked by Wikileaks and to the selfless dedication of investigative journalists who visited the blast zone in the aftermath of the attack, we now know that President Saleh’s sickening self-congratulation was a lie. It is actually the US military and its Commander-In-Chief who bear responsibility for that destruction.
We will probably never know how many of the dead—if any—were actually associated with terrorist groups. As is his custom, President Obama has refused to acknowledge the innocents killed in the attacks, even after US responsibility was established.
In an interview with Democracy Now!, The Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill, who visited the attack site, recounted a meeting with a Yemeni tribal leader who had personally witnessed the devastation. He described it thusly:
If someone had a weak heart they would collapse because you saw meat and you couldn’t tell if it was goat meat or human meat; and you saw limbs of children..
Scahill went on to describe the “agitation for justice for the victims of the Al-Majalah bombing":
[W]ho knows why the US bombed it. It could have been that the Yemeni government was under pressure from Obama’s administration and they said ‘no one will care about these people, let’s just say it’s an al Qaeda camp because it’s in the middle of nowhere, no one’s going to care about them. And no one is going to go there to investigate.’ And, and when--but when we went there we saw it: cluster bombs, these are flying land mines—they’re banned. And yet the United States continues to use them; and they shred people into meat….
The official reason offered for the bombing of Al-Majalah, which Scahill described as one of the poorest villages in Yemen (a village of “nobodies”) was the alleged presence within it of a man who—again allegedly—was killed in the strike. Yemenis familiar with the man, however, rebuked the notion that he had terrorist ties, instead describing him as a former Mujahideen who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (the US, recall, was the major benefactor of the Mujahideen in that conflict.)
Whatever the accusations of this man’s misconduct may be, we will never know whether his crimes were so great, or whether he posed such an imminent danger to the US that the immolation of three dozen innocents was necessitated. The president has to this day refused to make public the evidence which served as the basis of his death sentence.
Donning the mantle of "judge, jury and executioner" in this way is a habit of President Obama’s. Rarely does he divulge the evidence upon which his administration metes out capital sentences. And, under his tenure, the CIA has become a death squad whose sole purpose is to do just that. Gone is the CIA whose cause was intelligence gathering. Now it is the government agency equivalent of the Sons of Anarchy—fiercely dealing out death and judgment across the world to those suspected of “terrorist ties” and to all of the unfortunate souls—or should I use Obama’s legal definition: “militants?”—who happen to be nearby when the Bald Eagle’s Hellfire Missiles come for them.
The character of this so-called “drone war” has been thoroughly documented by reporters and human rights groups. The authoritative work on the subject remains a 2012 joint Stanford/NYU report entitled “Living Under Drones.” Though mostly limited in its analysis to US drone strikes in Pakistan, which is only one of six countries which has endured them (most of which, by the way, have never had war declared upon them by Congress), the report’s characterization of the program applies across the board:
Drones hover twenty- four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute -resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.
In other words, the people of Northwest Pakistan—like the people in drone-patrolled areas of Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan—are terrorized. The director of the London rights group Reprieve put it this way:
[The Stanford/NYU report] shows that drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies……. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe.
Thus it is sad to have to admit that a line from one of the more derivative and shallow movies of this century, James Cameron’s Avatar, which I thought laughable when I first heard it uttered, is actually true. “We will fight terror with terror,” says that movie’s villain, in his gruff, macho-man-military-stereotype voice. Just imagine the risible president speaking those words while standing at the podium receiving his Nobel Peace Prize (placing him in the humble company of such peacemakers as war criminals Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin and Yasser Arafat) and the nauseating spectacle is complete.
Unfortunately for the president, and for his predecessor, neither can even claim national security as a justification for the terror and death they have wreaked on innocents across the world through the drone war. The available evidence suggests that, far from making the US safer, the program has greatly augmented the strength of the forces arrayed against it. The “Living Under Drones” report concludes on this point that due to the terroristic nature of the US drone program, and to its brutality, it has increased recruitment to jihadist groups and has “replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”
Other experts repeat the same conclusions. According to Princeton scholar Gregory Johnsen, in Yemen “al Qaeda is actually expanding…in part due to the backlash against the strikes.” It is not hard to imagine why this is. The story is quite basic.
When a drone strike obliterates dozens of innocent people, each of whom have family and friends, islamists are the first to move into the rubble, to feed and clothe the victims and to help them rebuild. Accompanying that assistance is likely to be a not-so-subtle message: the US killed your family, your friends—destroyed your life. The victims will be forgiven if, tangled in this web, they fail to correctly assess the moral standing of the parties involved. To these pitiful people the US probably seems evil, plain and simple; and so it would to virtually any person put in such a hellish situation.
The civilian victims of the ill-fated US drone war number in the thousands, according to available records, and one can be virtually certain that the number is higher than we know, as there is no official record keeping system in place to record the number of “bug splats” (the derogatory term used to describe the mass of blood and tissue left visible onscreen for drone operators in the wake of a strike. This is how our military refers to the human victims of its heinous campaign).
Among the thousands of bugs splattered by the Obama administration was a 16 year-old American teenager, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, whose father, Anwar Al-Awlaki had been accused of terrorist ties and was murdered via drone only weeks before. To this day, the president has not only declined to officially admit responsibility for the boy’s murder, his administration has also refused even to publicly reveal the intended target of the strike which claimed the boy’s life—the “terrorist” who posed so imminent a threat that he had to be detonated along with an American child. Al-Awlaki’s family was forced to identify him with the only piece of his body that could be recovered: a chunk of the back of his head, with his hair still attached.
When asked about the killing of the teenager, President Obama’s insufferably smug press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Abdulrahman “should have a far more responsible father.” As the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote about Gibbs’ remark:
[T]his kid wasn't killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists. Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment.
That Gibbs’ could say such an outlandishly immoral, sadistic thing and remain employed is a sad commentary on the president’s moral stature. In watching the video of Gibbs’ , as he fumbles through his answer, it almost seems as though he himself cannot believe the import of the words that are coming out of his mouth: in essence, the sins of the father should be visited upon the innocent 16 year-old son—in the form of a fatal drone strike.
With this—let’s be charitable—less than stellar record, one would think President Obama would refrain from donning the garb of the morality police. Strangely, he is now in the process of flashing his shiny badge for the world as he thunderously condemns the alleged crime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad in using chemical weapons against the rebels who are trying to overthrow him. There is scarcely a sane person on earth who would not applaud the removal of the brutal Assad from power. But there is nonetheless something curious about witnessing the prospect of a criminal on the order of President Obama leading the effort to prosecute him.
Recall the earlier description of the Al-Majalah bombing, in which the US used cluster bombs—which, like chemical weapons, are illegal under international law. What is the basis for Obama’s distinction between the criminal use of chemical weapons, which amount to a “red line” the transgression of which he feels must be punished militarily, and the use of cluster bombs?
Having opened this Pandora’s Box, we might as well proceed with this line of questioning. What is the basis for distinction between the illegal use of chemical weapons and the blatantly illegal drone strikes which—though he has never admitted to publicly—Obama’s administration regularly uses to prosecute the War on Terror? Cluster bombs, drone strikes, chemical weapons—these are all illegal things which kill huge numbers of innocents, and in particularly egregious fashion. The President of the United States apparently does not feel that personal involvement in breaching two of these prohibitions disqualifies him from issuing ostentatious calls for the punishment of another man for breaching one.
This is hypocrisy of the gravest order—the kind that is oriented toward starting a conflict which will result in the killing and death of Syria’s civilian population if President Obama’s “limited,” “no-boots-on-the-ground” military action proceeds.
Of course, if it did proceed, it would illuminate another of the president’s grand hypocrisies. Thus far the administration has insisted that the purpose of the attack would be to punish and deter the use of chemical weapons. For his part, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave the same assurance to the House of Commons before it voted against military action. Both the Prime Minister and the President have noted the international legal prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, discussed above. But there is another international legal prohibition that seems to have slipped the president’s mind (David Cameron at least told the House of Commons that UN approval would be necessary for any military action): the prohibition on the use of force, which is central to the UN Charter.
In accordance with international law, there are only two lawful occasions to use force against another country: in self-defense or with authorization from the UN Security Council. Any use of force that falls outside these parameters is unlawful.
Nonetheless, President Obama has been quite candid in expressing his disposition that the US can go to war with Syria in lieu of UN approval. Adopting a whiny tone in one of his recent speeches, Obama described the UNSC as “completely paralyzed” and “unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”
The rest of the world has surely witnessed enough US-inflicted “paralysis” of the Security Council to find Obama’s remarks bewildering. Due to steadfast US intransigence, not even Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s settlement construction in the Palestinian West Bank survive the dreaded veto. Each and every one of Israel’s settlements are prime facie violations of international law—specifically Article Forty-Nine of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits states from deporting their populations into territories they occupy. Still, the world must listen to the president whose routine use of the veto to stifle the Security Council’s attempts to hold Israel accountable has virtually eliminated any chance of a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whine about “paralysis.”
And while discussing the topic of chemical weapons, let's be sure to note that during its 2008 massacre in the Gaza Strip, Israel dropped White Phosphorous—itself an illegal chemical weapon—on civilian population centers, according to the respected Human Rights Watch. This egregious conduct amounts to a war crime.
Those with some historical memory know that not only did the US not push for punishment of Israel’s use of chemical weapons, but that the US too has been complicit in their use. Using materials sold to him by the US, Saddam Hussein gassed both Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war and the Kurdish population of Iraq. In neither case did the US president demand action be taken to punish the crimes.
US hypocrisy with respect to chemical weapons aside, in the absence of UNSC authorization, the use of force is only lawful in self-defense. Perhaps for this reason, Obama’s public statements of late have included some feeble mention of “protecting American security interests.” In an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl made a tortured but representative self-defense argument:
Having confronted a vicious dictator with a clear red line, it would be devastating for the U.S. to reverse course and back down in the face of the most blatant violation of that red line.
It would be “devastating”—the sky would quite literally begin to fall if, according to the Senators, the US does not sate its bombing withdrawals in Syria (John Kerry also put on his Chicken Little costume for some good-ole-fashioned scare-tactics, telling the US Senate that the Obama administration has not even contemplated what it would do if Congressional authorization were denied for an attack against Syria, because the situation is “too dire.”)
According to the Senators’ argument, US inaction would “send a message”—a “devastating message—to Iran that it can freely pursue nuclear weapons, and to “long-standing allies like Japan and South Korea that Washington can no longer be counted on to stand with them against threats from North Korea and China.”
If the Senators are to be believed, US failure to bomb Syria would afflict the entire world with some kind of memory fog. The whole world would miraculously forget that the US is the most powerful country in the world’s history. Even though it has been almost perpetually at war for the last sixty years, the US would suddenly look like a paper tiger because of a onetime decision not to blow things up.
Obviously, the Senators do not make out a credible case for self-defense under international law, and neither does the president. The international legal standard is quite strenuous: the threat facing a nation must be imminent to justify a preemptive attack. No one serious believes there is evidence that Syria poses an imminent threat to the US.
Because the UNSC has not and probably will not authorize the use of force against Syria, and because he cannot make out a credible self-defense case, we are confronted with the above alluded to grand hypocrisy of Obama’s war drive: he is advocating, quite literally, the illegal use of force to punish an illegal use of force—a crime undertaken to prosecute a crime. Referring back to the question which began this writing--this is what happens when criminals become the police. The law becomes a crude joke, used only to service and rationalize the abusive behaviors of the powerful and ignored when it cannot be twisted to that end.
Obama’s case for war in Syria is a series of vulgar hypocrisies. It is equal parts self-righteous and nonsensical. American service members and Syrian civilians should not die to serve his capricious double standard: I can murder people with impunity but you, Bashar Al-Assad, cannot.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Syria, Syrian civil war, President obama, UNSC, United Nations
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