Sunday, October 2, 2011

Offing American "enemies"

When it comes to militarism, National Public Radio is often, as we called it around my house during the run up to the Iraq War, National Pentagon Radio. Friday, the Obama administration offed two American citizens, without a trial or any legal proceeding, far from any field of battle. But from NPR’s reporting Friday afternoon, as I will relate below, one couldn’t tell that any of this happened.

Awlaki, the main one, was, as Glenn Greenwald reports below, initially a moderate cleric. He was turned into a militant jihadist and Al-Qaida member in Yemen by the American aggressions against and occupation of two Muslim countries and drone killings of civilians in Pakistan. Nothing about Obama’s offing of Bin Laden with the seals – part of the new, secret American army, the JCOS, with its 25,000 soldiers and many missions every night – required these aggressions and continuing occupations. In addition, the US could have captured Bin Laden and appealed, broadly speaking, to the rule of law, as in the case of Nuremburg. Instead, Obama had him shot and dumped in the sea. See here, here, here and here. Still, Bin Laden was a mass murderer, and killed even more innocent Arabs and Muslims than Americans. Striking at him, in return for 9/11, was, comparatively speaking, an act of (vigilante) justice. It would have been better to have a trial, demonstrating the rule of law, and showing the difference between America and the murderers of innocents (of course, American militarism murders many, many innocents). But American corporate politics is, by now, a right-wing hornet’s nest of madness. Nonetheless, Obama's lethal act proved the futility as well as bankruptcy of the Bush aggressions and occupations in Afghanistan (abetted by NATO) and Iraq.

Obama could, I suggested in those posts, have left it there. He could have deescalated the troops in Iraq - currently, the official media says US troops are "not fighting" in Iraq and number 55,000; the real number, counting 72,000 Blackwater/Xe corporation and other mercenaries, is 127,000 - and in Afghanistan perhaps 175,000. The President could have continued the initiatives to reach out in the Middle East following from his Cairo speech and his decision at last to support Arab spring and the power of nonviolence, as he put it, in Egypt at the departure of Mubarak. Instead, Obama has given in to American elite politics. Both the Republicans and Democrats are sycophants to and/or bought by the Israel lobby, even though most American jews, myself included, oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and want recognition or statehood for the Palestinians.

Against the international community, the long stated affirmation of a two state solution by American presidents and the security of ordinary Americans. Obama gave a pathetic speech at the United Nations - he rarely gives pathetic speeches - in which he said the US would veto the Palestinian claim for statehood and didn’t mention the settlements. Given his attempt to raise the issue of the settlements at the beginning of his Presidency, a more complete humiliation in politics than this would be hard to imagine. These acts reinforced the great and justified anger at America among ordinary people in the Middle East and elsewhere which some features of Obama's foreign policy had meant to abate.

In this bleak context, Obama continues to order drones to kill suspected Taliban (I am not sure what “intelligence” the US relies on – but Obama is plainly more competent, as his getting bin Laden shows, the any American president since Roosevelt). But though semi-competent, he also murders civilians by remote control in Pakistan (in large numbers, probably somewhere in the middle between Pakistani estimates, perhaps exaggerated and Howard Koh/CIA propaganda), Yemen and Somalia, countries with which the US is supposedly not at war. These are acts of aggression.

These killings breed widespread hatred of the United States (all the relatives, friends and those who hear about it), as an outlier terrorists, the threat of driving Pakistan, a nuclear-armed power, into opposition to the US - Mike Mullen and even Hilary Clinton have been working over time on this - and increased rivalry with nuclear-armed India, insecurity of ordinary Americans and an endless excuse for American militarism (the behemoth trillion dollar military with its 1280 bases abroad pushes daily not to be cut back, to continue to pay outrageous prices and rely on increasingly privatized “soldiers” – for instance, 7 mercenaries for every 3 soldiers in Afghanistan; politicians of both parties (a few Democrats and Ron Paul and perhaps his son excepted) vote for military increases or not to cut back militarism seriously because they don’t want to be baited from the Right. I call this feature of militarism - that the American military-industrial establishment eats up 3 times the expenditure of the Cold War against a very different and far less powerful enemy - the reactionary two-step of American politics, in the absence of movements from below.

On Today with Marco Wurmin on NPR at one o’clock Friday afternoon, Awlaki was reported as a dastardly criminal. A Georgetown “expert,” a Professor Hoffman, spoke of Awlaki speaking to a psychologist, an Arab-American soldier, who murdered 14 other soldiers at Fort Hood, of Awlaki counseling Abdulmutallub, the Nigerian underwear bomber, on the flight to Detroit, and the like. These stories might be true, although they might also be lies. The latter two committed acts; Awlaki has had no evidence brought against him in a court or even made public. Hoffmann babbles government talking points or stories as if he knew something. But no investigation or legal proceeding has occurred. It is just the word of the US government (remember Iraq or the Gulf of Tonkin...), repeated emptily and without opposition. Of course, its defenders might say, NPR is not just a propaganda arm of the US government as in authoritarian regimes; their propaganda, as Professor Hoffmann reveals, is voluntarily….

Hoffmann talked of Awlaki as a “high value target” because he speaks English (being American, a Colorado State grad in Fort Collins) and can thus influence people tempted to join the terrorists in the United States. It all sounds plausible if one doesn’t consider that the evidence was gathered by a secret police - the CIA and other “intelligence” organizations - which often make mistakes. And even if they made no mistake, no trial has occurred, the killing far from the field of battle.

NPR made no mention that the President just murdered, in cold-blood, two American citizens nor deigned to offer any chance for someone who cared about democracy or the rule of law to engage the government with this issue emerged (nor will it in the corporate media, part of the war complex – the military-industrial-intelligence-congressional-media-think tank/academic complex*). Andrew Sullivan, initially a neocon zealot for the Iraq war who turned into a major critic of torture and empire (worried a lot about the Libya invasion), wants to combat "terrorists" in the Obama way. He praises Barack's lethality. See here and here. He even mocks Glenn Greenwald - see below - a bit. His contrast of Obama as the "Un-Bush," lethally killing Al-Qaida leaders, not waging feckless, for show, oil and military bases-seeking, futile aggressions and occupations like Iraq, and not simply being an enemy of the emerging movement for Arab democracies from below or a toy of the Israeli Right (Cheney thought with the Israeli Right that conquest would further American and Israeli interests, but this fascist fantasy is beneath contempt) has some merit.

But Sullivan's position would be more plausible if Obama had not just crumbled, affirming the Israeli occupation of Palestine - and the drones did not murder lots of civilians and infuriate every decent person who knows about it (consider the Company in Avatar, a vision of American-style war these days in Pakistan without any personal risk to soldiers at all). Yes, it intimidates and takes out some bad guys, Andrew, but it does a great deal of murder as well as damage to America, produces new threats to and insecurity for Americans. Andrew invokes a particularly sleazy "Lawfare" column - Lawfare is the political Straussian/neocon terms for proceeding tyrannically through "executive power" in a crisis or state of the exception by Robert Chesney here. Chesney focuses on Awlaki being in Yemen and loudly asserts the government's claim that he is "an operational leader." He forgets that Obama has had a kill order out of Awlaki for two years (he wasn't likely to make himself public anywhere the US could assassinate him), and though his speech is foul, omitting that there is exactly no evidence publically produced by the administration that Awlaki was directly involved in any of the crimes.

Now, Obama is a constitutional lawyer and a decent person, who thought of himself as being a more competent President for the imperial elite than others. He probably is (hard for any President to head off a depression, and he has done more, despite massive opposition from Republicans and blue dog Democrats, than others probably would have). But it must be hard to look in the mirror any more. Bush tortured people. Obama has protected the Bush perpetrators, from high officials down to the CIA, for any investigation of war crimes, that is torture, murder, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition and aggression. Obama initially rejected torture, but has himself tortured Bradley Manning (he did respond to protest at a Democratic fund raiser in San Francisco, transferring Manning to Leavenworth, where he is apparently no longer being tortured).

But Bush and Cheney never ordered the murder of an American citizen, not fighting the U.S. on the field of battle, in another country. That this is a new and even more frightening stage of the development of tyranny is plain. Yes, Awlaki fled to Yemen. But the hit order on Awlaki, as Greenberg says, has been out for two years (if he had poked his head up, the US would have offed him sooner). Obama might be doing this as an “exception” to murdering Americans (though he also took out another American citizen with Awlaki against whom no case for actions against Americans had been so far alleged). Many Democrats, who cried against the criminality of Bush, now keep their mouth firmly shut, and Andrew Sullivan, usually good on these issues these days (very good on Obama's UN speech about Israel) joins in. For these Democrats (not otherwise for Sullivan), criticisms of crimes like murder and torture are good as a partisan matter against Bush, but it’s fine if a Democrat does it.

Perhaps one could say for them and for Obama that they are outlaws on a smaller scale than Cheney. In addition, Obama has protected Cheney, trotting around the United States with his book about how torture renamed "enhanced interrogation," allegedly makes Americans more secure. Crime in the elite is just a matter of "political disagreement." That international law and democracy have improved since the time Borgias cannot be proven with the American example today, except that in the elite, murder is not yet practiced on political opponents internally. But in Vancouver, a massive public protest against Cheney's criminality became the story of his visit. Cheney was haughty enough to travel to Canada, which, with a right-wing government, made no effort to arrest him, one step more daring than Bush or my student Condi who do not venture abroad. Cheney is crazed to try to save himself from the lasting place he has earned historically - to be mentioned routinely with Torquemada, Goebbels and Vishinsky. They, too, once strutted around... See here and here. In Europe, he would quite possibly be arrested (that would be a humbling international crisis for the US), and so far, no Bush official ventures that far.**

But Obama has, in fact, increasingly directed a relatively targeted process of murder without any Congressional or judicial oversight - a new stage in American imperialism/militarism. That was initially involved in sending 100,000 troops to Afghanistan, not the 30,000 discussed in Congress and the media (this imitated Bush who escalated with 70,000 mercenaries in Iraq in early 2004 without any public discussion), in the protection of torturers and murderers from any public investigation (a Truth and Reconciliation commission or hearings and trials with a Presidential pardon at the end would have been a civilized procedure, one that in fact rejected the crimes), a war against Libya, perhaps initially to stem a humanitarian disaster but waged by missile and a small number of CIA/XE company mercenary boots on the ground without any Congressional approval, and now the murder, at Obama’s direct order of an American citizen far from the field of battle.

It is not just that Obama the constitutional lawyer exhibits contempt for the rule of law or that any of the Republican candidates who might replace him will engage in all this criminality in a much more extreme, feckless and more self-destructive way (i.e., I mean the latter also for us ordinary citizens of America and perhaps the world). It is that initially Obama had striven to reduce torture, to move America back toward the rule of law, toward respect for human rights, toward difference from all the abusers like Iran who now throw Guantanamo in the face of American prisoners like Shane Bauer. It is that Obama’s competence, as a smart imperial killer, has also tossed aside the rule of law. And this is Cheney's greatest accomplishment and the degradation of American politics. Without sharp protest from below and public discussion, there is little chance that the rule of law will be restored in America.

Here is Greenwald's interview Friday on Democracy Now! (see also here for his own post):

JUAN GONZALEZ: Shortly before we went on the air this morning, senior U.S. administration officials confirm the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in northern Yemen. The United States says Awlaki is one of the most influential Al Qaeda operatives on its most wanted list. News of the death was first announced by Yemen’s Defense Ministry in a text message sent to journalists the ministry wrote, "The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions," but did not provide further details. In a separate email statement, the Yemeni government reported Awlaki was targeted and killed about 90 miles east of the capital Sanaa. The statement said the attack was launched at 9:55 a.m. local time. Despite the Yemeni government’s claims its forces successfully targeted Awlaki in a raid near the capital, sources on the ground say he was likely killed in a U.S. air-strike. Awlaki was previously targeted in U.S. bombing of Yemen earlier this year. Well, for more, we turn to Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for He joins us via Democracy Now! video-stream from Brazil. He first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom it had ordered assassinated without any due process. One of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki, despite substantial doubt among the Yemen experts about whether he had an operational role in Al Qaeda Glenn Greenwald, welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW!

GLENN GREENWALD: Good to be here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well Glenn, your reaction, first of all, to this news and what it means in terms of any new precedence now set by this administration in the targeting of U.S. citizens?

GLENN GREENWALD: Let’s begin with the fact Anwar al-Awlaki is a U.S. citizen. He was ordered assassinated by the President of the United States without presenting any evidence of any kind as to his guilt, without attempting to indict him in any way or comply with any of the requirements of the Constitution that say that you can’t deprive someone of life without due process of law. The president ordered him killed wherever he was found, including far away from a battle field, no matter what it was he was doing at the time. And if you’re somebody who believes that the president of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without even a shred of due process, without having to have charged him with a crime or indict him and prove in a court he’s actually guilty, then you’re really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets. Remember that there was great controversy that George Bush asserted the power simply to detain American citizens without due process or simply to eavesdrop on their conversations without warrants. Here you have something much more severe. Not eavesdropping on American citizens, not detaining them without due process, but killing them without due process, and yet many Democrats and progressives, because it’s President Obama doing it, have no problem with it and are even in favor of it. To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the constitution and to tear it up into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, for those in the audience not familiar with him, give us the sketch of who Al-Awlaki is and what the alleged terrorist plots that he was involved with are.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, he, as I said, was born in the United States and went to college in the United States and, for a long time, was considered by the U.S. government and the media to be a moderate Muslim cleric. In fact the Pentagon invited him to a lunch in the wake of 9/11 in order to talk to him and other Muslim leaders about how to root out extremism in the Muslim community. The Washington Post had him host his own chat about the meaning of various Muslim holidays and the like. So, for a long time he was viewed as this, sort of, moderate figure. He became increasingly radicalized, like a lot of people have, over the last decade, as the United States has continued to slaughter Muslim men, women and children in multiple countries around the world, and he definitely became much more hostile in his sermons to the United States, and began arguing that it wasn’t just the duty but the right of Muslims to not just be passive receivers of violence by the U.S., but also to begin to attack the United States back as a means of deterring further violence. And so, he definitely became a great concern to the U.S. because he was so effective in communicating these ideas in English to large parts of the English speaking Muslim world. And, of course, expressing those ideas that the United States is engaged in aggression against the Muslim world and that Muslims have the right or even the duty to fight back rather than getting passively slaughtered, whether you agree with those ideas are not, or think they’re horrible ideas, they’re obviously rights you have to express under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The government began claiming that it wasn’t just his messages and his ideas that were bothering them and making them want to kill him, but the fact he started to have an operational role in various plots, such as the attempt by Abdulmutallab to detonate a bomb in a jet over Detroit over Christmas. They claim that he was involved in the attack by Nidal Hasan on the Fort Hood base that killed 14 American service members. The problem with that is that, there’s been no evidence presented that he’s actually been involved in any of those plots. He is not been indicted or charged. If he has been involved in those plots, then the solution is to charge him with those crimes, bring him before a court of justice, and prove his guilt; not simply to order him killed as though the President is judge, jury, and executioner.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, his father had attempted, or started a court proceeding to try to enjoin the Obama administration from carrying out any attack on his son. Could you talk about that and where that is?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure, well, Awlaki, himself, was incapable of suing to vindicate his rights because, had he popped his head up at any time, as we proved today, he would have been killed by the Unites States government, which sought on several occasions before today to kill him. So, his father brought suit on his behalf, represented by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, asking a court to enjoin the President from murdering his son without due process, and in response the Obama administration made numerous claims, mostly arguing courts have no right to interfere in the decisions the president makes about who is an enemy combatant using standard Bush-Cheney theories about how this is a military operation that the court shouldn’t be involved in it. They argued that whom the president decides to assassinate is a state secret. And that courts have no business meddling in or judging or adjudicating the president’s choices in that regard. A federal court, several months ago, accepted the argument that this was really a political and military matter, and not a legal or constitutional or judicial question for courts to resolve. Although, the judge said there are very difficult questions raised because of what an extraordinary step this is for the president to order American citizens killed. He said it’s really up to the Congress to stop it or for the president to make decisions on his own. That, I believe that is being appealed; the appeal is pending, but, obviously, it’s now it is too late. There’s no point in trying to obtain an injunction now that Awlaki has been killed by President Obama.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the bizarre irony of the government in Yemen which is clearly illegitimate by any international standards, facing a huge popular rebellion among its own people, being involved, to some degree or other, with the United States in this killing?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, President Saleh, who, of course, has been slaughtering his own citizens by the dozens over the last several months, and is still, you know—-has been a longtime ally of the United States. The State Department has issued some very meek statements, suggesting that there should be a democratic transition. But, we’ve continued to work with President Saleh, the U.S. government has, to try and kill those people that we want dead in Yemen, including Awlaki, and this is widely viewed as an attempt by President Saleh to, sort of, offer an olive branch to the United States; we will help to kill the American citizen within our borders whom you want dead in exchange for your continuing to support our regime. Of course, the United States has been trying to claim to the Arab world that it is on the right side of the Arab Spring, and yet just yesterday, of course, in Bahrain, numerous medical professionals, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, were imprisoned for the crime of treating protesters who were shot by government forces just two weeks after the U.S. government announced that it plans to ship to Bahrain huge amounts of new weapons. Here, our long time ally, President Saleh, is not only now slaughtering his own citizens, but helping the United States government murder its own. So, it’s a pretty difficult sell to people in the Muslim world to claim that we’re on the right side of the Arab Spring when we not only continue to embrace the people who kill their own citizens, but now kill our citizens as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to read to you a quote from the editor of The Yemeni Post, Hakim Al Masmari. He said, "The Yemeni government will face a lot of criticism, especially in the south, for allowing US drones to attack Yemeni civilians. But it will not be a blow to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from any perspective. We don’t feel they will suffer, because Awlaki did not have any real role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, well, one of the bizarre aspects of this is that media and government reports have tried to sell Awlaki is some kind of grand terrorist mastermind. There’s even lots of articles you can find online and major publications describing him as the new Bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Bin Laden to justify this type of endless war that President Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is insisting on not just continuing, but escalating. And for a while, Awlaki was the person to going to serve that function. But, the problem is, if you read experts in Yemen, like Gregory Johnson and others, they mock the idea Awlaki was some kind of a leader of Al Qaeda and even question whether he had any operational role at all in any of these plots. He was clearly a cleric who developed some audience and was popular, particularly among English-speaking Muslim youth because of his ability to communicate with them. But, the idea that he was some high up in Al Qaeda or this is a blow to the operational capability of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is absolutely ludicrous. And if you read Yemen experts, you’ll see that that’s true. The problem is that American political culture is such that evidence doesn’t make a difference. Trials and due process are very pre-9/11. What we believe is that if the president stands up and says, someone is a terrorist, that’s all we need to know; they are therefore there are guilty because the leader has accused him of being that, and as long as the Aides then go and leak to the media, which they have done, that he played a significant operational role and was a big Al Qaeda leader, we won’t need to see evidence. We’ll just stand up and blindly click our heels and accept it’s true, and then cheered the fact he’s been murdered based on as unproven claims.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn, what can people who are concerned about this extraordinary extension of the powers of a president to basically ignore any kind of due process with our American citizens, what can they do?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one thing that is obvious, is that voting for Democrats as opposed to Republicans doesn’t help. In fact, if you read The New York Times article from 2010 confirming that Awlaki is on the hit list, it makes clear that there’s been no instances where George Bush ordered American citizens targeted for assassination, that this is extraordinary and perhaps an unprecedented step under the Democratic president. What people in the Arab world did, when their leaders did things like imprison them, let alone kill them, and their fellow citizens without trials, is they went out into the streets and protested and demanded that it stop. It’s hard to see how voting for one of these two parties is going to end these extraordinary excesses in violations of the constitution; it clearly doesn’t. Something outside of that system is necessary to address it. That’s been proven. So, I think if Americans cared about the constitutional rights they pretended to care about under George Bush, Democrats in particular, they would be very vocally protesting and objecting to this. But, the problem is that, the opportunity to use these issues as a means to undermine Republican politicians is now gone, and so, many people who, three years ago, were pretending to care about these things, no longer do. So, the question that American citizens have to ask themselves, is whether they believe in the principles of liberty and rights that they have learned were protected by the Constitution? That’s just a piece of paper—-the Constitution—-it cannot protect those rights, only the citizenry can ensure that those rights are not trampled on; and the question is whether citizens actually believe in those.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Finally, Glenn Greenwald, we’re getting reports that U.S. government confirming that it was a joint operation with the Yemeni government. Your sense of whether you believe this was a drone strike largely carried out by the United States?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, there’s no question I believe that the United States played a significant role. I mean, the United States have been wanting to kill Awlaki for a long time. The Yemeni government has not wanted to kill him, in part, because if it does, it will trigger lots of unrest and resentment, and that’s the last thing, especially at this point, that it wants. So, I believe that this has been done by an air strike, certainly the Yemeni government would not have the ability to carry that out on its own. The fact U.S. government confirmed so quickly that he was dead and accepting responsibility, I think, is fairly definitive proof that the U.S. played a very significant role, if not the lead role, in extinguishing the life of its own citizen without due process.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn Greenwald, I want thank you for being with us, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger for

*The Denver Post front page story Saturday from the Associated Press at least raised some of the issues toward the end. The New York Times front page coverage was hopeless...

**This may have been a motivation for Obama's speech at the UN about Israel. A UN resolution recognizing Palestine would make the Israel's government's crimes in the occupied territories even more publically recognized and mean, even more, that Israeli officials could not go abroad except to the United States. Courting the disdain of the decent opinion of humankind, as Israel and the United States since Bush have, eventually comes home to roost.

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