Patrick Martin / Global Research & WSWS & The New York Times – 2010-10-17 01:04:43
The New York Times Defends Assassinations
The Right of US Government “To Assassinate Anyone It Pleases”
Patrick Martin / Global Research & World Socialist Website
(October 13, 20100 — In its main editorial Sunday, the New York Times, the major voice of what passes for liberalism in America, openly defends the right of the US government to assassinate anyone it pleases. The only restriction the Times suggests is that the president should be required to have his selection of murder victims rubber-stamped by a secret court like the one that now approves 99.99 percent of all electronic eavesdropping requests.
The apologia for killing begins with a blatant lie about the US assassination program using missiles fired from CIA-operated drone aircraft flying along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The Times claims, citing official US government sources: “The drone program has been effective, killing more than 400 Al Qaeda militants this year alone, according to American officials, but fewer than 10 noncombatants.”
Actually, Pakistani government officials estimated the number of civilians killed by drone attacks in 2009 alone at more than 700, with an even higher figure this year, as the Obama administration has rained missiles and bombs on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.(See “US Drone Missiles Slaughtered 700 Pakistani Civilians in 2009” below.)
A report in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn concluded, “For each Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 percent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.”
The Times editors cannot be unaware of these well-established figures, since their own journalists have reported a civilian death toll from US missile strikes in Pakistan of some 500 by April 2009, and 100 to 500 more through April 2010. They lie shamelessly and deliberately in order to conceal the significance of their endorsement of such widespread killing.
The editorial claims that US drone missile attacks are legal under international law as self-defense, but this is flatly rejected by human rights groups and legal experts, except those who work as paid apologists for the CIA and Pentagon. The United States is not at war with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, but US missiles have struck the territory of all these countries and annihilated their citizens.
In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, rejected the doctrine of “preemptive self-defense” employed by the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the state of Israel, and declared that a targeted killing outside actual warfare “is almost never likely to be legal.”
In an accompanying statement, Alston pointed out the consequences if such a doctrine were to become universal. He declared: “If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”
The Times concedes, “it is not within the power of a commander in chief to simply declare anyone anywhere a combatant and kill them, without the slightest advance independent oversight.” The editorial argues that such arbitrary killings can be prevented through procedural safeguards of a purely cosmetic character.
These would include the Obama administration making public “its standards for putting people on terrorist or assassination lists,” limiting targets to “only people who are actively planning or participating in terror, or who are leaders of Al Qaeda or the Taliban”; capturing instead of killing, where possible; and “oversight outside the administration,” i.e., the aforementioned judicial review by a body like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Yes, if only the Nazis had followed “proper procedures.”
In the mealymouthed language that has become typical of the Times as it provides “liberal” justifications for the crimes of US imperialism, the editors insist that in the case of US citizens, “the government needs to employ some due process before depriving someone of life,” adding that, “If practical, the United States should get permission from a foreign government before carrying out an attack on its soil.”
The Times editorial admits that in the much-publicized case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born Muslim cleric now living in Yemen, the Obama administration has acted in a manner diametrically opposed to the procedure the newspaper claims to favor. Awlaki has been targeted for assassination, based on criteria that are secret and unreviewable.
The Justice Department has gone to court to assert the “state secrets” privilege to quash a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Awlaki’s father, seeking to compel the government to justify or rescind its death sentence.
No evidence has been presented that Awlaki, a longtime publicist for Islamic fundamentalism, has engaged in actual terrorist actions. And as the Times itself admits, “If the United States starts killing every Islamic radical who has called for jihad, there will be no end to the violence.” But the editors are nonetheless willing to place their confidence in the Obama administration, even to the point of giving it powers of life and death over citizens of the US and other countries alike.
The Times editorial reeks of cynicism. It advances arguments that convince no one, and are not intended to convince, only to provide a screen of words for a policy of imperialist barbarism and reaction. It is one more demonstration that, within the US financial aristocracy, there is no constituency whatsoever for the defense of democratic rights.
The open reactionaries like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News display their bloodlust unashamedly. The “liberals” like the Times prefer a dose of hypocritical moralizing and legalistic quibbling. The consequences for humanity are the same.
US Drone Missiles Slaughtered 700 Pakistani Civilians in 2009
World Socialist Web Servie
(January 5, 2009) — US drone missile attacks have claimed the lives of over 700 Pakistani civilians since Barack Obama took office a year ago, according to figures released this week by officials in Islamabad. The escalation of Washington’s AfPak war, now in full swing, will mean the slaughter of thousands more men, women and children in 2010.
The grim death toll was announced in the Pakistani English-language daily Dawn Monday, just as news of the latest strike by a Hellfire missile made its way from an impoverished village near the Afghanistan border.
The missile strike left dead and buried in the rubble of their home a Pakistani teacher and his nine-year-old son.
According to media accounts citing unnamed US intelligence officials, the teacher’s home had been targeted for a Predator drone attack because of reports that militants had frequented the house.
Who provided these reports? How were they verified? Was there any evidence that the teacher — not to mention his child — were in any way implicated in the activities of the alleged “militants?”
No answers are forthcoming from the US government or the CIA, which conducts the majority of these attacks, reaffirming the intelligence agency’s reputation as Murder, Inc.
Washington, the CIA and the Pentagon have arrogated to themselves the unlimited right to carry out extra-judicial executions wherever they please, with no need for explanation, much less probative evidence. Initiated under the Bush administration in the name of a global war on terror, this criminal practice has been only intensified under Obama.
Over the course of the past year, US drones have fired missiles into the tribal areas of western Pakistan 44 times — more than twice the number of strikes carried out during the last year of the Bush administration. Citing statistics compiled by Pakistani government officials, Dawn reports that these missile strikes succeeded in killing only “five key Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders,” while their so-called collateral damage included the lives of 708 innocent civilians.
“For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die,” the newspaper reports. “Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.”
The newspaper listed as one of the drone campaign’s few successes the missile strike that killed the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, and his wife on August 5 of last year.
As investigative reporter Jane Mayer pointed out in the New Yorker last October , however, it took “sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the CIA succeeded in killing him.” The earlier, failed attacks are believed to have killed as many as 321 innocent civilians, while terrorizing an entire region.
There is no information from the US government to contradict Dawnâ€™s story.
The CIA classifies its drone program as “covert” and provides no information as to the number or identity of the people it kills. Citing unnamed intelligence sources (as well as military spokesmen in Afghanistan), the media routinely report that all those killed in drone attacks are “militants.”
Only when eyewitness accounts of the torn bodies of women and children make it out of the remote tribal areas is there any suggestion that the truth might be otherwise.
“Most of the attacks were carried out on the basis of human intelligence, reportedly provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who are spying for the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan,” the Dawn article added.
Last week’s suicide bombing that killed seven CIA agents and a top Jordanian intelligence agent at Forward Operating Base Chapman in eastern Afghanistan provided one indication of the reliability of such intelligence.
The operatives at FOB Chapman were directly involved in choosing targets for the Predator drones. The bomber, considered one of their key “assets,” fed them false information for over a year before calling the operatives — including the CIA chief of the operation — to a meeting in order to kill them.
The drone campaign in Pakistan is a protracted exercise in “targeted assassinations” and mass murder carried out against the people of a country with which the US is supposedly not even at war. It exemplifies everything that is criminal and reactionary in US imperialism’s campaign of military aggression in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
CIA functionaries and military contractors (i.e., well-paid mercenaries) sit in front of video screens in Langley, Virginia, using joy sticks to send missiles crashing into the homes of Pakistani villagers. After a day spent murdering men, women and children 7,000 miles away, they get in their cars and drive home to their families and dinner.
Between the CIA’s secrecy and the Pakistani regime’s barring of media from the targeted tribal areas, the carnage from these attacks is largely hidden from the American people. To the extent that it is justified to the public, it is in the name of combating terrorism.
Considering the grim equation provided by the report in Dawnâ€”140 dead civilians for every supposed “terrorist” killed by a Predator missileâ€”this is clearly a pretext. The 44 strikes of the last year have done nothing to suppress terrorism. Rather, they have created thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people with a reason to strike back at the United States for the deaths of their families, friends and neighbors.
The drone strikes are part of an explosion of American militarism that has very different aims than combating terrorism or assuring the security of the US population. It is driven by the crisis of US capitalism and the attempt by the American ruling elite to overcome it by military meansâ€”first and foremost by imposing US hegemony over the energy-rich and strategically vital regions of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.
The more than 700 killed on Obama’s orders in the drone attacks over the last year is only the beginning. As part of his administrationâ€™s military “surge,” US officials have demanded that the Pakistani government launch an offensive to crush support for Afghans fighting against the US-led occupation. Washington has threatened that unless Islamabad takes decisive action, the US will act unilaterally, including with possible missile strikes against Quetta, a city of more than one million, where Taliban leaders have allegedly taken refuge.
Every escalation of US operations in Pakistan is further undermining the government, which is complicit in Washington’s crimes, threatening to unleash a civil war in a nuclear-armed country and to destabilize the entire region.
The military-intelligence apparatus has embraced the drone missile attacks as a technological answer to the problem of waging a war that is opposed by the majority of the American people. They do not involve immediate US casualties, and the human toll they inflict remains largely concealed.
Nonetheless, they are sowing the seeds of a far wider military conflagration, which, if it is not stopped, will exact a terrible price on working people in the US and around the world.
Lethal Force Under Law
Editorial / The New York Times
NEW YORK (October 9, 2010) — The Obama administration has sharply expanded the shadow war against terrorists, using both the military and the CIA to track down and kill hundreds of them, in a dozen countries, on and off the battlefield.
The drone program has been effective, killing more than 400 Al Qaeda militants this year alone, according to American officials, but fewer than 10 noncombatants. But assassinations are a grave act and subject to abuse — and imitation by other countries. The government needs to do a better job of showing the world that it is acting in strict compliance with international law.
The United States has the right under international law to try to prevent attacks being planned by terrorists connected to Al Qaeda, up to and including killing the plotters. But it is not within the power of a commander in chief to simply declare anyone anywhere a combatant and kill them, without the slightest advance independent oversight.
The authorization for military force approved by Congress a week after 9/11 empowers the president to go after only those groups or countries that committed or aided the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration’s distortion of that mandate led to abuses that harmed the United States around the world.
The issue of who can be targeted applies directly to the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen, who officials have admitted is on an assassination list. Did he inspire through words the Army psychiatrist who shot up Fort Hood, Tex., last November, and the Nigerian man who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas? Or did he actively participate in those plots, and others? The difference is crucial. If the United States starts killing every Islamic radical who has called for jihad, there will be no end to the violence.
American officials insist that Mr. Awlaki is involved with actual terror plots. But human rights lawyers working on his behalf say that is not the case, and have filed suit to get him off the target list. The administration wants the case thrown out on state-secrets grounds.
The Obama administration needs to go out of its way to demonstrate that it is keeping its promise to do things differently than the Bush administration did. It must explain how targets are chosen, demonstrate that attacks are limited and are a last resort, and allow independent authorities to oversee the process.
The administration keeps secret its standards for putting people on terrorist or assassination lists. In March, Harold Koh, legal adviser to the State Department, said the government adheres to international law, attacking only military targets and keeping civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. “Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust,” he said in a speech, without describing them.
Privately, government officials say no CIA drone strike takes place without the approval of the United States ambassador to the target country, the chief of the CIA station, a deputy at the agency, and the agency’s director. So far, President Obama’s system of command seems to have prevented any serious abuses, but the approval process is entirely within the administration. After the abuses under President Bush, the world is not going to accept a simple “trust us” from the White House.
There have been too many innocent people rounded up for detention and subjected to torture, too many cases of mistaken identity or trumped-up connections to terror. Unmanned drones eliminate the element of risk to American forces and make it seductively easy to attack.
The government needs to make public its guidelines for determining who is a terrorist and who can be targeted for death. It should clearly describe how it follows international law in these cases and list the internal procedures and checks it uses before a killing is approved. That can be done without formally acknowledging the strikes are taking place in specific countries.
The administration should state that it is following international law by acting strictly in self-defense, targeting only people who are actively planning or participating in terror, or who are leaders of Al Qaeda or the Taliban — not those who raise funds for terror groups, or who exhort others to acts of terror.
Special measures are taken before an American citizen is added to the terrorist list, officials say, requiring the approval of lawyers from the National Security Council and the Justice Department. But again, those measures have not been made public. Doing so would help ensure that people like Mr. Awlaki are being targeted for terrorist actions, not their beliefs or associations.
A LAST RESORT
Assassination should in every case be a last resort. Before a decision is made to kill, particularly in areas away from recognized battlefields, the government needs to consider every other possibility for capturing the target short of lethal force. Terrorists operating on American soil should be captured using police methods, and not subject to assassination.
If practical, the United States should get permission from a foreign government before carrying out an attack on its soil. The government is reluctant to discuss any of these issues publicly, in part to preserve the official fiction that the United States is not waging a formal war in Pakistan and elsewhere, but it would not harm that effort to show the world how seriously it takes international law by making clear its limits.
Dealing out death requires additional oversight outside the administration. Particularly in the case of American citizens, like Mr. Awlaki, the government needs to employ some due process before depriving someone of life. It would be logistically impossible to conduct a full-blown trial in absentia of every assassination target, as the lawyers for Mr. Awlaki prefer. But judicial review could still be employed.
The government could establish a court like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretaps on foreign agents inside the United States. Before it adds people to its target list and begins tracking them, the government could take its evidence to this court behind closed doors — along with proof of its compliance with international law — and get the equivalent of a judicial warrant in a timely and efficient way.
Congressional leaders are secretly briefed on each CIA attack, and say they are satisfied with the information they get and with the process. Nonetheless, that process is informal and could be changed at any time by this president or his successors. Formal oversight is a better way of demonstrating confidence in American methods.
Self-defense under international law not only shows the nations resolve and power, but sends a powerful message to other countries that the United States couples drastic action with careful judgment.
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