Lethal Creep in Action: The Mass-slaughter of 150+ 'Terrorist Suspects' Approaches Genocide
March 12, 2016
Laurie Calhoun / AntiWar.com & Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
Commentary: When initial reports stated a drone strike had killed 150-plus terrorists in Somalia, my immediate reaction was: "How could a single drone strike kill 150+ people?" In the beginning, drone strikes were used against named, "high-value" targets. Next, "medium-value" targets were hunted down and killed. Then military-age men became targets in "signature strikes." Where can this sort of blind policy of mass homicide ultimately lead, if not to genocide?
Lethal Creep in Action:
The Slaughter of 150+ Somali 'Terrorist Suspects'
Laurie Calhoun / AntiWar.com
(March 11, 2016) -- I was on Twitter when the news broke on March 7, 2016. Initial reports stated that a drone strike had killed 150+ Al Shabaab terrorists in Somalia who were preparing for an "imminent" attack on US forces. My immediate reaction was: How could a single drone strike kill 150+ people?
A few minutes later, emended news reports began to surface. In fact, the group of men -- all allegedly operational terrorists involved in the allegedly "imminent" attack -- were destroyed by a combination of drone strikes and manned bomber strikes. Okay, I thought, so now we are at war with Somalia, too, on top of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Syria?
The use of manned bombers along with drones in Somalia to kill a very large number of human beings claimed to have been on the verge of perpetrating evil against US forces represents yet another step along a continuum of ever-more lethal US foreign policy.
In the beginning, shortly after September 11, 2001, drone strikes were used against named, "high-value" targets believed to have already engaged in terrorist attacks culminating in the deaths of innocent people. Next, "medium-value" targets were hunted down and killed.
Eventually, foot soldiers became the primary targets, and drone strikes began to be used against unnamed suspects, whose comportment corresponded to a "disposition matrix" of behaviors thought to be typical of known terrorists.
The military-age men destroyed by drones in "signature strikes" are presumed guilty until proven innocent of future potential nefarious schemes said to justify their annihilation. The citizens paying for the strikes are never permitted to assess the warrant for the summary execution of the targets because, we are told, it would jeopardize national security.
In the air raid over the weekend on a gathering of some sort -- reports indicate that the targets were participating in some form of ceremony -- not only the use of manned bombers but also the magnitude of carnage is noteworthy.
Where it used to be that individual people believed to be guilty of specific crimes were hunted down and slain, now amorphous groups of men gathering for unknown reasons -- officials have not clarified what the "ceremony" was about -- are deemed fair game for mass slaughter.
Military-age men are often fathers. When they are slain, they leave behind angry sons, some of whom vow to seek revenge against the killers. We do not know whether any wives and children were present at the "ceremony" attacked over the weekend.
If so, they will be written off as "collateral damage". In all of the ongoing uncertainty and vagueness about the conduct and aims of US drone policy, one thing of which we can be fairly certain is that nearly all of the people being killed are brown skinned.
Killing suspects along with their families would be one way of preventing the creation of terrorists out of children incensed at having been rendered orphans by war makers. Logically speaking, it's not all that different from defining all males from the ages of 16 to 55 as "unlawful combatants" and fair game for execution.
Lest anyone forget, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, was "taken out" by a missile strike shortly after having celebrated his 16th birthday.
The news of the execution of 150+ men in Somalia hardly registered on the major networks in the United States, running mainly along the tickertape updates, and only for a short time. Ongoing public complacency conjoined with lethal centrism ensures that the killers will continue to up the ante:
10 x 1 = 10
10 x 10 = 100
10 x 100 = 1000
I ask most sincerely: Where can this sort of blind policy of mass homicide ultimately lead, if not to genocide?
Laurie Calhoun, a philosopher and cultural critic, is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age (Zed Books, September 2015; paperback forthcoming in 2016) and War and Delusion: A Critical Examination (Palgrave Macmillan 2013; paperback forthcoming in 2016).
Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 People Killed by US in Somalia, but Most Are Certain They Deserved It
Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
(March 8, 2016) -- The US used drones and manned aircraft yesterday to drop bombs and missiles on Somalia, ending the lives of at least 150 people. As it virtually always does, the Obama administration instantly claimed that the people killed were "terrorists" and militants -- members of the Somali group al Shabaab -- but provided no evidence to support that assertion.
Nonetheless, most US media reports contained nothing more than quotes from US officials about what happened, conveyed uncritically and with no skepticism of their accuracy: The dead "fighters … were assembled for what American officials believe was a graduation ceremony and prelude to an imminent attack against American troops," pronounced the New York Times. So, the official story goes, The Terrorists were that very moment "graduating" -- receiving their Terrorist degrees -- and about to attack US troops when the US killed them.
With that boilerplate set of claims in place, huge numbers of people today who have absolutely no idea who was killed are certain that they all deserved it. As my colleague Murtaza Hussain said of the 150 dead people: "We don't know who they are, but luckily they were all bad."
For mindless authoritarians, the words "terrorist" and "militant" have no meaning other than: anyone who dies when my government drops bombs, or, at best, a "terrorist" is anyone my government tells me is a terrorist. Watch how many people today are defending this strike by claiming "terrorists" and "militants" were killed using those definitions even though they have literally no idea who was killed.
Other than the higher-than-normal death toll, this mass killing is an incredibly common event under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace laureate, who has so far bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries. As Nick Turse has reported in The Intercept, Obama has aggressively expanded the stealth drone program and secret war in Africa.
This particular mass killing is unlikely to get much attention in the US due to
(1) the election-season obsession with horse-race analysis and pressing matters such as the size of Donald Trump's hands;
(2) widespread Democratic indifference to the killing of foreigners where there's no partisan advantage to be had against the GOP from pretending to care;
(3) the invisibility of places like Somalia and the implicit devaluing of lives there; and
(4) the complete normalization of the model whereby the US president kills whomever he wants, wherever he wants, without regard for any semblance of law, process, accountability, or evidence.
The lack of attention notwithstanding, there are several important points highlighted by yesterday's bombing and the reaction to it:
1 The US is not at war in Somalia. Congress has never declared war on Somalia, nor has it authorized the use of military force there. Morality and ethics to the side for the moment: What legal authority does Obama even possess to bomb this country? I assume we can all agree that presidents shouldn't be permitted to just go around killing people they suspect are "bad": they need some type of legal authority to do the killing.
Since 2001, the US government has legally justified its we-bomb-wherever-we-want approach by pointing to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), enacted by Congress in the wake of 9/11 to authorize the targeting of al Qaeda and "affiliated" forces. But al Shabaab did not exist in 2001 and had nothing to do with 9/11.
Indeed, the group has not tried to attack the US but instead, as the New York Times' Charlie Savage noted in 2011, "is focused on a parochial insurgency in Somalia." As a result, reported Savage, even "the [Obama] administration does not consider the United States to be at war with every member of the Shabaab."
Instead, in the Obama administration's view, specific senior members of al Shabaab can be treated as enemy combatants under the AUMF only if they adhere to al Qaeda's ideology, are "integrated" into its command structure, and could conduct operations outside of Somalia.
That's why the US government yesterday claimed that all the people it killed were about to launch attacks on US soldiers: because, even under its own incredibly expansive view of the AUMF, it would be illegal to kill them merely on the ground that they were all members of al Shabaab, and the government thus needs a claim of "self-defense" to legally justify this.
But even under the "self-defense" theory that the US government invoked, it is allowed -- under its own policies promulgated in 2013 -- to use lethal force away from an active war zone (e.g., Afghanistan) "only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to US persons."
Perhaps these Terrorists were about to imminently attack US troops stationed in the region -- immediately after the tassel on their graduation cap was turned at the "graduation ceremony," they were going on the attack -- but again, there is literally no evidence that any of that is true.
Given what's at stake -- namely, the conclusion that Obama's killing of 150 people yesterday was illegal -- shouldn't we be demanding to see evidence that the assertions of his government are actually true? Were these really all al Shabaab fighters and terrorists who were killed? Were they really about to carry out some sort of imminent, dangerous attack on US personnel?
Why would anyone be content to blindly believe the self-serving assertions of the US government on these questions without seeing evidence? If you are willing to make excuses for why you don't want to see any evidence, why would you possibly think you know what happened here -- who was killed and under what circumstances -- if all you have are conclusory, evidence-free assertions from those who carried out the killings?
2 There are numerous compelling reasons demanding skepticism of US government claims about who it kills in airstrikes. To begin with, the Obama administration has formally re-defined the term "militant" to mean: "all military-age males in a strike zone" unless "there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
In other words, the US government presumptively regards all adult males it kills as "militants" unless evidence emerges that they were not. It's an empty, manipulative term of propaganda and nothing else.
Beyond that, the US government's own documents prove that in the vast majority of cases -- 9 out of 10 in fact -- it is killing people other than its intended targets. Last April, the New York Times published an article under the headline "Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: US Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die." It quoted the scholar Micah Zenko saying, "Most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names."
Moreover, the US government has repeatedly been caught lying about the identities of its bombings victims. As that April NYT article put it, "Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit."
Given that clear record of deliberate deceit, why would any rational person blindly swallow evidence-free assertions from the US government about who it is killing? To put it mildly, extreme skepticism is warranted (after being criticized for its stenography, the final New York Times story yesterday at least included this phrase about the Pentagon's claims about who it killed: "There was no independent way to verify the claim").
3 Why does the US have troops stationed in this part of Africa? Remember, even the Obama administration says it is not at war with al Shabaab.
Consider how circular this entire rationale is: The US, like all countries, obviously has a legitimate interest in protecting its troops from attack. But why does it have troops there at all in need of protection?
The answer: The troops are there to operate drone bases and attack people they regard as a threat to them. But if they weren't there in the first place, these groups could not pose a threat to them.
In sum: We need US troops in Africa to launch drone strikes at groups that are trying to attack US troops in Africa. It's the ultimate self-perpetuating circle of imperialism: We need to deploy troops to other countries in order to attack those who are trying to kill US troops who are deployed there.
4 If you're an American who has lived under the war on terror, it's easy to forget how extreme this behavior is. Most countries on the planet don't routinely run around dropping bombs and killing dozens of people in multiple other countries at once, let alone do so in countries where they're not at war.
But for Americans, this is now all perfectly normalized. We just view our president as vested with the intrinsic, divine right, grounded in American exceptionalism, to deem whomever he wants "Bad Guys" and then -- with no trial, no process, no accountability -- order them killed.
He's the roving, Global Judge, Jury, and Executioner. And we see nothing disturbing or dangerous or even odd about that. We've been inculcated to view the world the way a 6-year-old watches cartoons: Bad Guys should be killed, and that's the end of the story.
So yesterday the president killed roughly 150 people in a country where the US is not at war. The Pentagon issued a five-sentence boilerplate statement declaring them all "terrorists." And that's pretty much the end of that.
Within literally hours, virtually everyone was ready to forget about the whole thing and move on, content in the knowledge -- even without a shred of evidence or information about the people killed -- that their government and president did the right thing. Now that is a pacified public and malleable media.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.