If a US Drone Strike Kills 150 Nameless People, Does Anyone Care?
March 14, 2016
Nick Ford / Center for a Stateless Society & Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
Most countries don't routinely run around dropping bombs and killing dozens of people in other countries. On March 8, President Obama killed roughly 150 people in a country where the US is not at war. Obama has become a roving, Global Judge, Jury, and Executioner. And we see nothing disturbing or even odd about that. The Pentagon issued a five-sentence boilerplate statement declaring them all "terrorists." And that's pretty much the end of that.
If a US Drone Strike Kills 150 People, Does Anyone Care?
Nick Ford / Center for a Stateless Society & AntiWar.com
(March 12, 2016) -- Americans can sleep easier now that the US military has wiped out 150 more "terrorists." US airstrikes over Somalia targeted al-Shabab militants, who were, according to Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis, planning "offensive operations." Davis neglected to elaborate on what "offensive operations" were planned by the group.
He did say that they had been monitoring the camp for a while and had a "sense" that the "operational phase was about to begin." Unsurprisingly Davis failed to elaborate on the details of the "operational phase" or what it might have looked like. Or how they got their "sense" to begin with.
Interestingly, Davis also said that "their removal will degrade al-Shabab's ability to meet the group's objectives in Somalia."
When it comes to the empirical data on this claim, I'm skeptical. Did the invasion of Iraq deter terrorists? How about the so-called "targeted" strikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen, Pakistan and now Somalia? Has the response of terrorist or militant groups to US airstrikes in the last decade given us good reason to think that more bombing will significantly hinder their abilities?
More often, it seems like these airstrikes merely reinvigorate terrorist groups and encourage others to join them. These forms of blowback hinge on the "collateral damage" to civilians who have nothing to do with the conflict in question. After all when these innocent individuals lose their homes, lose their families, or lose their land, what do you think they'll do? Who does Davis think they'll blame?
Even if we agree with the numbers Davis gives us (and we have good historical reasons not to), there are still many aspects to question. Let's assume that the drone strike was "morally good". It did what it was supposed to: it eliminated the correct targets with absolutely no "collateral damage" on persons or property. This is a big assumption, but let's grant it for sake of argument.
There remain other moral issues. For one, the consistent othering of people in foreign lands that must occur so that their deaths are more palatable to the American public. This usually involves perpetuating a harmful bias economist Bryan Caplan called, "anti-foreign bias."
Anti-foreign bias in the context of drone bombs or war more broadly helps further the ability to the US government to bomb whomever they suspect is a terrorist, especially if they are outside the US.
And to top it off the government then gets to do so without any due process or any oversight. All of these things set dangerous precedent for the future of US wars.
The main problem here is summed up by journalist Glenn Greenwald in the headline of his recent article: Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 People Killed by US in Somalia, but Most are Certain They Deserved it. Greenwald touches on the aforementioned anti-foreign bias, remarking, "this particular mass killing is unlikely to get much attention in the US due to . . . the invisibility of places like Somalia and the implicit devaluing of lives there. . ." [See Greenwald's article below. -- EAW.]
Greenwald makes many great points in his article. But briefly, consider that the US is not at war with Somalia, that there's no evidence that the individuals who the Pentagon claim were killed were actually killed. Or that the term "militant" has been redefined as "all military-age males in a strike zone" by the US government. All of this makes the previous claim that only "militants" have been killed, suspect at best.
The US military has no idea who they've killed. To quote Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and lead author of a 2013 study of drones: "[My research] highlights . . . that most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names."
To quote Greenwald again, the US has a, "we-bomb-wherever-we-want" policy.
And until the Pentagon gives us not only good reasoning behind that policy, but also shows favorable consequences, we should lean towards error and condemn these drone strikes.
And thus we should also condemn the source of these murders, the US government.
This article is reprinted with permission from Center for a Stateless Society.
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
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.
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