Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) noted critically this past week that most members of the mass media gave no coverage or gave short shrift to the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony of the young, partly American-educated Yemini writer and activist Farea al-Muslimi, who talked about the effect of American drone strikes on his village. Al-Muslimi had a great love for America after spending a year here to further his education. He went home to convey to his people his love for America, only to have his views decimated by the drone bombs that have terrorized his villagers.
“In the past, what Wessab’s villagers knew of the U.S. was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here. The friendships and values I experienced and described to the villagers helped them understand the America that I know and that I love. Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time. What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab.
“This is not an isolated incident. The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. I have spoken to many victims of U.S. drone strikes, like a mother in Jaar who had to identify her innocent 18-year-old son’s body through a video in a stranger’s cellphone, or the father in Shaqra who held his four- and six-year-old children as they died in his arms.”
FAIR reported that both the New York Times and the Washington Post covered the hearing, but there was nothing on the broadcast networks or cable channels, except for an interview with Al-Muslimi on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC program. Even National Public Radio found room only on Morning Edition to mention the hearing. Only Democracy Now! gave the hearing and the issues related to drones extensive coverage. Yet many people, including Americans, believe that our drone program violates international treaties that have been adopted by the US, making us international pariahs, if not terrorists in our own right.
These drone attacks are intended to kill or assassinate certain people that we deem enemies. As Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Marjorie Cohn has written: “Targeted or political assassinations – sometimes known as extra-judicial executions – run afoul of the Geneva Conventions, which include willful killing as a grave breach. Grave breaches of Geneva are punishable as war crimes under the U.S. War Crimes Act.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross describes the significance of the Geneva Conventions (the original four treaties of the Conventions have been ratified by the US):
“The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war.”
If you doubt that official US policy is to commit terrorism, take a look at the official law of the US found in the United States Code, which defines an “act of terrorism” as an activity that would violate our own laws if carried out in the US and is intended “to affect the conduct of a government by assassination.” The definition is expansive, but this part of it makes clear that US drone assassinations are terrorism by our own definition.
A new book and film based on the book “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield,” by Jeremy Scahill, documents secret military and para-military operations in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere that are being carried out by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) under the leadership of our entire national security apparatus, from the President on down. Scahill details the assassination of three American citizens, one of whom, a 16-year-old, had no connection with terrorism except that his father was involved with al Qaeda. However, he was killed by a drone, two weeks after his father’s death by drone in Yemen, while he was searching for his father.
Both JSOC and the CIA are carrying out assassinations based on the weekly meetings held in the White House to determine who will be targeted and killed by drone attacks. These meetings directly involve the President, who makes the final decisions on who will be killed. As described by Scahill in an interview on Democracy Now!:
“. . . we now know that there’s these things that are called Terror Tuesdays, where they look at rosters of potential targets and present them to the president. And the president, my understanding, is very, very involved with plucking names off and deciding who stays on. And, you know, you have a working group . . . that’s essentially focused around the clock on figuring out who to kill next around the world. And . . . what I think is really both disturbing and interesting is that there are multiple—I know that there are at least three separate sets of kill lists. There’s the kill list that the CIA has, and then there’s the Joint Special Operations Command, and then there’s another National Security Council list that contains certain high-value individuals that the U.S. wants taken out. And so, in a country like Yemen, you have both the CIA and JSOC conducting operations. In Pakistan, that’s been true for a very long time. In Somalia, JSOC has conducted operations on the ground, the CIA has done drone strikes, and JSOC has also come in by helicopter and launched missiles at people.”
Scahill went on in that same interview to explain that it may be true (he doesn’t know) that the US is no longer operating secret prisons to which people are rendered to be tortured and interrogated. But he does know that the US uses secret prisons operated by the Somalis, to which we order people captured in other countries to be taken (rendered) so that US officials can then go to those secret prisons, where the prisoners are tortured and interrogated.
While some Bush policies may have been changed, the Obama administration has found new ways to accomplish the same purposes using Bush’s and Cheney’s tactics in slightly different ways. The immoral and illegal practices of the Bush administration are continuing under Obama, though Obama doesn’t sound as belligerent as Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice. Foremost among these practices, of course, is the prison known as Guantanamo, which houses 86 men approved for release (along with 80 others being held), who continue to be detained in violation of the due process of law and fairness principles identified in the Magna Carta nearly eight centuries ago.
Our political system exalts the military above all else. And the military-industrial-congressional complex exercises autocratic policies that assure we are constantly engaged in military control or action toward most of the rest of the world. We find in our country extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy both here and abroad, and a belief in the natural rule of elites. Fascism is not a term I wish to apply to my own country, but there may be none other that adequately characterizes the nature of our government.
The direction and purpose of American foreign policy is so established in the very fabric of America that I see no way that it can be turned around. Our purpose since the end of World War II, if not before, has been to spread our military power and control so widely throughout the world that we can extract any of the world’s natural resources that we want, keep other peoples from deciding their own fates, and kill anyone who gets in our way. Many Americans claim we have the right to do these things because we are an exceptional country, ordained by God to create the world in our own image.
Even Dwight Eisenhower, who warned us of the direction we were heading, could do nothing to stop it and, during his eight years as president, furthered the very evil he spoke about as he left office in 1960. Now, we are seeing the lawless, murderous policies begun in the late 1940s and followed by every president since develop into the most frightening, evil, deathly, and inhumane policies since Adolph Hitler.
What is a patriotic American to do in the face of such atrocities? I can’t fully answer that question for myself, and certainly not for others. But I know that a first step is to acknowledge that what our government is doing is hideous, inhumane, degrading, and illegal. A second step is to let our politicians know that we do not approve of these practices. As soon as it is possible to do so, I plan to see Scahill’s new film <http://dirtywars.org/watch> and read the book. Video excerpts related to the film and book can be viewed at <http://www.democracynow.org/live/jeremy_scahill_noam_chomsky_with_amy>.
Finally, I don’t know how best to respond to these things that my government is doing in my name, but I will be guided by a 1965 statement by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.” The drone killings around the world are just such a moment of challenge and controversy. We must accept their challenge and end the controversy they present for the good of the people of the US as well as the people of the world.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos
LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.Email | Print