I heard the news today, oh, boy.
Were you surprised the other night when you turned on the news and heard talk about Obama’s assassination program which can target and kill Americans without trial? Not only can kill Americans, but already has. Here you thought we had the right to hear the charges against us and the right to a trial, complete with a judge and jury. We’ve been guaranteed those rights since the founding of this country, and Western nations have had those rights since the days of the Magna Carta.
You may not know what to make of this killing Americans thing and the drone program. You may not even believe it – God knows, we have been subjected to such random and far-flung bullshit lately that you only listen with half an ear, knowing that quite a sizable chunk of what is presented on the news is simply untruth. Besides, you think, we have a Constitution and a Congress sworn to uphold that constitution, and they wouldn’t allow such a thing.
The targeted assassination drone program has existed for some time, although the major news outlets have given it scant coverage until the Brennan nomination hearings. We are told that the targets only recently included three Americans and that they are really, really bad Americans. Presumably, no-one cares about the foreigners killed every week based upon nothing more than the suspicions of a secret cabal in the White House. We don’t seem to care that the drone strikes abroad are actually creating more terrorists with each killing. Hell, we don’t even seem to be cognizant any longer that the president is not sworn to keep us safe; the oath he takes is to uphold the Constitution.
Ironically, it turns out that the number one cause of injury-related deaths amongst American civilians is suicide. The number one cause of death amongst members of the American military is suicide. In other words, we Americans are killing ourselves in greater numbers than is any terrorist group.
Bush accidentally had an American living abroad killed via drone strike, but we are assured that the fellow was traveling with a member of al-Qaeda, and not just anyone, but an al-Qaeda leader (which somehow, without explanation, makes the American’s death okay):
“[…] A fourth American-born citizen, Kamal Derwish, was killed by predator drone in Yemen in 2002. Derwish was not the primary target of the strike, but was riding in an SUV carrying an al-Qaida leader.” – http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/05/16856963-american-drone-deaths-highlight-controversy?lite
The other three Americans, all selected by Obama in his Disposition Matrix program, were “reasonable” targets. [On Dispostion Matrix, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/plan-for-hunting-terrorists-signals-us-intends-to-keep-adding-names-to-kill-lists/2012/10/23/4789b2ae-18b3-11e2-a55c-39408fbe6a4b_story.html This is part one of a three part series.] The Obama Dept of Justice wrote a memo, recently leaked, claiming the legal right to kill whomever they chose. Ah, a memo from the legal department – now that sounds familiar. These memos did not actually make torture legal when Bush used them as rational and they don’t make assassinations legal when Obama has them written up. [An excellent article on the Obama DoJ memos:
The assassinated American’s name you will hear most frequently is Anwar al-Awlaki. He was killed 17 months ago, although most of us are just now learning about it, which has given the media plenty of time to consider how to paint the portrait of this man; in most of the articles of the past couple of weeks, there are almost always suggestions (just hints and a whisper) that al-Awlaki had ties to 911. The fact is that no-one in the government, CIA, FBI, etc. ever seriously thought he had anything to do with 911 and he was radicalized some years after 911….after seeing Muslims being repeatedly harassed and accused just for being Muslim and after the illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Also after he had been imprisoned in Yemen for about 18 months with the encouragement of the CIA, who, oddly if they really felt he had some involvement in 911, okay’d his release later. (He was imprisoned for being part of a tribal dispute, not for terrorism against the US or 911 or any such thing.) The powers that be want him to appear as unAmerican and foreign as possible so as to excuse the decision to assassinate him. Hell, I fully expect to hear any day now that al-Awlaki has ties to the sinking of the Lusitania and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. You might note that the media is not talking much about the other three Americans assassinated abroad by presidential fiat.
The first time they tried to kill al-Awlaki, they missed him, but the cruise missiles they were using killed over 50 other people. (More than half of whom were women and children.) After finally killing al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, Abdul, was also assassinated upon Obama’s orders. For obvious reasons, the administration declines to say much about killing the boy, although WH spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed the shocking sentiment, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children.” That is pretty much all the administration will say about the matter.
Despite the fact that Congress has been holding hearings on the nomination of John Brennan during which the subject of drone killings and the CIA drone program has been featured to a large extent, the White House Dept. of Justice still maintains that the CIA drone program is classified secret material and won’t confirm or deny its existence. I think we all know it exists by now. The whole nominating process is a study in the freakish web of secrecy we live under. Congress set up the CIA from the beginning so that it did not have to fully reveal its activities. Congress allows the CIA budget to remain secret from even Congress itself. At this point, the CIA is running a military drone program (although the CIA answers to no Commander-in-Chief, I’ll remind you) and will not answer questions about it. Brennan heads up a small group that goes over a “targeted kill list”, but can’t say too much about it because it’s secret. He agonizes over it though, he says, so there’s that. So now Congress wants to know more about it and complains because they are being kept in the dark. I see. A couple of bright bulbs in Congress suggested that there be a Disposition Matrix Court set up to hear about and make decisions on the cases being considered for the Final Solution.
A Court for Targeted Killings
No American prosecutor can imprison or execute someone except on the orders of a judge or jury. That fundamental principle applies no less to the suspected terrorists that the executive branch chooses to kill overseas, particularly in the case of American citizens.
A growing number of lawmakers and experts are beginning to recognize that some form of judicial review is necessary for these killings, usually by missiles fired from unmanned drones. Last week, at the confirmation hearing of John Brennan to be the director of the C.I.A., several senators said they were considering the establishment of a special court, similar to the one that now decides whether to approve wiretapping for intelligence gathering.[…]
A special court, which we first proposed in a 2010 editorial, would be an analogue to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Congress set up in 1978. If the administration has evidence that a suspect is a terrorist threat to the United States, it would have to present that evidence in secret to a court before the suspect is placed on a kill list.
“Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner, all in one, is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,” Senator Angus King Jr. of Maine said at the Brennan hearing. “If you’re planning a strike over a matter of days, weeks or months, there is an opportunity to at least go to some outside-of-the-executive-branch body, like the FISA Court, in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant.”
Mr. Brennan said the idea was worthy of discussion, adding that the Obama administration had “wrestled with this.” Two other senators, Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, and Ron Wyden of Oregon, also expressed interest. Even Robert Gates, a former C.I.A. director who was defense secretary under President George W. Bush and President Obama, said on CNN that such a judicial panel “would give the American people confidence” that a proper case had been made against an American citizen.[…]
Creating an even stronger court to approve targeted killings is the first step Mr. Obama can take if he is serious about bringing national security policy back under the rule of law.
The above editorial is fascinating for a few reasons. First, having a secret court decide who lives and dies, without that person being present to hear the charges and allowed to defend himself is in and of itself against our fundamental principles, as is the very idea that the person would not be allowed to have a public trial by an impartial jury. It may spread the eventual blame for each assassination around to more people, but it does not due process make. Secondly, the FISA court has been accused of overstepping its bounds repeatedly – since its decisions are all made in secret, it has been nearly impossible to overturn any of them. This is not a good model upon which to build a court that decides executions. Thirdly, how does having a secretive agency (the CIA) running a secret kill program under the auspices of a secret court create “more transparency”? And finally, how can anyone seriously suggest that there is any way to reconcile “targeted killings” and a “kill list” with “the rule of law”? While the NYT editorial board wants to claim the right to brag about being the first to suggest this secret court, what they are talking about here is setting up a Star Chamber in the United States. (Although even the original Star Chamber did not allow itself the power to decide life and death issues.) To give some perspective on this loathsome idea, it was the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640 which finally abolished England’s secret Star Chamber.
What did you expect? When Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, et al named it the “Global War on Terror”, they did not add, “Except in the United States”. Despite our much touted exceptionalism, we are not exempted from the war on terror; it very much includes the Homeland. To this end, the Bush administration hussled through Congress as quickly as possible after 911 the Patriot Act, much of which Congress had not bothered to read and some of which remains secret, insisted we were in a State of Emergency, continued to this day and which allows the government unknown powers, Continuity of Government plans, most of which are secret, even from Congress, expanded the reach of the FISA Court, a secretive and extralegal “court” to rubberstamp the collecting of emails and phone calls, and set up the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS has been allowed its own interpretation of the 4th amendment for some reason (this is the amendment giving us the right to be secure in our homes, papers, and effects and protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures). Obama, and Pelosi as leader of the House before he was elected president, refused to go after the Bush administration for their lawlessness and have expanded on it. The Constitution is pretty much dead. Congress feels no need to correct this situation for us; in fact, they extend the powers of these agencies every time they get a chance.
From the DHS website: “The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.”
-In fiscal year 2011, DHS was allocated a budget of $98.8 billion and spent, net, $66.4 billion.
–A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection “acknowledged that the agency can, will and does open mail coming to U.S. citizens that originates from a foreign country whenever it’s deemed necessary”:
“All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,” says the CBP Web site. That includes personal correspondence. “All mail means ‘all mail,’” said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point.
–The Department declined to outline what criteria are used to determine when a piece of personal correspondence should be opened or to say how often or in what volume Customs might be opening mail.
DHS declares the right to seize laptops, etc at border crossings:
[…] An internal review of the US Department of Homeland Security’s procedures regarding the suspicionless search-and-seizure of phones and laptops near the nation’s border has reaffirmed the agency’s ability to bypass Fourth Amendment-protected rights [.pdf].
In a two page executive summary published quietly last month to the official DHS website, the agency explains that a civil rights and civil liberties impact assessment of the office’s little-known power to collect personal electronics near international crossings has passed an auditor’s interpretation of what does and doesn’t violate the US Constitution. [Teri’s note: Oh, good, another memo. This one from an auditor, so it must be kind of legal and all.]
Since 2009, the DHS has been legally permitted to seize and review the contents of personal electronic devices, including mobile phones, portable computers and data discs, even without being able to cite any reasonable suspicion that those articles were involved in a crime.[…]
As further reading, if you want to indulge in a scary little bedtime story, do an internet search for the DHS program called “Operation Endgame”, and at the end of this article, I will provide links to articles about the internal militarization of our country and other assorted items of interest.
Even Nancy Pelosi, who is ostensibly a Democrat, is not sure we ought to be told when an American is targeted for death by drone:
WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is not sure whether the public should be told when the federal government kills an American citizen.
“Maybe. It just depends,” she said in an interview with The Huffington Post this week, when asked whether the administration should acknowledge when it targets a U.S. citizen in a drone strike. […]
“It’s interesting how popular it is in the public,” she said, recalling that the same polling dynamic prevailed during the fight over warrantless wiretaps. “People just want to be protected. And I saw that when we were fighting them on surveillance, the domestic surveillance. People just want to be protected: ‘You go out there and do it. I’ll criticize you, but I want to be protected.'”
The Obama administration currently takes the position that it can essentially disappear U.S. citizens. It is never under any legal obligation to admit, even after the deed is done, that it has assassinated anyone.
Pelosi appeared conflicted over whether it was acceptable for the administration to simply disappear American citizens, a term that had previously been used as a verb only outside the United States.
“It depends on the situation,” she said. “Maybe it depends on the timing, because that’s right — it’s all about timing, imminence. What is it that could be in jeopardy if people know that happened at this time? I just don’t know.” […]
The American public is also not supportive of targeting people simply because they are members of al Qaeda, rather than senior commanders. A New America Foundation report found that only 2 percent of the thousands killed by drone strikes have been high-level operatives.
We are not entirely sure what it is we want to be protected from. The “terrorists”, “al Qaeda”, “those who would harm us”, etc. Yet al Qaeda is not a nation – it is a group of small activist cells very loosely connected with each other. No-one in the US media or government explains what their goals are – in fact, al Qaeda seems to have different goals in different countries – nor can anyone adequately explain how we can possibly be “at war” with these disparate groups in some cases and on the same side as them in others. (As in Libya and Syria.) That the terrorist groups seem to congregate in the poorest nations in the world is irrelevant to us, although one might reasonably ask what kind of danger we are protecting ourselves from when we bomb a hut in Afghanistan that has no electricity, no phone, no internet, but only a family huddled over a wood-fire trying to cook dinner.
We accept the notion that an attack on “US interests” is an attack on the nation; no-one asks what the hell a US interest is. Obama told us what his conception of the “War on Terror” and “American interests” are within his Strategic Guidance; the US has the right to constantly force any other country on the planet into accepting our economic well-being as paramount before their own. He calls it “projecting power”. That other countries may resent this makes them threats to US interests; i.e., our right to make some cash off their resources. [“Our idea of diplomatic, democratic foreign policy is summed up in documents like Obama’s Strategic Guidance (see: http://teri.nicedriving.org/2012/02/the-2012-defense-strategic-guidance/), which contains wording such as this: ‘In order to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged’ and this: ‘We will field nuclear forces that can under any circumstances confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage‘. This is not diplomacy, nor is it democratic.” – http://teri.nicedriving.org/2012/09/the-one-indispensable-nation/ ] They (whomever “they” are) do not hate us for our freedoms, which we have pretty much given up in any case, they hate and/or fear us because we insist on stealing their shit, invading their sovereign territories, and killing their people with bombs.
While the media is obfuscating the economic news here at home with jargon, mumbo-jumbo, and, frankly, outright bullshit, there is an odd openness coming from the government in regards to our foreign policy.
Here are two paragraphs from a Wired article on the sentiments of our nominated AFRICOM commander:
[…] U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, most recently the day-to-day commander in Afghanistan, all but laid out a hit list to a Senate panel during his confirmation hearing to run the military’s newest regional command organization. “A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of Mali as an al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb safe haven, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Shabaab in Somalia,” Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee in advanced questions on Thursday morning, as “each present a threat to western interests in Africa.”
[…]There are questions about the extent of the threat that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabab and Boko Haram actually pose to the United States. Rodriguez conceded in his advance questions that the three groups “have not specifically targeted the United States.” Instead, they’ve “carried out attacks on western interests and engaged in kidnapping,” he said, warning that they’d be an “even larger threat” if they “deepen their collaboration.” Asked by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rodriguez said Boko Haram in Nigeria “has committed some acts that can be associated with terrorism.” Rudy Atallah, the Pentagon’s former top Africa counterterrorism officer, told Danger Room last month that “The short answer is they are regionally focused for now,” rather than threatening the United States at home.
This is an example of how our military and State Dept. have changed in the past couple of decades. It is certainly provable that in our history, we have used the military and State to interfere in countries simply for the purpose of gaining markets for US corporate power; the change is that now we openly admit to doing so. It seems rather like a challenge thrown to the American public – when they outright tell us that they (we) are going around the world and beating people up so as to force them into accepting Walmarts, Exxons, and Halliburtons in their countries, will we object? If they stop pretending that they are “keeping democracy safe” and just say that “we want to make Mali accept our oil companies tearing up their landscape”, “make Somalia a safe haven for Bechtel”, “make Libya de-nationalize their oil fields so that Exxon can make profits there”, “threaten the EU with sanctions so they allow Monsanto to market their shit there”: is that acceptable to Americans?
Do we not see that we are using the military to force other countries to buy our capitalist system, countries which do not threaten our safety or our nation, but merely the ever-expanding profits of the big corporations? Do we really not see that? They are no longer covering up what they are doing – they are trying to make us complicit. And here’s an additional thought: if the free market (which system we do not actually have) worked so well and was so great, why do the corporations need the biggest military in the world to force their way on the rest of the globe?
Obama is now considering intervention into the Syrian civil war. [http://jonathanturley.org/2013/01/28/obama-reportedly-considering-intervention-into-syrian-civil-war/#more-60022 ] Syria is a target only because it is a pathway into Iran – that is our entire interest in the place. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama is thinking about adding an Algerian militant to his kill list, despite the fact that the Algerian military seems to be handling the problem all by themselves: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/02/09/obama-administration-wants-to-put-algerian-militant-on-secret-kill-list-wall-street-journal/ I can only assume that for some reason Obama finds the Algerian military response insufficient and feels the need to interfere in their internal decisions. It’s a strange situation, as though we think we are the global terrorist-busters and feel compelled to get involved in everyone’s business. (“Got a terrorist in your neighborhood? Who ya gonna call?”)
I want to know why we are so focused on our supposed “security” and yet ignoring the actual dangers which surround us. We are bankrupting the country by spending huge sums on wars of choice, while completely ignoring problems that need to be addressed right here and now. Congress has passed laws preventing us from knowing which chemicals are being dumped into our drinking water through fracking processes. The BP Macondo well site is still leaking and we are encouraged to eat seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, although sea life there has been demonstrably poisoned by the Corexit which was dumped into it. The FDA has not released its study on the arsenic in US rice crops, the EPA is delaying its research into bee colony collapse for several more years (until 2018), by which time there may no longer be any bees to study – and no bees, no food – the Wall Street banks have increased derivative holdings to the point where there is now over a quadrillion dollars’ worth of this junk in the system and the Fed is swapping this crap out for actual money. None of the grifters in the big banks have gone to jail despite their crimes and wrecking of the global economy and now the banks are bigger than ever. They are taking out entire countries and we don’t seem to be in the least aware of how this came to be or curious as to how we could stop them. Congress declines to get involved, unless you count enabling as involvement. Ocean fish stocks are nearing complete collapse. Our media plays silly little games (they gave a typical New England snowstorm a name as though it were some unique event and called it the Storm of the Century, which it decidedly was not – as if the fact that it snows in the northeast in the winter were novel) but have yet to inquire as to why the electric companies, with record profits, can’t manage to maintain the lines with as much efficiency as they did 30 years ago. Congress keeps pushing for the privatization of everything as though the idea that private, for-profit companies would somehow, through some arcane magical process heretofore unknown to man, save us money made any sense whatsoever. The Hanford nuclear site is leaking radioactivity again, but we are assured that there is no “immediate threat”. (No, there is not immediate threat – one does not fall over dead the day after exposure to radioactive material. Eventually, though, of course…) Obama mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership in his State of the Union address and talked about expanding it to the Atlantic countries. Very few of us seem interested in this trade agreement; certainly it has been barely mentioned in the press, even after Obama so openly bragged about the negotiations, albeit without revealing any details. This is despite the fact that it makes our government and the governments of any signatory nation subservient to corporate rule. Congress wrote a provision in the NDAA that allows for the indefinite detention of anyone anywhere on the planet including Americans – and Obama signed it. They like this provision so much that they included it in the NDAA two years in a row and Obama signed it two years in a row. For those fools who claim that our leaders are not really interested in detaining Americans without charges for indefinite periods of time, I must ask: then why the fuck did they write this law? And why is Obama’s Dept. of Justice fighting so hard to keep it in place?
On the economy, a few facts are worth bringing up. The deficit as a percentage of the economy is down by almost half since 2009. The spending cuts already enacted have hurt our economy; passing more cuts will lead to more job losses. If we had publicly financed health care, and less military spending, we would not have a deficit problem – instead, we have allowed the for-profit companies to rake in ever increasing profits. The GDP, aka “the economy”, is actually shrinking; while corporate profit is up. Non-bonus and non-stock-compensation wages declined in 2012 as did the overall payroll figures. The bonus and stock related income of the tiny percentage that receive such income (certainly well below 1% of the total employed population) was so dramatic that the bonus and stock compensation category alone lifted the aggregate total national payroll cost by nearly 3%, i.e. excluding Jamie and Lloyd, total national payroll cost actually declined (proving a dramatic increase in the inequality of compensation and wealth). Both the “unemployment rate” and the “jobless rate” ticked up. We are experiencing a negative savings rate. Consumer debt is up, which is wrongfully attributed to evidence of consumer spending. The statistics would only be positively correlated under different circumstances, but given the current circumstance of negative GDP growth, negative savings rate, negative wage income growth, and increasing joblessness, can only mean that households are taking on additional debt to meet basic, recurring expenses. More than 20 million people are still in need of full-time work. More people than when Obama first took office are living in poverty. Fewer people have health insurance than did before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. The economy declined in the fourth quarter of 2012, and spending cuts and tax hikes already passed will impede 2013 growth. A new study shows that the richest Americans captured more than 100% of all recent income gains.
This is what a nation in rapid decline looks like.
We let them take it all away while they distracted us with the “keeping us safe from terrorists” and “the deficit” nonsense. Congress is fully complicit in this. They protect the bankers as they steal from us. They have loaded all the regulatory agencies, including the agencies dealing with our food and environmental issues, with industry insiders. They openly strip us of our constitutional rights while we watch dumbly. We are just letting it all happen as though it were some sort of natural event outside our control. As though we had no choice in the matter.
The country has gone full retard.
For God’s sake, wake up, people. We are not on the slippery slope; we are writhing around in the mud at the bottom of the ravine.
On the increased use of mercenaries – now a booming business: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/24-3
On the domestic use of the military: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/02/the-white-house-is-judge-jury-and-executioner-of-both-drone-and-cyber-attacks.html
An example of the military hardware going to local police departments: http://endthelie.com/2013/02/01/georgia-police-acquired-200-million-worth-of-military-grade-vehicles-and-weapons-through-dod/#axzz2KULMG05O
The shit used to spy on you: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/dhs-drones/
On the fast-tracking of drone use over America: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/02/15-5
On Brennan’s refusal to rule out drone assassinations within the US and on number of domestic drone permits issued by the FAA since ’07: http://wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/19/pers-f19.html
On Yale University to train U.S. Special Forces in interrogation techniques by practicing on immigrants: http://warisacrime.org/content/yale-university-train-us-special-forces-interrogation-techniques-practicing-immigrants
On bee colony collapse: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/annie-spiegelman/bee-deviledscientists_b_1884294.html
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership: http://www.examiner.com/article/coloradans-against-the-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement
Update on latest NDAA hearing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsGJpTAsV8k&feature=player_embedded