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April 19, 2010

The president as king

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

It seems to have been accepted as the norm that the US has the right to declare that certain countries are free fire zones in which they can kill civilians, irrespective of whether they are young, old, men women, or children, purely because they happen to be in the vicinity of people the US has deemed its enemies. Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen are now among countries where the US sends unmanned drones on assassination missions that often go wrong and result in innocent people being blown to bits. Obama has been the most enthusiastic user of such methods. If you live in any of those countries, you run the risk of being gunned down by US forces at any time.

Dana Priest of the Washington Post reported back in January that:

U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.

Obama has ordered a dramatic increase in the pace of CIA drone-launched missile strikes into Pakistan in an effort to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban members in the ungoverned tribal areas along the Afghan border. There have been more such strikes in the first year of Obama's administration than in the last three years under President George W. Bush, according to a military officer who tracks the attacks.

Obama also has sent U.S. military forces briefly into Somalia as part of an operation to kill Saleh Ali Nabhan, a Kenyan sought in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Kenya.

In November 2002, a CIA missile strike killed six al-Qaeda operatives driving through the desert. The target was Abu Ali al-Harithi, organizer of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Killed with him was a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, who the CIA knew was in the car.

Word that the CIA had purposefully killed Derwish drew attention to the unconventional nature of the new conflict and to the secret legal deliberations over whether killing a U.S. citizen was legal and ethical.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for instance, has to pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests," said one former intelligence official.

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, "it doesn't really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them," a senior administration official said. "They are then part of the enemy." (my italics)

The US government has been murdering people as a matter of policy for a long time but it used to be done covertly because it used to be considered an illegal and shameful act. Older people can remember the uproar that greeted the revelations in 1975 of the Church Committee when the government's assassination policy was revealed. But now it is quite brazen in its assertion that it has the right to kill people at will.

The latest outrage that is passing almost unnoticed is an order by the Obama administration authorizing the 'capture or killing' of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Islamic cleric who is supposed to be the person who inspired and the Christmas day underwear bomber as well as the army major who murdered his fellow soldiers at an army base in the US. Awlaki is a US-born citizen who is now believed to be in Yemen.

In other words, the US government has decided that it has the right to simply murder anyone, even US citizens, whom the president has decided should be murdered. As Glenn Greenwald says:

Just think about this for a minute. Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests." They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration's policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges -- based solely on the President's claim that they were Terrorists -- produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn't Obama's policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind -- not imprisoned, but killed -- produce at least as much controversy?

Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens. That's just the essence of war. That's why it's permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war zone but not, say, torture them once they're captured and helplessly detained. But combat is not what we're talking about here. The people on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities. More critically still, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- defines the "battlefield" as the entire world. So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks. That's quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.

The ability to throw someone into secret prisons without trial and indefinitely deprive them of all their rights and even subject them to torture isn't enough for Obama. He has now asserted that he has the omniscience to find people guilty and impose the death sentence on them without any trial or giving the victims the right to any defend themselves or to even know the charges against them. If King Obama says someone should be murdered, that is it. All the might and power of the US can now be used to simply gun down that person in the street anywhere in the world and no questions will be asked.

POST SCRIPT 1: Ron Paul on shredding the constitution

POST SCRIPT 2: Talk

Today (Monday, April 19) at 7:45pm I will be talking to Case people about my book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom in the 5th floor Library in the Clocktower building of The Village at 115.

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