The Selective Service-Drone Assassination Connection

FiringSquad

Drone warriors have been redefining words from the very beginning, and they have sadly persuaded a fair portion of the populace to accept that the formerly taboo practice of assassination is now legal, provided only that it be labeled “targeted killing”. It’s supposed to be perfectly permissible for the US president (Obama) or UK prime minister (Cameron) to annihilate some of their compatriots without indictment or trial, much less conviction of capital crimes, so long as the hired guns use missiles rather than bullets to dispatch targets on the government’s hit list. Everyone knows that missiles are weapons of war. Ergo, drone strikes are acts of war. As sophomoric as that little piece of reasoning may be, far too many people have fallen for it, including political elites.

In the United States, 9/11 appears to have induced an effect on citizens’ capacity for criticism akin to the concussion caused by a blunt blow to the cranium. That was fifteen years ago, Osama bin Laden was slain five years ago, and yet the damage to US citizens’ critical faculties appears in some cases to have been permanent. Most politicians continue to line up to support any- and everything labeled “national defense”, even when it obviously degrades the security of the people paying for it. Arming ISIS? Deposing more dictators to create power vacuums perfect for the flourishing of terrorists? Really?

The thousands of targets taken out by drone strikes have been denied all rights under international law. The governing assumption among US administrators has been that suspects are always and everywhere evil terrorists à la Osama bin Laden. Guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around, as Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires. As difficult to believe as it may be, the drone warriors have succeeded in rolling back “justice” to pre-Magna Carta times. But the false analogies, faulty reasoning and linguistic léger-de-main certainly do not stop there.

Article 51 of the UN Charter has been interpreted by the drone warriors to mean that they (anyone?) may fire missiles anywhere in the world they want. All that is needed is to define “hostile” areas as “battlefields” and claim that killing this particular tribesman, whose identity is unknown, who does not even possess a passport, and who inhabits a hut in a remote region of a Third World country, is an imminent threat to the existence of the United States. I have to wonder what historians will say about all of this in a hundred years or so…

Take the battle to the enemy! the drone warfare enthusiasts cheer each time they read another headline regurgitating the Pentagon’s latest report of having attempted to take out another suspected militant. It does not even appear to matter to the cheerleaders for lethal drones that the vast majority of strikes have been undertaken against persons of unknown identity. What matters is that the pile of ashes formerly known as a human being and identified as potentially (not immediately!) threatening by savvy analysts at the CIA (or their private military company (PMC) affiliates) will never make it to US shores.

So what if the Middle East is a morass of murder and mayhem? So what if radical Islamic jihadist franchises continue to proliferate and spread to new territories? So what if the lives of millions of human beings have been destroyed or severely degraded? So what if no one on the planet but the self-deluded warriors themselves believes that they have been selected to do God’s will?

Safe and smug in their belief that none of this could harm them, and might even be keeping them safe, Americans have gone about their shopping as usual, as though they had nothing to worry about, their blithe state of complacency punctuated only by the occasional lunatic mass killing in the homeland. But those nutcases have nothing whatsoever to do with the US government’s ever-more lethal policy. Do as we say, not as we do!  The current Democratic party leadership insists that we need to implement strict background checks before selling guns to people on the terrorist watch list in the homeland. Meanwhile, they continue to condone President Obama’s record levels of weapons exports to the rest of the world. It’s the American way.

A recent development, the vote by the US senate to require women in the United States to register for the Selective Service and be prepared to step forward to defend the nation, should the need be said by politicians to arise, represents another instance of the fallacious reasoning and linguistic sleight of hand so deftly deployed by the drone warriors up to now. How did it come about? As usual, the first steps were highly surreptitious and sneaky. Under Obama, light footprints abound, invariably leaving deep pools of blood on the ground.

About the time that the drone operator recruitment crisis began to worsen, with enlisted persons abandoning the profession in droves once their initial contract term had elapsed, the Pentagon suddenly announced that all combat positions would henceforth be open to women. Feminists naturally rejoiced. Hurrah! What a victory! Shouldn’t women who are ready and willing to fight alongside men be permitted to do so, if they choose? The key word was of course ‘choose’. Women in the military were thrilled that they could now ascend to the heights of the top brass, able to break that pesky glass ceiling at last. So far, so good.

The next step was to transform the “choice” of some women to become combat troops, probably a very small minority even of those already enlisted, into a “responsibility” to defend the nation. If the government is willing to grant women the privilege of being able to fight alongside men, then shouldn’t women correlatively shoulder the responsibility of defending the nation, when called upon to do so?

If you are scratching your head about now, that’s because you have knocked into a serious non sequitur. From ‘may’ no ‘must’ follows. (David Hume would be appalled.) Stated simply for any non-philosophers who may be reading this post:

Permission does not imply obligation.

The fact that the small number of women who would in fact choose to serve as combat soldiers may now do so in no way implies that all of the rest of the “military age” women in the United States must present themselves on the battlefield when called up to serve.

This instance of fallacious reasoning fits right in with the rest of the drone warriors’ Orwellian approach to foreign policy, pseudo-morality and so-called justice. Let us be as clear and unequivocal as possible:

No one has a duty to serve as a government assassin.

No one. Neither men nor women can be compelled to act in ways which flagrantly violate the Geneva Conventions, even setting aside for a moment all of the other protocols being ignored or creatively reinterpreted. The targets of drone strikes are usually unarmed and not directly threatening any other person with harm, least of all the operator who incinerates them.

The suspects (I repeat, suspects) are not warned that they are about to be killed, and they are denied the opportunity to surrender or to explain how their phone number ended up in the contact list of another suspected terrorist’s cell phone. These homicides are, therefore, violations of international law, and no US citizen is obliged to follow illegal orders. As the many brave veterans who have spoken out against “targeted killing” continue to protest, it is a violation of the “laws of war” to follow unlawful orders.

All drone operators firing on targets residing in countries not at war (except in the minds of the drone warriors), should immediately cease and desist from following these unlawful orders. Mark my words: the drone assassination of thousands of suspects and their “associates” will eventually go down in history along with the Nuremberg trials. I regret that it is taking so long for the rest of the international community to awaken to the acrid scent of the charred flesh of so many innocent persons presumed guilty until proven innocent before being hunted down and killed with impunity by the drone warriors.

Young women and men alike: do not be fooled. You have no obligation to serve as a hired assassin for your government. Save your soul: just say “no”.

 

Calhoun (b-format)_FINAL-1

2016 paperback edition with a new foreword available for pre-order at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Kill-Because-Can-Soldiering-Assassination/dp/1783605472?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_pap_swatch_0&sr=

Advertisements

Slippery slopes and the case of Mohammed Emwazi

JihadiJohn

You know that the war on terrorism is waning in popularity when the summary execution without trial of a single young British man believed to be an executioner makes all of the major headlines, even as the reports are qualified with terms indicating their complete lack of ‘near certainty‘ that the strike destroyed the intended target:

NYT: Pentagon Says ‘Jihadi John’ Probably Killed

BBC: Jihadi John: US ‘reasonably certain‘ strike killed IS militant

Washington Post: US strike believed to have killed ‘Jihadi John’ Islamic State Executioner

This latest act of premeditated, intentional, stealth homicide is being trumpeted as an important victory, just as so many earlier reports before touted “suspected militants slain” and “no. 2 Al Qaeda leader defeated”. All of the other able-bodied males killed in the stead of intended, named targets become immortalized as “suspected militants slain”. The women, children and elderly men are generally not mentioned, unless they happen to be Westerners, in which case they are labeled ‘collateral damage’ and blamed on the evil enemy.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Mohammed Emwazi, better known as “Jihadi John”, is dead and that he in fact murdered people and so was guilty of capital crimes. He was killed by a US drone, with the aid of UK intelligence. British Prime Minister David Cameron made a public statement to let everybody know about his belief in the reasonable certainty that “Jihadi John” was probably another feather in his cap. Or a war trophy. Britain is not officially at war with Syria, but Cameron’s government has been following Obama’s lead in doing whatever they like, whenever they like, and wherever they like.

Cameron appears to be in the midst of a whirlwind effort to accrue big-time drone warrior creds, having already authorized the execution of two other British nationals, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, in August 2015. He also recently purchased a slew of new drones which he has christened “Protectors“. That slick maneuver brought him quickly up to speed with the longstanding Orwellian rebranding game. Is Cameron moving forward, or is he sliding down a slippery slope to a dark and dismal place, while taking Britain with him?

An editorial in The Guardian on the legality of the strike argues, with Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, that the latest drone killing of a British citizen cannot be rationalized under Article 51, the national self-defense clause, of the United Nations Charter. The sudden and quite vocal expression of concern surrounding the legality of the killing of Mohammed Emwazi strikes me as a bit tardy. How in the world were the assassinations of Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin any better on that count? Or perhaps the assumption among many at the time was that those two homicides would be rare exceptions, not the beginning of Britain’s own full-fledged Drone Age, complete with new ways of interpreting old laws.

These have all been small but significant steps down a path which can only end in summary execution without trial in the homeland. Not possible? Implausible? Improbable? I believe that we can be reasonably certain that this is probably where all of this will end. It will only take a leader capable of recognizing the arbitrariness of the location of a suspect, and also the implement of homicide–using a pistol or a poison would be illegal, but a missile is permissible?–before summary execution without trial will become standard operating procedure at home as abroad.

The Obama administration’s sad legacy will be the further erosion of the rule of law and a full-on attack on the very idea of human rights. Was Jihadi John destroyed in the strike? Or was it some other young male who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time? If so, this fact may be discovered later on, but the designation of the victims as legitimate targets will not change. The military-age males destroyed by drone strikes are defined as guilty until proven innocent, which is of course impossible for them to do.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government decided to pursue the perpetrators by ordering full-scale invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. When large-scale preemptive war did not work, they added on smaller-scale targeting of individuals in lands where war had never been waged. From killing only foreigners, the drone warriors moved “ahead”, in a misguided show of cosmopolitanism, to target nationals suspected of treason as well. Obama authorized the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, and the rest is British history.

Hackers and propagandists, both nationals and nonnationals, have been hunted down abroad and killed just as though they were weapon-bearing militants. The next natural step in this progression will be the elimination of political dissidents within the homeland. If it seems as though that would be breaking a law or two, no matter: just redefine a term or two, and we’ll have achieved Orwellian’s ultimate nightmare: when “democracy” becomes indistinguishable from tyranny.

Gallows

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, Chapter 4: Lethal Creep; and Chapter 12: Tyrants are as Tyrants do

Obama-speak Drone Warfare Lexicon and the meaning of “near certainty”

For years now, the Obama administration has been following in the grand tradition of the George W. Bush administration by giving old words and expressions new meanings and basing institutional killing policy upon their neologisms and redefinitions. Bush got the ball rolling with offense = defense, but Obama has gone above and beyond the call of propaganda duty:

  1. imminent no longer implies immediacy. Imminent really means potential.
  1. combatants are military-age males located in hostile territories. Combatants need not bear arms, and need not pose any direct threat to the life of any human being when they are killed. They may be killed when the “opportunity” arises, because
  1. last resort now means feasible
  1. hostile territories are places where the US government may kill unarmed persons with impunity because of the infeasibility of capture, which usually translates as “not worth the trouble and expense”. In special cases (Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki), infeasibility of capture really means that “death is the preferred outcome”. Hostile territories need not be declared war zones, but they are the new battlefields.
  1. battlefields are the places at which the US government (CIA or DoD) has decided to launch missiles from weaponized drones lurking and stalking above where suspected militants are said to hide.
  1. suspected militants become terrorists upon their execution by the US government, unless they happen to be Western hostages, in which case the president himself will issue a public apology to the families of the victims and send them a large bag of money so that they will “let bygones be bygones”, in other words: shut up.
  1. acts of war need not be carried out by military personnel. Acts of war may be carried out by intelligence agents or private contractors (formerly known as mercenaries).
  1. All covert actions are now acts of war, but because they are still covert, there is no need to disclose to the public any of the gory details. Three magical words are all that are needed:
  1. State Secrets Privilege, which means that the US government can do whatever it wants to whomever it wants for whatever reasons it deems sufficient. CIA Director John Brennan said it best: “What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues and at the same time optimize secrecy”. So the “transparency” part is where we are (transparently) told that all information is privileged and therefore secret, and need not be shared with any citizen, not even the bereft survivors of tragic targeting errors.

Near certainty is the epistemic standard which must be met before carrying out a drone strike, according to President Obama in a speech delivered on May 23, 2013. There must be near certainty that no civilians are present before a missile is launched at the intended target. One way to achieve that lofty aim is to reason as follows:

  1. All military-age males in hostile territories are unlawful combatants incapable of surrender, because they are metaphysical terrorists who may be dispatched en masse in cost-effective (!) crowd killing.
  2. In a signature strike, a target’s actions reflect a disposition matrix of known terrorist behavior patterns. Every savvy analyst affirms that men who bear arms in remote tribal regions = terrorists. And a fortiori when they are Arabs.

In reality, the US government regularly kills people without having the slightest idea who they are, as was demonstrated in April 2015 when two hostages were slain along with a group of suspected terrorists. Therefore, in Obama-speak:

  1. near certainty means absolute uncertainty.

George Orwell must be turning over in his grave.

IMG_20150814_065628

For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age (the whole book).