The only thing more cynical, cowardly and depraved than the pre-4th of July dumping of the report is its deeply dishonest content.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has spent years counting the drone dead, the Obama administration's figures (between 64 and 116 civilian fatalities in more than 400 missile attacks in several non-war zones over a seven-year period) represent only about a tenth of the actual victims. Several independent organizations have put the real body count of innocents at a minimum of 800, with some estimates going as high as 2,000.
Still, just as law enforcement officials and victims' families are always grateful whenever a serial killer teasingly discloses where at least some of his many bodies are buried, so too is the American Civil Liberties Union appreciative that the administration is finally taking tentative baby steps toward "transparency." It's just too bad that all that the White House has chosen to disclose are the cold, callous numbers of its own choosing. No names, no dates, no details, no human suffering are included in the report. It's as freakishly cold as a snowstorm in July.
"The public has a right to know who the government is killing," as ACLU Deputy Director Jamal Jaffer mildly put it. "And if the government doesn't know who it's killing, then the public should know that."
But here's the thing. The public doesn't much care about Those Other People getting killed Over There. An AP-GfK poll conducted last year showed that only 13 percent of Americans are unequivocally opposed to Obama's drone assassination program. And 75 percent said it's even fine to execute a US citizen without charge or trial, if the government believes that he or she has joined a terrorist organization. Six in 10 Americans say it's O.K. to kill suspected terrorists in general. And nearly half still think that killing suspected terrorists is acceptable even when there's a good chance that innocent civilians will also die in the process.
So Barack Obama should just relax. There was really no need to sneak-dump his loathsome white paper at the start of a holiday weekend, when the public was paying little to no attention. He could have waited for the Democratic National Convention in the birthplace of liberty next month to enthusiastically brag that his administration kills people by the thousands. If the polls are correct, most delegates would probably treat it as an applause line.
People in "tribal areas" are considered fair game and inherently lacking in basic human rights -- just as other historically stateless people, such as Jews and Roma, were considered disposable not so very long ago. All it takes are a few hotshot lawyers and bureaucrats to pronounce any atrocity legal. Then, operatives can plead that they're "only following orders" to "keep you safe." And the citizens who elect the politicians can comfortably hold their own selves blameless and powerless. As long as there are elite Ivy League-trained experts who have our own best interests at heart, we're comfortable with our bystander status. It's a passive acceptance of an institutional pathology based upon fear and misplaced trust.
And they call Donald Trump a fascist and a xenophobe? He's simply one of the more glaring symptoms of the disease. He just uses viler words to describe the vile policies which are already in effect under the opaque gloss of refined, liberal political language.
So, the Orwellian language used by the Obama administration to obfuscate state-sanctioned Murder, Inc. is probably unnecessary, given the profound public apathy Americans harbor for their fellow human beings in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere, those who live under ceaseless threat of getting reduced to "bug-splat" by the aptly-named Predator and Reaper drones buzzing over their heads on a near-constant basis.
Rather than characterize the extermination of suspected militants (defined by the US government as all Muslim men in the prime of their lives) in the traditional racial terms, the Obama administration talks about the drone deaths in chilling, market based corporate-speak.
The words "best practices" are used to describe gruesome, state-sponsored murder a total of three times in the white paper, signed by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper. Since Clapper has a history of perjury - he once denied under oath that the government collects everybody's emails - it's one more reason to take this report with multiple mountains of grains of salt.
And as for those wide discrepancies between its own body counts and those of independent organizations, the administration boasts that it simply possesses "better refined and honed" methods of measuring death than do mere mortals and journalists, who often rely on "untrustworthy" information from victims and victims' families, as well as from alleged terrorist organizations themselves. Moreover, the definition of "combatant" (as opposed to an innocent bystander) can be anything that the American government chooses it to be. It could be a person with the bad luck to engage in a roadside stop-and-chat about the weather with somebody on Obama's Kill List. Anyone in the vicinity is a potential target in the eyes of the United States government.
But what does it even matter to them? Immediately after bragging about its own superior refinement and honing skills, the assassination bureau hastens to cover its own ass by pleading both cowardice and ignorance:
Although the US Government has access to a wide range of information, the figures released today should be considered in light of inherent limitations on the ability to determine the precise number of combatant and non-combatant deaths given the non-permissive environments in which these strikes often occur. The US Government remains committed to considering new, credible information regarding non-combatant deaths that may emerge and revising previous assessments, as appropriate.Translation: They neither know nor care whom they kill. And they don't want to know. They are a limited liability corporation with limited intellectual and moral capabilities. Nobody can be held accountable for anything, given those pesky "non-permissive environments." Obama and Co. are not that stupid. They know that people getting droned against their will are not likely to react by laying out the welcome mat for American pathocrats posing as forensic pathologists.
As Ezio Mauro writes in Babel, this is the principle of "irresponsible innocence."
If what is technically possible is also legitimate, then what is effective becomes appropriate - and it does not matter whether it's legal or not. Long-distance action, made possible by new technology... creates a gap between the agent and their actions, and, along with the loss of visibility of this link, responsibility is lost too.... The aseptic gap between the decision to strike and the death that follows it reduces the moral weight of action, purifies it in its essence, disempowers and neutralizes it, reduces the action to technical perfection.And so, six months before he leaves office and with his legacy on his mind, President Obama appended to the DNI report his own special (and unenforceable) executive order, institutionalizing his right, and the right of all future presidents, to invisibly kill at will. Speaking like a mob boss or protection racketeer, he cynically pretends to care about the civilians rendered into pink mist by his drones. Potential victims ("vulnerable populations") will thus be rendered compliant to his national interests. He's perfected the art of the subtle threat. Ingratiating himself with weaker crime families, he's making them an offer they can't possibly refuse:
Minimizing civilian casualties can further mission objectives: help maintain the support of partner governments and vulnerable populations, especially in the conduct of counterterrorist and counter insurgency operations; and enhance the legitimacy and sustainability of US operations critical to our national security. As a matter of policy, the United States therefore routinely imposes certain heightened policy standards that are more protective than the requirements of the law of armed conflict that relate to the protection of civilians.Obama adds that civilian casualties are a tragic but unavoidable consequence of the United States exercising its rights wherever it feels like exercising them -- in the interests of its own exceptionalism, of course. But he will nevertheless "promote best practices that reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, take appropriate steps when casualties occur, and draw lessons from our operations to further enhance the protection of civilians."
|Best Practices Gone Awry|
(Never mind that his own DNI just admitted that actually going into these "tribal areas" to do post-mortem investigations is not on the best practices agenda, due to the American military's ass-covering "inherent limitations.")
Obama said that "where appropriate," condolences will be offered and cash payments made. And beginning in his last year in office, further reports on the number of drone strikes will be be released, minus any salient details that might endanger national security. (asses in high places.)
And last but not least, just because Obama is finally deigning to admit that innocent people are getting killed doesn't mean that the victims or survivors can actually sue or prosecute him, or anyone else, over the wrongful deaths and injuries. Or, as he puts it in his aseptic Orwellian legalese:
This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents or any other person.The New York Times, which prominently displayed Friday afternoon's release of the drone death report on its homepage, had buried it under a tiny header by the next morning. Its fleeting juxtaposition with a newer Saturday piece, called "Obama After Dark,"was probably deemed a tad jarring, if not in gruesomely bad taste.
Far from delving into the dark world of technocratic homicide, however, the newer story by Michael Shear dishes about Obama's "precious hours alone." The infotainment-hungry public is told that the drone president consumes exactly seven lightly salted almonds per each sleep-deprived night. When he isn't obsessing over minutiae, he's playing Words With Friends on his iPad or waking up his minions from their own slumbers. We also obliquely learn that he and Michelle have separate bedrooms, although she will occasionally "pop in" to his After Dark Man Cave for a "visit." (Needless to say, at the time I'm writing this, the Playboy After Dark story is trending at #1 in reader views.)
What we don't learn is whether Obama stays up past 2 a.m. playing a whole series of online games called "Obama in the Dark." Players can log on for free to help Obama rescue Scooby Doo from a haunted mansion full of invisible monsters, join the intrepid prez in a scary ghost town battle against unseen forces, or even help him find his way out of a spooky cemetery full of cartoon ephemera. (I am not providing any direct links to the game sites themselves, because who knows what malware might lurk within.)
But assuming that you have good antiviral protection, what better propaganda and suitable good clean innocent fun for all ages could you ask for? Start the kids early on the educational programs that will help to manufacture their consent for whole lifetimes full of exceptional American adventurism.
To add to the appeal, these games are every bit as amateurish as the Best and the Brightest who always end up occupying the highest seats of power.
(This is simply a YouTube tutorial, not the actual cheesy game.)