Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Banality of Evil, American-Style

The long-suppressed memo giving pseudo-legal cover to President Obama's assassination of an American citizen has finally seen the cold light of day -- minus, of course, the damning parts which highlight the utter lack of any credible evidence against his victim. Details of how Anwar Al-Awlaki supposedly plotted to do imminent harm to the human race were deliberately redacted for the usual reasons of "national security".

The document is long, plodding, pedantic, and heavily footnoted. But to give you an idea of the Alice in Wonderland gobbledygook employed to justify murder-by-POTUS, this one sentence by DOJ lawyer James Barron pretty much sums it up:

"Instead, we emphasize the sufficiency of the facts that have been represented to us here, without determining whether such facts would be necessary to the conclusion we reach."

So... Off With Her Head, yo! The sputtering Red Queen has finagled her demented self from the pages of absurd fiction and into the annals of American shadow-justice. We are simply supposed to take an irritable monarch's word for it that the expatriate imam was a bad guy who did more than disseminate anti-American rhetoric on the Internet and inspire a lot of anti-American feeling among the ingrates on the receiving end of American imperialism, occupation, and worse. The fact is that the Fort Hood shooter was apparently inspired by Awlaki and took matters into his own weaponized-by-American Government hands. 

The Awlaki drone hit was a revenge killing, pure and simple. But admitting this would make Obama and Company look like bloodthirsty barbarians instead of bureaucratic barbarians. Therefore, even if the alleged "facts" that the White House saw fit to censor did not exist, evidence is not necessary anyway. The president does not let pesky facts get in the way of either his Zen-like  thought processes or of his baser brutal impulses.

The ass-covering, four-year-old memo was ultimately released, not to honor the demands of media and civil liberties groups, but for the usual reason: sleazy politics.  Its author (Barron) had been nominated by a grateful Obama to a coveted federal judgeship. But the Senate -- especially the Democrats who have long railed against government secrecy -- made a big show of refusing to confirm him until Obama promised  they'd get a peek at the secret document. Quick as a wink and a nod, they confirmed Barron without even seeing the need to read his drivel. He will now spend the rest of his compromised life deciding the fates of countless citizens appearing before him as he purports to uphold the same Constitution he just shat upon in his cut-and-paste legal opinion.

The New York Times ran a rather tepid editorial which, rather than condemning outright the state-sponsored killing of Awlaki, his teenage son, two other Americans, and countless thousands of Obama's foreign victims, suggested that in the future, an outside monitor might be needed to keep an eye on Presidents Who Kill. An independent legal panel (comprised, no doubt, of the usual revolving door suspects) might be in order to proof-read future "law-fare" documents for their accuracy and logic.

My published response:
 I got a sick feeling reading the memo, a banal excuse for a cold-blooded deed, and not worth the paper it was redacted on. Under the flimsy rationale put forth by the newly-anointed Judge Barron, the president would even be justified in pre-emptively assassinating the right-wing killers now terrorizing the Homeland. Don't they, too, constitute an "imminent threat" to innocent Americans? After all, the whole world has been declared a battlefield.
This is all about a declining empire's grasp on power as the self-proclaimed "one indispensable nation."
The pathetic and Orwellian grasping at straw men in the memo is likely why the Obama administration officials fought so long and so hard to prevent their memo from ever seeing the light of day. Its vapid legalese and normalization of atrocity is exactly what Hannah Arendt was talking about when she coined the phrase "the banality of evil."
Barron was only following orders, you see. The Senate willingly confirmed him based on the promise of a document that they hadn't even read. Being kept in the insider loop is apparently their prime concern.
And if recent polls are any indication, the majority of Americans don't even give a damn about drones killing people who aren't one of us, or who do not represent "our values." Most people are also just fine with Obama droning more Iraqis as long as the hackneyed "boots on the ground" don't come into play and we don't sacrifice any more of our own precious blood and treasure.
The majority of other reader comments, thankfully, do not at all adhere to the polled reactions of a nation full of quiet Americans. Here's a highly recommended one written by Counterpunch columnist Norman Pollack of Lansing, Michigan, that pulls no punches:
A halting step toward affirming the rule of law. No condemnation of drone assassination per se, only when involving a US citizen; no criticism of the FISA Court which itself denies the adversarial process and renders secret decisions; no criticism of Obama, who uses a hit list and personally authorizes assassination--and here, is the one who put forth David Barron's candidacy for federal judgeship; and no criticism of Holder and DOJ for for the abomination thereby produced.
Poor NYT, chained to the Obama administration, even when, as in Cairo, journalists are railroaded while Kerry lavishes praise on the US-Egyptian mutual partnership. Keep this up, with soporific editorials, and soon there will no longer be freedom of the press.
The memo rationalizing the murder of Awlaki should go down in judicial infamy and result in the moral condemnation of all responsible, beginning with POTUS and DOJ, but extending to a National Security State in toto, which condemns civil liberties to the ash heap. In the words of the folk song, Which side are you on? Time is running short; a fascistic mindset is in the ascendance. Awlaki's death should have been a wake-up call. Instead we sleep the sleep of complicity in the deeds of a murderous government.
And as contributor "annenigma" points out,
 The Obama administration did not 'finally' release this memo. The 2nd US Circuit court of appeals in NY got sick of the foot-dragging by the regime and released it themselves, so let's not pretend the administration showed ANY good faith effort to comply with the court's order. Let's also not pretend this regime has ANY respect for the Constitution.
If we do not stand up as one America to defend our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the very glue that binds us together as American citizens, we will no longer be bound by anything but the chains of the national security police state that are being clamped and tightened on us.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry.
And for the usual expert (and patient) parsing of all things obfuscatory emanating from the Security State, see Marcy Wheeler's  analysis here. She provides the historical background lacking in other reports on the latest redacted document dump. Among other observations, she points out that Barron's memo was actually a follow-up to the original DOJ paper justifying Awlaki's assassination and in response to a blog post by a legal scholar claiming that it would be murder to kill him. That is why Barron's memo immediately starts out by defining criminal homicide in all its degrees, and why Obama is allegedly above such niceties.

Also well worth a read is Barry Grey's analysis over at the World Socialist Website. 

Life under a personable homicidal de facto dictator with a million-
dollar smile truly is one scary spectacle, a pastiche of horrors worthy of Orwell... with an absurd dash of Lewis Carroll thrown in for good measure. Civil Liberties have indeed made a one-way trip down to the rabbit memory hole. And until we stop being scared, outrage-fatigued little bunnies in thrall to the corporate two-party scam, it's only going to get worse.

When even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders can vote to confirm and elevate an apparatchik of the Imperial Presidency to a permanent judgeship, without even bothering to read his nonsense, we must accept the fact that fascism is not only just around the corner --  it's already here.

"If we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of ‘the lesser evil’… is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to acceptance of evil as such…. Politically,the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.” – Hannah Arendt, 1964.


Pearl said...

Only in America

A SWAT team blew a hole in my 2-year-old son http://www.salon.com/2014/06/24/a_swat_team_blew_a_hole_in_my_2_year_old_son/ via @Salon

Isaiah Earhart said...

Thank you Karen.

I think I will post something in addition to this later, but I wanted to remind everyone that the memo authorizing the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki is dated in July of 2010. The first attempt by the rogue US government to kill Anwar Al-Awlaki was December of 2009.

Here is a much-too-kind response to the James Barron drivel from the ACLU:

annenigma said...


This article in today's Guardian describes even more incidents like the one that gravely injured that baby. There should be no doubt we live in a burgeoning police state.

'US Police Departments Are Increasingly Militarised, Finds Report'

• ACLU cites soaring use of war zone equipment and tactics
• Swat teams increasingly deployed in local police raids
• Seven civilians killed and 46 injured in incidents since 2010


Denis Neville said...

It is beyond my understanding how anyone can defend the Anwar al-Awlaki murder.

Even more amazing is how many cheer our government’s power to assassinate fellow citizens without due process. They sleep soundly in their beds at night because our government stands ready to do violence on their behalf.

But it was not an “assassination.” Obama can kill any American if he unilaterally determines them to be a threat to the nation:

“Some have called such operations “assassinations.” They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced. Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful—and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes…This is an indicator of our times, not a departure from our laws and our values. The unfortunate reality is that our nation will likely continue to face terrorist threats that at times originate with our own citizens.” – Eric Holder, Attorney General

But, of course, assassinations are politically motivated killings.

“It is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” - Voltaire

Neither the government nor the patriot citizens have any idea of who the people are they target for death with so-called “signature strikes.” But they are targeted anyway based on a pattern of life analysis, i.e., their behavior suggesting that they were militants.

Banality of evil, American-style…

“Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers' enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.” - Simone Weil

Zee said...

@Pearl and @All--

I was aware some time ago of the SWAT team assault in Atlanta that severely injured a 19-month old baby, and meant to post the story, but I somehow got distracted from doing so.

Here is an earlier (or so I think) version of the story, with a graphic picture of what the SWAT team did to an innocent child.

The picture is not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach it, it is sadly representative of what our police are now capable of, with scarcely a second thought:


This insane, reckless militarization of America's police needs to be stopped.

Isaiah Earhart said...

@Pearl @All

On this particular Tuesday, we were protesting the speech by Jamie Dimon to the UW business school graduates.

What happened pales in comparison to throwing a flash grenade into a crib, but Dorli Raimey is one of the neatest and most peaceful people on the planet. I got out of there only because I saw in advance the police starting to cut off our ability to escape.


Jay–Ottawa said...

Because Alwaki, his son and a few others around him happened to be –– drum roll, please –– American citizens –– triumphant clash of cymbals ––, the American justice system felt obliged to gin up some kind of legal paper to cover over their murder. Holder and his brothers did the best they could, given their impossible assignment (applause marred by a few catcalls).

As for the many in the Middle East who were not American citizens –– Bronx cheer –– but who have also been murdered since the light show of shock and awe over Baghdad, they get nothing more than the keening of mothers, wives and daughters. And the seething of survivors bent on revenge.

To what degree are millions of silent Americans complicit in these murders? Obama isn’t the only one in need of a clever lawyer to cover himself.

Zee said...

"When even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders can vote to confirm and elevate an apparatchik of the Imperial Presidency to a permanent judgeship, without even bothering to read his nonsense, we must accept the fact that fascism is not only just around the corner -- it's already here." --Karen Garcia

I stumbled across this article by accident. Am I the only one here who didn't know that Elizabeth Warren was a card-carrying member of the 1%?

Indeed, Warren herself seems unaware of that fact.


According the the article, Warren--like Hillary Clinton--seems to have a hard time understanding that having an $8M portfolio does, indeed, qualify her as "rich."

Strange, the effect that wealth seems to have on the perspective of some people.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Thanks, @Pearl and @Zee for the info about the injuries inflicted on that toddler by that Atlanta-area SWAT team. (And thanks to @annenigma for the Guardian article, and @Isaiah Earhart for the DemocracyNow reference). I've been very much occupied in recent months with other pressing matters, and hadn't read/heard of the Atlanta case.

I've resolved to print up the Salon and DailyMail articles and hand-deliver them to the offices of Barber, Flake, and McCain --- and communicate my belief that 1) the feds should vigorously prosecute for civil rights violations all law enforcement officers connected to this incident 2) that the federal government should stop providing surplus military equipment to law enforcement, and stop any subsidies for the purchase of SWAT-type equipment. While this is only part of the problem, there is the old saying that "the clothes make the man" --- and the dressing and equipping of law enforcement in militaristic fashion inevitably affects their attitudes and tactics, seriously harming the civil liberties of us all. Additionally, 3) marijuana should be decriminalized, except for harmful behavior done under its influence, such as impaired driving, and 4) no-knock warrants should be severely restricted by law.

Of course, I don't expect that Barber/Flake/McCain will take any action to attempt to reign in either the scope or methods of domestic law enforcement. As I've previously written, in recent decades government has come to view the people as threat. I think it'll take a much bigger tragedy caused by this domestic militarism, some abuse of power that disgusts on a far grander scale, before enough Americans finally understand, and demand, an end to militaristic law enforcement.

@Zee (and @all):

Zee, you write "Strange, the effect that wealth seems to have on the perspective of some people."

Yes, that's true, but I think incomplete. Certainly, someone quite well off will never truly feel the perspective of someone poor. But they may well adequately empathize, and take significant action (think FDR). Harder to measure, but better indicators than raw wealth, I think, are spending and ego. Someone who truly cares about the poor would find it difficult to undertake extravagant personal spending, despite being able to afford it. At the very least, they would attempt to balance out any extravagances by means of substantial charitable contributions (such offset perhaps being a modern equivalent to medieval indulgences? Of course, there remains the question of whether any offset --- for extravagance, carbon, sin, ... --- can really morally compensate for improper behavior).

And there's a further --- and far-reaching --- implication of spending and ego, one that can tie together matters as diverse as politicians' buyable behavior, failures of journalistic integrity, and scientific misconduct: Spending and ego are perhaps the most powerfully-corrupting factors in existence. (Well, except for thinking with one's genitals!).

Beyond hopefully keeping their egos in check, politicians/journalists/union leaders/activists/scientists/educators all need to operate lean and mean, to minimize their need for money with its attendant potential for corruption.

@Denis Neville:

I'm glad that you are again contributing comments here at Sardonicky.

Do also consider (presuming Karen's assent) a full-fledged guest post.

@William Neil:

A tardy thanks now from me for your three-part guest post earlier this month, "From the Front Lines of the Class War".