Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Dark Night of the Drone Presidency

Just when millions of Americans were starting to do their patriotic thing by getting out of town, firing up the grill, and festooning the landscape with the Red, White and Blue, the government finally released its long-awaited report on the innocent people it has killed with its drones.

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.)


Pearl said...

And we wonder where all the ISIS organizations come from and why. Torture people enough and they will respond often with equal ferocity.

When we first came to Israel in l959, Ben Gurion was the prime minister in his later years and there was a petition sent to his office by a number of leaders from major Kibbutz developments. It asked him to talk to the Arabic people confined in miserable refugee camps surrounding the country when they had been thrown out of Israel when it had become a State. They warned that by ignoring their situation, it would foster future terrorists that would threaten Israel one day.

Ben Gurion shouted that these Kibbutz leaders were traitors to the country and refused to help with the obvious results that followed.

Killing innocent people with drones encourages the hatred and destruction we hear about daily in addition to other methods of oppression continuing as well.

A sad column but a necessary one Karen. It must have been difficult to write.

voice-in-wilderness said...

Gary Wills once wrote an essay or book review in which he explained presidential-sanctioned killings as flowing downhill from the ability of a president to launch nuclear war and incinerate the planet. Compared to that, assassinations and conventional wars look like restraint!

President Obama has endorsed spending up to $1 trillion to upgrade our nuclear arsenal, so that capability for global incineration (followed by nuclear winter)is not going away.

Jay–Ottawa said...

There's a film recently out, "Eye in the Sky," which does a pretty good job looking at drones from both the sending and receiving ends. It's well-directed and edited and will surely receive awards in the US and UK, but less so, I suspect, from prize givers of other countries. Among the big name actors: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi and the late Alan Rickman.

Spoiler Alert from here on to the end: Should a Hellfire missile be launched in a very complex case? That is the question. Most of the movie is spent explaining the situation and then filming tense arguments among lawyers and between them and the military brass during a live event unfolding on another continent. The points of view include those of high-level politicians in the US and UK, the military brass, lawyers, field-grade officers, military underlings and on down the line to very sensitive junior officers (male and female), who have their fingers on the trigger (zoom in on fingers on trigger). All of them from top to bottom, we are made to understand, are earnestly sweating this one out.

Then there's the unsuspecting people milling about the target, a big house with very bad people inside, in Africa. The writer and director make the innocent characters on that end quite sympathetic. So what's gonna happen?

This film probably amounts to well-made propaganda smoothly exalting the military-industrial complex. There's a bit too much treacle in the last five minutes, but you'll be impressed throughout at the capacity of military and civilian communications technology on the ground and in the sky connecting four continents at once.

Most viewers will leave the theater understanding the plight of just about everybody in this scenario.

Most viewers will not storm out of the theater swearing that drones should be ripped out of the sky.

Conspiracy theorists might suspect it's no accident that "Eye in the Sky" was timed for release a few months before Obama was ready to admit (1) drones do exist and he uses them and (2) collateral damage happens; but I couldn't possibly comment.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Eye in the Sky

All I could think of as I read your comment, JayOttawa, was how glad I was that Helen Mirren is one of the stars. Otherwise, the whole movie would be completely swept under the carpet never to be seen by most Americans and British citizens. Now at least it will be shown in Independent Film theaters.

The whole drone strike phenomenon makes me absolutely sick. The apathy of the American and Australian people who think brown skinned people don't matter as much as pink skinned people. As long as they don't have to see the devastation they can turn a blind eye to their suffering at the hands of our politicians and the MIC. How can we wonder why terrorists get a following in these countries. Just let those people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan eat cake. They somehow deserve what happens to them and the good ones are just collateral damage.

“Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out on themselves. Whoever survives the country wins. That would be much simpler and more than just this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting”
― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Jay–Ottawa said...

Lots of reporting and commenting on the net about Obama's outing himself, finally, as a droner. To the Compleat Administrator––lots of those in business and government––everything gets to be a number about abstractions. Down on the front line of those abstractions it's burnt flesh and crushed bones of human beings who were breathing easy a minute ago. Here's a tight line or two, very much to the point of it all, from a commenter over at The Intercept:

Kate Late
July 2 2016, 7:04 p.m.
This should be enough to arrest Obama for war crimes, shouldn’t it? If I admitted to killing 116 people I would surely get arrested.

Ste-vo said...

Get your war on.
And I will take that with a dose of Viagra.

Pearl said...

I was talking to a friend about how Obama coldly and uncomfortably reported the numbers of civilians killed in drone operations. He reported a few hundred I believe and made no comment. The official statistics that come out every now and then are in the many many thousands known and with many unknown. Surely when a building is demolished (sometimes in error) I doubt they count up how many civilians were destroyed.
I think Obama has a real problem with facing what is happening around him and it makes him uncomfortable.

Also the article in the NYTimes about how he spends his nights in his man cave indicates a man very out of tune with himself. I told my friend I almost felt
sorry for him as there must be a small part somewhere, untouched by his advisors, that keeps shouting out the truth. But, of course, people in power can always run away from their foul deeds which makes us wonder what kind of humans are they really. But there are always distractions to blot out the realities and why money and power becomes a needed addiction. Are you listening Hillary?

Anonymous said...

A friend this morning commented that he was sending his dog out to a "hotel" (Petsmart) for the next 2 days this holiday weekend because the dog is terrified of the loud fireworks in the neighborhood. How many drone bombs have the children in the middle east had to endure all of their young lives? (If they live). Here in the US we get to protect our dogs from loud fireworks. Surreal. Indifference is our greatest sin. Thank you Karen for all the good work you do.

Neil said...

WHY is the U.S. government killing suspected terrorists by drone attack?

WHY do people become "terrorists"?

I contend that "terrorists" are people who ultimately have grievances, but who are without effective, peaceful redress for their grievances, and become radicalized.

A plan to end terrorism.

Offer our aggrieved brothers and sisters a legitimate way to exercise a right to petition the government for effective redress of grievances, either their own government, or ours, and fulfill the promise of the Magna Carta.

The right to petition the government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals. The Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ensures the right to petition to the European Parliament. The right can be traced back to the Bill of Rights 1689, the Petition of Right (1628), and the Magna Carta (1215).

Terrorists have grievances. Give them a way to peacefully resolve those grievances.

Pearl said...

Glenn Reynolds: About that Clinton Lynch accidental meeting From USA Today

Worth reading.

Neil said...

F.B.I. Recommends No Charges Against Hillary Clinton for Use of Personal Email

Pearl said...

It is interesting how the FBI report will be judged, especially by honest lawyers. I skimmed through its lengthy article and wondered how details of what was found to be worthy of prosecution in my eyes was followed each time by reasons for not considering such a course of action. One excuse being she had admitted making a mistake which therefore indicated no purpose of gainful personal intent. Also the contents should take days of detailed questioning of Hillary if properly done.
I would like to hear legal opinions from honest pundits especially since my main source of U.S. news on the TV is CNN. However, progressive comments and articles would be welcome. Also a few words about FBI political history would be of interest.

Karen, your work is cut out for you. Its a big can of worms.

Cynic Pearl said...

P.S. Henry Kissinger's name was brought up recently and I wondered about how he used his e-mail (available then?)or other forms of communication to influence policy for future Secretaries of State. Mention of him once which had a very negative response from Bernie in one of the debates between him and Hillary, evidently silenced that bit of history.

Pearl said...

Why Comey stood alone: Inside the FBI's announcement

By Evan Perez, CNN Justice Correspondent

Jay–Ottawa said...

Let's see….

Hillary Clinton, according to a report just released by the FBI, was "extremely careless"––like a few other bureaucrats who went to jail for carelessness (less extreme) in handling government business. Doesn't look like Hillary is going to go to jail, though. She has merely been criticized on paper as extremely careless. Today I saw a photo of her (she was busy texting) and, head cast down, she certainly looked repentant.

FBI director James Comey, who, as organization charts make clear, works under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, has told her (Lynch) before a bank of microphones that she needn't bother to prosecute Hillary. That's called chutzpah.

I believe Lynch had already recused herself from the case after it was reported she bumped into Bill Clinton at the airport. I'm cynical enough to believe this was not a chance meeting. The encounter was planned to happen in a ridiculously public place, a reporter or two was clued in, papers carried the story as they were supposed to, and Lynch just had to do the right thing to show us how above board she is. Bill and she probably did talk about the weather. But they were spotted by an alert journalist. How very convenient all around. Bill wins, Hillary wins, Loretta wins, and a media tool gets a scoop.

Maybe there is a zealot career prosecutor within the Justice Department next in line as the decider now that Lynch has stood down. Maybe that zealot will want to step on toes to mount a prosecution of Hillary for her extremeliness, but that is highly unlikely.

It's like a minuet reenacted in one of those dressed up BBC TV dramas about the good life in the 18th century––you know, at a fancy ball of the upstairs people: two lines of dancers, gentlemen on one side, ladies on the other, eventually face each other in a delightful confrontation. They smile, take a big step backwards and bow with all the elegance they can muster. The music stops, and by indirect routes, some of the partners find their way to the same bedrooms. That's life; that's reality; that's politics. That's about where we are in Campaign 2016 on the Democratic side. People in DC are good at these minuets because they practice the same damn dance so often.

All the ground mines along Hillary's path to the convention have now been cleared: Libya gone, emails gone, Sanders still hanging around but threatening no harm. As the Bard said, All's well that ends well. Life is good.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

You nailed it when you wrote: "I contend that "terrorists" are people who ultimately have grievances, but who are without effective, peaceful redress for their grievances, and become radicalized.""

Neil said...

Valerie: Thank you.

Jay–Ottawa: Connect the HRC banking interests and email dots.

HRC and Bill Clinton got paid millions by banking interests to give speeches.
Banking interests wanted Libya’s economic independence destroyed.
Private emails show HRC knew banking interests wanted Libya destroyed.
Libya was destroyed by President Obama/USA.
The FBI statement on HRC’s private emails: Move along, nothing to see here (DOJ to follow).
Banking interests got Libya destroyed on the cheap, and walk away unscathed.

Exposing the Libyan Agenda: A Closer Look at Hillary Clinton's Emails
Truth-Out, March 15, 2016, By Ellen Brown, The Web of Debt Blog

"The brief visit of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Libya in October 2011 was referred to by the media as a "victory lap." "We came, we saw, he died!" she crowed in a CBS video interview on hearing of the capture and brutal murder of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi."

"But the victory lap, write Scott Shane and Jo Becker in The New York Times, was premature. Libya was relegated to the back burner by the State Department, "as the country dissolved into chaos, leading to a civil war that would destabilize the region, fueling the refugee crisis in Europe and allowing the Islamic State to establish a Libyan haven that the United States is now desperately trying to contain.""

"US-NATO intervention was allegedly undertaken on humanitarian grounds, after reports of mass atrocities; but human rights organizations questioned the claims after finding a lack of evidence. Today, however, verifiable atrocities are occurring. As Dan Kovalik wrote in the Huffington Post, "the human rights situation in Libya is a disaster, as 'thousands of detainees [including children] languish in prisons without proper judicial review,' and 'kidnappings and targeted killings are rampant'.""

Before 2011, Libya had achieved economic independence, with its own water, its own food, its own oil, its own money, and its own state-owned bank. It had arisen under Qaddafi from one of the poorest of countries to the richest in Africa. Education and medical treatment were free; having a home was considered a human right; and Libyans participated in an original system of local democracy. The country boasted the world's largest irrigation system, the Great Man-made River project, which brought water from the desert to the cities and coastal areas; and Qaddafi was embarking on a program to spread this model throughout Africa.

"But that was before US-NATO forces bombed the irrigation system and wreaked havoc on the country. Today the situation is so dire that President Obama has asked his advisors to draw up options including a new military front in Libya, and the Defense Department is reportedly standing ready with "the full spectrum of military operations required.""

"The Secretary of State's victory lap was indeed premature, if what we're talking about is the officially stated goal of humanitarian intervention. But her newly-released emails reveal another agenda behind the Libyan war; and this one, it seems, was achieved."

"Mission Accomplished?"

"Of the 3,000 emails released from Hillary Clinton's private email server in late December 2015, about a third were from her close confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the attorney who defended her husband in the Monica Lewinsky case. One of these emails, dated April 2, 2011, reads in part:"

"Qaddafi's government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver.... This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA)."

Neil said...

Part 2. Jay–Ottawa: Connect the HRC banking interests and email dots.

The grand total for paid speeches by Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton, since 2001, is $153 million, according to CNN.

See my posts,

On October 21, 2011 at 10:46 AM I wrote in part,

"Yes, the killing of K-Daffy will dominate the news for awhile. But will the news cover who gets Libya’s oil? Perhaps a little. What about who gets Libya’s 144 tons of gold? Not so much. What about the formation of a Libyan central bank? That was done earlier this year. Libya was one of a handful of prosperous countries that was not part of the Rothschild-style international banking cartel."

"K-Daffy was a dictator who denied rights to his people. We know this because our president Barack Obama told us March 28, 2011 during a televised ‘Address to the Nation on Libya’. This was about the same time that the Libyan rebels formed a central bank. Obama used this event to explain why NATO bombing in support of the Libyan rebels was necessary. And since Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, we can trust his judgment on who ought to be bombed and killed."

Links to my website have changed since that post, see below

Also see the Libya S.O.S. blog,

"Central Bank of Libya (was) 100% owned by state (since 1956) and is thus outside of multinational corporation control (BIS-Banking International Settlement rules for private interests). The state can finance its own projects and do so without interest rates, which reduce the costs by half of private banks. Libya’s central bank (with three branches in the east including Benghazi) has 144 tons of gold in its vaults, which it could use to start the gold dinar. (China, Russia, India, Iran are stocking great sums of gold rather than relying only on dollars.)"

Neil said...

Part 3. Jay–Ottawa: Connect the HRC banking interests and email dots.

Tyler Drumheller Was the Man Behind Hillary Clinton's Private Libya Intel, Sources Say, ABC News, by BENJAMIN SIEGEL and John Parkinson, Jun 17, 2015, 9:31 PM ET

"Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had access to the world’s top intelligence agencies and their resources, but at the most turbulent moment of her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat, she received a stream of intelligence on Libya and the Benghazi attack by a former CIA official working outside the government, sources said."

"Sidney Blumenthal, a confidant who was paid by the Clinton Foundation, told the Select Committee on Benghazi Tuesday that the information he supplied the sitting Secretary of State came from a "respected former high-ranking CIA official," rankling Republicans charged with investigating the events around the embassy attack."

""We have a CIA, so why would you not rely on your own, vetted, sourced intelligence agency?" Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, asked reporters Tuesday."

"Sources close to the Benghazi investigation identified the official as Tyler Drumheller, a 25-year veteran of the CIA who retired from the agency in 2005 and has since worked in private consulting."