Our Announcements

Not Found

Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn't here.

Posts Tagged Barack Obama

Bruce A. Dixon : Doing Us Proud: Black America Has Lost Its Moral Compass

 

 
SATURDAY, OCT 27, 2012 12:00 PM UTC

The progressive case against Obama

Bottom line: The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society

BY 

  • TOPICS: The progressive case against ObamaPresident Barack Obama (Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

A few days ago, I participated in a debate with the legendary antiwar dissident Daniel Ellsberg on Huffington Post live on the merits of the Obama administration, and what progressives should do on Election Day. Ellsberg had written a blog post arguing that, though Obama deserves tremendous criticism, voters in swing states ought to vote for him, lest they operate as dupes for a far more malevolent Republican Party. This attitude is relatively pervasive among Democrats, and it deserves a genuine response. As the election is fast approaching, this piece is an attempt at laying out the progressive case for why one should not vote for Barack Obama for reelection, even if you are in a swing state.

There are many good arguments against Obama, even if the Republicans cannot seem to muster any. The civil liberties/antiwar case was made eloquently a few weeks ago by libertarian Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote a well-cited blog post on why he could not, in good conscience, vote for Obama. While his arguments have tremendous merit, there is an equally powerful case against Obama on the grounds of economic and social equity. That case needs to be made. For those who don’t know me, here is a brief, relevant background:  I have a long history in Democratic and liberal politics. I have worked for several Democratic candidates and affiliated groups, I have personally raised millions of dollars for Democrats online, I was an early advisor to Actblue (which has processed over $300 million to Democratic candidates). I have worked in Congress (mostly on the Dodd-Frank financial reform package), and I was a producer at MSNBC. Furthermore, I aggressively opposed Nader-style challenges until 2008.



So why oppose Obama? Simply, it is the shape of the society Obama is crafting that I oppose, and I intend to hold him responsible, such as I can, for his actions in creating it. Many Democrats are disappointed in Obama. Some feel he’s a good president with a bad Congress. Some feel he’s a good man, trying to do the right thing, but not bold enough. Others think it’s just the system, that anyone would do what he did. I will get to each of these sentiments, and pragmatic questions around the election, but I think it’s important to be grounded in policy outcomes. Not, what did Obama try to do, in his heart of hearts? But what kind of America has he actually delivered? And the chart below answers the question. This chart reflects the progressive case against Obama.

The above is a chart of corporate profits against the main store of savings for most Americans who have savings — home equity. Notice that after the crisis, after the Obama inflection point, corporate profits recovered dramatically and surpassed previous highs, whereas home equity levels have remained static. That $5-7 trillion of lost savings did not come back, whereas financial assets and corporate profits did. Also notice that this is unprecedented in postwar history. Home equity levels and corporate profits have simply never diverged in this way; what was good for GM had always, until recently, been good, if not for America, for the balance sheet of homeowners. Obama’s policies severed this link, completely.

This split represents more than money. It represents a new kind of politics, one where Obama, and yes, he did this, officially enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else (see “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal for a more complete discussion of the problem). The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces. The foreclosure crisis, with its rampant criminality, predatory lending, and document forgeries, represents the flip side. Property rights for debtors simply increasingly exist solely at the pleasure of the powerful. The lack of prosecution of Wall Street executives, the ability of banks to borrow at 0 percent from the Federal Reserve while most of us face credit card rates of 15-30 percent, and the bailouts are all part of the re-creation of the American system of law around Obama’s oligarchy.

The policy continuity with Bush is a stark contrast to what Obama offered as a candidate. Look at the broken promises from the 2008 Democratic platform: a higher minimum wage, a ban on the replacement of striking workers, seven days of paid sick leave, a more diverse media ownership structure, renegotiation of NAFTA, letting bankruptcy judges write down mortgage debt, a ban on illegal wiretaps, an end to national security letters, stopping the war on whistle-blowers, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, restoring habeas corpusand labor protections in the FAA bill. Each of these pledges would have tilted bargaining leverage to debtors, to labor, or to political dissidents. So Obama promised them to distinguish himself from Bush, and then went back on his word because these promises didn’t fit with the larger policy arc of shifting American society toward his vision. For sure, Obama believes he is doing the right thing, that his policies are what’s best for society. He is a conservative technocrat, running a policy architecture to ensure that conservative technocrats like him run the complex machinery of the state and reap private rewards from doing so. Radical political and economic inequality is the result. None of these policy shifts, with the exception of TARP, is that important in and of themselves, but together they add up to declining living standards.

While life has never been fair, the chart above shows that, since World War II, this level of official legal, political and economic inequity for the broad mass of the public is new (though obviously for subgroups, like African-Americans, it was not new). It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.

This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional, it is the modern American order, and it has a certain equilibrium, the kind we identify in Middle Eastern resource extraction based economies. We are even seeing, as I showed in an earlier post, a transition of the American economic order toward a petro-state. By some accounts, America will be the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia. This is just not an America that any of us should want to live in. It is a country whose economic basis is oligarchy, whose political system is authoritarianism, and whose political culture is murderous toward the rest of the world and suicidal in our aggressive lack of attention to climate change.

Many will claim that Obama was stymied by a Republican Congress. But the primary policy framework Obama put in place – the bailouts, took place during the transition and the immediate months after the election, when Obama had enormous leverage over the Bush administration and then a dominant Democratic Party in Congress. In fact, during the transition itself, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson offered a deal to Barney Frank, to force banks to write down mortgages and stem foreclosures if Barney would speed up the release of TARP money. Paulson demanded, as a condition of the deal, that Obama sign off on it. Barney said fine, but to his surprise, the incoming president vetoed the deal. Yup, you heard that right — the Bush administration was willing to write down mortgages in response to Democratic pressure, but it was Obama who said no, we want a foreclosure crisis. And with Neil Barofsky’s book ”Bailout,” we see why. Tim Geithner said, in private meetings, that the foreclosure mitigation programs were not meant to mitigate foreclosures, but to spread out pain for the banks, the famous “foam the runway” comment. This central lie is key to the entire Obama economic strategy. It is not that Obama was stymied by Congress, or was up against a system, or faced a massive crisis, which led to the shape of the economy we see today. Rather, Obama had a handshake deal to help the middle class offered to him by Paulson, and Obama said no. He was not constrained by anything but his own policy instincts. And the reflation of corporate profits and financial assets and death of the middle class were the predictable results.

The rest of Obama’s policy framework looks very different when you wake up from the dream state pushed by cable news. Obama’s history of personal use of illegal narcotics, combined with his escalation of the war on medical marijuana (despite declining support for the drug war in the Democratic caucus), shows both a personal hypocrisy and destructive cynicism that we should decry in anyone, let alone an important policymaker who helps keep a half a million people in jail for participating in a legitimate economy outlawed by the drug warrior industry. But it makes sense once you realize that his policy architecture coheres with a Romney-like philosophy that there is one set of rules for the little people, and another for the important people. It’s why the administration quietly pushed Chinese investment in American infrastructure, seeks to privatize public education, removed labor protections from the FAA authorization bill, and inserted a provision into the stimulus bill ensuring AIG bonuses would be paid, and then lied about it to avoid blame. Wall Street speculator who rigged markets are simply smart and savvy businessmen, as Obama called Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon, whereas the millions who fell prey to their predatory lending schemes are irresponsible borrowers. And it’s why Obama is explicitly targeting entitlements, insurance programs for which Americans paid. Obama wants to preserve these programs for the “most vulnerable,” but that’s still a taking. Did not every American pay into Social Security and Medicare? They did, but as with the foreclosure crisis, property rights (which are essential legal rights) of the rest of us are irrelevant. While Romney is explicit about 47 percent of the country being worthless, Obama just acts as if they are charity cases. In neither case does either candidate treat the mass of the public as fellow citizens.

Now, it would not be fair to address this matter purely on economic grounds, and ignore women’s rights. In that debate with Ellsberg, advocate Emily Hauser insistently made the case that choice will be safe under Obama, and ended under Romney, that this is the only issue that matters to women, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is, as she put it, delusional. Falguni Sheth argued that this is a typical perspective from a privileged white woman, who ignores much of the impact that Barack Obama’s policies have on women, and specifically women of color. And even on the issue of choice, you could make a good case, as she does, that there’s less of a difference between Obama and Romney than meets the eye.

Sheth’s piece is persuasive. Barack Obama is the president who hired as his lead economic advisor Larry Summers, a man famous for arguing that women are genetically predisposed to being bad at math. Unsurprisingly, Anita Dunn, a White House adviser, later called the Obama White House a “hostile work environment” for women, in large part because of the boys club of Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers. Obama is the president who insisted that women under 17 shouldn’t have access to Plan B birth control, overruling scientists at the FDA, because of his position ”as a father of two daughters.” Girls, he said, shouldn’t be able to buy these drugs next to “bubble gum and batteries.” Aside from the obvious sexism, he left out the possibility that young women who need Plan B had been raped by their fathers, which anyone who works in the field knows happens all too often. In his healthcare bill, Obama made sure that government funds, including tax credits and Medicaid that are the key to expanding healthcare access to the poor, will be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits their use for abortion.  It’s not clear what will happen with healthcare exchanges, or how much coverage there will be for abortion services in the future.

As Sheth also notes, there is a lot more to women’s rights than abortion. Predatory lending and foreclosures disproportionately impact women. The drug war impacts women. Under Obama, 1.6 million more women are now in poverty. 1.2 million migrants have been deported by the Department of Homeland Security. The teacher layoffs from Obama’s stimulus being inadequate to the task disproportionately hit women’s economic opportunity. Oligarchies in general are just not good for women.

In terms of the Supreme Court itself, Obama’s track record is not actually that good. As a senator, Obama publicly chided liberals for demanding that Sen. Patrick Leahy block Sam Alito from the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor has in her career already ruled to limit access to abortion, and Elena Kagan’s stance is not yet clear. Arguing that Romney justices would overturn Roe v. Wade is a concession that Senate Democrats, as they did with Alito and Roberts, would allow an anti-choice justice through the Senate. More likely is that Romney, like Obama, simply does not care about abortion, but does care about the court’s business case rulings (the U.S. Chamber went undefeated last year). Romney has already said he won’t change abortion laws, and that all women should have access to contraception. He may be lying, but more likely is that he does not care and is being subjected to political pressure. But so is Obama, who is openly embracing abortion rights and contraception now that it is a political asset. In other words, what is moving women’s rights is not Obama or Romney, but the fact that a fierce political race has shown that women’s rights are popular. The lesson is not to support Obama, who will shelve women’s rights for another three years, but to continue making a strong case for women’s rights.

The Case for Voting Third Party

So, what is to be done? We have an election, and you probably have a vote. What should you do with it? I think it’s worth voting for a third party candidate, and I’ll explain why below. But first, let’s be honest about what voting for Obama means. This requires diving into something I actually detest, which is electoral analysis and the notion of what would a pragmatist do. I tend to find the slur that one need be pragmatic and not a purist condescending and dishonest; no one ever takes an action without a reason to do so. Life is compromise. Every person gets this from the first time he or she, as a kid, asks his or her dad for something his or her mom won’t give him. If you are taking action in politics, you have to assume that you are doing it because you want some sort of consequence from it. But even within the desiccated and corroded notion of what passes for democracy in 2012, the claims of the partisans to pragmatism are foolish. There are only five or six states that matter in this election; in the other 44 or 45, your vote on the presidential level doesn’t matter. It is as decorative as a vote for an “American Idol contestant.” So, unless you are in one of the few swing states that matters, a vote for Obama is simply an unabashed endorsement of his policies. But if you are in a swing state, then the question is, what should you do?

Now, and this is subtle, I don’t think the case against voting for Obama is airtight. If you are willing to argue that Obama, though he has imposed an authoritarian architecture on the American system, is still a better choice than Romney, fine. I can respect honest disagreement. Here’s why I disagree with that analysis. If the White House were a video game where the player was all that mattered, voting for Obama would probably be the most reasonable thing to do. Romney is more likely to attack Iran, which would be just horrific (though Obama might do so as well, we don’t really know). But video game policymaking is not how politics actually works — the people themselves, what they believe and what they don’t, can constrain political leaders. And under Obama, because there is now no one making the anti-torture argument, Americans have become more tolerant of torture, drones, war and authoritarianism in general. The case against Obama is that the people themselves will be better citizens under a Romney administration, distrusting him and placing constraints on his behavior the way they won’t on Obama. As a candidate, Obama promised a whole slew of civil liberties protections, lying the whole time. Obama has successfully organized the left part of the Democratic Party into a force that had rhetorically opposed war and civil liberties violations, but now cheerleads a weakened America too frightened to put Osama bin Laden on trial. We must fight this thuggish political culture Bush popularized, and Obama solidified in place.

But can a third-party candidate win? No. So what is the point of voting at all, or voting for a third-party candidate? My answer is that this election is, first and foremost, practice for crisis moments. Elections are just one small part of how social justice change can happen. The best moment for change is actually a crisis, where there is actually policy leverage. We should look at 9/11, Katrina and the financial crisis as the flip side of FDR’s 100 days or the days immediately after LBJ took office. We already know that a crisis brings great pressure to conform to what the political establishment wants. So does this election. We all know that elites in a crisis will tell you to hand them enormous amounts of power, lest the world blow up. This is essentially the argument from the political establishment in 2012. Saying no to evil in 2012 will help us understand who is willing to say no to evil when it really matters. And when you have power during a crisis, there’s no end to the amount of good you can do.

How do we drive large-scale change during moments of crisis? How do we use this election to do so? Well, voting third party or even just honestly portraying Obama’s policy architecture is a good way to identify to ourselves and each other who actually has the integrity to not cave to bullying. Then the task starting after the election is to build this network of organized people with intellectual and political integrity into a group who understands how to move the levers of power across industry, government, media and politics. We need to put ourselves into the position to be able to run the government.

After all, if a political revolution came tomorrow, could those who believe in social justice and climate change actually govern? Do we have the people to do it? Do we have the ideas, the legislative proposals, the understanding of how to reorganize our society into a sustainable and socially just one? I suspect, no. When the next crisis comes, and it will come, space will again open up for real policy change.  The most important thing we can use this election for is to prepare for that moment. That means finding ways of seeing who is on our side and building a group with the will to power and the expertise to make the right demands. We need to generate the inner confidence to blow up the political consensus, against the railings of the men in suits. If there had been an actual full-scale financial meltdown in 2008 without a bailout, while it would have been bad, it probably would have given us a fighting chance of warding off planetary catastrophe and reorganizing our politics. Instead the oligarchs took control, because we weren’t willing to face them down when we needed to show courage. So now we have the worst of all worlds, an inevitably worse crisis and an even more authoritarian structure of governance.

At some point soon, we will face yet another moment where the elites say, “Do what we want or there will be a meltdown.” Do we have enough people on our side willing to collectively say “do what we want or there will be a global meldown”? This election is a good mechanism to train people in the willingness to say that and mean it. That is, the reason to advocate for a third-party candidate is to build the civic muscles willing to say no to the establishment in a crisis moment we all know is coming. Right now, the liberal establishment is teaching its people that letting malevolent political elites do what they want is not only the right path, it is the only path. Anything other than that is dubbed an affront to common decency. Just telling the truth is considered beyond rude.

We need to build a different model of politics, one in which people who want a different society are willing to actually bargain and back up their threats, rather than just aesthetically argue for shifts around the margin. The good news is that the changes we need to make are entirely doable. It will cost about $100 trillion over 20 years to move our world to an entirely sustainable energy system, and the net worth of the global top 1 percent is $103 trillion. We can do this. And the moments to let us make the changes we need are coming. There is endless good we can do, if enough of us are willing to show the courage that exists within every human being instead of the malevolence and desire for conformity that also exists within every heart.

Systems that can’t go on, don’t. The political elites, as much as they kick the can down the road, know this. The question we need to ask ourselves is, do we?

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

When a Bush, a McCain, or a Romney condones corporate crimes against the rest of us, lies to us, tortures and imprisons at will and murders civilians at a whim, it’s a moral disaster. When a black Democrat does it, it’s nothing personal, just business. And we are soooo proud. What’s wrong with us?

Black America Has Lost Its Moral Compass

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon


images-111At our October 12 affair at Harlem’s Riverside Church, Black Agenda Report’s executive editor Glen Ford said that the most damning and lasting result of the Obama presidency might be that black America was losing its moral compass

Those of us, this author included, who reached adulthood in the brief eight or nine year heyday of the modern Freedom Movement got to see our elders shuck the shackles of what was proper and legal and take to the streets in defiance of evil in authority. We learned that going door to door, organizing our friends, our neighbors, our fellow workers on the job, calling meetings and demonstrations, and standing up to unjust authority, at whatever cost was the highest duty of citizenship and the only way things ever changed.

During the eight years Obama will have served in the White House, Ford observed, black youth can expect to see nothing like this. Where we learned to be skeptical of what our government, and often our elders told us, they are learning to believe, or pretend to believe whatever they’re told. Where we learned the highest goal of the struggle was improving the lives of ordinary people, they are learning that the highest goals are the big house, the prestigious career, the large lifestyle of those who serve the power and unlock the mysteries of the Market.

They’ll go through a period as long as the zenith of the Freedom Movement without witnessing one major instance of black defiance of unjust power, of illegitimate authority, or illegal war. And of course it’s not as though injustices of class and race, or illegal and genocidal wars waged with our tax dollars and with our lives have gone away; they have not.

If you reached adulthood around 1970 it was relatively easy to get and keep your moral bearings. In the present era, not so. This, he said, may be the awful legacy of the Obama era —- a generation unmoored from the moral compass that guided their forebears, a generation unaccustomed to organized dissent or defiance or civic action outside the guidelines prescribed by their betters.

We hope Glen is wrong. But the evidence is mounting that he might not be.

The genius of Barack Obama’s career is that it has used modern marketing techniques to package the aroma of an imagined popular grassroots movement in the service of a corporate candidate with a thoroughgoing corporate agenda. Democrats are after all, as Doug Henwood often says, a party of capital that pretends for electoral reasons for a few weeks out of the year to be a party of the people. The Obama campaign fit these pretensions masterfully.

In the last couple weeks before the election, Matt Stoller wrote two excellent articles — The Progressive Case Against Obama and Why Is the Left Defending Obama — which exquisitely detail the many broken promises and deliberately missed opportunities of Obama’s first four years. Stoller points out that many of the awful actions of the Obama regime would be loudly denounced if undertaken by a Bush, a McCain, or a Romney, but are quietly acquiesced to when committed by a black Democrat.

Barack Obama invaded Libya, an African country. His administration orchestrated a massive campaign of disinformation, including lies about Libyan aircraft firing into crowds, Libyan mercenaries primed with viagra and primed for mass rape, and much more. Libya’s leader was one of only two out of 54 African nations NOT taking US military aid, and he had been one of the main funders of South Africa’s ANC and other liberation movements, and a backer and proponent of the African Union as well. He was a target, and with massive US and NATO intervention in the air and on the ground, he was taken out. Afterward, Obama openly sent troops to Congo and several other African nations, all actions which his predecessor or either of his Republican opponents could not have done.

Stoller also explains that President Obama’s protection of the Wall Street criminals who crashed the economy have permanently restructured American property rights in favor of the richest, something else that Republicans could not have brought off without massive upheaval and protest. But being black and proud, our elders in the African American community, if there is such a thing, did not object. They are invested in the president as a success story. They tell us it’s about pride, but really it’s about their own position. He’s a leader because he’s a success and a success because he’s a leader, and so are they. He legitimizes our black political class, and they shield him from critical analysis, along with themselves in the bargain. So just as Barack Obama can implement Republican policies without protest, “progressive” black and Latino mayors like Philly’s Mike Nutter and LA’s Villagrosa can push school privatization down the protesting throats of their constituencies.

Personally I’m an atheist. But the book of Exodus tells the story of the Hebrews who, after throwing off Pharaoh lost what we’ll call their “moral compass.” They were condemned to wander in the desert forty years before they got it back. That’s a bad precedent. Climate change, the economy, the threat of genocides in Congo and elsewhere, the prison state and corporate greed everywhere all indicate that we don’t have forty years to get this together.

Black America has lost its moral compass. We used to know right from wrong, and have the courage to stand. In the era of Obama, we have lost it. We’ll need to fight to get it back.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site’s contact page or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

 

, , , , , , , ,

No Comments

CHARLES PIERSON : Are Pakistanis People?

FEBRUARY 11, 2013 
 
POINTS TO PONDER IN MOMENTS OF SELF REFLECTION & IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT WHEN THOUGHTS OF MORTALITY CLOUD THE MIND
 Chidl victims in North Waziristan, Pakistan, after a US drone attack 12 Oct 2012
 
 
 

There never was a good war or a bad peace. ~Ben Franklin

 

  • Can American people live with the collective guilt of killing innocent people every day?

  • Will there be accountability of people. who fire the drones one day?

  • Are victims of drone attacks images in a video game and can be dehumanized? 

  • Would Jesus approve of Drone Attacks?

  • Would any Faith on this Earth sanction Drone attacks as morally correct? 

 

Innocent Lives
 
images-72

 

Are Pakistanis People?

by CHARLES PIERSON

Do only American deaths matter?  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence thinks so.  During last Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan as CIA Director the Committee’s exclusive focus was on American deaths from drones.  Not one Committee member asked about the hundreds of innocent Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and Somalis, many of them children, who have lost their lives as “collateral damage” in U.S. drone strikes.

U.S. execution of its own citizens is a serious matter.  Keep in mind, though, that only three Americans have been killed by drone strikes.  The best-known is the American-born radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, a member of
images-188Al-Qaeda who was killed in Yemen in September 2011.  Al-Awlaki was referred to repeatedly on Thursday.  (Al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son, also killed in a drone strike, went unmentioned.)

The most charitable explanation for the Committee’s failure to ask about foreign deaths is that the Committee members accept assurances by the President and Brennan that the U.S. has done its best to keep civilian casualties low.  The United States paints drones as surgically precise weapons which kill terrorists while taking few civilian lives.  Speaking publicly in June 2011, Brennan said that no civilians had been killed by drones for nearly a year.  When that claim raised eyebrows, Brennan backpedaled, telling the New York Times a few days later that there had been no “credible evidence” of civilian casualties for the past year.  (The independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism contends that at least 45 civilians were killed by drones during that period.)  What does Brennan think now?  All Brennan would say on Thursday, in answer to a question from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), is that Administration use of drones is “very judicious” and that drones are used only as a “last resort” to save lives when capture is impossible.

 

Drone strikes have killed a few high-ranking members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  On August 5, 2009, a U.S. drone killed Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban.  Mehsud is believed to have been behind the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.  However, the drone which killed Mehsud and his wife also obliterated the entire building they were in, killing nine other people.  According to Medea Benjamin, this was the United States’ fifteenth attempt to kill Mehsud.  Along the way, U.S. drones killed between 204 and 321 people.  Were all of them terrorists?

The White House refuses to say how many civilians have been killed by drones.  Instead, the White House inflates kill figures by deeming every male of military age in a target area a militant.  Conflicting figures on civilian deaths abound.  The New American Foundation think tank which monitors drone attacks estimates that 16% of those killed by drones are noncombatants.  Many victims are children:  176 children in the period from 2004 to mid-September 2012 according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Estimates from within Pakistan are considerably higher:  as high as 90%, according to the Pakistani government.  The independent Pakistani NGO Pakistan Body Count claims civilian casualties of from 75% to 80% since the drone strikes began.

High numbers of civilian casualties are to be expected given how U.S. drone strikes are conducted.  Hellfire missiles are fired into wedding parties and funerals.  “Secondary” strikes are launched on rescuers who rush to aid the injured following an initial drone strike.  The Senate Intelligence Committee asked about none of these practices.

tumblr_mdg7mkxT0T1rv24bmo1_500
Drones have killed so many Pakistanis that they have become the number one recruiting tool for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  Anti-American feeling in Pakistan runs high.  Asked why, Pakistani Foreign Minister Rabbani Khar’d answered with one word:  “Drones.”

I know several Pakistanis and have learned this:  Pakistanis are human beings.  Earlier, I offered one explanation of why the Committee may not have asked about civilian deaths among Pakistanis (and among Yemenis, Afghans, and others):  the Committee believes the Administration when it says that civilian deaths have been kept low.  That’s the charitable explanation.  An alternative, ugly explanation, is that the Senate and the Administration don’t believe foreigners are human beings.  Or maybe they just don’t believe Muslims are.

There’s an exchange in Huckleberry Finn where Huck tells a woman a fabricated story about a boiler explosion on a riverboat.  “Was anyone hurt?” the lady asks.  “No, ma’am,” Huck says:  “Killed a nigger.”  “Well, I’m glad no one was hurt,” the lady says.  Twain’s point was that to White Southerners Blacks did not count as people.  The death of a Black isn’t the death of anyone:  it doesn’t even register.  The same psychopathology was at work in the Nazis’ extermination of Jewishuntermenschen—subhumans.  It was at work at My Lai.  And I am afraid that it is at work every time a drone hits.

Are Americans more important than non-Americans?  This is an odd position to take in a nation which can’t stop gassing about how Christian we are.  Philosopher Richard Rorty talks about a “circle of sympathy.”  At the lowest level of moral development we care only about our own family or tribe.  As conscience develops, we are able to extend our concern to also encompass our nation, race, or co-religionists.  That’s the stage Americans are stuck at now.  When Al-Qaeda and the Taliban take innocent lives we rightly condemn them.  Yet we ourselves have yet to move on to the highest moral stage where every human being receives our respect.  It’s well past time we made that leap.

Charles Pierson can be reached at: chapierson@yahoo.com

 

Reference

 

Assessing the Laws of the Drone Wars

February 10, 2013

President Obama’s defenders note he ended the Iraq War, is drawing down forces in Afghanistan and has resisted a new war in Syria. In other words, they say drone attacks on al-Qaeda suspects have ratcheted down the levels of violence left behind by President Bush. But critics say the drone attacks are still war crimes.

 

By Dennis J. Bernstein

New disclosures regarding President Barack Obama’s use of armed drones to hunt down and kill suspected al-Qaeda terrorists thousands of miles from the United States raise troubling questions about the U.S. Constitution and international law.

In the following interview with Dennis J. Bernstein of Pacifica’s “Flashpoint” program, Marjorie Cohn, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former President of the National Lawyers Guild, assesses a White Paper from the Justice Department summarizing the legal arguments justifying the drone attacks.

DB: You say the White Paper runs afoul of international and U.S. law. Please explain.

MC: The White Paper allows the government to kill a U.S. citizen who is not on the battlefield, if some high government official who is supposedly informed about the situation thinks that the target is a senior Al Qaeda leader who poses an imminent threat of a violent attack against the United States. So how do they define “imminence”? Well, it doesn’t require any clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.

So it completely dilutes this whole idea of imminent threat. Under well-established principles of international law and the UN Charter, one country can use military force against another only in self-defense. But under the Caroline case, which is the gold standard here, the “necessity for self-defense must be instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” That means we are going to be attacked right away and we can use force.

But the very nebulous test that the White Paper lays out even allows the targeted killing of somebody who is considered to be a “continuing” threat, whatever that means. The most disturbing part of it says that U.S. citizens can be killed even when there is no “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

So we have a global battlefield, where if there is someone, anywhere, who might be associated with Al Qaeda, according to a high government official, then Obama can authorize (it’s not even clear Obama himself has to authorize these targeted killings, these drone attacks) on Terror Tuesday (thanks to the New York Times expose several months ago) who he is going to kill after consulting with John Brennan.

John Brennan, of course, is his counter-terrorism guru who is up for confirmation to be CIA Director. Very incestuous. John Brennan has said that targeted killings constitute lawful self-defense.

One of the most disturbing things here is the amassing of executive power with no review by the courts, no checks and balances. So the courts will have no opportunity to interpret what “imminence” means, or what “continuing” threat means. The White Paper cites John Yoo’s claim that courts have no role to play in what the President does in this so-called War on Terror where the whole world is a battlefield. I say so-called War on Terror because terrorism is a tactic. It’s not an enemy. You don’t declare war on a tactic.

And the White Paper refers to Yoo’s view that judicial review constitutes “judicial encroachment” on the judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force. The White Paper cites Hamdi v. Rumsfeld which says the President has the authority to hold US citizens caught on the battlefield in Afghanistan as enemy combatants. But in Hamdi, the Supreme Court stated that a U.S. citizen who is being detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to due process. Due process means an arrest and a fair trial. It doesn’t mean just taking him out with a drone.

Also, there’s another interesting passage in this White Paper. It says “judicial enforcement [a court reviewing these kill orders of the executive] of such orders would require the court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorized the use of force.” Inherently predictive. Does that mean that the court can’t review decisions made with a crystal ball because it’s too mushy? I don’t know.

Certainly courts are competent to make emergency decisions under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FISA Court meets in secret and authorizes wiretaps requested by the Executive Branch. Courts can do this. Courts can act in emergencies to review and check and balance what the executive is doing. That’s what our Constitution is all about.

DB: Congress is looking for some original documents about what’s going on here. The White Paper is sort of a restatement of national security documents that we probably haven’t been able to see yet. What about the Geneva Conventions? It sort of throws that in the garbage.

MC: Well, it does because the Geneva Conventions define willful killing as a grave breach. And grave breaches are punishable as war crimes. So this also violates the Geneva Conventions. Although the White Paper says that they are going to follow the well-established principle of proportionality – proportionality means that an attack cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage – I don’t see how they can actually put that into practice because the force is going to be excessive. When you see how they are using drones, they are taking out convoys, and they are killing civilians, large numbers of civilians.

There’s another principle of international law called distinction, which requires that the attack be directed only at legitimate military targets. We know from the New York Times exposé that the kill list that Brennan brings to Obama to decide who he is going to take out without a trial – basically execute – can be used even if they don’t have a name, or if they are present in an area where there are suspicious “patterns of behavior.” These are known as signature strikes. That means that bombs are dropped on unidentified people who are in an area where suspicious activity is taking place.  That goes even beyond targeted killings.

Targeted killings are considered to be illegal. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, expressed grave concerns about these targeted killings, saying that they may constitute war crimes. He called on the Obama administration to explain how its drone strikes comport with international law and to specify the bases for the decisions to kill rather than capture particular individuals.

The White Paper says that one of the requirements before they can take someone out is that capture is “infeasible.” As you go on and read this memo, infeasible begins to look like inconvenient. We have these very mushy terms, with no clear standards that comply with international law. Yet there is no oversight by any court, and Congress has no role either. So we don’t have checks and balances.

Even the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed a few days after 9/11 doesn’t authorize this. The AUMF allows the President to use force against groups and countries that had supported the 9/11 attacks. But when the Bush administration asked Congress for open-ended military authority “to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” Congress specifically rejected that open-ended military authority. Congress has not authorized this, and it’s not clear whether Congress would authorize it. …

DB:  When one looks at this Obama policy and compares it to Bush, essentially Obama has chosen, well, we’ll do a little less torture, or skip the torture, and we’ll just kill them.

MC: Obama has expanded these drone attacks far beyond what the Bush administration was doing. There are many thorny issues, such as indefinite detention, how detainees are treated, and under what circumstances they can be released. The Obama administration evidently feels that it’s cleaner and easier just to kill them. Then you don’t have to worry about bad publicity from housing them at Guantanamo, not giving them a fair trial, holding them indefinitely. This goes beyond the torture policy.

Now I don’t want to say that killing with drones is worse than the illegal and outrageous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that the Bush administration began, in which thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been killed or seriously maimed. So I wouldn’t say that Obama is worse than Bush. But certainly Obama is following in the tradition of the Bush administration and John Yoo’s expansive view of executive power where whatever the President does is unreviewable.

DB: I would say they continue the process of destroying the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the necessary checks and balances that restrain war, that the people depend on.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of human rights at Thomas Jefferson School and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse. See www.marjoriecohn.com.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. He can be contacted at dennisjberstein@gmail.com.

Share this Article:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • NewsVine
  • Technorati
  • email

Tags: 

4 comments on “Assessing the Laws of the Drone Wars”

  1. I’ve been watching the comments section of this article, and I made a little bet with myself: “No matter how long I wait, I’ll be the first one to comment”. It’s because every “Progressive” who reads this article has to admit to him or herself that they have blindly supported, in the same sycophantic manner as reactionary Republicans do, a political platform that is in many ways far worse than that of the Presidency they railed against for eight years. The Bush years gave us war of aggression, indefinite detention, shredding of the Constitution, abandonment of the Geneva Conventions and torture. This one has given us most of that and more. State sanctioned assassination, codification of Constitutional breaches, indefinite detention and wars of aggression are waged without concern for Congressional oversight. The Republicans are delighted. First, because Democrats have granted them a bulletproof amnesty. Only hypocrisy could indict them now. The financial community has been absolved of the biggest financial scam in the history of the world. I could go on, but these are enough to make my point. The “progressive” community sold itself for the sake of a few “wedge issue” concessions, like sympathy for GLBT initiatives and lip service to reproductive freedom. In return, they took a “pass” on things like 1st, 4th and 5th Amendment rights. The Radical right, by the same token, is clamoring over 2nd Amendment rights, while the distraction is providing cover for the dismantling of protections which should be cherished by anyone who makes less than $250,000 a year (Most of us).

    Once forfeited, these protections are nearly impossible to reclaim. Disciples on the left approve of the Executive authorities wielded now, but just wait until they fall into the hands of another “Tricky” Dick Nixon, or a Joe McCarthy. If you think there’s an “Imperial” presidency now, just imagine the incentive to expand it in the future. Power over life and death is an intoxicating perquisite. Failure to prosecute these Constitutional transgressions has made them precedents. None of you seem to realize it yet, but the great “experiment” in Democracy is over. You’re all arguing over irrelevancies while the Titanic is sinking, and reassuring yourselves that, “Don’t worry, we have plenty of buckets and mops”.

    “Progressives” in America have been courting the lipstick and ignoring the pig. Now that you’re married, try to keep in mind: you brought it on yourselves. All of these transgressions have been fostered by entangling alliances and abrogation of the rules of law. International law, U.N. Resolutions, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles have all been subverted in order to maintain a contrived schizophrenic foreign policy that has made us a target for terrorism. The ensuing vicious cycle insures further transgressions which will perpetuate the terrorism and validate the continued cycle of violence, not to mention the continued erosion of rights held sacred since the Magna Carta. Tyranny is a strange bedfellow. It knows no loyalty and keeps no friends. Before he was murdered, Albrecht Haushofer awoke from a similar honeymoon, warm and cozy next to the tyrant pig. He wrote this poem before he died at the hands of the Gestapo:
    I am guilty, But not in the way you think.
    I should have earlier recognized my duty;
    I should have more sharply called evil evil;
    I reined in my judgment too long.
    I did warn, But not enough, and clear;
    And today I know what I was guilty of.
    I won’t live long enough to see it, but I suspect that those who campaigned hardest to corrupt these protections in the name of misguided loyalty may, like Haushofer, find that it was themselves they betrayed. Sooner or later, there’s a morning after. Lipstick only lasts so long. For the time being, American “Progressives” are still warm and cozy. Eventually, they’ll roll over, and the denial will finally wear off. “Enemy of the State” after all, is a title the tyrants never define.

    • Members of a military force involved in combat under the “Laws of War” are “combatants”. Civilians engaged in hostilities on that same battlefield may be considered “unlawful combatants”. We prosecuted and imprisoned people for that. But, we want to have our cake and eat it too. When the CIA and contract civilians engage in these activities, they too could technically be…”unlawful combatants”…? Not to resort to John Brennan’s dodge, but I’m no legal scholar. During my long military career, I was thoroughly indoctrinated in things like the Geneva Conventions and Laws of War…but I guess the government expects us veterans to just pretend none of that matters anymore. The short answer is that we’re now witnessing “Victors’ Justice”. As Winston Churchill noted regarding the legality of some of his transgressions, “History shall be kind to me, for I intend to write it”.

      Pakistani War Criminals Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pervez Kayani, Asif Zardari, who can be tried in Hague for culpability in Drone War

       

      reference:

      http://consortiumnews.com/2013/02/10/assessing-the-laws-of-the-drone-wars/

      http://upstatedroneaction.org/flyers/NamingThePakistaniDead.pdf

       

 

, , , , , , ,

No Comments


Skip to toolbar