Friday, May 24, 2013

Obama's 'just war' is the language of the Crusades

President Obama’s claim that America’s targeted assassination by remote-controlled drones is part of a “just war” reinforces the sense that his administration is equally if not more reactionary than that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama surely understood before he made his speech on America’s security that by invoking the language of the infamous Crusades, he was ensuring that the “war on terror” would continue indefinitely, even though he acknowledged this would be “self-defeating”.

The concept of a “just war” originates with Pope Urban II who in 1095 called the first Crusade aimed at restoring Christian rule in the Holy Land. This led to two centuries of warfare, which ended in the Crusade’s abject failure. Religiously-motivated “just wars” continued well into the 16th century and helped undermine the Catholic Church’s grip.

As Obama assumes the role of America’s very own Pope, would anyone be surprised if Islamic militants respond in kind to language that implies that non-Christians are “infidels” and generally not as “civilized” as the rest of us? Many jihadists believe in Holy War themselves. Now they’ve been invited to join one by an American president.

Let’s be clear, drone attacks are a form of state-sponsored terrorism and constitute extra-judicial murder. They are clearly unlawful by any definition of international law.  
The drone is Obama’s weapon of choice. Under his presidency, drones are killing people at seven times the rate than under the Bush administration.

America has built a Disposition Matrix, a database that officials describe as a "next-generation capture/kill list". But it is more than that, creating a blueprint for tracking, capturing, rendering and especially killing terrorism suspects. Thus the use of the term “disposition”.

There is no “due process”, no opportunity to answer charges. The last thing a victim hears is the sound of a missile arriving, shortly after being fired by an unmanned drone. The trigger is pulled in US military base somewhere else.

Some estimates suggest that more people have been killed by US drones than the 3,000 plus who perished when the Twin Towers were brought down in 2001. Many of the victims are bystanders, family members or just people at a gathering wrongly identified as would-be terrorists.

On March 17, 2011 some 40 individuals – including 35 government-appointed tribal leaders known as maliks, as well as government officials – gathered in Datta Khel town centre in North Waziristan in Pakistan. They were there to attend a jirga —  a decision-making, dispute resolution institution.  

At about 10.45 am, as the two groups were engaged in discussion, a missile fired from a US drone hovering above struck one of the circles of seated men. Several additional missiles were fired, at least one of which hit the second circle. In all, the missiles killed a total of at least 42 people. The results of this particular drone attack are among the many documented in an exhaustive report into the practice and legality of drone strikes. The report concludes:

Their [drones] presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they’re powerless to protect themselves … strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals.  

In his speech, Obama cited the warning by James Madison, father of the US constitution, who declared that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare”. But Obama is ensuring that the opposite will prevail.

Federal authorities have been engaged in secret bugging of newspapers over the botched defence of the country’s Benghazi consulate building, while the tax authorities have selected targets on political grounds. Obama has retained the extensive state powers granted to Bush after 9/11. Taken together, the United States is increasingly the land of the unfree with a constitution that now protects only the interests of military-industrial-financial complex.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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