Category: War

Obama’s drone program: our death squad in the sky – with no accountability

Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.

“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.

The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.

Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill

Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental. They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business – only the real cost is shielded from the public.

RTFA. It is detailed, laying out the cogent points for the debate on questions of ethics and morality – if not legality. Questions not likely to be addressed by our Congress of Cowards.

As a legitimate military tactic, I see nothing wrong with the use of unmanned drones as weapons. In a legal war, in legal military action. Without reasoned automatic boundaries, without priorities of military responsibility already in place within treaty obligations, everything our government currently accomplishes with the UAV program is illegal.

Because it is “popular”, acceptable to most Americans filled with Fair and Balanced news-as-entertainment – is no reason to offer my personal acceptance. I’m reminded of the mill workers in England who walked out in illegal strikes against cranking out profits generated from spinning and weaving Confederate cotton – and thereby supporting the cause of slavery. Imperial Britain didn’t especially care where mill owners profits were coming from; but, the bravest workers in Europe did.

Until our government turns these questions into debate and rule of law, I cannot support those who continue secrecy, sanctification based on Bush’s Wars.

The trial of the “accountant of Auschwitz”

“One night in January 1943, I saw, for the first time, the Jews being gassed. I heard the panicked screams of human beings as the doors were closed.” This is how Oskar Gröning described his time at Auschwitz in several German newspaper articles in 2005.

He served with the SS there from September 1942 to October 1944, and was responsible for managing the money and valuables of the murdered – hence his nickname the “accountant of Auschwitz” in the media. He proclaimed himself innocent. “I killed no one, I was just a small cog in the killing machine. I was not a perpetrator,” he said in 2005.

But now, ten years later, Gröning is on trial – what could be the last major Nazi trial in Germany is set to begin on April 21. Since the accused has lived in a small village in the area for years, the trial will take place in the German regional court in Lüneburg. The 93-year-old is accused of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

The charges brought by the state prosecutor’s office in Hanover, responsible for the prosecution of Nazi crimes in Lower Saxony, have been limited to the so-called “Hungarian Operation,” for “legal and evidence reasons.” The operation took place between May 16 and July 11, 1944. During that two-month period the SS deported about 425,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Some 300,000 of these were led directly to the gas chambers and murdered…

This trial “comes decades too late,” says Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee. “The accused lived the most important decades of his life in peace and in freedom in the heart of society.” Gröning, born on June 10, 1921, came to Auschwitz as a young man of twenty-one. Now he is an old man who will soon turn 94.

Why so late?

Average life expectancy in Germany is about 80 years. For that reason alone one has to ask, why have things progressed so slowly in the case against Gröning? Why is the “accountant of Auschwitz” coming before the court now, at the end of his life? Especially since the so-called Ludwigsburg “central office” for the investigation of Nazi crimes has been active since 1958.

One reason is a revision of legal jurisprudence. In the 1960s and 1970s, the legal premise was that each perpetrator had to be proven to have committed a specific crime. This precedence changed with a Munich court’s decision in the trial of John Demjanjuk. In 2011, the now deceased former guard at the Sobibor death camp was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of more than 28,000 Jews – although his direct participation could not be proven.

So far the Lüneburg court has slated 27 days for the trial. The verdict is to be handed down at the end of July. More than 60 co-plaintiffs will testify, travelling from the United States, Hungary, Canada, and Israel.

Complicity is rarely a tough question for survivors of genocide, mass murder. It not so unusual to find folks on both sides of a question like this who agree on guilt, either. Witness the hundreds of Americans who have made their way back to VietNam – to work, to rebuild what they helped to destroy. Witness – if you would – Leo Szilard’s novel The Voice of the Dolphins where essentially he puts himself on trial for a leading role in designing nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project.

But, in practice – most of those “cogs in a killing machine” are in denial of any responsibility. If you are not a survivor, if your government doesn’t care more for victims than perpetrators, responsibility is a hard thing to come by.

Thanks, Honeyman

Pic of the day

Ukie army grocery bike
Click to enlargeAP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

A Ukrainian serviceman rides a bicycle in Shyrokyne, eastern Ukraine… Russia and Ukraine agreed in Berlin on Monday to call for the pullback of smaller-caliber weapons from the front lines of the conflict that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

Too many kinds of comment in my poor brain for this one. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, humorous, philosophical or otherwise.

Pic of the day

Adi Hudea
Click to enlargeOsman Sagirli

This is the heartbreaking moment a four-year-old Syrian girl ‘surrendered’ to a photographer when she mistook the man’s camera for a gun.

Taken at the Atmen refugee camp on Syria’s border with Turkey last December, the image shows the young girl frozen in fear with her arms raised and her lips tightly pursed.

The child has been identified as Adi Hudea, whose father died in the 2012 Hama massacre and who has been living with her traumatised mother and three siblings at Camp Atmen ever since.

Hands up — Don’t shoot!.

If this is how you think an anti-war president acts, you’re out of touch with reality

Nothing sums up the warped foreign policy fantasy world in which Republicans live more than when House Speaker John Boehner recently called Obama an “anti-war president” under which America “is sitting on the sidelines” in the increasingly chaotic Middle East.

If Obama is an anti-war president, he’s the worst anti-war president in history. In the last six years, the Obama administration has bombed seven countries in the Middle East alone and armed countless more with tens of billions in dollars in weapons. But that’s apparently not enough for Republicans. As the Isis war continues to expand and Yemen descends into civil war, everyone is still demanding more: If only we bombed the region a little bit harder, then they’ll submit.

In between publishing a new rash of overt sociopathic “Bomb Iran” op-eds, Republicans and neocons are circulating a new talking point: Obama doesn’t have a “coherent” or “unifying” strategy in the Middle East. But you can’t have a one-size-fits-all strategy in an entire region that is almost incomprehensibly complex – which is why no one, including the Republicans criticizing Obama, actually has an answer for what that strategy should be. It’s clear that this new talking point is little more than thinly veiled code for we’re not killing enough Muslims or invading enough countries.

Nobody will say that they want US troops on the ground to fight Isis, of course, since public support for such action is crumbling…

Those clamoring for more war are detached from reality: the US is already escalating – not pulling back – its involvement across the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the president has quietly delayed pulling US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year so they can continue special forces raids and drone strikes, despite loudly celebrating the supposed “end” of combat operations during the State of the Union in January. In Iraq, US forces escalated its airstrikes in the so-called battle to re-take Tikrit, which the New York Times editorial board decried as a folly, but received scant scrutiny elsewhere. The Pentagon also confirmed last week that they expect the Isis war to last “3+ years.”

And if you think the United States is sitting on the sidelines in Yemen just because it’s not US planes physically launching the missiles (yet), you should have your head examined. The US has given Saudi Arabia an astronomical $90bn in military equipment and weapons over the past four years and, as the Washington Post reported, it will play a “huge” role in any fighting. US drones are also still patrolling Yemeni skies and even helping Saudi Arabia “decide what and where to bomb”…

This is America’s modus operandi in the Middle East: give its friends a ton of weapons and watch the weapons fall into enemy hands one way or another. In Afghanistan, the US gave the Afghanistan government nearly 500,000 weapons that are now unaccounted for (and that was a couple years ago). In Libya, shipments of arms reportedly sent by the CIA to Libyan rebels in 2011 via the Qataris ended up, in many cases, in the hands of Islamic militants… Neither stopped the Obama administration from arming rebels in Syria, where many of the weapons promptly fell into enemy hands as well…

Photographer Gregg Carlstrom succinctly summed it up last week as Saudi Arabia started to drop bombs on Yemen: “US praises US ally for bombing US-equipped militia aligned with US foe who is partnering with US to fight another US-equipped militia.”

Expecting the United States to sort out and withdraw from one or another of the factions in a centuries-old religious war is not something I’m holding my breath over. After all, that would be like expecting a White House spokesman to answer questions about Iran and nuclear research by acknowledged the only power with nuclear weapons in the region is Israel. They’ve had them for decades. It is the threat they brandish over all nations in the region. Those weapons are illegal according to all the accords we have initiated and signed. We do absolutely nothing about it.

We took over the role of imperial bully right after World War 2. The Brits were economically and ideologically over with maintaining a global empire. They had to recover from being the front line of a terrible war for most of a decade. Uncle Sugar’s condition was exceptional – mostly by virtue of oceans on either side. Use to be a helluva defense.

And Barack Obama is as likely to use military force anywhere in the world as any Republican or Democrat president since the end of that war 70 years ago.

Pic of the Day

Musa, a Kurdish marksman
Click to enlargeBulent Kilic

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian city of Kobani on Friday. Kurdish forces recaptured the town on the Turkish frontier on January 26, in a symbolic blow to the ISIS militants who have seized large swathes of territory in their onslaught across Syria and Iraq.

The American military in a chickenhawk nation

The Atlantic magazine has unveiled a new cover story bluntly titled “The Tragedy of the American Military.” Written by James Fallows, it explores the problems and culture of the U.S. military after more than 13 years of war, and what it might take to fix them.

In particular, Fallows targets the “chickenhawk nation” that has sent its troops into combat without clear strategies, weapons acquisition programs that are expensive and politically connected, and an American public that is largely disconnected from the wars. Fallows also reports on the findings of a commission that President Obama requested in 2011 to examine how the Pentagon could best be reformed.

The commission, headed by former Sen. Gary Hart (D.-Colo.), made a series of recommendations that will be familiar to those following defense policy in Washington. It sought the creation of another panel to assess the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, a separate effort to determine how the decision-making process for the use of military force should work in the future, and for the president himself to help bridge the gap between those who have served and the rest of American society…

The piece has created buzz on social media, in part because of the senior officials and famous academics quoted in it. But it’s the latest in a long line of journalism this year that grapples with how the military should reassess and reinvent itself following wars that have cost billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, without many clear victories…

Earlier this year, The Washington Post also published a series of stories titled “After the Wars.” Relying in part on a poll conducted along with the Kaiser Family Foundation, it found that 87 percent of the 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans feel proud of what they did during the wars, although more than half struggle with physical or mental issues and feel disconnected from civilians.

I wonder if our government, the Pentagon or even the Washington Post considered surveying the Iraqis, the Afghans, the civilian populations killed and maimed a hundred times more than our invading military?

All of these pieces expose the same basic issues: There will be no easy fixes for the military adjusting to life after a generation of intense sacrifice. The military is now shrinking and coping with budget cuts that would have been unheard of five or 10 years ago, increasing anxiety for many who want to serve at least 20 years and retire from the military honorably.

People write these articles as if they – and we – don’t discern any difference between war with an honorable task – fighting back against Fascist Imperialism, freeing nations from occupying foreign legions out to steal land and resources for a master race.

Sorry to hurt a few folks’ feelings; but, our military history since 1946 seems more and more like role reversal every decade since.