Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, How Extrajudicial Executions Became “War” Policy in Washington

July 17, 2016
Posted in Blog
July 17, 2016 Editor

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, How Extrajudicial Executions Became “War” Policy in Washington

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

Photo above: US Predator drone

an excerpt: from the introduction to the piece by Tom Engelhardt:

Strangely, amid the spike in racial tensions after the killing of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and of five white police officers by a black sharpshooter in Dallas, one American reality has gone unmentioned.  The U.S. has been fighting wars — declared, half-declared, and undeclared — for almost 15 years and, distant as they are, they’ve been coming home in all sorts of barely noted ways.  In the years in which the U.S. has up-armored globally, the country has also seen an arms race developing on the domestic front.  As vets have returned from their Iraq and Afghan tours of duty, striking numbers of them have gone into police work at a time when American weaponry, vehicles, and military equipment — including, for instance, MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles) — have poured off America’s distant battlefields and, via the Pentagon, into police departments nationwide.  And while the police were militarizing, gun companies have been marketing battlefield-style assault rifles to Americans by the millions, at the very moment when it has become ever more possible for citizens to carry weapons of every sort in a concealed or open fashion in public.

The result in Dallas: Micah Johnson, a disturbed Army Reserves veteran, who spent a tour of duty in Afghanistan and practiced military tactics in his backyard, armed with an SKS semi-automatic assault rifle, wearing full body armor, and angry over police killings of black civilians, took out those five white officers.  One of them was a Navy vet who had served three tours of duty in Iraq and another a former Marine who had trained local police for DynCorp, a private contractor, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, civilian protesters, also armed with assault rifles (quite legal in the streets of Dallas), scattered as the first shots rang out and were, in some cases, taken in by the police as suspects.  And at least two unarmed protesters were wounded by Johnson.  (Think of that, in his terms, as “collateral damage.”)  In the end, he would be killed by a Remotec Andros F5 robot, built by weapons-maker Northrop Grumman, carrying a pound of C4 plastic explosive, and typical of robots that police departments now possess.

In other words, this incident was capped by the first use of deadly force by a drone in the United States.  Consider that a war-comes-home upping of the ante.  Already, reports the Defense One website, makers of military-grade robots — a burgeoning field for the Pentagon — are imagining other ways to employ such armed bots not only on our distant battlefields but at home in a future in which they will be “useful, cheap, and ubiquitous,” and capable of Tasing as well as killing.

Of course, among the many things that have also come home from the country’s wars, Predator and Reaper drones are now flying over “the homeland” on missions for the Pentagon, not to mention the FBI, the Border Patrol, and other domestic agencies.  So the future stage is set.  Once you’ve used any kind of drone in the U.S. to kill by remote control, it’s only logical — given some future extreme situation — to extend that use to the skies and so consider firing a missile at some U.S. target, as the CIA and the Air Force have been doing regularly for years in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. And of course, in our domestic arms race, with small drones commercially available to anyone and the first of them armed (no matter the rudimentary nature of that armament), it’s not hard to imagine a future Micah Johnson, white or black, using one of them sooner or later.  After all, Johnson was already talking about planting “IEDs” (the term for insurgent roadside bombs in our war zones) and a flying IED is a relatively modest step from there.

So, welcome to the “home front,” folks.  And speaking of drones, it’s worth giving a little thought to what might, in fact, still come home, to the sort of example that two administrations have set by turning the president into an assassin-in-chief and regularly creating law for themselves when it comes to the targeting of distant peoples.  In that light, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon considers America’s Trojan Horse technology of death and just what it may someday smuggle into “the homeland.” Tom

an excerpt from the article:

Obama “Comes Clean”

By the middle of President Obama’s second term in office, criticism of this extrajudicial killing program, and especially of the civilian deaths involved, had mushroomed. So, in May 2013, at least 11 years after the program was launched, the president announced a shift in drone strategy, telling an audience at the National Defense University that the U.S. would engage in “targeted killings” of al-Qaeda militants only when there was a “near-certainty” that no civilians would be injured. He added that he was planning to make the drone program more transparent than it had been and to transfer most of its operations from the CIA to the Pentagon.

In the two years since, little of this has happened. Although Obama has continued the job of personally approving drone targets, the CIA still runs much of the program.

On July 1st, he did finally take a step towards providing greater transparency. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a report stating that, outside of more conventional war zones like those in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, U.S. airstrikes have killed “64 to 116 civilian bystanders and about 2,500 members of terrorist groups.” These estimates are, in fact, quite a bit lower than those supplied by the various groups that track such killings. Note as well that, legally speaking, not only the “collateral damage” victims, but all those that Americans identified as “members of terrorist groups” died via illegal, extrajudicial executions.

The document fulfills one of the requirements of a newly issued executive order, which, among other things, requires the government to release a report by May 1st of each year containing “information about the number of strikes undertaken by the U.S. Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities [i.e., outside genuine war zones]” for the previous calendar year.

Attached to the executive order was a “fact sheet,” which noted that one goal of the new executive order is to “set standards for other nations to follow.” How happy would the United States really be if other nations decided that they had the right to kill anyone who scares them? How would the United States react if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decided to take out a U.S. general or two, on the grounds that, since the U.S. is supporting forces that seek to depose him, those generals are (as the Fact Sheet puts it) “targetable in the exercise of national self-defense”?

Some critics of the Obama drone program have welcomed the executive order, which does include a new emphasis on protecting civilians. But the larger effect of the order is to make the practice of illegal assassination a permanent feature of U.S. policy. It assumes that we can expect an annual murder toll announcement for years to come. No future is contemplated in which the United States will not be raining death from the sky on people who cannot defend themselves. The drones will continue to fly, but the Trojan Drone’s work is complete.

Please click on: US Extrajudicial Killing

  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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