November 6, 2021 Editor

Reflections on “Drone Strikes and Torture Will Cause Big Blowback”

photo above: AK Rockefeller – CC BY 2.0

WN: It is ominous to read at the end of the highlighted article:

Although the long-term consequences are measureless, there is no doubt that “explosive events” will blow back for a long time to come. The military-industrial complex has been manufacturing the next 9/11.

The first 9/11 was brilliantly anticipated only months before in Chalmers Johnson’s 2001 book: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. Indeed, American Empire for two and a half centuries has been in the Blowback Manufacturing business like no other Empire before.1

And when (not if) the next 9/11 happens, yet another President will stand before a joint session of Congress, and ask with unbelievably towering sanctimony: Why do they hate us? And respond with similar over-the-top drivel such that, were it not for the occasion seized to launch the massive barbarity called “Operation Infinite Justice,” (later changed to: “Operation Enduring Freedom“), with enormous numbers subsequently slaughtered by American Empire, such monikers would have been occasion for enduring, if not infinite, ribald hilarity. Both Operation designations perhaps scaled unprecedented, even unparalleled heights of sheer ethical hypocrisy.

Twenty years ago I watched (above a brief clip of) the video. I stood there before the TV with gaping mouth and incredulous wonderment, as every phrase of Bush’s incredible hypocrisy occasioned standing ovation after standing ovation by every elected Member of Congress and the House of Representatives . . .

I concluded then, yet more conclusively than ever–if possible–that this level of ubiquitous gargantuan collective American lack of self-awareness on the part of federally elected American leaders at that 9/11 moment, of which the above brief Bush clip is representative, is as well profound parable of what America–all officialdom-un-knowing–throughout its history never was: a land of the free.

Or at least: as the “free press” was such for only those corporations who owned and controlled the press/news, so America was land of the free only for ever-tinier enclaves of the free elites who ruled/rule America, who (would-be at least) ruled/rule the world.

Language fails . . .

Yet a variation of such (albeit more sophisticated, yet no less representative of overweening American media blindness) can be found by Steven Malanga in this piece (randomly chosen), September 7, 2021, to which the first part of the subtitle gives the ironic lie: When Flags Waved: The stirring response by New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to the 9/11 terrorist attacks is a reminder of what the country used to be—and can be again.

Now in the field of Restorative Justice, we often say there cannot be restored what was never there . . .  Likewise here. We read:

Seen from today’s perspective, the months and years after 9/11 seem to belong more to an old America than a new one. New York proved to be a city, for instance, where people laced up their work boots, adjusted their hardhats, and got about the business of rebuilding. It was an America where cops were considered heroes, where patriotic songs came back into fashion, where national holidays became even bigger celebrations than before 9/11, where sports united us, and where bipartisanship in Washington was at its highest point since the days after Pearl Harbor. America and New York might be very different today than they were in 2001, but it wasn’t 9/11 that made us this way. If anything, the response to 9/11 might show us a way back from our current fractiousness.

The first major sports event in New York after 9/11 was a Mets game against the Atlanta Braves, which featured players wearing baseball caps sporting the logos of the NYPD, FDNY, and other services that had lost members at the Twin Towers. When Mike Piazza hit a dramatic home run in the eighth inning to give the Mets the lead, the crowd rose and chanted, “USA, USA, USA.” Not just in New York but around the country, that chant became common. Playing the national anthem at games after 9/11 turned into a pageant, with police and armed-services personnel front and center. Baseball teams replaced or supplemented songs like “Take Me Out to The Ball Game,” traditionally sung during the seventh-inning stretch, with “God Bless America”—a two-fer of patriotic tunes that lasted for years. Perhaps the quintessential sports event of that period was President George W. Bush’s throwing out the first pitch of a World Series game at Yankee Stadium after having visited Ground Zero earlier in the day. “I’ve been to conventions and rallies and speeches,” Bush said of that night. “I’ve never felt anything so powerful and emotions so strong, and the collective will of the crowd so evident.”

Twenty years on, that America is harder to find. . .

The question is whether that America of heroic cops and patriotic songs, of ordinary Americans rolling up their sleeves, is gone forever or poised for a comeback.

Is the old America really still out there, waiting to come out of hiding? If so, then this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—evoking, as it will, memories of how New Yorkers and their countrymen responded—would be a good time to reemerge.

And so on ad nauseum. Not because great heroics were not performed by 412 cops, firefighters, and emergency workers who died that day–and by so many others. Not because many families of the departed have not known overwhelming grief. Not because many Ground Zero survivors are not dealing with lifelong PTSD and multiple related illnesses, etc. All the above is real–and so much more!

It is because of what was not said in the above-noted article—seldom said in U.S. history by corporate and media élites, by politicians. Some examples:

  • Not one word about the subsequent massive slaughter of innocents by American Empire in the Near Middle East.
  • Not one word about the displacement of millions of peoples due to American foreign policy in the Near Middle East–and throughout its existence on Turtle Island.
  • Not one word about the ever-heightened will to dominate demonstrated by America in every country of the world that America is in the business of extracting wealth from.
  • Not a hat-tip to the first-responders after ubiquitous-reach American drone strike after drone strike ever “over there,” when subsequent strikes annihilated the first-responders who were generally family members of all ages, and police, firemen, ambulance drivers, hospital workers . . .

Indeed: one could continue on and on and on almost ad infinitum, ever without question ad nauseum . . .

With scarcely knowing a thing about Steven Malanga, I can tell you this much: he does not know about any of the above and not because he’s a bad student of American history. It is because he and so many like him, do not want to know.

As in: the white churches and population in apartheid South Africa were likewise reprehensible for not wanting to know. We read as instance:

The former apartheid cabinet member Leon Wessels was closer to the mark when he said that they had not wanted to know, for there were those who tried to alert them (No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond, Mpilo Tutu, New York: Doubleday, 1999, p. 269).

Still, Tutu graciously states what is true for us all:

There but for the grace of God go I (ibid, p. 253).

And that wilful malaise of blindness has stricken whole generations of American media leaders and politicians since America’s founding, and persists to the present. See two overlapping listings of such instances:

Jesus’ scathing commentary is appropriate:

If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit. (Matthew 15:14).


On October 29 a Guantanamo Bay prisoner was reported as having testified about the torture inflicted on him over many years in CIA “black sites” and the US military base in Cuba where among other things he was “suspended naked from a ceiling beam for long periods, doused repeatedly with ice water to keep him awake for days. He described having his head held under water to the point of near drowning, only to have water poured into his nose and mouth when the interrogators let him up. He was beaten, given forced enemas, sexually assaulted and starved . . .”

A week earlier, on United Nations Day, the Biden White House announced that the United States is committed “to the original vision and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter” which involved “creating a rules-based international order” and ensuring “adherence to international law.”  The declaration was made two months after a US drone strike in Kabul killed ten civilians, including seven children.  As the International Red Cross points out, the “arbitrary deprivation of the right to life” includes “unlawful killing in the conduct of hostilities, i.e., the killing of civilians and persons hors de combat not in the power of a party to the conflict not justified under the rules on the conduct of hostilities.”  Consequently, according to Washington’s “rules-based international order”, it is unlawful to kill civilians.

But all the Pentagon has done about the Kabul kid-killing is to eventually and with reluctance admit that it did indeed slaughter an innocent man and many of his family — and it is most unlikely that anything would have been divulged if it hadn’t been for the work of the New York Times, which smelled a rat.  The Pentagon’s inquiry into the killings was a farce and the finding, released on November 3, was that there had been “no violation of law, including the Law of War”.

The general probably doesn’t realize the preposterous inanity of the phrase “an explosive event” and his declaration that “we are exploring the possibility of ex gratia payments” is even more absurd.  That Pentagon Hellfire “event” killed most of the family of the vehicle’s driver, Zemerai Ahmadi, who had “worked for 15 years for Nutrition & Education International, a California-based non-profit aimed at countering malnutrition in Afghanistan”.

AP News reported that “the family said when the 37-year-old Zemerai, alone in his car, pulled up to the house, he honked his horn. His 11-year-old son ran out, and Zemerai let the boy get in and drive the car into the driveway. The other kids ran out to watch, and the missile incinerated the car, killing seven children and an adult son and nephew of Zemerai.” And then, as recorded by the NYT, the usual lies were trotted out, and “almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, and then days, and then weeks after the August 29 drone strike turned out to be false.”  The Pentagon liars struck again.

Yet President Biden keeps telling us, as in his September remarks prior to the UN session, that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”  He regretted that “we lost 13 American heroes and almost 200 innocent Afghan civilians in the heinous terrorist attack at the Kabul airport”, but there wasn’t a word about the seven kids slaughtered by his drone-fired missile.

The Hellfire “explosive event” that killed Zemerai Ahmadi and his young son and the other children who were greeting him excitedly is far from the first slaughter of innocents by US missiles.  Freedom, justice and peace have been blown apart by many a drone strike, not one of which has resulted in prosecutorial action following the killing of innocent civilians.

Although the long-term consequences are measureless, there is no doubt that “explosive events” will blow back for a long time to come. The military-industrial complex has been manufacturing the next 9/11.

Azam the taxi-driver didn’t know Mullah Mansoor and was not associated with the Taliban or any such organization. He was an entirely innocent man trying to earn enough money to feed his family — his wife, four small children and a crippled brother who stayed with them.

The Pentagon stated that  “Mansur has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict.”  So they killed him.  And without the slightest hesitation they also killed the entirely innocent taxi driver Mohammad Azam.

If a person in a foreign country that can’t retaliate to drone strikes is considered an enemy of the United States there is no question of arrest, charge and trial.  When possible, they are killed by a Hellfire missile. In this case, five years ago, the explosive event was personally authorized by President Obama who stressed that there must be “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed,”  and that the US “respects national sovereignty and international law.”  His version of respect for international law has been embraced by President Biden who strongly advocates “freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”

Please click on: Drone Strikes, Torture, and Blowback


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  1. Of Johnson’s book we read:

    Now with a new and up-to-date Introduction by the author, the bestselling account of the effect of American global policies, hailed as “brilliant and iconoclastic” (Los Angeles Times)

    The term “blowback,” invented by the CIA, refers to the unintended results of American actions abroad. In this incisive and controversial book, Chalmers Johnson lays out in vivid detail the dangers faced by our overextended empire, which insists on projecting its military power to every corner of the earth and using American capital and markets to force global economic integration on its own terms. From a case of rape by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa to our role in Asia’s financial crisis, from our early support for Saddam Hussein to our conduct in the Balkans, Johnson reveals the ways in which our misguided policies are planting the seeds of future disaster.

    In a new edition that addresses recent international events from September 11 to the war in Iraq, this now classic book remains as prescient and powerful as ever.[]


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.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.