"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘drone strikes’

YES WE CAN! Obama Administration Affirms Right To Use The Military To Assassinate Americans On American Soil Without Due Process

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm

THE SINKHOLE OF LIBERTYOldspeak: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” -U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s official. You can be killed by the U.S. military on American soil at the whim of the President without due process or any discernible evidence of wrongdoing, suspicion and or accusation from an “Informed, high-level” administration official is all that is required. Never mind that it is a flagrant violation of the Posse Comitatus act. Never mind that it is a flagrant violation of the 5th & 6th amendments to the constitution. Never mind that there is no appropriateness under the constitution and applicable laws to extrajudicial killing as claimed in this executive branch decree. Your rights to freedom from being deprived of  life, without due process of law, have been suspended. With zero oversight from congress, the lawmaking body, that is supposed to represent the will of the people.   How much more will the power of the Unitary Executive be expanded before the people oppose it?”

By Washington’s Blog:

Because America Is a Battlefield In The Eyes of the Government

Attorney general Eric Holder wrote the following to Senator Rand Paul yesterday:

On February 20, 2013, you wrote to John Brennan requesting additional information concerning the Administration’s views about whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.

There’s more to the following statement than appears at first blush:

As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.

Specifically, Holder did not say “we are legally constrained by the Constitution from depriving people of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and from using military force on U.S. soil”.  Instead, he said that the Obama administration was so far abstaining from using a power it already has as a current “policy” decision.

John Glaser notes:

The concluding legal opinion represents a radical betrayal of constitutional limits imposed on the state for depriving citizens of life, liberty and property. Officially now, Obama’s kingly authority to play Judge, Jury, and Executioner and deprive Americans of their life without due process of law applies not only to Americans abroad but to citizens that are inside the United States.

“The US Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.

Holder, along with the Obama administration, is making it seem as if the President’s use of lethal force, as in the drone war, would only be used in circumstances like another impending 9/11 attack or something. Only when an attack is imminent.

But that categorical limitation on the President’s authority to kill depends upon their definition of “imminence,” which we learned from a leaked Justice Department white paper last month, is extremely broad.

The memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, like actual intelligence of an ongoing plot against the US.

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states, contradicting conventional international law.

Instead, so long as an “informed, high-level” US official claims the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” that pose a threat and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities,” then the President can order his assassination. The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”

Holder also insists that in the case of such “extraordinary circumstances,” like another impending 9/11, he ”would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president of the scope of his authority.”

Boy, do I feel comforted.

This is not entirely surprising.  As we noted in December 2011, a top constitutional expert confirmed that Obama was claiming the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil.   We reported that month:

For more than a year and a half, the Obama administration has said it could target American citizens for assassination without any trial or due process.

But now, as shown by the debates surrounding indefinite detention, the government is saying that America itself is a battlefield.

AP notes today:

U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.

***

The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson … said U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States.

Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

The courts in habeas cases, such as those involving whether a detainee should be released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, make the determination of who can be considered an enemy combatant.

We pointed out a year ago, the director of the FBI said he’d have to “check” to see if the president had the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil. We reported last October that form Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo – the guy who wrote the memo justifying torture, even of children, which was used to justify torture of innocent people, including children – said that the president has the power to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil in times of war.

And Mother Jones notes:

In a Google+ Hangout last month, President Obama refused to say directly if he had the authority to use lethal force against US citizens. As Mother Jones reported at the time, the reason the president was being so coy is that the answer was likely yes. Now we know that’s exactly what was happening.

It is not very reassuring that the same unaccountable agency which decides who should be killed by drones also spies on all Americans.

Indeed:

You might assume – in a vacuum – that this might be okay (even though it trashes the Constitution, the separation of military and police actions, and the division between internal and external affairs).

But it is dangerous in a climate where you can be labeled as or suspected of being a terrorist simply for questioning war, protesting anything, asking questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supporting Ron Paul, being a libertarian, holding gold, or stocking up on more than 7 days of food. And see this.

And it is problematic in a period in which FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, constitutional law expert professor Jonathan Turley, Time Magazine, Keith Olbermann and the Washington Post have all said that U.S. government officials “were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power”, and even former Secretary of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – admitst hat he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection.

And it is counter-productive in an age when the government – instead of doing the things which could actually make us safer – are doing things which increase the risk of terrorism.

And it is insane in a time of perpetual war. See this, this, this and this.

And when the “War on Terror” in the Middle East and North Africa which is being used to justify the attack on Americans was planned long before 9/11.

And when Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser told the Senate in 2007 that the war on terror is “a mythical historical narrative”. And 9/11 was entirely foreseeable, but wasn’t stopped.   Indeed, no one in Washington even wants to hear how 9/11 happened, even though that is necessary to stop future terrorist attacks.  And the military has bombed a bunch of oil-rich countries when it could have instead taken out Bin Laden years ago.

As I noted in [an analogous context]:

The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

  • If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain you indefinitely until the war is over
  • But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

See how that works?

And – given that U.S. soldiers admit that if they accidentally kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, they then “drop” automatic weapons near their body so they can pretend they were militants – it is unlikely that the government would ever admit that an American citizen it assassinated was an innocent civilian who has nothing at all to do with terrorism.

Read this if you have any doubt as to how much liberty Americans have lost.

Senator Paul told MSNBC:

The response by Holder could lead to a situation where “an Arab-American in Dearborn (Mich.) is walking down the street emailing with a friend in the Mideast and all of a sudden we drop a drone” on him. He said it was “really shocking” that President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would leave the door open to such a possibility.

True … but you don’t have to be Arab-American to get in trouble.

U.S. “Signature Strikes” Ramdomly Kill Thousands Of Unidentified “Suspicious” Muslims: The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Oldspeak: “My Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world. -President Barack Obama, Feburary, 2013. “While four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes. Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered. The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.” -Cora Currier and Justin Elliott. One of these things is not like the other.

Related Stories:

Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

By Cora Currier and Justin Elliott @ Pro Publica:

The nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director has prompted intense debate on Capitol Hill and in the media about U.S. drone killings abroad. But the focus has been on the targeting of American citizens – a narrow issue that accounts for a miniscule proportion of the hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in recent years.

Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period.

The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual.

In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered.

What is the legal justification for signature strikes? What qualifies as a “signature” that would prompt a deadly strike? Do those being targeted have to pose a threat to the United States? And how many civilians have been killed in such strikes?

The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.

“How, for example, does the Administration ensure that the targets are legitimate terrorist targets and not insurgents who have no dispute with the United States?” asked three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in a letter to Attorney General Holder last May.

The legislators sent a second letter in December. Republicans on the committee joined in sending another letter this month. All have gone unanswered, according to committee staff.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently sent his own letter to Brennan asking several pointed questions on signature strikes.

“How do ‘signature strikes’ square with your statement that targeted killing operations are only approved when a targeted individual poses a ‘significant threat to U.S. interests?’” McCain asked, quoting a speech Brennan gave on drone strikes last April.

“How can the Administration be certain it is not killing civilians in areas, like many parts of Yemen and Pakistan, where virtually all men, including civilians, carry weapons?” the letter continued.

A McCain spokesman said the senator had not received a response. The White House declined to comment for this story.

When Obama administration officials publicly address drone strikes, they focus on thwarting imminent threats and targeting Al Qaeda leaders, including U.S. citizens.

Brennan, for example, said at his confirmation hearing that a lethal strike only occurs when “the intelligence base is so strong and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse.” He was talking only about strikes targeting U.S. citizens, not signature strikes.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is now threatening to filibuster Brennan’s nomination until he answers questions on the U.S. citizen issue. And the Justice Department “white paper” leaked to NBC this month outlines the legal rationale for drone strikes, but only in cases when they target U.S. citizens who are also Al Qaeda leaders.

“What about the people who aren’t U.S. citizens and who aren’t on a list?” asks Naureen Shah, a human rights and counterterrorism expert at Columbia Law School. Of the few thousand people killed, Shah notes, “it’s hard to believe all of these people are senior operational leaders of Al Qaeda.”

The hazy history of ‘signature strikes’

The first public reference to a signature strike appears to have been in February 2008, when the New York Times reported a change in drone strike policy, negotiated between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low,” the Times reported.

Over the next few years, they became the majority of strikes conducted in Pakistan, according to media reports citing unnamed officials.

The new policy contributed to an increase in strikes in Pakistan – up to a high of about 120 in 2010 – and also to an increase in the number of low-level militants or foot soldiers killed, according to a New America Foundation analysis.

It’s not clear how much evidence is needed to justify a strike. In media reports, U.S. officials have offered scenarios of signature strikes hitting training camps or fighters who might cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The CIA reportedly uses drone surveillance and other intelligence to try to ensure those targeted are in fact militants.

Other officials, however, have described the policy more loosely – one calling it a “‘reasonable man’ standard.”

Asked what the standard is for who could be hit, former Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter recently told an interviewer: “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40. My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

It is also next to impossible to say which attacks are signature strikes.

The names of militant leaders killed in strikes are often confirmed by officials in news reports. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. knew who was there ahead of the strike. One unnamed former military official claimed last year that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.”

Conversely, strikes in which little information emerges on who was killed could be failed attempts to hit specific individuals. (According to the New Yorker, it took as many as 16 strikes to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.)

The outcomes of strikes are often disputed. In one apparent signature strike two years ago, unnamed U.S. officials told the Associated Press that they had targeted a group that “was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to Al Qaeda, and all ‘acted in a manner consistent with AQ (Al Qaeda)-linked militants.’” The U.S. said about 20 militants were killed. But Pakistani officials said it had been a meeting of tribesmen and villagers provided evidence to the AP that 38 civilians were killed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the attack prompted a debate in the White House about whether signature strikes and strikes on low-level fighters were worth the diplomatic risks.

The pace of strikes in Pakistan has tapered off since 2010, in large part because of deteriorating diplomatic relations with Pakistan, according to Bill Roggio, who tracks strikes for the Long War Journal.

Last spring the U.S. reportedly expanded signature strikes to Yemen, though administration officials said there were stricter standards than in Pakistan and evidence of a threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests was required. Officials referred to the attacks with a new phrase, “Terror Attack Disruption Strikes.”

That tighter standard is reportedly also part of the Obama administration’s new guidelines for the targeted killing program. (The CIA’s strikes in Pakistan will be exempt from any new rules for at least another year, according to the Washington Post.)

The legal debate

Brennan was asked about signature strikes last April but sidestepped the question. He replied: “You make reference to signature strikes that are frequently reported in the press. I was speaking here specifically about targeted strikes against individuals who are involved.”

He continued that “everything we do, though, that is carried out against Al Qaeda is carried out consistent with the rule of law, the authorization on the use of military force, and domestic law… that’s the whole purpose of whatever action we use, the tool we use, it’s to prevent attack [sic] and to save lives.”

The idea of killing members of an enemy force without knowing their identities isn’t itself controversial.

“In a traditional conflict, there is no requirement that you know every single person’s identity before you strike, so long as there are reasonable grounds for determining that the target is part of the enemy force,” said Jennifer Daskal, a professor at Georgetown Law School and a former attorney in the Justice Department during the first Obama administration.

But legal observers hotly debate the bounds of the drone war, and who qualifies as a member of the enemy force. “In the conflict with a clandestine enemy like Al Qaeda, that determination is much harder,” said Daskal.

While President Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to be more transparent about drone policy, the administration appears to maneuvering to avoid sharing additional information with Congress.

According to the New York Times, the administration may opt to share information on last year’s Benghazi attack with Republican senators to avoid revealing any more legal memos on the drone war to Democratic senators.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has said that her committee reviews videos of strikes.But she also recently said that the committee has long sought all of the legal opinions on drone strikes – and that the administration has withheld most of the opinions.

Assassin-In-Chief: Secret “Kill List”, Drone Strikes & Covert Wars Significantly Expanded Under Obama

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Oldspeak:”Assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the President. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, The president alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out. can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.” -Tom Engelhardt. More failed, murderous and counterproductive atrocity worthy Bush-era terrorism policy expanded, unfettered and completely unaccountable to anyone but Barack Obama. While corporate sponsored sheeple ring their hands over psuedo-divisive and sensationalized “issues” like gay marriage, Our president has done away with 5th amendment right not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Everyone in a “strike zone” is civilian or not, designated as a “combatant” or “militant” and is thus subject to summary execution at the whim of the President. The U.S.homeland has been designated as a “battleground”, and the military is allowed to operated here. Unmanned drones are watching us from U.S. skies right now. Protestors are classified as “low-level terrorists”. What happens when the “terrorist threat” from within becomes greater than that from without? As we’ve seen from the brutality of responses to Occupy Wall Street Protests nation-wide by hyper-militarized and aggressively trained police forces, whatever happens ain’t pretty. Protestors homes have been raided, and they’ve been arrested, detained, and charged with terrorism BEFORE THEY EVEN ACTUALLY PROTEST. Pre-crime is now prosecutable.All the elements are in place to facilitate a rapid transition to a fully formed totalitarian state. I highly recommend you read the NY Times propaganda piece before you read the articles below. “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Stories:

Hope Burning

Obama Expands Secret Wars Across The Globe

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch.com:

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they — and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self — are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded exponentially.  Moreover, that article was based largely on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.”  In other words, it was essentially an administration-inspired piece — columnist Robert Scheer calls it “planted” — on a “secret” program the president and those closest to him are quite proud of and want to brag about in an election year.

The language of the piece about our warrior president was generally sympathetic, even in places soaring.  It focused on the moral dilemmas of a man who — we now know — has personally approved and overseen the growth of a remarkably robust assassination program in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan based on a “kill list.” Moreover, he’s regularly done so target by target, name by name.  (The Times did not mention a recent U.S. drone strike in the Philippines that killed 15.)  According to Becker and Shane, President Obama has also been involved in the use of a fraudulent method of counting drone kills, one that unrealistically deemphasizes civilian deaths.

Historically speaking, this is all passing strange.  The Times calls Obama’s role in the drone killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.”  And that’s accurate.

It’s not, however, that American presidents have never had anything to do with or been in any way involved in assassination programs.  The state as assassin is hardly unknown in our history.  How could President John F. Kennedy, for example, not know about CIA-inspired or -backed assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and South Vietnamese autocrat (and ostensible ally) Ngo Dinh Diem? (Lumumba and Diem were successfully murdered.)  Similarly, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the CIA carried out a massive assassination campaign in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix.  It proved to be a staggeringly profligate program for killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, both actual enemies and those simply swept up in the process.

In previous eras, however, presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability about the acts.  We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisors, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief.

Religious Cult or Mafia Hit Squad?

Here’s a believe-it-or-not footnote to our American age.  Who now remembers that, in the early years of his presidency, George W. Bush kept what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward called “his own personal scorecard for the war” on terror?  It took the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world’s most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out by Bush once captured or killed. That scorecard was, Woodward added, always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

Such private presidential recordkeeping now seems penny-ante indeed.  The distance we’ve traveled in a decade can be measured by the Times’ description of the equivalent of that “personal scorecard” today (and no desk drawer could hold it):

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases, and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by [counterterrorism ‘tsar’ John O.] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name.”

In other words, thanks to such meetings — on what insiders have labeled “terror Tuesday” — assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president.  Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out.

He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. He can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.

In the process, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the president has shredded the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing Americans that they will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a secret memo claiming that, while the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantee does apply to the drone assassination of an American citizen in a land with which we are not at war, “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”  (That, writes Greenwald, is “the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime.”)  In other words, the former Constitutional law professor has been freed from the law of the land in cases in which he “nominates,” as he has, U.S. citizens for robotic death.

There is, however, another aspect to the institutionalizing of those “kill lists” and assassination as presidential prerogatives that has gone unmentioned.  If the Times article — which largely reflects how the Obama administration cares to see itself and its actions — is to be believed, the drone program is also in the process of being sanctified and sacralized.

You get a sense of this from the language of the piece itself.  (“A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan…”)  The president is presented as a particularly moral man, who devotes himself to the “just war” writings of religious figures like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and takes every death as his own moral burden.  His leading counterterrorism advisor Brennan, a man who, while still in the CIA, was knee-deep in torture controversy, is presented, quite literally, as a priest of death, not once but twice in the piece.  He is described by the Times reporters as “a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama.”  They then quote the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, saying, “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

In the Times telling, the organization of robotic killing had become the administration’s idée fixe, a kind of cult of death within the Oval Office, with those involved in it being so many religious devotees.  We may be, that is, at the edge of a new state-directed, national-security-based religion of killing grounded in the fact that we are in a “dangerous” world and the “safety” of Americans is our preeminent value.  In other words, the president, his apostles, and his campaign acolytes are all, it seems, praying at the Church of St. Drone.

Of course, thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

How far we’ve come in just two presidencies!  Assassination as a way of life has been institutionalized in the Oval Office, thoroughly normalized, and is now being offered to the rest of us as a reasonable solution to American global problems and an issue on which to run a presidential campaign.

Downhill All the Way on Blowback Planet

After 5,719 inside-the-Beltway (largely inside-the-Oval-Office) words, the Times piece finally gets to this single outside-the-Beltway sentence: “Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.”

Arguably, indeed!  For the few who made it that far, it was a brief reminder of just how narrow, how confining the experience of worshiping at St. Drone actually is.  All those endless meetings, all those presidential hours that might otherwise have been spent raising yet more money for campaign 2012, and the two countries that have taken the brunt of the drone raids are more hostile, more dangerous, and in worse shape than in 2009.  (And one of them, keep in mind, is a nuclear power.)  News articles since have only emphasized how powerfully those drones have radicalized local populations — however many “bad guys” (and children) they may also have wiped off the face of the Earth.

And though the Times doesn’t mention this, it’s not just bad news for Yemen or Pakistan.  American democracy, already on the ropes, is worse off, too.

What should astound Americans — but seldom seems to be noticed — is just how into the shadows, how thoroughly military-centric, and how unproductive has become Washington’s thinking at the altar of St. Drone and its equivalents (including special operations forces, increasingly the president’s secret military within the military). Yes, the world is always a dangerous place, even if far less so now than when, in the Cold War era, two superpowers were a heartbeat away from nuclear war.  But — though it’s increasingly heretical to say this — the perils facing Americans, including relatively modest dangers from terrorism, aren’t the worst things on our planet.

Electing an assassin-in-chief, no matter who you vote for, is worse.  Pretending that the Church of St. Drone offers any kind of reasonable or even practical solutions on this planet of ours, is worse yet.  And even worse, once such a process begins, it’s bound to be downhill all the way.  As we learned last week, again in the Times, we not only have an assassin-in-chief in the Oval Office, but a cyberwarrior, perfectly willing to release a new form of weaponry, the most sophisticated computer “worm” ever developed, against another country with which we are not at war.

This represents a breathtaking kind of rashness, especially from the leader of a country that, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on computer systems, opening the U.S. to potentially debilitating kinds of future blowback.  Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry and it’s hit the highway at 140 miles per hour without a cop in sight.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the rest of them knew war, and yet were not acolytes of the eighteenth century equivalents of St. Drone, nor of presidents who might be left free to choose to turn the world into a killing zone.  They knew at least as well as anyone in our national security state today that the world is always a dangerous place — and that that’s no excuse for investing war powers in a single individual.  They didn’t think that a state of permanent war, a state of permanent killing, or a president free to plunge Americans into such states was a reasonable way for their new republic to go.  To them, it was by far the more dangerous way to exist in our world.

The founding fathers would surely have chosen republican democracy over safety.  They would never have believed that a man surrounded by advisors and lawyers, left to his own devices, could protect them from what truly mattered.  They tried to guard against it.  Now, we have a government and a presidency dedicated to it, no matter who is elected in November.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.

Pentagon Working With FAA To Open U.S. Airspace To Combat Drones

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Oldspeak:”The FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating these drones, which are being eyed by law enforcement and private business to provide aerial surveillance.” Yes because, law enforcement  and ‘private businesses’ need “Global Hawks”, “Reapers”, and “Predator” drones to perpetually surveil anything, anyone and anywhere they like. The Pentagon gets paid to rent out its front-line, state of the art, military-grade surveillance and targeted assassination drones to local law enforcement and private corporations.  When you understand that the national crime rate is at its lowest rate since the 1970s, and at the same time America locks up more of its citizens than any nation on earth, you have to wonder: WHY? Why does the Corporatocracy get to surveil us with combat drones when ever they want for as long as they want, without our knowledge?  There has been no act of congress or provision in the constitution made for this. Thus it is blatant violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, yet it passes as with barely a stir in corporate media. Meanwhile propaganda campaigns have succeeded in normalizing and generating favorable opinions of drone strike on American citizens. When you consider the fact that nearly 80% of Americans “think the use of targeted killing against American citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism is justified.” You see how frighteningly effective propaganda is with asserting control over the public mind. One only has to be SUSPECTED of terrorism, no substantiated evidence need be provided. Suspicion suffices. O_0 80% of Americans have been lulled into meekly relinquishing their civil liberties: due process, trial by jury, freedom of speech, right to petition, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. All as a result of a concentrated and relentless campaign of fear of the current “Emmanuel Goldstein”; “Muslim Extremists/Terrorists”. That fear is also being directed at “Domestic Extremists/Terrorists” as well.  Basically, we’re supposed to accept as true everyone that doesn’t assent to a “Western Style” Globo-imperialistic Cultural, Political, and Economic, and Environmental Hegemony based-system, is ostensibly a threat. And as we’ve seen with Daniel Manning, Julian Assange, Anwar Al-Alaki, and countless other ‘undesirables’ you’ve probably never heard of, the corporocrats have a myriad of ways to eliminate threats, up to and including summary execution. These drones continue to kill untold numbers of rarely mentioned civilians in a number of foreign countries around the world prosecuting the bogus “War On Terror”. What is there really to keep them from being turned on civilians in this country? The Ministry of Truth is in rare form.” “Ignorance Is Strength.” “War Is Peace.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug…

15 years late, but no less precient….

Related Stories:

Unmanned Drones Fly Through Congress To Patrol U.S. Skies

America’s Secret Empire Of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed For The First Time

U.S. Conducts Targeted Killings With Predator Drones In Somalia

Obama Activates Robot Army: U.S. Flying Armed Predator Drones Over Libya

Obama’s Predator joke—no laughing matter: Faisal Shahzad witnessed drone strikes in Pakistan

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

By W.J. Hennigan @ Los Angeles Times

With a growing fleet of combat drones in its arsenal, the Pentagon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to its robotic aircraft.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the military says the drones that it has spent the last decade accruing need to return to the United States. When the nation first went to war after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the military had around 50 drones. Now it owns nearly 7,500.

These flying robots need to be shipped home at some point, and the military then hopes to station them at various military bases and use them for many purposes. But the FAA doesn’t allow drones in national airspace without a special certificate.

These aircraft would be used to help train and retrain the pilots who fly the drones remotely, but they also are likely to find new roles at home in emergencies, helping firefighters see hot spots during wildfires or possibly even dropping water to combat the blaze.

At a recent conference about robotic technology in Washington, D.C., a number of military members spoke about the importance of integrating drones along with manned aircraft.

“The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back,” Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, said at the conference. The Department of Defense “doesn’t want a segregated environment. We want a fully integrated environment.”

That means the Pentagon wants the same rules for drones as any other military aircraft in the U.S. today.

Robotic technology was the focus of the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual program review conference in Washington last week. For three days, a crowd made up of more than 500 military contractors, military personnel and industry insiders packed the Omni Shoreham Hotel to listen to the foremost experts on robots in the air, on the ground and in the sea.

Once the stuff of science-fiction novels, robotic technology now plays a major role day-to-day life. Automated machines help farmers gather crops. Robotic submarines scour the ocean floor for signs of oil beds. Flying drones have become crucial in hunting suspected terrorists in the Middle East.

Drones such as the jet-powered, high-flying RQ-4 Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman Corp. have also been successful in providing aerial coverage of recent catastrophic events like the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Haiti.

The FAA has said that remotely piloted aircraft aren’t allowed in national airspace on a wide scale because they don’t have an adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions.

The FAA does allow exceptions. Unarmed Predator drones are used to patrol the nation’s borders through special certifications. The FAA said it issued 313 such certificates last year.

The vast majority of the military’s drones are small — similar to hobby aircraft. The FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating these drones, which are being eyed by law enforcement and private business to provide aerial surveillance. The FAA expects to release the proposal on small drones this spring.

But the Pentagon is concerned about flying hundreds of larger drones, including Global Hawks as well as MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, both made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway.

And last week Congress approved legislation that requires the FAA to have a plan to integrate drones of all kinds into national airspace on a wide scale by 2015.

The Army will conduct a demonstration this summer at its Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, testing ground-based radars and other sense-and-avoid technology, Mary Ottman, deputy product director with the Army, said at the conference.

These first steps are crucial, said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who co-chairs a bipartisan drone caucus with Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). Officially known as the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, the panel was formed in 2009 to inform members of Congress on the far-reaching applications of drone technology.

McKeon also said he was in favor of moving along the process of integrating drones into civil airspace. This came before he was abruptly interrupted by an anti-drone female protester during a speech.

“These drones are playing God,” she said, carrying a banner that read “Stop Killer Drones.” She was part of a group that wants the end of drone strikes.

Within seconds, hotel security personnel surrounded the woman. She was carried out chanting, “Stop killer drones.”

McKeon, who stood silent throughout the brief protest, went on with his speech.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

America’s Disappeared

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Oldspeak:’With liberty and justice for all”? Not. Never has been. We Americans have rewritten our laws…to make criminal behavior legal….the national drive against ‘terror’ in the United States became an excuse to subvert the legal system, instill fear and passivity in the populace, and form a vast underground prison system populated with torturers and interrogators, as well as government officials and lawyers who operate beyond the rule of law. Torture, prolonged detention without trial, sexual humiliation, rape, disappearance, extortion, looting, random murder and abuse have become…part of our own subterranean world of detention sites and torture centers…Obama has no intention of restoring the rule of law. He not only refuses to prosecute flagrant war crimes, but has immunized those who orchestrated, led and carried out the torture. At the same time he has dramatically increased war crimes, including drone strikes in Pakistan. He continues to preside over hundreds of the offshore penal colonies, where abuse and torture remain common. He is complicit with the killers and the torturers.”-Chirs Hedges

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Dr. Silvia Quintela was “disappeared” by the death squads in Argentina in 1977 when she was four months pregnant with her first child. She reportedly was kept alive at a military base until she gave birth to her son and then, like other victims of the military junta, most probably was drugged, stripped naked, chained to other unconscious victims and piled onto a cargo plane that was part of the “death flights” that disposed of the estimated 20,000 disappeared. The military planes with their inert human cargo would fly over the Atlantic at night and the chained bodies would be pushed out the door into the ocean. Quintela, who had worked as a doctor in the city’s slums, was 28 when she was murdered.

A military doctor, Maj. Norberto Atilio Bianco, who was extradited Friday from Paraguay to Argentina for baby trafficking, is alleged to have seized Quintela’s infant son along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other babies. The children were handed to military families for adoption. Bianco, who was the head of the clandestine maternity unit that functioned during the Dirty War in the military hospital of Campo de Mayo, was reported by eyewitnesses to have personally carried the babies out of the military hospital. He also kept one of the infants. Argentina on Thursday convicted retired Gen. Hector Gamen and former Col. Hugo Pascarelli of committing crimes against humanity at the “El Vesubio” prison, where 2,500 people were tortured in 1976-1978. They were sentenced to life in prison. Since revoking an amnesty law in 2005 designed to protect the military, Argentina has prosecuted 807 for crimes against humanity, although only 212 people have been sentenced. It has been, for those of us who lived in Argentina during the military dictatorship, a painfully slow march toward justice.

Most of the disappeared in Argentina were not armed radicals but labor leaders, community organizers, leftist intellectuals, student activists and those who happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Few had any connection with armed campaigns of resistance. Indeed, by the time of the 1976 Argentine coup, the armed guerrilla groups, such as the Montoneros, had largely been wiped out. These radical groups, like al-Qaida in its campaign against the United States, never posed an existential threat to the regime, but the national drive against terror in both Argentina and the United States became an excuse to subvert the legal system, instill fear and passivity in the populace, and form a vast underground prison system populated with torturers and interrogators, as well as government officials and lawyers who operated beyond the rule of law. Torture, prolonged detention without trial, sexual humiliation, rape, disappearance, extortion, looting, random murder and abuse have become, as in Argentina during the Dirty War, part of our own subterranean world of detention sites and torture centers.

We Americans have rewritten our laws, as the Argentines did, to make criminal behavior legal. John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the CIA, approved drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians in Pakistan, although we are not at war with Pakistan. Rizzo has admitted that he signed off on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He told Newsweekthat the CIA operated “a hit list.” He asked in the interview: “How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?” Rizzo, in moral terms, is no different from the deported Argentine doctor Bianco, and this is why lawyers in Britain and Pakistan are calling for his extradition to Pakistan to face charges of murder. Let us hope they succeed.

We know of at least 100 detainees who died during interrogations at our “black sites,” many of them succumbing to the blows and mistreatment of our interrogators. There are probably many, many more whose fate has never been made public. Tens of thousands of Muslim men have passed through our clandestine detention centers without due process. “We tortured people unmercifully,” admittedretired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “We probably murdered dozens of them …, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”

The bodies of many of these victims have never been returned to their families. They disappeared. Anonymous death is the cruelest form of death. There is no closure for the living. There is no way for survivors to fix the end of a life with a time, a ritual and a place. The atrocity is compounded by the atrocity committed against memory. This sacrilege gnaws at survivors. Regimes use clandestine torture centers, murder and anonymous death to keep subject populations off balance, agitated and disturbed. It fuels the collective insanity. The ability of the state to “disappear” people into black sites, hold them for years without charges and carry out torture ensures that soon these techniques will become a routine part of domestic control.

Tens of thousands of Americans are being held in super-maximum-security prisons where they are deprived of contact and psychologically destroyed. Undocumented workers are rounded up and vanish from their families for weeks or months. Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them awayin the dead of night as if they were enemy combatants. Habeas corpus no longer exists. American citizens can “legally” be assassinated. Illegal abductions, known euphemistically as “extraordinary rendition,” are a staple of the war on terror. Secret evidence makes it impossible for the accused and their lawyers to see the charges against them. All this was experienced by the Argentines. Domestic violence, whether in the form of social unrest, riots or another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would, I fear, see the brutal tools of empire cemented into place in the homeland. At that point we would embark on our own version of the Dirty War.

Marguerite Feitlowitz writes in “The Lexicon of Terror”of the experiences of one Argentine prisoner, a physicist named Mario Villani. The collapse of the moral universe of the torturers is displayed when, between torture sessions, the guards take Villani and a few pregnant women prisoners to an amusement park. They make them ride the kiddie train and then take them to a cafe for a beer. A guard, whose nom de guerre is Blood, brings his 6- or 7-year-old daughter into the detention facility to meet Villani and other prisoners. A few years later, Villani runs into one of his principal torturers, a sadist known in the camps as Julian the Turk. Julian recommends that Villani go see another of his former prisoners to ask for a job. The way torture became routine, part of daily work, numbed the torturers to their own crimes. They saw it as a job. Years later they expected their victims to view it with the same twisted logic.

Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” declared there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” President Barack Obama, the report went on, is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”

But Obama has no intention of restoring the rule of law. He not only refuses to prosecute flagrant war crimes, but has immunized those who orchestrated, led and carried out the torture. At the same time he has dramatically increased war crimes, including drone strikes in Pakistan. He continues to preside over hundreds of the offshore penal colonies, where abuse and torture remain common. He is complicit with the killers and the torturers.

The only way the rule of law will be restored, if it is restored, is piece by piece, extradition by extradition, trial by trial. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. The lawyers who made legal what under international and domestic law is illegal, including not only Rizzo but Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, David Addington, William J. Haynes and John Yoo, will, if we are to dig our way out of this morass, be disbarred and prosecuted. Our senior military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw death squads in Iraq and widespread torture in clandestine prisons, will be lined up in a courtroom, as were the generals in Argentina, and made to answer for these crimes. This is the only route back. If it happens it will happen because a few courageous souls such as the attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, are trying to make it happen. It will take time—a lot of time; the crimes committed by Bianco and the two former officers sent to prison this month are nearly four decades old. If it does not happen, then we will continue to descend into a terrifying, dystopian police state where our guards will, on a whim, haul us out of our cells to an amusement park and make us ride, numb and bewildered, on the kiddie train, before the next round of torture.

Chris Hedges is a weekly Truthdig columnist and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”


Obama’s Predator joke—no laughing matter: Faisal Shahzad witnessed drone strikes in Pakistan

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 11:45 am

Oldspeak: The president doesn’t seem to understand.  This misguided and grossly inaccurate tactic makes the U.S. less safe. It’s not a game bruh. Pakistani officials estimate some 700 Pakistani civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed by Hellfire missiles fired by drones in attacks ordered by the White House during Obama’s first year in office. The officials indicated that for every alleged Al Qaeda or Taliban figure killed in these remote-controlled assassinations, 147 civilians have died.

By Bill Van Auken
6 May 2010

To the guffaws of assembled media celebrities, President Barack Obama used his monologue Saturday night before the Washington Correspondents Association dinner to joke about using Predator drones, a weapon that has killed hundreds of civilians on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and enraged millions throughout the region.

Obama’s joke was ostensibly aimed at the pop group Jonas Brothers, who were among the large number of show business types invited to the annual affair. The President began by noting that his two pre-teen daughters were fans of the boy band and went on to warn: “…but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I’m joking?”

Like virtually all of the supposed humor employed at such affairs, Obama’s joke was directed to Washington “insiders,” government officials, politicians of both parties and members of the media elite itself, all of whom would know what he was talking about and could generally be expected to find nothing amiss in his remarks.

The Predator drone has become a hallmark of the Obama administration’s bloody escalation of the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan and its expansion across the border into Pakistan.

According to one recent estimate by Pakistani officials, some 700 Pakistani civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed by Hellfire missiles fired by drones in attacks ordered by the White House during Obama’s first year in office. The officials indicated that for every alleged Al Qaeda or Taliban figure killed in these remote-controlled assassinations, 147 civilians have died.

A running tally of reported casualties kept by the web sitepakistanbodycount.org puts the total number of civilians killed since the first known US drone attack on Pakistan in May 2004 at 1,226.

So the butt of Obama’s joke was, in the first instance, the people of Pakistan, whose rage against the drone strikes has fed a wave of anti-American sentiment.

But the joke was not on the Pakistanis alone. Not so coincidentally, the same night that Obama was delivering his monologue, New York City’s Time Square was paralyzed by an attempted car bombing that could have claimed hundreds of lives. According to police investigators, Faisal Shahzad, the suspect arrested in connection with the attempted terrorist act, said he was driven to the action after seeing the bloody effects of the drone attacks during a recent visit to his native Pakistan.

And the joke doesn’t end there. Last month, Obama made history by officially ordering the assassination of a US citizen—the American-born Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki—on foreign soil, presumably also to be executed by means of a Predator missile strike.

The Democratic administration has carried one step further the logic of the Bush White House’s assertion of the right to proclaim American citizens “enemy combatants” and thereby imprison them on executive order, without charges or trial. The Obama administration has arrogated to itself the right to serve as judge, jury and executioner, assassinating US citizens on the president’s sole say-so that they are enemies of the state.

This, presumably, was what Obama’s joke writers saw as “edgy.” Here one is dealing with an American president who has self-proclaimed and—at least within the ruling establishment—universally accepted police-state powers to assassinate innocent civilians as well as US citizens branded as his enemies. To threaten to utilize these real powers against Disney-promoted pre-teen idols was no doubt seen as hilarious.

Involved here is not merely a wildly inappropriate joke, but rather one of those moments that provide an unintentionally revealing look into the real state of political life and culture within Washington’s ruling establishment. From the state apparatus, to a corporate media that acts as its propaganda arm, to the current inhabitant of the White House himself, it is dominated by an atmosphere of brutality and dehumanization in which every crime committed to further the interests of America’s ruling financial elite is justified.

Indeed, just days before Obama delivered his “joke,” legal experts testified on Capitol Hill to the effect that the drone assassinations in Pakistan constitute violations of international law, and that those who order them as well as the CIA operatives, military personnel and private contractors who execute them from air-conditioned cubicles thousands of miles away in the US can be prosecuted as war criminals.

The link between this prevailing political outlook and the brutal 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad exposed in the videotape recently released by WikiLeaks becomes clear, as does the near universal indifference if not outright hostility of the corporate-controlled media to this exposure.

While the most repugnant, the Predator drone remark was not the only revealing element in Obama’s monologue. He allowed that he was disappointed at not having received the Nobel prize for physics—a cynical acknowledgement of the absurdity of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to an American president who not only is waging two wars of aggression, but who used his acceptance speech to proclaim Washington’s “right” to launch new wars wherever it sees fit.

And he quipped that “all of the jokes here tonight are brought to you by our friends at Goldman Sachs. So you don’t have to worry—they make money whether you laugh or not.” Again, the supposed humor stemmed from the cynical acknowledgment of what is. The recently indicted Wall Street firm was Obama’s biggest campaign donor in the 2008 election, and his administration, stacked with former Goldman Sachs executives, from his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, to his chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summer, has diverted trillions of dollars in public funds to bail out the Wall Street finance houses.

The laughter from the media talking heads and celebrities had an unmistakable significance. They all know that Obama’s posturing as an opponent of war and Wall Street corruption is nothing more than a cover for an administration that is pursuing militarist aggression abroad and the defense of big money interests at the expense of the masses of working people at home.

Obama’s remarks provoked relatively little outcry, particularly from the ostensibly liberal and “left” voices in the media. The response was notably muted even compared to the reaction to George W. Bush’s equally repellent “joke” delivered to a similar 2004 dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents, in which he provided “humorous” captions to pictures showing himself searching high and low in the White House. “No weapons of mass destruction here,” read one.

The reference was to the exposure of the principal pretext for the US war against Iraq—supposed “weapons of mass destruction” in the hands of the Baghdad government—as a lie. Then, as now, it was a real insiders’ joke, in that the media itself played an indispensable role in foisting this lie onto the American people and justifying a war of aggression that has claimed the lives of more than a million Iraqis and nearly 4,400 US troops.

Nonetheless, sections of the media—as well as leading figures in the Democratic Party—voiced outrage, however hypocritical, at Bush making light of a war that was already proving so costly, as well as unpopular.

Had Bush been in power and made a joke similar to Obama’s, there no doubt would have been similar indignant (albeit phony) statements from the “life-style” left. But when Obama jokes about killing people with Predator drones—after a year in which he has ordered attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Pakistani women and children and left hundreds more maimed for life—they just shrug it off.

What does this event reveal? The political establishment as a whole, both major political parties and the lapdogs of the Washington media, are utterly indifferent to the sentiments of average working people.

Moreover, no section of this establishment holds any genuine commitment to democratic rights or the principle of social equality. In order to defend the interests of a wealthy oligarchy, all of them are prepared to pursue and to justify criminal policies that are leading the broad mass of the American people into a deepening catastrophe.

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