Obama’s robot assassins

November 19, 2011

The main purpose of US President Barack Obama's November 16-17 visit to Australia was to announce with Prime Minister Julia Gillard the deployment of US soldiers in Darwin, new US air force and naval facilities in Northern Australia and more joint US-Australian training.

As if to dispel illusions he was less warlike than his predecessor, George W Bush, Obama stuck to military themes in his speeches: from endless historical examples of the US and Australia fighting wars together, to anecdotes from today’s battlefields, to the metaphors he used.

The achievements he claimed for his administration were also military: first among them being what he described as bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. This description is inaccurate ― military incursion, abduction and summary execution (dumping the body in the sea) is not a judicial process.

There is compelling evidence that bin Laden headed the organisation responsible for the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour in Yemen. There is no reason why this evidence could not have presented in an open court of law.

Reversing a century of international law, the Obama administration has normalised assassination as an instrument of policy. This was shown by the reaction of his administration to the October extra-judicial execution of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi by the militias installed in power by NATO two months earlier.

US officials up to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton openly expressed satisfaction at his execution without trial, only expressing disquiet after execution videos, complete with graphic torture and buggery scenes, went viral.

It is not just international law that Obama’s assassination politics have overridden. Ignoring US legal and constitutional principles that go back to the 1777 American Revolution, in November last year US government lawyers argued before a federal court that the administration had the right to unilaterally declare a US citizen a security threat and order their assassination.

The government lawyers were responding to a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the father of Yemeni-resident US citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi. They were trying to get al-Awlaqi removed from the US government’s kill list.

On December 7 last year, Judge John Bates dismissed the case on procedural grounds, effectively making the assassination legal. On September 30, the hit was carried out and al-Awlaqi was killed along with six bystanders, the September 30 Washington Post reported.

The ACLU pointed out that day that “al-Awlaqi has never been charged with a crime”. There is no evidence that he was involved in any terrorist operations, although he openly supported anti-US terrorism: he was a propagandist for al-Qaeda.

Wired.com’s Danger Room reported on September 30: “For years, Awlaki has preached al-Qaida’s message in English on YouTube.”

If justifying killing civilians on the grounds of avenging civilians killed by the enemy were consistently a reason for assassination, many mainstream Western journalists and academics, and most politicians, would be marked for death.

The ACLU’s National Security Project litigation director Ben Wizner said: “If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the President does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state.”

The hit on al-Awlaqi was more typical of how the Obama regime carries out assassinations. It used drones, with a CIA or US air force member in the US, probably at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, flying the pilotless aircraft, and firing its missiles, by remote control.

Most assassinations by drones have taken place in north-west Pakistan. Figures published on November 16 by the New America Foundation’s Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative (CSI) showed US drones have killed as many as 2680 people in Pakistan since the start of 2004. Of these, 2254 were killed in the two years and ten months since Obama took office.

The CSI figures state that 2209, or 82%, of those killed were “militants”. However, this uses reporting by the US military whose practice is to count anyone reported killed by a drone as a “militant” unless someone else publicly reveals irrefutable evidence to the contrary, such as the victim being an infant, elderly or female.

The Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Centre said 80% of drone casualties were civilians, the March 19 Pakistani News said.

Explaining how the CIA decides who its drones should kill in Pakistan, the November 4 Wall Street Journal said: “Signature strikes target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known. The bulk of CIA’s drone strikes are signature strikes.”

Even in the more targeted “personality strikes” where specifically named “terrorist leaders” are killed by drones, it is purely the word of the US administration that the named target is a terrorist.

Moreover, it is difficult to carry out assassinations using missile-armed drones without killing bystanders and sometimes killing the wrong people.

Explaining how US drones killed two US soldiers in April, the November 5 Los Angeles Times said: “Three figures, fuzzy blobs on the pilot’s small black-and-white screen, lay in a poppy field a couple of hundred yards from the road.”

US drones in Pakistani skies are actually stabled in secret bases inside Pakistan, with the cooperation of the corrupt and dysfunctional Pakistani military, who also sell their services to the US’s Islamist enemies.

As well as Pakistan and Yemen, the US deploys drones operating in skies over Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya. US drone attacks against Somalia have increased since Kenya’s October 16 invasion, striking targets in coordination with Kenyan forces despite claims by both governments that Kenya’s launched its intervention without US approval or prior knowledge.

Drone attacks against Yemen are also rising. Drones deployed against Yemen and Somalia have been stabled at the US military base in Djibouti. US drones have also been stabled in Seychelles (a nation of islands nation off the east coast of Africa) since 2009, secretly until revealed by US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, the September 21 Washington Post said.

A new drone base has opened at Arba Minch airport in Ethiopia the October 28 Washington Post reported.

During his visit to promote the increased military ties, Obama evoked heroic images of US and Aussie soldiers looking out for each other’s backs. But the US-led military alliance that Australia is tied to is increasingly not fought by soldiers.

A more accurate image to evoke would be a robotic aircraft raining missiles on a village in a remote part of a poor country ― and when it’s all over someone in Nevada goes home from a working day spent looking into a computer screen.

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