Around 6.40am on Feburary 19, a United States Border Patrol agent shot and killed Jesus Flores Cruz, a 41-year-old Mexican national, four miles east of the Otay Mesa port of entry to the US in southern San Diego.
Employing what has become an all-too-familiar explanation, authorities said Flores Cruz, an unauthorised migrant, pelted the agent with rocks. Reportedly fearing for his well-being, the agent shot his pistol twice, fatally wounding the alleged attacker.
Two days later, Human Rights Watch released a report on a US drone attack on an 11-vehicle convoy ― a wedding procession ― in Yemen on December 12, last year. The attack killed 11 and wounded 15 other people (including the bride).
Both Yemeni and US officials said the dead were members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a claim the Human Rights Watch report casts serious doubt on.
The killings happened thousands of miles apart, but they share much. Both grow out of the seemingly boundless pursuit for what Washington defines as national security.
Within the US, this quest has led to a ballooning of policing apparatus in the US-Mexico borderlands and within immigrant communities. Abroad, it involves the deployment of US Special Operations forces in scores of countries annually.
Both killings also reflect a pattern of impunity. With the death of Flores Cruz, US Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection agents have killed at least 43 individuals, 15 of them US citizens, since 2005.
An extensive investigation published in December by the Arizona Republic found that in none of the previous 42 cases ― ranging from “strongly justifiable to highly questionable” ― has any agent faced consequences. In other words, there is no evidence of accountability.
Of course, in the case of US drone strikes, Washington kills with more or less full immunity. The US public and almost all elected officials are deliberately kept in the dark.
And given the imperial nature of international legal mechanisms, there is nothing to hold the White House, the Pentagon, or the CIA accountable on the global scale.
As the philosopher Anarchasis observed in the 6th century BC in comparing laws to spider webs, laws catch the weak and poor, while the rich and powerful tear them to pieces.
The ancient philosopher has shown himself to be prophetic in both the US-Mexico borderlands and in contemporary international affairs ― a profoundly undemocratic arena in which the powerful demand accountability of their weaker enemies, while insulating themselves and their allies from prosecution.
That the victims of US state violence ― in both the US-Mexico borderlands and in Yemen ― come from the “Global South” is hardly a coincidence. It demonstrates how life chances are distributed in a grossly unequal manner across the globe .
It shows how deeply “the problem of the color line” persists today ― the global racial divide that African American writer W.E.B. DuBois so powerfully decried in his epic 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk as “the problem of the 20th century”.
The deaths also show the nature of the US empire, one characterised by “invisibility”. It is invisible in the US-Mexico borderlands in that the ill-gotten territory and its population were eventually incorporated and overrun by a settler population. This obscures the original conquest and colonial dispossession ― and the associated injustices that persist today ― and creates a facade of legitimacy.
In terms of Washington’s violence beyond US territory, a variety of factors hide its imperial nature.
These include: the lack of colonies abroad (apart from a small number of arguable exceptions); the heavy US reliance on covert actions; the relatively short-lived nature of US interventions in other countries (when compared with empires of old); and a formal refusal to acknowledge the very existence of a hierarchy in terms of US relations with other countries.
As such, the violence of empire ― an inherently unjust entity ― is seen by empire’s beneficiaries as something else.
For these reasons and more, making visible what is hidden is central to the struggle to put an end to the extra-judicial killings and the associated impunity in the US-Mexico borderlands, Yemen, and beyond.
[Abridged from NACLA.org.]