Posts Tagged Obama

The Dirtiness of U.S. Drone War

Almost 5 years after the spike in U.S. use of targeted killing of people via drone by the Obama administration (thousands have been killed), the United Nations, or rather its special rapporteur Ben Emmerson, has released a report saying these drone strikes by the United States have killed civilians by the hundreds, or more, and should be carried out in accordance with international law.

Anyone wanting a ringing condemnation of how utterly wrong it is for the United States to use killer robots flown from 8,000 miles away, attacking people on the basis of suspected patterns of behavior (a “signature” drone strike) and on the President’s order will read this and be outraged.  The personal stories of family members obliterated in seconds, with only parts to be buried, shock the conscience, as war crimes do.  But let’s speak the truth and call them war crimes, not just cry for “accountability.”

Joining the United Nations in criticizing U.S. drone strikes – to a point – are Amnesty International “Will I Be Next?” and Human Rights Watch, “Between a Drone and al Qaeda“  each of whom issued their own reports this week.  These reports come out just ahead of a debate at the U.N. Friday October 25 on the use of drones, and of the visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif, who told Obama today to end the drone strikes in Pakistan, while no doubt also appealing to him for more military aid.

Kevin Gosztola describes the Amnesty report in Drone Victims Recount Horror of Follow-Up Strikes Launched Against People Rescuing Wounded.  Actual reporting and documentary footage  are beginning to show us the victims.  See Madiha Tahir’s Woulds of Waziristan and Robert Greenwald/Brave New Films Living Under Drones.

I agree with David Swanson, who wrote today in A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized:

Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal.  The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself.  Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.

There is more compelling evidence of the dirtiness of drone war from Brandon Bryant, the former U.S. Air Force drone pilot who quit in 2011 after almost six years on teams carrying out targeted killing and surveillance in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly from drone control consoles at U.S. bases.  He was told that during his 6,000 hours of flight time, 1,626 targets were killed, which made him “sick to his stomach.”  In an interviewed published today in GQ magazine by Matthew Power, Confessions of a Drone Warrior:

In the early months Bryant had found himself swept up by the Big Game excitement when someone in his squadron made “mind-blowingly awesome shots, situations where these guys were bad guys and needed to be taken out.” But a deep ambivalence about his work crept in. Often he’d think about what life must be like in those towns and villages his Predators glided over, like buzzards riding updrafts. How would he feel, living beneath the shadow of robotic surveillance? “Horrible,” he says now.

CNN reports that:

Bryant says that during his time monitoring drones’ cameras and aiming its laser targeting system, he became numb and carried out the job in “zombie mode.”  When he left the Air Force in the spring of 2011 — after nearly six years — he says he turned down a $109,000 bonus to continue operating the drones.

Some children wounded by drone strikes will be in Congress Tuesday October 29 telling their stories, although Shazad Akbar, their attorney, has not been given a visa to come.  We shall see what happens with that testimony, which I hope reaches the people living here, as it will be lost on those in this Congress, Democrat and Republican, who revel in their dirty wars.

I heard David Swanson speak Wednesday in NYC, where he said

The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people.  And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do — such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people.  When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.

Murder carried out by a murderous system.

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Obama Adopting Targeted Killing AND Interrogation on U.S. Naval Ships?

What’s coming out of the Obama administration on its intentions re targeted killing v indefinite detention of suspects is getting more complicated.  Obama, in a stirring defense of empire disguised as something else, told the world two weeks ago at the United Nations

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

Obama’s May 23 speech, the one he was forced to delay because of the Guantanamo prison hunger strike, Obama set out broader parameters for those who could be targeted — as he argued, legally — for killing.  Obama defended broad executive authority to kill targets, perhaps even more widely than he has previously. His speech amounted to an argument for, and announcement of a permanent infrastructure for assassination. As the McClatchy newspaper put it,

“In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed ‘senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces’ plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.

“But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from ‘those who want to kill us’ and ‘terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat’ to ‘all potential terrorist targets.’”

Saturday U.S. forces grabbed one of the FBI’s most-wanted suspects in Libya, abu Anas al-Libi.  The Libyan government, which the U.S. installed through its 2011 “humanitarian intervention” may or may not have been involved, but is now raising protests that the rights of tge prisoner are not being respected, because he’s being interrogated on a U.S. ship away from the reach of Libyan, or international, law.

The Associated Press asks, Did Obama swap ‘black’ detention sites for ships? saying, “Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end.”  Further

“It appears to be an attempt to use assertion of law of war powers to avoid constraint and safeguards in the criminal justice system,” said Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of the civil rights organization’s national security project. “I am very troubled if this is the pattern that the administration is setting for itself.”

John Bellinger in Lawfare notes

Because Article 22 of the Third Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war “may be interned only in premises located on land,” Obama Administration lawyers must have concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Warsame and al-Libi, or that they are not POWs, or that they are not being interned.

Whatever the mix of targeted killing, indefinite detention, or rendition-like interrogations in international waters, the course set by the Obama administration of using “all elements of our power” remains one running counter to international law and due judicial process.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the New York Public Defender’s Office is demanded that, after 3 days, al-Libi, who has already been indicted on charges, get counsel and be brought immediately before a judge, as the law provides.  But,

The first round of interrogations, expected to last several weeks according to US newspapers, will be to extract intelligence. Only after that will he be offered a lawyer and questioned in connection with the case for which he has already been charged.

The process here, of targeted killing, indefinite detention, now mixed with a variant of rendition where the subject is hidden from the legal system while the FBI has a go — is no better, but perhaps more sophisticated, than what the Bush regime practiced.

Note: on October 14, BBC reports that al-Libi is in New York City, to be formally charged in federal court.

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Not a “Good War” — A Disaster in Afghanistan

Thousands of people have been killed by the US in AfghanistanThe U.S. War on Afghanistan — I refuse to call it the “Afghanistan war” because Afghans didn’t start it — is now 12 years old.  Longer than the official American war on Vietnam; it’s gone on half a generation, or more.

In 2001, on October 6 (a Sunday) George Bush announced the attack on Afghanistan.  Some perceived the action as revenge for 9/11, though that was just a pretext for an action Rumsfeld, Cheney and other neo-cons had planned for years.  On the morning on 9/11, Rumsfeld said it was time to “go massive.”  “Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

US destruction went massive, leaving one of the poorest countries in the world, already torn up by an occupation by the Soviet Union, with a brutal civil war between war lords, still impoverished, threatened by continued U.S. domination, Islamic fundamentalism, and the same warlords having been enriched by U.S. billions.

Join our conference call discussion Thursday:

People born after 1990 don’t really remember a time when there wasn’t a US war on Afghanistan. Many people think the war is “over” or “ending” thanks to Obama.

Will it be over in 2014?  What does “over” mean, and have any of the promises the US made come true for the people of Afghanistan?

We’ll talk reality, history, share what people think, and what plans we are making to stop this crime of our government. Register for dial-in info.

We’ve culled the comprehensive section on worldcantwait.net about Afghanistan.  These articles paint a picture that no NATO or U.S. general can successfully cover over with words about “winning hearts and minds.”

Kathy Kelly, Afghanistan: The Ghost and the Machine

Glenn Greenwald, Another Afghan Family Extinguished by a NATO Airstrike

Kevin Gosztola, Reflecting on the Afghanistan War Logs Released by WikiLeaks

Larry Everest, Made in America: The Gardez Massacre

Gareth Porter, U.S. Night Raids Killed Over 1,500 Afghan Civilians in Ten Months

Dennis Loo, Afghanistan: When is “Withdrawal” an “Enduring Presence”?

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The United Nations… of Drones?

This week World Can’t Wait joins kNOwdrones.com and Granny Peace Brigade in ambitious outreach across Manhattan to protest U.S. drones for warfare & surveillance.  We have 3 replica drones and volunteers of all ages.  We talk about how drones are used in targeted killing.  Each lunch hour we’re in key parts of the city, talking to people about why secret, dirty, wars employing horrific technology should be opposed.  The campaign, which is being launched while the U.N. General Assembly meets here in NYC, includes a demand for a world ban on weaponized and surveillance drones.

Protesting drone war at the UN

Protesting drone war and surveillance at the U.N. this week

The outrageous use of drones by the U.S. is in news this week, as the U.N. meets:

Baraa Shiban, an investigator for Reprieve who was returning from Yemen to the U.K. was detained at the airport under the infamous British Anti-Terrorism Act, questioned by an un-named suited interrogator.  He recounts in The Guardian

“So,” he asked, “does your organisation have anything to do with terrorism in Yemen?”

I replied, “My organisation addresses counter-terrorism abuses inside the country.”

“Exactly!” He said. “Why doesn’t your organisation do something about the terrorism that happens in your country, instead of focusing on the counter-terrorism abuses?”

What could I reply? Of course I oppose terrorism. But I also oppose the secret air war in my country – waged by the US, apparently with covert support from the UK and others. The drone war in my homeland has claimed innocent lives and terrorised civilians. It operates wholly outside the law, and serves only to fuel anti-western sentiment.

These are considered views. I formed them in conversations with dozens of witnesses, victims, and officials across Yemen. I was not about to apologise for them to this interrogator.

Glenn Greenwald tied this to NSA documents UK detention of Reprieve activist consistent with NSA’s view of drone opponents as ‘threats’ and ‘adversaries’

Top secret US government documents obtained by the Guardian from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”.

Excerpts of those documents, straight from the horses’ mouths, are published by The Guardian.  My friend John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post reporter, nailed the role of ruling-class media in fostering the actual government propaganda campaign against drone critics by the un-named government sources in Why is the New York Times enabling a U.S. government smear campaign against reporters exposing the drone wars?

There is great concern that U.S. pressure will affect the report coming on October 25 from Ben Emmerson, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism.  Substantial evidence has been presented to Emmerson that this secret program is extensive and dangerous to Yemenis. From Alkarama, the Swiss human rights organization: “Drones War in Yemen”: Report presented to UN experts:

From the first air strike in November 2002 until the month of May 2013, there have been between 134 and 226 U.S. military operations in Yemen, including strikes by aircraft, drone missiles, or attacks launched from warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden. The number of deaths due to these targeted killings is estimated at 1150.

…not only is the definition of ‘terrorist’ or ‘combatant’ problematic but these high-profile targets in fact only represent 2% of the individuals who have died because of these ‘targeted’ air strikes.

In more repression of those working to expose the drones, Shazad Akbar, a Pakistani attorney who works with Reprieve to expose the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, and seeks reparations for its victims, has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. to testify at a hearing convened by U.S. Representative Alan Grayson about drone killings.  In Obama administration blocks drone victims’ lawyer from testifying in congress, Akbar says:

Failing to grant me a visa silences the 156 civilian drone strike victims and families that I represent. These families, who have lost children, parents, and siblings, are now trying through legal means to achieve justice. They have powerful stories to tell in their own voices, but will not travel without me, their legal representative.”

Robert Greenwald just produced a short film which focuses on one of the families Akbar represents, and who would come along to the U.S. to testify in Congress if the visa is granted to him.

Greenwald says you can help get Mr. Akbar into the country (as our protests did in 2012):

  1. Call the State dept. directly at 202-647-4000
  2. Follow up with an email demanding the State Dept. issue a visa for Shahzad

Importantly, the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has a huge new project: “Naming the Dead” — those killed by CIA drones in Pakistan. The project (thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead) will list the known names of those reported killed by drones together with as much biographical information as can be gathered.

No one who pays any attention to world news can say they don’t know, now, about the US secret drone war of targeted killing.  Our mission is to ignite outrage among people in whose name this illegitimate, unjust, immoral enterprise is conducted.

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American President Embraces American Empire

Wrapped in some benign sounding words about prosperity, peace, and “shifting from a perpetual war footing,” the core of Barack Obama’s message to the United Nations yesterday made clear that if the U.N. doesn’t pass a resolution the U.S. wants against Syria, he still could execute a strike.

Here’s the take-home:

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

Jeremy Scahill reacted somewhat as I did on hearing it yesterday:

You have this democratic president who won the Nobel Peace Prize who then goes and stands in front of the United Nations and basically stakes out a neo-con vision of American foreign policy and owns it and kind of wraps it in this cloak of democratic legitimacy. I think when we look back at Obama’s legacy, this is going to have been a very significant period in U.S. history where the ideals of very sort of radical right wing forces were solidified and continued under Mr. Constitutional Law Professor, Nobel Peace Prize Winner. It is really kind of devastating what is going on right now and I think if you take the long view of it or you step back and look at it and don’t just see the trees but look at the forest, President Obama has been a forceful, fierce defending of empire and I think that is going to be the enduring legacy of his presidency is that he was an empire president.

Scahill’s film Dirty Wars comes out on DVD October 15.

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Listen Up: The Crisis In and About Syria is Not Over

Bay Area Protest

The report from the United Nations seems to indicate a large amount of deadly gas was aimed at Syrian civilians on August 21.  The U.S. has already concluded the gas came from the Assad government, and not the rebels.  If that is true, by what authority does the U.S. claim the right to bomb Syrian civilians in the name of stopping chemical weapons?  Or keep arming rebels in Syria or the military in Egypt?

Larry Everest says this crisis is not really about chemical weapons, but about global aims of the U.S. in the region in Syria: Diplomacy… and Ongoing Danger of a U.S. Attack

The tyrannical, murderous regime of a small, oppressed country is being forced under threat of bombardment to partially disarm by reactionary powers with far, far, far greater arsenals of death and destruction—including nuclear weapons that are qualitatively more savage and dangerous than chemical weapons—precisely in order to preserve their monopoly over these weapons of cataclysmic death and destruction…The Obama team may be calculating that because it lacks any good or easy options in Syria, striking this deal can be to its advantage, including because by appearing to “give peace a chance” it can build greater support for a possible military assault later if that is deemed necessary.

Everest does not say that any one course has already been determined, is inevitable, or without grave risk for the U.S. war planners.  It’s very worth watching Everest speak last week, just before Obama’s speech and the announcement of “negotiations.”

Dennis Loo, in a 2 part series, looks at what scenarios the U.S. may be considering re Syria and Iran in Syria: Jubilation is Unwarranted:

Obama has not suddenly found his Nobel Peace Prize persona and people should not jettison their hard won disillusionment for what he has done since being elected president in 2008.

This is the same Obama who proposed bombing Syria irrespective of Congress, irrespective of international law, the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the UN Charter..

Negotiations and “peace” agreements are all part of the arsenal of weapons that Empires use to get what they want. And what the U.S. Empire wants is not really the disarming of Assad’s chemical weapons but the removal of Assad from office. As reactionary as Assad is (very), he has become an obstacle to (especially) U.S. and Israel’s plans for the region.

In part 2, Dennis quotes Zbigniew Brezezinsky (who was National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter and “author of the U.S. policy of backing the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989. This policy gave birth to al-Qaeda whose revenge for having the rug pulled out from under them after the U.S. got what it wanted with the Russian withdrawal is most spectacularly known as 9/11.”):

I think the problem with Syria is its potentially destabilizing and contagious effect—namely, the vulnerability of Jordan, of Lebanon, the possibility that Iraq will really become part of a larger Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict, and that there could be a grand collision between us and the Iranians. I think the stakes are larger and the situation is far less predictable and certainly not very susceptible to effective containment just to Syria by American power.

It’s imperative we step back from assumptions that this crisis is about chemical weapons, just about Syria or regime change there, or… that it’s over.

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US Prison at Bagram: Guantanamo, But with Less Rights

Amantullah, photo by Alixandra Fazzina

Amantullah, a prisoner at Bagram. Photo by Alixandra Fazzina, from The New Yorker.

Estimates are that the United States has detained many thousands of men since 2011 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Of course, that’s mostly a guess, because they can only be identified when families report them missing.  Tina M. Foster and her colleagues with the International Justice Network (ijnetwork.org) have been fighting for years now, for a very basic right for these prisoners: habeas corpus.

So far, they’ve been unsuccessful at getting any relief, because the Obama administration holds to the Bush regime’s claim that because the prison is in a (U.S. created) war zone, the prisoners cannot be charged or allowed legal defense, presumably until the war is declared ended.

Monday September 16, Tina and colleagues were back in federal court representing three men who are non-Afghans, grabbed by U.S. forces elsewhere and brought to the prison at Bagram.  One was 14 years old, and is still in custody at 19.

Scotusblog captured some of the argument yesterday:

With the U.S. seeking to end its active military involvement in the Afghan war by the end of next year, Swingle repeated the government’s recent claim that it “wants to get out of the detention business” at Bagram.   Some of the lawyers for the detainees, however, argued that there is no assurance that the U.S. military would free any of those it is holding there even after the main U.S. military force had departed.  The U.S. has built a new prison facility on the air base, and that may not be closed down, according to New York attorney Tina M. Foster, who represents three non-Afghan detainees.

Eric L. Lewis, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for a Pakistani national, named Amanatallah, joined Foster in pleading for habeas rights for the Bagram non-Afghan prisoners.   His client, Lewis said, was actually captured by British forces in Iraq, and the U.S. military had no reason to ship him to Afghanistan other than to try to keep him out of reach of U.S. courts.

The third lawyer on the detainee side, John J. Connolly of Baltimore, brought into Tuesday’s discussion a plea for special favorable consideration of the plight of minors who get caught up in the war on terrorism.   His client, Hamidullah, a Pakistani, was only fourteen years old when he was captured.  Government lawyer Swingle, in countering Connolly’s argument, contended that the important fact is that Hamidullah is now nineteen years old, and that is what counts in judging the legality of his detention.

Eric Lewis wrote in The New Yorker, in a piece titled Kafka in Bagram that his client is

a Pakistani citizen, a rice merchant, from a village outside Faisalabad. In 2004, he went on a business trip to Iran (which imports rice from Pakistan) and crossed into Iraq to visit Shia shrines. We know that he disappeared and was not heard from for ten months, when his family learned that he had been detained by British forces in Iraq, handed over to American troops, and then flown to Afghanistan and jailed at Bagram. We know that he was registered originally under the wrong name, suggesting that this may be a case of mistaken identity. We know that, for nine years, he has been prohibited from speaking to a lawyer and permitted only a few telephone calls from his family. He has five children who have not seen him for nine years.

Why was Amanatullah brought to Afghanistan? Rendition of a prisoner from his place of capture to a third country is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as is rendering someone to a war zone. Surely, there were plenty of places to detain him in Iraq. And there was a well-worn route for prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo Bay. Again, the government will not say.

U.S. attorney Swingle argued that releasing Hamidullah would “encourage others to lie about their age

Connolly refuted the US claim that his client was a soldier at all.  U.S.: Releasing child soldiers would encourage others to lie about age:

John Connolly, an attorney for the detainees, told the panel that because of a lack of information from officials at Bagram, “we have no evidence that [Khan] was a child soldier.”

The only thing Connolly said he knew for sure was that Khan “was a child.”

International law says using a child under the age of 15 as a soldier is a war crime, the attorney said, so the United States can assert jurisdiction in Khan’s case.

The United States should release all detainees under 18 (including those arrested when they were children) in Guantanamo and Bagram; release those men who have never been charged, and allow the others legal representation.

Most essentially, the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan now, not vaguely in 2014, and not in 2024, when the current status of forces agreement matures.

Hamidullah was only two years old when the U.S. began this war and occupation.

Witness Against Torture (witnesstorture.org) protesting at the White House.

Witness Against Torture (witnesstorture.org) protesting at the White House. Photo from The New Yorker

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Hello… State Dept? Aggressive War is the Supreme War Crime.

When I asked this week “When did it become appropriate to hold a vote about whether or not we should commit the “supreme international crime”?  I received a comment that

The people who have received your message are probably already convinced of the illegality (or at least immorality) of a US attack on Syria, but efforts to persuade those not yet convinced would be aided by being able to refer to some internationally recognized legal document in which wars of aggression are so characterized and the characterization is explained (because all other war crimes flow from wars of aggression).

Not enough people know the disparity between internationally recognized legal principles and the term “international norms” made up by John Kerry to justify a military strike on a country which has not attacked the U.S.  So, let’s break it down.

The phrase “supreme international crime” comes from a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.  Richard Falk, speaking 60 years later at the World Tribunal on Iraq, gave the history of what the United States had agreed to and enforced as the victor:

The criminal trial of German and Japanese leaders after World War II, the Nuremberg Judgment issued in 1945 was a milestone in this process. The Judgment declared: “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” and although Nuremberg was flawed by being an example of “victors’ justice,” the American prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson, made what has been described as the Nuremberg Promise in his closing statement: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

The internationally recognized document that defines war crimes is the Nuremberg Principles. Aggressive war is listed first in the crimes against peace:

“The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:

(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)

Richard Falk brings the sharp difference up to 2013, when he wrote on September 6 against a U.S. military strike on Syria:

There are four important independent reasons for Congress to withhold authorization in this instance:

–a use of force that can neither be justified as self-defense, nor is authorized by the UN, is contrary to the UN Charter, which is an obligatory treaty, as well as being the most serious type of violation of international law in a post-Nuremburg world; the Nuremberg precedent with regard to crimes against peace (as the ‘crime of crimes’) should be respected, especially by the United States, which continues to serve for better and worse, as  the main normative architect of world order;

–the Kosovo precedent of ‘illegal, but legitimate’ is not applicable as a military attack is not likely to achieve either its political goals of ending the civil war and of causing the collapse of the Assad regime, nor its moral goals of stopping the slaughter and displacement of the Syrian people, and the devastation of their cities and country;

–even if the political and moral goals could be achieved, Congress, as well as the president, lacks the authority to authorized foreign policy uses of force that are incompatible with the UN Charter and international law;

–Congress should defer to domestic and world public opinion that clearly is opposed to a proposed military attack in the absence of an exceptional demonstration can be made as to the positive political and moral benefits of such an attack; for reasons mentioned, no such demonstration can be made in this instance; even the European Union has withheld support for a military attack on Syria at the September meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg; only France among America’s traditional allies supported Obama’s insistence on reliance on a punitive military strike, supposedly for the sake of enforcing international law, bizarre reasoning because the rationale reduces to the following proposition: in view of the political realities, it is necessary to violate international law so as to be able to enforce it.

US war crimes

American “exceptionalism”: Kim Phuc, seen below with then-Sen. Joe Biden, stands in front of the famous photograph of herself as a child, being burned by napalm.

As we know, what is “legal” is not necessarily moral, and vice versa.  In this case, the U.S. has no international law to rely on, thus resorts, as Kerry does, to the relative term “international norms,” i.e. whatever those running the Untied States prefer at any particular moment to embrace.

Most importantly, in the face of illegitimate — and illegal — unjust, immoral plans by the U.S. government to attack Syria, it is up to us to create political conditions where they cannot.  I agree with Mario Venegas, the human rights leader and survivor of the U.S./CIA sponsored coup against the government of Chile 40 years ago, who said Wednesday, that “we are the force that can stop this war.”

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“The U.S. military does not do pinpricks” is NOT “We stopped a strike on Syria”

It is a good thing that thousands of people protested and many more voiced their opposition to a U.S. strike on Syria.  But it’s not good that some are relaxing, much less celebrating, in the delusional idea that somehow diplomacy has “worked” to prevent the Obama administration from going forward with this attack.  It would be very bad if people recede into passivity and acceptance, thinking that the danger of war is lessened, when it could well be higher, as Obama works the world for support.

anti-war protest

Protesting US war on Syria, NYC

Wednesday’s New York Times headline, accurate in this case, said “Obama Delays Syria Strike to Focus on Russian Plan,” while reporting that Obama argued harder than ever for a strike to punish Syria, and didn’t give any timetable for how long he would wait to act, or go back to Congress.  This is not “no war” from Obama.  It’s “let us work on this harder.”

Larry Everest, speaking Monday pre-empted Obama’s assertion that “the world’s a better place” because for “nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security by going into the historical precedent of the plan Bush & Cheney pursued in 2002/03, playing at diplomacy, while ever tightening the vice on Iraq; promising a 90 day war that would end with cheering Iraqis.  It is that disaster which is making a lot of people in this country at least hesitate to say “yes” to Obama.

World Can’t Wait gathered voices of conscience Bob Bossie, Ted Jennings, Kathy Kelly and Mario Venegas to speak out Wednesday morning in Chicago.  I appreciate Kathy’s comment that “anyone who goes along with the idea of a ‘surgical strike’ needs a second opinion.”  Ted & Mario spoke of their support for Obama on some matters, but absolute opposition to aggression against Syria.  The speakers, with experience all over the world on U.S. diplomacy and duplicity accurately assessed that the danger of a US attack is not over.

It would be one thing if the speech was anything but a war-mongering attempt to justify what Obama has planned.  But what a bunch of lies!  Revolution in More Lies for War from the Liar-in-Chief described “libraries full of books, decades of documentaries, and the testimony of hundreds of millions of victims of what the U.S. has brought to the world would hardly begin to reveal the extent to which these are all LIES.”  After citing some of those decades of U.S. actions, it continued

Speaking to a world population that is much more aware than are people in the U.S. of the legacy of U.S. violent crimes around the world, and speaking to (and embracing) the “hawks” in the ruling class and good ole boys watching on TV, Obama put on his stern face, looked into the cameras, and made this ominous declaration and threat:

“Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”

U.S. diplomacy rests on violence and threats of violence, and is aimed at the same ends as violence of enforcing exploitation and oppression, fending off rivals, and keeping people enslaved. If Tony Soprano establishes the freedom to set up and run drug dealing, prostitution, and extortion in a district by threatening to strangle someone (a threat that only means something because everyone knows he actually strangles people), how is that something to celebrate?

Hearing this should make us all more determined to stop this illegitimate strike on Syria, covered by diplomacy, or not.

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No Matter if Congress Says It’s Legal: Attacking Syria is Immoral, Unjust, Illegitimate

Protesting a US Attack on Syria, NYC

Protesting a US Attack on Syria, NYC

While protesting in Times Square Saturday, we listened amid the noise to Obama’s speech of mostly stick, and a little carrot. Some of the protesters took his “largesse” at offering Congress the chance to endorse his plan to attack Syria (the carrot) as a concession by Obama. They say we should seize the moment and “let Congress know” how many people are against this strike and potential regional war.

Congress knows, as they read the public opinion polls too, and there could be an actual political fight in Congress over Obama’s plan, leading to a political damage for his agenda.  But, as John Kerry, the former anti-war veteran turned Secretary of ruling class warmongering said,

“We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action “no matter what Congress does.”

That was the stick of Obama’s message, backed up by his assertion that as Commander in Chief, his military is ready today, tomorrow, or in the near future to strike.

It is true Obama is having difficulty selling the plan of Tomahawk missile strikes narrowly targeted at the Assad regime’s air power, as war-planners, other governments and political observers alike are questioning the inherent unpredictability and dangers Obama’s plan poses.  But is his move toward Congress actually motivated by his respect for the “constitutional democracy” which is how he described the United States?

Larry Everest says in Lies to Justify an Immoral War:

What is going on here IS an exercise in democracy—but it is an exercise in capitalist-imperialist democracy, which is in essence the dictatorship of the imperialist ruling class. The Obama team felt it had the freedom, but also the NECESSITY, given the widespread public cynicism about yet another case of “slam dunk” evidence, yet another U.S. military adventure, and unresolved concerns in the ruling class over where an attack on Syria would lead, to give this speech and launch this process he calls for, along with a need to make a case to an international audience and push allies into line and deal with a complex international alignment of forces.

Dennis Loo describes Obama’s approach in O-bomb-a Syria as an exercise for public consumption:

When governments such as the U.S. decide to go to war, by the time that they announce publicly that they are seriously considering whether or not to launch the missiles and send the ships, etc., they have already behind closed doors decided to commence hostilities. Modern warfare requires months of painstaking, protracted, and laborious military planning and placing equipment and personnel in place. These logistical matters dictate that no government planning to launch aggressive war as the U.S. is doing is doing so only now because all of a sudden they have “discovered” that chemical weapons have been used. They have been placing assets in place for weeks and months ahead of time and drawing up attack plans for similarly long periods of time.

The public show of debating, discussing, and rattling the sabers are a PR exercise designed specifically to win over the public to supporting what the rulers have behind closed doors already determined is in their best interests to do.

I appreciated Glenn Greenwald’s wry take in Obama, Congress and Syria, too, although he doesn’t have the same critique of democracy:

It’s a potent sign of how low the American political bar is set that gratitude is expressed because a US president says he will ask Congress to vote before he starts bombing another country that is not attacking or threatening the US. That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century.

David Swanson goes to an essential, systemic problem, in Caveman Credibility and its Costs, that whatever Congress does, it can’t establish legitimacy for US military action through a mere vote.

If Congress were to say yes, the war would remain illegal under both the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  And if Congress were to say no, President Obama has indicated that he might just launch the war anyway.

If you look at the resolution that Obama has proposed that Congress pass, it doesn’t grant permission for a specific limited missile strike on a particular country at a particular time, but for limitless warfare, as long as some connection can be made to weapons of mass destruction in the Syrian conflict.  The White House has made clear that it believes this will add exactly nothing to its powers, as it already possesses open-ended authorizations for war in the never-repealed Afghanistan and Iraq authorizations, which themselves added exactly nothing to White House war powers, because the president is given total war power through the Constitution in invisible ink that only the White House can see.

The dangers here are obvious in the Obama strike, most especially to those under fire directly.  I don’t agree with putting all our efforts — much less hopes — in Congress.  The main factor in what the US empire is forced to do — whether it’s the talk shop of Congress, or the Commander in Chief — starts with what people living in this country think, and then do, in response to these outrageous war moves.

World Can’t Wait is posting key articles on the U.S. intervention against Syria. We call on everyone to join in mass protest.

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