Tag Archives: Somalia

SYNDICATED COLUMN: American Drones KIll 28 Innocent People for Every “Bad Guy”

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Not sure what to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend? If you’re American, be thankful there’s no God. Because if there were a Supreme Deity, and His take on personal accountability resembled Judeo-Christian mythology in the slightest, he would smite your oblivious apathetic ass for failing to overthrow a government responsible for something as evil as Obama’s drone war.

Even for the few of us who have been paying close attention to what the U.S. government is doing in Pakistan and other targets of “targeted killing” campaigns carried out by the CIA and Air Force, a new study by the human rights organization Reprieve contains new revelations about drones that are shocking and appalling.

As the UK newspaper The Guardian reports, targeted killings are anything but: “even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls ‘targeted killing’ – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times.”

One example is Qari Hussain, who was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban. A Hellfire missile fired by one of Obama’s Predator drones blew up Hussain on October 15, 2010. To the president, this was a success.

What the White House doesn’t say, however, is there were five previous drone attacks against Hussain. All five failed, killing scores of innocent people. “For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the U.S. killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.”

The 128-civilians-to-one-militant death ratio doesn’t even address the legality of targeting Hussain himself, in violation of a 30-year-old executive order banning political assassinations, not to mention the longstanding American political tradition prohibiting such actions. All drone assassinations are illegal, but the sloppiness of this program is insane.

As the French anti-revolutionary leader François de Charette said at his trial, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Even by the glib standards of such warmongering bastards, however, Obama’s willingness to slaughter countless innocents in his quest to terminate a terrorist needle in a tribal area haystack places him among history’s more bloodthirsty turds.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri has survived two drone attacks that killed 76 children and 29 adults.

According to Reprieve’s analysis as of November 24th, 1,147 people were killed in attempts to kill 41 men.

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise,'” Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve told the Guardian. “But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the U.S. goes after.”

Reading the Guardian report, it’s difficult to know whether to cry for the dead or laugh at the incompetence of American drone operators:

“Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as ‘killed’ on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets. In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive. Available data for the 41 men targeted for drone strikes across both countries indicate that each of them was reported killed multiple times. Seven of them are believed to still be alive. The status of another, Haji Omar, is unknown. Abu Ubaidah al-Masri, whom drones targeted three times, later died from natural causes, believed to be hepatitis.”

That’s what will win the war on terror: dirty water.

As a frequent critic of U.S. government policies, I’ve sometimes worried that Obama might sic one of his killer air robots on me. Thanks to Reprieve, I feel relieved. Even if Obama targets me, after all, it’s likely I’ll be reported killed multiple times while remaining alive and well…while hundreds of random people walking the streets get blown up willy-nilly.

Obama’s remote-control drone murderers are the embodiment of evil in the 21st century: careless, alienated, remote, bloodless. They also symbolize contemporary political culture: arrogant, corrupt and stupid.

Check this out: “A Reprieve team investigating on the ground in Pakistan turned up what it believes to be a confirmed case of mistaken identity. Someone with the same name as a terror suspect on the Obama administration’s ‘kill list’ was killed on the third attempt by U.S. drones. His brother was captured, interrogated and encouraged to ‘tell the Americans what they want to hear’: that they had in fact killed the right person.”

Every single day — even as you read this — American drones are stalking and killing innocent people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. They’re doing this in your name, using weapons systems you paid for. Yet you’re still allowed to walk the earth, totally unsmoten.

Be thankful there’s no God — or that his intel is as lousy as the CIA’s.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Captain Phillips” is a Beautiful Lie

“Cinéma Vérité” as Political Propaganda

Paul Greengrass is a gifted director who specializes in historical reenactments, a once marginal genre that in recent years hits the sweet spot, earning critical plaudits as well as bringing in bank (Greengrass’ “United 93,” Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall,” about Hitler’s final days in his bunker). Greengrass’ latest entry in this field is “Captain Phillips,” a retelling of the 2009 hijacking of a container ship by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks stars in the title role.

Watching this film left me with an uneasy feeling, like I’d digested a delicious meal devoid of nutrition. It was a fun drama. But I didn’t learn anything. Why not?

This is solid Hollywood filmmaking. Tight scripting, sharp editing and unpretentious cinematography deliver a story that keeps you in your seat long after you began having to pee. Hanks delivers one of his finest performances, driving a stake into his rep as an always-playing-himself actor; Barkhad Abdi is a sensational revelation as pirate leader Abduwali Muse.

But what does this film mean? What message does Greengrass convey to his audience?

In random order, here are the takeaways: leadership is tough. Bravery exacts a high cost. In an interconnected world — we watch Phillips email his wife after the pirates’ first attempt to board the Maersk Alabama — it’s nevertheless possible to be alone, isolated and vulnerable. Intermodal transport, an industry in which vast ships carrying thousands of tons of goods are piloted by an unarmed skeleton crew, is surreal. If nothing else, “Capitain Phillips” is worth watching because it opens a window into the lonely lives of the men and women responsible for keeping our store shelves stocked.

Pull out of the multiplex parking lot, however, and you quickly realize the real revelation: “Phillips” is pro-government propaganda.

Greengrass has created the most frightening kind of propaganda — so effective that for most people it will become the definitive historical account of an event. Unlike the hilariously shrill propaganda flicks of the past, from “Triumph of the Will” to Cold War-era artifacts like “Rambo” and “Red Dawn,” the new breed pretends not to editorialize. Affecting a quiet, Zoloft-inflected tone and economical, apparently straightforward scriptwriting, this movie plays it close to the vest, coming off as deadly fair and serious. Which makes it easy to miss what is left out.

This new cinéma non-vérité uses high art to sanitize history in order to elevate the imperialist, militarist geopolitical agenda of the U.S. government in its post-9/11 war on terror.

            Kathryn Bigelow never scratches the surface of Osama bin Laden’s motivations in “Zero Dark Thirty.” He’s just a target, a cipher in a beard, so we don’t care when he dies. Her film is thrilling yet vacuous.

It is far from settled history that United Flight 93 was brought down by the passenger revolt — the 9/11 Commission Report leaves open the possibility that it was shot down. But that would prompt uncomfortable questions. Greengrass’ film, which unquestioningly accepts the “let’s roll” scenario, all but sets it in stone for posterity.

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is devoid of political context, especially the historical basis for the Iranian revolutionaries’ contempt for the United States. Best not to mention the coup, the shah, corruption or torture.

American movies are about choices. Will the protagonist choose right or wrong (and which is which)? In “Captain Phillips,” however, the ethical quandaries rest not on Hanks’ character, who handles his ordeal as courageously and competently as you could expect, but on Abdi’s shoulders. It’s more than a little odd.

“We are just fisherman,” Abdi explains after seizing control of the vessel. Fortunes reverse after crewmen hidden in the engine room capture him and trade him for their captain, who offers them $30,000 in cash and a lifeboat to leave the ship. Disgusted that the Somalis won’t settle for less than “millions” and physically brutalized, Hanks spits “you are not a fisherman!” at Abdi an hour later into the movie.

It’s a puzzling narrative choice. Not only is Abdi’s a supporting role, we don’t see much deliberation. Muse is in it for the big bucks all along. So are his colleagues.

Passing up the obvious chance to use this mother of all culture clashes as a means to discuss race and class, Greengrass has nevertheless succumbed to the hoary colonial instinct to ask, almost out loud, why $30,000 isn’t enough to sate a gang of starvation-thin guys from one of the world’s poorest countries. The closest we get to an answer is a tossed-off aside by Abdi that the fish “left” Somali waters.

The background, mentioned only obliquely in this movie about Somali piracy, is that Somalia’s fishing industry had been decimated. After Somalia collapsed into the sectarian civil conflict in the early 1990s, the absence of a strong central government — coupled with the indifference of the international community — opened a vacuum for opportunists. Foreign trawlers and other vessels dump industrial waste, toxins and even nuclear waste — including uranium — off the Somali coast. Foreign fishing ships use drift nets to steal the fish that survive.

Time magazine reported in 2009 that Somalis turned to piracy after Western ships made it impossible to fish: “A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country’s at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international ‘free for all,’ with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country’s own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country’s coastline each year.”

Desperate Somali fishermen formed vigilante flotillas to go after foreign fishing vessels. Some robbed the poachers at gunpoint. This turned out to be much more lucrative than fishing. Piracy became a $50 million a year industry.

If Abduwali Muse isn’t really a fisherman, he didn’t have that option to begin with.

Postscript: Somalis who still try to fish are harassed, questioned and detained by American warships assigned to the Horn of Africa to deter pirates. (In “Captain Phillips,” this Navy practice is whitewashed.)

Two or three additional lines of dialogue would have enlightened American movie audiences about the complexity of the piracy issue. Exposing the antagonists’ motivations would have made “Captain Phillips” a smarter movie, a tragedy in which opposing forces, neither side evil, are forced into a clash in which at least one side must die. Greengrass gives us all the moral nuance of cowboy-versus-Injun movie.

“Capitain Phillips” is the triumph of suburban schlubs and high-tech military hardware over hollow-eyed black men in rags, horribly unfamiliar with basic oral hygiene.

By the way, if some of the Maersk Alabama’s crewmen are to be believed, Phillips was a lousy captain who imperiled them by skirting too close to the Somali coast. Deborah Waters, an attorney representing 11 crewmen who are suing Maersk, said: “He told them he wouldn’t let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast.”

Maybe, maybe not. Only those who were there know for sure.

Making films is also about choice.

When you make a film based on history, it’s impossible to include every detail. Nor should you try.

Still, basic background facts are crucial to understanding the event being depicted. Omitting or spinning issues (why Somalis resorted to piracy) strips them of context. Deploying a matter-of-fact tone makes these cinematic lies (because the Somalis are poor and greedy) credible.

It is unforgivable to promote America’s we’re-the-good-guys party line at the expense of the victims of the system. (Muse, politically voiceless in this film, is serving 33 years in federal prison.) Dressing up a perversion of truth in pretty lighting, and stuffing tainted dialogue into the mouths of great actors, results in an affront to art as well as history.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: We’re Not War Weary. We’re Suspicious.

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Americans Aren’t “War Weary.” Obama is Just Lazy.

Americans, our pundit class has decided, aren’t going along with President Obama’s hard-on for firing cruise missiles into Syrian cities because they’re “war weary.”

Bullshit.

True, the wars have cost us. At 12 years and counting, the illegal and unjustified U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is America’s longest war. We’ve been in Iraq — following one of the most brazen acts of aggressive warfare in our blood-soaked history — for 10. Eight thousand American soldiers have gotten themselves killed; more than 50,000 have been wounded.  (To conform to the journalistic standards of U.S.-based opinion writing, I shan’t mention the hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis and so on slaughtered by U.S. invasion forces.)

As tragically wasteful as those casualties have been, the price we’ve paid has been low by historical standards. Roughly 700 U.S. combat deaths a year is a drop in the bucket compared to, say, Vietnam (6,000 a year), Korea (12,000) and World War II (100,000). Unlike those earlier conflicts, the post-9/11 war on terrorism has been a remote, irrelevant abstraction to most Americans.

“Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain,” General Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff told members, told graduates at West Point. “But I fear [civilians] do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that just a third of Americans aged 18 to 29 have a direct family member who has served in uniform since 9/11 — the lowest rate in memory.

About 2.2 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq — not much fewer than the 2.7 million who went to Vietnam. The difference is that today’s volunteer military is less broadly representative of American society.

A woman recently introduced me to her brother. “He just got back from Iraq,” she said. “Afghanistan,” he corrected her. His sister! “Thank you for your service,” a man walking told him, without waiting for a reply. The vet’s face hardened. Nobody gets it.

Civilians never did, not fully — but the disconnect was never this big.

“War-weary”? You must first notice something before you can get tired of it.

Until the Syria debate, antiwar liberals like New York Congressman Charles Rangel have been decrying the gap between civilians and the military. His proposed solution? Bring back the draft. Rangel and others reason that if more young people — not just poor, undereducated, underprivileged yokels from the sticks — had “skin in the game,” it would be harder for politicians to start one war after another. “A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war,” Rangel argues. After Obama proposed bombing Syria, Rangel renewed his proposal.

The United States has been at war throughout 90% of its history. I am 50 years old, born a few months before the assassination of JFK; my only peacetime president has been Jimmy Carter. War-weary? Like Orwell’s Oceania, the United States of America is always at war. We love war. War is what America does best, war is what America does most.  War is 54% of the federal budget!

As noted above, there have been relatively few casualties in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Because media coverage has been so sanitized and pro-military, these wars’ gruesome atrocities, the My Lais and napalm attacks — Mahmudiya, Panjwaii, white phosphorus that dissolved people in the battle of Fallujah — have barely been reported, so there have been few Vietnam-type images piped into our living rooms to elicit disgust or guilt. Even the fiscal effects have been deferred; the wars are officially off the books and thus aren’t tallied as part of the budget deficit.

Given how little the current wars have personally affected us, why would we be war-weary?

If Obama doesn’t get his war against Syria, he has no one to blame but himself.

The dude is just lazy.

Think of the list of American wars, just since 1990: the Gulf War, Serbia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, Libya…it isn’t hard to con Americans into a war. Unlike Bush and his warmongering predecessors, however, Obama isn’t willing to do the propaganda work.

These things can’t be rushed. Bush spent a year and a half making his phony case to invade Iraq. Countless speeches, endless bullying, tons of twisted arguments and faked WMD reports.

Obama wanted to go to war four days after the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. How many Americans were even aware of the story? Remember, this was late summer, peak vacation season. First you tear Americans away from the barbecue, then you get to barbecue the Syrians.

As has been widely noted, Obama’s messaging was all over the place, confusing a public programmed to digest its politics in bumpersticker-length slogans and talking points. Allowing yourself to be seen golfing right after calling for war hardly conveys the requisite sense of menace, much less the urgency of an imminent threat.

When JFK wanted the public to sign off on nuclear brinksmanship with the USSR, he went on television with spy plane photos of Cuba’s missiles. Despite considerable evidence that the rebels or a rogue officer were responsible, Obama says he has proof that the sarin gas attack was ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Yet, unlike Kennedy, he won’t pony up the proof. Why not? As Russian President Vladimir Putin observes, that’s crazy fishy: “Claims that proof exists but is classified and cannot be shown are beneath criticism. If the U.S. says that the al-Assad regime is responsible for that attack and that they have proof, then let them submit it to the U.N. Security Council.”

Militarism is our thing, but Americans need to think their enemies threaten them directly before they’re cool with war.

Team Obama admits that Syria is not a direct or imminent danger to the U.S., but that we must attack them as a deterrent to other supposed future possible maybe enemies, namely Iran and North Korea. No dice. Only one in five Americans buys that. If Iran or North Korea is a threat, then attack those countries, not Syria.

Obama’s verbiage is telling: “I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States.”

Could not honestly claim. As opposed to something like this: “Assad’s use of chemical weapons is not an imminent, direct threat, so we have time for a Congressional debate.”

Americans are good at reading between the lines. Another reason — not war-weariness — that Obama might not get his Syria war.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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War on War

What if we devoted a proportional number of financial and other resources to threats other than terrorism?

 

NOTE: My apologies to people who commented on this cartoon post. Due to a glitch in WordPress, I was forced to delete this post and put it back up. Regrettably, in the process, your comments were lost. I always make every effort to avoid this sort of thing, and I am sorry.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Will the Next 9/11 Arrive via Drone?

Aggressive Drone Wars Set a Dangerous Precedent

There’s no denying it: we Americans, we have a lot of nerve.

We love to pick fights, but when someone punches back, man, the whining never stops. And boy, do we love to escalate. Nuclear weapons? We invented the suckers, used them not once but twice – the only country that ever has – the only anybody who ever has – yet we have the balls to slap economic sabotage on the Iranians and North Koreans and smear them as “rogue states” for even thinking about trying to get their own. Which these nations only want – irony alert – because they’re afraid of us.

You know the pattern. We escalate the arms race with some nifty new gadget devilishly designed to kill and maim more efficiently and effectively, then we deploy brute economic and military force (along with wildly hypocritical propaganda about how we’re nice and peaceful and the most trustworthy bunch around) to keep those fancy new weapons all to ourselves for as long as possible. Like cyber warfare. We started it.

The first major state-against-state – completely unprovoked – first strike in cyberspace was the Stuxnet virus unleashed against Iranian nuclear power facilities. A joint American-Israeli effort, it wasn’t enough for us to mess with the Iranians. We had to gloat.

Now it’s drones. Beginning in 2004 with George W. Bush, the drone warfare program against the peoples of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and God knows where else was greatly escalated by an Obama administration marketing itself as a regime ending two wars in public (though not really) while it secretly expands America’s military footprint.

And jokes about it.

Operating as usual in full-on bully mode, the U.S. blithely acts as though it’s entitled to the perpetual exclusive right to invade other nation’s sovereign airspace at will. Rather than assume the dignified posture of silence or the embarrassed sheep business of a kid who got caught in the cookie jar, Obama officials even had the gall to get all sassy and file a formal diplomatic protest after the Iranians shot at one of their spy Predators in November. In a different world, one where Iran had the world’s largest military and was the world’s undisputed number-one arms dealer, the Islamic Republic could have made a credible case under international law for war against the U.S.

In an ideal world – i.e., the kind of society people of goodwill work to create – these devices would be illegal under international law. Like landmines, drones do a lot more harm than good. You’d might as well declare the First Amendment dead and gone now that private corporations, the FBI, CIA, local police and just about anyone else can scan the crowds at antigovernment protests and identify demonstrators with facial recognition software. Who is going to dare to make a radical statement now? As it is, you can’t count on cops not to shoot unarmed African-American men. How many more innocent civilians are going to die due to the faulty judgment of a drone pilot miles away? As the first country to develop drone technology, the U.S. had the chance to keep this genie stuffed inside its bottle; instead, we let the monster loose and told it to run wild.

It doesn’t take a genius military strategist to worry about drone weapons proliferation. The technology is relatively simple and cheap, so cheap that soldiers occupying Afghanistan use throwaway six-pound mini-drones slightly larger than paper airplanes to see what’s around the next mountain.

The FAA is rushing to approve licenses to “tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300,” reports The New York Times, including everything from “remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.” Police departments from Seattle to Gadsden, Alabama have already bought these creepy devices. And it’s now possible for a private citizen to buy his own drone for $300. A peeping Tom’s dream!

It was only a matter of time – not much time – before other countries followed suit. Which prompts two questions.

What’s to stop a hostile nation-state from attacking the United States with drones?

What if terrorists get drones?

Answer to the first question first: Nothing can stop a nation from Hellfiring us. While there are practical and economic barriers to entry that reduce nuclear proliferation, even the poorest nations can develop a scary drone program. Israel and its American ally claim to be terrified of the prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv, but the threat of a conventional weapons attack via drone is really what should be keeping policymakers up at night. Iran unveiled its Shahed 129 drone plane, a device that can fly 24 hours in a row, in September. That’s the one they plan to export. In September an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon successfully took pictures of Israeli military facilities.

The trouble isn’t just the drones themselves. It’s how the United States uses them: aggressively, prolifically, violently and with little concern for legal or diplomatic niceties. “Skip the drone debate, just kill the terrorists before they kill us,” reads the headline of a FoxNews piece by Erick Erickson, one of the Right’s most reliable cretins. But it’s not that simple. When the United States, the first nation to develop and deploy drones for surveillance and military attack purposes, asserts the right to “defend” itself by looking anywhere it wants and blowing up anyone it feels like, including its own citizens and people who have never expressed the slightest desire to attack the United States, it sets a precedent.

“More than 50 nations have or are trying to get [drone] technology,” notes The Times. “The United States will set the standard for them all.” Osama bin Laden said he wouldn’t have hesitated to use a nuke against the U.S. because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian targets. Using the same reasoning as the Obama administration, why wouldn’t the government of Yemen be legally justified to deploy Yemeni drones over American airspace and use them to blow up any Americans or anyone else they felt like?

We don’t hold back. Why should anybody else?

While a nation-state might feel constrained by the international community, its allies or domestic public opinion from attacking civilian targets in the United States, an underground resistance organization would be far less likely to refrain from using drones to make a political statement and/or wage remote-control guerrilla warfare. Even terrorist groups care about PR – but, like bin Laden, they could easily make the case that we have it coming.

Though some commentators – mainly and interestingly, liberals aligned with the Obama administration, which makes one wonder if they’d change sides after a GOP electoral sweep – pooh-pooh the terrorist drone threat, this is one time when the smoke rising from the ashes of buildings in an American city isn’t a remote (no pun intended) possibility created by a fevered theorist but rather an absolute certainty. It isn’t a matter of if we’ll get hit by drones. It’s a matter of when.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Don’t Have the Right to Care

U.S. Drone Strikes Equivalent of Dozens of Newtown Massacres

We don’t have the right to be sad.

We don’t have the right to be angry.

We don’t have the right to care about the 20 dead kids, much less the six dead adults or the one deranged shooter.

Our newspapers don’t have the right to pretend that we are a nation stricken by grief. Our television networks don’t have the right to put the Newtown shootings at the top of the news.

We don’t have the right to gather around the water cooler and talk about how terrible it all is.

Our president doesn’t have the right to express grief or remorse or pretend to be a human being or reference the fact that he is a parent or wipe his eye (assuming he was crying).

Our pundits don’t have the right to use this massacre as a reason to call for gun control. Our Congress doesn’t have the right to use it as a reason to propose a single piece of legislation.

Until we start caring about other people’s dead kids—and their adults—kids and adults made dead by American weapons—we don’t have the right to mourn our own.

Every couple of days, our president orders drone attacks against innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and, no doubt, other places we are unaware of. But we don’t care.

There is no moral or legal justification for a single one of the more than 3,100 murders committed by the U.S. via drones. The guilt or innocence of the drones’ targets is never reviewed by any legal body (the White House won’t even say how they compile their “kill lists“), the dead never have a chance to confront their accusers, and in any case the offed “militants” are not threats to the American people. They are merely political opponents of repressive regimes allied with the United States.

Moreover, the vast majority of the victims are innocent bystanders (by one count 36 civilians per militant), members of the families of the target, or people who simply happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Newtown massacre, so tragic and pointless, would be just another run-of-the-mill, made-in-USA afternoon in the places targeted by America’s campaign of aerial terror. On March 18, 2011, for example, a U.S. drone blew up between 17 and 40 civilians and policemen in the village of Datta Khel in the North Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan. This was part of America’s nasty “double-tap” strategy.

“As the drone circled it let off the first of its Hellfire missiles, slamming into a small house and reducing it to rubble. When residents rushed to the scene of the attack to see if they could help they were struck again,” reported the UK Independent.

Not an accident. Double-taps are policy.

And we’re OK with them.

Drone strikes approved by Presidents Bush and Obama have killed at least 168 children in Pakistan alone.

And in recent months, more than 100 people have been killed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the same area.

And we don’t care.

Actually, that’s not fair. The truth is, we’re pro-mass murder. Barack Obama makes Adam Lanza look like a peacenik, but we love him. A whopping 62% of Americans approve of Obama’s extrajudicial drone war.

Let’s give you, dear reader, the benefit of the doubt: let’s assume you’re one of the 38% of Americans who disapproves of one man acting as judge, jury and executioner of people half a world away, seen through a video feed taken thousands of feet up. The fact remains, you probably don’t lose a hell of a lot of sleep over the drone victims. Which is understandable. You don’t know them. They wear funny clothes. They do live, after all, half a world away.

Which is why reporters don’t cover their funerals. Why the Today Show doesn’t interview their grieving relatives. Why our politicians don’t shed tears (real or imagined) for them. Which is why we don’t ask each other:

“Why?”

Even the Left doesn’t care. Not much. America’s most recent major progressive movement, Occupy Wall Street, focused on economic injustice and corporate corruption. OWS hardly had a word to say about the drone strikes that killed so many children. America’s “liberal” media—NPR, The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.—barely mention them.

Which is fine. We have the right not to care about anything we want. Including dead kids. Even dead kids killed by our missiles. Even dead kids killed by a president we just reelected by a comfortable majority.

Since we have made a collective national decision to be a bunch of coldhearted bastards, however, we have to be morally consistent. And that means not caring about our kids either. Even when they are little, cute, white, and live in Fairfield County, an upscale suburb of New York City where many reporters, editors and other members of the national media reside.

We owe it to the little, cute, brown kids we’re killing in Pakistan. Stop caring about all kids.

“They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” Obama said of the Connecticut victims. That was equally true of the children Obama murdered—some whose snuff videos he watched. It is also true of the children Obama is planning to murder. “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” the president continued.

Not that he cares.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Shoot First, Justify Later

Our Police State Does What It Wants, Then Writes a Memo

Imagine that you were the president of United States. Now think what you would do if you or one of your advisers proposed an idea—a great idea, one that solved a big problem—that was radical to the point of possibly crossing the legal line into unconstitutionality.

You’d want to lawyer that sucker, right? After all, the last thing you would want to do is break the law. You wouldn’t want to be accused of running off half-cocked in violation of your inaugural oath to preserve and protect the Constitution. You wouldn’t want to risk a scandal, an investigation, or even impeachment.

Now imagine that you were a chief of police. Again, imagine that you or one of your officers came up with a great new approach for tracking down bad guys, but that the idea was so novel that you couldn’t be sure that arrests made using your new tactic would hold up in court. What would you do? I know what I’d do: I’d consult legal counsel. You probably would too. You’d want to know where you stood so that you and your policemen wouldn’t get into trouble, and your prosecutions would hold up in court.

Check first, act second. Logical. But that’s not how presidents or cops do things in today’s might-makes-right, do-what-you-feel-like-and-come-up-with-a-justification-for-it-later era.

Case in point: Since 2009 President Obama has ordered the CIA and the military to launch more than 300 drone strikes against people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, killing more than 2500 people–98% of whom were innocent, and the other 2% of which posed no threat whatsoever to Americans. (Obama killed those 2% as a favor to the U.S.-backed dictatorships they were fighting. According to The Times: “For at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the CIA’s success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan.”)

All of these bombings and murders were committed minus the thinnest veneer of legal justification. However, now it has come out that during the final months of the 2012 presidential campaign, when polls showed that Mitt Romney had a chance of winning, Obama and his advisers gathered to begin work on a legal framework for the drone program, a set of rules that would determine how targets are picked.

“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” an Obama official told The New York Times, speaking on condition of anonymity (always a good idea when gossiping about a boss with an itchy drone joystick).

“The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace,” the leaker said.

Obama referenced his retroactive drone legalization project on October 18. “One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making,” he told Jon Stewart.

Two-thousand five hundred dead men, women and children in, and that’s when they start hanging the legal window dressing? Isn’t this the sort of thing Obama should have thought about back in January of 2009? For that matter, shouldn’t George W. Bush, who originated the drone assassinations after 9/11, been required to put forward some sort of constitutional and legal basis before firing missiles at Afghan wedding parties?

You’d think Congress would take an interest in investigating such a radical expansion of presidential power. But no, in what passes for a democracy that’s supposedly protected from extreme behavior by a system of checks and balances and a separation of powers, the legislative branch took no interest whatsoever in a president—make that two presidents—who secretly claimed the right to murder anyone they please, even a U.S. citizen on American soil, without any accountability whatsoever?

This post-9/11 culture of top-down lawlessness has filtered down to local police departments, many of which have begun routinely searching the cellphones of suspects they arrest. During the Occupy Wall Street protests of fall 2011, many activists reported having their smartphones hooked up to police department computers and drained right in front of them, presumably to mine them for contact information and other data.

Phone companies told Congress that they turned over 1.3 million records in 2011 alone to police departments seeking location data, e-mails, text messages, phone records and other data about their customers—i.e., you and me.

It’s easy to see why cops would want to collect as much information as they can from those they deem to be criminals—although, under the system of laws we used to have, suspects are legally innocent until proven guilty—but how can they possibly justify enacting such a radical new policy before first obtaining authorization from the courts?

Most people want to think their political leaders and law enforcement authorities mean well and are using their powers wisely. And that’s what they want us to believe. In January 2012, for example, President Obama described the drone killings as “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” But, according to The Times, the program has broadened into something far more sinister and cynical that few Americans would support. For example, “the CIA and the military have carried out ‘signature strikes’ against groups of suspected, unknown militants…for instance,

young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups.”

Unchecked power runs wild. Cellphones are one example. When New Yorkers file an NYPD police report that their phone has been stolen, the cops routinely subpoena your records beginning from the day of the theft. Cops are supposed to use the records to find the culprit.

In reality, however, New York’s Finest aren’t exactly pounding the pavement to find your nicked iPhone. What’s they’re really after, reports The Times, is a building its Enterprise Case Management System database, “a trove of telephone logs, all obtained without a court order, that could conceivably be used for any investigative purpose.”

No wonder the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice—which is charged with protecting your rights—says cellphone users have “no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Why are these guys getting away with murder—literally? Because we’re letting them.

(Ted Rall‘s is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Pacifist America

Antiwarriors Are Citizens Without a Party

      Americans overwhelmingly oppose the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Even many veterans say the post-9/11 war on terror was a mistake.

Antiwar sentiment is the majority opinion when it comes to the prospect of future conflicts. Of the two countries the U.S. is currently most likely to attack militarily, nearly seven out of ten people are against invading Syria; even polls that ask leading questions (“do you favor a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?”) find public opinion running opposed to attacking Iran, by 52% to 41%.

Not only are most Americans against wars present and future, we want to slash defense spending in general.  According to a National Journal poll, 60% want to cut the Pentagon budget.  Thirty-five percent don’t.

Eleven years after America lost the Twin Towers and then its collective mind, something remarkable has happened. We’ve come to our senses.

We’re a nation of pacifists.

So how is a pacifist—in other words, an average American—supposed to vote this fall? Obviously not Republican: Romney says he’ll cut every department except Defense. He wants to spend more on weapons, is open to fighting against Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely, and is so ignorant that he doesn’t know that the people of Afghanistan are called Afghans.

But with all the veteran and war messaging that went on at last week’s national convention, Democrats look like a mirror image of the GOP: jingoistic, militaristic, and gung-ho for war. Between pogo-dancing on Osama bin Laden’s corpse, the airing of a mawkish “Honoring the Sacred Trust with Our Veterans” video that spread the debunked right-wing myth that returning Vietnam vets got disrespected, the First Lady donning a Dubya-inspired “support our troops” T-shirt, and Democrats’ petty attack on Mitt Romney for omitting to name-check vets in his nomination acceptance address, it felt like the 2002-03 build-up to the invasion of Iraq—except, this time, the president speaks fluent English.

It’s official: the Dems are a war party.

Why the new bellicose tone? In part it’s an attempt to counter the old canard that Democrats are weak on defense, a charge that Republicans used to their electoral advantage throughout the Cold War. As the probably doped Lance Armstrong advised, turn your biggest weakness into your strongest strength. (The Machiavellian Karl Rove, who attacked John Kerry’s war record of all things, put it the other way around: turn their biggest strength into their biggest weakness.) It’s also a reflection of the triumph of Democratic Leadership Council-inspired conservatives, who have cowed, purged and marginalized liberals and pacifists from the party.

Militarism may be unpopular, but it still rules the ruling class. The military-industrial complex enjoys more direct political and economic influence among government officials than ever. The post-9/11 Cult of the Noble Soldier, coupled with the myth of a beleaguered U.S. defending the world from barbarians in an epic clash of civilizations, merely recasts old-fashioned fascist militarism—and it’s just as effective at confusing leftie opponents and putting them off-balance.

Truth be told, the Democrats’ new hawkish tone is catching up with their party’s hawkish history. Ronald Reagan gets credit for the defense build-up of the 1980s that supposedly bankrupted the Soviet Union, but it was Jimmy Carter who started it in 1978. No one remembers now, but “wimpy” Carter also gave us draft registration (in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan). Mr. Habitat for Humanity sent arms to the Afghan mujahedeen (some of whom formed Al Qaeda) and provoked the Iran hostage crisis by admitting the recently deposed Shah to the U.S. Bill Clinton launched an optional war of choice against Serbia based on sketchy justifications, and waged an incessant aerial bombing campaign against Iraq that went on so long that the media got bored and stopped covering it, and U.S. pilots ran out of targets.

President Obama may not have been popular with the SEAL team he sent to assassinate bin Laden, but thousands of Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemenis and Somalis victimized by the reign of terror unleashed by his unprecedented, expanded program of drone plane bombings can attest to his credentials as a happy warrior. “Barack Obama,” Aaron David Miller, Middle East policy adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote recently, “has become George W. Bush on steroids.”

Democrats have always been pro-war. They’d might as well shout it from the rooftops.

Most Americans are against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cult of militarism and the untouchable status of Pentagon spending on weapons. Yet there is no political home for people who oppose our current wars, or war in general.

Where is a pacifist to go?

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Learned Nothing From 9/11

Ten Years Later, Americans Still Stupid and Vulnerable

They say everything changed on 9/11. No one can dispute that. But we didn’t learn anything.

Like other events that forced Americans to reassess their national priorities (the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, Sputnik) the attacks on New York and Washington were a traumatic, teachable moment.

The collective attention of the nation was finally focused upon problems that had gone neglected for many years. 9/11 was a chance to get smart—but we blew it.

First and foremost the attacks gave the United States a rare opportunity to reset its international reputation. Even countries known for anti-Americanism offered their support. “We are all Americans,” ran the headline of the French newspaper Le Monde.

The century of U.S. foreign policy that led to 9/11—supporting dictators, crushing democratic movements, spreading gangster capitalism at the point of a thousand nukes—should and could have been put on hold and reassessed in the wake of 9/11.

It wasn’t time to act. It was time to think.

It was time to lick our wounds, pretend to act confused, and play the victim. It was time to hope the world forgot how we supplied lists of pro-democracy activists to a young Saddam Hussein so he could collect and kill them, and forget the “Made in USA” labels on missiles shot into the Gaza Strip from U.S.-made helicopter gunships sold to Israel.

It was time, for once, to take the high road. The Bush Administration ought to have treated 9/11 as a police investigation, demanding that Pakistan extradite Osama bin Laden and other individuals wanted in connection with the attacks for prosecution by an international court.

Instead of assuming a temperate, thoughtful posture, the Bush Administration exploited 9/11 as an excuse to start two wars, both against defenseless countries that had little or nothing to do with the attacks. Bush and company legalized torture and ramped up support for unpopular dictatorships in South and Central Asia and the Middle East, all announced with bombastic cowboy talk.

Smoke ’em out! Worst of the worst! Dead or alive!

By 2003 the world hated us more than ever. A BBC poll showed that people in Jordan and Indonesia—moderate Muslim countries where Al Qaeda had killed locals with bombs—considered the U.S. a bigger security threat than the terrorist group.

In fairness to Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld and Bush’s other leading war criminals, everyone else went along with them. The media refused to question them. Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, cast votes in favor of Bush’s wars. Democrats and leftist activists ought to have pushed for Bush’s impeachment; they were silent or supportive.

9/11 was “blowback”—proof that the U.S. can’t wage its wars overseas without suffering consequences at home. But we still haven’t learned that lesson. Ten years later, a “Democratic” president is fighting Bush’s wars as well as new ones against Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Now he’s saber-rattling against Syria.

American officials correctly inferred from 9/11 that security, particularly at airports but also in ports where container ships arrive daily from around the world, had been lax. Rather than act proactively to close gaps in transportation security, however, bureaucrats for the new Department of Homeland Security created a gauntlet of police-state harassment so onerous that it has threatened the financial health of the aviation industry.

“Aviation security is a joke, and it’s only a matter of time before terrorists destroy another airplane full of innocent passengers,” wrote Barbara Hollingsworth of The Washington Examiner after the 2009 “underwear bomber” scare. As Hollingsworth pointed out, the much-vaunted federal air marshals have been removed from flights because the TSA is too cheap to pay their hotel bills. (This is illegal.) What’s the point of taking off your shoes, she asked, when planes are still serviced overseas in unsecured facilities? No one has provided an answer.

Ten years after 9/11, there is still no real security check when you board a passenger train or bus. Perhaps the sheer quantity of goods arriving at American ports makes it impossible to screen them all, but we’re not even talking about the fact that we’ve basically given up on port security.

While we’re on the subject of post-9/11 security, what about air defenses? On 9/11 the airspace over the Lower 48 states was assigned to a dozen “weekend warrior” air national guard jets. Every last one of them was on the ground when the attacks began, allowing hijacked planes to tool around the skies for hours after they had been identified as dangerous.

Which could easily happen again. According to a 2009 report by the federal General Accounting Office on U.S. air defenses: “The Air Force has not implemented ASA [Air Sovereignty Alert] operations in accordance with DOD, NORAD, and Air Force directives and guidance, which instruct the Air Force to establish ASA as a steady-state (ongoing and indefinite) mission. The Air Force has not implemented the 140 actions it identified to establish ASA as a steady-state mission, which included integrating ASA operations into the Air Force’s planning, programming, and funding cycle. The Air Force has instead been focused on other priorities, such as overseas military operations.”

Maybe if it stopped spending so much time and money killing foreigners the American government could protect Americans.

On 9/11 hundreds of firefighters and policemen died because they couldn’t communicate on antiquated, segregated bandwidth. “Only one month away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” admits FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, “our first responders still don’t have an interoperable mobile broadband network for public safety. Our 911 call centers still can’t handle texts or pictures or video being sent by the phones that everyone has.”

Because the corporate masters of the Democratic and Republican parties love the low wage/weak labor environment created by illegal immigration, American land borders are intentionally left unguarded.

A lot changed on 9/11, but not everything.

We’re still governed by corrupt idiots. And we’re still putting up with them.

What does that say about us?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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