On Sunday, the New York Times -- the paper of record, the bellwether by which all "serious" American media sets its compass -- published a story about the Obama administration's efforts to codify its "extrajudicial killing program" before the election. The aim, we were told, was to make sure there were "clear standards and procedures" in place to keep the death squads going, even if the president lost the election.
The story was yet another in a series of White House-directed pieces about the killing program, in which anonymous, high-level administration officials leak top-secret information and insider gossip designed to paint the president and his aides as moral paragons struggling nobly to find the most effective and ethical way to use the killing programs and keep Americans safe. That is not only the underlying assumption of the story; it is the only assumption allowed in the story. There are three paragraphs in which duly accredited establishment figures voice what could be taken as mild criticisms about certain tactical aspects of the White House killing program.
But even these muted voices end with Shuja Nawaz -- an Establishment worthy from the Atlantic Council who is "Pakistani-born," the New York Times takes pains to tell us (without telling us that he once worked for the New York Times) -- calling on the Obama administration not to end the murderous drone campaign in his native land but to be more proud of it, more open about it, to detail every death it causes, including any "collateral deaths." This transparency will evidently assuage the anger of those who've watched their innocent loved ones -- including their children -- blown to bits by American drones, and they will no longer listen to "propaganda" from "jihadist groups."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the full extent of the criticism of the killing program permitted in the paper of record in its front-page Sunday story. The only possible problem with the president of the United States and his deputized subordinates killing people all over the world outside any legal procedure or standards of evidence or, in many cases, without knowing anything at all about who they are killing -- is that the program might not be as open and efficient as it could be.
I was going to write at length about this extraordinary piece of sinister puffery, but I find that Arthur Silber is already on the case, saying everything I wanted to say, and more. So I'm just going to excerpt a few passages from his piece, while urging you to get on over there and read the whole thing.
The NYT story is a vile exercise in fantasy, and a lie from beginning to end. As we know from numerous reports -- and as we know from what the Obama administration itself has acknowledged -- the Murder Program murders innocent human beings. This isn't a possibility, something that the administration fears might happen. It has happened in an unforgivable number of cases. Moreover, the NYT story tells us this with stark clarity. Here's the most obvious example:
[F]or several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.
Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.
The State and its invaluable subsidiaries, such as the NYT, will never spell out the full meaning of passages like this one, and most people will not permit themselves to understand it.
Obama and his fellow murderers kill people about whom they have no specific information at all. That's what this phrase means: "young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups." We know from other accounts that they don't even need to be "toting arms." Their mere presence "in an area controlled by extremist groups" can be sufficient for the State to kill them. This logically and necessarily means that the State kills people who are completely innocent. Obama and the other criminals have no information whatsoever to even suggest otherwise. ...
The NYT story also makes horribly clear that the debate about whether it is a good idea to murder innocent people is over. Worse than that, such a debate never took place. That's what we're told right near the beginning of the story:
Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.
They're "still debating" whether they should murder innocent people only as a "last resort," or murder innocent people as "a more flexible tool." Whether they should murder innocent people at all never occurred to them. It was never even a question.
Think about that for a minute. It was never even a question for them.
... The story further informs us that the Obama administration is committed to developing a comprehensive system of rules to make certain that evil is committed in just the right way.
Yes, you should be shaking your head right now, because that makes absolutely no sense. It doesn't make any sense, yet this is the nature of the evil that steadily spreads across our national landscape. And as I have often noted before, every system of government has laws and rules, even dictatorships and even totalitarian governments. Appeals to the "sanctity of the law" and the crucial importance of "rules" play directly into the hands of the State and those who direct its lethal operations. The law and the rules are the means by which they implement and direct their power. When a corrupt and deadly system passes beyond a certain point, the law and the rules do not prevent the commission of evil: they make it possible. Moreover, and this makes all such discussions entirely absurd, the ruling class will disregard the law and the rules whenever they wish, for whatever purpose they choose. Surely the last decade has taught us that much, if nothing else at all.
There is much more in Silber's piece, so do read it in full. See also this recent post of his, about the rather warped views of those who support the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
David Atkins: There has been some annoyance in some quarters at the lack of comprehensive coverage of the events in Gaza by the much of the most widely read parts of the progressive blogosphere. I agree that the coverage has been limited. But there are three good reasons for that:
1) Incoherent, hateful backlash. The fact is that it's impossible to say anything substantive about the Israel-Palestine conflict without being called a hateful anti-Semite, or a hateful bloodthirsty imperialist. Most hilarious is the notion that silence on the issue is caused by defense of the Administration, as if most of the progressive blogosphere had been somehow aggressive against the Bush Administration for failure to be concerned about the Palestinian people. If one examines the archives, one will see that most of the big sites from Atrios to DailyKos to TPM to Hullabaloo and the rest have largely refrained from commenting too much on the issue for years, long before Obama took office. That's in large part because nothing can be said about it without eliciting a horrifying deluge of asinine commentary that no other issue seems to generate. Especially for unpaid bloggers more concerned with climate change, the predations of the financial sector, the ongoing assault against the middle class and women's rights, etc., it's often not worth the headache of being called a vicious anti-semitic terrorist enabler and/or imperialist apartheid murderer--often for the exact same post.
2) There are no good guys here. Bibi Netanyahu is a horrible person, and Likud is filled with horrible people. They're basically the Israeli version of Dick Cheney and John Bolton, but with a religious belief in their right to steal land that belongs to others.
Hamas, meanwhile, is a murderous organization of cutthroats who refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist and want to drive every Jew out of the land they believe their God owes them.
Israeli policy pretends to want to keep control of illegal settlements that continue to incur into Palestinian lands while secretly encouraging it. Whatever goes for Palestinian authority pretends to want peace and self-determination while doing next to nothing to prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians. Hamas knows that there can be no peace without recognizing Israel's fundamental right to exist, but they can't even bring themselves to put those words down on a negotiating contract. Israel knows that there can be no pressure on Hamas to negotiate fairly as long as Palestine remains an Apartheid-style lockdown zone with continued encroachment from settlement.
So we get the usual cycle of violence with no end in sight.
3) There's nothing we can do about it. It makes sense to blog about things that we can theoretically do something about. The Gaza situation is frankly hopeless at the moment. America is not going to abandon its commitment to protect the only functioning democracy in the region and the only dependable national refuge for the Jewish people. The American people can and should eschew support for Netanyahu and Likud, but it's not as if relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu aren't already frosty. Netanyahu quite obviously wanted Romney to win, and there can be little doubt that Obama would prefer to deal with someone from Labour/Kadima. Defunding Israel isn't an option, particularly given the hostility of other Middle Eastern powers to Israel's very existence.
So that leaves bloggers advocating for cooler heads and changes in leadership on both sides of a dispute over which American activists have very little control, and in which there are no clear-cut good guys. Syria is less complicated, frankly, with much greater suffering and bloodshed--and it's not exactly been a huge topic of debate in the progressive blogosphere, either.
So don't expect a lot of coverage of the issue. Most of us don't want to take a lot of stupid abuse from nutty people for speaking powerlessly over an issue in which both sides deserve plenty of scorn.
My reply: Taking these justifications point by point, here, as I understand it, is the essential argument for progressives remaining silent on the slaughter in Gaza.
1) We are scared. People might call us bad names, and that would be unpleasant. And it would also, somehow, interfere with our ability to support other causes. Do you want us to be like that fool Martin Luther King Jr., who didn't stick to his niche issue of civil rights but also took on murderous American militarism and economic injustice? That's not savvy, that's not how to get things done. Anyway, look what happened to him when he stuck his neck out too far.
2) We are childish. There are no "good guys" we can root for in a comic-book version of good vs. evil. [How about rooting for the innocent people being slaughtered? Are they not "good" enough?] Also, we are too uninterested to read of any context or history beyond the day's headlines, so we have no idea about the many efforts made by Hamas and others, including Israelis, to "prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians." We also have nothing to say about Israel's endless provocations -- killing children, blockades, assassinations, etc. -- that produce the missiles fired in retaliation. In short, because the institutional leaders on both sides are morally compromised individuals instead of clearly marked good guys and bad guys, we have nothingat all to say about innocent people being killed -- in our name, with American weaponry, American money and the full support of the president we have just worked so hard to re-elect.
3) We are helpless. You should only blog about things you can "theoretically" do something about. So apparently there is nothing anyone can ever do -- even "theoretically" -- to prevent the United States government from giving its full and unstinting support to the ongoing operation in Gaza. Even though George W. Bush himself condemned Israeli "extrajudicial assassinations," even though Ronald Reagan condemned the Israeli strike on Iraq's nuclear plant (and actually suspended arms shipments to Israel in protest), it is now completely impossible for anyone, anywhere, to put the slightest pressure on Barack Obama to voice even the mildest criticism of Israel's actions. So what's the point of using one's public platform to register even the smallest complaint about one's government using its money, weapons and full political muscle to support the slaughter of innocent people?
However, it must be theoretically possible to, say, convince Barack Obama not to sign a "grand bargain" that will gut social programs and entrench brutal economic and social injustice for generations. And how does one do that? By writing about it, agitating about it, talking about it, protesting against it, and so on -- as our leading progressives do every day. And even though the record of the past four years shows that Barack Obama does not pay the slightest attention to these efforts -- and has recently reiterated that the $4 trillion economy-wrecking, society-degrading "deal" he offered Republicans earlier is "still on the table" -- it is at least theoretically possible that strenuous protest and pressure might cause some alteration of policy.
I think this is true. And I think it's an effort worth making, however slight its chance of success. But why does this not also apply to Obama's policy toward Israel and the Middle East? Instead of the gritty realism, savvy tactics and nuanced analyses we see on the Grand Bargain, on Gaza all we get are childish, cartoonish exaggerations: the idea that even criticising Israeli actions -- as George Bush did, as Ronald Reagan did -- is somehow equivalent to "abandoning Israel" and the Jewish people. This is puerile nonsense. (It is also an example of the aforementioned "incoherent, hateful backlash" in action, albeit in more muted, tasteful form. But it carries the same implication: "What, do you want us to abandon the Jewish people, drive them from their only refuge? What are you, some kind of Nazi?")
Look, people can concentrate on whatever issues they want. I do it; everyone who writes does it. I just found it remarkable -- and still do -- that several prominent liberal bloggers dedicated to analyzing American policy and politics had nothing at all to say about innocent people being slaughtered with the full support -- physical, financial and political -- of the American political establishment, which is the focus of their blogs. Not a single word on the subject -- positive, negative, even in passing -- nothing at all, day after day, death after death.
However, during the last major assault on Gaza, in the last days of the Bush administration, there were several mentions of Gaza on Hullaballoo, including a post from Digby on the horror of watching the slaughter on CNN. On Kos, there were no fewer than 29 "front-paged diary" entries that mentioned Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, including long columns of analysis, and pieces mocking George Bush for his claims to seek Middle East peace ("just ask the people of Gaza"), mocking Joe the Plumber for his "reporting" from the Israeli side of the attack, and so on.
All of this, I might add, was mixed in with other issues of the day: the economy, the predations of the financial sector, women's rights, etc. Apparently, when George Bush was still in office, it "made sense" to blog about Gaza, to criticize the Israeli actions AND the American support for them, and still continue to advocate for one's other concerns.
But now we are told that it is not even theoretically possible to influence American policy on this issue. It is pointless -- "frankly hopeless" -- to even try. So let the children die, with American lead shredding their flesh and American money loading the guns and American politicians -- including the Democrats our progressives worked so hard for -- officially recording their full support of these atrocities.
Again, people should write what they like. If an issue doesn't interest you, or if it's too complicated for you, or if it scares you, then by all means ignore it. But it seems strange to me that those who are publicly dedicated to building a better, more just society and a more ethical, morally responsible government would simply shrug their shoulders, give up hope and keep quiet when their government -- led by a man they themselves fought to elect -- gives its total support to such murderous deeds.
It makes one think that they have made their own "Grand Bargain": countenancing crime and murder (the drone wars, Obama's death squads, indefinite detention, support for state terror in Gaza, etc., etc.) in exchange for the hope -- the "theoretical possibility" -- that their support for such a system will be rewarded with a few crumbs and gestures on the domestic front. As I said before, this kind of "progressivism" seems to me to be a most paltry, curdled and complicit thing. It has lashed itself to the machine of power, and it will, in the end, go wherever power takes it.
"Too much of nothing Can make a man a liar." -- Bob Dylan
"Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again." -- Shakespeare, King Lear
It sure was a quiet weekend in the progressive blogosphere, where peace, justice and the alleviation of human suffering is an earnest, burning concern. At Eschaton, Atrios gave an amiable shrug and declared, "I got nothing to say." Digby and her co-pilot, David Atkins, did have a few things to say -- about Sarah Palin, General Pants-Down Petraeus, the grubby "Grand Bargaining" in the Beltway, and several examples of the stupidity and perfidy of right-wing Republicans. The posters at Daily Kos plied the same themes.
But even for those who didn't got nothing to say, it was all very much in a low-key, mopping-up, post-election mode. It seemed as if there were no major news events going on anywhere in the world that involved the violent, unjust infliction of human suffering, with the direct monetary, military and political support of United States government and its entire bipartisan political and media establishments. Nothing that might grab the attention -- even in passing -- of writers publicly and professionally dedicated to discussing and analyzing major news events involving American policy, politics and the media.
Anything like that going on this weekend? Anyone? Digby, Dave? No? Kos and the gang? Anything? Atrios?
Nope. They got nothing.
Not on Friday. Not on Saturday. Not by Sunday evening (as I write this).
If you were a follower of many of the major "progressive" bloggers, you could have passed the weekend blissfully unaware that the American-armed, American-backed Israeli military was busily raining death into the cramped and crowded concentration camp of Gaza. Children dying, old people being blown to bits in their houses, the Israeli government ordering a massive call-up of troops and reserves for a possible invasion; top officials from Egypt and Tunisia flying into the besieged camp to show solidarity, mass demonstrations across the Middle East, some meeting with violent repression, others threatening to escalate into revolutionary outpourings. On every side: death, turmoil, suffering, chaos, whole nations in ferment -- and Barack Obama standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Benjamin Netanyahu in defending assassination, aggression and the bombardment of defenseless civilians with massive military force.
For many of our leading progressives, none of this was of the slightest interest. Even as the stage is clearly being set for a rerun of the "Cast Lead" operation in 2008-2009 -- a bloodbath that killed hundreds of innocent people and was followed by a strangulating blockade -- our earnest concerners could not be stirred to even a passing comment on the developments. The idea that someone somewhere was touting Sarah Palin for 2016 was obviously far more interesting -- far more concerning -- than the American-backed bloodshed in Gaza. After all, what if Sarah Palin did become president, huh? (Get your 2016 lesser evilism going now! Start early, avoid the rush!) Why, she might declare her full support for military assaults on civilian areas in Gaza, just like that evil George Bush did in 2008. And you know you don't want anyone like that to be president, do you?
But beyond the Palin-haunted, poll-poring, got-nothing confines of the progressosphere, here's what been going on just today, as reported in the New York Times (which most top progressives at least take a glance at occasionally, I believe):
Israeli forces killed at least 11 people, including several children, in a single airstrike that destroyed a home here on Sunday ... Among the dead were five women and four small children, The Associated Press reported, citing a Palestinian health official. ... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned of a “significant” expansion in the onslaught, which has already killed over 50 people, many of them civilians.
... Speaking on Sunday from Bangkok, President Obama condemned missile attacks by Palestinian fighters in Gaza and defended Israel’s right to protect itself. “There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Mr. Obama said in his first public comments since the violence broke out. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Here the president ignores the fact, also reported -- albeit obscurely -- by the NYT, that the few sporadic and ineffective missiles from Gaza "raining down" on Israel before the attack were in fact retaliation for repeated missile strikes, mortar fire, assassinations and civilian deaths caused by Israeli military incursions into Gaza. But, as we noted here the other day, Gaza has no "right to defend itself;" indeed, it very clearly must "tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." Thus saith the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
But that was not all he saith. As the NYT reports:
Mr. Obama said Sunday that he had spoken several times with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Morsi and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in hopes of finding a way to address Israel’s security concerns without further ramping up military operations. “We are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region,” he said.
This is strange; for before the attack began, there was already an "actively working" deal to "end the missiles being fired without further violence in the region" -- as the New York Times itself reported on Friday. But as Israeli negotiator Gershon Baskin wrote in the Times, this agreement was aborted when the Israelis assassinated the very Hamas minister who was negotiating the deal. This "extrajudicial killing" -- part of an attack that, of course, killed several civilians as well, including the 11-month-old son of a BBC cameraman -- was the start of the current operation. And it led, as the Israelis knew -- and hoped -- it would, to retaliatory strikes by Hamas. Baskin writes:
I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt. ...
Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott. The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire. ... The difference between the proposal I drafted in cooperation with my Hamas counterpart and past proposals was that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. This draft was to be translated and shared with both Mr. Jabari and Israeli security officials, who were aware of our mediation efforts.
The proposal was at least worth testing. Moreover, it included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.
Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.
In other words, the Netanyahu government deliberately scuttled a deal which would have provided exactly what it says it is seeking. They knew the assassination would kill the deal; they knew it would provoke violent relatiation. That is precisely what they wanted.
What's more, it is absolutely impossible that Barack Obama did not know this as well. The US government had to know these negotiations were going on. And even if one takes the position of the extreme Obamalators and believes that the innocent president was kept uninformed of these developments before the attack -- just as he was protected from all knowledge that his FBI was investigating his CIA director for months on end -- he certainly knew of the plan after it was published in the New York Times on November 16 -- two days before he made his statement on November 18.
In other words -- and brace yourself for this shocking revelation -- Barack Obama was lying through his teeth when he regurgitated his empty pieties on Sunday.
Imagine the kind of play Kos would have given to such sinister mendacity had it issued from the gorge of evil George. Imagine what razor-sharp slashings of moral outrage we would have seen from Digby n' Dave had Dick Cheney trotted out such threadbare lies to support the murder of a key official in the midst of peace negotiations. And is it conceivable that Atrios would have "got nothing" if Condi Rice had been issuing "full-throttle support" for an operation that has set the most volatile region in the world ablaze with death and turmoil? No; yet if a Democrat arms, pays for and supports such things, there is no outrage, there is no criticism, there is no analysis. There is only ... nothing.
But Shakespeare knew the self-deluded Lear was wrong: something can indeed come from nothing. In fact, the whole murderous course of the tragedy issues from Cordelia's "nothing." And although the assault on Gaza is as nothing to the progressives, something is happening there. Even as I've been writing this, more details have come in about the attack mentioned in the NYT story above. From the Guardian:
At least 11 members of one family, including five women and four children, were killed when Israel bombed a house in Gaza City on Sunday as the five-day-old war claimed more civilian lives with no sign of a letup in the intense bombardment.
The air strike flattened the home of the Dalou family in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City, causing the biggest death toll in a single incident since the offensive began last Wednesday.
The bodies of the children were pulled from the rubble and taken to the morgue at the Shifa hospital. The dead also included an 80-year-old woman. ... Witnesses said there were chaotic scenes as the dead and injured were brought to the Shifa hospital, which has been on emergency footing since the start of Operation Pillar of Defence. The bodies of four young children lay on two metal trays in the morgue, covered in dust and blood. A crowd of onlookers outside became increasingly distressed as the body of the children's mother was wheeled in, covered in blankets.
But this is of no apparent concern to those so earnestly concerned with peace, justice and the alleviation of human suffering. Those children, that old woman, the grieving survivors -- they must be the wrong people suffering. Or perhaps it's just that the right person is aiding, abetting and supporting their suffering. No need for comment. No need to notice. Nothing to see here.
And thus political tribalism curdles into moral cretinism.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, back in the real world, the London Review of Books has more on the process of deliberate provocation -- and the deliberate scuttling of peace deals -- that lay behind the current round of slaughter in Gaza.
... This time round, on 8 November, a week before Ahmad Jabari was assassinated, Israeli soldiers shot dead 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa while he was playing football outside his house in Gaza. Palestinian militants retaliated with a bomb and then a missile fired at an armoured personnel carrier, wounding several Israeli soldiers. Israel responded by shelling first another football field and then a mourning tent, killing four civilian non-combatants and wounding dozens. Four Israelis were wounded by the inevitable Palestinian missile volleys that followed. Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, which typically brokers security agreements relating to the Gaza Strip, stepped up its efforts.
By 12 November, amid demands from Israel’s Home Front Defence minister, Avi Dichter, to ‘reformat’ the Gaza Strip and calls from the transport minister, Yisrael Katz, to cut off the supply of all goods and services to Gaza’s population of 1.5 million until they begged for air, the Egyptians had crafted a ceasefire proposal that was accepted by the Palestinians and – according to the Egyptians – Israel too. With responsibility not only for fighting Israel but also enforcing agreements with it, Jabari began implementing the ceasefire. Two days later he was blown up. ...
Pummelling Gaza yet again was intended to remind all concerned – not least the new Egypt – who makes the rules, though it would also reassure the Israeli electorate they need not fear the prospect of Obama punishing Israel for Netanyahu’s embrace of the Romney/Adelson ticket. As expected, the Obama White House has reiterated its commitment to Israel, and Congress has been busy passing unanimous resolutions supporting Israel’s right to self-defence in its colonial possessions. The positions of most European states have been only marginally less obscene. …
Israeli hesitation about what may lie ahead, in combination with furious diplomacy directed at Washington by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and others, may lead to a new ceasefire agreement in the coming days. If not, the primary issue for those committed to peace in the Middle East will be to ensure Israel is deprived of the impunity it enjoyed during and after Operation Cast Lead.
Hell is coming. Hell is near. Thousands upon thousands of troops are massing for the ground invasion of a small patch of land crammed full with human beings trapped without any defense against the steel that will destroy them. Several children have already died in the preliminaries. Many, many more will die when the real feast of death begins. As Arthur Silber says:
[From CBS News:] "At least half of the Palestinians killed in the conflict so far have been civilians, including at least eight children and a pregnant woman." Dead children are now a commonplace of the ceaseless death campaigns conducted by the United States and Israel. That alone reveals a great deal, more than anyone decent cares to know, about the nature of the "civilization" involved. But ... a pregnant woman. That's a new and creative touch. Does someone in Israel get extra points for that? A special medal for extraordinary heroism? I suspect so.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
Like Silber, I wonder if the American soldiers who killed the pregnant Artica Salim got a medal for their defense of civilization?
Concerning civilization, what does Israel's Interior Minister say is the goal of the current operation? It's quite simple. From Haaretz:
Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Israel's operation in Gaza: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years."
In fact, who can forget Tom's giddy cheerleading for the Clinton-Blair air war against the civilian population of Serbia? Who can forget his bone-chilling warning to the unruly Slavs in his classic 1999 column, "Give War a Chance," when he wrote: "Let's at least have a real war. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted...Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."
As Silber notes, these nightmare tropes will continue to play out, over and over again:
Gaza sets the pattern; expect to see it repeated in the years and decades to come. And most people still refuse to see what is happening.
More and more areas of the world will be turned into a charnel house. It happened twice in the twentieth century on an ungraspable scale, and it occurred many additional times in a more limited manner, which was no less horrifying for the victims. It seems the only lessons we learned from all these catastrophes are how to do it more efficiently and effectively, and with less resistance from the world at large. The victims change; the pattern does not. So for us at this moment in history, the slogan is not, "Never again!" The slogan is: "Always again!"
And again. And again. And again. Until time runs out.
Be clear about this: what we are witnessing -- and are about to witness -- in Gaza, as in Afghanistan, and in the drone-pocked regions of Pakistan, and in Yemen, Somalia, Mali and in other areas around the world: all of this, in every instance, represents a vast, irreparable, unspeakably tragic defeat for humankind -- and incredible, unspeakable pain for real human beings. It is a defeat, in every instance, a failure -- of nerve, of spirit, of intellect, of empathy; it is a show of weakness -- no matter how many of the "enemy" you kill; it is a display of ignorance, fear and barbarity. Again, just be clear: if you support it -- or support those who support it -- this is what you are supporting.
From Dr. Mona Al-Farra in Gaza City, an urgent message on Facebook: Dear Friends, Gaza is under extensive Israeli military attack ,in less than 2 hours , 14 military attacks against different targets in different parts of Gaza Strip , 6 were killed including 2 young girls age 4 and 7, 11 were injured, the hospitals are already lacking essential emergency medications, and citizens were called for blood donation, we do not have power , iam using UBS ,the first stage of this operation has been accomplished , we expect more escalation. your solidarity means a lot at this difficult times, pass the word, this aggression, should stop now.
*** The 20th paragraph -- the 20th paragraph -- of the New York Times story on the attack notes, very obliquely, that the recent rocket firing was in response to "deadly Israeli airstrikes":
Since then Hamas has mostly adhered to an informal, if shaky, cease-fire and at times tried to enforce the smaller militant groups to stick to it. But in recent months, under pressure from some of the Gaza population for not avenging deadly Israeli airstrikes, it has claimed responsibility for participating in the firing of rockets. Last week, it also claimed credit for detonating a tunnel packed with explosives along the Israel-Gaza border while Israeli soldiers were working nearby.
But elsewhere in the story, and everywhere in the media, the attack is clearly presented as righteous retaliation for unprovoked attacks: not as collective punishment on a captive people for themselves retaliating against airstrikes against them.
(UPDATE 1: In the latest online version of the constantly updated NYT story, the mention of the rocket attacks as retaliation for "deadly Israeli airstrikes" is now in the 32nd paragraph. Most of the new material is taken up with the Peace Laureate's firm support for Israel's right to "self-defense" -- a right which obviously does not extend to the Palestinians at any time, in any form. Like "good injuns," they're supposed to lay down and die on the cracked, caged earth of the reservation.)
*** In responding to the current attack, Arthur Silber also points to this this deeper look (from the 2009 slaughter in Gaza) at the template behind these spasms of atrocity -- a template much used not only by the "light unto the nations" but also "the shining city on the hill":
For a very long time, the United States government has specialized in the pattern pursued by Israel. The vastly more powerful nation wishes to act on a certain policy -- almost always territorial expansion, for purposes of access to resources, or to force itself into new markets, or to pursue the evil notion that economic and ideological success depend on brutality and conquest -- but a specifically moral justification for its planned actions does not lie easily to hand.
So the powerful nation embarks on a course designed to make life intolerable for the country and/or those people that stand in its way. The more powerful nation is confident that, given sufficient time and sufficient provocation, the weaker country and people will finally do something that the actual aggressor can seize on as a pretext for the policy upon which it had already decided. In this way, what then unfolds becomes the victim's fault.
UPDATE 2: I was remiss in failing to give the name of the dead child in the picture above. His name is Omar Misharawi. He is the son of Jihad Misharawi -- a journalist for the BBC's Arabic news service. Misharawi's house was hit by the pinpoint, carefully targeted, hi-tech, only-kill-the-bad-guys missiles being hurled into the heavily packed residential areas of Gaza by the Israeli military.
Below is a picture of what Omar looked like before he became "collateral damage." Strange; he looks almost like an actual, fully-fledged human being, doesn't he? Almost like one of us, like one of our children. Good thing he's just a "savage," right? One of them. For as our own Nobel Laureate has shown us, their lives have no value, no meaning. They're just so much "bug splat" on a screen.
UPDATE 3: Another great triumph for Western values was also reported today (Thursday): the first confirmed death of a child due to the draconian sanctions imposed on Iran by the Peace Laureate -- who celebrated his electoral triumph last week by tightening even further his ongoing strangulation of Iran. The Guardian reports:
A teenage Iranian boy suffering from haemophilia has died due to a shortage of medicine in the country. It is the first civilian death said to be directly linked to the impact that western economic sanctions are having on the Islamic republic.
Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi was a 15-year-old from a nomadic tribe based in the mountains near the city of Dezful, in Iran's south-western province of Khuzestan. He died in hospital after his family failed to find the vital medicine he desperately needed for his disease, Iran's state news agencies reported on Wednesday …
Although sanctions are not directly targeting Iranian pharmacies and medical sectors, measures imposed on Iranian banks and trade restrictions have made life extremely difficult for patients across the country, who are facing difficulties in finding medicines made outside Iran. … According to Ghavidel, 75% of the medicines for the treatment of haemophilia are made in the US and the EU, making Iranian patients heavily dependent on their imports. He said haemophilia medicines available in Iranian markets had been reduced to a third of former supply levels….
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a detailed report on how sanctions were taking an unexpected toll on medical imports, including medicines such as Herceptin, which is made in the US. Among other medicines said to be scarce in Iranian pharmacies is the tetanus vaccine.
Baby milk is another imported product affected. Iran produces its own powdered milk, which is abundant in the market, but cannot produce certain diet milk types or those suitable for children with allergies. These are imported from outside. There have been instances of children hospitalised as a result of the milk shortages, but no reports of deaths as yet.
One down, 499,000 to go before Obama matches the good ole Big Dawg in the noble -- and Nobel -- pursuit of mass murder by sanctions. But no doubt he and his secretary of state -- the Big Dawg's own wife! -- will, like the Big Dawg's own secretary of state, believe the murders "are worth it."
*** Update 4: Arthur Silber has more on Gaza, in a new piece that speaks of unspeakable things. Below are some excerpts; but do read the whole thing.
The most striking and significant quality of our national conversation "is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are 'acceptable' ... Truth is the enemy; truth is to be destroyed."
Gaza is a concentration camp. It is not like a concentration camp. It is not a metaphorical or figurative concentration camp. It is a concentration camp. Our culture, our political leaders, and the cacophony of voices in the media have all agreed that this truth must never be spoken. ... Israel imposes conditions on Gaza and its inhabitants that necessarily result in a slow, long, lingering death. Unjustified but quick murder, murder which occurs in an instant, is a terrible crime. How are we to describe the crime that sentences a huge number of people to death, but does so in a manner that ensures the unendurable pain will last for years, that pain and deprivation can never be forgotten, that agony becomes the increasingly overwhelming component of a human being's existence? ...
Because we may never say this, some of those determined to remain in a state of almost perfect ignorance will be heard to complain: "But surely nothing justifies the violence of the Palestinians themselves, or their firing rockets into Israel!" Gaza is a concentration camp. The inhabitants of Gaza act in defense of their lives, to the extent the hell to which they are condemned can be called "life" at all. That is: "When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they'll engage in violence." This, too, must never be acknowledged. ..
As has happened every time before, the world watches -- and the world does nothing. More horrifying is the fact that the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, supports this evil and guarantees that it will not only continue, but very probably get still worse. Any individual who expected a different response from the United States in any respect at all has blinded himself to the nature of the United States generally, and to the significance of the Obama administration more particularly. For the Obama administration has engaged in a worldwide campaign of death for four years, and promises to continue the campaign into the indefinite future. And Obama and his fellow murderers repeatedly proclaim their "right" to murder any innocent human being wherever he may be in the world, for any reason they invent and even for no reason at all. A nation led by a group of serial murderers will hardly object to another country's program of sadism.
To all those now hailing the re-election of Barack Obama as a triumph of decent, humane, liberal values over the oozing-postule perfidy of the Republicans, a simple question:
Is this child dead enough for you?
This little boy was named Naeemullah. He was in his house -- maybe playing, maybe sleeping, maybe having a meal -- when an American drone missile was fired into the residential area where he lived and blew up the house next door.
As we all know, these drone missiles are, like the president who wields them, super-smart, a triumph of technology and technocratic expertise. We know, for the president and his aides have repeatedly told us, that these weapons -- launched only after careful consultation of the just-war strictures of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas -- strike nothing but their intended targets and kill no one but "bad guys." Indeed, the president's top aides have testified under oath that not a single innocent person has been among the thousands of Pakistani civilians -- that is, civilians of a sovereign nation that is not at war with the United States -- who have been killed by the drone missile campaign of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Yet somehow, by some miracle, the missile that roared into the residential area where Naeemullah lived did not confine itself neatly to the house it struck. Somehow, inexplicably, the hunk of metal and wire and computer processors failed -- in this one instance -- to look into the souls of all the people in the village and ascertain, by magic, which ones were "bad guys" and then kill only them. Somehow -- perhaps the missile had been infected with Romney cooties? -- this supercharged hunk of high explosives simply, well, exploded with tremendous destructive power when it struck the residential area, blowing the neighborhood to smithereens.
As Wired reports, shrapnel and debris went flying through the walls of Naeemullah's house and ripped through his small body. When the attack was over -- when the buzzing drone sent with Augustinian wisdom by the Peace Laureate was no longer lurking over the village, shadowing the lives of every defenseless inhabitant with the terrorist threat of imminent death, Naeemullah was taken to the hospital in a nearby town.
This is where the picture of above was taken by Noor Behram, a resident of North Waziristan who has been chronicling the effects of the Peace Laureate's drone war. When the picture was taken, Naeemullah was dying. He died an hour later.
Is he dead enough for you?
Dead enough not to disturb your victory dance in any way? Dead enough not to trouble the inauguration parties yet to come? Dead enough not to diminish, even a little bit, your exultant glee at the fact that this great man, a figure of integrity, decency, honor and compassion, will be able to continue his noble leadership of the best nation in the history of the world?
Do you have children? Do they sit your house playing happily? Do they sleep sweetly scrunched up in their warm beds at night? Do they chatter and prattle like funny little birds as you eat with them at the family table? Do you love them? Do you treasure them? Do you consider them fully-fledged human beings, beloved souls of infinite worth?
How would you feel if you saw them ripped to shreds by flying shrapnel, in your own house? How would you feel as you rushed them to the hospital, praying every step of the way that another missile won't hurl down on you from the sky? Your child was innocent, you had done nothing, were simply living your life in your own house -- and someone thousands of miles away, in a country you had never seen, had no dealings with, had never harmed in any way, pushed a button and sent chunks of burning metal into your child's body. How would you feel as you watched him die, watched all your hopes and dreams for him, all the hours and days and years you would have to love him, fade away into oblivion, lost forever?
What would you think about the one who did this to your child? Would you say: "What a noble man of integrity and decency! I'm sure he is acting for the best."
Would you say: "Well, this is a bit unfortunate, but it's perfectly understandable. The Chinese government (or Iran or al Qaeda or North Korea or Russia, etc. etc.) believed there was someone next door to me who might possibly at some point in time pose some kind of threat in some unspecified way to their people or their political agenda -- or maybe it was just that my next-door neighbor behaved in a certain arbitrarily chosen way that indicated to people watching him on a computer screen thousands of miles away that he might possibly be the sort of person who might conceivably at some point in time pose some kind of unspecified threat to the Chinese (Iranians/Russians, etc.), even though they had no earthly idea who my neighbour is or what he does or believes or intends. I think the person in charge of such a program is a good, wise, decent man that any person would be proud to support. Why, I think I'll ask him to come speak at my little boy's funeral!"
Is that what you would say if shrapnel from a missile blew into your comfortable house and killed your own beloved little boy? You would not only accept, understand, forgive, shrug it off, move on -- you would actively support the person who did it, you would cheer his personal triumphs and sneer at all those who questioned his moral worthiness and good intentions? Is that really what you would do?
Well, that is what you are doing when you shrug off the murder of little Naeemullah. You are saying he is not worth as much as your child. You are saying he is not a fully-fledged human being, a beloved soul of infinite worth. You are saying that you support his death, you are happy about it, and you want to see many more like it. You are saying it doesn't matter if this child -- or a hundred like him, or a thousand like him, or, as in the Iraqi sanctions of the old liberal lion, Bill Clinton, five hundred thousand children like Naeemullah -- are killed in your name, by leaders you cheer and support. You are saying that the only thing that matters is that someone from your side is in charge of killing these children. This is the reality of "lesser evilism."
Before the election, we heard a lot of talk about this notion of the "lesser evil." From prominent dissidents and opponents of empire like Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky and Robert Parry to innumerable progressive blogs to personal conversations, one heard this basic argument: "Yes, the drone wars, the gutting of civil liberties, the White House death squads and all the rest are bad; but Romney would be worse. Therefore, with great reluctance, holding our noses and shaking our heads sadly, we must choose the lesser evil of Obama and vote accordingly."
I understand that argument, I really do. I don't agree with it, as I made plain here many times before the election. I think the argument is wrong, I think our system is so far gone that even a "lesser evil" is too evil to support in any way, that such support only perpetuates the system's unconscionable evils. But I'm not a purist, not a puritan, not a commissar or dogmatist. I understand that people of good will can come to a different conclusion, and feel that they must reluctantly choose one imperial-militarist-corporate faction over the other, in the belief that this will mean some slight mitigation of the potential evil that the other side commit if it took power. I used to think that way myself, years ago. Again, I now disagree with this, and I think that the good people who believe this have not, for whatever reason or reasons, looked with sufficient clarity at the reality of our situation, of what is actually being done, in their name, by the political faction they support.
But of course, I am not the sole arbiter of reality, nor a judge of others; people see what they see, and they act (or refrain from acting) accordingly. I understand that. But here is what I don't understand: the sense of triumph and exultation and glee on the part of so many progressives and liberals and 'dissidents' at the victory of this "lesser evil." Where did the reluctance, the nose-holding, the sad head-shaking go? Should they not be mourning the fact that evil has triumphed in America, even if, by their lights, it is a "lesser" evil?
If you really believed that Obama was a lesser evil -- 2 percent less evil, as I believe Digby once described the Democrats in 2008 -- if you really did find the drone wars and the White House death squads and Wall Street bailouts and absolution for torturers and all the rest to be shameful and criminal, how can you be happy that all of this will continue? Happy -- and continuing to scorn anyone who opposed the perpetuation of this system?
The triumph of a lesser evil is still a victory for evil. If your neighborhood is tyrannized by warring mafia factions, you might prefer that the faction which occasionally doles out a few free hams wins out over their more skinflint rivals; but would you be joyful about the fact that your neighborhood is still being tyrannized by murderous criminals? Would you not be sad, cast down, discouraged and disheartened to see the violence and murder and corruption go on? Would you not mourn the fact that your children will have to grow up in the midst of all this?
So where is the mourning for the fact that we, as a nation, have come to this: a choice between murderers, a choice between plunderers? Even if you believe that you had to participate and make the horrific choice that was being offered to us -- "Do you want the Democrat to kill these children, or do you want the Republican to kill these children?" -- shouldn't this post-election period be a time of sorrow, not vaulting triumph and giddy glee and snarky put-downs of the "losers"?
If you really are a "lesser evilist" -- if this was a genuine moral choice you reluctantly made, and not a rationalization for indulging in unexamined, primitive partisanship -- then you will know that we are ALL the losers of this election. Even if you believe it could have been worse, it is still very bad. You yourself proclaimed that Obama was evil -- just a bit "lesser" so than his opponent. (2 percent maybe.) And so the evil that you yourself saw and named and denounced will go on. Again I ask: where is the joy and glory and triumph in this? Even if you believe it was unavoidable, why celebrate it? And ask yourself, bethink yourself: what are you celebrating? This dead child, and a hundred like him? A thousand like him? Five hundred thousand like him? How far will you go? What won't you celebrate?
And so step by step, holding the hand of the "lesser evil," we descend deeper and deeper into the pit.
Well, you got your lesser evil. Now all we can do is hope that he will do less evil than he did in his first term. Bitter experience, and a nodding acquaintance with history -- and human nature -- mitigate mightily against such a hope, but we are where we are, and that's all we've got.
In any case, I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how all our super-savvy lesser-evilist progressives "hold Obama's feet to the fire" in the months to come, as they promised so solemnly to do. You remember, don' t you? How they savagely condemned anyone who so much as thought about not supporting Obama, while pledging to unleash their righteous rage at his crimes and follies -- just as soon as he was safely returned to the White House. I'm sure they'll come down hard on him. Why, I can see it all now.....
"OK, now the inauguration's over, let's get to work. First of all, these drone attacks are criminal atrocities killing scores of innocent people. We can organize a protest march to--" Super-savvy prog: "Hush your mouth! We can't undermine the president right now. We've got to help the Democrats get control of the House in 2014! Or do you want the evil Rethuglicans to keep blocking everything? Wait until after the mid-term elections, then we'll put the pressure on."
"OK, we took back the House in 2014 with a slate of anti-abortion, pro-war, entitlement-slashing, deficit-hawk, Blue Dog Democrats. You said it was the savvy thing to do, the lesser evil to replace the anti-abortion, pro-war, entitlement-slashing, deficit-hawk Republicans. NOW can we go after Obama -- for the state terrorism of the drone campaign, the 'extrajudicial' murders, the 'disposition matrix,' the torture and imprisonment of the truth-teller Bradley Manning, the support of the brutal coup and murderous repression in Honduras, the fracking, the off-shore drilling, the 'Grand Bargaining' with Social Security and Medicare, the protection of CIA torturers, the global arms dealing, the growing prison population, the growing economic inequality, the ever-more draconian 'security apparatus', the bail-out of the oligarchs and the--"
Super- savvy prog: "Bite your tongue! We can't undermine the president right now! It will hurt the chances of his Democratic successor if we make Obama look bad! Or do you want Paul Ryan to be president? What kind of selfish moral purist are you?"
Oh yeah, they're really gonna make Obama sweat. Things will be different this time around. I can't wait!
There was an election. The winner was a man pledged to murder and plunder. His followers rejoiced that the murder and plunder would be flavored to their taste, done by one of their own. The losers lamented the fate of the nation because their man would not be in charge of the murder and plunder. Bitterness was everywhere. Poison, illusion.
The sun rose. The broken system, heaving and buckling under the weight of its foul excrescences, staggered on.
No answers. No resolution. No mercy, not from the structures; only from ourselves, each to each, one to one, moment to moment, hands touching, clutching, tearing free, in the turbulence of the waves.
UPDATE:Arthur Silber marshals the insights of Hannah Arendt in support of his own powerful arguments against legitimizing a brutal and murderous system that has forfeited all claim to legitimacy. Together, they dismantle the "lesser evil" argument, and make the moral case for refusal -- or as Silber terms it, "the power to say, No." For example, here is Arendt:
In their moral justification, the argument of the lesser evil has played a prominent role. If you are confronted with two evils, thus the argument runs, it is your duty to opt for the lesser one, whereas it is irresponsible to refuse to choose altogether. Those who denounce the moral fallacy of this argument are usually accused of a germ-proof moralism which is alien to political circumstances, of being unwilling to dirty their hands ....
Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil … Moreover, if we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of “the lesser evil”— far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite—is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such. …
We see here how unwilling the human mind is to face realities which in one way or another contradict totally its framework of reference. Unfortunately, it seems to be much easier to condition human behavior and to make people conduct themselves in the most unexpected and outrageous manner, than it is to persuade anybody to learn from experience, as the saying goes; that is, to start thinking and judging instead of applying categories and formulas which are deeply ingrained in our mind, but whose basis of experience has long been forgotten and whose plausibility resides in their intellectual consistency rather than in their adequacy to actual events.
… The nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority … asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.
There is much more to the piece; read the whole thing. In many ways, it underscores what has been, essentially, the oft-repeated core message of this blog for many years now, based on the tragically abiding truth stated by the American refusenik Henry David Thoreau, which I'll repeat here yet again, as a last thought before the election:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
The Washington Post has just laid out, in horrifying, soul-slaughtering detail, the Obama Administration's ongoing effort to expand, entrench and "codify" the practice of murder and terrorism by the United States government. The avowed, deliberate intent of these sinister machinations is to embed the use of death squads and drone terror attacks into the policy apparatus of future administrations, so that the killing of human beings outside all pretense of legal process will go on, year after year after year, even when the Nobel Peace Laureate has left office.
They have even come up with a new euphemism for state murder: "disposition." The new "counterterrorism matrix" is "designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the 'disposition' of suspects beyond the reach of American drones," the Post reports.
In other words, it involves expanding and varying the menu of arbitrary murder, mixing the blunderbuss of drone blasts and night raids with more selective "bullet-in-the-brain," "bomb-in-the-car-engine," "polonium-in-the-pea-soup," and "doping-and-defenestration" approaches. Arbitrary murder by unaccountable elites and their spies, paid for by money taken from ordinary citizens who have no say in and no knowledge of what is being done in their names (and who will be the victims of the inevitable blowback from the state terror and murder campaign): this is now being "codified," officially, formally, as the American way.
To be fair -- and by all means, let us be fair with these butchers -- the term 'disposition' is also stretched to cover a multitude of sins: kidnapping, rendition, indefinite detention, turning captives over to proxy torturers. But it is worth remembering that all of these dispositions -- including the murders, wholesale and retail -- involve "alleged" terrorists, terrorist "suspects," people who have found themselves, for whatever reason (or no reason at all) on one of the innumerable "lists" gathered by whatever method (or no method at all) by the many fatly-funded agencies now involved in "counter-terrorism."
But that's not all, not by a long shot. These codified murders are also being inflicted on people who are not on any list whatsoever: their names, affiliations, beliefs, intentions -- indeed, their dispositions -- are completely unknown to those who kill them. They are the faceless targets of "signature strikes," which allow American death squads to kill people based on "patterns of activity" which may -- or may not -- signal some possible malign intent -- or none -- toward someone -- or no one -- somewhere -- or nowhere. This rigorous process rests entirely on in the magical mind-reading abilities of drone jockeys ogling a computer screen. If the armchair warrior doesn't like the cut of someone's jib, then he squeezes his joystick and turns the stranger into "bug splatter," to use the term favored by our bold defenders of civilization.
Like last year's NY Times piece that first detailed the murder racket being run directly out of the White House, the new Washington Post story is replete with quotes from "senior Administration officials" who have obviously been authorized to speak. Once again, this is a story that Obama and his team WANT to tell. They want you to know about the murder program and their strenuous exertions to make it permanent; they are proud of this, they think it makes them look good. They want it to be part of their legacy, something they can pass on to future generations: arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder.
Perhaps this fact should be borne in mind by all those anguished progressives out there who keep telling themselves that Obama will "be different, that he will "turn to the left," if we can only get him a second term. No; the legacy of arbitrary, lawless, systematic murder is the legacy he wants. It is the legacy he has been building, with remarkable energy and meticulous attention to detail, day after day, week after week, for the past four years. This is what he cares about. And it is this -- not jobs, not peace, not the environment, not equal rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities, not the poor, not the middle class, not education, not infrastructure, not science, not diplomacy -- that he will apply himself to in a second term. (Along with his only other political passion: forging a "grand bargain" with Big Money to gut the remaining shreds of the New Deal.)
There is little point in going through the Post story and offering detailed comment. The sickening nature of this perpetual-motion death-machine -- and the husk-like inhumanity of those who operate it and the sycophants who applaud it -- are all too plain. Just read the whole thing, and see for yourself. See how these butchers -- our bipartisan elites, our whole respectable, self-righteous establishment -- have trapped us all in an Age of Hell.
UPDATE:Arthur Silber has much more on the moral implications -- and the heartbreaking historical resonances -- of the state murder program. Get over there now, read it -- and weep for where we are, and where we're going.
"...for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument?" -- Shakespeare, Henry V
Even as the presidential candidates meet in ersatz agon to spew their self-serving lies and scripted zingers in a "debate" on foreign policy, the real campaign -- the campaign of blood and bone, of death and terror, being waged in Pakistan by the American government -- goes on it all its horror.
This week, the Mail on Sunday -- one of Britain's most conservative newspapers -- published a story outlining, in horrific detail, the true nature of the drone killing campaign begun by George W. Bush and vastly expanded by Barack Obama. Coming on the heels of a recent report ("Living Under Drones") by teams at Stanford and New York universities on this ongoing war crime, the Mail on Sunday story brings the humanity of the victims -- and the inhumanity of perpetrators -- to the fore. The story concerns legal action being taken in Pakistan on behalf of families of drone-murder victims by Pakistani lawyer and activist Shahzad Akbar and the UK-based human rights group, Reprieve. As the MoS reports, two court cases have been filed that could "trigger a formal murder investigation into the roles of two US officials said to have ordered the strikes."
The MoS quotes the Living With Drones report to set the context:
…Between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed since the strikes in Pakistan began in 2004. The report said of those, up to 881 were civilians, including 176 children. Only 41 people who had died had been confirmed as ‘high-value’ terrorist targets.
As the paper notes, full figures on the killings are hard to come by, due to the convenient fact that "the tribal regions along the frontier are closed to journalists." The true death count of civilians is almost certainly far higher.
So who are the thousands of people being slain by brave American warriors sitting at computer consoles on a military bases on the other side of the world? From the MoS:
The plaintiff in the Islamabad case is Karim Khan, 45, a journalist and translator with two masters’ degrees, whose family comes from the village of Machi Khel in the tribal region of North Waziristan. His eldest son, Zahinullah, 18, and his brother, Asif Iqbal, 35, were killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone that struck the family’s guest dining room at about 9.30pm on New Year’s Eve, 2009.
Mr Khan said: ‘We are an educated family. My uncle is a hospital doctor in Islamabad, and we all work in professions such as teaching. We have never had anything to do with militants or terrorists, and for that reason I always assumed we would be safe. Zahinullah, who had been studying in Islamabad, had returned to the village to work his way through college, taking a part-time job as a school caretaker. ‘He was a quiet boy and studious – always in the top group of his class.’ Zahinullah also liked football, cricket and hunting partridges. Asif, he added, was an English teacher and had spent several years taking further courses to improve his qualifications while already in work. Asif had changed his surname because he loved to recite Iqbal, Pakistan's national poet.
Well, that's what they claim, right? No doubt the button-pushing drone "pilot" parked safely in his cushy padded chair back in Nevada could ascertain through the computer screen that the quiet student and the poetry-loving teacher were actually "active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm America," to quote the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House, in his only public acknowledgement of the drone campaign. Such miscreants, said the Laureate, are the only people ever killed by this "targeted, focused effort."
Mr Khan, who had been working in Islamabad at the time, hurried back to the village when he got the news. This is what he found:
He got home soon after dawn and describes his return ‘like entering a village of the dead – it was so quiet. There was a crowd gathered outside the compound but nowhere for them to sit because the guest rooms had been destroyed’.
Zahinullah, Mr Khan discovered, had been killed instantly, but despite his horrific injuries, Asif had survived long enough to be taken to a nearby hospital. However, he died during the night.
‘We always bury people quickly in our culture. The funeral was at three o’clock that afternoon, and more than 1,000 people came,’ Mr Khan said. ‘Zahinullah had a wound on the side of his face and his body was crushed and charred. I am told the people who push the buttons to fire the missiles call these strikes “bug-splats”.
‘It is beyond my imagination how they can lack all mercy and compassion, and carry on doing this for years. They are not human beings.’
In this, however, Mr Khan is wrong, and therein lies the tragedy: the people who killed his brother and thousands of other innocents, and have carried on doing it for years, are indeed human beings -- all too human. The lack of mercy and compassion they exhibit is one of our endemic human traits -- and one that has been assiduously, relentlessly, deliberately -- and profitably -- cultivated for years by our bipartisan elites, who sow fear and hatred and dehumanization to advance their agenda of domination, playing upon -- and rewarding -- what is worst in our common human nature, while mocking, denigrating and punishing what is best.
One of the officials targeted in the lawsuit is former CIA general counsel John Rizzo. As the paper notes:
Mr Rizzo is named because of an interview he gave to a US reporter after he retired as CIA General Counsel last year. In it, he boasted that he had personally authorised every drone strike in which America’s enemies were ‘hunted down and blown to bits’.
He added: ‘It’s basically a hit-list. The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head.’
That's nice, isn't it? Noble, worthy, honorable, isn't it? Again, these are the mafia thug values being embraced, lauded, supported and reinforced at every turn by the most respectable figures throughout American politics and media, including of course the popular media, where TV shows and movies abound with tough guys "doing whatever it takes" to kill the dehumanized "enemy" and "keep us safe."
The second case now before the Pakistani courts involves "signature strikes," the policy of killing unknown people simply because you don't like how they look or how they act. No evidence -- not even false evidence, not even the thin scraps of rumor and innuendo and ignorance that constitute the overwhelming majority of "intelligence reports" -- is required before the well-wadded Cheeto-chewer in Nevada crooks his finger and fires a drone. The MoS quotes a Pakistani official describing the signature strikes:
‘It could be a vehicle containing armed men heading towards the border, and the operator thinks, “Let’s get them before they get there,” without any idea of who they are. It could also just be people sitting together. In the frontier region, every male is armed but it doesn’t mean they are militants.’
One such signature strike killed more than 40 people in Datta Khel in North Waziristan on March 17 last year. The victims, Mr Akbar’s dossier makes clear, had gathered for a jirga – a tribal meeting – in order to discuss a dispute between two clans over the division of royalties from a chromite mine.
Some of the most horrifying testimony comes from Khalil Khan, the son of Malik Haji Babat, a tribal leader and police officer. ‘My father was not a terrorist. He was not an enemy of the United States,’ Khalil’s legal statement says. ‘He was a hard-working and upstanding citizen, the type of person others looked up to and aspired to be like.
"What I saw when I got off the bus at Datta Khel was horrible,’ he said. ‘I immediately saw flames and women and children were saying there had been a drone strike. The fires spread after the strike. The tribal elders who had been killed could not be identified because there were body parts strewn about. The smell was awful. I just collected the pieces that I believed belonged to my father and placed them in a small coffin.’
...He added that schools in the area were empty because ‘parents are afraid their children will be hit by a missile’.
This is another aspect of the drone campaign that I noted in a recent post here about the drone campaign: it is not just an illegal military operation, it is -- and is designed to be -- a terrorist campaign. It is meant to terrorize the population of the targeted regions, to keep the people there enslaved to fear and uncertainty, never knowing if the buzzing drone flying high and unreachable above their heads will suddenly spew out a Hellfire missile on their house, their school, their farm, their hospital, and blow them or their loved ones into unidentifiable shreds. It is a terrorist campaign -- not a random attack here and there, not an isolated spasm of violence -- but a continual, relentless, death-dealing campaign of terror designed to poison the daily lives of innocent people and force their cowed acquiescence to the dictates of domination.
II. It goes without saying that this story, or the Living Under Drones report, or the abominable implications of the terrorist campaign were not discussed during the "debate" Monday night between the two clowns who are fighting for the chance to drench themselves in human blood for the next four years. (For the most thorough -- and harrowing -- consideration of these implications, including the electoral implications, see this powerful piece by Arthur Silber.) The fact that the drone campaign is actually one of the greatest threats to the national security of the American people will not impinge upon the "debate." Why should it? Neither candidate is the least bit interested in the security of the American people. In fact, both are firmly committed to imposing the drone terror campaign on the American people themselves (as Silber, again, notes here).
In a recent article, Daniel Ellsberg -- a courageous and worthy dissident for many decades -- shocked many by cataloging the many war crimes and moral atrocities of the Obama Administration, then ending with a fervent rallying cry for us all to .... support Obama. (Vast Left has more on this.) Here, Ellsberg echoes a familiar argument during this election cycle, voiced more vehemently not long ago by another honorable campaigner, Robert Parry. My response to Parry then applies equally to Ellsberg now, and to all those good progressives who advocate a 'reluctant' but 'realistic' vote for Obama:
Parry believes he is preaching a tough, gritty doctrine of "moral ambiguity." What he is in fact advocating is the bleakest moral nihilism. To Parry, the structure of American power -- the corrupt, corporatized, militarized system built and sustained by both major parties -- cannot be challenged. Not even passively, not even internally, for Parry scorns those who simply refuse to vote almost as harshly as those who commit the unpardonable sin: voting for a third party. No, if you do not take an active role in supporting this brutal engine of war and injustice by voting for a Democrat, then it is you who are immoral.
You must support this system. It is the only moral choice. What’s more, to be truly moral, to acquit yourself of the charge of vanity and frivolity, to escape complicity in government crimes, you must support the Democrat. If the Democratic president orders the "extrajudicial" murder of American citizens, you must support him. If he chairs death squad meetings in the White House every week, checking off names of men to be murdered without charge or trial, you must support him. If he commits mass murder with robot drones on defenseless villages around the world, you must support him. If he imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and investigative journalists more than any other president in history, you must support him. If he cages and abuses and tortures a young soldier who sought only to stop atrocities and save the nation’s honor, you must support him. If he "surges" a pointless war of aggression and occupation in a ravaged land and expands that war into the territory of a supposed ally, you must support him. If he sends troops and special ops and drones and assassins into country after country, fomenting wars, bankrolling militias, and engineering coups, you must support him. If he throws open the nation's coastal waters to rampant drilling by the profiteers who are devouring and despoiling the earth, you must support him. If he declares his eagerness to do what no Republican president has ever dared to do -- slash Social Security and Medicare -- you must support him.
For Robert Parry, blinded by the red mist of partisanship, there is literally nothing -- nothing -- that a Democratic candidate can do to forfeit the support of "the left." He can even kill a 16-year-old American boy -- kill him, rip him to shreds with a missile fired by a coddled coward thousands of miles away -- and you must support him. And, again, if you do not support him, if you do not support all this, then you are the problem. You are enabling evil.
I confess I cannot follow such logic. But in his article, Ellsberg compounds the puzzlement when he tries to clinch his case by citing Henry David Thoreau, of all people. Ellsberg writes:
I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”
In other words, Ellsberg is using a call for resistance to civil authority to justify supporting a civil authority which he himself acknowledges is committing war crimes and destroying American democracy. Again, I find this "reasoning" unfathomable.
But I too often quote a line by Thoreau that has had a great impact for me. In fact, I would say that it encapsulates my entire political philosophy in this dirty, degraded Age of Empire:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
If only more of our compatriots would say the same.