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The recent news that a US bombing strike in Pakistan resulted in the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, the number two ranking al-queda member, was received enthusiastically here in the US.  We are told there is a war on terrorism and that a terrorist was killed, so this is widely seen as a good thing.  Even here on the liberal pages of Daily Kos, that was a large amount of enthusiasm for this remote-controlled killing.

There shouldn't be.  The emergence of “the Obama doctrine” to use the military to engage in extra-judicial sanctioned killings of persons in sovereign countries is fundamentally flawed in a number of ways.  This article attempts explains some of those flaws.

1.  Ethically – The taking of life is wrong, even when we know the one we kill has done something wrong.  The taking of life is opposed by every major organized religion around the world.  A reverence for human life is a central tenet of all religions.  Thou shall not kill” is one of our very own Christian ten commandments.  Similar laws exist in the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Sihk, and Buddist religious traditions.  A reverence for human life also figures prominantly in our US constitution.  We are right when we condemn terrorists for murdering people; but the efforts of terrorists to murder people does not give us permission to murder people.  Ethically, the bad behavior of the terrorists is never an excuse for our own bad behavior.  

2.  Strategically – Has anyone noticed that we have now killed “the number 2 leader of al-queda” at least three times in the past couple of years?  Our strategy looks more like a game of “whack-a-mole” than a war-winning attack, and is ultimately about as effective.  We are told that al-queda is now crippled and no longer effective because of our war efforts, yet the war continues. That is because it is not enough to defeat al-queda, we must likewise defeat the proliferation of al-queda-affiliated groups, al-queda-linked groups, and anti-American terrorists groups unrelated to al-queda.  Terrorism is not a nation-state that can be conquered through warfare; terrorism is an idea that will survive bullets and bombs.  If we are going to defeat terrorism by killing off anyone who practiced terrorism, or may practice terrorism in the future, we are going to have to kill off a lot more people.  The English did not defeat terrorism by killing Irishmen, and the Israelis did not defeat terrorism by killing off Palestinians, and the US will not defeat terrorism by killing Muslims.  Hence, the endless attempts to stamp out “the number 2 leader of al-queda”, even as our military leaders assure us that al-queda crippled and no longer effective.  In Whack-a-Mole, the game never ends because the little furry critters stop popping up, it ends when you run out of quarters..

3.  As a matter of government policy – As a matter of government policy, the drone strikes on “terrorists” is entirely without accountability.  The program is carried out in secret, so we the people and the tax-payers have no way to know how many drone strikes have been carried out, at what financial cost, and to what effectiveness.  We only hear what government officials want to tell us: that a strike occurred and that it was successful.  We never hear about the strikes that missed the terrorists, we never are told how many non-combatants were killed, and we have no way of verifying that an actual terrorist was in fact actually killed.  We are forced to rely on the say-so of our military-industrial complex, the same people that told us about the threat of WMD in Iraq and attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin.

4.  Geo-Politically – Pakistan, where the majority of drone strikes occur (that we are told about), is in the unique position of both simultaneously abetting and opposing the bombing attacks.  We know that Pakistani police and intelligence are used in the planning of drone missions, and as recently as 2011, drone aircraft were maintained, armed, and launched from Pakistani air-fields.  So the Pakistani government aids the drone missions.  At the same time, the Pakistani government publicly condemns the bombings, and has used the bombings to stir up popular anti-American feeling as a way to increase support among the populace for the unpopular Pakistani government.  The Pakistani government has used the bombings as an excuse to withdraw support from US military efforts – closing bases and supply routes – and is now involved in an effort to extort more money from US tax-payers.  Our important ally in the war on terrorism is blocking our war-making efforts and adding to anti-American feelings that forms the basis for more terrorist activity.  This is an unstable dynamic that increases the likelihood of a poor outcome, for both Pakistan and the US.

5.  Racially – The drone bombings have strictly targeted poor brown-skinned people.  No locales in which wealthy white people reside have ever been targeted for this treatment.  It is easy to excuse civilian deaths when they only occur among poor brown-skinned people.

6.  Judicially – Western civilization is in part predicated on the ideas of individual civil rights and the rule of law.  Extra-judicial killings subvert these important traditions and indeed our very laws, by denying the accused the opportunity to hear the accusations against them and to face their accusers in a public trial, to speak in their own defense, and to be judged by someone other than those bringing the prosecution.  Instead, we have reverted to a more medieval system whereby one person or a group of persons decide in secret who is guilty and then carry out a sentence.  Guilt is presumed, and innocence must be proven, but only posthumously.  This brings our judicial system more in line with those of China, N. Korea, and Iran, who we once derided.as the “axis of evil”.  

7.  Hearts and Minds Overseas – Increasingly, as we decide in secret who is guilty and then carry out a terrorist attack to punish them, more and more we come to act like a terrorist state.  To those who live in the areas where the drone strikes are occurring, these look very much like terrorist attacks.  The bombing occur at random, at anytime, at anyplace.  Civilians are killed, including women and children.  Like the terrorists themselves, we who do the killing justify the deaths of these non-combatants as necessary to “send a message” to the local populace to avoid associating and supporting those we oppose.   Yet history has never recorded an instance where the bombing of civilians worked to turn the civilians against their own.  The 9/11 attacks did not turn New Yorkers against George Bush; US bombing in Hanoi did not cause the North Vietnamese people to rise up against their government; German bombs did not cause Londoners to oppose Churchill.  In each of these instances, the resolve of the people to fight their attackers was strengthened, not diminished.  Rather than convincing Pakistanis to stop associating with and supporting anti-American terrorists, we are increasing the number of people ready and willing to step into that number 2 spot in al-queda.  It is entirely likely that each bomb creates more terrorists than it kills.    

The primary justification for our bombing of civilians is that terrorists are bad people who want to harm us.  This is true and we are right to oppose them, but not with a policy that targets an entire populace in a region or a country where terrorists are thought to reside.  Apologists say civilian deaths occur because the terrorists use civilians as human shields, further evidence of the terrorists' inhumanity and evil.  It is true that some terrorists use human shields but it is not true that we have to target the shields to get the terrorists.  Apologists say that if the terrorists win, we will not be able to speak out for our nice ideas of western civilization and our Judea-cristian values, and our actions are justified by the very dangers the terrorists represent to our institutions and values.  The correct response to this argument is that one of the dangers that terrorism poses to our institutions and values is that we ourselves will overturn those institutions and values to further the fight against terrorism, and that is exactly the position we as a nation find ourselves in today.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 07:51:19 AM PDT

  •  Great article. The use of Drones in Pakistan has (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    420 forever, chipmo

    been declared illegal by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston.

    The report, written by the UN's Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston, will be formally submitted to the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva tomorrow. It says the use of drones to target militants "violate straightforward legal rules".
    http://www.channel4.com/...
    •  Sad for our Nobel-Prize winning president (0+ / 0-)

      How sad that our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has his policies declared illegal by the UN.

      I was (and still am) quite convinced Pres. Bush committed war crimes in his pursuit of terrorists and the war in Iraq.  I was eager to see Obama investigate and prosecute such crimes, or even the international court.  

      Of course, Obama can not investigate or prosecute actions that he himself pursues and expands.

      "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

      by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 08:21:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh, come on, this is just plain false: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, wilderness voice
    5.  Racially – The drone bombings have strictly targeted poor brown-skinned people.  No locales in which wealthy white people reside have ever been targeted for this treatment.  It is easy to excuse civilian deaths when they only occur among poor brown-skinned people.
    It's also highly ironic to headline it with "Racially" when the statement itself is skirting along the lines of what I will assume is inadvertant racism.  Afghans and Pakistanis aren't immediately brown people just because they're in Asia.

    #1 - There are white Afghans and Pakistanis with blue and green eyes, jfyi.  Especially amongst Pashtuns.

    #2 - Al Qaeda doesn't just consist of "poor, brown" people.  All one has to do is examine the Bin Ladin family wealth to understand how ridiculous that statement is.

    #3 - There are plenty of Caucasians in Al Qaeda groups and also Asians.  Specifically from Chechnya(which is in the CAUCASUS ... hint, hint), from Europe, from Uzbekistan, etc.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 08:20:59 AM PDT

    •  OK, skip the racial aspect of the bombing (0+ / 0-)

      So if you don't agree with the racial aspect of our bombing policy (and I point out we are not bombing in Saudi Arabia, home of Bin Laden and other known terrorists), just ignore that and you are still left with a policy of extra-judicial indiscriminate killings done in secret that do not further our peace and prosperity.  

      "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

      by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 08:57:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I tend to disagree, with the possible exception (2+ / 0-)

        of Yemen.  There is a war in the Af/Pak region and there is a war in Somalia.  Striking enemy targets is justified in these cases, imo.

        I don't see how striking specific targets could be called "indiscriminate", especially since drones are likely more discriminate than any other weapon that we have.

        "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

        by Lawrence on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 09:41:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And how do you know that "enemy targets" (0+ / 0-)

          And how exactly do you know that "enemy targets" have been struck?  Because the security services who told you about WMD in Iraq say so?  

          How the bombing is indiscriminate.  Let's pretend for a moment that we have an actual terrorist (how do we know s/he is a terrorist?) in a specific location (how do we know the terrorist is in that location), and that location gets bombed.  If the terrorist is killed (how do we know the terrorist was killed?), and no one else is killed or injured, you can claim some justice was done.  But injuring or killing others nearby is indiscriminant.

          Under the old-fashioned pre-Bush American justice system, only the bank robber would be tried and punished for robbing a bank.  Under "the Obama doctrine", the entire bank is now bombed, and any bank tellers and customers that are killed or injured are justified as supporters of bank robbers.

          "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

          by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 09:54:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  False equivalency. (2+ / 0-)

            The Bush Admin ginned up the Iraq WMD "evidence", not the security services.  Many security services were, in fact, skeptical.  In the Af/Pak region basically everyone is agreeing that the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are being seriously decimated by drone strikes.

            Hell, even the Taliban and Al Qaeda have indicated as much.

            Sorry dude, but these strikes are far from being indiscriminate.  If villages were being carpet-bombed, I might agree with you on that, but as it stands it is just not true.

            "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

            by Lawrence on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 11:12:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you for saying this! (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Lawrence

              I am so sick and tired of people pretending not to know about how the Bush administration twisted, distorted, and misrepresented the information provided by the professional intelligence services.

              Why are there so many people eager to let Bush and Cheney off the hook, by blaming what was obviously the result of their meddling on the low-level intel analysts they bullied?

              Art is the handmaid of human good.

              by joe from Lowell on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 11:38:01 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Yes, terrorists are killed along with (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              chipmo

              Yes, terrorists are being killed, everyone agrees, along with non-combatants.  Including women and children.

              I don't believe the US should be in the business of killing non-combatant women and children.  I don't believe these bombings should be done in secret.  I don't believe the US should forego the rule of law as a means of combating terrorism.  I don't believe we help our cause by terrorizing others.  I don't believe we should practice racial discrimination when fighting terrorism.

              Sorry dude, but these strikes are not an effective way to end terrorism or protect us from future terrorist attacks.  But even if you could prove conclusively that the US will never suffer a terrorist attack because of these misguided efforts, I would still tell you the ends do NOT justify the means.

              "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

              by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 12:22:57 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I already laid out for you that it is not "racial (0+ / 0-)

                discrimination".  That you insist on that line demonstrates to me that you are not willing to objectively examine the issue.

                And you may not like it, but the drone strikes in the Af/Pak region have been quite effective at combatting Al Qaeda and associated groups.  It's a shame that civilians sometimes die in these strikes, but that blame can't just be laid at our feet.  Al Qaeda and their associates are to blame for a lot of that.

                "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

                by Lawrence on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 05:07:28 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Uzbeks are not Caucasians. But overall I (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lawrence

      completely agree with you.

      •  They're not exactly "brown people" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FG

        either, though.  

        And there actually are quite a few Uzbeks with caucasian features and genealogy, since they generally stem from a mixing of turko-mongolic and indo-european peoples.

        "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

        by Lawrence on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 05:17:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It depends how you look at it. If you look at (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    it as the war against Al Qaeda, then it looks fine. You don't complain that if you killed a colonel in the enemy army someone else will be promoted to a colonel.
    Racial stuff is complete bs.

  •  The additional impetus behind a drone campaign (0+ / 0-)

    IS to enforce a state of constant terror.

    It is derivative of the work done by behaviorist Orval Mowrer in the 30's, in which a constant state of fear and anxiety are conditioned into test subjects.  This work, along with the behavioral experiments of Nazi researchers, led to the work of Ewan Cameron in the 50's, which in turn laid the groundwork for both Shock Doctrine geopolitical strategy and the KUBARCK handbook used by School of Americas trained death squads in South America and at Guantanamo Bay.

    The drone campaign is as "valuable" to American foreign policy as a means of controlling the civilian population as it is of combatting the "military" population.

    “America is just the country that shows how all the written guarantees in the world for freedom are no protection against tyranny and oppression of the worst kind.” ~Peter Kropotkin

    by chipmo on Thu Jun 14, 2012 at 03:30:29 PM PDT

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