It is terrifying even in the quiet moments; it is most terrifying in the quietest moments.
National Bird, a new documentary by filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck, co-produced with Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, is a deep, multilayered, look into America’s drone wars, a tactic which became a strategy which became a post-9/11 policy. To many in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world, America’s new national symbol is not the bald eagle, but a gray shadow overhead armed with Hellfire missiles.
Scattered throughout the documentary are silent images from drones and aerial cameras, sweeping, hypnotic vistas taken from above both Afghan villages and American suburbs. The message could not be more clear: the tools used over there can just as easily be used over here, not merely for surveillance (as is already happening in America) but perhaps one day soon to send violence down from the sky. Violence sudden, sharp, complete and anonymous.
The anonymity of that violence comes at a price, in this case in the minds of the Americans who decide who lives and dies. National Bird presents three brave whistleblowers, two former uniformed Air Force veterans (Lisa Ling, Heather Linebaugh) and a former civilian intelligence analyst (Dan), people who have broken cover to tell the world what happens behind the scenes of the drone war. There are elements of “old hat” here, chilling in that we have grown used to hearing that drone strikes kill more innocents than terrorists, that the people who make war justify their actions by calling their victims hajjis and ragheads, that America draws often naive young people into its national security state on the false promises of hollow patriotism and turns them into assassins.
Heather suffers from crippling PTSD. Lisa is compelled to travel to Afghanistan with a humanitarian group to reclaim part of her soul. Dan is in hiding as an Espionage Act investigation unfolds around him. A sobering side to this all is the presence of the whistleblowers’ attorney, Jesselyn Radack, who currently also helps defend Edward Snowden. Radack ties the actions of the drone whistleblowers into the larger post-9/11 narrative of retributive prosecutions and government attempts to hide the truth of America’s War on Terror from everyone but its victims.
The final layer of National Bird is what may be some of the first interviews with innocents who have suffered directly from drone attacks. The film interviews at length members of an Afghan extended family attacked from the air in a case of mistaken targeting even the Department of Defense now acknowledges.
The family members speak six years after the fact as if still in shock. Here’s a boy who shows off his leg stump. Here’s a woman who lost her husband, the boy’s father, in the same attack. Here is another father discussing the loss of his own child. In a critical piece of storytelling, National Bird does not seek to trivialize the deaths in Afghanistan by weighing them against the psychological trauma suffered by the Americans, but rather shows the loss to everyone done in our names.
National Bird is in limited film festival release, most recently at Tribeca in New York, before moving wider theatrical release in the U.S. this fall.
(Full disclosure: Jesselyn Radack helped represent me in my own whistleblower fight against the U.S. Department of State in 2012)
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The nuances of foreign policy do not feature heavily in the ongoing presidential campaign. Every candidate intends to “destroy” the Islamic State; each has concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korea, and China; every one of them will defend Israel; and no one wants to talk much about anything else — except, in the case of the Republicans, who rattle their sabers against Iran.
In that light, here’s a little trip down memory lane: in October 2012, I considered five critical foreign policy questions — they form the section headings below — that were not being discussed by then-candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney today is a sideshow act for the current Republican circus, and Obama has started packing up his tent at the White House and producing his own foreign policy obituary.
And sadly, those five questions of 2012 remain as pertinent and unraised today as they were four years ago. Unlike then, however, answers may be at hand, and believe me, that’s not good news. Now, let’s consider them four years later, one by one.
Is there an endgame for the global war on terror?
That was the first question I asked back in 2012. In the ensuing years, no such endgame has either been proposed or found, and these days no one’s even talking about looking for one. Instead, a state of perpetual conflict in the Greater Middle East and Africa has become so much the norm that most of us don’t even notice.
In 2012, I wrote, “The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq… the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).”
Well, candidates of 2016? Guantanamo remains open for business, with 91 men still left. Five others were expeditiously traded away by executive decision to retrieve runaway American soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, but somehow President Obama feels he can’t release most of the others without lots of approvals by… well, someone. The Republicans running for president are howling to expand Gitmo, and the two Democratic candidates are in favor of whatever sort of not-a-plan plan Obama has been pushing around his plate for eight years.
Iraq took a bad bounce when the same president who withdrew U.S. troops in 2011 let loose the planes and drones and started putting those boots back on that same old ground in 2014. It didn’t take long for the U.S. to morph that conflict from a rescue mission to a training mission to bombing to Special Operations forces in ongoing contact with the enemy, and not just in Iraq, but Syria, too. No candidate has said that s/he will pull out.
As for the war in Afghanistan, it now features an indefinite, “generational” American troop commitment. Think of that country as the third rail of campaign 2016 — no candidate dares touch it for fear of instant electrocution, though (since the American public seems to have forgotten the place) by whom exactly is unclear. There’s still plenty of fighting going on in Yemen — albeit now mostly via America’s well-armed proxies the Saudis — and Africa is more militarized than ever.
As for the most common “American” someone in what used to be called the third world is likely to encounter, it’s no longer a diplomat, a missionary, a tourist, or even a soldier — it’s a drone. The United States claims the right to fly into any nation’s airspace and kill anyone it wishes. Add it all together and when it comes to that war on terror across significant parts of the globe, the once-reluctant heir to the Bush legacy leaves behind a twenty-first century mechanism for perpetual war and eternal assassination missions. And no candidate in either party is willing to even suggest that such a situation needs to end.
In 2012, I also wrote, “Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of ‘al-Qaeda Number 3’ guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: ‘We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.’”
Four years later, whack-a-mole seems to still be as polite a way as possible of categorizing America’s strategy. In 2013, the top whacker John Brennan got an upgrade to director of the CIA, but strangely — despite so many drones sent off, Special Operations teams sent in, and bombers let loose — the moles keep burrowing and he’s gotten none of the rest he was seeking in 2012. Al-Qaeda is still around, but more significantly, the Islamic State (IS) has replaced that outfit as the signature terrorist organization for the 2016 election.
And speaking of IS, the 2011 war in Libya, midwifed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, led to the elimination of autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, which in turn led to chaos, which in turn led to the spread of IS there big time, which appears on its way to leading to a new American war in Libya seeking the kind of stability that, for all his terrors, Qaddafi had indeed brought to that country during his 34 years in power and the U.S. military will never find.
So an end to the Global War on Terror? Nope.
Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?
In 2012 I wrote, “Starting on September 12, 2001, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland.”
At the time, however, our concerns about unconstitutionality were mostly based on limited information from early whistleblowers like Tom Drake and Bill Binney, and what some then called conspiracy theories. That was before National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden confirmed our worst nightmares in June 2013 by leaking a trove of NSA documents about the overwhelming American surveillance state. Snowden summed it up this way: “You see programs and policies that were publicly justified on the basis of preventing terrorism — which we all want — in fact being used for very different purposes.”
Now, here’s the strange thing: since Rand Paul dropped out of the 2016 presidential race, no candidate seems to find it worth his or her while to discuss protecting the Bill of Rights or the Constitution from the national security state. (Only the Second Amendment, it turns out, is still sacred.) And speaking of rights, things had already grown so extreme by 2013 that Attorney General Eric Holder felt forced to publicly insist that the government did not plan to torture or kill Edward Snowden, should he end up in its hands. Given the tone of this election, someone may want to update that promise.
In 2012, of course, the Obama administration had only managed to put two whistleblowers in jail for violating the Espionage Act. Since then, such prosecutions have grown almost commonplace, with five more convictions (including that of Chelsea Manning) and with whatever penalties short of torture and murder are planned for Edward Snowden still pending. No one then mentioned the use of the draconian World War I-era Espionage Act, but that wasn’t surprising. Its moment was still coming.
Four years later, still not a peep out of any candidate about the uses of that act, once aimed at spying for foreign powers in wartime, or a serious discussion of government surveillance and the loss of privacy in American life. (And we just learned that the Pentagon’s spy drones have been released over “the homeland,” too, but don’t expect to hear anything about that or its implications either.) Of course, Snowden has come up in the debates of both parties. He has been labeled a traitor as part of the blood sport that the Republican debates have devolved into, and denounced as a thief by Hillary Clinton, while Bernie Sanders gave him credit for “educating the American people” but still thought he deserved prison time.
If the question in 2012 was: “Candidates, have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?” In 2016, the answer seems to be: “Yes, we’ve walked away, and accept that or else… you traitor!”
What do we want from the Middle East?
In 2012, considering the wreckage of the post-9/11 policies of two administrations in the Middle East, I wondered what the goal of America’s presence there could possibly be. Washington had just ended its war in Iraq, walked away from the chaos in Libya, and yet continued to launch a seemingly never-ending series of drone strikes in the region. “Is it all about oil?” I asked. “Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? History suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.”
Four years later, Washington is desperately trying to destroy an Islamic State “caliphate” that wasn’t even on its radar in 2012. Of course, that brings up the question of whether IS can be militarily destroyed at all, as we watch its spread to places as far-flung as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. And then there’s the question no one would have thought to ask back then: If we destroy that movement in Iraq and Syria, will another even more brutish group simply take its place, as the Islamic State did with al-Qaeda in Iraq? No candidate this time around even seems to grasp that these groups aren’t just problems in themselves, but symptoms of a broader Sunni-Shi’ite problem.
In the meantime, the one broad policy consensus to emerge is that we shouldn’t hesitate to unleash our air power and Special Operations forces and, with the help of local proxies, wreck as much stuff as possible. America has welcomed all comers to take their best shots in Syria and Iraq in the name of fighting the Islamic State. The ongoing effort to bomb it away has resulted in the destruction of cities that were still in decent shape in 2012, like Ramadi, Kobane, Homs, and evidently at some future moment Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, “in order to save” them. Four American presidents have made war in the region without success, and whoever follows Obama into the Oval Office will be number five. No questions asked.
What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?
Plan? Right-size? Here’s the reality four years after I asked that question: Absolutely no candidate, including the most progressive one, is talking about cutting or in any way seriously curtailing the U.S. military.
Not surprisingly, in response to the ongoing question of the year, “So how will you pay for that?” (in other words, any project being discussed from massive border security and mass deportations to free public college tuition), no candidate has said: “Let’s spend less than 54% of our discretionary budget on defense.”
Call me sentimental, but as I wrote in 2012, I’d still like to know from the candidates, “What will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?”
Such questions would at least provide a little comic relief, as all the candidates except Bernie Sanders lock horns to see who will be the one to increase the defense budget the most.
Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?
In 2012, I laid out the reality of twenty-first-century America this way: “We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most ‘exceptional’ of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them). Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer… America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course. Saber rattling… feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.”
Yet in 2016 most of the candidates are still barking about America the Exceptional despite another four years of rust on the chrome. Donald Trump may be the exceptional exception in that he appears to think America’s exceptional greatness is still to come, though quite soon under his guidance.
The question for the candidates in 2012 was and in 2016 remains “Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual ‘shining city on a hill’ metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world?”
The answer is a resounding no.
See You Again in 2020
The candidates have made it clear that the struggle against terror is a forever war, the U.S. military can never be big enough, bombing and missiling the Greater Middle East is now the American Way of Life, and the Constitution is indeed a pain and should get the hell out of the way.
Above all, no politician dares or cares to tell us anything but what they think we want to hear: America is exceptional, military power can solve problems, the U.S. military isn’t big enough, and it is necessary to give up our freedoms to protect our freedoms. Are we, in the perhaps slightly exaggerated words of one foreign commentator, now just a “nation of idiots, incapable of doing anything except conducting military operations against primitive countries”?
Bookmark this page. I’ll be back before the 2020 elections to see how we’re doing.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Before he was assassinated by a United States government drone under orders from Obama and in contemptuous disregard for the Bill of Rights, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, Anwar al-Awlaki was an American Citizen.
I have written a fair amount about his death, one small piece of which was picked up by the New York Times Sunday Magazine:
You can bomb a thing into oblivion, but you cannot blow up an idea. An idea can only be defeated by another, better idea. So killing al-Awlaki had no more chance of truly silencing him than turning off the radio and hoping the broadcast never exists elsewhere. In an environment where martyrdom is prized, America might begin to turn around its failures first by creating fewer martyrs.
More on al-Awlaki elsewhere on this blog…
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
This is not my work, but rather that of a commenter on Boing Boing which bears repeating. Ideally, it would appear on some future memorial to America’s drone victims.
Can you still hear the screaming of the Yemenite children?
I bet the firewood they were gathering burned real good
when the Hellfire missiles torched their little bodies.
The child pictured is not Yemeni. She is Shakira, a 4-year-old girl, who survived but was burned in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in 2009. Burned children look the ame in Yemen as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the other places U.S. drone attacks occur.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Though I spent 24 years working for the State Department as a Consular Officer, charged in part with the issuance and (very rarely) revocation of U.S. passports, there is still room to learn something new: The Government of the United States can, and apparently does, take away passports from American Citizens because “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”
If the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows them to do this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause…” part of the law, meaning you don’t need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.
We learned via a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request that prior to having him and his 16 year old son away blown away via drone in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen. The State Department even tried to invite al-Awlaki into the U.S. Embassy in Yemen so they could hand him a letter announcing the revocation and so that they could encourage him to return to the U.S. to face charges. Six months later (al-Awlaki never dropped by the Embassy, by the way), the U.S. Government simply killed him. Two weeks after that it killed his 16 year old son.
I have been unable to track down many recent examples where the U.S. Government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered– or might bother– the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example I was able to locate was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Phillip Agee, who in the 1970’s exposed CIA officers identities. It was Agee’s case that prompted a Supreme Court review of the Department of State’s ability to revoke passports simply because the government didn’t want you to travel abroad (the Supreme’s upheld the government’s ability to do so based on a 1926 law after lower courts said no. The Court stated that “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.”)
Agee was a naughty boy. According to the Supreme Court:
In 1974, Agee called a press conference in London to announce his “campaign to fight the United States CIA wherever it is operating. He declared his intent “to expose CIA officers and agents and to take the measures necessary to drive them out of the countries where they are operating.” Since 1974, Agee has, by his own assertion, devoted consistent effort to that program, and he has traveled extensively in other countries in order to carry it out. To identify CIA personnel in a particular country, Agee goes to the target country and consults sources in local diplomatic circles whom he knows from his prior service in the United States Government. He recruits collaborators and trains them in clandestine techniques designed to expose the “cover” of CIA employees and sources. Agee and his collaborators have repeatedly and publicly identified individuals and organizations located in foreign countries as undercover CIA agents, employees, or sources. The record reveals that the identifications divulge classified information, violate Agee’s express contract not to make any public statements about Agency matters without prior clearance by the Agency, have prejudiced the ability of the United States to obtain intelligence, and have been followed by episodes of violence against the persons and organizations identified.
In Anwar Al-Awlaki’s case, the Government has not made much of a case (never mind for the passport, remember he was murdered by a drone). In fact, officially, we do not know why al-Awlaki was killed at all, or under what laws or by what decision process. Some reports tie him to the failed idiot underwear bomber, but being part of a failed plot seems not to rise to the usual standard for capital punishment. It is all secret.
The Government of the United States executed one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and includes no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really bad human being.
Could the passport revocation have been simply a ruse, a bureaucratic CYA attempt at providing some sort of illusion of “due process?” Could al-Awlaki’s not dropping by the U.S. Embassy to chat about his passport have been a veiled attempt to justify his killing in that he was thus not able to be arrested? Or was the passport revocation just a simple act of dehumanizing someone to make killing him that much more palatable?
We’ll never know.
But what better way to celebrate than ordering the killing of some mo’ suspected terrorists?
Bright and early Wednesday, only hours after the polls closed, a U.S. drone in Yemen blew up an alleged al-Qaeda operative and four others, who, by virtue of being assassinated by the United States, were obviously terrorists.
In case you care, the attack killed an alleged al-Qaeda figure named Adnan al-Qadhi, said U.S. officials, who described him as a little-known but important operational figure in the terrorist network’s Yemen branch. The strike was the 38th known one this year in Yemen alone.
Ah, now that smells like Victory! Cheers!
It wasn’t just a movie.
It was less than a year ago that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was videotaped gleefully laughing at the brutal death of then-Libyan leader Qaddafi. “We came, we saw, he died!” giggled the Secretary of State like a drunk school girl on the sidelines of a national television interview.
It was, in large part, the military intervention of the US that brought about Qaddafi’s death and the “liberation” of Libya. Qaddafi was a nasty son of a bitch. He had people tortured and had opponents killed. He was a dictator. The common wisdom on the Internet, and inside the State Department, is that while “unfortunate,” a guy like Qaddafi had it coming. The same logic applied to the US’ gunning down of bin Laden and our drone killings of any number of terrorist celebs, including several American Citizens.
With the tragic news today that US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and several other Americans were killed in an attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, one wonders if Hillary is still laughing.
It appears that the Ambassador was in Benghazi for the ribbon-cutting for an “American Corner.” An American Corner is, in State’s own words, a “friendly, accessible space, open to the public, which provides current and reliable information about the United States through bilingual book and magazine collections, films and documentaries, poster exhibitions, and guides for research on the United States.” Ironic of course that Ambassador Stevens and his people died in what is sadly all of a propaganda gesture, a book nook Corner that says happy things about America so that Libyans will love us.
I mean no disrespect to the dead, and mourn with their loved ones. A few years ago it was my family stationed abroad at an American Consulate, so I know too well the tight feeling in my gut wondering what will happen, will someone die today simply because of where they work. Making light over the death of anyone is disgraceful.
America’s actions abroad, particularly when we kill people because we do not like what they say or do, have consequences that are long and often tragic. Secondary, tertiary effects. I hate killing. I am not justifying any killing nor am I gleeful over Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues’ deaths.
I am instead offended by US leaders who find happiness in the death of others for political reasons, and then seem shocked and surprised when it is visited on our own. Drone strikes call forth retaliatory terror acts. Terror acts begat more drone strikes. Eye for an eye. Live by the sword.
It is not about a movie. The anti-Islam movie was just today’s trigger, the most recent one. Behind the easy, casual “oh, it was our free speech that angered them” we seem to forget what filmmaker James Spione knows, that the invasions of multiple Muslim countries, the killing and wounding of hundreds of thousands of civilians to “free them,” the displacement of millions more as refugees, the escalating drone attacks, the torture and rendition, Guantanamo itself as a symbol of all that is wrong with our policies, the propping up of corrupt regimes in Baharain, Saudi and until we changed directions, Libya and Syria, the relentless horrific violence unleashed year after year after year by America’s military. Let’s at least be honest about the miasma of hatred we’ve created that is the true context for this horrible incident.
It wasn’t just a movie. As if to make the point, Obama is on TV saying “justice will be done” in his serious voice, and CNN reports US drones are being sent to hunt down the killers in Libya.
Indeed, the US rendered human beings into Qaddafi’s Libya for torture just a few years ago. Some of those who were rendered and tortured under US sponsorship now hold key leadership and political positions in the Libyan government. Payback, revenge, call it what you wish.
For those who will claim articles such as this are politicizing a tragedy, remember this: the Ambassador was there as a political symbol, and he was killed as a political symbol. He and the Consulate were targeted specifically because they represent America. Our diplomats are abroad for that purpose, and become the closest targets for those who wish to attack America. Expect more, especially when the US and/or Israel strike Iran.
It wasn’t just a movie. They don’t hate us for our freedoms. They hate us for what we do to them.
America needs a policy in the Middle East that is not based on killing if we ever want the killing to stop.
Sorry Michelle, the contents of the pantry are now classified. I can however leak to you that I bought those garlic pickles you love, on sale, validating that I am indeed a great husband.
Um, OK, so we don’t need pickles…
Michele, I’m afraid whether we do or do not have pickles remains classified. I don’t want to invoke the Espionage Act again, but…
So, well, um, Barack, Ok, do we need milk? I get it about no pickles.
(WHOOSH sound of Hellfire missile.)
I warned you about discussing pickles.
If you placed every article on the US’ war of terror end-to-end, it would be a very long string of bullshit. So, it is important when somebody– a Yemeni named Ibrahim Mothana in this case– just shows up and tells you the whole story in a few words. Mothana wrote in the New York Times:
Dear Obama, when a US drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda… Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.
Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen.
Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing. A new generation of leaders is spontaneously emerging in furious retaliation to attacks on their territories and tribes.
This is why al Qaeda is much stronger in Yemen today than it was a few years ago.
Only a long-term approach based on building relations with local communities, dealing with the economic and social drivers of extremism, and cooperating with tribes and Yemen’s army will eradicate the threat of Islamic radicalism.
Best to read the entire article now online.
Michele Obama, if you are reading this, please clip out the article above and leave it on Barack’s pillow, thanks.
The future is now. This new Ebook Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 is the first unclassified history of US drone warfare, written as it happened.
From the opening missile salvo in the skies over Afghanistan in 2001 to a secret strike in the Philippines early this year, or a future in which drones dogfight off the coast of Africa, Terminator Planet takes you to the front lines of combat, Washington war rooms, and beyond.
Drawing on several years of research, including official documents, open-source intelligence, and interviews with military officers, two of the foremost analysts specializing in drone war offer a sobering, factual account of robot warfare combined with critical analyses found nowhere else.
Loaded with rarely seen Pentagon photos, Terminator Planet provides a rich history of the last decade of drone warfare, a clear-eyed look at its present, and a far-reaching guide to its future.
Want more drone? Check TomDispatch for a devastating look at a weapons system that’s failing to perform as promised, but ever more disastrously embedded in our world — Nick Turse, “A Drone-Eat-Drone World, With Its ‘Roadmap’ in Tatters, the Pentagon Detours to Terminator Planet.”
People, we’ve left behind the fiction of Hollywood for a less high-tech but distinctly dystopian reality. It isn’t quite the movies and it isn’t what the Pentagon mapped out, but it indisputably provides a clear path to a grim and grimy Terminator Planet.
Holding one of her endless signature “Town Hall Meetings,” this time on the role of enhancing civil society, Secretary Clinton stated (apparently without irony as she is programmed to do):
Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened it doesnt strengthen government, it weakens a nation… We have to continue making the case for respect, tolerance, openness, which are at the root of sustainable democracy.
As a sign of commitment to such openness, the State Department continues to censor Washington Post articles about my case from its internal press summary. While running other articles from the Post’s Federal page, State did not include yesterday’s or today’s story. Luckily, despite such pathetic efforts at message control, the Washington Post has a greater circulation than State’s own press summary.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s own State Department struck blows against respect, tolerance and openness, this time through the denial of visas to enter the United States for people whose words scare us.
That’s what the State Department has done ahead of the 30th Conference of the Latin American Studies Association, to be held this week in San Francisco. Of the 2000 or so conferees expected from Latin America, eleven Cubans have been singled out and denied visas to enter the United States. Of the eleven, many are well known and internationally respected academics with long-standing ties to top American scholars. One is a former ambassador to the European Union. Another once taught at Harvard. All eleven had previously traveled to the US. The State Department’s form letters to the rejected applicants said that their presence would be “detrimental” to American interests.
As if to make it abundantly clear that such actions are policy, not happenstance, the same week the Cuban scholars were deemed too dangerous to enter the US, the State Department also denied a visa to the US to Muhammad Danish Qasim, a Pakistani student and filmmaker. Qasim released a short film entitled The Other Side, that shows the social, psychological and economical effects of American drone attacks on the people in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Denying visas to people whose ideas scare America has a long history, and was a favorite tactic of the Bush administration. That it is in healthy use by the Obama administration is not a surprise, but do we have to listen to Clinton’s endless empty prattle about freedom alongside of it?
From TomDispatch: A devastating account of drone wars as our number one export of the twenty-first century and just how we’ve become a Predator nation, America as a Shining Drone Upon a Hill, On Staring Death in the Face and Not Noticing.
It was one of the great self-congratulatory speeches of our era — Obama counter-terrorism tsar John Brennan offering a full-throated defense of the administration’s “covert” drone wars. In his latest post, focusing on what author Tom Engelhardt calls his “shining drone upon a hill” speech, he considers the nature of American exceptionalism in our time and the way it blinds us to ourselves, to how we actually look to the rest of the world.
Engelhardt writes of an American dream of this country as a “shining city”: Whatever that ‘city,’ that dream, was once imagined to be, it has undergone a largely unnoticed metamorphosis in the twenty-first century. It has become — even in our dreams — an up-armored garrison encampment, just as Washington itself has become the heavily fortified bureaucratic heartland of a war state. So when Brennan spoke, what he offered was a new version of American exceptionalism: the first ‘shining drone upon a hill’ speech.
Tom Engelhardt explores his over-the-top language of self-congratulation, his fears of how others less wise, judicious, and moral than us might use drones in the future, and in the process the way a sense of American exceptionalism blinds our leaders to a changing American reality. He concludes that “What they can’t see in the haze of exceptional self-congratulation is this: they are transforming the promise of America into a promise of death. And death, visited from the skies, isn’t precise. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t judicious. It certainly isn’t a shining vision. It’s hell. And it’s a global future for which, someday, no one will thank us.”
Be sure to read the entire piece at TomDispatch. And keep a sharp eye out overhead.
Following the US decision to resume killing people by remote control drone in Pakistan against the demands of Pakistan’s alleged sovereign government, Pakistan has announced that it will too resume drone strikes inside the United States against what it labels “suspected terrorists or somebody.”
After almost eleven years of victories in Afghanistan, the United States has come to believe most terrorists in the area now seek refuge in Pakistan. After learning that during the Vietnam war bad guys ran away into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos and needed to be bombed there, President Obama has ordered repeated drone strikes inside Pakistan. It is uncertain who is being killed, but the White House has been clear that once drone struck, the targets magically do morph into suspected terrorists. A spokesperson described it “kind of like Avengers superpower transformation.”
Failing to get the US to quit doing this despite asking pretty please twice, Pakistan has purchased its own drone from eBay and will soon begin launching strikes in the US mainland. “There are a helluva lot of Americans in the US who have killed people in Pakistan,” claimed an unnamed source in Islamabad now being circled overhead by a Predator. “Many of them are CIA and military with Pakistani blood on their hands, so we will smite them.” The US Congress took a short break from not approving anything to vote to say “No” to the Pakistani drones, only to be met by a rude gesture from the Pakistani Ambassador sent via Twitter and read by an intern.
Meanwhile, the new US policy of signature killings in Yemen, where targets that are people are terminated which means killed based on suspicious actions which means being in Yemen without being identified first is reportedly paying off well. “We have killed dozens of suspected terrorists in Yemen,” claimed a visibly stimulated Obama on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to urinate into the skull of bin Laden preserved just for such a moment, “And we will keep killing them until I get re-elected. And then maybe some more. Man, once upon a time this shit counted as going to war, but now I can just freaking do it. Cool.”
In other news, the suspected terrorists of Yemen are seeking to raise $12.5 million dollars on Kickstarter to purchase their own drone.
Uberfurher der Obama Reich Eric Holder of course famously announced this week that the Government of the United States now asserts that it has the legal right to kill American Citizens (foreigners were always fair game) abroad when Der Furher determines said Americans are terrorists. If you have not read my renunciation of this horrific turn of events, please do read it on this blog, or at the Huffington Post.
The US-sanctioned assassinations of native-born American Citizen al Zawaki and his 16 year old American Citizen son were the unspoken centerpieces of Uberfurher Holder’s speech. Those murders were carried out using US military drones, bureaucratically assigned to CIA “control” in the air over Yemen. The illusion of CIA (i.e., civilian) control of the drones even though it was likely a pair of rugged military hands on the stick is needed to keep within the letter of the law Obama still wishes to follow, those still-secret naughty post 9/11 decrees that grant the CIA hunting rights to the entire planet. Military actions abroad require more internal US government paperwork, so whenever a drone strike will cross that bureaucratic line, they just say it was a CIA op. Indeed, the kill mission that whacked bin Laden was officially classified as a CIA op, even though the murderers were US military Seal Team 6 members in uniform. Nice to know there are still some rules, right?
Given that there are rules, albeit rules no one outside a very tight group in the Reichstag know, FBI Director Mueller’s remarks on Wednesday are very, very frightening.
Mueller, appearing before a House subcommittee, said that he simply did not know whether he could order an assassination of his own against an American here in the US. “I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not” and added “I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice.”
Note that Mueller indeed had the option of saying flat-out “No, no, the FBI can’t order an American killed in the US” or maybe “No, even the President can’t order a hit on an American here in the US where the full judicial system, Constitution and other protections apply.”
Nope, Mueller did not say those things.
Instead, in 2012 under oath before Congress, the senior G-man of the United States, who to get his job had had to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, was so worried about perjury that he was unable to say whether or not the US government can indeed kill, murder and otherwise assassinate one of its own Citizens inside the United States without trial.
TomDispatch tells us more about how we evolved into a country without much purpose abroad beyond targeted killing with our robots:
Put drones in a more familiar context, skip the awestruck commentary, and they should have been eerily familiar. We should have known that remotely piloted vehicles were heading toward us these last four decades, that they were, in fact, the most natural form of war for the All Volunteer Military (and the demobilized American public that went with it).
Go back to one of the most momentous, if underrated and little considered, decisions of the “American Century” — the decision, in the wake of Vietnam, to sever the military from potentially unruly draftees and create an all-professional army, while not backing down from the American global mission. The amateurs, a democratic citizenry, were demobilized, sent home, and sidelined as a new American way of war was launched that would grow ever more remote (as in “remotely piloted vehicle”) from most Americans, while corporations, not citizens, would be mobilized for our new wars.
Although early drone technology was already being used over North Vietnam, it’s in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America’s future since 1973. There was an eerie logic to it: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war — all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans. Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself.
Read the whole article now on TomDispatch.
For example, in 2007, al Qaeda sent letters (letters!) to 45 Jews living near Sanaa, saying that if the Jews did not abandon their homes in ten days, they would be abducted and murdered and their homes would be looted. The Jewish community sent a complaint letter (a letter!) to President Salah, who promised that their homes would be protected. Good times.
Sure, 2001-2008, a lot about al Qaeda in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and more recently in Pakistan. Now Yemen. I could be wrong, but it is almost– almost– as if al Qaeda kept spreading to new places despite our killing as many Muslims as we can.
Some news from Yemen.
— Al Qaeda’s robust terror organization in Yemen is recruiting from a pool of hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who have fled war in their homeland, according to U.S. and Yemeni intelligence officials. Approximately 700,000 Somali refugees have made Yemen their home, and that population is expected to continue to grow in the face of the collapse of the East African nation.
— Two American tourists were kidnapped by gunmen in Yemen Monday, and local officials said it was likely the group holding them had ties to al Qaeda.
— A US military official warned that the global links between the groups in Yemen pose a “significant danger to our own national security because the next attack in the US may not come from someone we suspect but from a recruit born right here or someone else, like a Somali refugee.”
— In April, 23 Somalis who entered Mexico illegally earlier in the year were believed headed for the US after being released by Mexican authorities.Several were directly connected to Islamo-terror group Al-Shabaab, according to the law enforcement documents.
— US makes a drone attack a day in Yemen. The increase of such attacks is part of a US strategy to employ more drones to curb what the US believes is a growing terror threat in Yemen. The US plans to begin supplementing US military drones with CIA drones.
Only intelligent comment made: A Yemen defence official, who requested anonymity, said he ws worried that US strategy may backfire. “The United States is turning Yemen into another Pakistan,” he said. He said relatives of innocent drone-attack victims will seek to avenge the deaths and resort to terror.
Can we please listen to that guy?
Q: If the United States kills an American overseas for political reasons, it is called…
The Government of the United States, currently under the management of a former professor of Constitutional law, is actively trying to kill one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and playground rules goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and include no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really shitty human being.
On or about May 7 a US military drone fired a missile in Yemen (which is another country that is not our country) aimed at American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, a real-live al Qaeda guy. The missile instead blew up a car with two other people in it, quickly dubbed “al Qaeda operatives” since we killed them. The US has shot at al Awlaki before, including under the Bush administration. In justifying the assassination attempt, Obama’s counterterrorism chief Michael Leiter said al Awlaki posed a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than bin Laden did, albeit without a whole lot of explanation as to why this was. But, let’s be charitable and agree al Awaki is a bad guy; indeed, Yemen sentenced him to ten years in jail (which is not execution, fyi) for “inciting to kill foreigners” and “forming an armed gang.”
Attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US. District Court to issue an injunction last year preventing the government from the targeted killing of al Awlaki in Yemen, though a judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. My research has so far been unable to disclose whether or not this is the first time a father has sought to sue the US government to prevent the government from killing his son but I’ll keep looking. The judge did call the suit “unique and extraordinary” so I am going to go for now with the idea that no one has previously sued the USG to prevent them from murdering a citizen without trial or due process. The judge wimped out and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens abroad.
Just to get ahead of the curve, and even though my own kids are non-terrorists and still in school, I have written to the president asking in advance that he not order them killed. Who knows what they might do? One kid has violated curfew a couple of times, and another stays up late some nights on Facebook, and we all know where that can lead.
The reason I bring up this worrisome turn from regular person to wanted terrorist is because al Awlaki used to be on better terms with the US government himself. In fact, after 9/11, the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community. Al Awlaki “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community” by the Army. He attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the Secretary of the Army’s Office of Government Counsel. Al Awlaki was living in the DC area at that same, the SAME AREA MY KIDS LIVE, serving as Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, the SAME UNIVERSITY MY KIDS might walk past one day.
Even though Constitutional law professor Obama appears to have skipped reading about the Fifth Amendment (release the transcripts! Maybe he skipped class that day!), courts in Canada have not.
A Toronto judge was justified in freeing an alleged al Qaeda collaborator given the gravity of human rights abuses committed by the United States in connection with his capture in Pakistan, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled. Judges are not expected to remain passive when countries such as the US violate the rights of alleged terrorists, the court said Friday.
“We must adhere to our democratic and legal values, even if that adherence serves in the short term to benefit those who oppose and seek to destroy those values,” said the Canadian court.
Golly, this means that because the US gave up its own principles in detaining and torturing this guy, the Canadians are not going to extradite him to the US. That means that the US actions were… counterproductive… to our fight against terrorism. The Bill of Rights was put in place for the tough cases, not the easy ones. Sticking with it as the guiding principle has worked well for the US for about 230 years, so why abandon all that now?
Meanwhile, I’ll encourage my kids to stay inside when they hear drones overhead.