Pres. Obama has apparently ‘seen the light’ regarding one of the anti-humane and illegal practices instituted by the Bush administration in its “Global war on terror”: the use of Guantanamo Bay as an extra-legal grey zone in which the US can carry out major human rights infractions at will. But he has shown no readiness yet to end the US’s indefinite detentions of alleged ‘enemy combatants’ in Bagram airbase, Afghanistan. And elsewhere in Afghanistan and even Pakistan, the US military has even under Obama, stepped up its recourse to extra-judicial executions of alleged “bad guys.”
Meantime, Israel continues to threaten the lives of numerous leaders and activists in movements that oppose it.
All these manhunting operations– that is, lethal operations conducted against people who are not currently engaged in armed hostilities— are quite illegal under international law. For this reason alone, they need to be ended, just as surely as the Guantanamo detention camp needs to be closed.
In addition, these manhunting operations, a.k.a. extra-judicial executions, or just plain assassinations, have a number of practical effects that are extremely detrimental to international peace and security:
- 1. They rain down death and injury on large numbers of people who are in the vicinity of the identified targets.
2. Because they rely on secret information that is never exposed to the light of day or tested in a fair courtroom, they run the real risk of misidentification of targets and of malicious false accusations being acted upon.
3. Because of the breadth of the casualties, damage, and human displacement that ensue from these operations they frequently serve to strengthen the determination of targeted constituencies– and other constituencies that may be far afield– to become even harder-line and more violent.
4. Plus, because these operations frequently target political leaders, they can considerably complicate and delay the politics and logistics of conflict termination.
The NYT reports today that
- With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.
The “attacking” in these cases and in many others in Pakistan and Afghanistan is carried out by “killer” drone aircraft whose weapons are controlled, I assume, from places very far away, using recon imaging provided by the drones and matching it against “information” or “accusations” that have been gathered from human sources.
The NYT writers report that these new CIA targets are “training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud”, who has been accused of having organized the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. They note that Pres. G.W. Bush, “included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.”
There are many tangled legal, jurisdictional, and diplomatic issues involved here. The Pakistani government denies any foreknowledge of or involvement in the US killer-drone strikes– though Sen. Dianne Feinstein [corrected from ‘Pelosi’. HT Mick] recently let slip that at least some of the US’s lethal “manhunting” ops inside Pakistan have been run out of Pakistani military bases and not, as people had previously thought was always the case, from US bases in Afghanistan.
The idea of the US waging this clandestine war inside Pakistan is very worrying, at all levels, regardless of whether Washington has the complicity of some portions of the Pakistani government or not. (This is the case even though Pakistan’s people face many extremely complex issues of internal conflict and atrocious governance… And even though accusations have come from credible sources that some parts of the country provide safe havens for Al-Qaeda or other terror networks with violent global ambitions. But why should the US arrogate to itself any “right” to act in response to these challenges unilaterally and using lethal violence? What if all the world’s nations felt they had a similar “right” to act like this wherever and whenever they pleased?)
But in this post, I want to focus on that deadly concept of my government having a “classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos [are] authorized to capture or kill.”
Not, you’ll note, people whom US security forces might be particularly interested in “capturing or killing” if they should discover them taking part in hostilities against the US… But people whom US operatives are authorized– or let’s say, even more actively encouraged– to hunt down and go out and “capture or kill” even if they’re sitting down for a bowl of cornflakes on a sunny day with their family all around.
Of course, the use of killer drones completely gives the lie to the “capture or– ” part of the authorization.
Were the drones programed to swoop down from the skies, grab Baitullah Mehsud by the scruff of his neck, and haul him back to Bagram air base for interrogation? I think not.
This “capture or ill” slogan is in 99% of the cases only a euphemism for flat-out, lethal manhunting, and should be recognized as such. The intention in the vast majority of these still ongoing US and Israeli operations is not to capture. It is to kill. This is what makes it completely unacceptable under any concept of international law.
(By the way, that Wikipedia page linked to there gives an interesting survey of the use of manhunting by various western militaries over the decades, and has some very informative source notes.)
Another aspect of this that should be a cause for huge concern is the completely secret nature of all the alleged “evidence” on the basis of which these assassination classifications/decisions are made.
As in so many of the extra-legal practices the US military developed– under Pres. Bush and before him under Pres. Clinton– the practice of lethal manhunting was pioneered in recent times by the Israelis. They have assassinated literally scores of Palestinians since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000– and many scores over the decades before that, too.
Recall the incredibly sympathetic piece of writing about the Israeli commanders who make these decisions that the WaPo published back in 2006. Writer Laura Blumenfeld never once asked the really tough questions about the nature of the “evidence” against the targeted men, and why Israel, with all its many huge capabilities on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank didn’t simply arrest these men and bring them to trial through legal means instead of hunting them down from the air like fish in a barrel… You’d think she’d never read a book or seen a movie about the way the Nazis behaved in the Warsaw Ghetto…
If you look down the right sidebar of this page on Btselem’s website you can learn that in each of the years 2001-2004, the number of targeted killings the IOF carried out in the occupied Palestinian territories was between 37 and 44. In each of 2005 and 2006 it was 22.
This is obscene.
Israel is the power that has been in military occupation of these lands since 1967 and is responsible for the welfare of all their residents. Systematically targeting some of these residents for assassination– on the basis of always secret “information”– is completely illegal.
During the most recent Gaza war, the policy of assassinations, which had fallen into disuse when the 6-month ceasefire started last June, was resumed again.
Both countries should end this vile practice.