by William Boardman

May 27, 2013
from GlobalResearch Website







The United States uses Predator and Reaper drones to kill people at a distance, sometimes at random, sometimes Americans or children, and after a decade of this practice, in the face of scattered popular protest, President Obama gave a speech about it on May 23 that was preceded by waves of advance media buzz that the President was going to change some of the policy in the global war on terrorism.

Who in a sane state of mind would expect any change of policy when the president gives a speech about counter-terrorism at the National Defense University?

In effect, two American administrations have followed the same pre-emptive killing policy that can be summed up simply:

"Assassinating people prevents them from attacking us, whether they want to or not, and it’s not up to us to figure out what they want."

No administration official since 2001 has put it quite that way, of course, but it is a fair summary of the country’s fear-based endless war against an abstraction, terrorism, that is made more palpable by the very actions taken to fight it.

Another way to summarize a dozen years of pre-emptive war is that the United States is within its rights to defend itself against all enemies, real and imagined.




What Do You Call It When One Man Decides Who Lives or Dies?

Since American terror policy is contradictory and semi-secret, it appears incoherent.


In March 2012 on CNN, Attorney General Eris Holder expressed the administration’s point of view in a manner suitable to Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s "Through the Looking Glass."


Here, rendered in the quasi-poetic form it deserves, is Holder’s explanation of lethal drone strikes:

Some have called such operations ‘assassinations.’
They are not. And the use of that loaded term is misplaced.
‘Assassinations’ are ‘unlawful killings.’
Here, for the reasons that I have given,
the US Government’s use of lethal force
in self-defense against a leader of al Qaeda
or an associated force
who presents an imminent threat of violent attack
would not be unlawful
and therefore would not violate
the executive order banning assassination…

* * *

In Holderworld, it is somehow not an assassination to commit a killing that fits the widely accepted definition of "assassination" as,

"the murder of a prominent person or political figure by a surprise attack, usually for payment or political reasons… An assassination may be prompted by religious, ideological, political, or military motives…"




You Don’t Need Law When There’s No Political Challenge

As Holder well knows, as does Obama, both being lawyers, there is no clear constitutional, statutory, court precedent, or other legal grounding for assassination by drone.


The only basis in law is untested legal argument, some if which remains secret. But as both men know, the assassination policy has solid grounding in both politics and psychology.

And so the President framed his counter-terrorism speech with 9/11, which is as logical and useful as it is exceptional and misleading, telling his audience falsely but with Humpty Dumpty mastery of words,

"And so our nation went to war."

That has been the delusional national consensus since 2001, even though it’s not war in any constitutional, historic, or honest sense.

But war justifies everything, at least for awhile. And that may be the meaning behind Obama’s speech, a sense that time may be running out on the "nation at war" meme, and perhaps it’s time for the clever leader to get ahead of the politics and the psychology by at least seeming to change course a little.

The President acknowledges much of the damage our self-chosen wars have done to us at home and abroad. He ticks off government surveillance, torture, secret prisons - but not renditions.


He says,

"And in some cases, I believe we compromised our basic values."

Then he tried to sell us an inherent contradiction:

"we stepped up the war against al Qaeda, but also sought to change its course," by which he seemed to mean we stopped torturing as may people and generally tried to break fewer domestic and international laws.

But on the other hand, we should still be afraid:

"our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston…"

He did not clarify when Benghazi became part of "our nation."



At a Crossroads and Choosing to go in All Four Directions?

The President rambled on in this contradictory fashion, warning the nation that,

"America is at a crossroads" and quoting Madison that, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare - then assuring us that our war on terrorism would continue."

"We must make decisions based not on fear," the President said, suggesting that we need to understand the threat we face.

Then a short while later he added,

"that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11."

"Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology," Obama said, echoing the recent words of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: "the war against radical Islam, or terror, or whatever description you like."

Contrary to a good many of his fellow Americans, the President went on to assert that,

"the United States is not at war with Islam."

Then he used the magic language, defining the enemy as "al Qaeda and its associated forces."


Given the limitations of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon has been using the catch-all "and its associated forces" to argue the legality of doing whatever they want to whomever they want, or just not interfering with the free hand of the CIA or other clandestine forces.

Obama suggested that,

"we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror,’"

...and went on to offer no boundaries to our willingness to attack whomever we define as an enemy in any part of the world.



Assassination by Drone to Remain Presidential Prerogative

With regard to assassination by drone, the President claimed,

"our actions are effective… These strikes have saved lives."

He offered no serious evidence to support either claim, neither of which appears to be provable.

Amidst much vague reassurance about how drone strikes would be fewer, and kill fewer innocents, he also made an unsupported claim that strains credulity:

"For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq."

To dispel the haunting, the President immediately played the fear card again:

"To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties…"

Earlier in the day, the Obama Administration admitted to killing four American citizens, and unnumbered others, without any legal due process.


Yet in his speech he said,

"For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen - with a drone, or a shotgun - without due process."

The President went on to discuss engaging with the Muslim American community, being troubled intimidating reporters, modifying the legal basis for continued war-making, and mitigating the horrors of Guantanamo.


All these are issues he could have addressed at any time during his presidency, and he offered no pressing reason for addressing any of them now. Nor did he outline any clear new direction on any of them.

Boiled down, the President’s speech signaled that he had noticed that there were problems waging global war, that he would try to make it neater and prettier, but that it would continue - be afraid.

The one apparent exception to the contradictory verbal soft talk was a fleeting comment about three-quarters of the way through.


Without offering any analysis, or even any means of doing this, he said:

"We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements - because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism."

This echoed Secretary of State John Kerry’s comment in Jordan on May 22:

"In the event that we can’t find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate Geneva 1 in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition in order to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country."

Now there’s something to be afraid of.









Obama Defends Drone Strikes But Says No Cure-All
by PBSNewsHour
May 23, 2013

from YouTube Website

On the defensive over a trio of controversies, President Barack Obama refocused the debate Thursday with a speech laying out his administration's rationale for the use of unmanned drone strikes against terrorism targets abroad.


Obama has given a speech - justifying and outlining changes to the national defence policies of the United States. The address is seen as an opening up of America's security policies.


Obama has discussed the legality of drone strikes and the future of the Guantanamo prison.



Obama Announces Restrictions on Drone Strikes - Pledges to Close Gitmo
May 23, 2013

from RT Website

President Barack Obama announced drastic changes to the United States’ counterterrorism operations Thursday, reforming the rules that guide America’s drone program while also expediting the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The president spoke at the National Defense University in Washington, DC Thursday afternoon to discuss those two issues in particular, weighing in on a pair of topics that have increasingly attracted criticism to the administration since Obama’s first term in office began more than four years ago.

When Mr. Obama entered the White House in 2009, he inherited a couple of items from the George W. Bush administration that are widely cited today as the driving force behind anti-American sentiment overseas:

the US has continued to operate the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military prison to house more than 160 alleged enemy combatants; and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, has increased exponentially under Obama’s leadership.

But although both the drone program and Guantanamo Bay have existed for more than a decade, calls for reform on both matters have increased severely in recent months. By many estimates, thousands of women, children and other innocent victims have been killed during a decade-long war dominated by drones.


Meanwhile, Gitmo inmates - nearly all of them - remain committed to a hunger strike that has made the White House the object of international embarrassment and prompted them to start force-feeding prisoners.

During Thursday’s address, Obama spoke in depth on both topics while outlining changes to his administration’s counterterrorism operations as the face of war changes more than a decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks prompted the invasion of Afghanistan.

"Make no mistake - our nation is still threatened by terrorists," said Obama.


"From Benghazi to Boston we have been tragically reminded of that truth, but we have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience now to draw from, this is the moment to ask ourselves hard questions about the nature of today’s threats and how we should confront them."

Setting the course for a speech that at times celebrated America’s counterterrorism practices while also recognizing the necessity of revamping them, Obama said the US is at a crossroads and,

"must define the nature and scope of this struggle or else it will define us."

"We have to make decisions based not on fear but on hard-earned wisdom," he said.

One day earlier, US Attorney General Eric Holder wrote Congress to inform them that Mr. Obama approved new presidential guidelines for drone use.


Simply put, Holder explained that the administration hopes to make it clear that their official policy mandates that "lethal force should not be used when it is feasible to capture a terrorist suspect."

On Thursday, Obama added that,

"America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists."

"Our preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute them," said the president.


"America cannot take strikes wherever we choose - our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals - we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat.


And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set."

In his address, Pres. Obama credited drones with helping dismantle the core of al-Qaeda and even said the strikes have prevented the loss of lives.


At the same time, however, the president acknowledged that his administration is responsible for killing no fewer than four US citizens with these attacks and potentially thousands of civilians.

"It is a hard fact that US strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars," said Obama.


"For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq."

In order to bring about more accountability to America’s actions overseas, Obama admitted to approving of the guidelines Holder hinted at one day earlier, shaping the way America will conduct its drone war overseas.

"In the Afghan war theater, we must support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014," he said.


"That means we will continue to take strikes against high value al-Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces.


However, by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we have made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes."

But elsewhere during his address, Obama defended the drone strikes and suggested that the United States’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles has been instrumental in winning the war on terror.

"Dozens of highly skilled al-Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, US transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives," he said.

Last month, a Yemeni activist with ties to the US testified before Congress as to drones being used in his own town even when other counterterrorism options are on the table.


Speaking in Washington just days after a drone blew up a small part of Wessab, Yemen, Farea al-Muslimi pleaded with lawmakers to find another way to advance its war on terror.

"My understanding is that Hameed Meftah, who is also known as Hameed al-Radmi, was the target of the drone strike. Many people in Wessab know a-Radmi. Earlier on the night he was killed, he was reportedly in the village meeting with the general secretary of local councilors, the head of the local government.


A person in the village told me that al-Radmi had also met with security and government officials at the security headquarters just three days prior to the drone strike. Yemeni officials easily could have found and arrested al-Radmi," he said.

"The people in my village wanted al-Radmi to be captured, so that they could question him and find out what he was doing wrong so they could put an end to it. They still don’t have an answer to that question. Instead, all they have is the psychological fear and terror that now occupies their souls.


They fear that their home or a neighbor’s home could be bombed at any time by a US drone," al-Muslimi said.

Although Holder wrote in his letter that four US citizens were killed with drones between 2009 and 2011, he admitted that three of those victims - ages 16, 21 and 30 - were never meant to be killed.


Later, the attorney general explained that the September 2011 drone strike use to target suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was subjected to intense judicial scrutiny before being ordered because it involved using lethal force against a US citizen located abroad.


Because al-Awlaki allegedly posed an immediate threat to the lives of Americans, Holder said his killing was justified.

"Al-Awlaki repeatedly made clear his intent to attack US persons and his hope that these attacks would take American lives," wrote Holder.


"Based on this information, high-level US government officials appropriately concluded that al-Awlaki posed a continuing and imminent threat of violent attack against the United States."

On Thursday, Obama weighed in further on the 2011 drone strike.

"For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen - with a drone, or a shotgun - without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over US soil," he said.


"But when a US citizen goes abroad to wage war against America - and is actively plotting to kill US citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot - his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team."

Obama concluded his address in Washington by weighing in on the situation at Gitmo, where as many as 130 of the 166 inmates are currently participating in a hunger strike.

"The original premise for opening Gitmo - that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention - was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.


Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Gitmo. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people - almost $1 million per prisoner.


And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep Gitmo open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home," said Obama.

The president went on to say he’s recently directed the Pentagon to designate a site where some of the inmates currently held at Gitmo could be relocated, and revealed that he’s lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen.


At least 88 of the 166 detainees at Gitmo are Yemeni nationals, and 59 of them were approved to be transferred from the prison four years ago.


Up until now, however, Pres. Obama has refused to release Yemen natives from US custody, with his administration citing potential security concerns as a reason for continuously housing dozens of men, many of who have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted.

"Imagine a future - 10 years from now or 20 years from now - when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?" he asked.

More than three-quarters of the detainees at Gitmo have been on a hunger strike since February. The president has repeatedly said this year that he wants to shut down the facility, but allegedly congressional roadblocks have prevented him from doing so.


He campaigned on shutting down Guantanamo before being elected in November 2008, and was interrupted no fewer than four times during Thursday’s address by a female protester who demanded the immediate closure of the detention facility.

"I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about," the president responded. "Is this who we are? Is that something our fathers foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?"

In the years since Obama campaigned on closing Gitmo, he has repeatedly called on Congress to help make his promise a reality.


On Thursday, he once again urged lawmakers in Washington to act on his request.

"I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense," he said.

At one point, Obama went off his script and again acknowledged the cry from the crowd.

"The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong," Obama said.

Last month, Yemeni detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel told the New York Times that Gitmo was literally killing him.

"I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial," he said.

"I could have been home years ago - no one seriously thinks I am a threat - but still I am here," he wrote. "The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one."

"I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day."