Obama’s “kill List” and the “War on Terror”
Much has been made of “Obama’s kill list”, which the CIA updates and brings to him in the Oval Office, once a week – reportedly on Tuesdays – for him to order new assassinations against individuals around the world. Some journalists present the “kill list” as something new and Obama as its initiator. Some liberals also wish the next president would decide to discontinue it, since it makes “us” look bad.
The fact is that such assassinations have been ordered and carried out for many decades, long before the newly found and exploited pretext of “war on terror” and without being known as picked from a “kill list” by the president. Such imperialist policies grow naturally as imperialism expands and constantly seeks to grow its sphere of control and influence, finding itself having to eliminate resistance through “endless wars”, secret CIA prisons, renditions, bombings and assassinations. The “war on terror” is only a pretext within the larger context of imperialist expansion and world domination for corporate profits.
Once the president claims such a nebulous group, as “terrorists”, which is hard to define, much less identify, with any level of certainty, as a legitimate target for elimination, and orders them assassinated, without any debate or political repercussions, there is nothing that would stop him or her from taking out popular foreign political leaders and activists, who aren’t terrorists, but who simply are against US policies that too often are in support of corrupt and brutal dictators. There is nothing that would stop US leadership from targeting leaders and activists who organize and agitate to make needed changes in their societies, including democratic reforms, which are usually considered hostile to so-called “US interests”, which are understood by the political leadership in Washington as anything that’s against the interests of US multinational corporations. Who’s to tell who is plotting to kill Americans and who is plotting to free his or her society from the bridle of imperialism? Couldn’t the latter be interpreted or explained as “trying to harm America” or “US interests”?
Although the pretext of fighting tetrode may be relatively new, the policy of assassinations is anything but. What’s new is how it’s now out in the open and how it’s justified. The “war on terror” offers a new and seemingly acceptable pretext to the old policy of assassinations. With this new pretext in hand, there is nothing that would restrict the assassinations to only those who plan acts of terror on US soil, especially when the president doesn’t have to answer to anyone or follow any due process or be accountable legally. Once you have established such a policy as legitimate and normal, you wittingly or unwittingly put yourself above international laws and norms, which were instituted to prevent precisely such abuse of power. What the US is demonstrating to the rest of the world is that might makes right and none of those international laws and Geneva Conventions mean anything. The reason for those Conventions, the UN Charter and other international laws was to avoid another strong, heavily militarized and aggressive government bent on taking over the world from acting out on its belligerent ambitions and waging endless wars. How is that working out? Despite all the cheap talk of being “leader of the free world”, the only thing the US is proving, in action, is that they’re the “leaders” of a criminal lawless gangster group that does what it pleases and doesn’t give rat’s ass to international laws and norms. Despite all the talk of having saved the world from Nazism (it’s also normal US policy to downplay the role of the Soviets who made the most sacrifice and played a most critical role in defeating Nazi Germany), the US is now showing to the world that it’s replaced Nazi Germany as the newest threat to the world and its inhabitants. What’s different now is the target nations to be taken over and destroyed.
Like assassinations, terrorism, too, is nothing new. By their own definition, US leaders themselves have engaged in acts of terror longer than any Islamist organization trying to establish a Wahhabi Caliphate in the Middle East. What is new is the pretext of “war on terror”, used by US imperialism, for ever more terrorism and assassinations against individuals, as well as, entire nations that they deem hostile to “US interests”. What is new is the claim that US policies have something to do with terrorism in the Arab World, which the US, ironically, is a big part and enabler of. CIA Assassinations of political leaders and union activists in Central and South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, from El Salvador and Guatemala to Lebanon and Iran, had nothing to do with Islamist terrorism or “war on terror”. Fidel Castro has never been involved with any terrorism. Yet, ever since the victory of the revolution which overthrew the US puppet and brought socialism to the island nation of Cuba, the CIA has made over 600 attempts at his life. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion by US marines, ordered by President John F. Kennedy, the President also ordered his assassination, which the CIA has continued to try to materialize, to this day. And, it’s the US that has Cuba on its list of nations “supporting terrorism”. How’s that for imperial irony? The idea of sovereignty or respect for the wishes of the people of other nations doesn’t even enter the Washington groupthink. Numerous other political activists and leaders, especially in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Central and South America have been on US “kill list”, without public knowledge or attention or calling it that. Even some domestic leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were on the list of individuals to assassinate. The court hearing the civil lawsuit brought by Dr. King’s family against individuals involved in his assassination concluded that “certain government agencies” were also involved in his assassination, without specifically naming them. The truth is that the only terrorists in all these and other similar cases were US agents and their hired mercenaries. And even the recent Islamist terrorism was funded and supported by Saudi Arabia and the CIA, in 1980’s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and since 2011, to try to overthrow the Syrian government.
What’s also new about US assassinations of political and labor leaders is the use of drones against those who pose a threat or challenge to the empire. Some of those targeted may very well have been Al Qaeda members or sympathizers, but first of all, those same Al Qaeda members who were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and other equally barbaric terrorists now fighting the Syrian government were considered “freedom fighters” and “opposition”, and secondly, how and on what legal basis can one justify assassinating someone on the mere suspicion of being an Al Qaeda sympathizer or even a member? Besides, given current US aggression in the Muslim World, why would most people in those countries not be sympathizers of a group that considers the US its enemy? And how can you be sure you’re targeting the right people, especially since there are no trials, no judge and no jury? The US president, literally, acts as the judge, jury and executioner, skipping the first two roles and going directly to the execution part.
Again, although the use of drones is new, the policy itself isn’t. Pretexts and methods do change with time, but policies stay the same as long as the long term objectives are the same. That’s because policies reflect the long term strategic goals of the empire. Today, drones do what car bombs and shooting from a speeding motorcycle used to do. And the fact that entire families and even multiple families and even a Doctors Withiut Borders hospital may be blown away is of little concern to empire’s policy makers. Facts of the past 100-150 years bear that out.
What’s also true is that policies of wars and assassinations aren’t up to an individual president to adopt or to discontinue since they’re systemic and strategic and stem from long term strategic objectives of the military industrial complex, which a president comes to lead only for a short few years. These policies follow from the logic of and are necessitated by a socioeconomic system that puts profits above everything else, including human lives.
So, to think that Obama’s “kill list” has anything to do with current terrorism in the Middle East or that it started with him is to disregard past and current history and verifiable facts, either due to extreme naïveté or deliberate fabrication and deceit for political ends. Obama did dramatically increase the use of drones to kill people with and he did give name to the list of people to kill, but the policy wasn’t his and will continue unabated, as long as the empire continues to pursue its goal of world domination for corporations and their shareholders. When asked by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes during a recent Town Hall meeting, if he would continue Obama’s “kill list” if elected president, even liberal Bernie Sanders indicated that he would.
With or without Islamist terrorism and in the name of “war on terror” or something else, such policies and their accompanying lies will continue, as long as they’re accepted by the public as legitimate reaction to terrorism, much of which is created, incited or enabled by the US. Hillary Clinton and the other right wing candidates like her are even more eager proponents of this policy.
The reason the “kill list” has become more openly and widely known, with American journalists not trying to hide it, anymore, as they used to do, is because there is more acceptance of the practice in the context of the “war on terror”, which has allowed the government to shed some of its pretense at respecting the rule of law and international laws and norms.
Same is also true about the massive surveillance program directed at the American people. That too is nothing new. What is new is its breadth and level of sophistication, due to newer technology and the fact that the public is more receptive to it in the era of “war on terror”. What slowly, but surely, gets accepted as legitimate practice “to keep us safe” and the “terrorists” out, including the endless wars of aggression, the open and shameless practice of assassinations which has taken on the look and feel of a normal government practice, on par with diplomacy and trade, the mass surveillance program of the citizens and foreigners alike, the increasing level of control and monitoring of protests and assemblies and people’s activities, warrantless searches and seizures and mass incarceration, are all things that fascist and police states have adopted in the past. Even the pretexts are not very different. The difference is that these policies are now being adopted more slowly and cautiously than they were by the fascists of the 1930’s.
Truth is, a system based on greed and maximizing profits, with any means necessary, cannot but be any different. The problem is systemic and so will the change have to be.
The photo makes fun of Obama’s “kill list”, but it also shows, wittingly or not, the danger in such power afforded to the president of the empire.