The US and the M Word

by DAN DEWALT

‘If the President Does It, It Isn’t Illegal’

— Richard M. Nixon

Drones are finally coming out of the closet. During John Brennan’s confirmation hearings for C.I.A. director, we started to learn a little more about the use of deadly drones by the U.S. government. Brennan’s testimony acknowledged the the use of drones, including attacks that targeted an American citizen. Mainstream media outlets like NPR have even been talking about U.S. drone policy and its place within the framework of U.S. and international law.

Currently, drones are being used as surveillance vehicles armed with cameras, and as killing machines armed with a 100-pound hell-fire guided missile. As we learned earlier this year, every Tuesday morning, the president and his national security team regularly go over the list of current bad guys and decide if they want to kill any of them.

Many of these “kills” are located in countries where we have to rely on sketchy intelligence provided by people with agendas of their own. Many of the “bad guys” are not bad; they are just unlucky enough to have the same name as a bad guy, or a bad guy as a brother or cousin. (“Bad” is also in the eye of the beholder. Many deemed “bad” by US officials see themselves, or are seen by locals as “freedom fighters” against an unwanted occupier.)

If any male older than sixteen is in the vicinity of a “bad guy,” then in the US view, he is a terrorist by association and his death gets to be counted in the tally of enemy dead, as opposed to being another unfortunate number in the collateral damage column. It resembles the Vietnam War, when all the dead in a search-and-destroy mission were counted as “VC kills.”

How hard we have worked to develop an appropriate vocabulary to describe death dissemination!

Violating international borders, stalking an individual and blowing him up without the benefit of accusation or trial – most people would call that premeditated murder. If the person being murdered is an important public figure, we think of it as an assassination. But “murder” and “assassination” are problematic, because both are illegal under U.S and international law. Only under strict circumstances of imminent threat does U.S. law give the president authorization to actively pursue and kill an “enemy”.

The Obama administration, taking a page straight out of the Cheney/Bush playbook, is claiming a blanket authorization cloaked in the vagaries of their war on terror even though they no longer call it the war on terror. We are supposed to trust that they will only righteously strike the truly bad.

Under the tutelage of the national security state, the press and the American public have been trained to make some crucial substitutions in their utterances. Murder and assassination have been changed to “strikes”, preferably surgical ones. Young boys become “militants”, which dehumanizes and militarizes them at the same time.

The president, meanwhile, is not a murderer, or even a noble assassin. No, he is our protector, our guardian, our kick-ass-we’re-number-one-in-chief. The afore-mentioned “collateral damage” has neatly bundled the killing field-scape of dead and dismembered people into something more palatable to assuage the public, which might otherwise become concerned.

Our adversaries of the moment, whether they are fanatic religious terrorists, uniformed troops from the wrong country, or simply people taking up arms against a foreign occupation or a corrupt domestic regime, have all been lumped together as “bad guys.”

It makes everything so simple, like a John Wayne western.

In print and on line, editors will change “drone murder” to “drone strike.” Why does death by arbitrary government fiat get a pass on being called murder? Why are attempts to refer to the president as “Predator O’Drona” edited and sanitized? Does our respect for the office of the presidency supersede our respect for the Constitution and the rule of law? Today, we scoff at President Nixon’s assertions that “If the President does it, it isn’t illegal”. But how is giving Obama a free pass on playing God with peoples’ lives without any accountability any different?

Amazingly, commentators, politicians and patriots alike still summon the supercilious gesture and tut tut about the inhumane violent acts of untrained Afghan soldiers, or Turks, or Pakistanis etc. At the same time, these same voices are calmly debating the value of intelligence that may have come from U.S. torture techniques, which for the purpose of these discussion, are politely referred to as “harsh interrogation” or even better, “enhanced interrogation”.

We’re kidding ourselves (but no one else) if we think that such euphemisms will soften the damage that our descent into the scrum of world powers who utilize murder and torture will do to us as a nation and as people.

We don’t want to call it murder because we would then feel obligated to stop it, which is hopelessly difficult. But we must call it murder precisely so we do act. This government must never be allowed to hear anything but the truth from us about their actions in our names.

If we decide as a nation to embrace murder, assassination and torture in order to maintain our pre-eminence as a world power, it will be a foul day indeed.

But today we are allowing murder, assassination and torture to occur without even having the courage to have a conversation about them. If we care at all about the mythology of an America that stands for truth and the rule of law, we must act now.

Our political system is imploding. While the politicians dally and posture, long-term damage to our national security, and more importantly to our idea of national honor, is being wrought by these murderous and misguided policies.

A government that acts in secrecy and outside of the law does not deserve our trust. Just say no to murder by drone.

Dan DeWalt is an activist and journalist based in New Fane, VT.

This article originally appeared on This Can’t be Happening!

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman