Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Obama Administration Calmly Debates Killing More Americans


The critical reader could be forgiven for feeling like he or she had stepped into a surreal universe while reading The New York Times on Tuesday? When he read, in a demure column on the left-hand side, that the U.S. was debating slaughtering another American by drone strike. And that this “debate” was occurring in the hallowed halls of justice where according to the U.S. Constitution our duly elected leaders shoulder the not inconsiderable burden of ensuring not only our safety, but also our recourse to a fair trial should we fall foul of the law. That before we are tossed into that mixer of ruinous injustice known as the American penal system, our accusers must bring clear evidence before impartial judges. Evidence of our calumnies and crimes. Of our guilt.

A critical reader may have noticed that this debate was uniformed by any of the above considerations. That in fact it had moved beyond such thorny legal puzzles to more forthright questions such as which branch of the government ought to do the slaughtering. One envisions our suave and insuperable President bent in the thinking man’s pose in a chair before assembled military chiefs, their jowly faces and watery eyes lending a providential gravity to their badges and epaulettes. Settled on their haunches, their consciences unfettered, they listen to the Decider-in-Chief describe his preference that the Pentagon, and not his personal executive paramilitary (CIA), conduct strikes against Americans. Better for transparency, it is said to be. Although transparency must not a high priority, considering none but the brave are privy to the supposedly classified evidence that the American in question and in Pakistan is actually guilty of plotting against his own country. Not that the existence of the evidence alone would merit a sudden strike without a court ruling. But we digress.

Set aside the Constitution for minute. Shelve the U.N. Charter for a second. Lay down your human rights manifestoes that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have suggested may indicate our drone strikes are war crimes. Put down your humanitarian legal tomes and your laws of armed conflict. Close the Geneva Conventions and that dusty World Court charter. Put aside even the President’s own protocols for such strikes.

Just listen to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, fulminate about how all this “self-imposed red tape” and judicious deliberation over whom should do the killing is “endangering Americans at home and our military overseas.” Indeed, Rogers salivates, these “individuals” (terrorists) would otherwise have already been “removed” (slaughtered) from the battlefield, perhaps keeping safe the fine folks of Michigan (alarmed) whom Rogers proudly represents (poorly). Notice how Pakistan is a “battlefield” though no war has been declared against this once-sovereign state. Note how these individuals were to be liquated for “plotting to attack U.S. interests” abroad, and that even as the battlefield is now global, so too are our interests, which may include a petroleum field beneath some godforsaken Bedouin camp, or a cabal of disheveled insurgents fighting to rid their country of U.S. paramilitaries.

Surely, though, the unnamed threats espoused by the President, without foresight, by Intelligence Chief James Clapper, without proof, and by Mr. Rogers, without sense, take precedence over decades of finely calibrated international law? Law designed to protect weak from strong and defenseless from militant? Surely it is better to err on the side of paranoia than peace? We must prize security above all. Once this oft-repeated maxim of the mass mind surfaces in one’s head, it soothes one’s fears that we might indeed be living in a parallel universe, one where we seem to celebrate the very things we despise, namely peace and justice and the sanctity of law.

For just a disorienting moment, though, it appeared that we lived in such a place. A world where a Pakistani man whose son is vaporized by an American drone and who demands a reckoning from the local CIA station chief, is first denied a hearing, then abducted for his persistence. Where this criminally complicit station chief is hustled out of the country at first light and furrowed away in that dense haystack of military bureaucracy. A world in which the executive supervisor of a global assassination program—conducted by airborne robots manned by field officers in Las Vegas La-Z-Boys—is able to publicly flout the law of his land and mistake policy for legislation. A world where anti-frackers are surveilled alongside anti-capitalists, and animal-rights activist and environmentalists strike fear into the hearts of the FBI. Even as our drone program inordinately slaughters civilians and produces, according to former military general Stanley McChrystal, 10  terrorists for every innocent slain.

One feels like Candide traveling alongside Dr. Pangloss, inundated by the philosopher’s implacably optimistic and purblind interpretations of the world before him, with its crumbling walls and quaking vistas, its meaningless sheaves of jurisprudence, its fetors of human decay, its rhetors and their high-flown certainties. But then you recall that most of what you read in the Times is just a clever fiction anyway, sometimes even worthy of a Voltaire.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City and can be reached at


Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire: Unmasking American Imperialism. He lives in New York City and can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians