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Predators, Snipers and the Posse Comitatus Act

If you live in Falls Church, Virginia, and you see a funny looking aircraft circling over your neighborhood don’t be alarmed. It’s just the Pentagon looking for the sniper. CNN says Rummy wants to help out, so he has approved “military reconnaissance” of undetermined origin to snoop around the Washington area. CNN says the Pentagon has not disclosed what kind of equipment will be used. Yet earlier in the day I saw a report indicating the military will use General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator UAV drones. They even showed video footage of the damn things.

Rummy just shot another big hole in the Posse Comitatus Act. It’s looked like Swiss cheese for years, ever since the military was “enlisted” to combat evil drug dealers. You know, drug dealers who sell CIA certified heroin and cocaine on the streets of American cities. According to CNN, the Pentagon is not really trashing the Posse Comitatus Act because there is no “direct involvement” between the cops and the military.

Maybe the copywriters over at CNN need to read up on the Posse Comitatus Act. “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” Of course, Rummy does not need Congress to tell him what to do. His “guidelines,” recently published in the New York Times, demonstrate what he thinks about Congress and the American people.

Predator drones are “part of the Army or the Air Force,” even if guys in cammies and helmets toting M16s are not accompanying the cops as they look for the sniper. Well, a lot of cops are wearing cammies and helmets and toting M16s these days, so maybe the point is moot. I’m sure David Koresh didn’t see a lot of difference between ATF agents and Nazi storm troopers. Or did the father of Elian Gonzalez. Or do a lot of dark skinned people in America’s inner cities. But never mind. I’m digressing.

It’s October. That means the Pentagon may have to fly its drones in bad weather — and the Predator does not do well in rain, wind, snow, or cold temperatures. Predators crash, too, although the Pentagon does not release such embarrassing statistics. A French journalist reported a while back that a UAV drone was inadvertently thrown off course over Kosovo. It seems a French officer used the same radio frequency on which the UAV was operating. He interrupted the connection between the aircraft and its ground control station. The drone ended up in the hands of the Serbs, who were likely ecstatic. In 1998, the Pakistanis were thankful as well when two of Clinton’s cruise missiles went off target and landed in their front yard unscathed. It was a benefit bestowed to Pakistan’s missile program which, at the time, was under US embargo.

Think of all the air traffic over Washington. Think about all the telephone wires, high power lines, microwave towers and cell phone repeaters. Rummy’s idea of catching the sniper with the help of a drone is an accident waiting to happen. Maybe Rummy didn’t think this one through. Then again, maybe he did. Maybe this is yet another hole shot through the Swiss cheese that is the Posse Comitatus Act. Maybe if Dubya and Rummy keep blurring the lines a lot of us will no longer be able to tell the difference between cops and soldiers. Maybe we will finally believe this is what needs to be done to protect us from vicious terrorists. Maybe we will give up the fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments to the Constitution in order to fight terrorism. Maybe we will give up the third amendment for good measure–you know, the one prohibiting “peacetime quartering of troops in private dwellings without owners’ consent” (well, the Pentagon will have to base those UAV stations somewhere). Then again, if Dubya has his way, peace will soon become a curious anachronism.

The absurdity of the whole sniper affair is stunning. For instance, last week Ari Fleischer remarked to reporters in the White House briefing room that “the cost of one bullet” was much preferable to war against Iraq. He was talking about taking out Saddam by way of assassination, something the CIA and military intel have done for decades — from Pegasus to Phoenix and beyond. In 1997, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, the CIA released its notorious “Operation PBSUCCESS” assassination manual, used in the 1954 coup to oust — and kill — the elected president of Guatemala. So-called conservatives have talked about assassination and mass murder for years — killing people they disagree with by single bullet or multiple bunker-buster munitions. They now say the CIA must be allowed to get back into the murder and torture business. Some of us think they never got out of the business.

Dubya and clan have created a moral climate where murder is simply a political option — and, lately, the preferred political option. Instead of negotiation and containment, they insist on “pre-emption,” which is simply another word for killing the other guy before he even thinks about killing you — or maybe before he can extend the dreaded olive branch. Perhaps most insane and irresponsible, Team Dubya has managed to demolish the taboo surrounding the unthinkable use of nuclear weapons in the name of geopolitical expediency. It seems Dubya and Crew want the entire world to believe America is a nation filled with Washington Beltway snipers. America has a rep known around the world – everywhere, that is, except in America. Corporate media generated distraction and deception is an artform in the good old U.S. of A. History, as Henry Ford opined, is bunk.

Fact is, US politicians like mass murderers. In the recent past, the US befriended and supported — both overtly and covertly — sundry murderers and demented thugs. Here’s the short list — Mohamed Suharto (2 million killed in Indonesia, 250,000 in East Timor), Ferdinand Marcos (not only killed thousands in the Philippines, but also looted more than $35 billion), Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (had the democratically elected president of Chile murdered; thousands of political opponents killed and disappeared; 250,000 people gaoled, tortured, or exiled), Anastasio Somoza Debayle (50,000 killed in Nicaragua; 120,000 exiled and 600,000 made homeless), and Pol Pot (3 million killed, or between a quarter and a third of Cambodia’s population). Oh, and let’s not forget Saddam Hussein, acquaintance and yes-man of various US presidents until 1990 when he misunderstood his marching orders. He has gassed and killed his own people with US assistance.

The Washington sniper is small potatoes. More people are killed each week from unsafe working conditions, uninspected food, medical malpractice, and entirely legal (and profitable) drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. But then, of course, those are mundane and wholly non-sensational crimes when compared to a sniper who it now appears received his training — or, at least, his inspiration — from the US military. All told, the Washington sniper may turn out to be yet another unexpected instance of blowback, if not politically at least culturally.

But never mind. I think I hear a Predator buzzing outside my window.

KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com

Cartoon by Ben Tripp.

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KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at www.kurtnimmo.com/ . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com

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