FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Poetry of Death

The found poetry of state terror continues its strange mutilations of the English language. The bizarre verbal heavings of Donald Rumsfeld, for example, are rightly celebrated as choice examples of the genre. And noted English playwright David Hare once fashioned a whole play built largely on the “thought-tormented music” wrought from verbatim transcripts of the principal authors of the war crime in Iraq.

In this regard, as in almost every aspect of the Terror War, “continuity” has been the hallmark of the Obama Administration. But we would do the progressive, forward-looking president a grave disservice if we were to imply that this dynamic, historic figure has confined himself to mere continuity. No, in field after field of governmental endeavor, Barack Obama has striven mightily not just to uphold the many authoritarian and militarist innovations of the Bush Administration, but to expand them — increasing their scope and depth, codifying, normalizing and making permanent many practices which his predecessors had enshrouded with ambiguity, deception and deliberate murk. Bush and Cheney were afflicted with a vestigial embarrassment at the howling illegality and constitutional subversion of many of their Terror War policies, and seemed to fear these acts would provoke some kind of public outcry or political controversy — or even prosecution — should they be made too explicit.

But our cool, savvy and thoroughly post-postmodern president carries none of that dead lumber from our long-vanished past. Where Bush was content with smirks and hints about his assassination program, Obama is bold, sending his security chief to declare openly before Congress that the president now has the unrestricted right and power to murder anyone, Americans included, in cold blood, by the simple expedient of declaring his victim a suspected terrorist of some vague description. Whereas Bush and Cheney usually resorted to backroom bureaucratic knife-twisting or bombastic but empty public threats to try to silence and cow officials who expose high crimes of state, the Obama Administration brazenly brings down the draconian power of federal prosecution against whistleblowers. Our progressives-in-power will not just take away your government job or bluster at your editors if you give your fellow citizens a glimpse of the blood-soaked sausage-making that goes on behind the imperial curtain; no, they will put you in the penitentiary, to rot away with murderers and child abusers, which is where they rank all such treacherous tellers of truth.

So we should not be surprised to find the Obama Administration outstripping its mentors and models from the Bush years in the production of Orwellian nomenclature. Nor is it remarkable that these perversions of language are leading to further perversions of law, morality and plain common sense.

We refer to the recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the vast expansion of the CIA’s powers to murder people in Pakistan with missiles fired by robot drones. These remote-control killings were originally aimed at specific, known, named individuals suspected of being top “militant” leaders. But now, people are being targeted not because of any action they are known or alleged to have taken, but simply because they seem to fit an arbitrarily designated “pattern of life” — even if the remote-control killers don’t know the victim’s name.

This “pattern” is put together from clumps of data gathered by surveillance robots hovering high in the sky above Pakistani towns and villages, watching people as they go about their ordinary business, and from whatever bits of local gossip the CIA can glean from paid operatives raking through their neighbor’s private lives. Naturally, the CIA refuses to describe “the standards of evidence” by which it decides to kill unknown, defenseless people with missile strikes on houses, compounds and neighborhoods. And of course, the Agency claims it is targeting only “militants” (however that infinitely elastic term is being defined these days).

Yet at the same time, the Terror War operatives cannot resist boasting that they are sweeping up so much information that they can determine “the characteristics of individual people.” And since is it the pattern of observed daily life that yields the designation of a person as a “militant,” the CIA must inevitably be tracking countless numbers of innocent people as well. Otherwise, how could they discern specific “patterns of life” that indicate the existence of a hitherto unknown “militant” within a given population? You can only get such data by observing that population as a whole.

In other words, the program, for all its technological whizbangery, is essentially a crude KGB-style rape of the privacy of individual human beings, whose lives are a forced open book, with every action and interaction being judged by a remorseless spy, holding the power of life and death in his hands. People who act “suspiciously” — by unknown criteria, determined in secret — can be killed without warning, without trial, without charge, without even their names being known to their killers. But here, of course, our thoroughly modern president outstrips the KGB, which usually picked off its victims piecemeal, quietly, individually. Nowadays, we send heavy missiles screaming through the sky to destroy whole buildings and city streets in order to kill one unnamed, unknown suspect who has somehow exhibited the wrong “pattern of life.” In almost every case, many people — sometimes dozens — die with the victim, regardless of the “pattern of life” they displayed for the deadly peeping toms on the Potomac.

As the Times notes, this particular tactic of state terror was initiated in the last year of the Bush Administration, but has been greatly expanded and “even streamlined” by the Obama Administration. The result has been the deaths of hundreds of people. As the Times reports:

“Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. In some cases, the CIA discovered only after an attack that the casualties included a suspected terrorist whom it had been seeking.

“The CIA was directed by the Bush administration to begin using armed drones to track Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda figures, as well as Taliban leaders who fled to Pakistan’s tribal areas after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“President Bush secretly decided in his last year in office to expand the program. Obama has continued and even streamlined the process, so that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta can sign off on many attacks without notifying the White House beforehand, an official said.

“Missile attacks have risen steeply since Obama took office.”

Note the telling little details. In some cases, it is only after an attack that our CIA guardians (or more likely, their paid private contractors) discover there was a suspected militant among the smoking, stinking pile of dead bodies that their drones have left behind. And the “vast majority” of these officially claimed 500 victims (the true number of dead is much greater, of course) were killed on the basis of “only fragmentary information” at best. What’s more, the LAT reports that these deadly attacks are being carried out in Pakistan at the rate of one every three and a half days.

Let’s be clear. A program like this, conducted on such a broad and relentless scale, is in no way aimed solely at eliminating individual “militant leaders” or even “insurgent networks.” It is, quite demonstrably and unarguably, a terrorist campaign, designed to terrorize the target populations into acquiescence with the attacker’s agenda. Again, despite its use of advanced technology and sophisticated Orwellian techniques — Big Brother in the sky, with a bomb — it is no less primitive, morally and politically, than a carload of fireworks and fertilizer left to explode on a city street. The only result of the program will be to engender more hatred of the United States (and of the vaunted “civilized values” the United States purports to represent), and to provoke more retaliation, more bloodshed, more extremism.

This is the “pattern of death” that a system based on terror, violence and domination will inevitably produce. You can pervert the language that surrounds it, cloaking it with security-geek jargon, or fine phrases about freedom and security; you can tell jokes about it, turning stone-cold mechanized killing based on “fragmentary information” into a jolly jape to titillate sycophantic journalists and vacuous celebrities. You can do anything you like to disguise the reality of your terrorist campaign — but you cannot change that reality on the ground where it is occurring, nor stop the reverberations from your evil and idiotic actions from spreading their turbulence in ways you have never foreseen, and can never control.

CHRIS FLOYD is an American writer and frequent contributor to CounterPunch. His blog, “Empire Burlesque,” can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail