The Irony of MLK Day 2013: A Renewed Invitation into White Supremacy

I wonder how many consider today to be a magnificent symbolic coincidence rather than a Manichean irony: today, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the greatest civil rights leaders of modern United States history—a man who went to jail to defend the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of minorities and to speak against injustice at home and abroad.  Today, we will also commemorate the re-election of the President of the Unites States and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner—a man who supports a drug war that incarcerates hundreds of thousands of black and brown minorities; kills U.S. citizens and foreign nationals; eviscerates civil liberties for alleged terrorists and citizens alike; deports 1.5 million migrants and separate parents from their children; protects bankers while allowing poor homeowners to lose their homes; and persecutes whistleblowers without mercy.

There are those who insist that the wrongs of the last four years should be attributed to the malevolent impulses and political calculations of Congress. It is true that Congress can’t be exculpated from its decade-long foaming submission to the American drive to control what it refuses to try to understand, namely the War on Terror. Its shills and hacks have quickly leaped on the bandwagon to push (lean?) forward to sanction a military budget bill that continues the expansion of the drone program and the U.S.’s continued military presence in Afghanistan along with the expansion of bases in large swaths of Africa, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Congress enthusiastically pushed for the renewal of FISA in 2008 (along with the eager support of Senator Obama). In 2013, Congress again with the relentless leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, pushed for the passage of the renewal of FISA (without oversight) for five years, along with the passage of NDAA 2012 and 2013, despite the clear purpose of those bills to eviscerate the separation of powers. Congress eagerly endorsed Obama’s loud requests for unilateral presidential authority to arrest and detain any and all persons that it deems a danger to the United States—US citizens and foreigners alike.

With a couple of exceptions, our politicians in Congress are without initiative or honor.  But Congress is not the source of numerous other wrongdoings.  My optimism for this Presidency has all but evaporated in the face of Obama’s policies—unhampered by Congress–designed to tear apart families in the United States and around the world.  I cannot celebrate the second inauguration of the POTUS, under whose watch in the last 4 years, the minds and lives of thousands of innocents have been broken, if not downright destroyed. By drones, invasions, bombs, torture, solitary confinement, renditions, due process-less proceedings, secrecy, and lack of accountability or transparency.  Instead, I will be retracing the steps that have led to the amorality of the Democratic Party and the Presidential Administration that has been able to retain and expand some of the most heinous policies of the previous Republican Administration, and which has been able to initiate some horrifically destructive policies of their own (click on the link to see just a few of the actions I have in mind).

Today, some writers will invoke Dr. Martin Luther King’s courageous April 4, 1967 speech, and rightfully so. King calls for us to see the connections between the fight for civil rights at “home” and the injustice of the U.S.’s incursions, bombings, deaths, and destruction abroad.  He tells us of the response by those who are puzzled by his challenge to US continued attack in Vietnam:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?

In his long, detailed, passionate response—which is as apt today as it was in 1967, Dr. King pointed to one source of his awareness of the links between peace and civil rights:

It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

It is a prescient statement that resonates with the imperialist policies of the United States today. The men and women who enthusiastically endorse sending our young people to war will not suffer the same hurtful ramifications as those men and women who are sent to war–or those on the receiving end of drones, bombs, guns, and destruction. Dr. King’s speech itself is long, insightful, poignant and courageous. Please take some time to read it today if you haven’t already.

What, if anything, has changed between the circumstances of American imperialism in the 1960’s and today? I think it is this: that more and more men and women of color have been invited into the offices of White Supremacy to share in the destruction of other men and women of color who are vulnerable, disfranchised, and rapidly being eviscerated through the policies of a multi-racial white supremacy.

As philosopher and political activist Dr. Cornel West pointed out last week, if Dr. King were alive today, he would have been detained and arrested for his associations with then-terrorist Nelson Mandela, under the auspices of NDAA. Dr. King might have also been arrested for his political speech, namely, his ability to rouse millions with his stirring calls for political justice in the face of American-led atrocities.

By remaining steadfast in their allegiance to illegal overtures in domestic and foreign policy, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Deval Patrick, Susan Rice, Carmen Ortiz, Preet Bharara and other leaders of color have helped the structures of White Supremacy profit and flourish: The imperialist state has extended its hand to brown and black “liberals” in order to help them into the reigning structures of Imperialism.  It has been remarkable to watch leaders of color as they refuse to challenge the wrongful legacy of colonialism and Jim Crow.  Yes, the civil rights of whites have also been slowly scrubbed away, but—with the exception of poor whites—it is much less than the wide-scale evisceration of the peaceful ability to live for Muslims in the U.S., Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Malians, Afghans, Iraqis.

I think there is another question that we must come to terms with: What is the function of an African American president in a society that has clearly not come to terms with its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, legalized slavery and racial apartheid in the form of mass incarceration and the widespread criminalization of Blacks?

As Prof. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva points out unflinchingly, given the history in this country, how is it even possible that we could have elected a Black man to the presidency in 2008?

This brutally frank and funny 29 minute interview is worth watching in its entirety. But FF to 4:35 to hear some of Bonilla-Silva’s answer: The successful election of Barack Obama was an invitation to do the dirty work of White Supremacy for it.  He points out that in Puerto Rico, where he grew up, it was hardly unusual to see black leaders engage in the same racial apologetics and detrimental politics that the former colonial Spanish and current American government engaged in vis-à-vis Puerto Rico’s inhabitants. It doesn’t surprise him that this can be so.

There are many other such examples that we can choose from that illustrate similar white supremacist dynamics. Take for example, the White Supremacist government of Rhodesia that selected Bishop Muzorewa to take over the daily administration of its racist state.

But we have even more recent and better-known examples: Bush Administration’s former Secretary, Condoleeza Rice, DOJ attorney John Yoo (author of the Torture Memos), and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who created the marvelous quick-sandlike legal structure of Guantanamo and others.  Their invitations into white supremacy were still novelties, but identifiable because they did so under the auspices of a Conservative Administration that could make few credible claims to anti-racist activity. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Republicans were able to promote their claims to be non-racist by using the presence of these individuals as cultural symbols to distract many of us—especially and including liberal Democrats in the Senate and Congress—from its overt return to a racial mission in the Middle East under the auspices of a colonizing/civilizing project. The War on Terror could thereby be couched as an ostensible hunt for justice and legitimized aim for retribution.

In order to engage the issue of state-led racism initiated, deployed and conducted effectively by men and women in power, we must address a system of multiracial white supremacy. This is a terrifying and politicized term. But we need to wrap our minds around it.  A multiracial white supremacy is a system of power that has invited in—or exploited wherever it could– people of color in order to wage institutional, legal, political assaults on other black, brown, and poor people—at “home” and internationally.

Four years ago, Ethnic Studies Professor Dylan Rodriguez wrote a frank and prescient assessment of the election of the first Black President. It is still painful to read, because it is still relevant. In 2008, Rodriguez wrote:

Putting aside, for the moment, the liberal valorization of Obama as the less-bad or (misnamed) “progressive” alternative to the horrible specter of a Bush-McCain national inheritance, we must come to terms with the inevitability of the Obama administration as a refurbishing, not an interruption or abolition, of the normalized violence of the American national project. To the extent that the subjection of indigenous, Black, and Brown people to regimes of displacement and suffering remains the condition of possibility for the reproduction (or even the reinvigoration) of an otherwise eroding American global dominance, the figure of Obama represents a new inhabitation of white supremacy’s structuring logics of violence.

The only phrase I would change is “new inhabitation.” It is no longer so.

Rodriguez ends his essay with the following:

At best, when the U.S. nation-building project is not actually engaged in genocidal, semi-genocidal, and proto-genocidal institutional and military practices against the weakest, poorest, and darkest—at home and abroad—it massages and soothes the worst of its violence with banal gestures of genocide management. As these words are being written, Obama and his advisors are engaged in intensive high-level meetings with the Bush administration’s national security experts. The life chances of millions are literally being classified and encoded in portfolios and flash drives, traded across conference tables as the election night hangover subsides. For those whose political identifications demand an end to this historical conspiracy of violence, and whose social dreams are tied to the abolition of the U.S. nation building project’s changing and shifting (but durable and indelible) attachments to the logic of genocide, this historical moment calls for an amplified, urgent, and radical critical sensibility, not a multiplication of white supremacy’s “hope.”

Instead, we saw the precise inverse of Prof. Rodriguez’s calls for action: Not only invocations of “white supremacy’s hope,” but languor and denial. In the last 12 months, we heard a constant (white) feminist and (multiracial) liberal moral “shaming” of those—especially whites–who attempted to point to a reality-based truth.  In this sense, the last four years have enhanced the wishes of a dominant power structure that deflects charges of racism through the public responses of “post-racist” liberal feminists, Democrats, and pundits who support African Americans and other minorities in leadership positions while marginally attending to the systemic force-feeding of a US military with black and brown bodies; while remaining silent in the face of the mass penalties that brown and black people face in this country under the auspices of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs; massive foreclosures on homes disproportionately affecting minorities; and in one of the latest international affronts to people of color—while insisting on Israel’s “Right of Self-Defense” in the face of what is clearly a bullying and brutish beat-down of a long oppressed Palestinian population.

What is egregious about the latter is not only the clear indifference and neglect of basic human rights for a group of people whose land has been increasingly diminished, but the willful blindness and insistence that those who have been imprisoned, brutalized, emaciated through sanctions, bombs, and sheer daily terror at the end of the legal machinery and weapons of a colonial police state—are on an equal playing field with a state with sophisticated arms funded and supported by the United States.

As we enter the second term of a Presidency that has proved that the wide-scale destruction of black, brown and Muslim peoples for political gain can be conducted spectacularly and quite profitably, I wonder what it will take for Americans to take stock of their racist and imperialist legacy to challenge the injustices waged at home and abroad? Is it even possible to remember the legacy of Dr. King without being ashamed at the intentional destruction of people of color at home and internationally? And if we can, doesn’t that say more about the dessication of the American moral conscience than anything else?

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The Deaths of Innocents: How to Understand “Collateral Damage”

Today, TransEx guest blogger Robert Prasch weighs in on the moral debate over the ethics of  US-led drone strikes and “unintended” casualties. He offers a provocative analogy that sheds some insight on the rhetoric of collateral damage.

 

Robert E. Prasch

By Robert E. Prasch

The devastating massacre that took place a few short weeks ago in Newtown moved hearts across the world.  It also rekindled several debates, one of which had  to do with the contrast between the West’s – fully understandable — horror at the mass death of children in Newtown, and the striking absence of an emotional response to the deaths of children “mistakenly” killed in U.S.-directed drone strikes.  This debate has received a significant amount of attention in the blogosphere, and less attention in the overseas press.  It has not been taken up at all by the United States mainstream press.  Moreover, in contrast to gun control, no major political party is interested in curtailing the United States’ several drone wars, despite its highly dubious ethical and legal foundations.

This debate turns, then, on how we in the West perceive the violent deaths of these non-Western children.  Two possible answers emerge.  The first is to maintain that “their” children simply aren’t worth that much anyway.  Hence, their deaths are insufficient grounds for concern.  It is a racist perspective, but it is consistent.  The second answer agrees that the violent death of any child, anywhere, is an equally terrible tragedy, as Falguni Sheth and Glenn Greenwald have argued.  Yet, many holding this view also contend that while they would agree that a tragedy occurred in Newtown, a similar moral status should not be ascribed to the many children who are the “accidental” casualties—even when these are the routine and predictable consequence of drone strikes.  To this line of thinking, the perception that a tragedy has occurred must turn upon the context of the death of the child and the motivation behind the killing.  The mere fact that one or more children have died by violence is insufficient to establish that a tragedy has occurred.  Consequently, the name ‘Adam Lanza’ is reviled for being the perpetrator of the Newtown massacre, but to suggest anything even remotely like a similar condemnation of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate is to associate oneself with a “lunatic fringe.”  Why is that?

The oft-repeated answer is that Adam Lanza intended to massacre children, whereas the approximately 200 children killed by President Barack Obama’s predator drone strikes were inadvertent.  In the military parlance that has been all-too-willingly adopted in this country, the latter were collateral damage (even when the term does not legally describe CIA-led drone strikes).  This answer suggests that the mere fact of a child’s death should have little relevance in our evaluation of the ethics of an action taken if killing a child was not the set priority of the person taking that action.  It just happened.  Bummer.

As an aside, I would, like to believe that even those who support the predator drone program might want the president to apologize, or at least offer condolences, to the families who have lost children in these strikes (Please do not tell me that he has not done so because the program is “secret.” Most people living outside the US know exactly which government is organizing and executing these attacks).

Let’s return to the ethical calculation implicit in the ascription of the deaths of 200 children to collateral damage:  To highlight the salient characteristics, I will draw upon an analogy:  the decision to use a pharmaceutical drug.  We have all been exposed to the advertising of drugs that – we are told — can cure one or more ailments.  We are also aware that each drug advertisement concludes with a list of warnings about known “side-effects.”  However, as a matter of simple biology, drugs do not have “side-effects.”  They only have “effects.”  Calling the positive outcomes “effects,” and the bad outcomes “side effects,” is simply a spin by the drug manufacturer’s marketing department that is designed to appeal to our hopes of a positive result.

In an organism as complex as the human body, the effects of a drug are probabilistic.  That is to say that, after an adequate number of clinical trials, researchers can acquire a defensible estimate that a given drug–let us call it N–will have the effects A, B, and C, with the probabilities x, y, and z.  Let us suppose that effect A, which occurs with probability x, is a highly desirable outcome.  Perhaps it can save a patient from death by heart disease.  However, as mature and informed adults, we also understand that if drug N is used often enough, by enough people, the undesirable effects B and C will occur with probabilities y and z.  This latter reality is the basis for the government-mandated warnings on TV (Obviously, any given person using N might be “lucky” and only experience A, or they might be “unlucky” and only experience B and C without the benefit of A occurring).

Every society and adult considering the use of N must weigh the benefit of A, subject to the probability of it occurring, against the risk-adjusted damage to society and ourselves that may be anticipated in the event that B and/or C occurs.  In some cases, such as curing a heart condition, we may calculate that the risk is worth taking.  But what if A is simply a cure for teenage acne?  We may decide that the risks outweigh the benefits, although we can be sure that teenagers, famously known for undervaluing risks, will protest.

Drawing upon the above, let us return to the matter of missiles launched by predator drones into someone else’s country.  Even if we assume (although we have little reason to do so) that such strikes support good outcomes, it’s still the case that – as with the drug described above – the destruction wreaked by these missiles cannot be nicely codified into intended targets (good) and collateral damage (bad).  On the contrary, they destroy everything and everyone around them upon detonation.  Period.  In a manner parallel to a drug company’s sales pitch, the U.S. government classifies some deaths as “good” if it exclusively kills “targeted terrorists” (how this term has come to encompass all military age males has been much discussed by others).  Anyone else killed, whether a group en route to a wedding party or children who happened to be nearby, are subject to a cover-up or labeled “collateral damage.”

The difficulty with this naïve classification is that we now – for better or worse — have observed an enormous number of missile strikes, so we have a good idea of the likely distribution of effects.  Even if we accept the government’s own classification which, as we know, is overwhelmingly biased against concluding that innocents died (again, assuming that the government has legitimate grounds to conduct these attacks), then we must acknowledge that those ordering further attacks have found the death rate of innocent persons and other people’s children to be within the zone of predictable but tolerable outcomes.  Why tolerable?  Because we have enough information to estimate the rate of innocent deaths to be expected per-missile-launched and the program is still continuing.  It follows that such a calculation has been made, if only implicitly, and the calculus – at least to those making the decision – has been found to be within an acceptable range.

I also want to highlight an important disanalogy with the pharmacological example given above.  If I decide to ingest drug N in the hopes of effect A, but end up suffering from results B and C, the decision and its consequences all accrue to me and those who care about me.  A most notable quality of the drone program is that its benefits (if any) accrue almost exclusively to Americans, while the associated costs and risks (which are known to be substantial) are being borne almost exclusively by “Foreign Others.”  Moreover, it is not a stretch to suppose that these latter persons may not wish to live every minute of every day worrying about the chances that someone very far away – oops! – mistook the “disposition” of themselves or their loved ones to be correlated with actual or potential hostility towards a faraway nation. (Also neglected by the Administration and the mainstream media is any consideration that the hostility of the communities being bombed may grow in tandem with the size and duration of this missile program).

In light of the above, American citizens have a right to know the explicit or implicit formula that validates the “costs” of killing a certain number of other people’s children per-missile-launched as weighed against the (presumptive) “benefits” of killing a certain number of persons who have exhibited a subset of the as-yet-still-secret “dispositions.”  The contours of this calculus are something that should be, at a minimum, the subject of a substantial public discussion and full accounting by the highest echelons of our government.  Are four persons of “bad disposition” worth the life of one innocent child?  Is the break-even number six?  Perhaps it is ten?   We are entitled to this answer and its underlying logic.

School Massacres and Collateral Damage: Why the Double Standards?

Revised Version.

Updated 12/29/12 (below).

One of the predominant responses to my piece–about the amplified coverage of children killed by a lone shooter in contrast to the barely-existent coverage of those killed by US-led drone and missile strikes—was that these events were not “comparable.”  I am informed by journalists with a superior moral compass to mine that this is because events like the Newtown, CT massacre are the result of a deliberate shooting of children, whereas others—like the December 2009 US-led missile strike in Yemen, which killed 21 children who were part of a wedding party–are accidental, unintentional, and part of the collateral damage of war. Therefore, it is wrong—even infantile–to compare the events.

Those who share this position include Brendan O’Neill, a London Telegraph blogger, who besides accusing me of infantilism, attributed a position to me that I never suggested (“An American professor says it’s dumb to feel emotional about Sandy Hook but not about drone strikes”). Several journalists agreed that the two are incomparable, including Rosamund Urwin, an Evening Standard columnist who responded to my interview on BBC’s Weekend Radio Program(me). (32:30)

Urwin, responding to my position that it is horrific to have children die regardless of whether they die at the hands of a shooter or as the consequence of a missile strike, said: “I don’t think it quite sits well as a comparison simply because what you’re talking about is somebody setting out to do something versus unintended consequences.”

Let’s unpack that misconception, shall we?

Over the last twelve years, there have been more than 320 drone strikes. Over 300 of those strikes were conducted under the auspices of the Obama Administration (the most recent 2 strikes in Yemen over Christmas not included). They have killed between 2600-3300 people, of which over 800 were civilians (these numbers require us to believe that 2600 people were terrorists). Around 176 were children.*

These are hardly “unintended” consequences. If 1 or 3—ok, 5–drone strikes are launched, and others besides the “intended” targets are killed, it is more plausible to believe that the consequences are “unintended.”  It is easier to believe the position of former US Air Force drone pilot, Brandon Bryant, that by droning, he and his colleagues “were saving lives.” In fact, Bryant and his fellow drone pilots knew what they were trained to do: they were trained to kill—to “target” human beings, who were supposedly “terrorists.”

This is the story Bryant lived by until he could no longer hide behind the falsity. One day, Bryant launched a strike towards a site in Afghanistan, even as he saw a child walking around a corner. He and his co-drone pilot tried to convince themselves that they had killed a dog. But a dog has 4 legs, whereas this small figure had 2.  Bryant may have unintentionally killed that child. But there were many others who died at his hands.  Whether they were terrorists or unwitting victims—he, and we, will never learn.

As to the Obama Administration and the US Air Force—it is their business to know how precise their tools are. They are completely familiar with the consequences of imprecise “targeted” killings. The murders of hundreds—perhaps thousands– may not have been the “purpose” of these US cruise missiles and drone strikes, but they were hardly “unintended.” When 180 (or more) children die because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—through no fault other than that they had the chutzpah to be born to Pakistani, Afghan, Yemeni, Somali, Filipino parents who live in the same vicinity as “suspected” terrorists—this is hardly unintended. POTUS, his advisers, and the US Air Force, are well aware that the consequences of remote drone strikes is widespread “collateral damage.”

Indeed, that is the point of using the term “collateral damage”:  it allows the US government to sterilize and transform into a technical, impersonal statistic the macabre, bloody, material effects of an imperial war to “root out” terrorists indiscriminately.  What makes the obfuscation even more predictable and still as heinous is that the hunt for terrorists is conducted in parts of the world where, as Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary and head of the National Economic Council understood, 3rd world residents are worth less than 1st world lives.

The “collateral damage” is much more widespread than the approximately 3000 who were killed through “targeted drone strikes.” The damage is reflected in the children who die in raids, women who are raped, families who are shot by US soldiers in Afghanistan. The damage is evidenced by the children who are fatherless, the women whose husbands and brothers and fathers are taken away–for “good cause”–since, as we know, according to the Obama Administration, all men over the age of 16 “are potential militants.”

As the Der Spiegel profile on Bryant describes:

Many Afghans sleep on the roof in the summer, because of the heat. “I saw them having sex with their wives. It’s two infrared spots becoming one,” he recalls.

[Bryant] observed people for weeks, including Taliban fighters hiding weapons, and people who were on lists because the military, the intelligence agencies or local informants knew something about them.

“I got to know them. Until someone higher up in the chain of command gave me the order to shoot.” He felt remorse because of the children, whose fathers he was taking away. “They were good daddies,” he says.

If the Obama Administration tells us that the unfortunate deaths of civilians and children are “accidental” and yet necessary in their hunt for terrorists/militants, then apparently we are supposed to accept these deaths as part of the “costs of war.”  Never mind that we haven’t declared war in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Philippines, or Mali even as the US is directing tens, even hundreds, of drone strikes towards people living in these countries.

Never mind that the mainstream American media is uninterested in covering the human impact of drone and missile strikes on the families whose relatives are maimed and killed by those drones. Never mind that we never learn the names of the children who died, unless someone like Julian Abagond spends hours trying to recover them.

Never mind that these strikes are uncompromisingly illegal according to international law—and being used in place of due process, where suspected “militants” or “terrorists” should be brought to a courtroom to see if there is enough evidence for an indictment, let alone a trial. Never mind that the “war” in question is informal, undeclared, and unilaterally pursued by a Democratic President (who was just re-elected for his remarkable human rights sensibilities, as evidenced through his multiple awards, such as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, and the 2008 and 2012 Time Person of the Year Award).

Remember, once upon a time, the most visible distinction between the two US political parties was that the Democrats were supposed to be the stronger observers and advocates of human rights and international law. Once upon a time.

It is an interesting spectacle to observe as mainstream journalists and US politicians become remarkably earnest and forgiving about excuses that come from governments and elites.  They insist that it is untoward, indeed impolite–the concept of unethical isn’t even on the table–to ask for 1) journalistic coverage of the casualties material consequences of US foreign policy and 2) governmental accountability when it comes to the deaths of civilians in the course of a unilateral attack on a population in the name of “security.” How shocking it is—shocking!—to suggest that after more than 300 drone strikes that have killed more than 3000 people, including many civilians and children, perhaps the U.S. is not completely unaware of the widespread death and havoc they are causing through the constant use of drones that “target” alleged terrorists.

On the other hand, Urwin suggests that “Western media” has a tendency to “fixate on people like them [Americans?].” She cites the case of Hurricane Sandy, which had passed through Haiti before waging a path of destruction in New Jersey, noting that media coverage of Sandy on Haiti was non-existent, whereas the focus on New Jersey dominated the media.

But if we abide by Urwin’s standard for media coverage—namely that even accidental deaths should be covered by Western media—then there is even less reason to exculpate American media from covering drone/missile strikes which resulted in hundreds—thousands– of “accidental” deaths.

Perhaps the unspoken assumption here is that I, like O’Neill and Urwin, should spend little to no time considering the immorality of deaths when caused by Western governments—because that would force us into a discussion of whether illegal drone strikes are ethical or even legitimate. It might force us into a discussion of American imperialism, and its ever-voracious appetite to invade, conquer, terroritorialize, and ‘civilize’ ‘backwards’ countries by exploiting the rhetorical goals of “national security,” “saving Afghan women,” “democratizing” other countries (some of which have a higher standard of due process than even the US). In the meantime, O’Neill and Urwin might have to explain the increasing hatred and contempt that Pakistanis, Yemenis, Afghans, Iraqis have for the US—proliferated by the continual invasion and destruction of their communities, children, spouses, fathers, uncles, brothers, lives, livelihoods, infrastructures, and knowing full well that the US has no intention or capacity to compensate them for the devastation of their lives.

When did the standard of accountability drop so low, such that—even after slavery and colonialism are supposedly atrocities of the past–Americans easily forgive their government when it wages an ever-expanding unilateral assault on countries that have never officially been declared enemies of the US–never even declared to be at war with them?

It is indeed a double ethical standard to insist that individuals who use assault rifles to shoot children are evil, heinous, mentally ill, and should be locked up, surveilled, tracked, and pre-emptively policed via an FBI database, while simultaneously exculpating the American government from addressing the “unintended” consequences of US foreign policy.

As we know, the Obama administration has killed–unaccidentally–multiple US citizens, some of them under the age of legal consent, as in the case of Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi.  Al-Aulaqi was a 16 year old US citizen who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. He was killed 2 weeks after a US-led drone strike killed his father, Anwar Al-Aulaqi, considered to the “no. 2” leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Shouldn’t the Obama Administration explain the circumstances that led to young Abdulrahman’s death? Some civil rights lawyers think so, strangely enough.  As Hina Shamsi and Vincent Warren, of the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, respectively, wrote several days ago:

In court, government officials provided no explanation at all. Their response boiled down to an assertion that the government has the authority to kill Americans without having to account to any court for its actions.

Is a US federal court is also misguided to agree that the US must show evidence for Abdulrahman’s death, even if, as one unnamed Obama official suggests, it was accidental?  Again as Shamsi and Warren argue:

 But the U.S. Constitution requires due process when life is at stake. The government cannot be permitted to deprive an American child of his life without any judicial review, even after the fact. More broadly, thousands of people have been killed by U.S. drones in a program that began in 2002 and has expanded dramatically under the Obama administration.

The Obama Administration disagrees that it should be accountable for any such activity—before or after the murder of Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi. But perhaps if American media were to cover this consequence of US foreign policy as aggressively as they did the Newtown massacre, the Obama Administration might eventually feel compelled to give some answers.

As it stands now, it is acceptable to ask for accountability only from lone individuals who are not part of the US political elite. To the latter—whether Republican or Democrat—we give Peace Prizes, consultancies, and their own shows on MSNBC. No accountability needed, because the thousands of deaths by drones—as the President’s men and women tell us—are accidental. Nothing else need be said.

Forgive, forget, and address only those facts that serve power well and are convenient.

____________________________________________

*In Pakistan. The number of children who died in Yemeni and Somali drone strikes under Obama Administration: 28-36. No data on children killed in Philippines or Mali.

Update: Col. Morris Davis, former Guantanamo chief prosecutor, pointed out in response to this column that “collateral damage” legally excludes CIA drone strikes. Also, interestingly, “collateral damage” would include legitimate military targets in the U.S.:

Screen Shot 2012-12-29 at 1.46.02 PM

Holding Their Feet to the Fire: Are We or Aren’t We Serious?

Robert E. Prasch

The reelection of Barack Obama has induced two responses from liberals and progressives.  On the one hand, there is palpable relief that Mitt Romney and the Republican Party will not be running the show.  On the other, multiple voices are saying,  “It’s time to hold their feet to the fire.”  Liberals and progressives, it seems, are belatedly willing to admit a truth that was literally unspeakable before the election – that the record of the Obama Administration has not met expectations, and that Republican obstruction can account for only a portion of the shortfall.

Holding some person or institution accountable is an act of power.  Many liberals and progressives believe that the recent election has brought about some – as yet undisclosed — change in the American political landscape that grants them a measure of influence over the leadership of their party, including the White House.  This is a leadership, let us remember, that has resolutely turned its back on the entreaties of its own supporters for most, if not all, of the past decade.  In some way or manner – again undisclosed — we are to believe that the second Obama Administration will find itself obliged to adopt an agenda that more closely coincides with the people who voted for “hope and change” in 2008.  That is to say, those millions of voters who thought that they had restored their nation to a degree of sanity, but were instead disappointed to find George W. Bush’s foreign policy and surveillance state greatly enhanced, corrupt and failed bankers were granted a free pass at home, and whistle-blowers facing criminal charges even as the war criminals they exposed were excused or promoted to high office.

Were the Obama Administration to take up even a portion of its 2008 platform, it would certainly be a welcome turn of events.  Unfortunately, and despite the implicit claim of so many, I have yet to hear a single compelling reason why this Administration would wish to become responsive to the hopes of liberals and progressives.  After all, the elections are now done, so why change?  Let us recall that Robert Gibbs refers to liberal and progressive critics as the “loony left,” David Plouffe calls them “bedwetters,” and no family newspaper can print the adjectives favored by Rahm Emanuel.

So again, why would the Grandees of the Democratic Party suddenly change direction?  Why would they now turn to a more liberal or progressive legislative agenda?  What is in it for them?

Nevertheless, we are told that liberals and progressives will hold the Administration’s “feet to the fire.”  I applaud this new-found commitment to hold Democratic officials accountable, but would it be unreasonable to ask “how” they intend to accomplish this end?  Given that they have offered the party leadership, no matter how odious, unconditional support in the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections, are they planning to change their strategy now?  If so, to what?  What leverage will they be bringing to the table?  Any specifics?

To clarify the issue, let us consider it from the perspective of those at the heights of the Democratic National Committee.  What lessons have they learned over these past five elections?  Specifically, what lessons have they learned from spurning the hopes of their liberal and progressive base?  Let me put this another way:  which penalty or penalties has the leadership of the Democratic Party incurred by knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally voting and governing in a manner that has been largely anathema to the party’s disproportionately liberal and progressive base?  Let us review:  their actions (as opposed to their periodically moving speeches) have been systemically pro-war, pro-drug war, anti-Civil Liberties, in favor of shameless pandering to Wall Street, in favor of any and all shamelessly pro-corporate “free trade” agreements, largely anti-immigrant, and indifferent (at best) to organized labor.  So, to ask again, what has been the penalty?

The leadership of the Democratic National Committee has learned, over and over again, that once they ascend to office that they will incur no penalty from liberals or progressives no matter how poorly they serve their supporters or the nation.  They have done more than learn this lesson, they have acted on it.  I suggest that they will continue doing so until the strategy ceases to work for them.

For this reason, I offer a suggestion.  If liberals and progressives would like to change the behavior of the senior leadership of the Democratic Party, they will have to modify the incentives.  It will be necessary to deny, or at a minimum threaten to deny, the DNC something they ardently desire.  What they desire is elected office and the perks that normally accrue to those who have used the offices they have held to serve well-placed firms and industries.  Yes, they talk about hope, change, and other ideals, but their record is long enough, and persistent enough, to reveal their true priorities.

Now, at this point in history, liberals and progressives do not have the ability to change the Party’s leadership as they are too entrenched.  But we can deny them electoral victories until they learn to grant us at least a portion of what we want.  In a previous post, I outlined an approach to strategic voting based on elementary game theory.  I am open to the idea that other strategies might be more effective.  The essential point is that liberals and progressives need to find a way to make their voices heard in the Democratic Party that promises a greater degree of success than compliantly voting for whatever right-of-center hack is currently being advanced as “the lesser of two evils.”  By now, our current predicament should be clear.  We may not be a majority of the nation’s voters, we may not even make up a majority of registered Democrats, but our voice is almost unheard in the national debate, and this must to change.  What we need is a concrete proposal to take us somewhere else.  That, and nothing less, will put us in a place to “hold their feet to the fire.”

Is this, one might ask, a risky strategy?  Yes.  Might it cost the Democrats a few elections because of disunity?  Yes.  Is it unpleasant to rebel against the leadership of a party to which so many have had, and so many still harbor, long-standing emotional and political attachments?  Yes.  But holding the powerful accountable has never been easy.  If it were, we would not be in this conundrum.  However, if the liberals and progressives are serious about “holding their feet to the fire,” they will be willing to take these risks and bear some costs, including some losses at the polls.  Over the next couple of years, we will find out if liberals and progressives are serious about changing their relationship to their party’s leadership by holding them accountable in the only way that matters.