Glenn Greenwald notes the blizzard of bellicose propaganda pieces pouring from the High Media lately concerning the Peace Laureate’s latest flurry of drone killings. In story after story, headline after headline, we hear of “militants” slaughtered by the dead-eyed machinery that floats above the distant villages of the “recalcitrant tribes” who bedevil the Empire with their disobedience — or, in the case of the drone campaign, which overwhelmingly kills innocent civilians, with their mere existence.
Greenwald draws on a new article by Steve Coll in the New Yorker, which provides a detailed — and damning — look at the Progressive Way of State Terror as practiced by our noble Nobelist in the White House. Coll in turn draws on the remarkable efforts of photographer Noor Behram, who for years has been going to the actual sites of American drone strikes to record the truth behind the horseshit headlines. As Greenwald notes:
There’s simply no doubt that U.S. media outlets have continuously and repeatedly—and falsely—described innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone attacks as “militants.” Just last month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that “fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified by available records as named members of al Qaeda,” directly contrary to “John Kerry’s claim last year that only ‘confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level’ were fired at.”
Coll’s article also looks again at the devastating — and universally ignored — 2012 report by the Stanford and NYU law schools, “Living Under Drones.” As that report pointed out, the drone campaign is terrorism — unadulterated, unmitigated, plain, simple terrorism. What’s more, it is terrorism on a scale, duration and scope that pipsqueak outfits like ISIS and al Qaeda can only dream of. Greenwald quotes Coll:
Being attacked by a drone is not the same as being bombed by a jet. With drones, there is typically a much longer prelude to violence. Above North Waziristan, drones circled for hours, or even days, before striking. People below looked up to watch the machines, hovering at about twenty thousand feet, capable of unleashing fire at any moment, like dragon’s breath. “Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more,” Malik Jalal, a tribal leader in North Waziristan, told me. “They turned the people into psychiatric patients.”
These days there is an overwhelming amount of blather about the political machinations on Capitol Hill in the wake of the recent elections. Who’s in, who’s out, how will this player out-play that player, and — most important of all — how will these machinations affect the all-important, historically decisive 2106 presidential campaign? All this earnest speculation, all this avid interest, all this heartfelt ardor — and for what? To figure out which blood-soaked poltroon will be the temporary head of this monstrous, murderous terrorist apparatus — an empire that brazenly kills scores of innocent people, week in, week out, year after year, all the while celebrating its own rectitude and righteousness and “exceptional” virtue.
I think it’s worth re-visiting the “Living With Drones” in some detail. Below are some excerpts from a 2012 piece I wrote (“Blood is Their Argument: The Real Campaign Trail“) not long after the report was released — a post that coincided with the climax of the last all-important, historically decisive presidential campaign.
Even as the presidential candidates meet in ersatz agon to spew their self-serving lies and scripted zingers in a “debate” on foreign policy, the real campaign — the campaign of blood and bone, of death and terror, being waged in Pakistan by the American government — goes on it all its horror.
This week, the Mail on Sunday — one of Britain’s most conservative newspapers — published a story outlining, in horrific detail, the true nature of the drone killing campaign begun by George W. Bush and vastly expanded by Barack Obama. …The story concerns legal action being taken in Pakistan on behalf of families of drone-murder victims by Pakistani lawyer and activist Shahzad Akbar and the UK-based human rights group, Reprieve. The MoS quotes the Living With Drones report to set the context:
…Between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed since the strikes in Pakistan began in 2004. The report said of those, up to 881 were civilians, including 176 children. Only 41 people who had died had been confirmed as ‘high-value’ terrorist targets.
As the paper notes, full figures on the killings are hard to come by, due to the convenient fact that “the tribal regions along the frontier are closed to journalists.” The true death count of civilians is almost certainly far higher….
One of the officials targeted in the lawsuit is former CIA general counsel John Rizzo. As the paper notes:
Mr Rizzo is named because of an interview he gave to a US reporter after he retired as CIA General Counsel last year. In it, he boasted that he had personally authorised every drone strike in which America’s enemies were ‘hunted down and blown to bits’. He added: ‘It’s basically a hit-list. The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head.’
That’s nice, isn’t it? Noble, worthy, honorable, isn’t it? Again, these are the mafia thug values being embraced, lauded, supported and reinforced at every turn by the most respectable figures throughout American politics and media, including of course the popular media, where TV shows and movies abound with tough guys “doing whatever it takes” to kill the dehumanized “enemy” and “keep us safe.” …
The second case now before the Pakistani courts involves “signature strikes,” the policy of killing unknown people simply because you don’t like how they look or how they act. No evidence — not even false evidence, not even the thin scraps of rumor and innuendo and ignorance that constitute the overwhelming majority of “intelligence reports” — is required before the well-wadded Cheeto-chewer in Nevada crooks his finger and fires a drone. The MoS quotes a Pakistani official describing the signature strikes:
‘It could be a vehicle containing armed men heading towards the border, and the operator thinks, “Let’s get them before they get there,” without any idea of who they are. It could also just be people sitting together. In the frontier region, every male is armed but it doesn’t mean they are militants.’ One such signature strike killed more than 40 people in Datta Khel in North Waziristan on March 17 last year. The victims, Mr Akbar’s dossier makes clear, had gathered for a jirga – a tribal meeting – in order to discuss a dispute between two clans over the division of royalties from a chromite mine. Some of the most horrifying testimony comes from Khalil Khan, the son of Malik Haji Babat, a tribal leader and police officer. ‘My father was not a terrorist. He was not an enemy of the United States,’ Khalil’s legal statement says. ‘He was a hard-working and upstanding citizen, the type of person others looked up to and aspired to be like. ”What I saw when I got off the bus at Datta Khel was horrible,’ he said. ‘I immediately saw flames and women and children were saying there had been a drone strike. The fires spread after the strike. The tribal elders who had been killed could not be identified because there were body parts strewn about. The smell was awful. I just collected the pieces that I believed belonged to my father and placed them in a small coffin.’ …He added that schools in the area were empty because ‘parents are afraid their children will be hit by a missile’.
This … is not just an illegal military operation; it is — and is designed to be — a terrorist campaign. It is meant to terrorize the population of the targeted regions, to keep the people there enslaved to fear and uncertainty, never knowing if the buzzing drone flying high and unreachable above their heads will suddenly spew out a Hellfire missile on their house, their school, their farm, their hospital, and blow them or their loved ones into unidentifiable shreds. It is a terrorist campaign — not a random attack here and there, not an isolated spasm of violence — but a continual, relentless, death-dealing campaign of terror designed to poison the daily lives of innocent people and force their cowed acquiescence to the dictates of domination.
My 2012 article went on to note the truly bizarre spectacle of rock-ribbed opponents of empire, like Daniel Ellsberg and estimable Robert Parry, who detailed the horrors of the Potomac Empire’s murder campaign, took full cognizance of its irredeemable immorality, assigned the responsibility for its present crimes clearly where it belongs — on the current president …. and then urged people to vote for him. [Arthur Silber dealt powerfully with this moral depravity at the time in this stunning piece, “Accomplices to Murder.”]
Ellsberg’s stance was the most bizarre of all. He urged people to vote for Obama — and then to impeach him for his high crimes. I then quoted an early piece I’d written about Parry’s stance, which applied then — and applies now — to “all good progressives who advocate a ‘reluctant’ but ‘realistic’ vote for Obama [and soon for Clinton, or any other Democratic upholder of empire — and yes, that includes Elizabeth Warren]:
Parry believes he is preaching a tough, gritty doctrine of “moral ambiguity.” What he is in fact advocating is the bleakest moral nihilism. To Parry, the structure of American power — the corrupt, corporatized, militarized system built and sustained by both major parties — cannot be challenged. Not even passively, not even internally, for Parry scorns those who simply refuse to vote almost as harshly as those who commit the unpardonable sin: voting for a third party. No, if you do not take an active role in supporting this brutal engine of war and injustice by voting for a Democrat, then it is you who are immoral.
You must support this system. It is the only moral choice. What’s more, to be truly moral, to acquit yourself of the charge of vanity and frivolity, to escape complicity in government crimes, you must support the Democrat. If the Democratic president orders the “extrajudicial” murder of American citizens, you must support him. If he chairs death squad meetings in the White House every week, checking off names of men to be murdered without charge or trial, you must support him. If he commits mass murder with robot drones on defenseless villages around the world, you must support him. If he imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and investigative journalists more than any other president in history, you must support him. If he cages and abuses and tortures a young soldier who sought only to stop atrocities and save the nation’s honor, you must support him. If he “surges” a pointless war of aggression and occupation in a ravaged land and expands that war into the territory of a supposed ally, you must support him. If he sends troops and special ops and drones and assassins into country after country, fomenting wars, bankrolling militias, and engineering coups, you must support him. If he throws open the nation’s coastal waters to rampant drilling by the profiteers who are devouring and despoiling the earth, you must support him. If he declares his eagerness to do what no Republican president has ever dared to do — slash Social Security and Medicare — you must support him.
For Robert Parry, blinded by the red mist of partisanship, there is literally nothing — nothing — that a Democratic candidate can do to forfeit the support of “the left.” He can even kill a 16-year-old American boy — kill him, rip him to shreds with a missile fired by a coddled coward thousands of miles away — and you must support him. And, again, if you do not support him, if you do not support all this, then you are the problem. You are enabling evil.
I confess I cannot follow such logic. But in his article, Ellsberg compounds the puzzlement when he tries to clinch his case by citing Henry David Thoreau, of all people. Ellsberg writes:
I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”
In other words, Ellsberg is using a call for resistance to civil authority to justify supporting a civil authority which he himself acknowledges is committing war crimes and destroying American democracy. Again, I find this “reasoning” unfathomable.
But I too often quote a line by Thoreau that has had a great impact for me. In fact, I would say that it encapsulates my entire political philosophy in this dirty, degraded Age of Empire:
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
If only more of our compatriots would say the same.