Obama: Judge, Jury And Executioner
Voice of Russia
May 30, 2012
Obama – judge, jury, and executioner
On Tuesday, The New York Times published a lengthy article that really hit the front pages of most international media. As has been revealed to the newspaper by a number of U.S. counter-terrorism officials (three dozen of Barack Obama’s current and former advisers), the U.S. president personally oversees a top secret process drawing up a “kill list” of terrorists and al Qaeda suspects who should be hunted down and executed by drone missile strikes.
Barack Obama’s meetings with his counter-terrorism advisers take place every Tuesday in the White House. The president requests “baseball cards” of presumptive terrorists or their associates to be presented to him – with pictures and biographies. Then, after some contemplation, he personally decides who should live and who should be the new target of a drone strike. As the newspaper puts it, “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”
The strikes take place over a vast territory from Somalia and Yemen to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the number of strikes has intensified in the last year. Only since April of this year, there have been 14 such strikes in Yemen and 6 in Pakistan.
Most of the people targeted for such strikes are foreign nationals, but occasionally there are American citizens among them, who are “brought to justice” in this extrajudicial procedure. And commentators say that Barack Obama is the first U.S. president who has acquired the right to single-handedly decide to be “judge, jury, and executioner”.
As many observers point out, President Obama realizes that some of the judgments may be based on human intelligence, and as Obama’s chief of staff in 2011 William Daley has put it, “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen.”
Other observers point to the fact that the collateral damage is too high, with innocent civilians becoming victims of the alleged “precision strikes”.
But some counterterrorism officials insist on simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one of the officials. Therefore they reject all talk about collateral deaths as the militants’ propaganda.
Well, following such logic, all the Pashto population in the area on both sides of the Afghan–Pakistani border may be eliminated. They travel to and from the border quite frequently, and bearing guns is their usual habit (guaranteed, by the way, by the Second Amendment for every American citizen as well).
But what is probably even more important is the evolution of Barack Obama during the three years of his tenure.
It should be noted that before coming into politics Obama had been a liberal law professor. His campaign in 2008 was based on anti-war slogans and promises, like closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and putting an end to torture. In December 2009, less than a year in his presidential capacity, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – regarded by most observers as a prize for just being “anti-Bush”, rather than accomplishing anything significant on the global arena.
But even by that time he had authorized more drone strikes than George W. Bush had approved during his entire presidency.
One can also wonder whether the policy of drone warcraft is bearing any significant fruit. Yes, a number of militants may be exterminated. But the anti-American sentiment is disseminated all over the Muslim world, enlisting new al Qaeda supporters in the affected countries. It also influences interstate relations, like in the case of Pakistan – the old-time U.S. ally that turned into one of the main obstacles for the U.S. policy in Afghanistan and adjacent regions.
But when you come to think of it, you really find nothing strikingly new in the whole story. The usual habit of double standards, a total neglect for the notorious “human rights” and basic principles of a law-based state, like presumption of innocence and the need for proper treatment of suspects (remember, the eliminated people are not convicts, they are just suspects included in the “kill list” by a mere assumption they might be associated with al Qaeda) – all this is so becoming of a liberal law professor-turned-president.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies