Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

The two Obamas

Even as President Barack Obama has been mourning the deaths of children killed by a lone gunman in the US, he has been ordering the deaths of Afghan children, writes Ralph Nader

Al-Ahram Weekly

A photograph brought the horror of little children lying dead outside their home to an American audience. At least 10 Afghan children and some of their mothers were struck down by an airstrike on their extended family household by order of US President Barack Obama.

He probably decided on what his aides describe as the routine weekly “Terror Tuesday” at the White House. On that day, Obama typically receives advice about which “militants” should live or die thousands of miles away from drones or aircraft. Even if households far from war zones are often destroyed in clear violation of the laws of war, the president is not deterred.

These Obama airstrikes are launched knowing that very often there is “collateral damage”, that is a form of “so sorry terrorism”. How can the president explain the vaporisation of a dozen pre-teenage Afghan boys collecting firewood for their families on a hillside? The local spotter-informants must have been disoriented by all those $100 bills in rewards.

Imagine a direct strike killing and injuring scores of people in a funeral procession following a previous fatal strike that was the occasion of this processional mourning. Remember the December 2009 Obama strike on an alleged Al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen using Tomahawk missiles and — get this — cluster bombs that killed 14 women and 21 children. Again and again, “so sorry terrorism” ravages family households far from the battlefields.

If this is a war, why hasn’t the US Congress declared war under Article 1, Section 8 of the country’s constitution? The 2001 Congressional authorisation to use military force is not an open-ended authorisation for the president. It was restricted to targeting only nations, organisations or persons that are determined to have been implicated in the 9/11 massacres, or harboured complicit organisations or persons.

For several years, White House officials, including retired General James Jones, have declared that there is no real operational Al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan to harbour anyone. The Pakistani Taliban is in conflict with the Pakistani government. The Afghan Taliban is in brutal conflict with the Afghanistan government and wants to expel US forces as their members view occupying-invaders, just as their predecessors did when they expelled the Soviet invaders. The Taliban represent no imminent threat to the US.

President Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, used to complain to his colleagues about the CIA’s drone attacks saying “he didn’t realise his main job was to kill people.” He knew how such attacks by whining drones, hovering 24/7 over millions of frightened people and their terrified children, produce serious backlashes that fester for years.

Even a loyalist such as William M. Daley, Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, observed that the Obama kill list presents less and less significant pursuits. “One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Daley asked, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”

Yet this unlawful killing by a seemingly obsessed Obama continues and includes anyone in the vicinity of a “suspect” whose name isn’t even known (these are called “signature strikes”), or mistakes, like the recent aerial killings of numerous Pakistani soldiers and four Afghan policemen considered our allies. The drone kill list goes on and on — over 3,000 is the official fatality count, not counting injuries.

In a few weeks, the US magazine The Nation will issue a major report on US-caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan that should add new information.

Now switch the scene. The president, filled with memories of what his secret drone directives as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner have done to so many children in so many places, traveled recently to Newtown, Connecticut, for the second time. He commiserated with the parents and relatives of the 20 children and six adults slain by a lone gunman. Here, he became the compassionate president, with words and hugs.

What must be going through his mind as he sees the rows of 10 Afghan little children and their parents blown apart in that day’s New York Times? How can the president justify this continued military occupation for what is a civil war? No wonder a majority of the American people want out of Afghanistan, even without a close knowledge of the grisly and ugly things going on there in their name that are feeding the seething hatred of Obama’s war.

Sometime after 2016 when Obama starts writing his lucrative autobiographical recollections, there may be a few pages where he explains how he endured the double life of ordering so-called precision attacks that kill many innocent children and their mothers and fathers while mourning domestic mass killings in the US and advocating gun control. As a constitutional law teacher, he may wonder why there have been no “gun controls” on his lawless, out-of-control presidency and his reckless attacks that only expanded the number of Al-Qaeda affiliates wreaking havoc in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, North Africa and elsewhere.

Al-Qaeda of Iraq is now merging with an affiliate called the Al-Nusra Front in Syria that will give Obama more futile exercises on Terror Tuesdays. The CIA calls the reaction to such operations “blowback” because the unintended consequences undermine long-term US national security.

Obama is not like the criminal recidivist ex-vice president Dick Cheney, who misses no chance to say he has no regrets. Obama worries even as he greatly escalates the aerial attacks started by former president George W. Bush. In his State of the Union speech, he called for a “legal and policy framework” to guide “our counter-terrorism operations,” so that “no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.” Granted, this is a good cover for his derelictions, but it probably reflects that he also needs some restraint. Last year, he told CNN it was “something you have to struggle with.”

Not that the abdicatory US Congress would ever take him up on his offer for such legal guidance should he ever submit a proposed framework. Nor would Congress move to put an end to secret laws, secret criteria for targeting, indefinite imprisonment, no due process even for American citizens, secret cover-ups of illegal outsourcing to contracting corporations and enact other preventive reforms. Obama recognised in his CNN interview that “it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means. That’s not who we are as a country.”

Unfortunately, however, that’s what he has done as a president.

Unless the American people come to realise that a president must be subject to the rule of law and the constitution, as well as the country’s statutes and treaties, every succeeding president will push the deficit-financed lawlessness further until the inevitable blowback day of reckoning. That is the fate of all empires.


The writer is a US consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich.

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