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Holder Flip Flops on Drones But the NYT and NPR Don’t Take Notice

Holder Flip Flops on Drones But the NYT and NPR Don’t Take Notice

By Dennis Loo (3/8/13)

John Brennan, Obama’s consigliore for his “kill list,” has now been approved to assume the CIA Directorship. Since the CIA is famous for its record of assassinating foreign leaders and political opposition figures, it seems only reasonable that Brennan should be promoted from Tuesday “kill list” adviser to taking over an entire agency known for this.

Brennan was approved quickly after Sen. Rand Paul ended his nearly thirteen hour speaking filibuster. Rand was objecting to Obama’s use of drones to assassinate people outside of any court finding of guilt or any other due process. His filibuster provoked the very interesting and rather revealing spectacle of prominent Republicans such as Sen. John McCain and Lindsey Graham along with John Yoo coming to Obama’s rescue, defending Obama’s use of drones to kill “America’s enemies.”

As today’s NYT put it:

“We’ve done, I think, a disservice to a lot of Americans by making them think that somehow they’re in danger from their government,” Mr. McCain said. “They’re not. But we are in danger from a dedicated, longstanding, easily replaceable-leadership enemy that is hellbent on our destruction.”

What McCain was complaining about was that Rand Paul called attention to Eric Holder’s letter to Paul, by of all things, Paul releasing it publicly, spelling out that the Attorney General believed that the POTUS had the power to order lethal force against even Americans on American soil. This letter and the fact that NBC News reported in February 2013 about a leaked DOJ memo in which Justice set forth its opinion that the POTUS had the right to kill Americans (e.g., with drones) on American soil.

According to McCain, for any Americans to think based on these two things that they were “somehow in danger from their government,” well, they should not believe actual literal statements contained in letters authored by the Attorney General and the DOJ.

No, they should listen instead to people like John McCain who know better what the Obama Administration is doing and intends to do then what the very top members of the Obama Administration have themselves explicitly said on the record. 

Not wanting the filibuster to continue, and no doubt distressed at the furor kicked up by his earlier written statements to Sen. Paul, Eric Holder did a quick revision and stated that the POTUS did not have the power, after all, to order the killing of Americans on American soil if they were not “engaged in combat.” Sen. Paul, satisfied that Holder was now telling him the truth as opposed to what he'd said in writing just days before, ended his filibuster. (He had to go to the bathroom, after all, and that takes precedence.)

The Paper of Record, the NYT, did not see fit to explain it this way, opting instead for reporting today that Holder said what Paul wanted to hear, that Americans weren’t going to be killed by the POTUS on American soil.

As I was listening to NPR’s evening report yesterday in which they announced Brennan’s confirmation, I was startled to hear them state that in response to Rand’s inquiries, that Holder had said that the president did not have the authority to kill Americans with a drone on U.S. soil. I was shocked because I had just written earlier that day about the contents of Holder’s letter to Rand stating the opposite of this.

So in short, neither the Paper of Record nor the most esteemed public radio news show NPR, thought it necessary to explain to their audience that Holder had just reversed his earlier position.

Reuters, at least, managed to make this at least a little clearer, reporting in a short article entitled: “”Eric Holder Clarifies Policy on Drone Attacks on U.S. Soil.” Of course, the headline’s use of “clarifies” is not really accurate. The appropriate word would have been “reverses.”

Or rather, better and more accurately still, their headline should have said something like this: “Eric Holder Muddies the Waters on Drone Attacks on U.S. Soil.” Because what Holder (and his boss Obama) did, was semantically retreat on their earlier stance in the face of resistance. But what should be clear to all who aren’t convinced by the reassurances of Mr. Holder, Mr. McCain, and Mr. Yoo is that the White House now believes that it can use lethal force on anyone anywhere, without any due process or oversight. Who needs oversight and due process when we have “a dedicated, longstanding, easily replaceable-leadership enemy that is hellbent on our destruction?”

Let’s examine also McCain’s description of the “war on terror” further. If this hellbent enemy has an “easily replaceable-leadership,” then it doesn’t really matter how many of its leaders the U.S. captures, tortures, and kills with drones or Spec Ops teams wearing night vision goggles. Because if they’re so hellbent and they’re longstanding and dedicated, and their leaders are easily replaceable, then this is a war that can only be waged forever, and never won.

Which is precisely the point from the standpoint of those in authority over us, whether Republican or Democrats. As long as this putative war continues, they can arrogate to themselves more and more power with no discernible restrictions, legal or otherwise. Dick Cheney famously said that this war would last for generations. And he, for once, wasn’t lying.

An endless war against an enemy that cannot be defeated (you can’t destroy terrorism since terrorism is a tactic, anymore than you can declare that from henceforth, no one should ever swear) has been made the U.S.’s Public Policy #1 and all things, our laws, our courts, our resources, our citizens and any and all non-citizens, shall forever be subordinated to this emergency condition. Emergency conditions are now the status quo. And major media do not see fit to explain that to us.

In The New Yorker is an article by Teju Cole, entitled “A Reader’s War,” dated February 11, 2013. I’m ending this article with an excerpt from his essay:

The White House, the C.I.A., and the Joint Special Operations Command have so far killed large numbers of people. Because of the secret nature of the strikes, the precise number is unknown, but estimates range from a several hundred to over three thousand. These killings have happened without any attempt to arrest or detain their targets, and beyond the reach of any legal oversight. Many of the dead are women and children. Among the men, it is impossible to say how many are terrorists, how many are militants, and how many are simply, to use the administration’s obscene designation, “young men of military age.” The dependence on unmanned aerial vehicles—also called drones—for these killings, which began in 2002 and have increased under the Obama Administration, is finally coming to wider attention.

We now have firsthand testimony from the pilots who remotely operate the drones, many of whom have suffered post-traumatic stress reactions to the work. There is also the testimony of the survivors of drone attacks: heartbreaking stories of mistaken identity, grisly tales of sudden death from a machine in the sky. In one such story reported by The New York Times, the relatives of a pair of dead cousins said, “We found eyes, but there were no faces left.” The recently leaked Department of Justice white paper indicating guidelines for the President’s assassination of his fellow Americans has shone a spotlight on these “dirty wars” (as the journalist Jeremy Scahill rightly calls them in his documentary film and book of the same title). The plain fact is that our leaders have been killing at will.

According to a report in the New York Times, the targets of drone strikes are selected for death at weekly meetings in the White House; no name is added to the list without the President’s approval. Where land mines are indiscrim[in]ate, cheap, and brutal, drones are discriminate, expensive, and brutal. And yet they are insufficiently discriminate: the assassination of the Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan in 2009 succeeded only on the seventeenth attempt. The sixteen near misses of the preceding year killed between two hundred and eighty and four hundred and ten other people. Literature fails us here. What makes certain Somali, Pakistani, Yemeni, and American people of so little account that even after killing them, the United States disavows all knowledge of their deaths? How much furious despair is generated from so much collateral damage?

Of late, riding the subway in Brooklyn, I have been having a waking dream, or rather a daytime nightmare, in which the subway car ahead of mine explodes. My fellow riders and I look at one another, then look again at the burning car ahead, certain of our deaths. The fire comes closer, and what I feel is bitterness and sorrow that it’s all ending so soon: no more books, no more love, no more jokes, no more Schubert, no more Black Star. All this spins through my mind on tranquil mornings as the D train trundles between 36th Street and Atlantic Avenue and bored commuters check their phones. They just want to get to work. I sit rigid in my seat, thinking, I don’t want to die, not here, not yet. I imagine those in northwest Pakistan or just outside Sana’a who go about their day thinking the same. The difference for some of them is that the plane is already hovering in the air, ready to strike.

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