By Dennis Loo (4/30/12)
In a speech he gave today, John Brennan, Obama's Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, stated:
"As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense. There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat."
There is so much that is wrong with this statement, where does one begin?
First, Brennan, as does his boss, as did his previous bosses, conflates al-Qaeda et al (anti-state terrorist groups) with countries. Brennan et al are twisting the meaning of international law as it applies to countries - the right to self-defense, which means defending one's country against an actual attack by another country.
Second, the pursuit of al-Qaeda et al after the 9/11 attacks should have been treated as a criminal matter, not as the justification for wars, invasions, and occupations that have resulted in the deaths of some 1.3 million Iraqis and tens of thousands of Americans (to name but a part of the grevious damage). The perpetrators of the 9/11 attack (even if we were to accept the government's official account of the attacks, which in important respects violates the laws of physics and also neglects or underplays the tremendous amount of intelligence that the government had about the attacks before 9/11, which the highest levels of the government refused to act upon, thereby committing at the very minimum, criminal acts of negligence) were criminals suitable for a criminal prosecution.
Shock, anger, and grief gripped the American people after 9/11, but 9/11 did not on its own mean that Americans hungered for a war. The events of 9/11—even accepting the official government version of events— actually lent themselves more readily and logically to a hunt for al-Qaeda and criminal prosecution. Had the Bush White House handled 9/11 as a horrible crime rather than as a declaration of war, does anyone seriously believe that Bush and Cheney would have encountered major resistance from most of the American people? (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 223)
Third, the use of illegal weapons and attacks that violate international law, both by the U.S. and by its putative rivals al-Qaeda et al, feed a cycle of ongoing violence.
The corollaries of rights violations and illegal surveillance by the Bush and Obama White Houses in the US are the violations of the rules of war that constitute state terror abroad. As seen in Abu Ghraib and at GITMO and in their assault on Fallujah[i] (where they specifically suspended international rules of war by aiming phosphorous missiles at people and shooting at anyone who moved), and Hilla[ii] (which had the misfortune of being on a direct path to Baghdad), the US military today rules in substantial degree through generous uses of terror. In the case of Hilla, where the US used cluster bombs on densely populated civilian areas, the objective was to quickly crush any resistance to their drive to Baghdad because they did not think that American public opinion would tolerate a protracted war campaign. (This is a core part of the [Colin] Powell Doctrine that grew out of the Vietnam War experience). In Fallujah’s case, the point was to punish the people of Fallujah for their support of the insurgents. The use of drones upon Pakistan not only results in deaths to innocents, it is warfare waged on a nonbelligerent sovereign nation’s territory, violating a basic tenet of international law.
A state that uses terror reveals itself to be on particularly precarious footings because it must resort to means that exceed those normally employed by states to carry out their policies and/or retain their power. The so-called “War on Terror” cannot be won the way it is being waged. Indeed, current methods only guarantee the spread of anti-state terror and its growing virulence indefinitely. It is like fighting a fire by drowning it with barrels and barrels of gasoline. As the conflagration grows ever higher, the US government calls out: “We need more gasoline here!” (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 202)
Fourth, the notion underlying Brennan's remarks - and that of the war of terror as a whole - that it is permissable to kill innocents, maim, torture, and render men, women and children as refugees in their own lands, because it allegedly (and falsely) protects American lives, is deeply immoral.
[ii] See Howard Friel and Richard Falk, The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (New York: Verso, 2004), 127: “The decision, then, to continue the march to Baghdad without troop and supply-line reinforcements was both politically and militarily risky. To reduce such risks, the Bush administration made the additional decision to proceed to Baghdad using maximum force, which turned the eighty-mile corridor from Najaf to Baghdad literally into a US warpath.”