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Monday, May 27, 2013

Chronology and its Discontents

Some friends and colleagues have asked me about President Obama's recent (May 23, 2013) speech on counter-terrorism. I have had a chance to read the speech and find out more background information about the President's assertions. This does not look good.

First, I did vote for President Obama in 2008 in the hope that he would prove as different from the rest of the candidates as he presented himself. But within a week and a half of taking office in 2009 he ordered his first drone strike -- this one in Pakistan (supposedly an ally). His record on killing civilians outside of any battlefield or emergent situation only grew worse as his first term progressed. Unfortunately, I also voted for him again in 2012. I consider a vote for Democrats in general and President Obama in particular "the damage control vote." In my opinion I predict that they will murder fewer people than the Republicans.

His most recent speech fails to inspire confidence for the simple reason that he has very dishonestly attempted to justify the assassination of a U.S. citizen ex post facto with allegations and assertions that contradict reality as already reported. I will explain (with the help of Rachel Maddow and one of her show's guests, Jeremy Scahill).

From the President's speech:

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.
That's who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn't. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki. [emphasis added]

However, Jeremy Scahill, on The Rachel Maddow Show, pointed out that the first time the administration admitted to attempting to kill Awlaki was on December 24, 2009 before any of the events President Obama cited ever happened. The speech says nothing of Awlaki's 16 year-old son who the C.I.A. killed with a drone strike not specifically targeting him. We know nothing about this strike, including whether or not it was a "signature" strike. (A signature strike is when CIA or military staff observing from satellites or drones far above the ground see "activity" that intelligence analysts have deemed "suspicious," such as people converging on a given location singly and/or in small groups. Bear in mind that if some other country did this to the U.S. we would be reading about drone strikes killing teenagers at raves nearly once a week. This policy also explains some of the weddings that have had a drone interrupt the festivities.) To date, no one has presented any evidence or even allegations that Awlaki's son did anything at all.

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From the Rachel Maddow interview above:

… The president also said that if he had the opportunity, he would have detained and prosecuted Anwar Awlaki. If that's true, why didn't they seek an indictment? Why not bring into a court of law, seek his extradition, and if you can't get his extradition, all sorts of other options are available. They didn't even try. So none of the allegations against Awlaki have been proven. Haven't produced any evidence, except for assertions by the Attorney General and now assertions from the President. For much of the past 600 days, and Awlaki died 600 days ago, his case has been litigated posthumously.
It's about who we are as a society. How we treat the most reprehensible of our citizens says a lot about who we are. If we had that evidence against him, why couldn't we uphold the rule of law? Almost no one talks about this. The first time we know the U.S. tried to kill Anwar Awlaki was before the underwear bomb plot. They tried to kill Anwar Awlake December 24, 2009 before any of this [alleged participation in bomb plots] had taken place, before any of the things in the attorney general's letter.
The tribal leaders from his region told me [Scahill] that they had repeatedly told the Yemeni president, if you present us with evidence that he is guilty of any of these crimes, we'll execute him ourselves. The head of the Al Whack tribe told me, he told a liaison with the US government, if you show us evidence, we will execute him ourselves. [emphasis added] 

(Note, the Christmas Day plot mentioned in the President's speech is what Scahill called "the underwear bomb plot" above).

Oddly, as rabid as radical republicans have proven in their quest to remove Obama from office, I wonder if any of them will seize on this? Will any mainstream news outlet cover this? Will anyone ask him about this at his next press conference? Now that would be interesting.