A Killer In the White House
“No, Charlotte, I’m the jury now. I sentence you to death.”
The roar of the .45 shook the room. Charlotte staggered back a step.
“How c-could you?” she gasped.
“It was easy.”
- Mickey Spillane, I, The Jury
The news that Barack Obama -- a Constitutional scholar and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize -- has taken personal charge of lethal US drone hits in Yemen and Pakistan is one of those stories that takes time to sink in.
The New York Times stresses how serious the issue has become. “With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.” It’s no longer a cool video-game experiment; it’s the beginning of robot warfare, and, if history is a lesson, it will have unanticipated consequences and our enemies will learn to counter the weapon with imaginative weapons of their own, including drones. We should expect to be surprised and blindsided. Martin Luther King spoke of it as a futile rising cycle of violence.
Exactly how many non-combatants and innocent people are being killed is the big question. There's no way to know. One, there’s a pathological level of secrecy in our militarized government and, two, we can’t believe a word the government says anyway.
The President’s counterterrorism adviser John Bennan, for example, makes the preposterous claim that “not a single non-combatant has been killed in a year of strikes.” The Times interviewed former intelligence officials familiar with the issue and they “expressed disbelief.” It recalls the days during the Vietnam War when all Vietnamese corpses were VC.
We know of entire families killed in Yemen, as reported by Jeremy Scahill. And Britain’s Sunday Times reports since Obama began the campaign, 300 to 500 civilians have been killed, more than 60 of them kids.
Back in the sixties, during Operation Rolling Thunder, Lyndon Johnson took personal charge of targeting for the aerial bombing of North Vietnam. And George W. Bush was notorious for the little check-off list squirreled away in his desk drawer of men he wanted whacked. So the idea of a US President personally overseeing hits like a gang boss is not that novel. What's new is the means of killing and the fact Mr. Obama is so lawyerly about it.