Back in October the United Nations asked an independent British counter-terrorism expert to investigate the legality of “targeted assassinations” conducted on behalf of the United States in Pakistan and elsewhere.
So it turns out the investigator, a.k.a. the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, a.k.a. Ben Emmerson, visited Pakistan the other day, and spent several days interviewing and meeting with Pakistani government and tribal officials of various flavors, especially those with connections to the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the Taliban has been hiding out for years and where the CIA has been firing off missiles from the ever-more-popular predator drones mentioned previously here and here. Emmerson also met with witnesses to fatal drone strikes, families who have lost members to said strikes, and people who’ve been injured in such events.
Emmerson has issued a lengthy statement about his findings, but the bottom line is that he found the U.S. CIA’s predator drone assassinations violate international law. He summarized his findings thus:
“The position of the Government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State. It involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region. Pakistan has called on the US to cease its campaign immediately. In a direct challenge to the suggested legal justification for these strikes, the Government of Pakistan has also made it quite clear during these discussions that any suggestion that it is “unwilling or unable” to combat terrorism on its own territory is not only wrong, but is an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism who have lost their lives. Based on its direct knowledge of local conditions, Pakistan aims to a sustainable counter-terrorism strategy that involves dialogue and development in this complex region and that tackles not only the manifestations of terrorism but also its root causes. The people of Pakistan need to be given room to develop this strategy. The Pashtun tribes of the FATA area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign. These proud and independent people have been self-governing for generations, and have a rich tribal history that has been too little understood in the West. Their tribal structures have been broken down by the military campaign in FATA and by the use of drones in particular. It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.”
So what we have here is a Democratic president who ran the first time in part on a campaign of reining in government secrecy and Executive Branch over-reaching, i.e., making up lies as justification for starting the war in Iraq. But something happened after sitting in the Seat of Power for a couple of years. President Obama apparently decided that the ends justify the means, and he sanctioned CIA methods that have resulted in the assassination of three American citizens by predator drone, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy in Yemen. To say nothing of violating international law, as noted by Rapporteur Emmerson.
I take time out from uprooting a plethora of elderberry roots and stalks in order to point this out, not in an attempt to run off the few souls remaining as members of my audience, but because it is an affront to me as an American to see such continuing unconstitutional behavior emanating from the White House with so few among our elected officials and media voices standing in protest or trying to do anything whatever about it.
Most of the Democrats (notably not among them Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon) seem to take the position that they have one of their own in power for a second term, and that is such a great thing that putting up with a few unconstitutional idiosyncrasies is no big deal. Many of the Republicans (not among them Rand Paul) seem to take the position that what President Obama and the CIA are doing with predator hit lists and remote-control missile strikes is so cool that they cannot wait to get their own guy back in the White House behind the trigger again.
Many Americans, me included, howled when former President Bush and VP Cheney abused Executive Branch authority and let the CIA run a series of stealth torture chambers, among other things. What President Obama is doing now is just as bad. Where is the kind of outrage that was heaped upon his predecessor?
Worst of all, President Obama has had the “Justice” Department sign off on this stuff by crafting (which is to say, “making up”) a framework (which is to say, barrister bullshit) that somehow proves everything being done by remote-control drone is legal. Only you can’t read this legal framework. Because it is secret. So secret that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply. Sorry, you’ll just have to take the president’s word for it that this is all for your own good.
I really, really wish I were making this up. And I really, really hope this does not mark the beginning of the end of the system of political checks and balances that heretofore lent legitimacy to the United States’ claim of being the Land of the Free.