This weekend, the Obama administration began an operation targeting “suspected Al-Qaeda militants” in Yemen, where three days of drone strikes have left at least 55 people dead. Days earlier, the Al-Qaeda network’s Arabian Peninsula affiliate (AQAP) had released a video of an unprecedented gathering of AQAP fighters, including its leader, Nasir Al-Wuhayshi, who vowed to fight back against Western “crusaders”.
George W. Bush, who launched one drone attack against Yemen (in 2002), once described the War on Terror as a “crusade”. But it’s Barack Obama – still the anti-Bush in the eyes of most Democrats, despite having bombed Yemen more than 80 times – who marked Easter Sunday by killing 30 people without charge or trial in south Yemen’s Abyan province.
Most of mainstream media reporting on the administration’s so-called targeted killing program simply parrots the claims of anonymous administration sources (or in this case, unnamed “high-level Yemeni government officials”). But can we really take their word for it? How do we know the dead were all “suspected Al-Qaeda militants”? And even if they were guilty of some punishable infraction, why couldn’t they be charged with a crime like any other criminal?
This seems like a good time to point out that:
- The administration defines “militants” as “all military-age males in a strike zone”.
- A Human Rights Watch report found roughly 70% of airstrike victims in Yemen were civilians.
- Yemen is the primary theater for the Obama policy of signature strikes, which allow the administration to order an attack without knowing the identities of the targets, based on patterns of “suspicious behavior”.
- According to a legal memo carefully prepared by the Justice Department and “leaked” in Feb. 2013, the administration doesn’t need a shred of evidence that someone is a threat to national security in order to assassinate them for being a threat to national security.
Government officials lie about the extrajudicial killing program all the time, and mainstream news outlets take their word for it – every time. When, on Dec. 12, 2013, a US drone strike hit a wedding convoy, killing at least 12 local tribespeople, US and Yemeni officials “leaked” the demonstrably untrue story that the strike had actually killed 12 militants, including Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a mid-level AQAP operative.
The fact is that nothing drives terrorist recruitment like the Obama administration’s campaign of terror in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya. As a “counterterrorism” policy, extrajudicial killing – whether by drones, conventional aircraft, or any other weapon – is as counterproductive as it is ethically repugnant. Nothing foments hatred of the United States more, nothing could make outbursts of violence against Americans more inevitable, than our government’s own unrestrained savagery.
Yet polls consistently show that a significant majority of self-identified liberal Democrats support the President’s drone program. Their racism is the subtle racism of indifference to the plight of others – the brown Muslim others whose lives take a backseat to partisan loyalty.
Every election season, the liberal media and political class position the Democratic Party as a friend: a friend to women, to ethnic minorities, to labor, to queer folks, to the “middle class”. In 2012, the Democratic cheerleading-industrial complex defeated mean old Mitt Romney by demanding lockstep marching behind the President, as if three years of neoliberalism and war were less of a dealbreaker than some missing tax returns or an unfortunate incident with the family dog.
It was later revealed that, during that election, our friend joked to aides that he didn’t know he’d be “really good at killing people”. I don’t think there’s much to say about Obama personally without buying into his formidable cult of personality – only that comments like this betray a callousness we’re told to expect from evil Republicans, not from our friends.
But it was a Democrat who ordered the deaths of four unidentified people in Pakistan on Christmas Day, 2013, and it was a Democrat who massacred 30 people in Yemen on Easter. I think Charles Davis said it best: “If I had a friend like that, I probably wouldn’t be friends with them anymore.”