26 October 2012, 13:27

Barack Obama widens the practice of extrajudicial killings

Barack Obama widens the practice of extrajudicial killings

The Washington Post has started publishing a series of articles based on interviews with dozens of current and former national security officials, intelligence analysts and others, which examine evolving U.S. counterterrorism policies and the practice of targeted killing.

The first of the three stories deals with the administration's plans for hunting terrorists and U.S. intentions to keep adding names to kill lists.

It reveals already existing practices of the so called "targeted killings" in countries the U.S. is not even at war with, like Yemen and Somalia, and even the country that in 2004 was included by George W. Bush on the list of "major U.S. non-NATO allies", Pakistan.

"Over the past two years," states the Washington Post, "the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the 'disposition matrix'."

In essence, this means that based on intelligence evidence, the administration assumes the right to judge and execute anyone without bothering about such minor things as proper court hearings, or the right of the accused person for proper legal defense.

Too much has been said by those who are acquainted with the practice of "targeted killings" that they tend to target at least as many innocent civilians as real militants. In countries like Pakistan where a wedding in tribal areas is usually accompanied by extensive shooting in the air, this has often resulted in a wedding turning into a mass funeral.

In broader terms, the new strategy means that the U.S. is changing its attitude towards conventional warfare. While overtly speaking of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the administration definitely has no intention to abandon the vital region and plans to maintain its strategic presence. But after the troops are withdrawn, the tactics will be much subtler and less likely to irritate the U.S. public fed up with receiving starred and striped coffins from overseas.

By turning warfare in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen or Pakistan into a kind of computer game where the operator may be sitting thousands of miles away and killing whoever he or she likes by simply pressing a button and then enjoying the big bang on the screen, the U.S. administration is simply following the tactics used by the 9/11 perpetrators, with only one small difference. There, the operators were also sitting somewhere far away from the actual scene (be it in Tora Bora caves, Riyadh or Langley, VA), but instead of a playstation they operated one and a half dozen dummies, and instead of drones they used passenger airplanes.

The warfare Barack Obama's administration is embarking on is much more elaborate and intricate, but hardly less devastating than the 9/11 attacks. The eleven years after 9/11 have witnessed hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq, AfPak and far beyond, and the damage inflicted on the whole region is probably impossible to calculate.

But surely, conventional war can backfire, and the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in respectively 4,500 and more than 2,000 Americans killed. This is something the U.S. public is not ready to endure. Therefore, the focus is shifted to unmanned operations.

The fact that such operations clearly violate the principles propagated by the U.S. itself, like the right of everyone for legal defense, does not seem to bother the administration. Human rights and acknowledged legal practices work well when it comes to protecting the rights of Americans, but when it comes to others, they can be easily neglected.

One can only wonder will Barack Obama (or whoever replaces him in the White House) know his limitations, and how long will the world have to wait for someone to come and put an end to the totally lawless practice of poorly targeted killings. 

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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