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May 2012

Will Americans challenge Obama’s drone war?

May 30th, 2012

by Medea Benjamin

Shakira, 4, was disfigured in one of Obama’s drone attacks.

On May 29, The New York Times published an extraordinarily in-depth look at the intimate role President Obama has played in authorizing US drone attacks overseas, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is chilling to read the cold, macabre ease with which the President and his staff decide who will live or die. The fate of people living thousands of miles away is decided by a group of Americans, elected and unelected, who don’t speak their language, don’t know their culture, don’t understand their motives or values. While purporting to represent the world’s greatest democracy, US leaders are putting people on a hit list who are as young as 17, people who are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law.

Who is furnishing the President and his aides with this list of terrorist suspects to choose from, like baseball cards? The kind of intelligence used to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?

Why should the public believe what the Obama administration says about the people being assassinated by drones? Especially since, as we learn in the New York Times, the administration came up with a semantic solution to keep the civilian death toll to a minimum: simply count all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants. The rationale, reminiscent of George Zimmerman’s justification for shooting Trayvon Martin, is that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.” Talk about profiling! At least when George Bush threw suspected militants into Guantanamo their lives were spared.

Referring to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the article reveals that for Obama, even ordering an American citizen to be assassinated by drone was “easy.” Not so easy was twisting the Constitution to assert that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees American citizens due process, this can simply consist of “internal deliberations in the executive branch.” No need for the irksome interference of checks and balances.

Al-Awlaki might have been guilty of defecting to the enemy, but the Constitution requires that even traitors be convicted on the “testimony of two witnesses” or a “confession in open court,” not the say-so of the executive branch.

In addition to hit lists, Obama has granted the CIA the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” i.e. strikes based solely on suspicious behavior. The article reports State Department officials complained that the CIA’s criteria for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. “The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks,’ the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.”

Obama’s top legal adviser Harold Koh insists that this killing spree is legal under international law because the US has the inherent right to self-defense. It’s true that all nations possess the right to defend themselves, but the defense must be against an imminent attack that is overwhelming and leaves no moment of deliberation. When a nation is not in an armed conflict, the rules are even stricter. The killing must be necessary to protect life and there must be no other means, such as capture or nonlethal incapacitation, to prevent that threat to life. Outside of an active war zone, then, it is illegal to use weaponized drones, which are weapons of war incapable of taking a suspect alive.

Just think of the precedent the US is setting with its kill-don’t-capture doctrine. Were the US rationale to be applied by other countries, China might declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan; Russia could assert that it was legal to launch a drone attack against someone living in London whom they claim is linked to Chechen militants. Or consider the case of Luis Posada Carrilles, a Cuban-American living in Miami who is a known terrorist convicted of masterminding a 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Given the failure of the US legal system to bring Posada to justice, the Cuban government could claim that it has the right to send a drone into downtown Miami to kill an admitted terrorist and sworn enemy.

Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence, called the drone strike campaign “dangerously seductive” because it was low cost, entailed no casualties and gives the appearance of toughness. “It plays well domestically,” he said, “and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

But an article in the Washington Post the following day, May 30, entitled “Drone strikes spur backlash in Yemen,” shows that the damage is not just long term but immediate. After interviewing more than 20 tribal leaders, victims’ relatives, human rights activists and officials from southern Yemen, journalist Sudarsan Raghavan concluded that the escalating U.S. strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. “The drones are killing al-Qaeda leaders,” said legal coordinator of a local human rights group Mohammed al-Ahmadi, “but they are also turning them into heroes.”

Even the New York Times article acknowledges that Pakistan and Yemen are less stable and more hostile to the United States since Mr. Obama became president, that drones have become a provocative symbol of American power running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents.

One frightening aspect of the Times piece is what it says about the American public. After all, this is an election-time piece about Obama’s leadership style, told from the point of view of mostly Obama insiders bragging about how the president is no shrinking violent when it comes to killing.  Implicit is the notion that Americans like tough leaders who don’t agonize over civilian deaths—over there, of course.

Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer suing the CIA on behalf of drone victims, thinks its time for the American people to speak out. “Can you trust a program that has existed for eight years, picks its targets in secret, faces zero accountability and has killed almost 3,000 people in Pakistan alone whose identities are not known to their killers?,” he asks. “When women and children in Waziristan are killed with Hellfire missiles, Pakistanis believe this is what the American people want. I would like to ask Americans, ‘Do you?’”

Medea Benjamin (, cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.


[337] The last video taken by the hero Anas al-Tarshah a few minutes prior his death [EN,FR,RU]


Syria : another three ambassadors and he has himself a team


Syria’s Houla massacre: Q&A

What is known about last week’s violence in which more than 100 people, many of them children, were killed?

People gather at a mass burial for victims killed in Houla

People gather at a mass burial for the victims of last Friday’s violence in Houla. Photograph: REUTERS

Where did the massacre occur?

It took place in the town of Houla, which is in the western province of Homs in central Syria. Most of the dead were in the village of Taldou, which is 1km south-east of Houla. Homs is the most restive of Syria’s 10 provinces and has become one of two main hubs of the nationwide uprising. It has a large Sunni majority as well as numerous Allawite areas, which have remained staunchly loyal to the Syrian regime. Both sides live in close proximity in many areas.

Numerous battles have been fought in the province between the regime army and the Free Syria Army, which is comprised mostly of Sunni defectors from the military. The rebel army is thought to be stronger here than anywhere else in Syria

How did it start?

Shelling of Houla and Taldou started around 3pm on Friday afternoon, several hours after regular weekly anti-regime demonstrations, according to the accounts of numerous locals. Several residents started sending out appeals for help over Skype around that time.

The UN monitoring team was contacted late on Friday afternoon. There are credible reports that members of the Free Syria Army attacked a regime checkpoint around the same time that firing started on Houla. The reports come from two local men, one of whom is the head of the Syrian Revolutionary Council in Houla.

The situation quickly escalated, with artillery and tank shells used to barrage the town for close to three hours. Houla and Taldou are both home to large numbers of defectors and their families.

From the early evening, militias entered both areas from outlying villages. Several witnesses and survivors of the ensuing massacre say the militias arrived first on foot, then later in tanks. An 11-year-old boy interviewed by the Guardian said he saw men get out of an armoured vehicle in front of his house. He says the men entered his home and killed his family. The attack on the towns continued until dawn.

What are the competing theories?

The residents of Houla are emphatic that the killers were members of the pro-regime militia, al-Shabiha (which is Arabic for ghosts), who are drawn almost exclusively from the Allawite sect. The Shabiha have been at the vanguard of the regime crackdown and are valued by the Syrian military for their unwavering loyalty. The UN has said that up to 49 of the 100-plus victims were children and a further 20 were women. The toll of non-fighters is unusually high, something that locals say points to a particular hatred towards them.

Locals say it’s insulting to them for people to blame residents of the town for killing their own families, as some supporters of the Assad regime have done. Abu Jaffour, a town elder said: “There are no such people here. There never have been and will not be in future. It is a big lie.” They insist that there are no outsiders among them and that the attackers came from the direction of the loyalist villages, especially Foulah and Qabou.

The regime has instead blamed “armed terrorists,” a refrain it has stuck to throughout the 15-month uprising. It suggests jihadists from Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have entered Syria and overtaken the uprising. Damascus has said it would display foreign fighters captured in Syria, including at least one Briton, but it has not yet done so.

What is the significance of the surrounding villages?

Houla is surrounded on three fronts by Allawite villages, Foulah, al-Qabou, Shenya and Sharqliah. Assad is an Allawite and so are almost all of the core of the Syrian regime. Locals say that Foulah and al-Qabou have long been hostile to Houla. They claim the hostility has increased as the uprising has raged. Survivors have testified that the militiamen spoke with an Allawite dialect.

What does the available evidence say about the perpetrators?

Witnesses say some of the men were wearing at least partial military uniform. Some were in civilian clothes. Only the regime army has the ability to shell areas for a long period. There is strong evidence that shelling did take place in the late afternoon of Friday. This is supported by videos believed to have been taken during the attack and by pleas for help from locals sent as shells were falling.

Locals scorn the idea that jihadists from al-Qaida are among them. They say that none have come to them, and nor would they be welcome. They say that it would be culturally impossible for al-Qaida to be among them without them knowing. They say that just is unlikely is the regime line that the al-Qaida attackers approached from the town’s outskirts – areas that regime forces fully control.

Survivors say that the men who killed their families were Allawites, some of them from nearby villages, especially Foulah and Qabou. They claim that several openly acknowledged where they were from and why they had come.

Hymns to the Violence: The NYT’s Love Letter to Obama’s Murder Racket

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TUESDAY, 29 MAY 2012 14:21
I must, at last, admit defeat. I simply have no words, no rhetorical ammunition, no conceptual frameworks that could adequately address the total moral nullity exposed in Monday’s New York Times article on the death squad that Barack Obama is personally directing from the White House.  (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”)It is not so much a newspaper story as a love letter — a love letter to death, to the awe-inspiring and fear-inducing power of death, as personified by Barack Obama in his temporary role as the manager of a ruthless, lawless imperial state. In the cringing obsequiousness of the multitude of insiders and sycophants who march in goose-step through the story, we can see the awe and fear — indeed, the worship — of death-dealing power. This enthrallment permeates the story, both in the words of the cringers and in the giddy thrill the writers display in gaining such delicious access to the inner sanctum.

In any other age — including the last administration — this story would have been presented as a scandalous exposé. The genuinely creepy scenes of the “nominating process” alone would have been seen as horrific revelations. Imagine the revulsion at the sight of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld sifting through PowerPoint slides on “suspected terrorists” all over the world, and giving their Neronic thumbs up or down as each swarthy face pops up on a screen in front of them. Imagine the tidal wave of moral outrage from the “Netroots Nation” and other progressive champions directed at Bush not only for operating a death squad (which he did), but then trotting out Condi and Colin and Bob Gates to brag about it openly, and to paint Bush as some kind of moral avatar for the careful consideration and philosophical rigor he applied to blowing human beings to bits in sneak attacks on faraway villages.

But the NYT piece is billed as just another “process story” about an interesting aspect of Obama’s presidency, part of an election-year series assessing his record. It is based entirely on the viewpoints of Beltway insiders.  The very few dollops of mild criticism of the murder program are voiced by figures from deep within the imperial machine. And even these caveats are mostly tactical in nature, based on one question: “Does the program work, is it effective?” There is not a single line that ever suggests, even slightly, that the program might be morally wrong. There is not a single line in the story suggesting that such a program should up for debate or even examination by Congress. Nor is there even a perfunctory quote from mainstream organizations such as the ACLU or Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch — or from anyone in Pakistan or Yemen or the other main targets of Obama’s proudly proclaimed and personally approved death squad.

In other words, this portrait of an American president signing off — week after week after week after week — on the extrajudicial murder of people all over the world is presented as something completely uncontroversial. Indeed, the main thrust of the story is not the fact that human beings — including many women, children and men who have no connection whatsoever to “terrorism,” alleged or otherwise — are being regularly killed by the United States government; no, the main focus is how this program illustrates Barack Obama’s “evolving” style of leadership during the course of his presidency. That’s what’s really important. The murders — the eviscerated bodies, the children with their skulls bashed in, the pregnant women burned alive in their own homes — are just background. Unimportant. Non-controversial.

Here’s how it works:

“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

“This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. … A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.

“The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.

“Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.

“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”

Again, words fail. Aides pumping reporters with stories about the wise, judicious philosopher-king consulting Aquinas and Augustine before sending a drone missile on a “signature strike” on a group of picnickers in Yemen or farmers in Pakistan. The philosopher-king himself nobly taking on the “moral responsibility” for mass murder. And the cavalier assertion that “a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen” — a bland, blithe acceptance that you are in fact going to slaughter innocent human beings on a regular basis — precisely as if you walked up to an innocent man on the street, put a gun to his head and blew his brains out all over the sidewalk …. then walked away, absolved, unconcerned, and free to kill again. And again. And again. This psychopathic serial killing is, evidently, what Augustine meant by “moral responsibility.” Who knew?

Obama’s deep concern for “moral responsibility” is also reflected in his decision to kill according to “signature strikes” — that is, to kill people you don’t know, who haven’t even popped up on your PowerPoint slides, if you think they might possibly look or act like alleged potential “terrorists.” (Or if you receive some “human intelligence” from an agent or an informer or someone with a grudge or someone seeking payment that a group of people doing something somewhere might be terrorists.) This “moral responsibility” is also seen in Obama’s decision to count “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Guilty until proven posthumously innocent! How’s that for “moral responsibility”? Here Obama has surpassed Augustine and Aquinas — yea, even great Aristotle himself — in this bold extension of the parameters of moral responsibility.

It is, I confess, beyond all my imagining that a national leader so deeply immersed in murdering people would trumpet his atrocity so openly, so gleefully — and so deliberately, sending his top aides out to collude in a major story in the nation’s leading newspaper, to ensure maximum exposure of his killing spree. Although many leaders have wielded such powers, they almost always seek to hide or obscure the reality of the operation. Even the Nazis took enormous pains to hide the true nature of their murder programs from the public. And one can scarcely conceive of Stalin inviting reporters from Pravda into the Politburo meetings where he and Molotov and Beria debated the lists of counterrevolutionary “terrorists” given to them by the KGB and ticked off those who would live and those who would die. Of course, those lists too were based on “intelligence reports,” often gathered through “strenuous interrogation techniques” or the reports of informers. No doubt these reports were every bit as credible as the PowerPoint presentations reviewed each week by Obama and his team.

And no doubt Stalin and his team were just as sincerely concerned about “national security” as the Aquinas acolyte in the White House today — and just as determined to do “whatever it takes” to preserve that security. As Stalin liked to say of the innocent people caught up in his national security efforts: “When wood is chopped, chips fly.”

Of course, he was an evil man without any sense of moral responsibility at all. In our much more enlightened times, under the guidance of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in the White House, we are so much wiser, so much better. We say: “A certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen.” Isn’t that much more nuanced? Isn’t that much more moral?

There is more, much more of this nullity — and rotting hypocrisy and vapid sycophancy — in the story. But I don’t have the strength or the stomach to wade any further through this swamp. It stinks of death. It taints and stains us all.

Memorial Day Special: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit


Nato summit leaders ‘were busy posing for photo ops’ as war veterans staged protest. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Democracy Now! returns to Chicago, site of the largest NATO summit in the organization’s six-decade history, where nearly 50 veterans discarded their war medals by hurling them down the street in the direction of the NATO summit. We hear the soldiers’ voices as they return their medals one by one from the stage. “I’m here to return my Global War on Terror Service Medal in solidarity with the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan,” said Jason Hurd, a former combat medic who spent 10 years in the U.S. Army. “I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe.” Scott Kimball, an Iraq war veteran, adds: “For all the servicemembers and veterans who are against these wars, you are not alone!” Click here to see the other parts of the 2012 Memorial Day Special: 2, 3, 4, 5. [includes rush transcript]


Activist Baybars Talawi : we have received info from a credible source in the security force’s branch that the regime is now planning to arrest young men from Al Houla and present them to the nation as if they are the ones who committed the massacre, to try and prove the regime’s cover story…. please warn everyone.

I am the child listed as “number 50” [ 88394 ] –

Ahmed Alomari

I am the child listed as “number 50” in the lists you have been sharing since last night. I don’t have much to say to you…

I have only one thing I’d like to say, but I forget what it is…

Everything happened really fast. After the shelling that had started in the morning began to die down, they broke down the door. They came inside and took us with them, they separated us from my mother. They took me and my three siblings. My baby sister was in my mother’s lap, she was sick two days ago. They grabbed her. My mother screamed. Later I heard one of the thugs curse at my mother and then hit her. The last thing I heard from her was her screaming: “My babies!”

My father was not with her…we did not know where he was. They took him a week ago from the checkpoint. We haven’t seen him since, and we haven’t heard any news about him.

I don’t have much to say to you about what happened that night…only one thing.

They threw us into a large car filled with children around my age. They were crying. Some of them were infants. Their screaming was really loud. The driver was cursing at them.

The car stopped near a house at the edge of the village, near the field that I used to play in with my friends. The thug opened the door and ordered us to get out as he was cursing us and beating us. Every time someone stepped out he beat them. He was saying many curse words. I knew some of them. My mother used to warn me not to say them. Others I never heard before. But I understood they were bad words.

I don’t have much to say to you…

The thug beat me on my back as I stepped out of the car. I was carrying my baby sister. I fell on the ground and my sister fell from my hands. The thug laughed and called me a stupid Sunni.

When we entered the house I saw that there were many children. Most of them had their hands tied. Some of them were crying, but not many. Only the infants were crying. There were other thugs there. One of them said that they didn’t have any more ropes. Another one replied: “We’ll just kill a few of them, we can use their intestines as ropes.” They all laughed. My sister began to cry.

They left us for a while. My sister asked me what they would do with us. I knew what they would do, but I told her that I didn’t. I think she also knew. She cried and said she wanted our mother. My brother also cried and said he wanted our father. I knew we would meet him soon.

I don’t have much to say to you.

Everything happened really fast. The room was crowded and many of the children were crying and asking for their mothers. The new thug walked into the room. He smelled even worse than the others. He cursed a lot. He cursed us, and cursed God and Islam. I knew him. His son went to school with me. We used to play together in that field next door.

The thug carried a knife in his belt. He took it out of its sheath. The sounds of crying became louder. And the sound of thugs laughing also became louder. He said he hadn’t smelled blood in 3 days and that he missed it. Another thug replied to him while laughing: “We killed the three guys that we grabbed from the checkpoint yesterday…did you forget?” He said: “yes…it feels like it was forever ago.” He cursed again.

He took a step forward with the knife in his hand. Everyone moved back and the screams got louder. “Who should we start with my pretties?” he said as he laughed. “Who will be the first dead corpse?” I expected everyone to scream…I expected the crying to increase. However the exact opposite happened. Everything was silent. It was as if everyone wanted it all to just be over.

The thug with the horrible smell walked up to a little girl with blonde hair. She was shaking. He grabbed her from her hair. He said to her: “I wanted to **** but slaughtering you is also fun.” She was shaking. She was begging him saying “Please sir”..”Please don’t…” He placed the knife at her throat and quickly cut it. Before she could even finish her sentence he was holding her head in his hands. He started pointing it at us all. He was holding it from her hair as the blood dripped from it. Her body was on the ground and blood was spraying at us all.

The sounds of crying became louder. There was a young girl crying and saying the Shahada (Declaration of Faith, La Ilaha Illa Allah, There is no God but Allah) in a loud voice. He grabbed her and said: “This is for the Shahada,” and he stabbed her in the throat and cut out her larynx and threw it at us. But the girl reminded us of the Shahadah, so we all started saying it. We remembered what we used to hear, that whoever says the Shahadah before dying will be in heaven. So we started saying it. He got irritated and began slaughtering faster. The sound of crying began to mix with the sound of what I realized was their bodies shaking as they were being slaughtered. Those sounds also mixed with the sounds of Shahada and the sounds of laughter and cursing coming from the thugs as they watched.

I saw my cousin Samer as the thug took a hold of him. I hadn’t noticed him before. Samer was quiet, unlike his usual self. But as he was being slaughtered, she shook violently and ran. His head was slightly hanging to the side of his neck, but he ran towards me. As if he wanted me to save him. The blood sprayed from him like a fountain. I found the blood covering my face. I moved back until the wall was directly behind me. I think I was in the corner. I couldn’t see because the blood was covering my eyes. But I didn’t wipe it off. I preferred not to see.

I don’t have much to say to you, but I remembered you all at that moment. I remembered what my cousin Abdulrahman said to me, my cousin that joined the Free Syrian Army a month ago. Abdulrahman was a student in the University, he has a computer in his room and he used to let me play games on it. One day he showed me a page that he said you all visited. He told me that when one of us is martyred that you write about them on that page. I forgot what it was called. I asked him if you all were sick or handicapped or something…he laughed and said: “something like that.”

I remembered you…

I don’t have much to say to you…maybe only one word. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I forgot it.

Later I couldn’t see anything. I was in the corner and I could only hear. I was sure that my sister had been slaughtered…I heard her calling for my mother. I remembered my mother. I heard a thug say he needed a new knife because the one he had turned dull. The other thug said: “Even better! They’ll feel more pain that way.”

I don’t remember much after that…The same sounds began to repeat themselves. I started to differentiate the sound of blood as it flowed. Whenever the sounds of crying decreased I realized that my turn was coming.

Suddenly I realized that he came closer to me, his wretched smell was easily distinguishable even with the smell of blood. He grabbed my neck…

I remember now what I wanted to say to you at that moment.
I wanted to say that I spit on you all. All of you. Every single one of you. You that are reading these words. It has been over a year since the slaughtering started and you have all failed to do anything to stop the slaughter. I spit on you and on the one that wrote these words as well. Maybe he didn’t find anything better to do…or anything better to write…

I spit on you all and I don’t apologize from anyone…

The disgusting thug placed his knife on my neck…
I said the Shahada…
And I spit on you all again…

Original Arabic article written by Ahmed Alomari

:: Article nr. 88394 sent on 28-may-2012 18:01 ECT 

May 27, 2012


Not Racist? May You Be Raped!


At a demonstration in south Tel Aviv demanding the immediately expulsion of all non-Jewish African asylum-seekers, a lone Israeli woman who does not agree with the rest of the crowd is shouted down with ferocity and told that she deserves to be raped

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