Obama’s Dirty Drone War of Assassination

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at www.GregPalast.com, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, “confidential”.


Every Tuesday, President Obama personally checks off the names of people he wants killed. George Bush, a bit more squeamish than Obama, never did that; but Mr Obama felt those decisions were the president’s responsibility: he “want[s] to keep his own finger on the trigger”, according to one report. A tidy, scheduled man, the President only picks his victims once a week, now called “Terror Tuesday”.

Around the time Barack Obama ordered the drone strike that killed Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old American kid Facebooked his second-rate choice of hip-hop favourites. I say “second-rate” because Abdul was my son’s age, almost exactly, so I know the kind of crap they listen to.

On October the 14th, 2011, Abdul went out with his cousins and friends for a good old US-style barbecue, when Obama’s drone fired a rocket, blowing the teenager to pieces. Or I should say “piece”. All that was left of Abdul was a piece of skull with long curly hair that allowed his relatives to identify this hunk of his head by his US-style haircut.

Obama didn’t order the killings (Abdul’s friends and cousins died, too) as a random act of crazy. No-Drama Obama doesn’t believe in random. Abdul’s problem was that his father was Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama killed Abdul’s dad as well. Daddy al-Awlaki, an American imam who voted for George Bush, had gone over to the side of the bad guys. And, after leaving the USA, broadcast pro-terrorism radio reports from Arabia.


Soldiers with the 25th Mechanised Brigade near the front lines in Zinjibar, Yemen. (Photo courtesy of Richard Rowley and Big Noise Films).

We can argue until the cows come home about whether Daddy al-Awlaki was a legitimate kill target. It is, after all, right there in the US Constitution that the penalty for treason is death. I suppose that, before executing him, a jury trial would have been nice. But nice was not going to happen. So, OK, Barack, we’ll let that one go.

But what about the 16-year-old? Obama didn’t even pretend that the kid was a terrorist, or a terrorist in-the-making, nor adopting in any way his father’s crazed kill-Americans crusade.

What could justify execution of Abdul? When asked, then-White House press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father.”

I guess he should have.

Obama’s minions tried to cover up the hit on the teenagers. Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress of the killings by writing that US drones had blown up Anwar al-Awlaki, the crazy cleric, and three other Americans who “were not specifically targeted”.

Holder’s comment makes it seem that Awlaki’s son was blown up with him – a sad case of “collateral damage”.

But are you ready for this? The teenager – along with his cousin and friends – was killed two weeks after and hundreds of miles away from the site where rockets killed his father.

The trailer for Richard Rowley’s documentary, Dirty Wars.

Obama’s Seal Team Sick

I was straightened out on the facts by Richard Rowley, America’s most courageous investigative reporter. Rowley filmed, directed and edited the brilliant, horrific and brilliantly horrific documentary Dirty Wars, previewing this week in the US.

The film centres on Rowley’s reporting partner, the indefatigable Jeremy Scahill, whom Rowley follows from the scene of a massacre at a wedding party in Afghanistan to an interview with a warlord in Mogadishu (while under sniper fire).

You might know Rowley as Ricardo, the pathologically calm cameraman portrayed in my book Vultures’ Picnic. In Iraq, Rowley covered the US Army assault on Fallujah “embedded” with the assaulted, the insurgents. That was insane. Insane but brilliant. (Our producer at the BBC warned Ricardo that he was one lucky cat, but he’d already used up seven of his nine lives.)

In Dirty Wars, Rowley and Scahill reveal that drones are just one toy in our Presidents’ murderous toy-chest. And the kill list is far larger than even a smart dude like Obama can tick off on a Tuesday. Scahill calculates that the targeted kills in Afghanistan and Pakistan now total more than 17,000!

Drones can’t kill them all. In 2009, a US cruise missile hit al Majala, a remote village of Bedouins in Yemen, killing a dozen herdsmen and three babies. Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh took responsibility, proudly, for killing supposed “terrorists”.

However, a courageous Yemeni reporter, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, visited the site, photographed the remains of the US missile – and was promptly jailed.

The US is particularly shy about taking credit for the cruise missile kills, as it boosted al-Qaeda’s recruitment drive in Yemen.

Rowley and Scahill are the only US reporters to have gone to the Bedouin village and filmed the missile casing; cold evidence confirming the US had entered a war without any legal declaration – indeed, in complete secrecy.

Scahill also revealed that, while Yemen’s President Saleh was nervous about keeping the reporter imprisoned, Saleh withdrew his pardon at the personal request of Barack Obama. Obama wanted the journalist not just silenced, but punished.

WikiLeaks: Cleaning up Dirty Wars?

I was curious: Did Scahill and Rowley make use of WikiLeaks?

“WikiLeaks was absolutely indispensible,” Rowley told me – a treasure trove of State Department confessions confirming what they found on the ground. It was through WikiLeaks that they discovered that President Saleh joked with US operatives about lying to his Congress about the US missile attack on al Majala.


Dirty Wars reporter Jeremy Scahill with Somali warlord “General” Indha Adde, AKA “White Eyes”. (Photo courtesy of Richard Rowley and Big Noise Films.)

And it was in WikiLeaks that Scahill found that the warlord Indha Adde – AKA “White Eyes” – was on the USA’s payroll. I should say, General White Eyes – a rank he gave himself in the Somali Army by pinning three stars on his jacket. Where did the US military find this cutthroat? Previously, the WikiLeaks cables revealed, the US knew he was the protector of the al-Qaeda bombers who blew up the US Embassy in Nairobi.

Rowley captures the warlord/general on camera saying, “The USA is the master in war” – quite a compliment from a natural born killer like White Eyes.

And General “Eyes” is quite right. Obama’s secret war has now spread to 75 nations. It’s all under the command of General William H McRaven.

The US press is in love with McRaven, lauded as the man who planned the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. But there’s not one single US network or paper that would report on Scahill’s discovery that McRaven was also the guy who planned the night raid on the Afghan wedding party that killed the bride, the groom and the groom’s mother.

Maybe that was some horrible mistake. But McRaven’s crew, called “The American Taliban” by Afghans, made sure that no one would finger the US: Rowley and Scahill obtained a secretly recorded video of McRaven’s commandos slicing the bullets out of the bride’s and groom’s bodies to prevent their killers’ identification.

McRaven’s semi-private army, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), is warring in our name in 75 nations – nations he won’t name and Obama will arrest you for naming. Not even Orwell could have dreamed up that one.

I asked about the value of WikiLeaks to Rowley and Scahill because of the ongoing trial of Pvt Bradley Manning and the impending capture of Edward Snowden, the contractor willing to blow away his career and freedom to let you know that nice Mr Obama has been spying on you.


Dirty Wars award-winning filmmaker and cameraman, Richard Rowley.

A rabbi from Nazareth once said, “The truth shall set you free.” And that’s exactly what Obama is afraid of: faced with the truths revealed in Dirty Wars, they know most Americans would cut themselves free of McRaven’s Seal Team Sick.

I am convinced the hit on al-Awlaki’s son was meant to teach a lesson; If you want to be a martyr, we’ll make your son and your mum and daughter martyrs, too.

Such terror-for-terror can be, I’ll admit, quite effective. During the Ronald Reagan years, that gutless faux-cowboy President sent weapons to Ayatollah Khomeini in return for the release of hostages taken by Hezbollah. The Russians got their hostages home another way. The USSR didn’t accept an arms-for-hostage deal. Rather, the KGB systematically assassinated the hostage-takers’ cousins, mothers and brothers one by one – until Hezbollah released all the Russian hostages.

By rocketing the children of those we fear, we are indeed teaching them a lesson. But what are they learning?

Next year, Malia Obama turns 16. I hope we never hear that harm has come to Malia while some chuckling spokesman for al-Qaeda says, “She should have had a far more responsible father.”

Greg Palast’s films with Richard “Ricardo” Rowley for BBC Television and Democracy Now! are available on the DVD, “Palast Investigates:  From 8-Mile to the Amazon – On the Trail of Financial Marauders.” This week, you can download it here without charge from the Palast Investigative Fund.

If you’re in Canada or the States, click here to locate showings of Dirty Wars near you. And click here for Ricardo’s story in Vultures’ Picnic.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast

 

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Free Movie Download: ‘The Assassination of Hugo Chavez’

Gregg Palast, while working for BBC Television, met several times with Hugo Chàvez, who passed away two days ago. Today I read that The Palast Investigative Fund, is offering the film, The Assassination of Hugo Chavez, as a FREE download. Based on his several meetings with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins, this movie offers some insight into Latin American struggle. The follow article was written by Mr Palast. If you enjoy the read, then you may want to download his movie.

Vaya con Dios, Hugo Chàvez, mi Amigo
By Greg Palast
Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Venezuelan President Chavez once asked me why the US elite wanted to kill him.  My dear Hugo:  It’s the oil. And it’s the Koch Brothers – and it’s the ketchup.

Reverend Pat Robertson said,

“Hugo Chavez thinks we’re trying to assassinate him.  I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.”

It was 2005 and Robertson was channeling the frustration of George Bush’s State Department. Despite Bush’s providing intelligence, funds and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez (we’ll get there), Hugo remained in office, reelected and wildly popular.

But why the Bush regime’s hate, hate, HATE of the President of Venezuela?

Reverend Pat wasn’t coy about the answer:  It’s the oil.

“This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil.”

A really BIG pool of oil.  Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela hold a recoverable reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi Arabia.

If we didn’t kill Chavez, we’d have to do an “Iraq” on his nation. So the Reverend suggests,

“We don’t need another $200 billion war….It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

Chavez himself told me he was stunned by Bush’s attacks:  Chavez had been quite chummy with Bush Senior and with Bill Clinton.

So what made Chavez suddenly “a dangerous enemy”? Here’s the answer you won’t find in The New York Times:

Just after Bush’s inauguration in 2001, Chavez’ congress voted in a new “Law of Hydrocarbons.”  Henceforth, Exxon, British Petroleum, Shell Oil and Chevron would get to keep 70% of the sales revenues from the crude they sucked out of Venezuela.  Not bad, considering the price of oil was rising toward $100 a barrel.

But to the oil companies, which had bitch-slapped Venezeula’s prior government into giving them 84% of the sales price, a cut to 70% was “no bueno.”  Worse, Venezuela had been charging a joke of a royalty – just one percent – on “heavy” crude from the Orinoco Basin. Chavez told Exxon and friends they’d now have to pay 16.6%.

Clearly, Chavez had to be taught a lesson about the etiquette of dealings with Big Oil.

On April 11, 2002, President Chavez was kidnapped at gunpoint and flown to an island prison in the Caribbean Sea.  On April 12, Pedro Carmona, a business partner of the US oil companies and president of the nation’s Chamber of Commerce, declared himself President of Venezuela – giving a whole new meaning to the term, “corporate takeover.”

U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro immediately rushed down from his hilltop embassy to have his picture taken grinning with the self-proclaimed “President” and the leaders of the coup d’état.

Bush’s White House spokesman admitted that Chavez was, “democratically elected,” but, he added, “Legitimacy is something that is conferred not by just the majority of voters.”  I see.

With an armed and angry citizenry marching on the Presidential Palace in Caracas ready to string up the coup plotters, Carmona, the Pretend President from Exxon returned his captive Chavez back to his desk within 48 hours.  (How?  Get The Assassination of Hugo Chavez, the film, expanding on my reports for BBC Television.  You can download it for free for the next few days.)

Chavez had provoked the coup not just by clawing back some of the bloated royalties of the oil companies. It’s what he did with that oil money that drove Venezuela’s One Percent to violence.

In Caracas, I ran into the reporter for a TV station whose owner is generally credited with plotting the coup against the president.  While doing a publicity photo shoot, leaning back against a tree, showing her wide-open legs nearly up to where they met, the reporter pointed down the hill to the “ranchos,” the slums above Caracas, where shacks, once made of cardboard and tin, where quickly transforming into homes of cinder blocks and cement.

“He [Chavez] gives them bread and bricks, so they vote for him, of course.”  She was disgusted by “them,” the 80% of Venezuelans who are negro e indio (Black and Indian)—and poor.  Chavez, himself negro e indio, had, for the first time in Venezuela’s history, shifted the oil wealth from the privileged class that called themselves “Spanish,” to the dark-skinned masses.

While trolling around the poor housing blocks of Caracas, I ran into a local, Arturo Quiran, a merchant seaman and no big fan of Chavez.  But over a beer at his kitchen table, he told me,

“Fifteen years ago under [then-President] Carlos Andrés Pérez, there was a lot of oil money in Venezuela. The ‘oil boom’ we called it. Here in Venezuela there was a lot of money, but we didn’t see it.”

But then came Hugo Chavez, and now the poor in his neighborhood, he said, “get medical attention, free operations, x-rays, medicines; education also. People who never knew how to write now know how to sign their own papers.”

Chavez’ Robin Hood thing, shifting oil money from the rich to the poor, would have been grudgingly tolerated by the US.  But Chavez, who told me, “We are no longer an oil colony,” went further…too much further, in the eyes of the American corporate elite.

Venezuela had landless citizens by the millions – and unused land by the millions of acres tied up, untilled, on which a tiny elite of plantation owners squatted.  Chavez’ congress passed in a law in 2001 requiring untilled land to be sold to the landless.  It was a program long promised by Venezuela’s politicians at the urging of John F. Kennedy as part of his “Alliance for Progress.”

Plantation owner Heinz Corporation didn’t like that one bit.  In retaliation, Heinz closed its ketchup plant in the state of Maturin and fired all the workers.  Chavez seized Heinz’ plant and put the workers back on the job.  Chavez didn’t realize that he’d just squeezed the tomatoes of America’s powerful Heinz family and Mrs. Heinz’ husband, Senator John Kerry, now U.S. Secretary of State.

Or, knowing Chavez as I do, he didn’t give a damn.

Chavez could survive the ketchup coup, the Exxon “presidency,” even his taking back a piece of the windfall of oil company profits, but he dangerously tried the patience of America’s least forgiving billionaires:  The Koch Brothers.

How?  Well, that’s another story for another day. [Watch this space. Or read about it in the book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits. Go to BallotBandits.org).

Elected presidents who annoy Big Oil have ended up in exile—or coffins:  Mossadegh of Iran after he nationalized BP’s fields (1953), Elchibey, President of Azerbaijan, after he refused demands of BP for his Caspian fields (1993), President Alfredo Palacio of Ecuador after he terminated Occidental’s drilling concession (2005).

“It’s a chess game, Mr. Palast,” Chavez told me.  He was showing me a very long, and very sharp sword once owned by Simon Bolivar, the Great Liberator.  “And I am,” Chavez said, “a very good chess player.”

In the film The Seventh Seal, a medieval knight bets his life on a game of chess with the Grim Reaper.  Death cheats, of course, and takes the knight.  No mortal can indefinitely outplay Death who, this week, Chavez must know, will checkmate the new Bolivar of Venezuela.

But in one last move, the Bolivarian grandmaster played a brilliant endgame, naming Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, as good and decent a man as they come, as heir to the fight for those in the “ranchos.”  The One Percent of Venezuela, planning on Chavez’s death to return them the power and riches they couldn’t win in an election, are livid with the choice of Maduro.

Chavez sent Maduro to meet me in my downtown New York office back in 2004.  In our run-down detective digs on Second Avenue, Maduro and I traded information on assassination plots and oil policy.

Even then, Chavez was carefully preparing for the day when Venezuela’s negros e indios would lose their king—but still stay in the game.
Class war on a chessboard.  Even in death, I wouldn’t bet against Hugo Chavez.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast covered Venezuela for BBC Television Newsnight and Harper’s Magazine.Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures’ Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review.

Visit the Palast Investigative Fund’s store or simply make a contribution to keep our work alive!

Bush and Obama Have Set Us Back 800 Years

NBC News reports:

Legal experts expressed grave reservations Tuesday about an Obama administration memo concluding that the United States can order the killing of American citizens believed to be affiliated with al-Qaida — with one saying the White House was acting as “judge, jury and executioner.”

Anyone should be concerned when the president and his lawyers make up their own interpretation of the law or their own rules,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and an authority on international law and the use of force.

“This is a very, very dangerous thing that the president has done,” she added.

***

Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer who writes about security and liberty for the British newspaper The Guardian, described the memo as “fundamentally misleading,” with a clinical tone that disguises “the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.”

“If you believe the president has the power to order U.S. citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable,” he wrote.

Senator Wyden said:

Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.

Top constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley notes:

In plain language, [the Obama administration memo]  means that [any Americans can be assassinated if] the President considers the citizens to be a threat in the future. Moreover, the memo allows killings when an attempt to capture the person would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel. That undue risk is left undefined.

I think I’ve seen that movie before …

Given that drones are being deployed in the American homeland, some fear that the war is coming home.

Indeed, the military now considers the U.S. homeland to be a battlefield.  The U.S. is already allowing military operations within the United States.    The Army is already being deployed on U.S. soil, and the military is conducting numerous training exercises on American streets.  (For more background, see thisthisthisthis, and this.)

Similarly, the White House has claimed the unilateral power to launch pre-emptive cyber-strikes against foreign nations.  As FireDogLake notes:

Like with the drone program, President Barack Obama is presiding over the creation and development of a power that previous presidents never imagined having. The national security state is effectively appointing him and all future presidents the proverbial judge, jury and executioner when it comes to cyber warfare.

As Greenwald makes clear, virtually all of the U.S. efforts regarding so-called “cyber-security” are actually efforts to create offensive attack capabilities.

And given that the government may consider normal Americans who criticize any government policy to be terrorists – and that the military is fighting against dissent on the Internet  – it is obvious that the cyber-attack capabilities are coming home to roost.

Of course, indiscriminate drone strikes are war crimes (and here and here) , and cyber-attacks are a form of terrorism. But that won’t stop the U.S. … because it’s only terrorism when other people do what we do.

As Greenwald noted last year:

We supposedly learned important lessons from the abuses of power of the Nixon administration, and then of the Bush administration: namely, that we don’t trust government officials to exercise power in the dark, with no judicial oversight, with no obligation to prove their accusations. Yet now we hear exactly this same mentality issuing from Obama, his officials and defenders to justify a far more extreme power than either Nixon or Bush dreamed of asserting: he’s only killing The Bad Citizens, so there’s no reason to object!

Greenwald notes in an article today:

The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to “terrorists” when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.

Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out “against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force.”

This ensures that huge numbers of citizens – those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true – will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That’s the “reasoning” process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death.

But of course, when this memo refers to “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida”, what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.

This is the crucial point: the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.

Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.

(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an “associated force” of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo “authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law”.)

The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo – and the entire theory justifying Obama’s kill list – centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.

They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts havevehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That’s why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can’t be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.

We’ve previously pointed out the absurdity of the government’s circular reasoning in the context of indefinite detention:

The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

  • If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain youindefinitely until the war is over
  • But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

See how that works?

The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves, as the separation of powers they fought and died for is being destroyed.  We’ve gone from a nation of laws to a nation of powerful men making laws in secret, where Congressional leaders themselves aren’t even allowed to see the laws, or to learn about covert programs.  A nation where Congressmen are threatened with martial law if they don’t approve radical programs.

Indeed, Bush and Obama have literally set the clock back 800 years … to before the signing of the Magna Carta.

Source:

The White House is “Judge, Jury and Executioner” of Both Drone and Cyber-Attacks