Anwar Awlaki, as far as we know, began to turn against the United States following the U.S. harassment of Muslims that began on September 12, 2001, at which time Awlaki was living in Virginia; and he grew in his opposition to the United States as our government harassed him and threatened to murder him. Awlaki, as far as we know, never took any action against the United States beyond publicly encouraging others to do so. In other words, Awlaki did the same thing CNN does quite often: he promoted the waging of war. Now, I think that such actions should be illegal, and that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights they are. I'd like to see Awlaki and various members of the U.S. media and various U.S. government officials prosecuted for war propaganda. But my position is rare if not unique. It is far more common to maintain that the First Amendment protects such speech.
Awlaki wasn't charged with or tried for any crime. Instead, he was killed by a drone, along with another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, who was with him -- a death that one U.S. Congress member called "a bonus" and "a twofer." Awlaki's teenage son and several other teenage members of his family were killed two weeks later by another U.S. drone strike.
These deaths were a handful among the mountain of corpses produced by U.S. dirty wars. And Dirty Wars provides us with the heartbreaking and "humanizing" stories of some of the non-U.S. victims. I put "humanizing" in quotes because I always wonder whether anyone really truly doubts that foreigners living far away are human until a photo or film or narrative "puts a human face on them." Here are stories of innocent families, children, women, and men killed by a Global War on the Globe that advertises itself as eliminating terrorism.
The Boston marathon bombs created a bit of a public debate this week over how to define "terrorism." Many were unsure whether it was terrorism, not knowing whether the bombers were foreign or domestic. Others believed the bombers' motives needed to be known before the "terrorism" label could be applied. The latter is a reasonable position, but one that renders the term less useful, while ignoring many of its common uses. If we define "terrorism," as seems most useful, as acts of violence that terrorize people, it is hard to see much of what's recounted in Scahill's book as anything other than terrorism.
While we're defining terms, it's worth noting that "assassination" is usually defined as the murder of a prominent public figure. A "signature strike," which Scahill describes as a type of "pre-crime" punishment, in which President Obama or his subordinate orders the killing of someone whose name is unknown but whose behavior suggests that he or she might be likely to engage in active resistance to a U.S. occupation or might be likely to attack people in the United States someday -- that is by definition not an assassination. It is a different type of murder, but still of course a murder.
When the New York Times reported on President Obama's kill list on May 29, 2012, it quoted Obama's National Security Advisor and cited interviews with three-dozen former and current advisors to Obama in the White House. The U.S. voting public reelected Obama five months later, and it appears entirely possible that the president wanted the public to know that he murders people (trusting that many who wouldn't approve would avoid knowing), and that as a political strategist -- if in no other way whatsoever -- Obama was right.
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