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US Justice Likely Coming Soon to Benghazi with Extrajudicial Executions

If the Obama administration identifies suspects in the consulate attack, should they simply be killed without a trial?

By Glenn Greenwald

October 20, 2012 "
The Guardian" --  Ever since the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Obama officials, including the President himself, have been vowing that the perpetrators will be "brought to justice". That, of course, is typical American-speak for: "without any evidence presented or due process afforded, we will execute suspects by bombing them from the air, along with anyone who may have the misfortune of being in close proximity to them."

The Associated Press this week reported on the Obama administration's current plans for Benghazi, plans that were "provided by three current and one former administration official, as well as an analyst who was approached by the White House for help". The report described how the US "is readying strike forces and drones but first has to find a target"; in other words, the gun is metaphorically cocked and simply in search of someone to shoot [my emphasis]:


"U.S. investigators have only loosely linked 'one or two names' to the attack, and they lack proof that it was planned ahead of time or that the local fighters had any help from the larger al-Qaida affiliate, officials say.

"If that proof is found, the White House must decide whether to ask Libyan security forces to arrest the suspects with an eye to extraditing them to the U.S. for trial or to simply target the suspects with U.S. covert action.

"U.S. officials say covert action is more likely. The FBI couldn't gain access to the consulate until weeks after the attack, so it is unlikely it will be able to build a strong criminal case. The U.S. is also leery of trusting the arrest and questioning of the suspects to the fledgling Libyan security forces and legal system still building after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

"The burden of proof for U.S. covert action is far lower, but action by the CIA or special operations forces still requires a body of evidence that shows the suspect either took part in the violence or presents a 'continuing and persistent, imminent threat' to U.S. targets, current and former officials said."

That is a pure expression of the modern incarnation of US justice: it would be difficult to prove anyone's guilt if we had to provide due process, so we likely won't bother with that; instead, we'll just decide ourselves, in secret, who is guilty and then execute them at will.

This is precisely the mentality which the Obama administration used to justify the assassination of US citizen Anwar Awlaki in Yemen, and defenders of that due-process-free execution typically invoke exactly this same formulation. That's because US citizens have now largely and successfully been trained to view this type of "justice" as normal.

"Due process" is viewed as a quaint and obsolete relic of the pre-9/11 era. The US president simply kills whomever he wants - anywhere in the world, far away from a war zone or battlefield - without the slightest obligation to present evident of guilt, to afford the accused any opportunity to contest the accusations, or to have his execution-decrees reviewed by anyone or even known to the public. That is the normalized model of US justice, which is why these unveiled plans are hardly controversial and why Obama officials feel no compunction about announcing them: if anything, they're eager to boast of their hunger to mete out this due-process-free "justice".

Just how dubious is this whole process is highlighted by a New York Times profile this morning of Ahmed Abu Khattala, whom, says the Times, "witnesses and the authorities have called one of the ringleaders of the" consulate attack. The Times conveys that unnamed "witnesses have said they saw him directing other fighters that night" and that "Libyan officials have singled him out."

Abu Khattala, however, maintains that he is not a member of al-Qaida and "insisted that he had not been part of the aggression at the American compound." He acknowledges that he was present at the consulate that night but "had arrived just as the gunfire was beginning to crackle and had sought to break up a traffic jam around the demonstration." He also claims "that guards inside the compound - Libyan or American, he was not sure - had shot first at the demonstrators, provoking them," and that "the attackers had found weapons, including explosives and guns mounted with silencers, inside the American compound." As the Times put it, his "exact role remains unclear".

For nations adhering to the most basic precepts of justice, these are the types of conflicting claims which are routinely resolved in a judicial tribunal, with all the evidence subject to examination and the accused given a fair opportunity to contest the accusations. But that is not how the US government functions. Rather, it convenes in secret, unilaterally decrees guilt and then - to use the AP's euphemism - will "simply target the suspects with U.S. covert action": i.e., execute them without any due process.

The Times, apparently intended as a counter-balance to Abu Khattala's denials, noted that "he expressed a notable absence of remorse over the assault", and then added:

"And he said that the United States had its own foreign policy to blame for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 'Why is the United States always trying to impose its ideology on everyone else?' he asked. 'Why is it always trying to use force to implement its agendas?'"

Time and again, this is what one finds at the crux of these episodes. Professed animosity toward the US - and especially the belief that violence against the US is the result of its own decades-long aggression - is viewed as evidence of guilt, proof of one's status as a "militant", justification for imprisoning or killing (Obama placed Awlaki on his hit list when Awlaki's anti-US sermons began powerfully resonating among English-speaking Muslim youths; the still-unproven claim that the preacher had an "operational role" in terror plots was publicly made only long after Obama's assassination order was publicly revealed). The apparent premise of US policy in the region seems to be that the occupations, invasions, bombings and killings must continue until there is nobody left who harbors hatred of the US: as self-contradictory and self-destructive an approach as can be conceived.

The claimed power of the president to kill whomever he wants, anywhere in the world far from any war zone or battlefield, without a whiff of due process, oversight or transparency should be vehemently opposed first and foremost because it is the supreme expression of tyrannical power. If one is willing to grant that power to the president, then it is hard to see what powers one would find objectionable.

But on pragmatic grounds as well, it is difficult to imagine a more menacing policy: if the US president continues simply to execute anyone he decides should die with drones and bombs, then the only certain outcome is that there will be more and more people who view the US as a justifiable target for retaliation and vengeance. That the White House is eager to have it known that they are rejecting the option of arrest and due process in favor of secret assassination is a potent reflection of how degraded American political culture is regarding such matters, of how normalized the most extremist theories of power have become.

UPDATE

At the farce currently taking place at Guantanamo known as the "military commission" of the accused 9/11 defendants - a process designed exclusively (1) to ensure a guilty verdict and (2) to suppress any public evidence of the detainees' torture - alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had this to say in response to American horror over the attack:


"The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks told the Guantanamo courtroom on Wednesday that the U.S. government had killed many more people in the name of national security than he is accused of killing. . . .

"'When the government feels sad for the death or the killing of 3,000 people who were killed on September 11, we also should feel sorry that the American government that was represented by (the chief prosecutor) and others have killed thousands of people, millions,' said Mohammed, who wore a military-style camouflage vest to the courtroom.

"He accused the United States of using an elastic definition of national security, comparable to the way dictators bend the law to justify their acts.

"'Many can kill people under the name of national security, and to torture people under the name of national security, and to detain children under the name of national security, underage children,' he said in Arabic through an English interpreter.

"'The president can take someone and throw him into the sea under the name of national security and so he can also legislate the assassinations under the name of national security for the American citizens,' he said in an apparent reference to the U.S. killing and burial at sea of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the U.S. use of drone strikes against U.S. citizens accused of conspiring with al Qaeda.

"He advised the court against 'getting affected by the crocodile tears' and said, 'Your blood is not made out of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings.'"

This is what virtually every Muslim accused of engaging in violence against the US says whenever some US judge or official expresses bewilderment at how they could do such a thing: namely, why do you not express similar shock and outrage at the violence against civilians and other forms of repression continuously committed by your own government, and why are you not similarly affected by your government's killing and other abuse of innocent Muslims, including children? This highlights still another grave harm from conducting oneself in this manner: the inability to insist upon adherence to moral and ethical standards with any degree of credibility or consistency (at least outside of the US).

On a different note, MSNBC prime-time host Lawrence O'Donnell was asked this week in an impromptu interview why he does not cover Obama's war on whistleblowers and related civil liberties abuses; his answer becomes rather thoughtful as it progresses and is worth listening to:

UPDATE II

Earlier this week, the British government announced that it was refusing the US's request to extradite Gary McKinnon, whom the US government accuses of seriously jeopardizing national security by hacking the Pentagon's computer networks. The US justice department insists that this was "the biggest military computer hack of all time". The British cited the fact that he suffers from Asperger syndrome and clinical depression and claims there is a high risk of suicide if he is extradited. The US pronounced itself "disappointed" by the British decision.

Given Britain's decision to harbor this accused felon, one the US insists seriously damaged American national security, would the US be entitled to send an armed drone over London to kill him? Those who defend such extrajudicial assassinations in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and other predominantly Muslim countries do so by claiming that there is an American entitlement to drone-kill people when those governments are unable or unwilling to turn over those alleged to have harmed US national security. Given that this is the case for McKinnon, what ground is there for arguing that the US would be barred from killing McKinnon by drone (aside from the fact that the type of people at risk from a drone attack in London are different than the type of people typically at risk from US drone attacks)?

2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

The Remarkable, Unfathomable Ignorance of Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The Chair of the Democratic National Committee is completely unaware of one of the biggest stories of the Obama years

By Glenn Greenwald

October 20, 2012 "The Guardian" - - -- On 29 May 2012, the New York Times published a remarkable 6,000-word story on its front page about what it termed President Obama's "kill list". It detailed the president's personal role in deciding which individuals will end up being targeted for assassination by the CIA based on Obama's secret, unchecked decree that they are "terrorists" and deserve to die.

Based on interviews with "three dozen of his current and former advisers", the Times' Jo Becker and Scott Shane provided extraordinary detail about Obama's actions, including how he "por[es] over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre 'baseball cards'" and how he "insist[s] on approving every new name on an expanding 'kill list'". At a weekly White House meeting dubbed "Terror Tuesdays", Obama then decides who will die without a whiff of due process, transparency or oversight. It was this process that resulted in the death of US citizen Anwar Awlaki in Yemen, and then two weeks later, the killing of his 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, by drone.

The Times "kill list" story made a huge impact and was widely discussed and condemned by media figures, politicians, analysts, and commentators. Among other outlets, the New York Times itself harshly editorialized against Obama's program in an editorial entitled "Too Much Power For a President", denouncing the revelations as "very troubling" and argued: "No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield - depriving Americans of their due-process rights - without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle."

That Obama has a "kill list" has been known since January, 2010, and has been widely reported and discussed in every major American newspaper since April 2010. A major controversy over chronic White House leaks often featured complaints about this article (New York Times, 5 June 2012: "Senators to Open Inquiry Into 'Kill List' and Iran Security Leaks"). The Attorney General, Eric Holder, gave a major speech defending it.

But Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Congresswoman from Florida and the Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, does not know about any of this. She has never heard of any of it. She has managed to remain completely ignorant about the fact that President Obama has asserted and exercised the power to secretly place human beings, including US citizens, on his "kill list" and then order the CIA to extinguish their lives.

Just marvel at this stunning, completely inexcusable two-minute display of wholesale ignorance by this elected official and DNC chair. Here she is after the second presidential debate being asked by Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change about the "kill list" and whether Romney should be trusted with this power. She doesn't defend the "kill list". She doesn't criticize it. She makes clear that she has never heard of it and then contemptuously treats Rudkowski like he is some sort of frivolous joke for thinking that it is real:

Anyone who observes politics closely has a very low bar of expectations. It's almost inevitable to become cynical - even jaded - about just how inept and inane top Washington officials are. Still, even processing this through those lowly standards, I just find this staggering. Staggering and repellent. This is an elected official in Congress, the body that the Constitution designed to impose checks on the president's abuses of power, and she does not have the foggiest idea what is happening in the White House, and obviously does not care in the slightest, because the person doing it is part of the party she leads.

One expects corrupt partisan loyalty from people like Wasserman Schultz, eager to excuse anything and everything a Democratic president does. That's a total abdication of her duty as a member of Congress, but that's par for the course. But one does not expect this level of ignorance, the ability to stay entirely unaware of one of the most extremist powers a president has claimed in US history, trumpeted on the front-page of the New York Times and virtually everywhere else.

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