Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NYT 'Kill List' story

Here is the New York Times story on the targeted killings by drone.

I don't agree with the even-handed, centrist point of view that Obama is dealing with a tough situation rationally and methodically and doing what he can.

- Innocent false-positive casualties are described as "minimal" throughout this story. True positives and false positives are both important, but one perspective missing from this article is the trauma and suffering of those false positives. At the least, this perspective would be a component in assessing how to formulate an opinion about the fact that such a program is going on. Once you tell the story of Khaled al-Masri, it shines a powerful light on the arrogance of the programs that allowed him to be rendered, imprisoned and tortured for five months. Also, the false positives who are described are mostly family members of people who, by virtue of glimpse that the article gives us into weeks of deliberations, we are supposed to accept as probably OK to feel good about killing. Cruel or not, I think most people would probably feel ambiguous towards the close family of someone they are satisfied is a terrorist. But al-Masri is not even close. al-Masri was a case of mistaken identity and had nothing to do with anything. When George Tenet found out about al-Masri, his remark was "oh shit." What is the record of Obama's program in killing or traumatizing people who were complete accidents?

- The article alludes to the fact that Russia and China are eyeing the precedent we are setting. There is a reciprocity argument that the killings are counterproductive. If Russia has a dispute with Georgian nationalists, they may track a Georgian nationalist to an apartment building in Oakland, CA, kill him, and eight other people while they're at it. This would only be commensurate with the astonishing decisions by Obama that various innocent bystanders are acceptable to kill. The broadening of the categories also allows us to kill innocent bystanders and just categorize the killings in a way that makes us feel it must be okay- they must have been militants. This may eventually be a precedent for Russia to do the same in a conflict with Chechnya or Georgia. Just call whoever happened to be around a militant.

- We aren't there *yet*, but the lower and lower bar towards "militants" is a problem. The carrying out of indefinite detention until the end of hostilities was just put on hold by the injunction from Judge Forrest. I don't know what will happen next with the NDAA in particular. But it is also a picture of where the barometer is at a particular moment in time. A lot of people push the envelope as much as they possibly can over true positives. A missed attack is on their minds, day and night. It's important to have some compassion for people at the other end of the true positive/false positive spectrum from you. Both are important, and the point of keeping this blog is not to belittle the sleepless nights that go into prevention of attacks. What is a problem is the possible coming together of preemptive detention in the U.S. along with a very broad definition of militant. The economy is a driver. Even if Occupy has gotten quieter, the same conditions that gave rise to Occupy are ongoing and are an engine for something new from the progressive side. So there are things which aren't happening now, but I think are a hell of a lot more plausible and evidence-based than the things Alex Jones raves about: (1) austerity drives unemployment and poverty (2) The degree to which some people radicalize is a function of whether they are getting a fair deal and a decent existence according to the current system. As the perception widens that this isn't happening, with Citizens United and the broad meme of back-and-forth collusion between rich people in industry, lobbying and government, some of the newly unemployed will go further out politically. (3) They are preemptively imprisoned under NDAA, or even (4) killed on U.S. streets, accurately or inaccurately portrayed as militants through an ever-eroding standard of what is acceptable to do to who, and where.

- The other type of false positive is a deliberate false positive. I don't know of Obama targetting anyone on false pretenses. I think the outing of Valerie Plame by Bush/Cheney is an example of this, though, and the Times story makes it clear that Obama used subtlety to give himself loopholes on a lot of other Bush policies that the common imagination has him heroically ending. The finality of the drone strikes create a disturbing possibility that the next accidental al-Masri could be dead instead of just traumatically tortured, and the next Plame scapegoated as a political enemy could be dead instead of just exposed to danger through the abrupt exposure of the secrets that ensured her safety in a foreign country.