US Killings in Yemen: Good Politics at Home, But a Quagmire Abroad
> Tom Hayden
October 5, 2011
Each generation should see "The Battle of Algiers" (1966) and see it over
again, as a chilling preview to the Long War. In the film as well as real
life, a chart of "terrorist cell leaders" is posted on a French blackboard
and, one by one, each is assassinated until there are no more. The Casbah is
declared pacified, and the French military forces leave. Two years later, an
Algerian uprising in the streets succeeds in liberating Algeria from
The French general in the film, who bears an eerie resemblance to Gen. David
Petraeus, engages in an illuminating dialogue with the French liberal media.
JOURNALIST: Excuse me. It seems that out of an excess of caution, my
colleagues keep asking you indirect questions. It would be better to call a
spade a spade, so let's talk about torture.
THE GENERAL: The word "torture" isn't used in our orders. We use
"interrogation" as the only valid police method. We could talk for hours to
no avail because that is not the problem. The problem is this. The FLN wants
to throw us out of Algeria, and we want to stay. Even with slight shades of
opinion, you all agree that we must stay. We are neither madmen nor sadists.
We are soldiers. Our duty is to win. Therefore, to be precise, it is my turn
to ask a question. Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still
yes, then you must accept all the consequences.
We are seeing the same movie in real life, played over and over again.
Demonizing followed by destruction, again and again. Across the continent,
the natives were demonized for scalping, the capture of white women, and
alliances with the British army (and for this, denounced as "savages" in the
Declaration of Independence.)
In Vietnam, the demons were named the "Vietcong," meaning Vietnamese
communists, and were systemically rounded up, tortured and assassinated in
the Phoenix Program. The same methods were employed in Central America not
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Phoenix Program was reborn to combat "global
insurgency." A "deck of cards" was produced for Iraq, with 55 insurgent
targets in the pack. Lists were obtained from informants. Alleged terrorists
and leaders of the opposition were tracked to their homes. Doors were kicked
in, blood spilled, the secrets kept. The assassination spree was allegedly
so effective that it gave its top perpetrator, Derek Harvey, regular
orgasms, according to Bob Woodward in The War Within. All this was under the
command of then-Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, described as Special Action
Programs, and stamped top secret.
On May 2 of this year, Osama bin Laden was killed in a Navy Seals raid on
his home and compound. That killing didn't deter an attack on a Chinook that
left 38 dead, including 30 Americans, among them 22 Navy Seals, nor did the
assassination of the Al Qaeda leader stop the September insurgent attacks on
the US embassy, NATO headquarters and a CIA station in Kabul.
Since 2006, according to the
> Long War Journal,
targeted US drone attacks have killed another 2,090 "leaders," "operatives"
and "allied extremists" in Pakistan. According to the same source, 60
"senior AQ and Taliban leaders" have been killed by drones.
This is the context for yesterday's CIA drone assassinations of New
Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki and Saudi Arabia-born, North Carolina-raised
Samir Khan in Yemen yesterday. No doubt the champagne was flowing at CIA
headquarters, and President Obama's campaign advisers could take further
comfort over his stature as commander-in-chief.
But even Barack Obama knows that political necessity - the need to prove
that he is tough on terror - can have dangerous consequences for American
security and his standing in much of the world.
Using a conventional conspiratorial model, the CIA and the White House seem
to believe that al-Awlaki's sermons and Khan's magazine "Inspire" were
causes of several terror plots including a Christmas 2009 attempted bombing
at the Detroit airport and a later 2010 attempt to send hidden explosives on
an airliner to Chicago. Al-Awlaki inspired the Pakistani individual who
attempted to bomb Times Square in 2010, and he exchanged 20 emails with
Nidal Malik Hasan, the Palestinian-American major who shot and killed
thirteen soldiers at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009.
Is this evidence of a terrorist conspiracy with al-Awlaki at the center?
Perhaps more evidence with surface, but it seems to be another case of
tracking a "leader" to demonize. According to the FOX News account,
al-Awlaki "was believed not to be an operational leader, but a spokesman."
Al-Awlaki denied that he had instructed Hasan to carry out the Fort Hood
shootings but thought they were heroic.
Question: would this be akin to killing Malcolm X in 1965 because his
Islamic sermons caused street riots in New York and New Jersey in 1964? In
hindsight, that would be absurd, but many in the mainstream media and the
police forces thought so at the time.
At least one expert
> wrote in the New
York Times on Nov. 20, 2010 that al-Awlaki was "a midlevel religious
functionary who happens to have American citizenship and speak English. This
would make him a propaganda threat, but not one whose elimination would do
anything to limit the reach of the Qaeda branch...the administration is in a
bind: if it ignores him, it will look powerless; if it succeeds in killing
him, it will have manufactured a martyr." Before al-Awlaki, incidentally,
the CIA conducted several other missile, Special Forces, and drone
operations in Yemen, including the November 2002 killing of the leader of al
Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Ali al-Harithi, the alleged godfather of the U.S.S. Cole
attack. The dramatic version of this history is all there in George
Clooney's very relevent film, Syriana.
Demonizing, targeting and destroying "leaders" is the mentality of
prosecutors who need a causal and vertical explanation to carry out their
mission. Based on the model of prosecuting organized crime, the
prosecutorial model is based on taking down the Mafia don, the "big fish" as
one US official described the event yesterday, or "American-born terror
bosses," in FOX speak.
It's impossible to defend individuals like al-Awlaki, which leaves the
military prosecutors free rein and renders peace advocates silent.
The model has worked - at least politically - for the wars on drugs, on
gangs, on crime, and for the past decade, on terrorists. Secret intelligence
budgets have increased along with the secret branches of police and military
power. The circle is being integrated, as we learn of the New York Police
Department's official links with the CIA. Oversight and scrutiny is
virtually nil, except for the occasional brave reporter. The public is
neutralized by fear and ignorance.
What can be said is that the secretive Long War has failed to leave the
United States more secure or democratic. Theoretically it should be possible
to go after "real" terrorists making real plans and at the same time flood
the towns and cities of the world with money and jobs. But it never happens,
anymore than the "war on gangs" or "war on drugs" have left American inner
cities economically improved. Afghanistan is listed as the 182nd poorest
country out of 193 in the world, Pakistan is the 144th, and is Yemen ranks
142nd, the Arab world's poorest country - according to the same CIA which is
responsible for the assassinations.
While Yemen suffers under a 33-year long, US-supported dictatorship, the
total US foreign aid budget for the country floated around $20-25 million
until only four years ago.
> The amount doubled
between 2009-2010, then the Pentagon budgeted $150 million for security in
FY 2010, and $250 million in defense dollars.
This increased aid for counterterrorism in Yemen, which culminated in
yesterday's strikes, also has masked another agenda in the interlocked
resource war and Long War, the establishment of a US military base on the
Socotra, in former South Yemen, site of a key transit route in the Indian
Ocean. The tiny island is located astride the intersection of the Red Sea
and the Gulf of Aden, thus linking the Mediterranean to South Asia and the
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Received on Wed Oct 05 2011 - 08:13:31 EDT