Archive for January, 2020

Assassination is a legal and moral abyss – posted 1/19/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/9/2020

January 19, 2020 Leave a comment

President Donald Trump’s disrespect for the law has never been on greater display than in the state-sponsored murder of Qassim Soleimani. Soleimani was a high ranking official of the Iranian government. He was de facto the second highest ranking official of Iran.

The U.S. military killed Soleimani in a drone strike carried out on January 3.

While not an exact comparison, Soleimani held a position in Iran equivalent to Vice President Mike Pence or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was not a rogue terrorist or even someone like Osama Bin Laden. While he had plenty of blood on his hands, that does not change the fact Soleimani, as an Iranian military commander, was a high-level state actor.

You might not know it from much of the media coverage of the event but political assassinations like the hit on Soleimani are against the law. There is a legal ban on assassinations.

The ban on assassinations goes back to the 1970’s. In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed an Executive Order banning “political assassinations”. This came in the aftermath of the Church Committee investigation which revealed the the CIA had attempted to kill a number of foreign leaders, including Fidel Castro.

President Carter strengthened the assassination ban in his own Executive Order by extending it to include “persons employed by or acting on behalf of the United States”.

In 1981, President Reagan issued a new Executive Order which remains the law of the land today. Executive Order 12333 states:

“No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

In addition to the Executive Orders, assassination runs afoul of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the federal constitution and well-established international law including the 1907 Hague Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Unfortunately, since the 1990’s there has been a long pattern of skirting the assassination ban when targets have been classified as under the umbrella of terrorism. This has gone on with both Republicans and Democrats. The U.S. Congress has never legislated the issue of assassination. The journalist James Risen explains the evolution this way:

“”…the reform-minded 1970’s now seem quaint in a nation whose greatest military innovation in the 21st century has been the targeted killing of individuals by remote control.”

Risen writes that the explosion of technology – new aviation, missile guidance and surveillance monitoring – has been an irresistible lure for both parties’ political leaders. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have developed kill lists. They can always count on compliant government lawyers who issue secret legal opinions that justify their killings. This has been true with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama and Trump.

I think Obama pioneered the way for Trump with his drone-based killings of individuals deemed a threat to national security.

Under current law, Trump had no right to order the killing of one of the highest-ranking military leaders of a foreign state with which the U.S. was not at war. While Trump had campaigned on an attitude of belligerence toward Iran and opposition to the nuclear deal made by Obama, as a matter of international law, the United States has not been engaged in an ongoing armed conflict with Iran.

There is no justification for assassinating foreign officials, including Soleimani. Regardless of his changing litany of self-justifying reasons, Trump’s ordered-murder was an aggressive act of war. Imagine if Iran had assassinated Vice-President Pence. I think it is fair to say the reaction would have been extreme. The murder of Soleimani was extremely provocative unless your goal is to get into a war.

There was initially some effort made by Trump Administration officials to say that Soleimani’s killing prevented imminent attack on American interests. In his most recent explanations for the murder, Trump himself undermined the idea that Soleimani posed an imminent threat to U.S. interests or embassies.

According to audio obtained by CNN and the Washington Post, on January 17 Trump told his campaign donors at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Soleimani “was saying bad things about our country”. Earlier in the week, Trump tweeted “it doesn’t really matter” whether Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the United States “because of his horrible past”.

Ironically, Soleimani was widely credited with majorly contributing to the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.

In his essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that political speech and writing are “largely the defense of the indefensible”. Orwell said political language “ designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”.

You can call it an “extrajudicial execution” or a “targeted killing” or some other euphemism but murder remains murder. It is a violation of the human right to life enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States ratified this human rights covenant in 1992. It is a party to the covenant

Assassination can be a two way street. The murder of Soleimani sets a dangerous precedent. Other states may decide to follow our example. Reducing the taboo on assassination could produce blowback.

It is little known but Congress could have taken steps to prevent actions like the Soleimani assassination. In 2019, California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prohibited offensive actions like the Soleimani assassination. Congress removed Khanna’s amendment from the final bill.

Along with Republicans, too many Democrats have given Trump a blank check on military action. There should be Congressional investigation into the ever-changing, shallow justifications offered by the Trump Administration to support the Soleimani assassination. They have needlessly and recklessly brought us to the brink of war.

We were misled into Vietnam and Iraq by lies. Now another administration is lying about imminent threats posed by a Middle Eastern country. We have traveled this road before and the results have not just been tragic, they have been horrifying.

Categories: Uncategorized

A war with Iran would be even more foolish than the war with Iraq – posted 1/9/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/26/2020

January 10, 2020 Leave a comment

On January 5, the Iraqi Parliament voted to end the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil. This vote was in response to the Trump Administration’s assassination of the Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. About 5000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq.

The Iraqi Parliament’s request for U.S. troops to leave seems to me a marker and an opportunity to critically evaluate that war. It has been 17 years since Americans invited themselves into Iraq. I wanted to look at reasons given for why the war was fought as well as outcomes.

Iraq was the bait-and-switch war. Al Qaeda in 2001 operated out of Afghanistan but we somehow had to fight in Iraq. Everyone now knows the reasons originally given by the U.S. government to justify the Iraq war were false. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. There was no Iraqi connection to Al Qaeda.

Still, the U.S. war in Iraq has persisted. The costs have not been insignificant. At an approximately three trillion dollar price tag, 4550 U.S. soldiers have died and 3,793 U.S. contractors. The estimate for Iraqi deaths is in the 200,000 range.

I do not see this war as an example of good intentions gone awry. It was more a crime against humanity. President George W. Bush and his colleagues used the panic created by the events of 9/11 to indulge in wishful thinking. We would be welcomed as liberators. Iraq would be a cake walk.

This was the fantasy spun by the neo-conservatives surrounding Bush. With zero understanding of Iraqi society, they believed with Saddam Hussein gone, Iraq would become a model democracy and a compliant U.S. ally.

The group of neo-conservatives surrounding Bush played a pivotal role in pushing the U.S. intervention. However, the neo-con focus was on getting to Baghdad – not on what to do once Baghdad was captured. Cluelessness competed with greed after the invasion. Who can forget the arrogance and hubris of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle and the whole collection of neo-cons who engineered the invasion. They believed their own fantasies.

Magical thinking dominated. It is easy to focus on the incompetence but Bush and his lieutenants seriously believed the war would be easy.

I find some other explanations for why the Iraqi war was fought less persuasive. Oil and its pursuit are always mentioned but I do not see it as a primary reason. I know Trump has said, “Why don’t we simply take their oil?” but since the invasion in 2003, more oil concessions have gone to Norway, France, China, and Russia. Of 11 contracts Iraq has signed, only one went to a U.S. company, Exxon Mobil.

Another explanation is that the war was fought to expand U.S. global dominance. This explanation ignores the conflict inside the U.S. foreign policy establishment at the time of the invasion. The old foreign policy establishment reflected in figures like Brent Scowcroft and James Baker opposed the war. They clung to a more realpolitick view, dubious of easy victories.

One notable outcome of the war was the emergence of ISIS which formed in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Without the U.S. invasion, there was no ISIS.

Another outcome was the public re-emergence of torture, especially at Abu Ghraib prison. Army regulations and the Geneva Conventions were routinely violated. In 2004, photos emerged showing prisoners on leashes and bodies piled atop each other in a pyramid. Ignoring law, Trump has called for bringing back widely denounced torture techniques like waterboarding.

It is not clear that anything positive has come out of the war. The internal Sunni/Shia division remains as prominent as ever. Saddam is gone but 2.7 million Iraqis have been displaced. Over 1.5 million U.S. servicemen and women have cycled through Iraq with many multiple deployments.

The Iraq war has produced a generation of traumatized veterans. The amount of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and major depression is incalculable. The wounds generated by IED’s are gruesome. Loss of legs, fingers, hands and arms have been common. There are also smashed genitals.

Part of the post-war picture is soldier suicide. Last September, the Department of Veteran Affairs reported that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017. That is an average of 6,000 veterans dying annually (about 20 suicides per day) and the data shows that the suicide rate is increasing. Firearms were the method of suicide in 70.7% of male veteran suicide deaths and 42.2% of female veteran suicide deaths in 2017.

Surprisingly, in spite of this disastrous history, many of the same voices that pushed for war with Iraq are now pushing for war with Iran.

Former New York Times writer Judith Miller, George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer and political operative Karl Rove have all been out there, beating the war drum. They are joined by Fox News Trump mouthpiece Sean Hannity who has suggested the U.S. should bomb Iranian oil refineries and Trump insiders like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo. I also should mention former Trump national security advisor, John Bolton, a well-known Iran war hawk, who cheered the Soleimani assassination.

Talk about a pointless war. These warmongers must concoct pretexts for aggression. There is no justification for any war with Iran. As I recall, it is the Trump Administration which recklessly withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal that many observers believed was working. Depicting Iran as the greatest threat toward peace is nonsense.

Those with even a rudimentary knowledge of Middle East history should recall that the United States overthrew the Iranian government led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953 and placed the Shah in power. Iran’s 1979 revolution was a response to our imperialism. The Shah was a widely reviled dictator who was a U.S. puppet.

Here in the United States we are in desperate need of an antiwar movement. There are multiple reasons a war against Iran makes little sense. Besides the lack of rationale for such a war, Iran is a far more formidable foe than Iraq ever was. Iran has three times the number of people Iraq did in 2003 and it is about three and a half times as big.

Iran is far more fortified than Iraq ever was and its geography has been difficult for invaders. A conflict could lead to thousands or hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded. Millions of refugees would likely be seeking an escape from the war zone. The possibilities are hellish. The potential for destabilization of the whole region exists.

It is worth thinking about how ISIS emerged from the ashes of the U.S. invasion in Iraq. The aftermath of an Iran war could birth ISIS equivalents or worse. Desperation in the context of a power vacuum typically ends badly.

The experience of the Iraq war dictates heavily against any more Middle Eastern wars and especially against American involvement. The American people are again being sold lies minimizing the risks and danger of a war. It is late to be going along with more neo-con magical thinking.

I am reminded of the Vietnam Syndrome. Ever since the Vietnam war, American presidents have worried about public aversion to our overseas military adventures. We could use a rebirth of that syndrome right now.

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Happy 2020 Everyone! – posted 1/1/2020

January 1, 2020 1 comment
Categories: Uncategorized