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Casualties of endless war?

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 1, 2015 - 10:42:02 AM

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President Barack Obama addressing the press, takes ‘full responsibility’ for the operations that killed two U.S. hostages.
( - President Barack Obama announced April 23 that two aid workers—an American and an Italian—were killed in January by American drone missiles allegedly intended for Al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan. The incident was classified until the president’s public disclosure.

“It is with tremendous sorrow that we recently concluded that a U.S. government counterterrorism operation in January killed two innocent hostages held by Al-Qaida,” President Obama told media assembled at the White House.

“Our hearts go out to the families of Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held by Al-Qaida since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national who had been an Al-Qaida hostage since 2012.”

A White House press statement said the operation was lawful and conformed with U.S. counterterrorism policies. The president takes full responsibility for the action and believes it important to provide the American people with as much information as possible about counterterrorism operations, particularly when there are American casualties, the White House added. The Obama administration vows to conduct a thorough independent review of what happened and how it can be prevented in the future, the statement said.

Killer drones and concerns about transparency

According to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been 514 American drone strikes since 2002 and counting victims Lo Porto and Weinstein, at least 38 Westerners have been killed in strikes over Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. While employing drones for targeted assassinations of U.S. enemies abroad, there have also been innocent men, women and children among the carnage. Analysts say workers Lo Porto and Weinstein are the latest “collateral damage” in ongoing U.S. warfare.

“It’s inevitable that there would be ‘collateral damage’ that just happened [and] that led to the president’s apology,” said Dr. Gerald Horne, political analyst and professor at the University of Houston. It’s to be expected that these sorts of tragic killings will happen, given the fact that U.S. intelligence on the ground is not very good, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union questioned the U.S. drone program saying it lacks transparency. “American drone strikes have killed thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians, in at least half a dozen countries outside of armed conflict zones,” said the ACLU.

“The government’s lethal force program raises critical legal and ethical concerns and is the source of resentment and anger both in countries in which killings occur, and more broadly.”

The legal rights group is pursuing active litigation against the U.S. government seeking more details about the program under the Freedom of Information Act.

Authorization for the Use of Military Force

Although the killing of the aid workers raised oversight questions about the drone program, politically it may help move debate forward on President Obama’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight terrorism. The measure is stalled in Congress.


The deaths are a grim reminder of the perils of the fight against terrorism and reinforces “the need to examine and update the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in the wake of 9/11,” said Senator Tim Kane (D-Va.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees.

Representatives have to act and accept or reject the president’s measure or devise one. For nearly one year America has been at war against ISIL—the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and the Levant, but absent congressional authorization. In mid-February, several months into military engagement, President Obama sent a draft AUMF to fight the group.

“For months, many members of Congress clamored for President Obama to take the first step and send a draft AUMF up to the Hill—despite the fact that it is Congress’ responsibility to declare war under the constitution. And now that President Obama has, weeks ago, the Foreign Affairs committees in both houses have still failed to take up a bill,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Republicans, who control Congress, have said the measure has no chance of passing. Some say the president hasn’t gone far enough in the latest military episode in the Middle East.

Anti-war advocates say the measure feeds U.S. imperialism; fattening an already bloated military industrial complex and giving President Obama and future presidents clearance for perpetual war and endless bombing in Iraq, Syria and other countries under the pretext of combating ISIL or any facsimile of the group.

U.S. ‘meddling’ is source of upset

Critics blame errant U.S. foreign policies for the conditions that gave birth to Al-Qaida and ISIL—with their own peculiar brand of mayhem.

“This is because of our meddling in the Middle East,” Barry Ladendorf of Veterans for Peace told The Final Call.

“Had we not gotten involved in these unnecessary, unjust and illegal wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq,” he reasoned, “these kinds of problems would not have happened.”

America has a history of global chaos, Mr. Ladendorf said.

“Since the end of World War II the United States has attempted to overthrow or overthrown at least 50 different countries across the world—many of them democratically elected governments. We have bombed over 30 countries … attempted to assassinate the leaders of around 50 countries … sometimes successfully,” he said.

Other analysts note over the last 24 years and four administrations the U.S. bombed Iraq causing destruction and instability. Opponents argue the AUMF actually fortifies arbitrary war powers, with stronger congressional support—and deceptive pretext for endless war.

“Once passed, the president of the United States—whether it’s a Democrat or Republican; liberal, conservative—it doesn’t matter; that president will enjoy a blank check written by Congress,” said Brian Becker, national director of the International ANSWER Coalition—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition.

Mr. Becker called the AUMF an “illegal authorization” with “ambiguous” language that endorses war against an “unnamed entity” and could be executed at any time on any target.

“Obama has already said that if he doesn’t get it, he doesn’t really need it anyway and that hostilities have been increasing in that region (Middle East) without Congress giving authorization,” added anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan told The Final Call. Her 24-year-old son, U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

President Obama wrote, “Although existing statutes provide me with the authority I need to take these actions, I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to working with the Congress,” implying continued action with or without Congress. But to war power skeptics such words raise questions about a potential imperial presidency.

Presidential overreach not new

Harry S. Truman sent troops into Korea without consulting the American people through the national legislature. After Congress rejected President Ronald Reagan’s funding requests for U.S. proxy forces attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Reagan operatives covertly sold illegal arms to an embargoed Iran to finance the military escapade in what was exposed as the Iran-Contra affair.

Although President Obama sent the current request for congressional support, he has been accused of circumventing authorization in the war that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in 2011 and using drones for targeted assassinations. 

Before President Obama’s request, George W. Bush was granted authorization in 2001 during the aftermath of 9/11 that led to increased domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens, the Patriot Act, secret renditions, torture tactics and reversals of civil liberties under the guise of National Security.

Though after the fact, President Obama might be acknowledged  for at least going to Congress and seeking authorization as opposed to simply waging war without a need to justify it. “But the problem is the United States is caught in a perpetual cycle of warfare,” observed Dr. Horne.