Dawn News

Obama: warrior president

PRESIDENT Barack Obama as warrior president, is no different from his predecessor George W. Bush. He has emerged as the author and practitioner of the doctrine of ‘targeted killing’ which is totally opposed to international law and morality.

David Rohde, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former reporter for the New York Times, noted last March that his administration had carried out “at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George Bush”. There is no accountability, no transparency and no legality.

Jo Becker and Scott Shane of the New York Times revealed recently that Obama personally selects the targets. “Mr Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”

The report created a sensation because of its authenticity and disturbing details. “Mr Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding ‘kill list,’ poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but the terrorist’s family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation. ‘He determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,’ said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser.”

Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Obama, hardly any have been taken into US custody.

Nearly 40 years ago, the US Senate’s Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, headed by Senator Frank Church, probed the charges of CIA involvement in assassination planning, doubtless with top approval. In a lengthy public report on such plots, the committee concluded that the art of “plausible deniability” may have been so well refined by the CIA that the exact extent of presidential involvement may never be known.

“Whether or not the respective presidents knew of or authorised the plots, as chief executive officer of the US, each must bear the ultimate responsibility for the activities of his subordinates,” the committee said.

The committee revealed in the report the names of 10 US officials involved in the plots to assassinate foreign leaders. The targets included presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba, Sukarno of Indonesia and Patrice Lumumbe of the Congo.

Starting with president Ford, presidents issued executive orders specifically prohibiting the CIA from carrying out assassinations. A change came over later. We now have a president personally designating persons to be killed like a mediaeval monarch.The New York Times expressed its anguish in an editorial recently. “It has been clear for years that the Obama administration believes the shadow war on terrorism gives it the power to choose targets for assassination, including Americans, without any oversight. Now The New York Times has revealed who was making the final decision on the biggest killings and drone strikes: President Obama. And that is very troubling. … How can the world know whether the targets chosen by this president or his successors are truly dangerous terrorists and not just people with the wrong associations? (It is clear, for instance, that many of those rounded up after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks weren’t terrorists.) How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead — to avoid a political charge of weakness — built up a tough-sounding list of kills?”

The Defence Department killed suspects in Yemen without knowing their names, using criteria that were never made public. The administration counted all adult males killed by drone fire as combatants without knowing that for certain. It assumed they are up to no good if they were in the area.

The US Authorisation for Use of Military Force Act 2001 empowers the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against persons linked to the 9/11 attack — a decade ago. However, on May 22, 2010 Obama said: “This is a different kind of war. There will be no simple moment of surrender to mark the journey’s end — no armistice, no banner headline. Though we have had more success in eliminating Al Qaeda leaders in recent months than in recent years, they will continue to recruit, and plot, and exploit our open society.” So, the war will continue and so will the targeted killings by drone attacks.Dr Christine Gray, professor of international law at Cambridge University, is one of the most highly respected authorities on the law. She holds that “even if it is accepted for the sake of argument that targeted killings may sometimes be lawful, it is difficult to argue that they count as self-defence under the UN Charter if the individuals targeted are not actively engaged in an armed attack (broadly construed) on the United States, but are being punished for past attacks, or deterred from non-imminent future attacks.”

The Obama doctrine blurs the distinction between war and peace. It rests on the assumption of continued supremacy in military might. Prof John Fabian Witt of Yale reminds his president: “The awesome technology of the armed drone is ours and ours alone only temporarily. History’s lesson is that what we Americans employ against Abu Yahya al-Libi now will soon be available for use by our adversaries. When that happens, we will desperately want the credibility to judge their actions.”

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

Jun 15, 2012 11:40pm
Come on Mr. Noorani -- you can do better than this -- our president is not a war monger -- George Bush was -- President Obama is a war liquidator. He is getting out of Afghanistan Karzai or no Karzai -- Pakistan is reading him wrong -- you want to read him wrong too?
Jun 16, 2012 02:48pm
First Peace Laureate with a Kill List? Hopefully the last.
T Ahmed
Jun 16, 2012 01:55pm
So the author considers Obama is wrong in his "targeted killing" of murderers, and is silent on the "indiscriminate killing" of the murderers themselves!!
Jun 16, 2012 01:55pm
and mr Noorani if President Obama does not do so then he will be a real warrior president as he will then invite those very target terrorists back to USA and other countries who will then kill thousand times more. So what he is doing is pretty fine. Just change your mental attitude.
Jun 16, 2012 12:54pm
Obama has had a clear strategy in what he does- unlike Bush. Obama is truly carrying out the responsibilities of his position in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.
Jun 16, 2012 11:30am
Countless innocent lives will be saved when Pakistan and other like Pakistan eliminates terrorists from their midsts. Rest of the world who likes and want to live in an open world have right to take measures to protect their freedom from Religious extremist who want to impose on the free people of the world. Somehow even after a decade, none of you want to understand the root cause, do you?
Jun 16, 2012 11:26am
Is this not is racially motivated killing? Why are the lives of non-whites not valuable?
Gaurav Arya
Jun 16, 2012 10:11am
Oftentimes called "Shadow wars", these drone strikes are a zero sum game. If you are the US President, it seems nothing you will do will be accepted without critisism. I would like to quote Theodore Roosevelt here from his "Man in the arena" speech - "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "
Dante II
Jun 16, 2012 01:26am
Morality! Is it moral for Islamic terrorists to attack and kill innocent people because their distorted belief in God told them to do so. I'm not justifying killing, but at least Obama hasn't said "God told me to kill." That would be blasphemy. The last place I would expect to find a discussion of morals would be in any publication from a Islam based country. The people (Muslims) have moved to far away from all that is good about their religion. May all that is good about your God have mercy on your souls.
Nasim Hassan
Jun 16, 2012 01:30am
The innocent people killed in the drone attack are never counted. That is called collateral damage. This killing of innocent people creates more Jehadis and causes unending problem instead of resolution. It is almost impossible to explain to the American people why people kill themselves to take revenge. American people simply do not understand the tribal code of laws, human relationship between brothers,sisters and parents. If a father is killed in the drone attack then all of his family becomes insurgents. You have to see by living there to understand this situation. In the USA if any innocent person is killed the press falls over the story. Since these innocent are tribal people living in another era they can be easily classified as any other species. I believe if the US had pursued a balanced policy using minimum force and maximum civilian development of roads, bridges, schools and agriculture, the current Afghanistan people would be begging the US to stay many more years. Let me make a simple statement. The Afghan common people may be poor and illiterate but they are also human beings like all of us. You may not believe me but they want the schools, hospitals, roads and jobs. They like all of us want to live in peace. However the American public has been misinformed making these people as monsters.
Jun 16, 2012 01:52am
The author says here that the drone campaign is "opposed to international law and morality" -- if that is not an (unstated) support for the marauding terrorists in the FATA I don't know what is. Does he mean then that those that are targeted by the drones are acting "within the norms of international law and morality" ? I wouldn't be surprised if we soon see an article from him saying the same of the Abbotabad raid on OBL ... or perhaps we will have to wait until one of these terrorists target his own kith and kin, for him to wake up to reality! The fact sir is that terrorists are terrorists wherever you find them. If you have the strength (as USA invariably does), then you go after them, Full Stop. Better them, than us.
Jun 16, 2012 06:18am
America was invented in 1492. From 1492 to 1945 America was nowhere on the world stage.one thing people know is this: Columbus Ne America Ko Ijaad Kiya. America make its presence through an event which expose more its weakness than strength- Hiroshima. Today the America's scorecard: Hiroshima,Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq(2), Afghanistan, Palestien, Yogoslavia, Libya, n Syria. Today if world recieves anything from America it is this: crony capitalism, volatile Middle East, Nuclear catestropy. With its economy shrinking, politcs maligning, and its sociology corrupting , America is breathing its last breath. Sahir, Kashmir.
Jun 16, 2012 04:49pm
Obama is a failure and is set to lose coming election, He is putting an aggressive show to his audience. He don't care about law, In nut shell he turned the region anti US, that is a big lose for future.
Jun 16, 2012 09:30pm
Obama is not a warrior president -- Obama is not a war monger that George Bush was -- Obama is a war liquidator -- he is out of Iraq -- and he will be out of Afghanistan in a year no matter what. Obama may have been the best thing that had happened to Pakistan.
Jun 16, 2012 10:08pm
So a Nobel peace prize winner operates the most ruthless war machinery.