Peace President Obama dispatcher of drones killing innocents

p2354-pine-gap-pic-1-ok

ABOVE: Mr Dunstan and Bec Horridge are pictured in Hatt Road, leading to Pine Gap, this afternoon. A model of a drone is behind them. Mr Dunstan says he is an itinerant protester and Ms Horridge is from Canberra. They say it’s not a great season for protesting: The usual participants have been “crushed” by neo-liberalism or have turned to climate change. They expect 100 delegates in Alice Springs for the peace conference later this month, and 50 to take part in demonstrations. Will any be trying to breach the fence of the base? “We’ll have to see,” says Ms Horridge. PHOTO below: The illustration in the New York Review of Books story, Xinhua/eyevine/Redux.

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The people who are gearing up for anti-Pine Gap protests don’t mince their words: Graeme Dunstan, who describes himself as a long time peace activist, says the up to 500 “spies” at the base are “polite but murderous US citizens in our midst.”

 

It is clear that we, by being hosts and allies of the US, are complicit in war crimes that Mr Dunstan alleges are being committed.

 

Asserting that Pine Gap staff are involved in killing by drones of “innocents in far away countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia” – a plausible claim – Mr Dustan is calling for the base to be closed, a message to be reinforced by delegates to the Alice Springs Peace Convergence from September 19 to October 2.

 

The use of drones is the subject of an article by David Cole in the New York Review of Books of August 18, writing about four new books, in an even-handed examination of the issues.

 

That article raises questions and issues:–

 

• Given that the definition of murder is the unlawful killing of a person, the relevant facts are: We are killing people – suspected terrorists as well as innocent bystanders – in countries with which we are not at war.

 

• The demise of these people generates “barely a ripple of attention” in the rest of the world.

 

• What could make this conduct lawful (and turn the innocent dead into regrettable collateral damage in a just war)?

 

• Who makes the decision whether we are in a just war or not, and with whom? As it is not a nation, who is the enemy?

 

• The decision to deploy drones is made by a number of people but the buck stops with US President Barack Obama, about whom Mr Cole writes: “Remote killing outside of war zones, it seems, has become business as usual.

 

“This is a remarkable development, all the more noteworthy in that it has emerged under Barack Obama, who came to office as an antiwar President, so much so that he may be the only person to win the Nobel Peace Prize based on wishful thinking.

 

“Our Peace Prize President has now been at war longer than any other American president, and has overseen the use of military force in seven countries —Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.

 

“In the latter four countries, virtually all the force has come in the form of unmanned drones executing suspected terrorists said to be linked to al-Qaeda or its ‘associated forces’.”

 

p2354-pine-gap-pic-2-okThe unmanned killing machines are cheap, in terms of money as well as American lives. This means using them might catch on in other countries, suggests Mr Cole. China is selling drones at a list price of only US$1m.

 

On the flip side drones are not launched if “the host country is capable of arrest and prosecution” of the targets – but of course Mr Obama has the final word in the assessment of that capability.

 

Also, the number of drone strikes has been reduced in Mr Obama’s second term of office, although estimates of victims vary widely because of the “difficulty of piecing together evidence after explosions rip bodies apart, the fear of local residents about speaking to outsiders, and the propaganda interests of terrorist groups in exaggerating the number of civilians killed,” writes Mr Cole.

 

He quotes University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor Avery Plaw as arguing “convincingly” that “of the various mechanisms of warfare, drones are the least likely to result in civilian deaths.

 

“Manned aircraft cannot be nearly as discriminating, because they lack the drone’s ability to hover for hours in order to find a propitious time to strike. And ground troops will almost inevitably do more ‘collateral damage’ than a drone strike.”

 

But Mr Cole reminds us of the fact that the US has not declared war on any of the countries targeted. And we need to remember that we are in a military alliance with the US, and hosts to their most important overseas bas – Pine Gap.

 

An unnamed former drone operator is quoted by Mr Cole: “We’re not going after people—we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.”

 

The NYRB piece says on the one hand, “killing off leaders can undermine and demoralize the enemy, and is fair game in an armed conflict … the drone threat has disrupted and altered terrorist operations [keeping terrorists] preoccupied with survival and hindering their ability to move, plan, and carry out operations.

 

“On the other hand … drone strikes have not thwarted leadership succession, ongoing propaganda operations, or local attacks. And if drones inspire resentment and promote support for our enemies, they may be counterproductive. Most accounts suggest that they do just that.

 

“In 2012, opinion polls reported that as many as 90% of Pakistanis opposed drone strikes and 74% considered the US an enemy, despite the fact that Pakistan is second only to Afghanistan (and ahead of Israel) in the amount of US foreign aid it receives.”

 

Mr Cole suggests Mr Obama is loathe to go out on an odious note. On July 1 he released a report on civilian casualties of drone strikes and an executive order that commits to similar reports on an annual basis going forward.

 

“But he certainly could have been more forthcoming,” writes Mr Cole.

 

“Why not, for example, present the casualty figures from 2009 to 2015 by year, as he has committed his successors to do, rather than lumping them into one figure?

 

“Such a breakdown might tell us whether the more restrictive strike policies he announced in April 2013 have made a difference.

 

“Or why not report casualties on a strike-by-strike basis, as US Central Command sometimes does with respect to civilian casualties in war zones? No explanation was offered.

 

“In Israel, all targeted killings must be reviewed by the courts after the fact. The European Court of Human Rights is moving in the direction of requiring review of killing even on the battlefield.

 

“Yet under President Obama, the US has executed thousands of individuals, far from any battlefield, and has yet to offer any specific accounting of the basis for its actions, with the lone exception of the September 2011 killing in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen.”

 

Mr Cole concludes: “When a nation asserts the power to kill specific individuals, outside of war zones, based on their alleged misconduct, it must justify its actions—and must do so publicly.

 

“Secret executions cannot be squared with the rule of law. They are the stuff of death squads, not democracies.”

 

 

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10 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Fred the Philistine
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    @ Diane de Vere: John Howard was led by the nose by the Americans with their lies. In the past we had a whole bunch of lies from the Americans especially during the Vietnam War. It makes a mockery of Obama receiving the Nobel peace prize, since he has prolonged the war in the Middle East.
    I am not surprised. That the Americans are isolated in their compounds, as the American lies are just starting to catch up to them. With the advancement of technology eg internet, it is a small world and truths can be obtained.
    The real leader in the world is Putin. He has done what America could not achieve, in a very short time.

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  2. Hal Duell
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:14 am

    There is a strong case to be made that at the recent G20 summit in China the US lost its preeminent position in Asia. How the US responds to this new world order now becomes of pressing importance to Australia.
    Will they accept that their brief time as the world’s and Asia’s hegemon is over, or will they attempt to reassert their former transient position?
    If the former, all well and good for us here in Oz. If the latter, and given that Canberra has historically been incapable of standing up for Australia in the face of demands from formerly the Brits and now the Yanks, then we in Alice are sitting on a very real and unacceptable risk.

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  3. Diane de Vere
    Posted September 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    @ Fred: In your comment “Bush and Tony Blair both adimit it was a mistake to go into Iraq, what a lot of wasted lives and it has achieved shear chaos”.
    You failed to include Howard as the third political leader identified in the Chilcot Report.
    Then again maybe you did not name him because he did not “admit it was a mistake” therefore enabling you to justify your comment about the placement of Syrian refugees.
    I think Howard, who seems to be taking some new special statesmen role, would be pleased with your post.
    I quote from MAPW website: Chilcot – The costs of war and silence by Dr Sue Wareham.
    “The report has renewed calls for a similar inquiry in Australia, where Prime Minister John Howard followed the US into Iraq on a similarly flawed basis to Britain and with the same disastrous outcomes.”
    The Great Australian Silence and the manipulation of the psyche by the Global Elite.
    There is much that is covered up – a new geo political order – but the same ones are pulling the strings.

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  4. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted September 15, 2016 at 10:03 am

    @ Margaret Pistorius, could you give us a full scenario of what comes after Pine Gap is closed?Not just for Alice, please.
    The truth is that Australia was an obedient British colony until World War Two, and now we are just another obedient US Client State.
    “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus.

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  5. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted September 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

    @ Margaret Pistorius: “I’m sorry that the US families are segregated but they are most certainly well remunerated for their roles in killing members of other families the world around.”
    Are you saying they are war criminals? If so protest as well against our Defense Force, close it down as our soldiers have certainly killed civilians in all the armed conflicts they were involved.
    “Pine Gap is most certainly targetted for nuclear strike in the case of war. It’s a dangerous imposition on the striking landscape.”
    Good because we will die immediately instead of suffering a long agony of nuclear poisoning.
    PS: I am a pacifist believing that all protests and manifestations should be directed at closing armament factories.
    Congo-Kinshasa / Zaire / Democratic Republic of Congo (1960 to present) It started with machetes and spears! I know, I was there.

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  6. Margaret Pestorius
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    We thank you good Alice Springs folk for your thoughtful history.
    I come for the third time in 10 years to protest the wars and warmaking and to lament.
    Pine Gap is most certainly targetted for nuclear strike in the case of war.
    It’s a dangerous imposition on the striking landscape.
    I’m sorry that the US families are segregated but they are most certainly well renumerated for their roles in killing members of other families the world around.
    War is devastating and wasteful. The corporations profit.
    We have a duty to turn the tide on militarism and #closepinegap . I hope you’ll join us.

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  7. Fred the Philistine
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Its only a matter of time that Pine Gap will draw a nuclear attack.
    One would think these protesters would do better protesting to Obama.
    I think he has been a very poor president. Bush and Tony Blair both adimit it was a mistake to go into Iraq, what a lot of wasted lives and it has achieved shear chaos.
    These syrian refugees should be going to America, for they have stirred all this up.

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  8. John Bell
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Three immediate thoughts arise on reading this article. My first thought is that the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and the Chinese state interests in the port of Darwin takeover and the Chinese investors in growing commercial ventures in the NT must be cheering the Pine Gap protesters from afar.
    My second thought is that I am immensely saddened by the withdrawal of the American community at Pine Gap from Alice community life into “enclaves”, as Alex Nelson has noted. Very sad. Wonderful American friends whom I have known gave so much to Alice communal life through their amazing generosity of spirit down the years. The Bangtail Muster float is a small example.
    My third thought is – what the heck are Kenny Rogers and Melanie Safka doing, holding the protest banner at the Pine Gap gate? Or do I need to go to Spec Savers – again? Nope. On second gecko, them thar baby Boomer hippies sure ARE Kenny and Melanie, goldarn it!

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  9. Posted September 13, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    A collateral effect of that demonstration at Pine Gap in November 1983 was its effect on the NT election campaign announced by Chief Minister Paul Everingham that same month.
    Certainly in Alice Springs it was a significant contributing factor to the CLP’s huge victory in early December, winning 19 out of the 25 seats up for grabs for the first time.
    What aggravated people in Alice Springs so much was the aggression and rudeness, rubbish and vandalism directly attributed to the protestors; and from its association with the left of politics the ALP was punished for it.
    This wasn’t lost on the CLP, for the party was able to capitalise on local anti-protestor sentiment for most of the 1980s.
    A master of this approach was the former Member for Araluen, Eric Poole, in whose electorate resided many American families who enjoyed strong friendships with local voters.
    Times have changed.
    The CLP holds no seats south of the Top End, and the Americans appear to be retreating to fenced-off residential enclaves and no longer integrating with the local community to the degree that once used to be such a distinctive feature of Alice Springs.
    This may lead to more questioning of the purpose and role of Pine Gap in our society, and maybe even an increasing rejection of its presence – all of which comes at a time of rising tension as China asserts its influence in our region of the world.

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  10. Diane de Vere
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Thankyou for this article.
    Just googled and read PineCap Wikipedia which is very informative and I believe of particular importance, locally, nationally and globally at this time.
    There is also a record of protests over the years. The one that I quote below, has personal interest and significance to me. I share it and acknowledge all the Karen Silkwoods. In solidarity. [acknowledgement Wikipedia]
    “As a US military installation, Pine Gap has been targeted for protests.”
    “On 11 November 1983, Aboriginal women led 700 women activists to the Pine Gap gates where they fell silent for 11 minutes to mark Remembrance Day and the arrival of Pershing II missiles at Greenham Common in Britain. [dubious – discuss] T
    his was the beginning of a two-week, women-only peace camp, organised under the auspices of Women For Survival. While the protest was non-violent, women trespassed on to the military space and on one day 111 [16] were arrested and gave their names as Karen Silkwood, an American activist who campaigned for nuclear safety. There were allegations of police brutality and a Human Rights Commission Inquiry ensued.”

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