The White House is treating the Syrian government like a potential drone strike victim.President Barack Obama’s preferred method for dealing with targeted individuals is not to throw them into lawless prisons. But it’s also not to indict and prosecute them.
On June 7th, Yemeni tribal leader Saleh Bin Fareed told Democracy Now that Anwar al Awlaki could have been turned over and put on trial, but “they never asked us.” In numerous other cases it is evident that drone strike victims could have been arrested if that avenue had ever been attempted.
A memorable example was the November 2011 drone killing in Pakistan of 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, days after he’d attended an anti-drone meeting in the capital, where he might easily have been arrested — had he been charged with some crime.
Missile-strike law enforcement is now being applied to governments as well. The Libyan government was given a death sentence. The Syrian government is being sentenced to the loss of some citizens, buildings, and supplies.
The purpose is not to end the war, or even to speed the coming of the end of the war. The purpose is not to overthrow the government (an action which in Libya was not yet clearly recognizable as this new form of law enforcement). Nor, of course, is the purpose rehabilitation or restitution or reconciliation or most of the nobler motivations we sometimes assign to punishment. The purpose of sending missiles into Syria will be “punitive,” meaning retributive. It will “send a message,” possibly intended to include deterrence.
When the Bush-Cheney gang was accused of cruel and unusual punishment because it tortured, they replied: this isn’t punishment, it’s interrogation. But surely dropping missiles on people is not interrogation. It’s advertised as punishment. And that’s putting its best foot forward. It’s punishment so that it doesn’t have to be a crime itself.
For, of course, dropping missiles on people is normally itself a serious crime, just as kicking in your door at night with guns blazing is normally against the law. But if a policeman — global or normal — does it, well, then it’s law enforcement, not law breaking.
This is why the U.S. government can itself use chemical weapons, while punishing others for doing so. It’s the cop. It uses white phosphorus and napalm to enforce laws, or at least to do something in the line of duty. The BBC this week reported on yet another horrific incident in Syria, this one involving “napalm-like burns.” The only way for the U.S., the land of napalm, to punish such acts with righteous indignation is through the immunity granted to the global police force.
I wrote a book three years ago called War Is A Lie in hopes of helping to build enough awareness so that some day we would have a majority against a war before it began, rather than a year and a half later. That day has arrived. The UK is a bit ahead of the USA, but we’ve all moved toward much greater and healthier scepticism toward war lies.
We don’t believe that the evil of Assad justifies bombing Syrians. We laugh when Obama says Syria might theoretically attack us some day. We don’t see the supposed generosity in dropping bombs on an already war-torn nation. We don’t accept that a war is inevitable. We watch Parliament say no and wonder where Congress is.
Congress members have been “urging” the president to consult with them, centuries after this country was formed by supposedly leaving royal powers behind in England. When will Congress members call for a return to Washington for an emergency session? When will they vote to block funding for any attack on Syria? They should be aware that by not taking these actions they have made themselves complicit in our eyes, and in the eyes of the world.
Phil Ochs saw the Global War on Terra Part II coming when he sang:
Come, get out of the way, boys
Quick, get out of the way
You’d better watch what you say, boys
Better watch what you say
We’ve rammed in your harbor and tied to your port
And our pistols are hungry and our tempers are short
So bring your daughters around to the port
‘Cause we’re the cops of the world, boys
We’re the cops of the world
U.S. Navy photo by Fire Controlman 1st Class Stephen J. Zeller/Released