The moral high ground has been getting pretty crowded since the US Senate Intelligence Committee released its report into CIA torture of terror suspects. It’s standing room only for the perpetually aggrieved on the hill of public sanctimony.
All those detractors rushing to deliver tear-stained condemnations of George W Bush, the military-industrial complex, the CIA and the US itself.
Witness this guff from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Ben Emmerson.
He said that senior officials from the administration of George W Bush who “planned and sanctioned crimes” must be prosecuted, as well as CIA and US government officials responsible for torture such as waterboarding.
“As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice,” Emmerson huffed in a statement made from Geneva.
Oh do cry me a river.
At the same time this confected outrage has been dominating the airwaves and digital universe, critics have neglected to address one simple fact.
President Obama doesn’t authorise torture of people suspected of being involved in terror because he banned that on taking office. He now just orders terrorists killed. Outright.
How humane is that?
Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 drone strikes on Pakistan – his predecessor, George W Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years. These attacks are part of Obama’s broader anti-terror strategy that also encompasses Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Total number of dead in lethal US drone strikes is 2,400 and that includes US citizens living abroad alongside civilian bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We know because on January 23 this year the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based non-profit, detailed the above evidence in a report published on its website.
Expect the number to be higher again when the figures are updated next month.
Lest anyone think that the extrajudicial killings overseen by Obama are as targeted as anyone would like, the US lobby group Reprieve has some figures of its own.
Last week it released a report titled “You Never Die Twice: Multiple Kills in the U.S. Drone Program” revealing US drone strikes kill 28 unidentified people for every intended target.
While the Obama administration is fond of claiming its methods are precise, Reprieve counters that strikes targeting 41 people in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 other, unnamed people.
In its attempts to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri alone, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults; al-Zawahiri remains alive.
Obama has never gone on the public record to defend or explain these killings. He doesn’t have to.
The tame Washington press corps is just happy to beam at Obama and let anything that might tarnish his image slide.
On the one occasion he has spoken about the strikes, Obama insisted that any target of the drones must pose “a continuing and imminent threat to the American people”. That was in May, 2013 and at the time, the White House handily issued a press release that stated: “Lethal force must only be used to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.”
What wasn’t mentioned was that all of the “legal” criteria are determined in secret by the White House. Advice is taken from the Justice Department and the CIA, but with no oversight or accountability.
Obama has authority to make any exception he likes to this policy and authorize drone kills on a one-time basis, no matter what the circumstances: he alone decides who is fit for termination and the manner in which they’re dispatched.
Torture bad, indiscriminate killing good, all on Obama’s watch.