President Obama has started his second term in office. He is a good orator and did not disappoint his admirers who either came to the capital city or turned on the TV or radio to listen to his second inaugural speech. His last four years were able to stabilize the economy of the USA and put it on a firmer ground than he found when President Bush had vacated the White House.
In his speech, Mr. Obama reminded the nation of the enduring strength of the U.S. Constitution: "We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional - what makes us American - is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.' Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed."
Mr. Obama's foreign policy, however, has been a terrible disappointment for most people. He disappointed the War Party who thought that he could be pushed to fight Israel's dirty war against Iran and continue his predecessor's failed policies. He also disappointed all those - and a vast majority of conscientious human beings of our planet - who thought that he was going to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, help solve the Palestine-Israel conflict which would translate into an independent state for the Palestinian people in their pre-1967 border, and stop the drone attacks that had killed hundreds of innocent children, and put America on an irreversible path that values human rights and dignity for all above selfish national interests. Their expectation was not outlandish given the fact that as an upholder of the U.S. constitution and a constitutional lawyer one time, he should have known better than most others as to what those unalienable rights meant.
And yet, like a coldhearted hypocrite, President Obama forgot that his drone attacks had denied those very sacred and unalienable rights to many victims, which included even U.S.-born citizens. Since November 2002, there have been at least 400 documented targeted assassinations in non-battlefield settings of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and the Philippines. According to research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between June 2004 and January 2013, drone strikes had killed between 2,629 and 3,461 people in Pakistan alone, including 176 children. Of the total 362 strikes conducted by the USA there, 310 were conducted under Obama's presidency (2009-2013). Some 1,431 civilians also were injured in such drone attacks. As to their effectiveness against the so-called terrorists, Pakistan-born British novelist Nadeem Aslam says that a well-planned drone attack by the U.S. in the Waziristan region of Pakistan is killing on an average 49 innocent people for every militant. Such acts of spilling of innocent blood are now conveniently termed 'collateral damage', much to the delight of repeat offenders like Netanyahu and other mass-killers!
On the same day President Obama gave his inaugural address, a U.S. drone strike killed three people in Yemen east of the capital, Sana'a. He also officially nominated John Brennan to be the director of the CIA, succeeding retired Army General David Petraeus, who had resigned. Nicknamed the "assassination czar" by some, Brennan was the first government official to publicly confirm drone attacks overseas and to defend their legality. As recently noted by Jeremy Scahill, the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine who co-wrote the new documentary "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield", in his interview by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now, President Oabma has expanded the drone wars by empowering special operations forces, including from JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, to operate in countries where the United States is not at war overtly. He noted that after 9/11, there were seven people on the U.S. kill list, to which in 2003 Iraqi president Saddam Hossein and his top people were added in the deck of cards. "Now there are thousands; it's unknown how many people are on this kill list. And U.S. citizens-three U.S. citizens were killed in operations ordered by the president in late 2011, including, you know, as we reported on Democracy Now! before, the 16-year-old Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki," said Scahill. [Note: Abdur Rahman is the son of the controversial Muslim cleric, U.S.-born, Anwar al-Awlaki. The latter was killed earlier in a drone attack whose assassination Obama called a 'milestone.']
As a result of such mindless drone strikes which are killing many innocent Muslims, an entire province in the south Yemen has been taken over by an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization. But what is more dangerous is that with such targeted assassinations the U.S. is setting dangerous precedent which is sure to be exploited by other offenders.
Mindful of this copycat behavior, lately the United Nations has launched a probe to investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones) for targeted killings by Israel, the United States and Britain. As usual, unlike its two allies, Israel is not expected to cooperate with the probe. British lawyer Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, who will be heading the investigation, which will address 25 cases of UAV or drone attacks, said in a statement that it is "imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law (or the law of war as it used to be called), and international refugee law."
In his Senate confirmation hearings to be the next Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry declared US foreign policy "is not defined by drones and deployments alone," as he tried to emphasize humanitarian assistance and development projects instead of American militarism. He may be right there. However, the drones and targeted assassinations have sadly now become the vital tools of how the U.S. implements its national security strategies abroad.
John C. Kiriakou, the former CIA agent who blew the whistle on the agency's inhuman water-boarding has recently been sentenced to thirty months in prison. Interestingly, the same Obama administration which earlier has absolved the torturers and the higher-ups who destroyed the videotapes and other evidence of torture had no moral qualms about punishing the messenger who acted honorably. What a disgrace to all those who believed that a sitting president of the USA would redeem national honor!
With the drone war rapidly increasing and the U.S. troops stationed in more than 130 countries around the world, what is in store for the next four years under President Obama? Will these coming years be any better?
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored 10 books. His latest book - Devotional Stories - is now available from A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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