The mass killing of 108 people at Houla in Syria, including 34 women and 49 children, has provoked universal condemnation by U.S. leaders and media commentators. The thrust of the outrage is that a government that allegedly massacres civilians like this must be stopped by any means possible and has lost its authority to govern.
Pakistanis feel the same outrage over the Chenagai massacre
in October 2006, in which 82 people were killed, including 69 children. Chenagai is in the Bajaur province of Pakistan, and this was the seventh and most deadly strike in the U.S. "drone" campaign in that country. Pakistani intelligence chief General Durrani explained that the CIA conducted this massive and deadly strike to derail peace talks between the Pakistani government and local tribal elders that would have ended Pakistani military operations in the area.
President Obama has halted the macabre parade of hooded, shackled, mostly innocent terrorism suspects in orange jump-suits stumbling off American planes into the tropical sunshine at Guantanamo. But he has not done so by restoring the rule of law. Instead, he has replaced Bush's policy of kidnapping, torture and indefinite detention with a global campaign to simply kill terrorism suspects in cold blood, the innocent along with the guilty.
U.S. officials have been prohibited from ordering assassinations since 1976 under President Ford's Executive Order 11905
. But, just as Bush's legal advisers told him that torture was not torture, Obama's lawyers claim that "targeted killing" is not assassination, but a new form of self defense.
President Obama escalated the covert U.S. war in Yemen with a devastating attack by cruise missiles
armed with cluster munitions at Al Majalah on December 17th 2009. It killed 58 people, including at least 12 civilian men, 12 women and 22 children. Before this massacre, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was a threat to the government of U.S.-backed dictator Saleh, but U.S. officials did not warn of a serious threat to the United States. After this attack, Yemen quickly became a new terrorist threat to the U.S., with underpants bombs, drone strikes against U.S. citizens and "naked body scans" for all of us.
On June 2nd 2010, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alston, issued this statement
"Targeted killings pose a rapidly growing challenge to the international rule of law, as they are increasingly used in circumstances which violate the relevant rules of international law... The most prolific user of targeted killings today is the United States, which primarily uses drones for attacks... this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extra-judicial executions..."
Foreign casualties, even of innocent civilians, are politically less damaging to U.S. officials than even small numbers of U.S. casualties, and U.S. war policy reflects these priorities. The 6,400 U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly one tenth the number of Americans lost in Vietnam, even though a million Iraqis and Afghans have probably been killed. In the bloody calculus of American politics, acceptably low American casualties have reduced the political cost of war and made it a more palatable option. Unmanned drones provide an even more politically attractive way to wage war, unleashing powerful weapons against people on the ground with no immediate danger of American casualties at all.
Mass killing by Syrian and American forces presents the world with an intractable problem. Western and Arab monarchist support for the the Free Syrian Army can only escalate the violence in Syria, as it did and as it was intended to do in Libya, where even the NATO-backed "government" admits that at least 25,000 people were killed. And neither Obama nor Romney offers any prospect of an end to American war crimes.
A "regime" is more than a government. It is "a mode or system of rule or government" or "a ruling or prevailing system." The Arab Spring brought down the government of Egypt, but has not yet succeeded in replacing the regime. Electing Obama was not regime change. In fact, the contrast between Obama's public image and the reality of his policies represents a new achievement for America's regime of "managed democracy", as he maintains and expands policies of militarism and corporate rule that are the polar opposite of the change his supporters thought they were voting for.
The Occupy Movement's more fundamental critique of the U.S. "regime" or "system" has kick-started the debate that we need to have as Americans. The leaders of the Progressive Caucus in Congress are taking small but exemplary steps toward representative government, like the 2012 People's Budget . Alternative media are breaking the silence to expose Americans to political ideas that didn't originate in corporate-funded think-tanks. These could be the seeds of a non-violent revolution for regime change in America - which would in turn remove the greatest obstacle to other non-violent regime changes and a sustainable future for the whole planet.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American invasion and destruction of Iraq, and of the chapter "Obama at War" in the newly published book, Grading the 44th President: a report card on Barack Obama's first term as a progressive leader.