Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Acts of Terror": the President's Moment of Candour

Thus far, the response of authorities to the shocking bombing of the Boston Marathon has been commendably careful, measured, and deliberate.  But there was a moment in President Obama’s briefing yesterday morning that I found interesting.  At lunch, a friend told me I should read his statement.  I immediately saw why.

Perhaps bowing to the political fallout from the attack on our consulate in Benghazi (in which Republicans spent all of their energies excoriating the administration for not saying the word ‘terrorism’ often enough), the President had the following to say:

“This was a heinous and cowardly act.  And given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism.  Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror”.

I hope that people, including authorities in the FBI and members of Congress, heard the President’s words, particularly those three self-incriminating sentences. 

For what is the prosecution of aggressive war and the use of missiles from drones on the basis of “profiles” and under the premise that there is such a thing as an inevitable and acceptable level of civilian casualties, if not, by the President’s own definition, an “act of terror”?

Our President, his predecessor, many of his predecessor’s cabinet members, and former Secretary of State Clinton among others, are all guilty of crimes against humanity.  They have ordered, commissioned, or defended murder, imprisonment, torture, and enforced disappearance.  They have waged aggressive war.  They have unleashed their own terrorist organs, in the form of our national security agents and apparatuses.  They have debased the character of our nation.  They have imperilled our public.  Some of them lied blatantly about intelligence, and others manipulated that intelligence.

Others in the Obama and Bush administrations have laid out faux legal rationales enabling the commission of these crimes.  Still others have abetted heinous criminal activity by failing to use the justice system to pursue criminal behaviour, whether that of individual C.I.A. officers, their superiors, or those at the top of the administration. 

Earlier this month, Kenya’s new President, Uhuru Kenyatta, was inaugurated, in spite of the fact that he has been indicted at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.  At his inauguration, keynote speaker Yoweri Museveni (President of Uganda) launched into a well-received tirade against the ICC as a tool of western domination and neo-colonialism.  While the fact that it was Museveni (who has himself made use of the ICC) making the criticism was slightly hypocritical, the reason why this rhetoric goes down so well is simple.

It is true.  So long as only state criminals in poor or weak countries are indicted, the double-standard is debilitating for the cause of international justice.  So long as Kenyatta can be indicted for allegedly manufacturing violence which claimed the lives of up to 1,500 people while George W Bush walks free after inciting and waging a war of aggression which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, there is a problem.  Obama’s State Department weighed in against Kenyatta and his running-mate, William Ruto (accused of engineering the other side of the same violence), but our President routinely orders drone strikes which claim many civilian lives on the basis of a distinctly un-scientific and in-humane “profiling”, and the erstwhile occupant of the State Department was one of the key liberal backers of Bush’s obscene war in Iraq. 

If we want to find war criminals who commit acts of terror, we need look no further than our own capital.

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