16 September 2011

Barack Obama, the world's leading assassin, and his private army

Within the U.S. military is another military, a secret military. Not secret in its existence—although even that can be shadowy—but secret in its operations. Except when it scores a public relations coup, such as the mafia-style execution of Osama bin Laden, the American people don't know what it's up to. And it's up to a lot. According to stories in the Washington Post and Al Jazeera, U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries last year, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency, and possibly 120 by the end of this year. In other words, in most countries on the planet, where they train the special forces of other countries, engage in operations with them or engage in operations of their own.

U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) now numbers over 60,000 personnel and includes the Army's "Green Berets" and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos and Marine Corps Special Operations teams, as well as specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, civil affairs personnel, para-rescuemen, and air-traffic controllers and weathermen. In other words, essentially a complete military within the military.

And even deeper in the shadows is yet another army, composed of elements of the above, that reports directly to the president and acts under his authority. This is the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine group whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. JSOC has made Obama the world's leading assassin. John Nagl, past counterinsurgency adviser to newly-appointed CIA Director David Petraeus, calls its extralegal kill/capture campaign "an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine."

And President Obama is using his killing machine with even more enthusiasm than his predecessor. A senior legal advisor in both Bush administrations, John B. Bellinger III, commented, "While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based." Obama bases his lethal operations not on constitutional executive authority as Bush did, but on the authority Congress gave the president in 2001 to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons" he determines "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the 9/11 attacks. However, as Bellinger has pointed out, most of Obama's current targets had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The United Nations has, not surprisingly, questioned the legality of such operations under international law, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. And no doubt there are many instances where innocents are killed. An example is a JSOC attack in Takhar Province, Afghanistan, in September of last year which killed ten people and injured seven. It turns out they had targeted the wrong man and attacked an innocent election convoy.

As citizens of a democracy, Americans should be concerned about their president having this secret army of assassins at his beck and call. He is, after all, a president not a Caesar. These forces not only operate clandestinely in most countries around the world doing God knows what but they are even deployed in the homeland itself. JSOC has provided support to domestic law enforcement agencies during high profile events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, political party conventions and presidential inaugurations.
And the rest of us should be concerned as well. After all, SOCOM is engaged in its shadowy activities in most countries in the world. The Obama administration justifies this by claiming they obtain the permission of the countries their special forces operate in. Or at least the permission of the governments. That, as we know from the case of Pakistan, does not necessarily translate into the permission of the people.

Media organs such as the Washington Post and Al Jazeera do us a necessary service when they track the growth and behaviour of this ominous force. A light needs to be shone into this dark corner of U.S. government policy.

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