[News] Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 Killed by U.S. in Somalia but Most are Certain They Deserved it

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 9 13:55:54 EST 2016


  Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 Killed by U.S. in Somalia but
  Most are Certain They Deserved it

Glenn Greenwald
March 8, 2016

The U.S. used drones and manned aircraft yesterday to drop bombs and 
missiles on Somalia, ending the lives of at least 150 people 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35748986>. As it virtually always 
does, the Obama administration instantly claimed 
that the people killed were “terrorists” and militants — members of the 
Somali group al Shabaab <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15336689> 
— but provided no evidence to support that assertion.

Nonetheless, most U.S. media reports contained nothing more than quotes 
from U.S. officials about what happened, conveyed uncritically and with 
no skepticism of their accuracy: The dead “fighters … were assembled for 
what American officials believe was a graduation ceremony and prelude to 
an imminent attack against American troops,” pronounced the/ New York 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/08/world/africa/us-airstrikes-somalia.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news>. So, 
the official story goes, The Terrorists were that very 
moment “graduating” — receiving their Terrorist degrees — and about to 
attack U.S. troops when the U.S. killed them.

With that boilerplate set of claims in place, huge numbers of people 
today who have absolutely no idea who was killed are certain that they 
all deserved it. As my colleague Murtaza Hussain said 
<https://twitter.com/MazMHussain/status/707235755786149888> of the 150 
dead people: “We don’t know who they are, but luckily they were all 
bad.” For mindless authoritarians, the words “terrorist” and “militant” 
have no meaning other than: /anyone who dies when my government drops 
bombs/, or, at best, /a “terrorist” is anyone/ /my government tells me 
is a terrorist. /Watch how many people today are defending this strike 
by claiming “terrorists” and “militants” were killed using those 
definitions even though they have literally no idea who was killed.

Other than the higher-than-normal death toll, this mass killing is an 
incredibly common event under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace 
laureate, who has so far bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries 
As Nick Turse has 
<https://theintercept.com/2015/10/21/stealth-expansion-of-secret-us-drone-base-in-africa/> in 
/The Intercept/, Obama has aggressively expanded the stealth drone 
program and secret war in Africa.

This particular mass killing is unlikely to get much attention in the 
U.S. due to (1) the election-season obsession with horse-race analysis 
and pressing matters such as the size of Donald Trump’s hands; (2) 
widespread Democratic indifference to the killing of foreigners where 
there’s no partisan advantage to be had against the GOP from pretending 
to care; (3) the invisibility of places like Somalia and the implicit 
devaluing of lives there; and (4) the complete normalization of the 
model whereby the U.S. president kills whomever he wants, wherever he 
wants, without regard for any semblance of law, process, accountability, 
or evidence.

The lack of attention notwithstanding, there are several important 
points highlighted by yesterday’s bombing and the reaction to it:

*1)* The U.S. is not at war in Somalia. Congress has never declared war 
on Somalia, nor has it authorized the use of military force there. 
Morality and ethics to the side for the moment: What legal authority 
does Obama even possess to bomb this country? I assume we can all agree 
that presidents shouldn’t be permitted to just go around killing people 
they suspect are “bad”: they need some type of legal authority to do the 

Since 2001, the U.S. government has legally justified its 
/we-bomb-wherever-we-want /approach by pointing to the 2001 
Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), enacted by Congress in 
the wake of 9/11 to authorize the targeting of al Qaeda and “affiliated” 
forces. But al Shabaab did not exist in 2001 and had nothing to do with 
9/11. Indeed, the group has not tried to attack the U.S. but instead, as 
the/ New York Times/’ Charlie Savage noted 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/world/africa/07detain.html?_r=1&hp> in 2011, 
“is focused on a parochial insurgency in Somalia.” As a result, reported 
Savage, even “the [Obama] administration does not consider the United 
States to be at war with every member of the Shabaab.”

Instead, in the Obama administration’s view, specific senior members of 
al Shabaab can be treated as enemy combatants under the AUMF only if 
they adhere to al Qaeda’s ideology, are “integrated” into its command 
structure, and could conduct operations outside of Somalia. That’s why 
the U.S. government yesterday claimed that all the people it killed were 
about to launch attacks on U.S. soldiers: because, even under its own 
incredibly expansive view of the AUMF, it would be/illegal/ to kill them 
merely on the ground that they were all members of al Shabaab, and the 
government thus needs a claim of “self-defense” to legally justify this.

But even under the “self-defense” theory that the U.S. government 
invoked, it is allowed — under its own policies promulgated in 2013 
<https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/2013.05.23_fact_sheet_on_ppg.pdf> — 
to use lethal force away from an active war zone 
(e.g., Afghanistan) “only against a target that poses a continuing, 
imminent threat to U.S. persons.” Perhaps these Terrorists were about to 
imminently attack U.S. troops stationed in the region — immediately 
after the tassel on their graduation cap was turned at the “graduation 
ceremony,” they were going on the attack — but again, there is literally 
no evidence that any of that is true.

Given what’s at stake — namely, the conclusion that Obama’s killing of 
150 people yesterday was illegal — shouldn’t we be demanding to see 
/evidence/ that the assertions of his government are actually true? Were 
these really all al Shabaab fighters and terrorists who were killed? 
Were they really about to carry out some sort of imminent, dangerous 
attack on U.S. personnel? Why would anyone be content to blindly believe 
the self-serving assertions of the U.S. government on these questions 
without seeing evidence? If you are willing to make excuses for why you 
don’t want to see any evidence, why would you possibly think you know 
what happened here — who was killed and under what circumstances — if 
all you have are conclusory, evidence-free assertions from those who 
carried out the killings?

*2)* There are numerous compelling reasons demanding skepticism of U.S. 
government claims about who it kills in airstrikes. To begin with, the 
Obama administration has formally re-defined 
<http://www.salon.com/2012/05/29/militants_media_propaganda/> the term 
“militant” to mean: “*all military-age males in a strike zone” *unless 
“there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” In 
other words, the U.S. government presumptively regards all adult males 
it kills as “militants” unless evidence emerges that they were not. It’s 
an empty, manipulative term of propaganda and nothing else.

Beyond that, the U.S. government’s own documents prove that in the vast 
majority of cases — 9 out of 10 in fact 
— it is killing people other than its intended targets. Last April, 
the/ New York Times/ published an article 
under the headline “Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is 
Often Unsure About Who Will Die.” It quoted the scholar Micah Zenko 
saying, “Most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the 
government does not know their names.”

Moreover, the U.S. government has repeatedly been caught lying 
<http://www.salon.com/2011/07/19/drones/> about the identities of its 
bombings victims. As that April /NYT /article put it, “Every independent 
investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than 
administration officials admit.”

Given that clear record of deliberate deceit, why would any rational 
person blindly swallow evidence-free assertions from the U.S. government 
about who it is killing? To put it mildly, extreme skepticism is 
warranted (after being criticized for its stenography, the final /New 
York Times/ story yesterday at least included this phrase about the 
Pentagon’s claims about who it killed: “There was no independent way to 
verify the claim”).

*3) *Why does the U.S. have troops stationed in this part of Africa? 
Remember, even the Obama administration says it is not at war with al 

Consider how circular this entire rationale is: The U.S., like all 
countries, obviously has a legitimate interest in protecting its troops 
from attack. But why does it have troops there at all in need of 
protection? The answer: The troops are there to operate drone bases and 
attack people they regard as a threat to them. But if they weren’t there 
in the first place, these groups could not pose a threat to them.

In sum: We need U.S. troops in Africa to launch drone strikes at groups 
that are trying to attack U.S. troops in Africa. It’s the ultimate 
self-perpetuating circle of imperialism: We need to deploy troops to 
other countries in order to attack those who are trying to kill U.S. 
troops who are deployed there.

*4) *If you’re an American who has lived under the war on terror, it’s 
easy to forget how extreme this behavior is. Most countries on the 
planet don’t routinely run around dropping bombs and killing dozens of 
people in multiple other countries at once, let alone do so in countries 
where /they’re not at war./

But for Americans, this is now all perfectly normalized. We just view 
our president as vested with the intrinsic, divine right, grounded in 
American exceptionalism, to deem whomever he wants “Bad Guys” and then — 
with no trial, no process, no accountability — order them killed. He’s 
the roving, Global Judge, Jury, and Executioner. And we see nothing 
disturbing or dangerous or even odd about that. We’ve been inculcated to 
view the world the way a 6-year-old watches cartoons: Bad Guys should be 
killed, and that’s the end of the story.

So yesterday the president killed roughly 150 people in a country where 
the U.S. is not at war. The Pentagon issued a five-sentence boilerplate 
statement declaring them all “terrorists.” And that’s pretty much the 
end of that. Within literally hours, virtually everyone was ready to 
forget about the whole thing and move on, content in the knowledge — 
even without a shred of evidence or information about the people killed 
— that their government and president did the right thing. Now /that/ is 
a pacified public and malleable media.

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