Barak Obama
“The legal issues surrounding the Obama drone war are complex, the justifications by the Administration murky and precarious.” © Chuck Kennedy
Barak Obama
Last updated: May 24, 2013
Christopher Dekki: Drones and the reality of American terrorism

“The legal issues surrounding the Obama drone war are complex, the justifications by the Administration murky and precarious”

Banner Icon The term “terrorist” cannot just be blindly applied to the enemies of the United States when the US government itself has embarked on a military campaign that is just as cruel, calculated, and terroristic as any other actor, network, or state that treats human life with anything less than dignity, writes Christopher Dekki.

“Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.”

– Barack Obama, April 16, 2013

President Obama delivered these words in reference to the bombings in Boston on April 15, 2013, which killed three people and injured almost three hundred others. Terrorism was the name given to this tragedy. It was called terrorism because two young men (somewhat foreign and yet somewhat American) from a predominantly Muslim part of Russia allegedly planted bombs on US soil in order to show their anger and distaste with the country and its foreign policy. It was terrorism. Plain and simple. And anyone who targets innocent civilians is a terrorist.  But who in fact should be labeled a terrorist and what actions should actually be considered terrorism?

Many of the articles I have written for Your Middle East have focused on the power of words within the sociopolitical setting. In an age where human beings are exposed to a constant barrage of words and images, the adage “words have consequences” has never rung more true. Truly, words have consequences. And when words are coupled with visuals (and since “a picture is worth a thousand words”), the consequences of these words are exponentially more severe.

So President Obama makes his statement, the newscast then flashes to an image of the scene of the attack, and then pundits begin discussing terrorism, the “War on (of) Terror,” Al Qaeda, Chechnya, terrorists, Islam, foreigners, immigrants, and all the other terms that have traditionally been used to stoke the fires of fear and hatred. In the minds of the political and media elites of the United States, there is a clear definition of what constitutes terrorism and who is a terrorist.  Nevertheless, according to the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, the “search for a universal, precise definition of terrorism has been challenging for researchers and legal practitioners alike. Different definitions exist across the federal, international and research communities.”

"Unless one lives in a world where any young man who fits a certain racial or ethnic mold is inherently evil, then surely innocent civilians are being bombed by US drones"

For years, the United States has reserved the term “terrorist” to describe very specific types of people, and the word “terrorism” for very specific types of actions. Even before 9/11, the Guardian described the political dimensions of what the United States classifies as terrorism. According to that article, a US State Department report on international terrorism essentially conveyed this message: “terrorism is violence committed by those we disapprove of.” Today especially, in the so-called “post-9/11” era, this is particularly true. The most interesting example of this reality can be seen in the delisting of Iranian militant group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. Recent assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have been linked to the MeK (with the support of Israel). In this case, the hypocrisy of the US is clear: Delist a truly violent and radical organization, then sit back, relax, and watch it do your geopolitical dirty work hand in hand with a trusted regional ally.  

The MeK example says nothing about the actions of the US itself. Plainly (as the official logic of the government states), if the allies and proxies of the US are not capable of carrying out terrorist activities, then surely nothing the US does can be condemned as terrorism. After all, the President made very clear his belief that the targeting of innocents is terrorism. Nevertheless, the United States has been actively involved in terrorist activities (at least according to President Obama’s succinct definition) for a very long time. Without delving too deeply into the bloody, genocidal history of the USA, it is important to analyze the recent phenomenon of the Obama drone war. Notwithstanding the formal, legal definitions of terrorism, it is important that the latest definition as per President Obama is repeated:

“Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.”

The President does not describe the aggressors. He does not specify whether the attackers are enemies of the US or allies of groups opposed to US power. He does not say that those engaging in violence must be of a certain religious group or political identity in order to be deemed terrorists. No. He openly and simply states that when innocent people are the targets of a bombing or similar attack, terrorism has been perpetrated.

The US drone war has created a furor in terms of the effects of American aggression in South Asia and the Middle East. Characterizing it as terrorism makes sense when the consequences of the attacks are laid bare. Villages throughout Pakistan and Yemen have been devastated while wedding parties in Afghanistan have been bombed. A recent example from Yemen shows the psychological terror inflicted on victims and their families. As Yemeni youth activist Farea Al-Muslimi explains: “The ‘collateral damage’ of drones cannot just be measured in corpses. Drones are traumatizing a generation and further alienating Yemenis from any cooperation with the West, or even with the Yemeni central government.” So is this terrorism?  Possibly. More analysis into actual drone policy can explain this further.

Civic organizations critical of Obama’s military policies have been able to reveal a great deal of controversial information surrounding the drone war, namely the potential targets of assaults. The appalling reality of who constitutes a target is simply “any military-age male killed in a drone strike . . .” Any military-age male?  Any young man killed in a drone strike is automatically branded as a militant hell-bent on wreaking havoc on US interests? Is this targeting of young men terrorism? Surely. Unless one lives in a world where any young man who fits a certain racial or ethnic mold is inherently evil, then surely innocent civilians are being bombed by US drones. By Obama’s logic following the Boston bombings, what the Obama Administration is committing is terrorism.

The legal issues surrounding the Obama drone war are complex, the justifications by the Administration murky and precarious. Nevertheless, the real human suffering being perpetrated by these attacks are utterly tangible and glaring. Civilians are dying at an alarming rate and the anger that leads to global anti-Americanism is only being perpetuated by the cold calculations of the Obama Administration. So yes Mr. President, whenever innocent civilians are targeted and killed, it is surely an act of terror. But before anyone rushes to denounce the acts of the proverbial “other” as terrorism, it is best for US politicians, western “experts,” and the media pundits who spinelessly acquiesce to US military adventurism to reflect on the very words of the President himself. The term “terrorist” cannot just be blindly applied to the enemies of the United States when the US government itself has embarked on a military campaign that is just as cruel, calculated, and terroristic as any other actor, network, or state that treats human life with anything less than dignity.  

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