A few days before the new year rang in, I made three predictions for Turnstyle News about what’s in store for the year 2013. The first was a “drawdown but not a complete end to the war in Afghanistan”, the second was “continuation of drone strikes and targeted killing”, and the third was “indefinite detention of U.S. citizens will remain”. It’s a few days into 2013 but a few recent events show that the dismal state of peace and civil liberties will not cease any time soon.
One human rights abuse the Bush administration practiced was extraordinary rendition. The practice of extraordinary rendition (sometimes considered “forced disappearance”) is when a government extrajudicially snatches and transfers an individual from one country to another to be detained, often indefinitely, interrogated, and/or tortured, which occurred often during the Bush years. Suspects languish in a secret prison without any charge or conviction. Think of it as a form kidnapping in which one country does the kidnapping and another country does the dirty work. The CIA kidnapped and tortured suspected terrorists during the Bush years. However, many of them were innocent and even Cheney and Rumsfeld knew this. This practice violates international human rights law and the U.S. Constitution as it infringes on the rights to due process, a fair trial, and humane treatment.
The Obama administration continues this practice. The Washington Post published a report on the first day of 2013 entitled “Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns”. According the Post, “the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”
Congress’s blocking of President Obama’s efforts to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the resulting difficulty of what to do with the prisoners is a partial reason for why his administration continues not only rendition but also ramped up the policy of targeted killing. However, Obama’s proposal would’ve basically led to transferring the system of indefinite detention (a policy Obama long embraced) from Cuban shores to U.S. soil.
The Post reports on how individuals from Somalia and Eritrea were apprehended by U.S. interrogators. They were then detained in Nigeria and Djibouti who cooperated with the United States, particularly Djibouti, which houses a major U.S. military base called Camp Lemonnier. The individuals were suspected of involvement in the Somali militant Islamic group al-Shabaab, which has ties with al-Qaeda. However, al-Shabaab’s focus is on fighting in Somalia’s civil war rather than committing international terrorism. The Washington Post points out that even officials within the Obama administration acknowledge this. While this weakens the case for kidnapping and detaining the individuals, the Obama administration continues to do so.
In my Turnstyle News prediction about the continuation of indefinite detention, I wrote:
“Indefinite detention of U.S. citizens will remain: last year, the Obama administration signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. This act, under Sections 1021 and 1022, allows for the indefinite detention (essentially incarceration without due process) of U.S. citizens, which violates core civil liberties. The act drew a lot of outrage from activists and people within the civil liberties community. There have been challenges against the act, such as a lawsuit and congressional legislation. Just recently, however, top Republican and Democratic lawmakers killed an amendment that would have outlawed indefinite detention of U.S. citizens. The amendment was problematic in that it did not apply to all persons within the United States, as outlined by the Constitution. However, considering that there is very little challenge to this bill from Congress or the courts, it is safe to say that indefinite detention of U.S. citizens will remain legal in 2013.”
This past Thursday, on January 3, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2013. The act provides $633 billion in funding for the armed forces for fiscal year 2013 and contains provisions allowing for the indefinite detention, without due process, of U.S. citizens suspected of loose ties to terrorism. Moreover, the act makes it more difficult to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison by including a one-year prohibition on transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo. Rather than end the abusive and unconstitutional policy of indefinite detention, Obama has further entrenched it within the U.S. national security state.
Finally, the Obama administration launched drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen hours apart from each other on Thursday, January 3. Two strikes were launched in Pakistan. One strike killed prominent Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir and 11 others in the province of South Waziristan. The second strike hit a vehicle in the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, killing four people. CNN reported that the “drone fired a missile that struck the vehicle. It then fired two more missiles as people rushed to try to rescue the occupants”. U.S. drone strikes frequently kill mourners and rescuers, right after the first strike, even though this violates international law. Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, eloquently explained to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism why targeted killing (the practice Obama uses drones for) is illegal, except in the narrowest of circumstances:
“Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into this very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution. This is absolutely unlawful under IHRL [international human rights law] and of course under domestic law in any place in which such an attack might occur. So then we don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.”
Since drone strikes do not hit people who pose an imminent threat to the United States, nor occur in an acknowledged battlefield, then they are illegal under international human rights law. Even in a situation of armed conflict, civilians (and this would include rescuers and mourners) cannot be killed.
Several hours after the strikes in Pakistan, another drone strike occurred in Yemen. This time it killed a top figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) named Moqbel Ebad al-Zawbah and two of his allies in the town of Rada’a in the central Yemen province of al-Bayda’.
So far, U.S. drone strikes have killed around 900 to 1,000 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, according the Bureau’s figures. They continue to wreak terror and suffering on civilian populations.
Given what’s happened in the first few days of 2013, this year does not look good for peace and civil liberties. The abusive practices of extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, and targeted killing with armed drones will continue this year, bringing continued permanent war and a draconian national security state — unless seriously challenged and ended.