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Issue #1757      November 16, 2016

Culture & Life

State-sanctioned murder

There was a time, not very long ago, when governments that wanted to silence a critic who had sought refuge in another country, had to send a small team of assassins to that country and shoot or poison the troublesome person, or run them down with a stolen car in a “hit and run accident”. The apartheid regime in South Africa made a speciality of planting bombs in the cars of activists who had fled abroad, but they were by no means the only extreme right-wing government to do so.


However, this method of silencing critics – or teaching enemies to “show respect” – was fraught with peril: the agents who were to do the deed had to be introduced into the country without arousing suspicion and then got out again after the “target” had been killed. At any time they risked exposure and arrest which, at the very least, would be embarrassing for their government. At worst, the agents would spend years in jail and their government would have to organise a costly prisoner exchange for them.

But no more – at least for enemies of the US! Now, when the White House considers it expedient to eliminate someone in another country who has incurred its displeasure, instead of sending an agent they send a drone. The US drone campaign carries out missile strikes outside of war zones. The main US outfits that organise drone attacks are the CIA, the NSA and the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command. The NSA (National Security Agency) has a number of bases in Britain.

A document recently obtained by British journal The Intercept states that targets (those are people, remember) at internet cafes in Yemen are “tasked by several target offices at NSA and [its British opposite number] GCHQ”.

Deadly drone attacks have become commonplace in countries where the US is interfering but does not wish to openly wage war – yet. So frequent were the drone attacks on targets in Pakistan, supposedly a US ally, that there have been huge demonstrations against them, and against the US for perpetrating them.

Drone attacks are a means of conducting assassinations at a distance, by remote control. By default they lack precision and are dependent on the accuracy of intelligence gathering to determine their targets. Frequently, they kill people who were bystanders or otherwise not the intended targets. Such people are simply written off as “collateral damage”, just like the civilian victims of US bombing during the Vietnam War.

Across the Middle East, from Somalia to Yemen and beyond, “The US drone program, conducted in the shadows, has killed hundreds of civilians without any accountability,” – Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney for British civil rights organisation Reprieve.

British civil rights activists are understandably outraged that the US government thinks it has the right to rampage around the world in breach of other countries’ national sovereignty, killing whomever it decides is its “enemy”, and lots of innocent bystanders as well. They are doubly outraged to discover that British military personnel at UK bases leased to the US military play a role in drawing up the “kill list” for these ongoing drone assassinations.

“The UK government now needs to come clean on what role the bases we lease to the US are playing in drawing up secretive US assassination lists – and what exactly the UK’s own involvement in these lists is,” said Jennifer Gibson.

“Simply to say that drones are not flown from the UK is missing the point, if it is personnel on British soil that are at the top of the so-called ‘kill chain’ and British agencies who are feeding targets into those lists,” she added.

Reprieve points out that publicly-available documents show that the US Air Force has employed a “MQ-9 REAPER [drone] ISR Mission Intelligence Coordinator” at RAF Molesworth, a British base in Cambridgeshire leased to the US and that a private military contractor at the same base has advertised for an “All Source Analyst – Targeting” to work there.

Another advertisement for a job at Molesworth was for someone to provide “FMV [full motion video] intelligence analysis in support of USAFRICOM [US military command for Africa] … and Special Operations Command Africa,” presumably for covert drone strikes in countries such as Somalia, where the US is not [publicly] at war.

“British forces are currently involved in seven different theatres and only one of these has had any democratic scrutiny,” Stop the War Coalition deputy chair Chris Nineham told British Communist daily Morning Star, so it’s not just American imperialism that is running rampant around the world.

The leadership of both Britain and the USA make a point of presenting themselves as the embodiment of morality and humanity – unlike “Godless Communism”. And yet the US has had to publicly admit to regularly being involved in the conduct of torture to obtain information, and to maintaining a global program of kidnapping people and covertly sending them to countries with extremely brutal prison systems (such as Egypt) for the same purpose. That program became doubly important after the USA’s own torture program ran foul of Congress.

But how moral is it to routinely – once a week, in fact – decide to murder “enemies of the state”? And to brazenly kill hundreds of other people in the process?

Talk about the moral bankruptcy of capitalism!

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