Jim Turpin : Is the Imperial Presidency the ‘New Normal’? / 2

Photo by Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images./ Foreign Policy.

The ‘new normal’?
The Imperial Presidency / 2

“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”
Talking Heads (“Once in a Lifetime”)

By Jim Turpin | The Rag Blog | March 7, 2013

Second in a two-part series.

In my previous installment of this article, I discussed how the codification of the Executive’s imperial power and America’s one party political system have contributed to a deeply emboldened presidential authority.

But recent executive branch overreach is also propped up with a troubling combination of additional factors including:

  • Assassination by star chamber
  • Subjugated and ‘craven’ media

Assassination by star chamber

Star Chamber (n):

  1. A 15th-century to 17th-century English court consisting of judges who were appointed by the Crown and sat in closed session on cases involving state security.
  2. star chamber: A court or group that engages in secret, harsh, or arbitrary procedures.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), in an effort to codify extrajudicial killings in the “War on Terror” by the Executive branch had a “white paper” leaked earlier this week.

The contents and justification for killing U.S. citizens or foreign nationals are chilling and this was laid out by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian:

The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with U.S. citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.

Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama’s top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president’s power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title “disposition matrix.”

This “disposition matrix” — more commonly referred to as a “kill list” — is done in complete secrecy by this administration with the aid of the CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center (NTC), and others in a “star chamber.” This unaccountable and unmonitored group metes out justice that is death from above, without a shred of “due process” which has been the center of western legal principles and law since the Magna Carta.

More from Greenwald in The Guardian:

The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the President — at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” — then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark. In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power.

With unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as “drones” and having names like “Predator” and “Reaper,” the destruction for those on the ground is both horrific and widespread.

Code Pink, a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations and to challenge militarism globally, recently traveled to the tribal area in Pakistan to both discuss the impact with civilians and protest the use of drones.

Medea Benjamin, one of the founders of Code Pink, recently released her book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, an “extensive analysis of who is producing the drones, where they are being used, who are ‘piloting’ these unmanned planes, who are the victims and what are the legal and moral implications.”

Code Pink also, as one of the few activist groups still holding the Obama administration accountable for the use of drones, disrupted the confirmation hearing of new CIA director James Brennan. Professed liberal Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein quickly removed Code Pink at the beginning of the proceedings.

Just as important, Stanford and NYU released a report last year, titled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan.” This report lays out evidence of terrorized populations living in fear 24 hours a day:

  • “Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.
  • “The U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.”
  • “Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”

The efficacy of the entire drone program is highly suspect. The following is from the same report:

The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low — estimated at just 2%.Furthermore, evidence suggests that U.S. strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.

Subjugated and ‘craven’ media

The subject of waterboarding, remarkably, has been a topic in U.S. newspapers since the Phillipine Insurrection at the beginning of the 20th century, when U.S. soldiers were accused of torturing Filipino prisoners with the “water cure”:

A letter by A. F. Miller, of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment, published in the Omaha World-Herald in May, 1900, told of how Miller’s unit uncovered hidden weapons by subjecting a prisoner to what he and others called the “water cure.” “Now, this is the way we give them the water cure,” he explained. “Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.

The Kennedy School of Government published a study by a group of Harvard students in 2010, titled, “Torture at the Times: Waterboarding in the Media.” The remarkable results of this study show evidence of no longer using the term “torture” in U.S. newspapers post 9/11, when these horrific acts are committed by U.S. armed forces.

Ironically, when these acts are committed by other countries, the term “torture” is used much more frequently.

One of the worst offenders was The New York Times:

The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.

In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture, while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.”

Furthermore, it was revealed this week that The New York Times and other newspapers bowed to this administration’s request to keep drone bases in Saudia Arabia secret and then later decided to publish the story on the eve of the Brennan-CIA confirmation hearings:

According to a reporter on the national security beat, The New York Times participated in an “informal arrangement” to keep secret a Saudi Arabian base for U.S. interests — and then suddenly withdrew from that arrangement. A story posted on the paper’s Web site last night — titled “Drone Strikes’ Dangers to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye“ — summarizes the leak of a white paper on the Obama administration’s targeted killing program and tees up the Senate confirmation hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Maybe The New York Times‘ slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” should now be “All the News That’s Fit to Print…When It Makes Us More Money”

The nexus of all these contributing factors to empowering the executive branch is deeply troubling and seems insurmountable. It is rare that when power is given to those in authority, that it is later put aside.

“You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?” Talking Heads (“Once in a Lifetime”)

[Rag Blog contributor Jim Turpin is an Austin activist and writer who works with CodePink Austin. He also volunteers for the GI coffeehouse Under the Hood Café at Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas. Read more articles by Tim Turpin on The Rag Blog.]

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One Response to Jim Turpin : Is the Imperial Presidency the ‘New Normal’? / 2

  1. Anonymous says:

    While I did vote for Obama (Romney promised us a nightmare), he is still essentially a black Richard Nixon. Take that for what it’s worth.

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