Black Sight

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(this post originally appeared on Huffington Post, on August 2, 2013)

On February 2, 2010, Nasser Awlaki, the late Anwar Al-Awlaki’s father, wrote an impassioned letter to Barak Obama, pleading with him to reconsider the order to kill or capture his son. In the letter, Nasser described how when Obama was elected, Nasser “was very pleased” and “spent the whole election night without sleep until it was declared that by media that you were ‘President elect.'”

I too remember the night that Obama was first elected. Not having looked too closely at that year’s model, I believed that just about anyone would be better than George W. Bush. I remember seeing the throngs in Grant Park on television, and though crowds make me uncomfortable, wishing I could be there. Historic moment. Justice restored. Transparency promised. Basketball in the White House. A president who speaks in complete sentences. What could go wrong?

It didn’t take too long to find out, and had I been paying more diligent attention, I may have noted how, in his 2004 book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama cited Robert Rubin as being one of the wisest men he had met in Washington (see Roger Hodge’s excellent The Mendacity of Hope). Hmmm. Robert Rubin. I have no doubt that Robert is a bright man, one of the canniest exemplars of the class of craven opportunists scuttling through the corporate/government revolving door. However, if Rubin is the wisest man one has been able to identify, our definitions of wisdom are squarely at odds.

But it turns out that was merely the tip of the iceberg. A clear shot across the bow of human decency came as early as December 2009, when the marshaled forces of the U.S. war machine, under the direction of the Obama administration, fired a Tomahawk cruise missile, armed with cluster bombs (banned by 112 nations, because of the likelihood of civilian casualties), into the tiny Bedouin village al Ma-jalah in Yemen (a country in which the U.S. continues to not be officially at war), killing over 40 people, including 12 women and 22 children.

Initially, the government of Yemen took responsibility as a “partner” with the U.S. in stamping out al Qaeda. However, once spent ordnance was recovered that was clearly identified as having been fired by the U.S., the wheels eventually came off that fanciful ruse.

And it goes on — in April of this year a NATO airstrike killed 11 Afghan children, NATO of course being a coalition dominated and directed by U.S. policy. This was Obama’s “right” war, as opposed to Bush’s “wrong” war in Iraq. No matter that thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom (the grim irony of the name would be funny, if it weren’t tragic). No matter that Leon Panetta, while head of the CIA in June 2010, estimated that there were then fewer than 100 members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. No matter that al Qaeda, in any of its iterations, has never been an existential threat to the United States.

The two above strikes are merely two of over 20,000 undertaken by the U.S. war machine under the Obama administration — in his first term alone — both inside and outside of declared battlefields.

How quickly the Predator drone, the gutting of the first, fourth, and fifth amendments, the all-out war on whistleblowers, due process-free assassinations of American citizens, the tsunami of the surveillance state, etc. have descended upon us. All because Americans need to be kept safe from a threat that is 1048 times less likely to kill them than a car accident.

Yet as Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense knew as early as 2004, U.S. foreign policy has done more to foster what it calls terrorism, the thing US citizens need to be kept safe from, than any other one thing. In September 2004, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication issued a report that, amongst other things, noted that:

American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies. Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies.

That’s why Colonel Patrick Lang, a decorated veteran whose entire military career was spent in covert operations, refers to the Global War on Terror, or what the Obama administration now euphemistically refers to as Overseas Contingency Operation, as:

… a self-licking ice cream cone. And the fact that this counterterrorism/counterinsurgency industry evolved into this kind of thing, involving all these people, the foundations, and the journalists and the book writers, the generals, and the guys doing the shooting – all that together has a great, tremendous amount of inertia that tends to keep going in the same direction.

(Scahill, Dirty Wars, pg. 468 — I can not recommend this book enough).


And yet, amazingly, the drone program — increasingly the go-to war instrument, and widely discussed in the media — is still technically classified information. Which in the real world means if you want to glorify the president, talk away. But if you want to shed light on the drone program, or any other aspects of the GWOT that the administration doesn’t want discussed, do so at your own peril. See Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden.

At a minimum, Snowden’s leaking of information regarding programs coordinating the routine mass surveillance of telephone and internet data of users around the world provides a glimpse at the extent to which the U.S. government believes it needs to see all, while imposing blindness upon its citizens and the rest of the world regarding its actions. Yet, despite this massive aggregation of data, the U.S. government can’t or won’t see that which its own DOD explicitly stated back in 2004, they don’t hate US (ever diminishing) freedoms, they hate US policies. Per my song “Black Sight,” it is guided instead by a logic both tortuous and torturous.

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