This past weekend 9-10 FEB 2013[ a very sad funeral took place in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
It was the funeral of a 15-year-old girl, Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot to death on 29 January 2013. Police described Miss Pendleton as “an innocent victim in a gang-related shooting.” In other words, she was killed simply because she happened to be at a certain locality at the wrong time.
Sad as her death was, it would probably have not made the news in a prominent manner – after all, in the six weeks since the beginning of 2013, 40 people had already been shot dead in Chicago – except for one fact: she had, a few days earlier, performed as a majorette during the inauguration of President Barack Obamafor his second term as President of the United States. That she should have died so soon after being part of a show honouring Obama was highlighted by all the reports written about her death.
For it was incredibly ironic: Obama has been trying to get American lawmakers to enact new, stronger laws to control the possession of guns in the US. He has not had much success with this, because the “gun lobby” is spending heavily to persuade Congressmen to continue to oppose “gun control”.
It is no secret that many Congressmen are under the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which would supply a gun free to everyone if that was feasible. The heartlessness of the gun lobby is such that despite a highly emotional appeal, haltingly made to a Congressional committee by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — who survived a horrible head wound in an assassination attempt in 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people were killed and 13 others were wounded — an NRA executive dismissed her appeal. New gun laws “have failed in the past and they’ll fail again,” he maintained.
The callous attitude of the NRA position was particularly insensitive because only a month earlier – on 14 December 2012 – a massacre had occurred at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman had shot dead 26 people, 20 of whom were little children, none older than 7 years of age. The 6 adults killed were all female school teachers.
During his first term in office, President Obama had been hesitant in confronting the gun lobby. But now that his second term is safely in the bag, he and other Democrats have summoned the courage to request Congress to pass the largest package of gun restrictions in decades.
In support of the proposals, former Congresswoman Giffords told the American legislators: “Too many children are dying – too many children. We must do something…. the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
This theme was also repeated by speakers at the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral. And the funeral brochure included a copy of a handwritten note from President Obama addressed to the girl’s family. Obama wrote: “Michelle and I just wanted you to know how heartbroken we are to have heard about Hadiya’s passing. We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence.”
But Obama’s concern about gun violence in the US is beginning to sound hollow, in the light of revelations in the media that he personally approves death-lists drawn up by the Americns security agencies for assassinating individuals – including American citizens – who are suspected of planning to harm the US from foreign countries. Under American law, no individual can be punished without “due process”, which means the individual must be arrested, read his rights and then charged before a competent court, with a specific offence. He is then asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.
If he pleads ‘not guilty’, evidence must be adduced to prove to the court’s satisfaction — beyond reasonable doubt — that he committed the offence with which he had been charged. He is allowed to obtain the assistance of an attorney or lawyer in mounting his defence against the charge. He can only be punished if his defence fails and he is convicted. This is why even accused persons who appear to many people to be guilty — such as O J Simpson — can be acquitted if the evidence against them is not strong enough to convince a jury or judge(s).
Even after conviction, the accused can appeal all the way to the US Supreme Court. Now, if the President of the United States, acting on the advice of his security apparatchiks, orders the assassination of an American citizen abroad, most probably through a drone attack, has he or has he not denied that citizen his fundamental right to a fair trial with respect to whatever charge is supposed to arise from his actions abroad? Indeed, if the President becomes the prosecutor, judge and sentence executor, all in secret, in order to get an American citizen assassinated, has he not violated the US Constitution, which provides for the “separation of powers” between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary? What is the difference between such a secret system of assassinations ordered by the executive, and the “star chamber” system in England, which empowered the English monarchs to tyrannise their subjects — a system which was supposed to have been made impossible by the US Constitution?
Leaving American citizens aside, the system of assassination by drone is gradually eroding the President’s moral authority in the US and the world. An article by Gary Younge on the London Guardian website on 10 February 2013 made this point: “Over the last few weeks there has been a distinct incongruity – to say the least – between the agenda Obama is promoting at home and the one he defends abroad. His justification for targeted killings and drone strikes in foreign parts … has coincided with his advocacy for stiffer gun control and appeals to respect human life, following mass shootings.
“The result is an administration… unable to talk with any moral authority or ethical consistency on either. In short, the credibility of a president in challenging lawless social violence in US cities is fundamentally undermined when he has his own personal kill list, in violation of international law, to terminate enemies elsewhere…. One moment, the Obamas are mourning the tragic loss of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl who attended his inauguration. …The next, his administration is maintaining a stony silence over the murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old American, born in Denver, [Colorado] who was killed by a drone in Yemen in 2011. His father, Anwar (also American), was an Islamist cleric – killed by a drone a few weeks earlier.
“When asked about the incident during the election campaign, Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and senior adviser to Obama’s re-election campaign, essentially blamed Abdulrahman for having the kind of dad the US wanted to kill. “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children.”
Is this the type of attitude Obama’s administration wants to be remembered for? How can anyone be responsible for what his or her adult offspring does, let alone an offspring being held responsible for what his or her parent does? The notion is nonsensical.
Obama should revisit his attitude to the assassination by drone issue. Even in a hot war, where the enemy’s territory is well-defined and any civilians who get caught in the theatre of hostilities can be blamed on “enemy” negligence, care is taken to observe international laws regarding the protection of unarmed civilians. The use of drones reduces war to a game played on computer consoles. and therefore civilian casualties are ever more likely. Even if that was not the case, there is something cowardly in refusing to face an enemy and “smoking” him with a drone that is ordered to fire deadly missiles, from the safety of a gaming room several thousand miles away.
Of course, the security of the US should be of paramount interest to the President. But if he doesn’t take care, the security establishment will reduce him to becoming an American “hero” of the Oliver North type – to whom the end justifies the means and so long as the enemy gets his arse kicked, no questions should be asked.