US claims authority to kill American-born terrorists without trial

(By Deutsche Welle) After a two-year manhunt, the Obama administration ordered the targeted killing of Islamic extremist Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen. The case has ignited a debate over the reach of constitutional protections.

As part of its on-going global campaign to wipe out the leadership of the terrorist group al Qaeda, the United States has targeted and killed an American citizen via drone strike for the first time in the politically volatile Arab nation of Yemen.

The man targeted for death, Anwar al-Awlaki, was accused of both inciting and planning a series of attacks against the United States in recent years. As a Muslim cleric infamous for violent anti-American rhetoric, Awlaki allegedly inspired the Fort Hood massacre in 2009 as well as the failed attempt to detonate a truck bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010. And he reportedly played a direct role in planning the aborted attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane two Christmases ago.

A second American citizen, Samir Khan, was also killed in the drone strike. Khan, who grew up in Queens, New York and lived for a time in North Carolina, was the editor of al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine Inspire.

Although US President Barack Obama did not mention Awlaki’s citizenship during his public statement hailing last Friday’s drone strike as a victory, the president stated that the New Mexican native was the head of “external operations” for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), thereby making him a legitimate target for elimination.

“The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates,” President Obama said during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.

But civil libertarians and constitutional experts have sharply criticized the Obama administration for denying Awlaki due process rights guaranteed to citizens under the 5th amendment of the United States’ Constitution.

“Absent that kind of a hearing it is unprecedented and illegal to simply assassinate a human being in that way, a US citizen,” Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Deutsche Welle.

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Trillion-dollar-business: US war spending spirals out of control

(By Deutsche Welle) The heated debate over the US debt ceiling focused almost exclusively on cuts in social security and raising taxes. But a main item of government expenditure was hardly addressed at all: the rising cost of the wars.

For weeks a fierce political fight over government debt raged in Washington. Both parties agreed that a default had to be avoided and that the debt burden of the US must be addressed.

But while Republicans pushed for a steep reduction of government expenditures mainly through drastic cuts in social programs, Democrats wanted to tackle the issue mainly by increased taxes for the rich.

In their zeal to cut welfare programs and raise taxes both parties completely neglected one area of government spending that comes with a hefty sticker price: the cost of war.

Back in the winter of 2002, when the United States was still contemplating whether or not it would wage war against Saddam Hussein, President George W. Bush’s key economic advisors estimated that an invasion would cost between $50 and $60 billion (35-41 billion euros).

With US troops scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, the war there has cost a cumulative total of $806 billion over the past eight years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, dwarfing the Bush administration’s original projections.

Washington, however, has also spent a decade waging a counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan and launching clandestine military strikes in Pakistan. A new study by Brown University entitled the “Costs of War” estimates that in total, when all is said and done, the United States will have spent between $3 and $4 trillion on foreign wars since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“If you study the history of war, throughout the millennia those who have been in favor of going to war have always very substantially underestimated the costs in both blood and treasure,” Linda Bilmes, coauthor of the book the “Three Trillion Dollar War,” told Deutsche Welle.

“You had an administration where they were expecting a quick, cheap war.”

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Growing US war-weariness defies traditional partisan divide

(By Deutsche Welle) Conservatives and progressives in the US have become odd bedfellows as they begin to question America’s costly military interventions in the Muslim world. But Congress remains unlikely to force an end to the conflicts.

For 10 years, the United States has waged war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq without a conclusive victory. The military interventions in Central Asia and the Middle East have cost America nearly $4 trillion (2.8 trillion euros) and the lives of over 6,000 troops. Around 225,000 people have died directly from the wars, according to a recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The high cost and low return on these conflicts has worn down the political will among many members of Congress who represent an increasingly war-weary public. In May, a congressional resolution calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan narrowly failed in the House of Representatives in a 204 – 215 vote.

The House also recently refused to authorize President Obama’s intervention in Libya for one year, although representatives shied away from defunding the operation. The vote was the first such congressional rebuff of a president since the House refused to authorize the military action in Kosovo in 1999.

And for the first time since the Vietnam War, the US Conference of Mayors – which represents more than 1,000 cities with populations over 30,000 – passed a resolution calling on Washington to “end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring war dollars home to meet vital human needs.”

A war skepticism originally anchored in the respective poles of the American political spectrum is increasingly gaining ground in the moderate center.

“Support for the war is strongest in the middle and weakest on either extreme,” Stephen Biddle, an expert on US national security policy with the Council on Foreign Relatins, told Deutsche Welle.

“Left-wing Democrats are strongly against the war and so are right-wing Republicans. What’s taking shape is a left-right coalition against the center on the war.”

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Iraq contemplates US troop presence beyond withdrawal deadline

(By Deutsche Welle) Both Washington and Baghdad are hinting at the continued deployment of American troops in Iraq beyond the December withdrawal deadline. Eight years after the invasion, foreign troops may still be necessary for stability.

After battling a bloody insurgency for years, the United States is set to turn the page on the Iraq War and withdraw its remaining 45,000 troops by December, 2011. The withdrawal from Iraq is part of US President Barack Obama’s stated strategy of refocusing American military power on the fight against al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But as the officially fixed deadline nears, political leaders in both Washington and Baghdad are equivocating on whether or not a full withdrawal should actually occur. The US has placed growing pressure on the Iraqi government to decide whether or not they want a residual American troop presence to remain in the country beyond 2011 to ensure security.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw the 2007 surge of US troops credited with stabilizing Iraq, has signaled to Baghdad that Washington would be willing to support a continued military presence in the country.

“We are open to that possibility,” Gates said during a surprise visit to Iraq in April. “But they have to ask and time is running out.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while claiming that Iraqi forces can maintain internal stability, has also called for stronger military ties with Washington and has stated that he will leave the question of a US troop presence up to the Iraqi parliament.

Over the course of the past eight years, the United States has become deeply embedded in Iraqi society, acting as a critical mediator between the country’s fractious religious and ethnic groups. Although domestic pressure in the US and Iraq forced both sides to agree on the December deadline, political realities on the ground may demand a continued American military presence.

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US truce with International Criminal Court paves way for cooperation

(By Deutsche Welle) After years of open hostility, the US and the International Criminal Court have agreed to an uneasy truce. Can the only military superpower forge a partnership with the world’s most ambitious war crimes tribunal?

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the United States severed its already strained ties with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. In spite of the critical role Washington played in prosecuting crimes against humanity during the 1990s, America’s political establishment harbored a bipartisan suspicion of the ICC.

Under President Barack Obama, the US has dropped its outright hostility toward the world’s first permanent war crimes court and is re-evaluating its confrontational stance. Washington is now seeking a sort of strategic partnership with the Court – rooted in the pursuit of common interests. However, even as relations warm, the prospects of US membership are slim.

The ICC meanwhile soberly continues its task of prosecuting widely condemned war criminals. The next major trial begins on November 22 against Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s former vice-president.

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