Tag: drones

May 26

Drones, Corporations and Assassinations

I recently attended a party for investigative journalist and founding editor of The Intercept Jeremy Scahill’s new book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program and party it was. The Intercept staff gave talks interspersed with music and food. Glenn Greenwald, the other founding editor, appeared via live feed from Brazil. In …

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Apr 24

The Game of Drones: The Deaths of Innocents

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

At news conference, President Barack Obama expressed “profound regret” for killing two civilians, who were being held captive by Al Qaeda, during a counter-terrorism strike in an attempt to rescue them along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border this past January. The operation involved a drone strike.

The US president spoke shortly after the White House announced that intelligence officials had concluded that the January counter-terrorism operation had “accidentally” killed Dr Warren Weinstein, a US government aid worker, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker. [..]

Separately, the White House also disclosed that it had mistakenly killed two other Americans, both of whom were suspected of being high-level al-Qaida members but had not been specifically targeted.

Obama did not mention the two American al-Qaida members in the statement from the White House, in which he sought to explain how his counter-terrorism strike could have take the lives of two hostages. Neither did he use the word “drone”. [..]

Yet the president struck a surprisingly defiant tone, insisting that his administration had acted on the best intelligence available at the time and claiming that his decision to declassify the operation and initiate a review was a sign of American exceptionalism.

He said he had decided to make the existence of the operation public because Weinstein and Lo Porto’s families “deserve to know the truth” and “the United States is a democracy, committed to openness, in good times and in bad”.

Also mentioned in the article by a team of reporters at The Guardian was that, despite the president’s claim of “transparency,” there is still a great deal of secrecy surrounding the use of drones and a lack of accountability for the number of civilian killed during these raids.

The American Civil Liberties Union in March sued the Obama administration, which has proclaimed itself the most transparent in history, for disclosure of critical legal documents underpinning what the administration calls its “targeted killing” program – including the criteria for placement on a list permitting the US to kill people, including its own citizens, without trial.

Obama’s admission regarding the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto is likely to intensify criticism of the president’s worldwide drone strikes, conducted by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. A recent analysis by human-rights group Reprieve estimated that US drone strikes intending to target 41 men had killed 1,147 people as of November.

These drone operations may get even more exposure due to the court on Germany that has allowed a law suit brought by families of Waleed bin Ali Jaber and Salim bin Ali Jaber, innocent civilians who were killed in a drone strike on August 12, 2012 in Yemen, to go forward. It may also put Germany in a awkward position

Salim and Waleed’s deaths sparked protests in their village, and the incident was later well-documented by international media and human rights groups. Their family representative, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, has met with Yemeni and U.S. national security officials and members of Congress. But the United States still has not formally acknowledged or apologized for the incident.

The previously unreported intelligence report, viewed by The Intercept, indicates that the U.S. government knew soon after the strike that it had killed two civilians. It could add fire to a lawsuit that Faisal bin Ali Jaber has launched in Germany, as further evidence that U.S. strikes put innocent Yemenis at risk.

Jaber will testify next month in front of a German court, alleging that Germany is violating a constitutionally enshrined duty to protect the right to life by allowing the United States to use Ramstein Air Base as part of its lethal drone operations.

It is the first time a victim of a U.S. drone strike will air his grievances in court, lawyers for the case told The Intercept. The lawsuit could put Germany in the awkward position of having to publicly defend its role in the U.S. drone program.

As The Intercept reported today, the U.S. military sees Ramstein as an essential node in the technical infrastructure for its armed and unarmed drone operations. A budget request for the Ramstein station stated that without the facility, “weapon strikes cannot be supported.”

The Obama administration has come under heavy criticism from international and human rights organizations over the legality of its drone program and the targeted assassinations of American citizens suspected of terrorist involvement without due process.

In a another case in Pakistan, a judge has ordered the [police to investigate the CIA for its authorization of drone strikes in 2009:

Last Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered police to open a criminal case against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John A. Rizzo for murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

The complainant is Kareem Khan, whose son Zahin Ullah Khan and brother Asif Iqbal were killed in an alleged December 2009 CIA drone strike in the mountainous Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.

The case was lauded as the “first of its kind for directly implicating and naming a CIA official” by University of Hull international legal expert Niaz Shah. [..]

However, the case appears to rest on whether Pakistan’s political apparatus is willing to pursue a sensitive legal action that police say may imperil U.S.-Pakistan relations.

According to court documents seen by TIME, not only does Khan’s case implicate ex-CIA officials, it also calls for an investigation into the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, where Khan believes the drone strike was ordered. [..]

Even if the investigation receives the green light, bringing ex-CIA officials to trial will be an onerous battle in Pakistan. Should Bank and Rizzo fail to appear, one recourse is the international police body Interpol, which can extradite former CIA officials to stand trial, says Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the Pakistani attorney leading case. However, cases against CIA officials seldom succeed, even when Interpol is invoked, for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity. [..]

Even if the investigation receives the green light, bringing ex-CIA officials to trial will be an onerous battle in Pakistan. Should Bank and Rizzo fail to appear, one recourse is the international police body Interpol, which can extradite former CIA officials to stand trial, says Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the Pakistani attorney leading case. However, cases against CIA officials seldom succeed, even when Interpol is invoked, for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity.

Assassin and murder, this is Obama’s legacy.

Mar 17

America’s Flawed Obsession with Assassination by Drone

Andrew Cockburn, the editor of Harper‘s magazine, sat down with “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to discuss his new book Kill Chain: The Rise of High-Tech Assassins,” that exams America’s flawed obsession with high tech ways to assassinate people with drones.  

You can read an excerpt from his book at Counterpunch.

Jan 06

CIA Secrecy and Drone Strikes Affect on US Foreigh Policy

From torture and black sites to continued drone strikes on sovereign countries, the CIA has been secretly undermining US foreign policy around the world but mostly in the Middle East and Near Asia.

MSNBC’s host Rachel Maddow discusses how the CIA making deals for black site torture facilities undercut the State Department calling for open disclosure about the prisoners that were being held in those countries.

She is joined by Philip Zelikow, counselor to the State Department from 2005 to 2007, to discuss the conflict between the CIA and State Department.

It isn’t just the secret dealing to cover up the crime of torture that is damaging foreign policy, drone strikes that allegedly target Al Qaeda and ISIS leaders have angered the governments of the countries that have been attacked. The effectiveness of these strikes are dubious since there is no evidence of their effectiveness. What is certain is that the strikes have killed more civilians than terrorists and made Americans less safe.

Scott Horton, human rights attorney and contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to the US secret foreign policy of drone sites and torture black sites.

At least nine Pakistanis were killed Sunday in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, the first reported drone strike of 2015. News accounts of the strike are based on unnamed Pakistani government and security officials. The Obama administration has said nothing so far. For years, the United States did not even publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone strikes. The drone program is just one example of the national security state’s reliance on secret operations. The recent Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed another example: the shadowy network of overseas CIA black sites where the United States held and tortured prisoners. The report also noted the CIA shrouded itself in a cloak of secrecy keeping policymakers largely in the dark about the brutality of its detainee interrogations. The agency reportedly deceived the White House, the National Security Council, the Justice Department and Congress about the efficacy of its controversial interrogation techniques



Full transcript can be read here

Nov 19

TBC: Morning Musing 11.19.14

I have 3 articles for you this Wednesday morning!

First, on media complicity in framing our drone victims:

ON MEDIA OUTLETS THAT CONTINUE TO DESCRIBE UNKNOWN DRONE VICTIMS AS “MILITANTS”

Since its 2012 report, the Times itself has tended to avoid the “militant” language in its headlines, but often lends credence to dubious official claims, as when it said this about a horrific U.S. drone strike last December on a Yemeni wedding party that killed 12 people and wounded at least 15 others, including the bride: “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” Other U.S. media accounts of that strike were just as bad, if not worse. The controversies over the definition of “militant” are almost never mentioned in any of these reports.

A new article in The New Yorker by Steve Coll underscores how deceptive this journalistic practice is. Among other things, he notes that the U.S. government itself-let alone the media outlets calling them “militants”-often has no idea who has been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s because, in 2008, George W. Bush and his CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, implemented “signature strikes,” under which “new rules allowed drone operators to fire at armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown.” The Intercept previously reported that targeting decisions can even be made on the basis of nothing more than metadata analysis and tracking of SIM cards in mobile phones.

Jump!

Sep 30

Drones: Fear in the Sky

John Oliver’s “This Week Tonight” on HBO is fast becoming the show to watch, especially his longer segments. This past Sunday John explains how drones are making the blue skies terrifying.

“Drone strikes will be as much a characteristic of the Obama presidency as Obamacare or receiving racist email forwards from distant relatives.” [..]

“Drone strikes are one of those things that it’s really convenient not to think about that much,” Oliver lamented. “Like the daily life of a circus elephant or that Beck is a Scientologist.” [..]

“When children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky,” he insisted, “it might be time to ask some hard questions.” [..]

“Congratulations everyone. We did it. We managed to make blue skies completely terrifying.”

It’s all in how you define “imminent.”

May 12

Obama Court Nominee OK’d Targeted Assassinations

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This week Senator Rand Paul has threatened to filibuster President Barack Obama’s nominee to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The nomination of David Barron, who was a Justice Department lawyer at the start of the administration and is now a Harvard Law School professor was the author of the contentious memo that authorized the assassination of an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki.  

(M)embers of both parties say they are disturbed by Mr. Barron’s authorship of legal memos that justified the United States’ killing of an American citizen overseas with a drone.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to all 100 senators on Monday urging them to put off a vote on Mr. Barron’s confirmation until the White House allowed them to read all of his writings on the drone program. [..]

The A.C.L.U.’s objections, along with the announcement by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that he would use his power to slow down the confirmation unless the administration released one of the legal memos written by Mr. Barron, raised fresh questions on Capitol Hill on Monday about whether the nomination would survive. [..]

Two Democrats who are up for re-election in states where Republicans have a political edge – Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana – are said to be unsure if they will vote yes on Mr. Barron.

A court has ordered the administration to release some of Mr. Barron’s legal work as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. But White House lawyers have not done so while they weigh whether to appeal. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who is in a tight race, said Monday that he would vote no unless the White House released what the court ordered.

Republicans are not alone in their objections of this nominee. Democrats, who are up for reelection and those who have questioned the administration’s legal right to assassinated American citizens without due process and the drone program, have expressed doubts about voting to confirm Mr. Barron

But with so many Democrats concerned about the administration’s drone policy, sufficient support for Barron is uncertain. Senate leaders have yet to set a vote on his nomination to join the appeals court with jurisdiction over federal cases in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. He faces opposition from a mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans concerned with his involvement in establishing the administration’s drone policy.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and a frequent critic of Obama’s counterterrorism policies, said Thursday that “the public has a right to know” the administration’s justification for drone strikes on American citizens.

“To me, the central question has always been on intelligence matters,” Wyden told reporters. “There is a difference between secret operations. They have to be kept secret, because otherwise Americans can die and be hurt. But the rules and the underlying policies — those ought to be public.”

Other Democrats, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), have also expressed concern about Barron’s work and this week called for the public release of Barron’s memos.

Marcy Wheeler of emptywheel, writing for The Week, weighs in on why Sen. Paul’s threat of filibuster should be taken seriously

Eleven years ago, the Senate confirmed Jay Bybee to a lifetime appointment on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. At the time, almost no senators knew about – much less had reviewed the contents of – a set of memos authorizing torture that Bybee had signed when he was head of the OLC in 2002. Paul is trying to prevent similarly rewarding Barron before senators can review the legal arguments he made authorizing another troubling executive branch action: killing an American citizen with no due process.

Barron, who is currently a Harvard Law School professor, served as the acting head of the OLC from 2009 until 2010. The office provides legal advice to executive branch agencies that can provide (usually secret) legal sanction for controversial positions.

A July 16, 2010, memo written by Barron authorizing the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist Yemeni-American cleric, is one such opinion. Awlaki died in a CIA drone strike (along with Samir Khan, another American citizen who had become an extremist propagandist) on Sept. 30, 2011. [..]

Eventually, at least 31 members of Congress made at least 23 attempts to obtain the memo permitting the executive branch to kill an American citizen with no due process. Most of Congress still hasn’t seen it. [..]

Paul may have the courts on his side. He invoked an April 21 decision by New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that the government must release a redacted version of the memo to the ACLU and two New York Times reporters who had sued in 2011 to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request for the memo. The court order makes it easier to for Paul to call for a public release, rather than just a release to Congress. [..]

Four years ago, David Barron opened a Pandora’s box, giving presidents an inadequately limited authority to kill Americans outside all normal judicial process. As Paul notes in his letter, it would simply be “irresponsible” for the Senate to confirm his nomination without discovering what the memo could reveal about his views on due process, civil liberties, and international law. In a letter to all 100 senators, the ACLU echoed this language, recalling the precedent of Jay Bybee. “No senator can meaningfully carry out his or her constitutional obligation to provide ‘advice and consent’ on this nomination to a lifetime position as a federal appellate judge without being able to read Mr. Barron’s most important and consequential legal writing.”

The Senate took such an irresponsible step in 2003 with Jay Bybee. It can avoid that mistake here.

Instead of appointing those who justify torture, rendition and assassinations to hight courts, we should be looking into their criminal culpability in the crimes that they are justifying in their legal briefs. Yet those briefs and memos remain classified as our representatives are asked to appoint these people to high positions for life.

Apr 12

Court Upholds Obama’s Power to Kill

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

We have gone down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass.

“Off With His Head”: Court Upholds Obama’s Power to Kill



Full transcript can be read here

Joining us now is Michael Ratner. Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the attorney for Julian Assange, and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He’s also a board member for The Real News. [..]

Michael Ratner: [..] In a chilling ruling this federal judge in this federal district court dismissed the case. And the key language from that opinion is: the government must be trusted. I want to repeat that: the judge said the government must be trusted. And here’s the exact quote: “Defendants must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the U.S. Constitution when they intentionally target a U.S. citizen abroad at the direction of the president and with the concurrence of Congress. It’s a really outrageous ruling. The president kills whom he pleases, just so Congress is given broad authority for the president to determine who the enemy is.

It’s an utter abdication by the court. It gives up on the so-called checks and balances we all learned as schoolchildren. It ends, actually, a key principle of the Magna Carta, which is the American and British charter of liberties, which was actually ratified or signed by King John in the year 1215. We’re coming up to the 800th anniversary. So what this court ruling does, what the president’s action does do is overturn 800 years of constitutional history.

Courts are supposed to be a buffer between what was the absolute power of kings and the people. We no longer have the rule of law; we have the rule of the king. In other words, we have the syndrome of “off with his head”.

Drone killings case thrown out in US

Judge dismisses lawsuit over death of Anwar al-Awlaki and two others in Yemen, saying it is a matter for Congress

The families of the three – including Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born militant Muslim cleric who had joined al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, as well as his teenage son – sued over their 2011 deaths in US drone strikes, arguing that the killings were illegal.

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the US district court in Washington threw out the case, which had named as defendants the former defence secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, the former senior military commander and CIA chief David Petraeus and two other top military commanders.

“The question presented is whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill U.S. citizens,” Collyer said in her opinion. “The question raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles and it is not easy to answer.”

But the judge said she would grant the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

Apr 09

#NotABugSplat

This is #NotABugSplat

#NotABugSplat photo jr_kpk_full_zps7f10cd11.jpg

Click on image to enlarge.

In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.

To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.

The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in order to make it a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites.

Pakistan 2004-2014 CIA Drone Strikes

Total strikes: 383

Obama strikes: 332

Total killed: 2,296-3,718

Civilians killed: 416-957

Children killed: 168-202

Injured: 1,089-1,639

New bill would force Barack Obama to publish US drone strike casualties

by Jack Serle, Bureau of Investigative Journalism

A bipartisan Bill that would force President Obama to reveal casualties from covert US drone strikes has been put before the US Congress.

If successful, the bill would require the White House to publish an annual report of casualties from covert US drone strikes.

The reports would include the total number of combatants killed or injured, the total number of civilians killed or injured, and the total number of people killed or injured by drones who are not counted as combatants or civilians.

The Bill would also compel the White House to reveal how it defines combatants and civilians in its covert drone war.

Past time to stop this wanton killing. It won’t win the nebulous, never ending “war on terror.”

Nov 25

Obama’s Drone War is not working

   Even Congress doesn’t want us to know the details of the Drone War.

 The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday rejected 15 to 5 what supporters call a “modest” proposal to require that the Obama administration publicly report those killed by U.S. drone strikes overseas.

 Why would they not want us to know how many “enemies” we killed, unless there is something about this War on Some Terror that we wouldn’t approve of?

 Fortunately there is enough information out there that we can piece together an approximate picture of what is happening.

Nov 24

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: “If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him” by Annieli

All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else. -The Buddha

Marx: “constant revolutionizing of production uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all precious ones. all fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

Unlike the Marshall Berman book, the reality of human conflict today is not so much about modernism as it is modernizing in the pre-industrial context, the civilizing and evolving, uneven yet parallel, paths from primitive, pre-modern communism through feudal modes of production, many of which still operate today whether the American Taliban or their calabash cousins in South Central Asia. The Koch Brothers, as corporate despots, are no different in their ideological commitments to devoting their wealth to an Anti-Communist Christianity that memorializes a martyr like John Birch and promotes inequality and suffering from uneven economic development. It is not a stretch to compare sacralized warfare and sectarian violence where today’s Oath Keepers see themselves as displaced Zen-samurai or Ronin of the Tokugawa Era. For example the original film The 47 Ronin directed by Kenji Mizoguchi is released near to the date of the Pearl Harbor attack. and the 1998 film of the same name by John Frankenheimer with script by David Mamet refers directly to the same historical event. ” The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era of Japanese history, in which Japan underwent modernization, and the legend became subsumed within discourses of national heritage and identity.”

The connection or family resemblance of feudal despotism and a repressive political state apparatus that attempts to control reproductive rights or democratic representation is now mobilized by ideology and ideological institutions such as Religions, Governments, and Mass Media and are mobilized much like Pat Buchanan’s meme of a Culture War. Its bastardization into a variety of discourses about race, class, and gender occupy much of the time and space of DK. As a matter of making the analysis of contemporary events, especially those exhibiting false consciousness like acts of racism or other violence clearer, some variants of Marxist methodology can be useful beyond some inerrant textual applications of Marxological theories. Excuse the lapse into the technical but the recent histories of human conflict as well as conflict among humans and nature require methods that can help make even the simplest of practices more coherent under the “shock doctrine” of crisis capitalism. There is a fluid boundary between culture war and actual war much as there is between abstract and concrete violence.

Althusser explains that the SA (State Apparatus) functions predominantly by violence or repression and only secondarily by ideology. Similarly the ISAs (Ideological State Apparatuses) function predominantly by ideology but can include punishment or repression secondarily.

This diary begins with a consideration of a recent book on Buddhist Warfare, a topic which has interested others as representative of the apparent contradiction of perhaps more Western stereotypes about the peaceful resistance to authoritarianism by some Buddhisms (Tibet) and the hegemonic behavior of other Buddhist majority regimes (Myanmar/Burma) where punishment or repression seems anomolous to a population significantly Buddhist. There is no space here to discuss the complex sectarian struggles of global religions and the focus here is on the material justification of cultural violence in the context of this recent book edited by Jerryson and Juergensmeyer Buddhist Warfare OUP 2010. The ideology of any religion and its worldly sectarian practices can be considered as some Marxists did in the last century as Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) in the case of the ambitions of early to mid 20th Century Japanese imperialism, Buddhism was manipulated to become an ISA in terms of forging a national will and an industrialized state to sacrifice for humans claiming the status of feudal deity-monarchs. In the cases of contemporary Thailand and Myanmar among others, the identity of Buddhism and a ruling class creates a complex set of contradiction for both Buddhist resistance movements and military-political elites no different structurally than many other regimes Marx described as an Asiatic mode of production, (AMP), and that Oriental Despotism reproduces itself structurally in many contemporary Asian corporatized ruling class economies that have many different oligarchic names such as Chaebol in South Korea, family-controlled corporate conglomerates. In Japan before World War II, large holding companies formed wealth groups, or zaibatsu, which dominated most industry. The zaibatsu were dissolved after the war, but keiretsu-large, modern industrial enterprise groupings-emerged. And the tensions between the imperatives for military and economic self-defense as well as the need for corporatist, oligarghic, yet familial expansion create more challenges for the many corresponding Buddhisms.

MSDF Hyuga, a contemporary Japanese aircraft carrier classified as a destroyer:

What is important for this brief narrative is the point of view reconciling the complexity of many Buddhisms within the context of such societies, the expansion of rationalized violence against a populace and the rationalizing discourse of remote killing. This is where the army does the killing so one’s own responsibility is intact. Drone warfare can represent the instrumental separation and distance possible and even resemble the Buddhist position or relative autonomy on just violence. In these cases, that group or even individual violence or exploitation are situated in a discourse of class struggle that has an ideological structure consistent with other capitalist and even pre-capitalist practices. There is some literature on the political economy of arbitrary seasonal regional violence in France in the late middle ages. This same discourse exists in the justification or rationalization of individual and group religious practices in military organizations working for governments that represent a separation of church and state. This is historically a relatively new term considering the number of theocratic regimes that do not recognize that formal or informal separation in contrast to democratic rules of law which attempt to keep public order in a republic despite the actions of corporate despots.


The theory of the Asiatic mode of production, (AMP) was devised by Karl Marx around the early 1850s. The essence of the theory has been described as “[the] suggestion … that Asiatic societies were held in thrall by a despotic ruling clique, residing in central cities and directly expropriating surplus from largely autarkic and generally undifferentiated village communities.” The theory continues to arouse heated discussion among contemporary Marxists and non-Marxists alike. Some have rejected the whole concept on the grounds that the socio-economic formations of pre-capitalist Asia did not differ enough from those of feudal Europe to warrant special designation. Aside from Marx, Friedrich Engels was also an enthusiastic commentator on the AMP. They both focused on the socio-economic base of AMP society.

Marx and Engels were trying to reconcile why development was uneven in the East Asian context, partially to explain European colonialism and the creation of spheres on influence based on new forms of extractible exchange in the form of mobile surplus value, in this case, opium as a medium of exchange value.



Opium Godown (Storehouse) in Patna, Bihar (c. 1814)

“China, one of those faltering Asian empires, which one after the other fell prey to the entrepreneurial spirit of the European race, was so weak, so much collapsed, that it did not even have the strength to go through the crisis of a people’s revolution, so that an acute indignation has turned into a chronic and probably incurable disease, an empire, so much decomposed, that it was almost unable to rule its own people or to offer resistance to the foreign aggressors”.

Asiatic mode of production

This is a controversial contribution to Marxist theory, initially used to explain pre-slave and pre-feudal large earthwork constructions in China, India, the Euphrates and Nile river valleys (and named on this basis of the primary evidence coming from greater “Asia”). The Asiatic mode of production is said to be the initial form of class society, where a small group extracts social surplus through violence aimed at settled or unsettled band communities within a domain. Exploited labour is extracted as forced corvee labour during a slack period of the year (allowing for monumental construction such as the pyramids, ziggurats, ancient Indian communal baths or the Chinese Great Wall). Exploited labour is also extracted in the form of goods directly seized from the exploited communities. The primary property form of this mode is the direct religious possession of communities (villages, bands, hamlets) and all those within them. The ruling class of this society is generally a semi-theocratic aristocracy which claims to be the incarnation of gods on earth. The forces of production associated with this society include basic agricultural techniques, massive construction and storage of goods for social benefit (granaries).

Yet colonial extraction and power projected itself easily into East Asia in the 19th Century, partially because of the kinds of labor agreements made in parallel with native merchant capitalists as well as a hegemonic ensemble of colonizing projects, each bringing its own version of Orientalist (sic) value to Europe. Yet concurrently and administrative violence brought to a country has its relatively autonomous indigenous religion still operating as an ISA in parallel to missionary Christianity where spiritual volition could be retained.

Cetanā  is a Buddhist term commonly translated as “volition”, “directionality”, or “attraction”. It can be defined as a mental factor that moves or urges the mind in a particular direction, toward a specific object or goal

It is no stretch to see the use of religion in legitimating state violence as seen in the image of the Taliban demolishing sacred Buddhist sites as motivating or rationalizing the initial invasion into Afghanistan and its continued use on a more informally profane way in the conduct of the subsequent wars. These are moments of justifying/rationalizing violence against self or Other (preemptive violence prevents a greater sin). In some historical cases they are the reasons for oppressing rival sects or religions to this day.

Oct 24

“Will I Be Next?”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Two recent reports on America’s drone wars reveal some very disturbing evidence that the use of drones is killing more civilians than the US wants to admit and that their use is a war crime. The report by Amnesty International (pdf) focused on the killing of Mamana Bibi, a 68 year old grandmother who was killed while picking vegetables in a field with her grandchildren in North Waziristan, Pakistan. A few minutes later a second strike injured family members trying to aid her. Amnesty International has stated that the drone strikes are unlawful amounting to war crimes or extrajudicial assassinations.

Based on rare access to North Waziristan, the region in Pakistan where most drone strikes have occurred, Amnesty International conducted detailed field research into nine drone strikes that occurred between January 2012 and August 2013 and which raise serious questions about violations of the right to life.

Among them is the October 2012 killing of 68-year old grandmother Mamana Bibi. She was killed in a double strike, apparently by a Hellfire missile, as she picked vegetables in the family’s fields and while surrounded by a handful of her grandchildren.

“We cannot find any justification for these killings,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher. “There are genuine threats to the U.S. and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or a grandmother surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.”

Amnesty International also documented cases of so-called “rescuer attacks” in which those who ran to the aid of the victims of an initial drone strike were themselves targeted in a follow-on attack. In a July 2012 case, 18 laborers, including 14-year-old Saleh Khan, were killed in multiple strikes on an impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work. Witnesses described a macabre scene of body parts and blood, panic and terror, as U.S. drones continued to hover overhead.

In addition to the threat of U.S. drone strikes, people in North Waziristan are frequently caught between attacks by armed groups and Pakistan’s armed forces. Al-Qa’ida-linked groups have killed dozens of local villagers they accused of being spies for U.S. drone strikes.

In the 97 page Human Rights Watch report (pdf), the focus was on drone strikes in Yemen between 2009 and 2013:

Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.

“The US says it is taking all possible precautions during targeted killings, but it has unlawfully killed civilians and struck questionable military targets in Yemen,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

As with the unfettered surveillance program, this must be brought out of the shadows and a full accounting of the hundreds of civilians killed. Those responsible for their deaths must be held accountable and brought to justice.

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