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Opinion | The United States' 'shadow': Dirty wars leave us with blood stains on our hands

Milam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On October 18, 2013

Since 9/11, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was bolstered with money and support from Congress and both former President Bush and President Obama in order to turn the world into a battlefield.

The weekend of Oct. 5 was a unique representation of this shift in military might and strategy: the United States conducted commando raids in Libya and Somalia. In Libya, they arrested Abu Anas al-Libi, a top al-Qaida operative, said to be behind the 1998 bombings of Kenya and Tanzania. The latter saw Navy Seals raid Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, said to be looking for senior al-Shabab leader, Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, alias Ikrima. It is still unclear whether Ikrima was killed, according to NPR.

Jeremy Scahill, war journalist and author of the book Dirty Wars, referred to these operations as f-cubed.

"You find your target, you fix their location, and then you finish them off...or in the case of Libya, by actually sending in Delta Forces to snatch someone off the streets of another nation," Scahill said.

JSOC's reach truly is global, as Scahill explained. Operation forces operate in the Horn of Africa targeting Somalia terrorists, in the Philippines working with their Special Operations to go after Islamic militant organizations and in Mexico and Columbia working with their Counter Narcotics units.

Peter Bergen, national security analyst for CNN, argued President Obama has grown comfortable with deploying special operation forces in countries the United States is not at war with.

"For the White House, part of the appeal of special operations and drones is that they do not, of course, consume anything like the blood and treasure that are expended on conventional military operations such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Bergen.

Propelled by Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal back in 2003, JSOC now has its own drones, air force, and intelligence operations; it has become, as Bergen said, a small army within the military.

While all four branches of government faced cuts during the shutdown, which ended this week, JSOC actually grew.

Even the CIA has not achieved the level of secrecy afforded to the JSOC. For instance, President Obama gave JSOC the rare authority to select individuals for its kill list - and then to kill, rather than capture them, according to The Washington Post.

JSOC now conducts covert operations in over 75 countries and numbers approximately 25,000, according to NBC News. While the raids in Libya and Somalia became known, much of JSOC's actions are not subject to congressional review and most assuredly, the American people are not privy to their missions.

Shane Harris at Foreign Policy expanded upon this, saying, "The Obama administration has killed far more suspected terrorists and militants with drones and special operations strikes than it has brought back to face justice in the U.S. courts system."

Certainly then, the capture of al-Libi is a welcome change to the assassination authority and the right path forward. Terrorism ought to be treated like the crime it is, rather than the impetus for a perpetual global war.

However, the secrecy, the questionable legality and the consequences of current operations and mandates, mostly in the form of the continuing drone war, are cause for much concern.

Some, such as American author and journalist Michael W. Lewis, have argued drones are the best option compared to either troops on the ground or inaction.

"It is clear that drones remain the best option available to minimize the negative effects of the conflict on civilians while continuing to disrupt the Taliban," Lewis said.

Yet, even he made mention of how much friction the JSOC's nighttime raids in Afghanistan caused.

James Cavallaro, professor at Stanford Law School, provided a worthwhile summation of the best path forward I spoke of, which expands the options Lewis had considered.

"A law enforcement approach that privileges intelligence-gathering, aggressive investigation and meaningful efforts to arrest and detain, all guided by the rule of law," Cavallaro said.

Our drone strikes in Pakistan, especially, are not popular. According to a Pew Research Poll, only 17 percent of Pakistanis supports drone strikes, even if the American government works with their government.

Nevertheless, an article in The Atlantic disputed those results based on the notion that most Pakistanis were not even aware of the drone program.

The article's authors said, "Among those who were aware of the drone program, less-educated respondents were more likely to oppose it whereas the better-educated were more likely to support it."

Still, even if the Pakistanis supported the drone war, it should give us pause, for instance, that, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 200 children have been killed since 2004 in drone strikes, with total civilian casualty estimates as high as 926.

Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out about the right of girls to get an education, met with President Obama Oct. 11. She expressed her concern with the drone war, specifically in Pakistan. She made mention that the drone attacks were fueling terrorism.

"Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people," Yousafzai said. "If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."

I find it troubling that one of the forerunners to win the Nobel Peace Prize (she lost to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) had to relay such a sensible and well, peaceful, sentiment to a Nobel Peace Prize-winner.

A Navy Seal, speaking to the Washington Post said this about his unit, "We're the dark matter. We're the force that orders the universe but can't be seen."

President Obama, Congress and the American people have innocent foreigners' blood on their hands every day JSOC is allowed to operate with impunity and in the dark.

As Malala said, there are avenues we can take as a country, whether it is education or turning counterterrorism into to a more law enforcement, intelligence-gathering apparatus, to combat terrorism without comprising our legal framework and our morals.

It is long overdue that we rethink our foreign policy and our approach to terrorism. As Scahill said, "We cannot kill our way to peace."

Check out the trailer for Jeremy Scahill's documentary based on his book with the same name:

If you have Netflix Instant, the documentary is now available for viewing there.

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