Moral Low Ground


Obama Redefines ‘Militants’ to Mean ‘All Military-Age Males’ in Deceptive Attempt to Avoid Counting Civilian Deaths

On Tuesday, the world learned all about President Barack Obama’s “kill list” of suspected terrorists, some of them just teenagers, targeted for assassination by unmanned aerial drone strikes. A lengthy New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane detailed the supposedly painstaking process by which the commander-in-chief personally signs off on these targeted killings.

But buried about halfway into the story was the alarming revelation that the president has “embraced a disputed method” for counting innocent civilians killed in US air strikes, by which “all military-age males in a strike zone” are counted as combatants “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” According to the Times, “several administration officials” confirmed this method’s use.

“Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good,” wrote Becker and Shane.

This speculative and highly deceptive counting method could explain why Pentagon and administration officials are able to get away with claims of unbelievably low civilian death tolls.

At times, these claims have been proven to be outright lies. Such was the case with John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism czar and director of the National Counterterrorism Center under former President George W. Bush. In his capacity as the latter, he supported and defended the torture of terror suspects. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Speaking about US drone strikes in Pakistan last June, Brennan claimed that “in the last year, there hasn’t been a single death because of the exceptional proficiency [and] precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”

“If there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger,” he added.

As’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism thoroughly investigated Brennan’s claim and found it to be completely false. The London-based group counted at least 10 different US drone strikes in which no less than 45 civilians perished during Brennan’s so-called “casualty-free” year.

As Greenwald also notes, the Obama administration practice of counting all military-age males as militants has already been exposed as a lie. When a US drone strike in Yemen killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old Colorado native whose terrorist father Anwar had been assassinated two weeks earlier, Pentagon officials and much of the corporate mainstream US media called the teen– who was an innocent bystander— a “militant.”

The alarming practice of counting all military-aged men as militants is disturbingly reminiscent of the US rules of engagement in operations like the multiple attempts to gain control of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where American forces surrounded the city and refused to allow any males between the ages of 15 and 55 to leave.

“We were told… that every single person that was walking, talking, breathing was an enemy combatant,” Iraq war veteran Jeff Englehart told Democracy Now! “As such, every single person that was walking down the street or in a house was a target.” Hundreds of innocent civilians perished.

The method embraced by the president also harkens back to the Vietnam War, when US troops operating in “free-fire zones” were free to fire upon anyone they pleased. During the particularly brutal Phoenix Program, in which tens of thousands of innocent civilians were tortured and killed by US forces, Navy SEALs led by future Nebraska governor and US Senator Bob Kerrey slit the throats of unarmed women and children huddled in terror in a village hut. With logic not unlike that of Obama’s “all military-age males in a strike zone must be up to no good” hypothesis, CIA operative Robert Ramsdell, who was instrumental in planning the 1968 massacre of 504 civilians at My Lai, declared that “anyone in that area was considered a VC sympathizer because they couldn’t survive… unless they were sympathizers.”

The latest revelations about Obama’s willingness to deceive the American public, and the world, about the nature– and number– of those killed in the US-led War on Terror gives lie to the president’s claims that he, and our military leaders, really care about the lives of the innocent people in places being invaded, occupied or bombed by US forces. If the administration officials who blew the whistle on the deplorable Obama practice of counting all military-age males as miltants are brave enough to identify themselves, we could have proof that the president may be guilty of war crimes. And that would make him but the latest in a long procession of US presidents going back at least as far as Franklin D. Roosevelt to wear that ugly moniker.

"Militant," or innocent military-aged man? To Obama, they're one and the same. (Photo: IMC Miami)

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  1. rebecca smithJanuary 7, 2013 at 11:05 pmReply

    guess that’s how he won the Nobel Peace Prize

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 7, 2013 at 11:48 pmReplyAuthor

      The Nobel Peace Prize is often a joke. They gave the damn thing to Henry Kissinger!

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