When are killing and murder divided?   Where is the line that separates the two--one legitimate, the other immoral, illegal and morally corrupt?   War, or the clouds of it, shadows morality.  It offers those in power opportunity to elect new rules and to twist others in the heat of war's boiling cauldron.   America has authorized the assassination of at least seven "targets."  Is that what we're about?  Does it corrupt our status as a role model for the children of the world?   You be the judge!


Thursday--December 19, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 463
The Assassination Of Democracy

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 19--Assassination is a dirty word.   Donald Rumsfield, Secretary of Defense, avoids using it even though he, in concert with the White House, has targeted at least seven Terrorists for capture or death, preferably the latter.  It's quicker, faster.   And, it makes headlines faster than trials.
         I was shocked back in early November when I read that a CIA Predator had stalked an al-Qaeda leader into the Yemen desert and blew it and its five passengers to oblivion with a Hellfire missile.  No attempt was made to stop the vehicle and capture the suspected Terrorists.   They were marked for death.
         Rumsfield calls people marked for death, "valued targets."   Seven such have been authorized by the White House--marked for death.   The one in the Yemen desert, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, was the chief suspect and alleged mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Aden harbor in the fall of 2000.
         That's one assassination down, and six to go.   And, we're not counting the five passengers in the car with al-Harethi when the CIA Predator attacked.

Seymour M. Hersh on the Soapbox of Vigilance

           In this week's issue of The New Yorker, journalist Seymour M. Hersh offers chilling insight into a rampant policy by the U.S. Administration that is shifting the moral balance of American war policy from democratic killing to totalitarian killing.
          Democratic killing is done under a moral veil that requires one to kill as a "last resort."  It suggests that the enemy has a right to live if he's waving a flag or unarmed, and anyone who "kills for killing's sake" is subject to prosecution for murder.
           Totalitarian killing allows the leaders of the nation/state to elect who has "human rights" and who doesn't.  Valued Targets such as al-Harethi have none.   According to the new policy enacted by the White House, America can now hunt down and kill just about anyone they want to with impunity--or, assumed impunity.   The rules for such killing are not open to argument.  They are made up by those who make the rules.
           I am especially sensitive to "assassinations" because I was part of many of them in Vietnam, and each one sickened me.   There's something horribly wrong about killing an unarmed man or woman without a trial, without a judge, without a jury.
           What's worse is when the policy of assassination flows down from the top, and it infects a 19-year-old who takes the policy of assassination at the highest level and starts to apply it at the lowest level--killing innocent people on a whim, and alleging all those he killed were the "enemy," thus justifying his acts whether they were armed or not, whether they posed an immediate clear and present danger.

Were any "valued targets" slain in the My Lai Massacre?

          It is one thing for Lieutenant William Calley to go off the deep end and slaughter a village of women and children when the taste of blood is fresh in his mouth and he's sick of seeing his men killed or maimed by V.C. booby traps and snipers harbored by the villagers, and yet another to have the President of the United States and his advisors to create a "black list" and hunt down the "valued targets" with the same abandon that Lt. Calley displayed in at My Lai on March 16, 1968.
           Somewhere in the pack of innocent people Lt. Calley ordered shot to death thirty-four years ago was an "enemy," a Viet Cong bent on killing them.   Calley happened to kill everything in sight that day to get to the "target."
          In November of this year, the CIA Predator blew a car full of people to bits.  It targeted only one person, al-Harethi.  The rest of the victims were collateral.    They could have been women and children. They happened to be linked to al-Qaeda, or so we are told.   The Predator stalked the car based on al-Harethi cell phone calls.  There were no ground spotters to affirm who was in the car. 
          As a U.S. Marine, we took pride in killing.   While that may seem oxymoronic, it isn't.   A trained, professional warrior peaks when he is fighting another trained professional warrior.  Killing unarmed people is no feather in any true warrior's bonnet.   Anyone can do that.  That's not the role of a "professional warrior," thus there is honor, no glory, no dignity in such an act.

A professional warrior utilizing Vigilance earns honor, glory and dignity

        In fact, killing the unarmed is a violation of a true warrior's pact with all the other warriors of history.  It reduces one to simply being a Beast of Terror, no better than the worst of vermin.  Perhaps that's why I vomited when I watched the brutal torture and killing of prisoners, and often reached for my .45 with an urge to kill those who were administering the torture.   In my memoirs--The Pain Game--relating various experiences I had as both a "trained killer (Marine) and a "writer" (Combat Correspondent)--I relate the angst of being torn between the narrow moral path and the quagmire of the immoral one.
          Unfortunately, blood splatters indiscriminately when kneeling prisoners with their hands behind their backs begging for their lives are being machine gunned to death five feet away from you.  It still sticks to my soul's pores.
        The idea that the United States government at the highest levels of leadership sanction and promote as well as publicize the assassination of the enemy stirs my guts.  I want to vomit when I hear Donald Rumsfeld bragging about the violation of all moral warrior principles and hiding behind "new rules" he and the White House have manufactured to justify the assassination of democracy.
        It is my belief that democracy's moral fiber is either strengthened or weakened by how we conduct ourselves in war.    Since war is the opportunity for us to shed our civilized clothing or pull it tighter, the idea we are stripping ourselves of moral restraints on the killing of people for "killing's sake" seems to strike at the heart of democracy.   It means our victims have no rights to life.  It means we have become God, and in the process, the Devil.

Do we strive for Good or Evil?

        State endorsed assassinations have been anathema since 1975 when the plot to assassinate Fidel Castro was made public.  Senator Frank Church led a subcommittee at the time that concluded such plotting "violates moral precepts fundamental to our way of life....We reject absolutely any notion," he said, "that the United States should justify its actions by the standards of totalitarians....Of course, we must defend our democracy.  But in defending it, we must resist undermining the very virtues we are defending."
        President Gerald Ford, in 1976, signed an executive order banning political assassinations.   That order remains in force today.
        Now comes the rub.
        "What is a political assassination?"

        High powered lawyers find wiggle room in answering that question.   Scouring the Law of War books, the Administration hides behind the phrase if the target "is part of combatant force, a guerrilla force or a terrorist or other organization whose actions pose a threat to the security to the United States" killing them is not assassination.
        For more specific details on the issue, I refer you to Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker titled Manhunt.
        My issue is the breeding of the Beast of Terror within the citizens of America, and the Complacency of allowing the Administration to violate the charters of a "just war."
        Assassination trickles down.
        When government openly sanctions it, regardless of it disguises, it sends a horrible signal to our children, and their children's children's children that "killing without honor" is okay.   It can be twisted such that a young 19-year-old believes he has some "right" to shoot innocent people in and around Washington D.C. with a sniper rifle because he has deemed those people "valued targets" and as such, can circumvent the true "Rules of War."
         The basic Rules of War have always held that warriors do not kill other warriors who are not an immediate threat to them.  They take them prisoner.

Execution in Vietnam 1968

        In the Yemen desert, there was no attempt to take al-Harethi prisoner.  No Special Forces team were sitting in ambush or ready to storm the lonely car traveling in a desolate area.   The reason given was that al-Harethi had escaped many traps before, and "we're going to get him this time."
         In a mad political rush, America released the news just prior to the mid-term elections, violating what author Hersh said was a pact with the Yemen government to issue a joint release.   The implication was that the assassination had strong political overtones and was conducted to help boost votes for the "Warriors of Terrorism" and to add defeat to the Democrats who opposed aggressive U.S. unilateral actions rushing us toward war with Iraq.

Lt. William Calley, commanded by the Beast of Terror

        I think back to William Calley.  Under the precepts the White House is using, Lt. Calley might have gotten off had he been able to identify one V.C. who was a "valued target" amidst those 100 or more women and children.   It was hard in Vietnam to distinguish a "guerrilla" from a non-combatant.  Women and even children were capable of both shooting and carrying satchel charges on their backs to blow up troops.   While there is no justification for the rampant killing of unarmed combatants or non-combatants, under the White House's interpretation of the Laws of War, Lt. Calley would have had a strong defense.  He could have called Donald Rumsfeld as an expert witness for the defense had the case been tried today.
         Was is ugly.
          I carry many scars from it on my soul.  I see many eyes of innocent people looking at me in the night, just b before bullets ripped the life out of them, or knives cut their throats, or rifle butts smashed their faces into bloody pulps.   Each one of those deaths is a stigmata, not only in my body, but in the body of democracy.
         I think of the six other "valued targets" the White House has authorized the non-judicial assassination of under their interpretation of the Law of War.   My viscera coils when I think about it.
         I think of explaining to my grandchildren the justification of sending a C.I.A. unmanned Predator to kill a car full "valued targets" and find my lips frozen.  While I want to support every "honorable warrior" who faces the enemy in battle, and support the destruction and elimination of Terrorism, I cannot endorse the idea that "assassination" is a tool we should advocate or promote.
        I saw what it did to young men and myself who were authorized under the "free fire zone" to kill anything that moved with impunity.   After a while, it all came down to body count--killing for killing's sake. 
        Terrorism, I believe, can't be killed.   It can't be assassinated.   For every Terrorist we assassinate, it breeds ten-fold.   And, what frightens me most, they are bred within us.
        When we take the honor out of killing and  we take the respect out of war, we suck the marrow of our democratic principles from the roots of a nation whose moral plane always struggled to be at least one percent above the Beast of Terror it hunted.

The Beast of Terror, the Professional Assassin

        Assassination as a national principle and measure of conduct drops us down to the primordial ooze in which Terrorism wallows.
         It makes us become the Beast we hunt.
        If Terrorism is about Fear, Intimidation and Complacency, and Vigilance is about facing Fear with Courage, and Intimidation with Conviction, and Complacency with Right Action, then it is time we stopped kowtowing to the masturbation of the Laws of War by the Administration, and rendered their ability to whittle America's war morality into immorality, impotent.
        Parents of Vigilance, Grandparents of Vigilance, Citizens and Loved Ones of Vigilance should stand up and shout out against the idea of "valued targets" and "assassination" as a crime against our children, and their children's children.
       As the policies of American government to maximize body count leaked down from the top to My Lai, and created in a young man the idea he could kill non-combatants with impunity, so will the principle of the killing of al-Harethi by a C.I.A. Predator leak down to the men and women who fight in our next conflict.
        When we start assassinating people, the Sentinels of Vigilance hovering above Ground Zero shudder.   They feel the quake of the Beast of Terror marching toward them, only it's coming not from the Middle East, but from Washington D.C.
        If you haven't, take the Pledge of Vigilance today!
       Don't let Democracy be assassinated.


Dec. 18--Feed Terrorism Starve Vigilance

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