|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!
19, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 463
The Assassination Of Democracy
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
It makes us become the Beast we
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
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
Don't let Democracy be assassinated.
Dec. 18--Feed Terrorism Starve Vigilance
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