'War on Terror' or War to Inflict State Terror?...
By Ernest A. Canning on 12/14/2010, 7:13pm PT  

Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning

In "Plumbing the Depths of Lawless Executive Depravity", I argued that targeted assassinations threaten the very foundation of our republic. This occurs not only due to the potential for collateral damage but due to the distinct possibility that many whom we target as "suspected" terrorists may be entirely innocent.

A more recent article of mine here, "WikiLeaks' Pakistan, Yemen Cables Expose Unchecked Executive Power, 'Hatred for Democracy'" addressed a specific form of targeted assassinations --- the predator drone strike. In it, I noted that the secret expansion of such strikes into Pakistan and Yemen, as confirmed by diplomatic cables recently published by WikiLeaks and their media partners, reflected a dangerous usurpation of power by the Executive branch.

These two articles, and former CIA field operative Robert Baer, in a must-see RethinkAfganistan.com video (embedded at end of this article), assume the targets of the drone strike are suspected insurgents and terrorists. Both of them deal with the counterproductive effect of unintended civilian deaths ("collateral damage") which serves to destabilize "friendly" governments, provide a recruiting tool for those bent on revenge, and increase the likelihood of "blowback," a CIA term that describes "the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people."

Have Baer and I erred in assuming these strikes are not aimed at civilians?...

Considering the Unthinkable: An Intended Civilian Body Count

Despite the many documented lies from public officials, a good number of Americans (self-described "9/11 truthers" excepted) share an unstated assumption that our government has waged war in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan and Yemen in order to prevent another 9/11. We have targeted terrorists, the government tells us, and, in targeting terrorists, civilians become unintended casualties; "collateral damage."

The question arises as to who is the terrorist?

As I noted in "'Terrorism,' 'State Terrorism,' and Point of View", quoting terrorism scholar Michael Stohl:

The use of terror tactics is common in international relations, and the state has been and remains a more likely employer of terrorism within the international system than insurgents....Not all acts of state violence are terrorism....In terrorism the violence threatened or perpetrated, has purposes broader than simple physical harm to a victim. The audience of the act or threat of violence is more important than the immediate victim.

Under Stohl's definition, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki presented a classic case of "state terrorism" for, irrespective claims that these "saved American lives," the "audience of the act" was Japan's political and military leadership in Tokyo. The message: Surrender or you're next!

That type of "effects-based" effort forms a fundamental component of the "shock and awe" strategy employed in Iraq. As explained by U.S. Air Force Col. Gary L. Crowder one day after U.S. bombs began falling on Iraq:

The effects that we are trying to create [are] to make it so apparent and so overwhelming at the very outset of potential military operations that the adversary quickly realizes that there is no real alternative here other than to fight and die or to give up.

While, as reported by Slate, military strategists present this strategy in relation to so-called "precision bombing" that provides the "ability to deliver desired effects with minimal risk and collateral damage ensur[ing] decisive dominance [and] den[ying] the enemy sanctuary," a substantial body of evidence reveals that the U.S. military has either deliberately targeted non-combatants or that it recognizes that its bombs are not so "smart."

Consider, for example, a Global Research report by Prof. Marc C. Herold pertaining to the much touted "precision bombing" at the outset of the war in Afghanistan [emphasis added]:

The families of Noor Mohammed, 57, and Abdul Ghafur had fled the tiny farming hamlet of Mohammed Khan Kalatcha, about 12 miles southwest of Kandahar, comprising six adobe houses and 116 inhabitants. The village had begun being bombed at 10 p.m. on November 30th with bombs falling on the vineyards and pomegranate trees. The following morning, the villagers saw fifty yellow BLU-97 cluster bomblets. The two families decided to flee and boarded the tractor and trailer at 7 a.m. At about 9 a.m. it was rumbling over a bumpy road in the middle of a flat, desolate expanse of barren desert. It was clear and sunny. A U.S plane appeared and flew over at a high altitude, then dipped lower, dropped a bomb which landed 15 feet from the tractor, circled again, and...fired a missile. The huge explosion killed 8 civilians instantly.

Herold claimed the bombing of Afghan civilians was "relentless," yet ignored by U.S. media.

In War Made Easy, Norman Solomon questioned the military's claim that a Nov. 13, 2001 missile strike on the al Jazeera bureau in Kabul was because it was an al Qaeda building. Solomon contends the military had known for two years that the building, which had satellite dishes on its roof, housed only al Jazeera. He also reports that, in order to hide the inordinate number of civilian deaths from the American people, the Pentagon spent millions to acquire the exclusive rights to all photos obtained by the Ikonos satellite.

The missile strike on al Jazeera's Kabul office was by no means the only instance in which the issue of seemingly intentional targeting of journalists has arisen. On April 8th, 2003 a U.S. Army tank opened fire on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, killing Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish television network Telecinco. While the U.S. military, which was aware that the hotel housed both American and foreign journalists, claimed the shooting was an accident, Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne (Ret.) informed Democracy Now that she saw secret US military documents which listed the hotel as a possible target.

More recently, a State Department cable, released by WikiLeaks, revealed that the U.S. had pressured Spanish authorities to drop litigation initiated by Couso's relatives in response to the U.S. attacks.

As The BRAD BLOG previously reported, the Daily Mirror exposed a "Top Secret" UK memo which asserted that, on April 16, 2004, George W. Bush told then British P.M. Tony Blair "that he [Bush] wanted to bomb al Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere" and that "Blair replied that would cause a big problem. There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do --- and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it."

If the purpose of this perpetual "war on terror" were truly that of protecting the American people, then surely our leaders, who have had access to scholars inside and outside of the government, would understand that indiscriminate bombing is counterproductive and likely to lead to blowback, just as they fully understand that torture is useless as a means for obtaining actionable intelligence, not to mention being illegal and counterproductive.

Here, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine provides an astute, if not groundbreaking, analysis:

The widespread abuse of prisoners is a virtually foolproof indication that politicians are trying to impose a system --- whether political, religious or economic --- that is rejected by large numbers of people they are ruling. Just as ecologists define ecosystems by the presence of certain ‘indicator species’..., torture is an indicator species of a regime that is engaged in a deeply anti-democratic project, even if that regime happens to have come to power through elections.

Placed within the context of the corporate Empire so aptly described by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and the neocon military doctrine of "full spectrum dominance," one may see the so-called "war on terror" as a war to inflict state terror on the victim populations.

Support for the theory that the U.S. intends to inflict civilian casualties can be found in the U.S. decision to employ Cluster Munitions during the Dec. 17, 2009 cruise missile strike in Yemen which killed 41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children and, as cited above, by the use of Cluster Munitions at the outset of the bombing of Afghanistan; in the U.S. refusal to sign onto the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which "prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions," and in the arrangements made with the U.K., which had signed the CCM, to violate its provisions by temporarily storing Cluster Munitions on behalf of the U.S.

Moreover, according to Vincent Warren, the Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (see RethinkAfghanistan.com video below) 98% of the victims of drone strikes inside Pakistan are civilians.

The U.S. military describes "submunitions" as "small explosive-filled or chemical-filled items designed for saturation coverage of a large area" [emphasis added]. It notes: "Saturation of unexploded submunitions has become a characteristic of the modern battlefield," then goes on to express concern not for civilian casualties but for "fratricide," e.g. the danger posed to U.S. and allied forces who later occupy areas where cluster munitions have been employed, even as the military defines "unexploded ordinance" as an “explosive ordnance which has been primed, fused, or otherwise prepared for action, and which has been fired, dropped, launched, projected, or placed in such a manner as to constitute a hazard to operations, installations, personnel or material and remains unexploded either by malfunction or design or for any other cause."

Human Rights Watch argues that cluster munitions, by design, "pose unacceptable dangers to civilians."

They pose an immediate threat during conflict by randomly scattering thousands of submunitions or "bomblets" over a vast area, and they continue to take even more civilian lives and limbs long after a conflict has ended, as hundreds of submunitions may fail to explode upon impact, littering the landscape with landmine-like "duds."

As the Convention on Cluster Munitions was garnering support from 100 nations opposed to the use of such brutal weaponry, "US [State Department] spokesman Robert Wood said that the Bush administration considers the bombs essential in modern warfare."

The question as to whether the U.S. intends to strike fear in the victim populations (both civilian and armed resistance) must be considered in the context of even deadlier non-nuclear weaponry that it has likely applied.

Consider the description Dr. Helen Caldicott provided in The New Nuclear Danger of the 15,000 lb. fuel air explosive (FAE) which the Pentagon has given the cute little name, "Daisy Cutter":

Dropped by parachute…, they detonate just above the ground creating a wide area of devastation. The first explosion bursts the container at a predetermined height, disbursing the fuel which mixes with the atmospheric oxygen. The second charge then detonates this fuel-air cloud, creating a massive blast that kills people and destroys un-reinforced buildings. Near the ignition point people are obliterated, crushed to death with overpressures of 427 pounds per square inch, and incinerated at temperatures of 2500 to 3000 degrees centigrade. Another wave of low pressure --- a vacuum effect --- ensues. People in the second zone…are severely burned and suffer massive internal injuries before they die. In the third zone, eyes are extruded from their orbits, lungs and eardrums rupture, and severe concussion ensues….Up to 200 civilians died 20 miles away from the cave complex in…Tora Bora when U.S. planes attacked. They suffered blast trauma --- ruptured lungs, blindness, arms and hands blown off, almost certainly from FAEs.

In "'Terrorism,' 'State Terrorism,' and Point of View", I not only pointed to the U.S. "shock and awe" Iraq war strategy, modeled on the Nazi blitzkrieg, but to the bloody 2004 second assault that leveled Falluja, an Iraqi town approximately the size of Cincinnati --- an assault so brutal that it led independent journalist, Dahr Jamail, along with The Guardian's Jonathan Steele to compare it to the infamous April 27, 1937 Nazi destruction of Guernica, a small Basque village in northern Spain that became a testing ground for Adolf Hitler's incendiary bombs. Guernica burned for three days, killing or wounding some 1,600 civilians.

I noted:

While the American forces contend that a large insurgent force was trapped inside [Falluja], a significant question exists as to whether most of the insurgents had fled the city in advance of the deadly assault --- an assault which Jamail contends resulted in the massacre of between 4,000 and 6,000 civilians.

Ali Fadhil, one of the first independent journalists permitted to enter Falluja some two months after the siege had ended, noted not only how shocked he was by the devastation, but asserted that most of the dead were civilians and that they were deliberately massacred:

They were men who stayed behind in the city to protect their homes. I say this because we found bodies in groups of two or three or four. It was Ramadan, and people naturally gather together for Iftar, the first meal after fasting. We found bodies right behind their front doors. It looked to me as if they had opened their front doors to the Americans and had been immediately shot dead.

In my recent piece, I argued that "the US military and [then Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld had intended, by means of the two assaults on Fallujah, to apply such a deadly and massive display of force as to strike fear in the hearts of Iraqis everywhere: 'Resist and we will destroy you, your cities, your families.'" I noted that the military's effort to bar independent journalists was an effort to prevent anyone from bearing witness to a massacre; that this concealment was thwarted when al Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Mansur and cameraman Laith Mushtaq found a way into the city where they remained, un-embedded for the duration of the first assault on Falluja.

Mushtaq said:

The...first two days...we were unable to go even to the bathroom, because in Fallujah...the bathroom is usually outside the rooms, so whenever we opened the door to the bathroom, we see the laser pointed at us...I saw an elderly lady...with her children, going on a big truck to leave Fallujah. After a quarter of an hour later, she came back in pieces.

Mushtaq spoke of a man named Hamudi, whose house had been bombed along with the entire neighborhood, “and they brought the corpses and bodies to the hospital,” where the scene was “like a sea of corpses...mostly children.... I was...forcing myself to take photographs, while I was at the same time crying.” Hamudi was the only survivor in his family. Mushtaq took pictures of Hamudi speaking to his infant son Ahmed, who was asleep with a toy car in his hand. "Half his head was gone.... I could not really find any one human being in one piece or intact.... It’s bombing of airplanes."

What we are left with is competing theories --- former CIA field operative Baer's assumption, which I previously shared, that civilian casualties are but an unintended but inevitable consequence of predator drone strikes vs. a theory that civilian deaths are an intended part of a war designed to terrorize both civilians and armed resistance fighters. I'll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.

'Blowback' as a source of perpetual war

Weapons manufacturers openly acknowledge that the existence of a credible threat bolsters military spending. That threat would be eliminated if it were somehow possible to eliminate "terrorism."

One does not have to reach the conclusion that "blowback" is an intended result to understand that an increase in terrorist activities in response to predator drone strikes will likely enhance the military-industrial complex' bottom line any more than one need agree with the self-described "9/11 truth" movement's claims in order to appreciate that 9/11 has served as a boon to war profiteers and mercenaries. Indeed, at a time when the American working class is experiencing hardships not seen since the Great Depression, the military budget for FY 2011, at $708 billion, "is 33 percent larger than the peak of Pentagon budgets during the Vietnam War and 64 percent higher than the Cold War average."

While readers will have to draw their own conclusions, I will leave out there the unassailable fact that there is a convergence between the likely blowback which flows from the horrific toll occasioned by predator drone strikes and the financial interests of war profiteers.

Where is the outrage?

On May 2, 1970, within two days of President Nixon's announced incursion into Cambodia, protests erupted on college campuses all over the country. On May 4, 1970 four students were shot and killed; nine wounded when the National Guard opened fire upon unarmed demonstrators at Ohio's Kent State University, resulting in a firestorm of public protest in which "over 400 colleges and universities across America shut down. In Washington, 100,000 protesters surround[ed] various government buildings including the White House and historical monuments."

Within the past two weeks, State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks were released confirming that two successive Presidents have taken us into war in Pakistan and Yemen without Congressional consent or even the slightest public debate; yet one would have trouble finding so much as a murmur of protest on any of our nation's college campuses, or, for that matter, on the streets or in the corporate media.

In a later piece, I'll address why. In the interim, for those whose conscience tells them "enough," there is a petition one can sign.

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RethinkAfghanistan.com video follows...


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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).