A day after our last post summarising the FT’s Oil, blood and the west’s double standards, by Philip Stephens, Toby Harnden, US Executive Editor of the Mail Online, weighs in. He has form: see one review of his latest book, ‘Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Real Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan’:
As someone living with the after effects of the tour – my son was critically injured by an IED explosion – I thought this was an excellent (if difficult) read. Toby pulls no punches in his narrative. The MOD should hang their heads in shame. Under resourced and poorly equipped The Guards were up against it. Their spirit and determination shine through and the humour is palpable.
People asked me didn’t I get angry when my son was injured? At the time I was just incredibly thankful he was still with us, now reading the catalogue of failings and complete ineptitude of the “top brass” I am feeling anger. Anger on behalf of the families of those who didn’t make it back, they lost so much and their lives changed forever, and on a lesser scale, anger for those (and there are many), like my son, whose lives and future will be such an ongoing struggle.
MOD – read and be shamed by your penny pinching, your internal politics, and your incompetence in managing scarce resources. Resources, I might add, that would have saved lives. Lt Colonel Thornaloe was right to criticise the lack of helicopters. The low metal content IED’s put every single soldier at risk on a daily basis. Resupply missions by road, based on the IED threat? Justify that if you can.
Toby Harnden writes: “So much for that Nobel Peace Prize!” before terming the man who studied St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas’ Just War theory as ‘Lord High Executioner’.
President Obama receives his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009
Harnden surmises that “as increasing numbers of America’s critics – and many Americans themselves – begin to question Obama’s eagerness to use drones to kill the guilty and innocent, the Nobel Prize committee may already be regretting its decision”.
Recounting that at meetings held in the Situation Room in the White House, chaired by President Barack Obama and including up to two dozen intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, Obama pronounces on the fate of each suspect group “like a latter-day Roman emperor sitting in life-or-death judgment on his gladiators”, he continues:
“Those receiving the metaphorical thumbs-down are condemned to be blown to pieces in some distant, dusty corner of Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen by a Hellfire missile or GBU-12 smart bomb launched from a CIA Reaper drone and controlled thousands of miles away back in the U.S.
“Indeed, Predator and Reaper drones have revolutionised the terms of military combat – leaving the enemy with almost nowhere to hide. A single USAF pilot stationed in Nevada can drive home and sit down for supper with his family just a few hours after killing dozens of people in Pakistan by using a remote-control aircraft.”
Harnden points out that Obama entered the White House, “having vilified Bush and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, as gun-slinging warmongers whose authorisation of Guantanamo torture, extraordinary rendition flights (the extrajudicial transfer of suspects from one country to another) and the CIA’s secret ‘black site’ prisons had besmirched America’s reputation.”
He notes Senator Obama’s explanation of the 9/11 attacks as being due to ‘a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers’ and that this grew from ‘a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair’ and his voiced intention to raise ‘the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe’ while ensuring ‘that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad’.
In opposition, Obama opposed the detention without trial of suspects at Guantanamo bay, but has since become willing to continue rendition flights and secret tribunals but as President, he preserved the options of rendition flights, secret military tribunals and indefinite detention without trial, escalated “an assassination programme that ensured few interrogations would need to take place”.
Video footage of dead children, as well as tribesmen displaying parts of U.S. missiles, probably helped the Al Qaeda cause, doing more damage to America’s image than if its target had been allowed to live.
Though Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, did not pose a direct threat to the U.S. Obama approved his assassination, though he knew his family would also die. Similarly, a drone attack in Yemen in December 2009 killed not only the target, but two innocent families.
Reporting growing widespread criticism of Obama’s actions across the U.S, Harnden quotes satirist Stephen Colbert merciless lampooning of Obama’s tactics. ‘It’s brilliant!’ he said with heavy irony. ‘He doesn’t have to worry about habeas corpus, because after a drone strike, sometimes you can’t even find the corpus. The only problem is, occasionally our drones kill civilians.’
The appalling final words: the posthumous innocent
“Perhaps most disturbing, the Obama administration addressed the issue of civilian casualties by classifying all military-age males in a strike zone as ‘terrorists’ unless, as the New York Times put it, ‘there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent’.”