Nat Hentoff: Who needs trials? Kill terror suspects!

2009-11-12T00:00:00Z Nat Hentoff: Who needs trials? Kill terror suspects!NAT HENTOFF The Billings Gazette
November 12, 2009 12:00 am  • 

In October, during an interactive session with students in Pakistan, a female medical student praised Hillary Clinton for inspiring women, but then the same admirer asked the secretary of state how the United States justifies using those CIA remote-controlled Predator drone planes without sharing intelligence with the Pakistan military (The New York Times, Oct. 30). These airborne assassins kill civilians while targeting terror suspects in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Clinton refused comment on this expansive and lethal program, details of which are, of course, classified state secrets.

But another Pakistani woman flatly told Clinton that these drone devastations of suspected terrorist hideouts are like “executions without trials” (New York Daily News, Oct. 31).

The secretary of state’s blunt response about these sometimes-summary executions was: “There is a war going on.”

Predator concerns

On Oct. 27, as Agence France Press reported, our killer drones were confronted at the United Nations by Philip Alston, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions.

“My concern,” he said, “is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

Alston sent a strong message, without naming him, to President Obama: “We need the United States to be more upfront and say, ‘OK, we’re willing to discuss some aspects of this program,’ otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws” (AFP, Yahoo News, Oct. 27).

Is it possible that the CIA would actually commit alleged war crimes — and the U.S. government would not hold the CIA and itself accountable in any way?

Is water wet?

Wasn’t that a global charge against the CIA and the previous American administration? But isn’t this a new administration of transparency and accountability?

I eagerly await Obama’s answer to Alston on CIA extrajudicial executions on his own watch.

In the same Oct. 27 report, Agence France Press noted that “since August 2008, around 70 strikes by unmanned aircraft have killed close to 600 people in northwestern Pakistan.”

Were all of them terrorism suspects?

As Clinton found during her visit, many Pakistanis would like to know our answer to that — as well as to Alston’s additional question, which was so often asked of the Bush-Cheney regime: “I would like to know the legal basis upon which the United States is operating, in other words ... who is running the program, what accountability mechanisms are in place in relation to that.”

Once again, our credibility as a nation of laws is being questioned around the world, including in nations that are allies.

The CIA’s secret prisons, closed by Obama — and other gross CIA violations of our own statutes and international treaties we have signed — were valuable recruiting tools for terrorists. The Predator drones may now also be increasing the number of suicide bombers, and not only those directed by al-Qaida.

Igniting retaliation

In the Oct. 26 issue of the New Yorker, Jane Mayer has written an extraordinarily important, detailed account and analysis of “The Predator War.” To my great surprise, this incisive probe of the CIA’s secret remote-controlled assassinations of terror suspects, and unintended others, has received remarkably limited attention in the press. As Mayer said on Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” program on National Public Radio (Oct. 21): “You can’t really go around the globe killing people as the United States government without igniting some kind of retaliation. Once you start killing people on the other side of the world, you are going to, first of all, kill some of the wrong people, which this program has done.”

And, Mayer adds, instead of obliterating them, by capturing terrorism suspects, “you can then interrogate them and learn about what they’re trying to do and unravel any kind of plots before they’re carried out.”

Doesn’t that make some sense? And shouldn’t Congress be demanding accountability for these summary killings even if the president remains silent? And what of We the People, also silent?

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