62 Somalians were killed in four U.S. precision airstrikes over the weekend, the U.S. military said in a statement Monday.
Nobody knows the identities of the 62 people who were killed, but just as it nearly always does after deadly missions such as this one, the U.S. military immediately claimed that the dead were “terrorists” and “militants,” and also as usual, the quite accommodating mainstream press faithfully and uncritically passed along the government’s characterization of these events even though it provided no evidence to the public to support its assertions.
(U.S. Africa Command did not respond to a request for comment on the lack of evidence that those killed were militants or terrorists.)
It was no different under the Obama administration, during which airstrikes like the one in Somalia over the weekend, were incredibly commonplace, prompting the Washington Post’s Opinions Editor, James Downie to write in May of 2016 that, “Obama’s drone war is a shameful part of his legacy.” Indeed President Obama holds the record for most children and civilians killed by a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a darkly ironic and perfectly Orwellian accomplishment.
Speaking of uncomfortably prophetic 20th Century dystopian novels, how’s this for a Catch-22: In 2012, writing for the New York Times, Jo Becker and Scott Shane reported that “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
So under the Obama Administration’s definition of enemy combatant, Obama claimed that if his administration killed someone in a drone strike overseas, then they were a terrorist. Not the White House killed people because they were terrorists, but because the White House killed them, therefore they were terrorists(!).
This is the kind of monstrous irrationality that haunted the imaginations of great Western intellectuals like George Orwell and Joseph Heller last century as they grappled with the unprecedented devastation and horrific cost in human lives and suffering of 20th century totalitarian government and total warfare.
Overseas bombing in Africa and the Middle East has increased under the Trump Administration, and rules to prevent the deaths of civilians in U.S. air strikes, including in Somalia, have become even more lax with Trump as Commander in Chief.
The White House administrations of both Donald Trump and Barack Obama have claimed the legal justification for these bombing missions is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), but this law was enacted by Congress to authorize the use of military force against those who had a role in planning or carrying out 9/11.
Just like it did after airstrikes in Somalia when Barack Obama was president, the U.S. claims those killed over the weekend were members of Al Shabaab. But Al Shabaab had nothing to do with 9/11, and did not even exist until, at the earliest– 2004, so both presidents have stepped outside the war powers authorized by the U.S. Congress to engage in rogue bombing missions.
Other than a few independent-minded lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Congress has been playing along with the White House’s game of expanding its executive powers far beyond the scope envisioned by the Founding Fathers and set to paper as law in the U.S. Constitution. By failing to defend its Constitutional prerogative in this regard, Congress has abdicated its legislative authority, and disenfranchised its voting constituents. What is the point of having a representative in Congress if the president can take it upon himself to involve all of us– at our own great cost and risk– in foreign civil wars without our duly elected representatives voting to authorize it as our Constitution guarantees?
This is voter disenfranchisement in its ultimate form, a president who goes to war rather more like a totalitarian dictator than the executive of a republican form of government.