Soapbox: Let's not be known for dirty wars and drone executions
Published in Fort Collins Coloradoan Mar. 27, 2014 by Kevin Cross
On a warm October night in 2011, an American teenager was sitting outdoors with several friends and cousins, about to begin his dinner. The boy was mourning the loss of his father, who had been killed just two weeks earlier. His family had been encouraging him to get out of the house, spend time with friends and enjoy the fresh air to begin the healing process. But there was to be no healing for Abdulrahman Awlaki. A missile fired from a U.S. drone ended his life and those of several of his companions that night. They were buried in a common grave, because the missile tore them into unrecognizable fragments - except for the back of Abdulrahman's head, which was still covered by his long, curly hair.
The final chapter of Jeremy Scahill's latest book, "Dirty Wars," begins with the scene of Abdulrahman Awlaki's death. The book is in large measure an effort to explain why this event came to pass, i.e., why a 16-year-old American citizen - a skinny, smiling, curly-haired boy remembered by his grandmother for always helping her clean up the dishes after her guests went home - was executed in such gruesome fashion by his own government. Was he a terrorist? No. One anonymous U.S. official later said Abdulrahman Awlaki's death was "an outrageous mistake. … They were going after the guy sitting next to him." But who was that guy, if not one of Awlaki's teenage cousins or friends? For 2½ years, the U.S. government has refused to say.
The execution of young Middle Eastern men by U.S. drones is not a rare occurrence, as Scahill documents in "Dirty Wars." What set Abdulrahman Awlaki apart was his citizenship in the country carrying out the executions. Why does the U.S. do this? The short answer is that our government views the entire world as a battlefield where civilian standards of justice, like due process and the presumption of innocence, need not be observed, and that killing people the government assumes are its enemies because of their age, their gender and where they live is less risky than pursuing them with troops on the ground. That this way of acting toward the rest of the world produces tragedy after tragedy, as well as burning hatred toward the United States by those touched by this evil, is something that seems to escape the understanding of our political and military leaders.
Strength Through Peace, or STP, and Finding Racial and Economic Equality, or FREE, are bringing Jeremy Scahill to Fort Collins on April 9. Scahill will speak in the Lincoln Center's Magnolia Theater at 7 p.m. and will provide a more detailed explanation of how the war on terror quickly became a war of terror, which routinely visits death and destruction on innocents like Abdulrahman Awlaki. The event is free. If you wish to attend, please arrive early to ensure that you get a seat.
The Roman Empire is remembered for crucifying its perceived enemies. Most of those victims are long forgotten, but one was a young Middle Eastern man known for the past two millennia as the Prince of Peace. Will the American empire be remembered for its drone attacks? And would anyone looking back on the two empires from a distant future view this as progress?
Kevin Cross is a member of the Strength Through Peace Steering Committee. For more information on STP and the Jeremy Scahill event, visit http://fccan.org/stp/