The kill list and the public “dialog”

In a sense there’s no good reason for ordinary people to be interested in their nation’s foreign activities. “We” – and here we mean us ordinary schlubs (citizens) outside of the highest levels of the military and foreign policy establishment – we have no influence, no say, in what goes on. And huge parts of it are secret anyway. Secret from us. It may be “our” national policy, but we don’t know what it is.

Often we see reporting about foreign policy in the “serious” press. We look at these stories but with no conviction that it accomplishes anything. Why do we do it? Dunno… just do. Why do we look at funny cat videos on YouTube? In either case, it’s not because we think we’re accomplishing anything.

Reporter Mark Mazzetti

Reporter Mark Mazzetti

Nonetheless, we’ve been weirdly fascinated by the reporting of Mark Mazzetti which keeps popping up on the front page of the New York Times. We mentioned one of his stories earlier. Rather remarkably, it told us almost nothing! How is it that a story which tells us almost nothing can earn a spot on page A1 of the Times? Well, maybe the editors think we’re supposed to care about our national policy of killing individuals, one by one, by means of drone-based hellfire missiles. (Well, yes, also killing nearby friends and family, too. Collateral damage.)

So what IS our “policy”? Who knows?  Ordinary-citizen-schlubs, like us, perusing the Times can read that there’s a “debate” going on, a debate at top levels of our government about whether to drop a drone on one particular guy in Pakistan. Here, the proximate concern — actually just a sliver of what ought to be a much larger debate – seems to be that the guy in the cross-hairs is an American citizen, now gone over to Al-Qaeda. So there’s a little extra dithering about killing – if you want to get all legalistic about it — an American citizen.

Then we had a second story, again almost devoid of detail or factual certainty. And again on page A1 of the New York Times! In it we learn just a few more random facts. He was born “possibly in Texas” and “moved with his family to the Middle East when he was a toddler.” His real name and age still can’t be divulged, because it’s classified. Really? Check with Mr. Kafka down the hall.

So here’s what we think. 1) We think it’s great that America’s greatest newspaper is letting us in on the fact that there’s some secret debate going on, even though we’re clearly not invited to participate. 2) We’re pretty suspicious this debate includes only a very narrow range of participants and perspectives. 3) We’re almost certain this secret debate does not include the perspective that we happen to start with… namely, that we shouldn’t just go murdering our little-bitty adversaries (and this guy is nothing if not a little-bitty adversary). And 4) Why isn’t this state-sponsored terrorism (which we’re supposed to be so very opposed to)?

The President’s kill list

Headline, the New York Times, front page:

 U.S. Debates Drone Strike on American Terrorism Suspect in Pakistan

So, there’s a debate going on? About our national-list-of-guys-we’re-planning-to-kill-with-a-drone-strike? Well, that is nice to hear.

The “kill list” thing seems so nakedly immoral, not to mention so likely to, as they say, blow back. But at least there’s a debate, say the reporters, albeit a secret debate. The reporters aren’t able to tell what American is currently topping the kill list, or what he’s done, or rather “suspected” of. They can’t say for certain what’s being debated or who’s privy to the debate. The White House won’t comment. Neither will the Pentagon nor the CIA.

hookah-smoking caterpillarWelcome to Wonderland. In the absence of facts, feel free to wonder about anything at all. (One of the least important things to wonder about? Whether to call it “assassination” or “targeted killing”. See Erik Wemple in The Washington Post.)

Only late in their story do the Times reporters quote a non-anonymous, non-government source, Naureen Shahan, an Amnesty International U.S.A adviser. She identifies the one thing that is ironically certain

“The public and most members of Congress are still completely in the dark about where the U.S. claims authority to strike, the legal rules and the identity of those already killed.”

“The policy is still the stuff of official secrecy and speculation when it should be a matter of open debate and explicit constraints.”