5 min read
24 Aug, 2022
Following the US drone killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, justified by Biden as punishing a war criminal, Shabana Mir argues that there are countless others on US soil who have caused the deaths of millions globally, yet are free from any accountability.
Every single administration since the establishment of the Israeli state has provided military aid to it, to the total tune of $150 billion, writes Shabana Mir. [GETTY]
Earlier this month US President Joe Biden claimed responsibility for the drone killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri for plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Biden vowed: “You know, we — we make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.” In that promise, Biden included not only people involved in attacks on US citizens but anyone who seems to be a “threat.”
The drone killing had demonstrated American capacity “to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm.” If these words conjure up scenes from Minority Report, they should, because Biden’s speech promises violence to people who have not yet successfully delivered harm to the American people.
”States have a monopoly on authorised forms of violence. As they should, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda must be stopped. But what of state actors like Kissinger, Obama, and Biden? Should they enjoy impunity for the mass deaths that occur due to their planning, their strategy, and their orders?”
He hoped that this (extra-judicial) killing would bring “one more measure of closure” to survivors of the 9/11 attacks. He reiterated a pledge that the US would “continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond,” i.e. operate militarily on foreign soil against governments not at war with the US.
While his statement about the 9/11 attacks – that “[t]he United States did not seek this war against terror. It came to us” – may be true, the description does not apply to the killing of Zawahiri in an upscale Kabul neighbourhood.
The Biden administration has set a precedent. Congressionally unauthorised presidential acts of war have become commonplace. Moreover, the US is now deeply involved in conflict with Russia over Ukraine; Pelosi provoked China with a pointless jaunt to Taiwan, and Biden has fist-bumped Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and made a $3.05 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite its horrific war on and blockade of Yemen.
After the election year promises of ending forever wars, the US is back to global confrontations. The people are, in the meantime, overwhelmed by not one but two pandemics, rising inflation, and a constitutional crisis. The only way US belligerence makes any sense at this moment is if the state were entirely invested in militarism and weapons manufacturers, and not in the people’s priorities.
Arguably, al-Zawahiri’s killing was more in the vein of revenge than taking out an active terrorist threat. Biden’s claim that US intelligence and counter-terrorism “have made us all safer” does not appear to be borne out by facts, because the killing provokes al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Case in point, after the Zawahiri killing, the State Department has cautioned Americans traveling abroad to “maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness when traveling abroad.”
Since the US government has deemed it fit to engage in a revenge killing on foreign soil, this is an opportune moment to name others – much closer to home for Biden – who are responsible for a considerable number of deaths in our times. They are still living though their actions have led to the loss of millions of lives.
Trump and Biden’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, resulted in 1 million deaths in the US alone, and many global deaths due to vaccine inequality.
Before them, President Obama and Biden during his time as VP, were responsible for 563 drone strikes that killed about 3797 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bill Clinton’s bombings of Iraq, Serbia, and Afghanistan, as well as at the al-Shifa medical plant in Sudan – whilst attempting to distract from his sexual misconduct hearings – caused considerable destruction on the territories.
Who could forget George W. Bush, who started a baseless war in Iraq that has a civilian death toll between 184,382 and 207,156. Not to mention the deaths of 1,500,000 Iraqis, primarily children, due to US sanctions and other forms of violence under his, Clinton’s, and Tony Blair’s leadership.
Another, is Henry Kissinger, who, according to a Pentagon report, “approved each of the 3,875 Cambodia bombing raids in 1969 and 1970.” This is, of course, in addition to his involvement in Pinochet’s campaign of torture and murder against Allende’s supporters, his handling of genocide in East Timor and Bangladesh (now East Pakistan), and his staging of wars and destructive foreign policy in Africa and the Middle East.
Finally, and this has so far by no means been an exhaustive list, each US president still alive today is responsible for the massacres, executions, assassinations, displacement, and exile of Palestinians (including Jimmy Carter who quadrupled Israeli military aid to $4 billion after Israel invaded Lebanon using US-supplied weapons). Every single administration since the establishment of the Israeli state has provided military aid to it, to the total tune of $150 billion.
States have a monopoly on authorised forms of violence. As they should, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda must be stopped. But what of state actors like Kissinger, Obama, and Biden? Should they enjoy impunity for the mass deaths that occur due to their planning, their strategy, and their orders?
Should we not look closely at extrajudicial killings by leaders such as the widely celebrated Barack Obama whose drone killed 16-year old Abdulrahman Awlaki, a Denver-born US citizen, as he dined at a restaurant in South Yemen? Abdulrahman’s body was shattered to pieces. Obama never spoke about or apologised for this killing, or for the Yemeni tribe hit by a drone strike, killing 55 people, including 21 children and 12 women, five of them pregnant, nor did he ever abandon his drone program in Afghanistan.
The question hangs in the air: what human lives are sacred and whose lives matter?
Shabana Mir is Associate Professor at American Islamic College, Chicago, and author of Muslim American Women on Campus (University of North Carolina Press).
Follow her on Twitter: @shabanamir1
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author’s employer.