In the nearly 12 years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, America’s capitalist rulers have implemented an unprecedented enhancement of their repressive powers in the name of fighting the “war against terrorism.” While unleashing its unrivaled military might from Iraq to Afghanistan, Washington has instituted massive wiretapping, surveillance and detention without trial at home. This trampling of basic rights was implemented first by the Bush administration and expanded by the Obama White House, as the ruling class sought to inculcate fear and acquiescence in the population. In obtaining legal sanction for its crimes at home and abroad, the government has made permanent fixtures of measures that in the main were portrayed as temporary exigencies. This is a deadly danger to the working class and oppressed minorities, the principal targets of capitalist repression.
The recent sparring between some on Capitol Hill and the White House over the targeted killings of U.S. citizens is all about making the state apparatus more effective in its murderous work. For weeks, various Senators made noises about holding up the confirmation of John Brennan as Obama’s CIA chief. Four years ago, Brennan was so tarred by his association with torture under George W. Bush that Obama did not pursue his nomination to the same post. But he since became the architect of Obama’s drone program.
Brennan’s critics demanded that the White House release secret legal memos that had authorized the assassination of U.S. citizens, although neither Democrats nor Republicans have batted an eye over the thousands of Pakistanis, Yemenis and others slaughtered by drones. When the Justice Department White Paper summarizing the memos surfaced in February, politicians on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly hailed this augmentation of the lethal powers of the imperial presidency. In urging Brennan’s rapid confirmation, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein intoned, with presumably unintended menace: “He draws on a deep well of experience.”
It was to be expected that the Democrats would go along with their Commander-in-Chief. So it was right-wing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who challenged Obama, mainly about the prospect of the assassination of U.S. citizens on American soil. Paul’s 13-hour filibuster on March 6, aimed at blocking Brennan’s confirmation vote, was widely covered in the media and received plaudits from some liberal antiwar activists and others. Make no mistake, libertarians like Paul, a Tea Party favorite, hate unions and spending government money on black people—or anyone else for that matter—far more than they object to the evisceration of civil liberties.
The Obama administration demonstrated its determination to assassinate U.S. citizens when it killed New Mexico-born Islamist Anwar al-Awlaki by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. His son and several Yemenis were similarly blown away some months later. And all along, the White House has kept open the option of assassinating U.S. citizens on American soil as well. In a March 4 letter to Rand Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed the scenario of drone strikes inside U.S. territory as “entirely hypothetical” but granted that the president could “conceivably” authorize such attacks in the context of a “catastrophic attack” like Pearl Harbor or September 11.
On the day after the filibuster, Holder issued a curt follow-up letter claiming the right of the president to assassinate anyone, anywhere except for citizens “not engaged in combat” on U.S. soil. For the imperialists, who is “engaged in combat” is a very elastic concept. In May 2002, U.S. citizen Jose Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on trumped-up charges. One month later, he was declared to be an “enemy combatant” and was disappeared into a Navy brig in South Carolina. In the end, he was railroaded to 17 years in prison. In an amicus brief filed by the Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee on Padilla’s behalf, we stressed that the “rationale of the ‘war against terrorism’ is a construct justifying not only the right to disappear citizens, but the right to assassinate them as well.”
A week after Brennan’s confirmation, a UN official presenting an investigation into U.S. drone strikes declared that such attacks carried out in Pakistan over the objections of local authorities violated international law. The UN investigation, carried out at the request of Russia and China as well as Pakistan, identified some 330 strikes in that country, totaling at least 2,200 dead. With U.S. drones firing with impunity on the population, including emergency response personnel, funeral processions and schools, life in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border has been shattered. Some imperialist strategists worry, with reason, that the unbridled drone program is creating a lot more “enemy combatants” around the world.
To mollify those in Washington who worry about the excessive secrecy of the drone program and have qualms about deploying drones against U.S. citizens, proposals have been made for a special court to approve the “targeted killings.” This is a total sham. Such a court would be modeled on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts for wiretapping applications. FISA courts have never been more than a rubber stamp for the executive office.
In another proposal to refine U.S. imperialist policies, a New York Times (9 March) editorial called for repealing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). This legislation, which was adopted three days after the September 11 attacks, gave the executive carte blanche in the global “war on terror,” providing a go-ahead for the invasion of Afghanistan and also much of the basis for “anti-terror” measures on the home front. The Times—whose services to the “war on terror” included reporter Judith Miller retailing the fiction of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction”—now laments “an unintelligible policy without express limits or protective walls” implemented under the 2001 authorization. The Times editorialists worry mainly that the greatly enhanced powers of the executive will someday be wielded by one less enlightened than the former constitutional law professor Obama—namely, a Republican less to their liking.
Whatever their policy differences at various times, the Democratic and Republican parties are united in furthering the interests of U.S. imperialism against the exploited and oppressed around the world. During the recent “sequestration” circus, there was bipartisan consensus that the U.S. military could stand some trimming, particularly now that the Iraq occupation is officially over and the deployment of troops to Afghanistan is coming to a close. Of course, any cuts to the Pentagon budget that Washington comes up with would still leave the U.S. as the overwhelmingly predominant military force on the planet. There is also bipartisan consensus on the strategic military “pivot” toward Asia announced last year by Obama, the primary target of which is the Chinese deformed workers state. The retailing of endless scare stories about Chinese “cyberattacks” is above all a means for the administration to justify its increased belligerence toward China.
Blood-Soaked American “Democracy”
The New York Times has apparently decided that it, too, lacked some transparency in regard to Army Private Bradley Manning. After providing WikiLeaks with a trove of classified material documenting U.S. imperialist crimes and duplicity, Manning was thrown into a military brig three years ago, suffering enormous abuse, and now faces a potential life sentence. Last month, WV wrote a letter to Margaret Sullivan, theTimes’ Public Editor, noting the omission of any mention of Bradley Manning in two February 9 articles condemning cover-ups in the drone program and charging that this was “simply cowardice on the part of the Times” (see WV No. 1018, 22 February). With his court martial approaching, Manning confessed on February 28 to having released the materials to WikiLeaks after unsuccessfully trying to interest the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Judging by Sullivan’s subsequent article “The Danger of Suppressing the Leaks” (9 March), we were not alone in calling attention to Manning’s disappearance by this major bourgeois mouthpiece. Sullivan’s column notes that the military has charged Manning with “aiding the enemy” for breaking through the wall of official secrecy. The next day, the Times ran an op-ed piece by Bill Keller, its former executive editor, which suggested that the Times might well have suppressed many of the files and would certainly feel no obligation to come to his defense in any case.
In “Hail Bradley Manning! Free Him Now!” (WV No. 1019, 8 March), we wrote: “In lifting a bit of the veil of secrecy and lies with which the capitalist rulers cover their depredations, Bradley Manning performed a great service to workers and oppressed around the world. All who oppose the imperialist barbarity and machinations revealed in the material he provided must join in demanding his immediate freedom.” Manning’s admission to being the source of the leaks has garnered him wider support, forcing even the Times to take note. With his trial slated to begin on June 3 at Fort Meade, Maryland, his supporters should turn out to demand his immediate freedom.
One writer in the bourgeois media who has given Manning extensive coverage is Glenn Greenwald. In a March 4 speech at Brooklyn College, the London Guardian columnist observed that the torture of Manning by the U.S. military was intended as a message to chill political dissent. In condemning the open-ended “war on terror,” Greenwald noted, among other things, how what started as a crackdown on immigrants from the Muslim world after September 11 became a far broader net of repression, even extending into the Occupy protests.
The civil libertarian Greenwald painted a picture of democracy dying after September 11. But attacks on the working class, minorities and perceived political opponents of the ruling class are built into the very fabric of this “democracy,” which is but a veil over the class dictatorship of the capitalist exploiters. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin taught:
“There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order,’ and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”
—The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918)
U.S. history is replete with the intentional slaughter of citizens, from gunning down workers in strike battles to cops shooting black youth in the streets. As a Spartacist comrade said in the discussion period following Greenwald’s talk: “I have a memory of what American capitalism is all about: Black Panthers killed in their beds while they’re asleep, 1969, Chicago; internment of Japanese Americans. These are not excesses. The deception and the repression are inherent within the capitalist system. It has to be abolished through fighting for workers revolution.”
In the last five years, millions of workers in the U.S., and many more around the world, have lost their livelihoods and even their homes due to the grinding capitalist economic crisis. The enormous tensions between the tiny class of exploiters and the mass of people at the base of society are the seeds of future sharp class battles. When the workers are propelled into struggle against their conditions, they will be confronted with the exercise of naked state repression. This underscores the crucial need for the proletariat to oppose all imperialist wars and occupations and all domestic measures strengthening the capitalist state apparatus. The principal task for Marxists is to forge a revolutionary workers party—a tribune of the people—to lead the proletariat in sweeping away capitalist class rule and replacing it with a workers government.