Who Do We Kill Next?

by Alexander Cockburn, May 20, 2011

Pinko terror-symps and the “rule of law” gang may cavil and whine at the lack of legal propriety in the exe­cution of Osama, but it’s not cutting much ice with lib­eral America. For long years what might be called the “progressive” segment of American voters have chafed at Republican gibes that their guy Obama is a wimp, all the more irritably because deep down many of them thought the charge had some merit.

But now the former professor of constitutional law is really and truly an American. He’s flashed his long, long Cadillac of a birth certificate, not merely the uncon­vincing shorty going the rounds for years. Better still, he has cojones. Bigger cojones than those of George Bush, who said that the capture of Osama was of no interest to him. Obama didn’t task the Navy SEALs: “if Osama shows no sign of resistance, it is your duty under Rules of Engagement to bring him home alive to face a fair trial.” No. He said “Make sure it’s Osama, then kill him.”

We have Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma to thank for making Osama’s orders clear. In an interview with CNN’s Eliot Spitzer he described the photographs, thus far denied the American people but available to members of Congress.

Inhofe:

“Three of the first 12 pictures were of Osama when he was alive. And they did this for the purpose of being able to look at those and seeing the nose, the eyes and his relationship for positive identification purposes. And that was good.

“One of the shots went through an ear and out through the eye socket, or it went in through the eye socket and out - and then exploded. It was that kind of ordinance that it was. Now that caused the brains to be hanging out of the eye socket, so that was pretty grue­some.

“But the revealing shots really, I thought, the pic­tures, were the three that were taken on the USS Vinson in the Northern Arabian Sea, and they were the ones that showed him during the cleanup period…they had taken enough blood and material off his face so it was easier to identify who it was.”

So the SEALs grabbed Osama, took the live pics, then shoved his kid to one side and gave him the busi­ness, twice in the head, once in the chest. Mind you, Inhofe seems to be varying his account of the photos somewhat. In a Fox interview he apparently says that the three photos of Osama alive were old ones, thus denying the brusque live/dead sequence implied by Inhofe to CNN's Spitzer, whose remarks in the transcript cited above seem to be entirely clear -- particularly with the phrase “And they did this…” I’ve called Inhofe’s office, with no response yet forthcoming “due to high volume of calls” – no doubt from George Monbiot trying to forge an alliance with Big Jim from Oklahoma for expanded nuclear power. If old photos, then how old? Also, if the SEAL's helmet camera was working, there would have been live/dead images in sequence anyway.

Maureen Dowd holds up the liberal end of the New York Times’ panel of columnists. Many’s the tetchy col­umn she’s written across the past couple of years railing at Obama for selling out to the bankers and being way too submissive to his Republican assailants.

It’s wondrous what two expanding bullets to the head of an unarmed man will do. Dowd has written no less than three columns back to back, imparting her raptures. Call them spiritually hairy chested. Here’s some of her afterglow.

“No wonder the president’s top generals call him ‘a Cool Hand Luke.’ [Actually the generals tend to call him far less complimentary names.] If we could have seen everything unfolding in real time, it would have had the same dramatic effect as the intercutting in the president’s favorite movie, The Godfather, when Michael Corleone calmly acts as godfather at his nephew’s baptism at church, even as his lieutenants carry out the gory hits he has ordered on rival mobsters.

“Just substitute ‘Leave the copter, take the corpse’ for ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.’…

“The president’s studied cool and unreadable mien have sometimes distanced him from the public at moments of boiling crisis. But in the long-delayed showdown with Public Enemy No. 1, these qualities served him perfectly….

“I want memory, and justice, and revenge….Liberal guilt may have its uses, but it should not be wasted on this kill-mission. Morally and operationally, this was counterterrorism at its finest. We have nothing to apolo­gize for.”

It fell to the NYT’s young conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, to make the sensible observation that “Now that Democrats have learned to stop worrying and embrace the imperial presidency, the United States lacks a strong institutional check on the tendency toward executive hubris and wartime overreach… The absence of any sustained outcry over the White House’s willing­ness to assassinate American citizens without trial should be equally disquieting.” On the matter of legality, I recommend Doug Lummis’ contribution Counter­Punch.org last Friday, on the new rules of war as for­mulated by George Bush and adopted by Obama.)

The reference to “American citizens” concerns Anwar al-Awlaki. Towards the end of April Osama signed off on three assassinations: Osama’s, Qaddafi’s (near miss) and Anwar al-Awlaki, (a miss) the US-born cleric believed to be in Yemen. The Pentagon says a bid on Awlaki’s life was made by drone attack on May 5 and they reckon they didn’t nail him but hit a car which may or may not have contained bad guys. Hey, who’s count­ing? A few years ago they blasted another car which they mistakenly thought contained Awlaki, an attack that pro­voked much fury in Yemen.

The chorus of approval for the SEALs covers the lib­eral spectrum. The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill exulted, as did Garry Wills on the New York Review of Books site, with an ecstatic paean, “The President’s Crack Team,” concluding, “we should keep in mind what superb things can be done by our Navy Seals. And we should keep somewhere in the back of our minds a remembrance that the one ultimately pulling the trigger in both Seal actions was the President of the United States.” Typical of the liberal think-tank crowd is Thomas Ricks, formerly of the Washington Post and now writing for Foreign­Policy.com and lodged at something called the Center for a New American Security. Ricks pretty much calls for the US to declare war on Pakistan, seize or destroy nuclear silos and send in SEAL teams to assassinate sus­pect ISI officers.

Obama is certainly not the first US president to have taken a keen interest in assassinations. Assassination has always been an arm of US foreign policy, just as in peri­ods of turbulence, like the ’60s, it has always been an arm of domestic repression as well. This is true on either side of the executive order President Gerald Ford issued in 1976 banning assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” stated Executive Order 11905, now inoperative.

Line up Obama with his fellow assassins, from Eisenhower through Bush, and I believe he’s the most repellent of the bunch, down there with Woodrow Wil­son. None of his rivals quite match the instinctive ego­tism that allows Obama effortlessly to affect the earnest­ness of a man taking the moral high road while executing a cynical program of electioneering-by-assassination.

Cynical but effective. The Republicans are in a state of total confusion and have no plausible candidate to run against Obama. The progressives are solidly behind their man.

Rupert Murdoch’s Watergate

What began in Britain in 2005 as “a third-rate bur­glary” of voicemails, supposedly limited to a criminal invasion of privacy by a News of the World reporter and a private investigator, has flowered beautifully into a Level 7 scandal that threatens the careers of two of Rupert Murdoch’s top executives, not to mention the heir apparent to the News Corp. empire, James Murdoch. It even laps at the ankles of the 80-year-old magnate, threatening the final financial triumph that was sched­uled to usher him into Valhalla.

In years gone by Murdoch used his newspaper empire as a bludgeon to crush regulatory obstructions. He has forged strategic alliances with Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Republican administrations on this side of the Atlantic. Rebekah Brooks, editor of News of the World between 2000 and 2003 and now chief executive of News Corp. subsidiary News International, is a regular informal visitor to Cameron at Chequers, the official country residence of Britain’s prime ministers.

But these days their private colloquies may be marred by a certain apprehension. Cameron was scarcely installed in 10 Downing Street before he summoned Andy Coulson as his media adviser. It was a flagrant declaration of interest, since Coulson was a notably grimy character in the Murdoch archipelago, having served as editor of News of the World — a job akin to supervising the efficient distribution of raw sewage into the prurient hands of about 3 million Britons every Sun­day.

Amid the first stages of the phone-hacking scandal, Coulson resigned as editor when NoW reporter Clive Goodman, who ran the royal beat, and private investi­gator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of hacking into the phone messages of members of the royal family. With Goodman and Mulcaire sent to jail and Coulson stepping down, Murdoch’s senior executives no doubt hoped that a lid had been clamped down on the scandal.

But it was already too late. News of the World, like Murdoch’s Sun, has always been in the business of ped­dling sex scandals and true confessions. Just as the FBI and big-city police departments teamed up with gossip columnists such as Walter Winchell, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons here, Scotland Yard and the scandal sheets worked together in harmonious relations greased by payoffs. The papers would get the stories and the cops would get favorable publicity, plus some cash. Peter Burden, a British journalist who has written exten­sively about News of the World, remarked to me recently that somewhere in the mid-’90s Murdoch realized that celebrity gossip had become an important and profitable international commodity. The snooping industry bur­geoned.

The first line of defense — that Goodman and Mul­caire were unlicensed freebooters operating outside decorous guidelines — swiftly fell apart under the weight of palpable absurdity. As Nigel Horne, executive editor of the UK-based online daily The First Post, emphasizes, “The idea of rogue reporters blowing money without the knowledge of their bosses is a joke.” The paper paid Mulcaire £2,000 a week.

Scandals reach critical mass when containment breaks down and the various players begin to ponder charges of criminal conspiracy and perjury, not to men­tion the prospect of jail time. This is what has been tran­spiring in Murdochland, aided by pertinacious reporting by the Guardian and the New York Times, which was happy to remind the world at huge length in September that its rival, the Wall Street Journal, is part of an empire stained by criminal conduct.

On January 21 of this year Coulson quit his job as Cameron’s media advisor, saying that the hacking scan­dal was taking up most of his time.

Last Christmas the actor Hugh Grant broke down while motoring in Kent. A man stopped, photographed him and then came over, offering to help. He was a for­mer News of the World reporter, Paul McMullan, who now runs a pub in Dover. He invited the actor to drop by. Grant duly honored the invitation, armed with a hidden mike. He recently published his chat with McMullan in The New Statesman, guest-edited by his former girlfriend Jemima Khan. In the transcript, McMullan says Brooks knew about phone hacking at the paper. He also claims that Prime Minister Cameron probably knew as well.

As Burden speculates on his blog, “If Ian Edmond­son [a former NoW editor] was involved, so was Andy Coulson. If Andy Coulson was involved, so was Rebekah Brooks. If Rebekah Brooks was involved, so was Master James [Murdoch]. And if they were, it’s very likely that Les Hinton, CEO of [Dow Jones and Com­pany] (the brightest bird in Rupert Murdoch’s bush), was involved, too, because he was Executive Chairman of News International at the time.”

On April 8, in an effort to keep incriminating docu­ments from being disclosed, News International said it would settle with a select number of victims, out of a £20 million fund. This supposedly last and final offer will crumble too in the face of hundreds of other claim­ants. Last week the News of the World paid Siena Miller $165,000 in damages for hacking into her messages.

On April 10 Guardian columnist Steven Barnett expressed sentiments widely shared in Britain, writing in favor of a full review of the BSkyB deal: “The issue is that every aspect of Sky’s output will be driven by the same uncompromising corporate culture which has given us the News of the World’s criminality.”

In late May Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary in the coa­lition government led by Conservative Prime Minis­ter David Cameron, will rule on whether News Corp.’s $20 billion bid for full control of the enormously profit­able BSkyB network (News Corp. holds about 40 per­cent) should go through. The probable deal, according to recent predictions, will be familiar to anyone following Murdoch’s career, with each acquisition accompanied by earnest guarantees, the installation of “outside directors” and similar ludicrous pretenses that RM’s slimy paws weren’t inside the pram. In the words of the Financial Times, “The remedy, designed to address regulators’ concerns that News Corp’s taking full control of BSkyB would reduce the diversity of voices in UK news involves spinning off Sky News into a separate com­pany, known as Newco.” Of course Newco will be just as much a Murdoch operation as any other in his stable.

Will Rupert himself be enmeshed? Bruce Page, author of a fine book on Murdoch, suggests to me that what could drag the Digger into the swamp would be the disclosure of any deal he may have made to stem the scandal when Gordon Brown was still PM. Brown won’t confirm or deny that Murdoch approached him.

Only a Week To Go!

We’ve only got a week. Then, as I reported two weeks ago, it’s all over. May 21 at around 6pm Pacific Time. Swig that martini down quickly for that's the hour when the Rev. Harold Camping, the preacher from Oakland, California, is predicting the Second Coming. At about 6pm, he estimates 2% of the world's population will be immediately "raptured" to Heaven, with the other 98% bustled off to the Inferno, doomed to listen to broadcasts of Thomas Friedman’s columns for all eternity. “We're not talking about a ball game, or a marriage, or graduat­ing from college,” Camping emphasizes, “We're talking about the end of the world, a matter of being eternally dead, or being eternally alive, and it's all coming to a head right now."

Mind you, Camping has screwed up in the past on the Big One, predicting that September 6, 1994, would spell FINIS for humanity. All that happened was a local political earthquake in the form of Clinton’s disastrous midterm elections, probably not presaged in the Old Testament, from which Camping draws his projections. "At that time there was a lot of the Bible I had not really researched very carefully," he told the Independent ear­lier this year. "But now, we've had the chance to do just an enormous amount of additional study and God has given us outstanding proofs that it really is going to hap­pen."

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

One Response to Who Do We Kill Next?

  1. chuck becker Reply

    May 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Great analysis on the OBL assassination. You raise a fascinating point with Wilson and his self-righteous moralizing. I’m not sure that Obama is that accomplished yet, or that he’s headed in that direction. I sense that he may be striving to reconcile his proletariat progressivism with the “Flags of Our Fathers” experience of his maternal Uncle, who he’s mentioned a few times and probably heard a lot about.

    It’s pure speculation on my part, but I can imagine that it is an enormously empowering feeling to be warmly supported by Secretary Gates’ and Admiral Mullens’ Pentagon. The Republicans would be foolish to seriously challenge Obama, they will get far better results achieving their aims by simply praising Obama every time he moves in the right direction. With the poisonous Progressive positions on Israel, Obama would gain market, mind, and heart share by publicly ignoring them.

    Thank you for a fine analysis.

    On the Rupert Murdoch thing, mehhhh, it’s hard to take anything over there seriously.

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