May 4, 2013

Bradley Manning, Drone Warfare and the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

One other case I'm following with keen interest is that of Bradley Manning and the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Manning was first asked to be an honorary grand marshal of the parade, a decision that was quickly reversed by SF Gay Pride board president, Lisa Williams, in an authoritarian statement redolent of the old days under the Stalinist regime in Moscow. Pravda would be proud. Quite shocking, actually, but the sorry affair has been a blessing of sorts in that its brought a great deal of moral corruption and compromise on the part of the gay movent in general out into the clear light of day.

This issue is quite personal to me because I was born and raised in San Francisco, and marched in a number of gay pride parades in the early days when the event was still an iconoclastic and prophetic gesture that refused to bow to prevalent political and social  pieties. How things have changed.

Thanks to Williams' decision, the great Daniel Ellsburg will now be marching in the parade in support of Bradley Manning. And a great deal of frank, open discussion is now under way, as numerous gay activists and philosophers of note are asking the hard questions. The affair highlights my own misgivings about single issue politics. If there is one single gay issue that compels me heart and soul it is the eradication of the toxic homophobia in the Catholic Church, manifest in the hierarchy's near pathological hatred for the very idea of gay marriage. However, as a general issue, I have misgivings  about the passionate, single focus on this one issue for so many 'liberal' gay activists, and the SF Gay Pride affair perfectly sums up my ow fears.  How far are we willing to go when striving for marriage equality and acceptance? Does it mean meek assimilation and quiet conformity to a prevalent order profoundly unjust to other minority groups, does it entail silence in the face of true evil created by a system and a President who seems to be on "our side," therefore who for that reason deserves our silent acquiescence, our turning the other way. I'm sorry to say that Rachel Madows exemplifies this kind of LGBT liberal to me and I have lost all respect for her.  Bradley Manning, on the other hand, exemplifies the very best of queer heroism, standing up for gay rights and equality while also opposing the evils of a destructive and corrupt military and political system. He has not lost the critical, prophetic edge of the Queer outsider. No house in the suburbs with one's partner and the marriage contract famed on the wall, in exchange for silent conformity to a profoundly unjust  system. Likewise no marching in a parade under the banners of corporate sponsors that include Verizon, complicit in the illegal wiretapping of US citizens, and Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, both banks being sued for mortgage fraud on a grand scale, destroying in the process the lives of countless lower middle class folks. As Glen Greenwald has said in a superb article at the Guardian which I highly recommend,

The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America's political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation's worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama.

.... when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.

Which brings me back to my first fundamental question. How far are we willing to go in the quest for equality?. As far as Lisa Williams, which is very far indeed, or do we follow the truly principled moral standards of an heroic figure like Bradley Manning, who takes a prophetic stance against injustices across the board, an integrated and inclusive moral stance that refuses to focus solely upon the single issue of the tribe.

From a powerful article on drone warfare at the on line journal, Counterpunch, Jeffrey St. Clair makes
this passionate, incisive remark that expresses my own misgivings about the 'gay liberal' movement in this country.

The president has offered us a master class in political mesmerism, transforming the anti-war Left into supine functionaries of the imperial management team.
The cyber-Left is kept rigidly in line by the architects of liberal opinion. From David Corn to Rachel Maddow, the progressive press acts in sinister harmony with the administration’s neoliberal agenda. They seduously ignore Obama’s constitutional depredations, and instead devote acres of airspace to the faux clashes over sequestration and gay marriage.
Night after night, we are presented with sideshows, what Hitchcock called the McGuffin in his films, the dramatic diversions designed to distract the audience’s attention from the real game being played. Meanwhile, the liberal commentariat is balefully complacent to the rapacity of Obama’s remote control death squadrons, even in the face of somber evidence regarding the drone program’s criminal nature. Raid after raid, kill after kill, ruin after ruin, they remain silent. But their silence only serves to emphasize their complicity, their consciousness of guilt. Their fingers too are stained by distant blood.
In the quest for equality, how are we to react to an ally like President Obama, who, according to the New York Times, runs a kill list that results in the 'accidental' death of a 16  year old US citizen, with no known ties to terrorism other than his relationship to a famous, known terrorist father. His grandfather is on record as saying he was doing all in his power to insulate and protect his grandson from the effects of his father's notorious reputation. But that is not the only issue here. This 'accidental' killing (and I highly doubt there was anything accidental about it), not only took out the 16 year old boy, but also killed his two teenage companions dining at an outdoor cafe, and 8 of the other customers.

Here is a quote on the affair from the just published book by Jeremy Scahill (author of Blackwater)  Dirty Wars: The World's a Battlefield. 
A former senior official in the Obama administration told me that after Abdulrahman’s killing, the president was "surprised and upset and wanted an explanation." The former official, who worked on the targeted killing program, said that according to intelligence and Special Operations officials, the target of the strike was al-Banna, the AQAP propagandist. "We had no idea the kid was there. We were told al-Banna was alone," the former official told me. Once it became clear that the teenager had been killed, he added, military and intelligence officials asserted, "It was a mistake, a bad mistake." However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, "suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review."
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, would not answer questions about the former official’s assertions, saying that she “can’t address specific operational matters and won’t go into our internal deliberations,” adding: "We cannot discuss the sensitive details of specific operations."

But of course, this is only one of the more noticed of such stories and one which attracts comment because the boy was a US citizen. What of the wedding party singled out for a drone attack, the consistent policy of drone operators to 'strike twice,' once at the intended target and once again at the people who rush to the victim's aid. For a comprehensive look at the civilian death toll from the drone attacks (including 11 children killed in a drone attack on a school just one week before the Boston Bombings) check out the very conservative and responsible Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which last February released its report on the estimated number of civilian deaths from these drone attacks.

On December 30 of last year, ABC News reported on a 16-year-old Pakistani boy, Tariq Khan, who was killed with his 12-year-old cousin when a car in which he was riding was hit with a missile fired by a U.S. drone. As I noted at the time, the report contained this extraordinary passage buried in the middle:
Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed’s deaths, Akbar did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack.
What made that sentence so amazing was that it basically amounts to a report that the U.S. first kills people with drones, then fires on the rescuers and others who arrive at the scene where the new corpses and injured victims lie.
In a just-released, richly documented report, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, on behalf of the Sunday Times, documents that this is exactly what the U.S. is doing — and worse:
The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of  civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.
The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a “targeted, focused effort” that “has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties”. . . .
A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.
Although the drone attacks were started under the Bush administration in 2004, they have been stepped up enormously under Obama.
There have been 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan by Obama’s administration – averaging one every four days.

As I indicated, there have been scattered, mostly buried indications in the American media that drones have been targeting and killing rescuers. As the Bureau put it: “Between May 2009 and June 2011, at least fifteen attacks on rescuers were reported by credible news media, including the New York TimesCNNAssociated PressABC News and Al Jazeera.” Killing civilians attending the funerals of drone victims is also well-documented by the Bureau’s new report:
Other tactics are also raising concerns.  On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.
“A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,” according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his recent book The Triple Agent. “True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long.”
The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others. . . .
Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians.  US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people.As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders.
The Bureau quotes several experts stating the obvious: that targeting rescuers and funeral attendees is patently illegal and almost certainly constitutes war crimes:
Read the rest of this expose here at Salon. 

I may seem to have come a long way from the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, but not really. This brief foray into President Obama's drone policy, which Liberation Theologian Leonardo Boff described as"manifestly evil," only highlights my original question. What price equality? Too many liberal gay activists have chosen to remain silent on these issues and many others simply because their hero, President Obama, is on 'their side,' or to put it bluntly, on the side of the Gay Tribe. The choice for many of us concerned for justice for LGBT people is clear. Do we side with the Lisa Williams of this world, and they are legion, or do we take our stand with a true gay hero like Bradley Manning, who does not compromise his  conscience for the sake of a single issue. Given the passionate, spirited and outraged responses now underway about the SF Gay Pride Parade, many of us have made the right choice. 


M.McShea said...

I am reminded of how JFK and his brother were all into the assassination of Fidel Castro through CIA black ops. That the very agents trained to kill Castro were likely part of the plot that turned around and killed JFK and or later RFK. That what they set out with as approved executive power came back to bite them in their butts. Don't play with fire or a loose conscience.

colkoch said...

I am fully in agreement with you Jayden. While I don't believe any other US president would do differently when it comes to drones, I can not condone their use by President Obama for any reason. To accept their use because Obama has suddenly become a gay advocate is just another form of condoning collateral damage.

Manning has it right and I hope more gays and other minorities hear what he is saying. What's the point of being married if in doing so you become just another selfish mindless collaborator in US war mongering for the benefit of international corporations?

Richard Jayden Cameron said...

Well, I was angry when I wrote this post. After all that young man has gone through for the sake of his conscience and for truth and justice for all of us - enduring solitary confinement stripped naked, huddled on the floor to keep warm, designated torture by the UN - and then to have to endure this public humiliation from his own community. It's too much. And he's facing 20 years in prison minimum, while we are all celebrating gay marriage. He's been subjected to terrible homophobic taunts and even his own defense team is spinning this tale of a lonely, confused, vulnerable young man (read gay weakling) who shouldn't have been entrusted with sensitive' top secret material. The support for him among the gay community should be unanimous and overwhelming.

Richard Jayden Cameron said...

Obama scares me, he really does, Chris Hedges has it right I believe when he calls him " that soulless man." And yes the creatures of our own manufacture will come back to haunt us in more ways than one.