It was around 3:00am on December 4th 1969 and Chicago Black Panther Party leader, Fred Hampton, lay in his bed, drugged on narcotics supplied by FBI informant William O’Neal. Minutes later an unarmed Hampton would be murdered by the Chicago police force, suffering two gunshots to the head. Hampton’s murder was the culmination of a vast counterintelligence program presided over by FBI head J. Edgar Hoover and President Richard Nixon. The sole objective of this program, better known as COINTELPRO, was to destroy the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary movement that the FBI designated as a “terrorist organization, constituting ‘the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States’”.
Among the terrorist atrocities that Hampton participated in was the launching of “five different breakfast programs…on Chicago‘s West Side,” and the administration of a “door-to-door program of healthcare which included testing for sickle-cell anemia and blood drives for Cook County Hospital,” a facility that “served much of the Black community”. Perhaps the well-educated can dismiss this lurid episode of State terrorism as an aberration, a moral defect in an otherwise sensible “national security” apparatus. Hallucinations of this kind persist in most of the commentary about President Obama’s assassination campaign in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Award-winning British organization the Bureau of Investigative journalism have documented a total of between 2,464 and 3145 people killed by US drones in Pakistan alone. Out of this figure between 482-830 were civilians (175 children).
The tragic toll that these strikes have imposed on civilian populations in Pakistan has prompted organizations like the ACLU to call for the State Department to disclose vital details about this program. This demand was possibly met in quite graphic terms in a recent article published by the New York Times titled Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will. While the nominees for murder on this list remain shrouded in secrecy, the President’s so-called principles do not. A brief reading of this article reveals that he has principles consistent with that of a seasoned mafia don or as Tom Englehardt put it “[the] ‘terror Tuesday’ scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating ‘hits’ in a rough-and-tumble world.”
More interestingly, the imperial godfather has been quite candid about how exactly these war crimes test his principles and will. Take for example the murder of US-Yemeni suspect Anwar Awlaki. In response to his murder the Times reports that “even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen…Mr. Obama told colleagues [the decision] was ‘an easy one’”. The racist cops who murdered Fred Hampton would probably be delighted to know that America’s first “Black” president is aggressively carrying forward policies of State assassination that, if principles of universality were applied, would consign every post-war US president to the fate of Abraham Lincoln. But no one should worry about any of the remarkably disciplined scholars in the US drawing this conclusion. After all, the leader of the world’s largest terrorist state is an actual human being, unlike those who happen to be annihilated during his vexing confrontations with matters of principle and will. These oppressed creatures, on the other hand, are unpeople.
An instructive sample of the complicity of the American intellectual class can be found in a report published by Matthew Fricker of The Jamestown Foundation titled New Light on the Accuracy of the CIA’s Predator Drone Campaign in Pakistan. Citing sources as propagandistic as ABC News and CNN, Fricker writes “the available evidence on the CIA‘s Predator campaign suggests it is neither inefficient nor disproportionate in terms of civilian casualties, at least in relation to alternative means of conducting hostilities and/or other recent targeting campaigns for which credible numbers are available.” At the heart of this whitewash is the author’s uncritical acceptance of the State Department’s definition of “suspected militant,” or as Fricker notes “[Pakistani press] reports have reinforced the notion that drone strikes are not only inaccurate, but seem to kill innocent civilians in wildly disproportionate numbers.” He proceeds to state “even a cursory investigation of The News and Dawn‘s own report of Predator strikes on a case by case basis reveals that the majority of fatalities are reported as ‘militants’ or ‘suspected militants’”.
According to the Times the Obama administration “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants…unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”. By this arbitrary standard of warfare it would be perfectly rational for someone to say that the scores of military-aged males who perished in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 911 were “militants”. And unlike the US bombing of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, the attackers would have had a far more credible pretext that Washington was harboring terrorists.
A more accurate picture of the brutality unfolding in countries pulverized by US “surgical strikes,” was most strikingly captured by Sheik Saleh Ben Fareed, a tribal leader from al-Majala, a town in the Abyan province of southern Yemen. Here, the US carried out a drone strike that left 44 civilians dead. Of the 44 murdered half (22) were children, the youngest being a one year old by the name of Khadje Ali Mokbel Louqye. Inspecting the gruesome outcome of President Obama’s principles Sheik Fareed observed “If somebody has a weak heart, I think they will collapse. You see goats and sheep all over. You see heads of those who were killed here and there. You see children. And you cannot tell if this meat belongs to animals or human beings. Very sad, very sad”.
While unpeople like Sheik Fareed found the callous decapitation of children “sad”, real people like General David Petraeus and Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh “schemed to cover up the US role in the attack”. This was revealed in a Wikileaks cable where President Saleh was quoted as saying “we‘ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours”. As for Saleh, he had to learn the principle of universality the hard way by having his face nearly blown off in an attack carried out by Yemeni rebels. All of these easily verifiable facts bring us back to the legal, political, and moral question that could have been raised in Fred Hampton’s four-room apartment on 2337 Monroe Street; namely, is it legitimate for the President of a formally democratic state to extra judicially assassinate individuals (foreign and domestic) without fair trial?
Fortunately, there is an authoritative answer to this question. South African law professor and UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Executions Christof Heyns’ reacted to reports that US drones were murdering rescue workers at strike sites by saying “allegations of repeat strikes coming back after half an hour are very worrying,” and “to target civilians would be crimes of war”. Despite this statement, and many others like it, the Obama administration and its backers continue to falsely insist that civilian casualties are minimal and, in the event that they are exposed, “mistakes”. In the words of Council on Foreign Relations “expert” Micah Zenko “the targeted killings policy initiated by President Obama differs from a horrific and willful massacre of innocents.”
Regrettably, there is a touch of ideological truth in this statement. The chief executive of the US does not slaughter “innocents” because those who he kills–whether it be a Black revolutionary running breakfast programs in Chicago or a Pashtun farmer simply trying to survive–are unpeople and unpeople are always, in the words of the New York Times, “up to no good”. This is the logic of imperialism and it functions on both the local and international level as what Mussolini would call a “spiritual process”. Incidentally, this spiritual process finds its most acute expression in the political doctrine of fascism. Without an organized and educated resistance to this criminal assault these doctrines could gain new substance.
In his doctoral dissertation, founder of the Black Panther Party Huey P. Newton goes into graphic detail about the events leading up to and the actual murder of Fred Hampton. He ends this section of his dissertation by noting “Ninety bullets had been shot into the apartment in a period of less than ten minutes. According to the federal grand jury report, only one of those shots had been fired by a Panther.” Decades have passed since the publication of this paper and a million more shots have been fired at journalists, priests, archbishops, photographers, unionists, farmers, activists, doctors, ordinary men, women, children, and infants. Current developments point to a new phase in this legacy of assassination with moral consequences that could elicit more shots than one.
To Die for the People by Huey P. Newton