Obama (finally) confirms drone strikes in Pakistan

Barack Obama has confirmed for the first time that US drones have been used to target individuals in Pakistan, the Telegraph reports.

In a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube, Obama discussed for the first time the covert drone program that has dramatically escalated under the Obama administration. Previously the administration refused to discuss the strikes publicly.

Talking down the estimated civilian casualties as a result of the strikes, Obama said: “I want to make sure the people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we’re very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.”

The New America Foundation think tank in Washington says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years, while the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates between 2,386 and 3,015 people have been killed including between 391 and 780 civilians and around 175 children killed. It is not known whether Obama is accepting these civilian death counts as not being a “huge number” or whether his own administration has much lower estimated death counts. Either way, human rights campaigners have expressed deep concern over increased use of drone strikes.

Obama has increased drone strikes since he came into presidency. The Telegraph has a video of Obama discussing the drone strikes for the first time.

Journalism: The bridge between the truth and the lies

I’ve always been interested in writing. As I grew older, I realised that I would love to write for a living and so I was drawn to journalism. Although creative writing also inspired me, I loved the attraction of journalistic writing. For me, creative writing would be something I did in my spare time, perhaps writing the odd segment for a never-published novel, while journalism was a potential career. Journalists, we are often told, are sometimes seen as gatekeepers. The fourth estate. The bridge between those in power and those who elect them. Throughout history, the power of journalism to inform and shape debate and opinion has been shown time and again, and journalists are needed now more than ever.

Journalism attracts me because of the nature of the job – writing profusely and investigating new things, meeting new people, sharing new experiences. Although I currently don’t have much experience in journalism, I aim to gain more and improve my skills in this area. Journalism is such a broad area, which is another attraction for me. I have always been in awe, and inspired by, investigative journalists. Their work has helped inform the public, shape government police, bring to light repressive regimes and illegal activities, and countless other achievements. Journalists such as John Pilger and Greg Palast, amongst many others, were a source of inspiration for me. Other areas of journalism that interest me are war, conflict and terrorism reporting as well as political journalism. It is my aim to gain more experience in journalism, to become comfortable in the various practises and gain valuable writing skills.

Journalism is under attack at the moment, from censorship, restrictive laws, and the threat of increased regulations which could harm the freedom of press. Even the internet, a tool used for freedom of expression and connectivity, is a potential threat to journalism. The rise in ‘citizen’ journalists for example and the near-instant speed that news, images and video can be shared means that traditional journalism will have to change and adapt, or risk being damaged… However, it is also true that we need journalism now more than ever. With governments threatening to censor the internet, with oppression and conflicts still raging across the globe, with government corruption and propaganda still present, journalism is still the bridge between the rulers and the people. The gap between the truth and the lies.

‘Responding to extremisms: media roles and responsibilities’

‘Responding to extremisms: media roles and responsibilities’, Bournemouth University, 15 July 2011

The oxygen of publicity or the right to a platform? How are different forms of extremism covered in our national media, and does this serve to marginalise or legitimise extremist groups? What are the media strategies of these groups, and what potential do social media have to change their prospects? What are or should be the relations between media professionals and police and security services, community organisations and other stakeholders? How will the media influence the success or otherwise of the soon to be revised PREVENT strategy?

On Friday 15th July, Bournemouth University hosted a one-day conference at Bournemouth University’s Executive Business Centre. The conference focused on extremism and in particular the media roles and responses to extremism. It was organised by Bournemouth University’s Media School and was run by CERB, the Containing Extremism Research Briefing (http://www.cerb.ws).

CERB is a growing database of summaries of research articles related to various forms of contemporary extremism, with focus on its psychosocial dimensions and the role of the media. The CERB conference brought together various academics, journalists and speakers involved in responding to political or violent extremism, discussing such topics as:

–  How should media report the EDL?

– Freedom of Information vs National Security: Why Wikileaks adds a new dimension to an old dilemma

– What do the public think? Attitudes to extremism, violence and freedom of speech

– Counter-terrorism and the media

– Responding to the BNP: the media and the Far Right in contemporary Britain

The conference was be covered live all day, so those who were unable to make it in person could follow the debate live. Check out CERB_WS on Twitter for the tweets or go to the CERB archive for the tweets in chronological order.

For full coverage of the conference, including blogs, videos and podcasts, go to cerb.ws/conference/blog.

The photos, tweets, blogs, videos and podcasts were put together by a team of students from Bournemouth University’s Media School (including myself)

The conference is linked to the development of a web-based resource for people working in this area, the Containing Extremism Research Briefing.

Obama rebuked by House of Representatives over Libya, whilst Congress challenges his authority

People look at destroyed tanks belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Reuters)

US President Obama has been facing mounting criticism for the US role in the Libya… what? War? Conflict? Bombing? Mission? ‘Operation’? You see, Obama has recently been keen to stress that the Libya… engagement is not a war amid rebukes from Congress who have been challenging his authority. Now the House of Representatives has stepped in, also rebuking Obama and refusing to authorise the US ‘mission’.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives delivered a symbolic vote on friday to reject a resolution to authorise US involvement in the Libya war. I’m going to call it a war, because I feel calling the military action anything else shapes and desensitises our response to it. Bombs are being dropped, buildings are being destroyed, lives are being lost. To call such violent action an ‘operation’ or a ‘mission’ is an affront to those whose lives are being lost, whatever side they are fighting for. It makes us forget the reality of the situation; this is not some sanitised, smooth military operation. It involves real harm and loss of life, even if those that are losing their lives are classed as “the enemy”. As Jonathon Schell writes:

“American planes are taking off, they are entering Libyan air space, they are locating targets, they are dropping bombs, and the bombs are killing and injuring people and destroying things. It is war. Some say it is a good war and some say it is a bad war, but surely it is a war.”

So anyway. I’m going to call the NATO military intervention in Libya a war, because I believe it to be so. Obama has a rejected this worldview, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The House of Representatives refused to give President Obama the authority to continue US participation in the NATO-led war against Libya, but rejected a call to cut off money for the conflict. In this sense, the House refusal is a largely symbolic gesture. Obama has said he does not need additional congressional approval, as US forces are simply supporting NATO. However, the House has shown its disproval for the ongoing war against Libya, reflecting the disenchantment in the US over the ongoing conflicts.

The House voted 295 to 123 against the resolution to authorise the war. About 70 of the president’s Democratic party joined the Republicans to vote it down. This is the first time since the 1999 Bosnian conflict that either the House or the Senate has voted against a military operation. The House ignored Hillary Clinton’s pleas against voting it down.

“The president has operated in what we now know is called the zone of twilight as to whether or not he even needs our approval,” Republican Representative Tom Rooney of Florida said. “So what are we left with?”

House speaker John Boehner said: “I support the removal of the Libyan regime. I support the president’s authority as commander-in-chief, but when the president chooses to challenge the powers of the Congress, I, as speaker of the House, will defend the constitutional authority of the legislature.”

It is clear there is growing unrest in the US against the Obama administration’s involvement in the US war. It is also evident that the ‘excuse’ of, “oh, well, we’re only supporting NATO” is not going to stick; opponents of the US involvement are, perhaps, becoming riled at the growing culture whereby the Obama administration is becoming increasingly unaccountable for its actions in conflicts.

Republican congressman Tom Rooney, who sits on the armed services committee, said: “The last thing that we want as Americans is for some president, whether it’s this president or some future president, to be able to pick fights around the world without any debate from another branch of government.”

Whether it’s the self-perpetuating “War on Terror” or NATO-involvement, the Obama administration is increasingly avoiding accountability for its conflicts and engagements. Few Republicans or Democrats would wish to be seen to be against the “War on Terror”, which began in ‘self-defence’ (right?), though opponents of the unaccountability are beginning to draw the line; the Libyan war is, rightly or wrongly, aimed at unseating a ‘dictator’ from power rather than aiming to defend US soil… but then again, I have this strange feeling of deja vu…

Libya is not a war, says Obama

A bus burns on a road leading to the outskirts of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Sunday, March 20, 2011. The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American and British ships and submarines at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya's air force. (AP)

As I mentioned earlier, President Obama has already been facing criticism from Congress. He has defended his right to take war to Libya without the approval of Congress, after Republican leaders challenged his authority. How? In his administration’s eyes, the issue is one of semantics. The US participation in the NATO-led bombings in Libya do not, in his eyes, amount to a full-blown war.

As the Guardian reported, “this week the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, wrote to Obama telling him that, under the 1973 war powers act, the president was obliged to seek congressional approval for the Libyan venture before Friday.

“The White House replied by saying the law, which says there must be a vote in the legislature within 90 days of the president taking the US to war, did not apply”.

Congress warned Obama that refusal to comply with a congressional request to seek authorisation for military action in Libya appeared to violate the war powers act.

“The combination of [White House] actions has left many members of Congress, as well as the American people, frustrated by the lack of clarity over the administration’s strategic policies, by a refusal to acknowledge and respect the role of the Congress, and by a refusal to comply with the basic tenets of the War Powers Resolution,” Boehner, the speaker of the House, stated in a letter to the president.

The White House responded to the warning with a 38-page report to Congress, describing the Libya operation not as war, but a mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power. As stated earlier, the administration considers the war as an operation, a mission, a military ‘intervention’, shall we say, rather than considering the bombings as an act of war. And why do they not consider the bombings as an act of war? Because US troops are not directly under fire. The Obama administration only considers a conflict as being a ‘war’ when there is US soldiers at risk.

“US operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve US ground troops,” the 38-page report said.

Boehner dismissed the White House position on Thursday. “It doesn’t pass the straight-face test in my view that we’re not in the midst of hostilities,” he said. “It’s been four weeks since the president has talked to the American people about this mission. It’s time for the president to outline for the American people why we are there, what the mission is, and what our goals are.”

In an article published in the Guardian,  denounced the White House’s report, stating: “In other words, the balance of forces is so lopsided in favour of the United States that no Americans are dying or are threatened with dying. War is only war, it seems, when Americans are dying, when we die. When only they, the Libyans, die, it is something else for which there is as yet apparently no name. When they attack, it is war. When we attack, it is not.”

This is very worrying thinking from the leaders of the United States of America. Would it be naive to suggest that this worldview may represent a new age of warfare? An age of unaccountability? As Schell writes, “In the old scheme of things, an attack on a country was an act of war, no matter who launched it or what happened next. Now, the Obama administration claims that if the adversary cannot fight back, there is no war.”

In the age of the predator drone, when war can truly be waged with no damage or sacrifice, government’s can claim that bombing a country (before, a clear act of war) is simply an operation, a mission, designed to bring about a set agenda with minimum civilian casualties. Of course, civilian casualties are inevitable, but the less the better, right? When war can be waged without a soldier’s boot on foreign soil, does that end the meaning of the word, “war”?

In an act of double-think that George Orwell would be proud, War is not War – War is Peace. War is not war when there are no “active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor [when] they involve US ground troops”. But surely this means that it is in the best interests of the adversaries of the US, the ‘enemy’ that the US is (at the time) engaged with, to ‘actively exchange fire’ with US drones/planes? For then, the adversaries are suddenly turning the one-sided conflict into a war – where they are then afforded the ‘rules’ of warfare, and the US is suddenly subjected to International Law and the like? They are, essentially, suddenly held accountable for their actions, like some child that has been caught out?

Schell concurs: “It follows that adversaries of the United States have a new motive for, if not equaling us, then at least doing us some damage. Only then will they be accorded the legal protections (such as they are) of authorised war. Without that, they are at the mercy of the whim of the president.”

“The War Powers Resolution permits the president to initiate military operations only when the nation is directly attacked, when there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces”. The Obama administration, however, justifies its actions in the Libyan intervention precisely on the grounds that there is no threat to the invading forces, much less the territories of the United States.”

It is, perhaps, a sign of things to come. Much of the media outlets have been picking up on the government’s use of language; the subtle semantic changes that government’s implement into their vocabulary. Much like in Orwell’s 1984, governments realise the power of language and carefully shape and construct their verbiage for their benefit, be it influencing public opinion or escaping the nuances of their own laws. Those who construct the laws evidently and innately hold the power to escape the law – either overtly, by changing the very law itself, or covertly, by slipping through loop-holes and the like. By deciding that the Libyan war is actually a ‘mission’ or ‘operation’, the Obama administration has seemingly escaped accountability and the force of the law.

Schell continues: “In a curious way, then, a desire to avoid challenge to existing law has forced assault on the dictionary. For the Obama administration to go ahead with a war lacking any form of Congressional authorisation, it had to challenge either law or the common meaning of words. Either the law or language had to give.”

“It chose language.”

And as we enter an age of predator drones, “War on Terror” and a newfound distaste for ‘evil dictators’ residing in the Middle East, are we also entering an age where the self-proclaimed “protagonists” of the world (the US, the UK, NATO, and the like) are becoming unaccountable for their actions? Are we entering an age where war ceases to exist, merely because language is changing? Wars become conflicts; conflicts become operations; operations become missions; missions become peace.

Barack Obama: Nobel Peace Winner. War President.

President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...

Image via Wikipedia

“I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank” (Obama, 2007)

Hope. Change. Peace.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign focused on the principles that changes were needed, and if he were given the chance, it would be possible under his leadership. He promised a ‘change’ from the Bush-era politics, an end to the Middle Eastern wars, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay. The emphasis was on hope. The emotive theme was peace. His inspirational rhetoric echoed around the world. The focus was not on the fact that he was the first black president of the USA, but rather that he was so vastly different from the militaristic George W. Bush. Whereas Bush inspired anger, even ridicule towards the end of his office, Obama inspired hope in millions simply through his rhetoric. In October 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a gesture that would never have been given to his predecessor.

Yet beneath all the spin, the PR tactics and the powerfully emotive rhetoric encompassing such  words as “hope” and “change”, Obama’s policies are not so dissimilar to those that the Bush-era enacted. Some even claim that Obama may even be worse. He is certainly more charming, intelligent and emotive than Bush ever was, and this may be why he is able to captivate people’s hearts so. His eloquence with words and his calm, rational demeanor can potentially be very disarming; and if his policies are not so dissimilar to his predecessor’s, then his ‘promises’ for change are simply empty rhetoric, possibly designed to provide a smokescreen for what is essentially a continuation of the Bush-era politics that many Americans began to despise. Continue reading