Barack Obama and now Donald Trump acting as if US presidents can kill people on a whim – Kenny MacAskill

Syrian demonstrators burn the US flag as they gather in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and nine others in a US air strike in Baghdad. (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
Syrian demonstrators burn the US flag as they gather in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and nine others in a US air strike in Baghdad. (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
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US presidents should not be allowed to simply kill people they don’t like with no chance for their decisions to be challenged, writes Kenny MacAskill.

I rarely agree with Boris Johnson but he’s right when he says he won’t lament the death of Qassem Soleimani. The Iranian military leader had blood all over his hands with many innocents suffering as a result. He was a bad man indeed.

However, that doesn’t make his death either right or justifiable. The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stated that an operational assessment had been done by the USA and suggested this was all part of the “right of self-defence”. No, it’s not.

If that were the case the Pentagon would have detailed what planned atrocity had been thwarted and President Trump would have tweeted how he’d single-handedly saved the western world from the apocalypse. Instead, this seems a revenge attack upon a person the United States did not like.

Yet, they are neither at war with Iran – though the likelihood of that has now increased exponentially – nor was there an imminent threat to America beyond the normal low-level hostilities that have defined relationships between the two states for many years. Instead, it’s a straight-forward assassination of someone the United States wanted to kill.

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That’s nothing new, of course. Although the current incumbent of the world’s most powerful post has taken it to a new nadir, creating a frighteningly dangerous situation for the world, it’s been going on for a while. His predecessor, Barack Obama, is understandably looked back upon fondly but in fact he began the death-by-drone-strike execution policy. It was a far from a liberal legacy that he bequeathed and it’s now being used and abused by Trump.

No lawyer for the defence

All this is detailed by the journalist Jeremy Scahill in his remarkable book Dirty Wars. The radical reporter details how the policy of targeted executions by drone strike evolved. It neither goes before Congress nor the Senate and is instead dealt with by Executive Order, which in this instance translates as Presidential decree – or maybe even whim.

There’s no lawyer or any input made on behalf of those being selected to die and no review of the decision, let alone the possibility of an appeal. Instead the President’s signature is a literal death warrant. When it first started, it was a name or two on a page, then it extended over the page. Lord alone knows what it’s like now, with Trump in office and Pompeo as his sidekick.

Apparently, Obama consoled himself that he and his entourage made their decision on Augustinian principles, when they met every Tuesday to carry it out. No such thoughts will trouble the mind of the new President who sees himself as the Lord’s anointed on Earth.

So be it, some might say. There was military intelligence to confirm who the targets were and the risk they posed. But, of course, it often wasn’t right and innocents paid the price. In other instances, the wrong target was selected and rather than a bad guy it was a wedding party or some other poor passers-by who were slain.

Dehumanising language of ‘splats’

It’s war but not as we know it. Carried out by the military, it may be, but it’s not in the field of combat. It’s from US Air Force bases in Nevada and it’s also suggested that ones in the UK have a role. Whilst its service personel are carrying out the President’s orders, it’s more akin to a computer game, further sanitising what’s a brutal death. Those firing the missiles from the drones refer to the strikes as “splats”, dehumanising someone’s death.

There are rules on warfare – though President Trump either didn’t think they applied to him or didn’t know they existed when he talked of destroying sacred and historical sites in Iran, before later backing down. That’s not only contrary to international law but to morality. Isis was rightly condemned for their despicable desecration of ancient sites and other relics of global significance. It’s equally disgusting that a philistine in the White House should even think about mimicking them.

At least Johnson and Raab have acted correctly in calling on the USA to roll back from their posturing for war. These are dangerous times for humanity and other challenges, not least global warming, require international cooperation.

Trump’s decision was also tactically inept. The Iranian regime was facing challenges from within with the younger generation tiring of the strictures of the regime and just wanting to have fun as well as have a job. Instead this has united Iran around the leadership.

The likes of Soleimani do need held to account which is why there’s an International Court of Justice. The tragedy is that since it was established every President since Clinton has refused to have the USA join. But America cannot be above the law and no President should be able to sign a death warrant in this unchallenged, unrestricted and unaccountable way.