How Obama is misleading us about troops on the ground in the new Iraq war
Be careful, says Trevor Timm: if the government says they’re not misleading you, it might only be because they’ve secretly changed the definition of “misleading”.
Want to decipher what the US military is really doing in Iraq and Syria, or figure out whether its regional war against the Islamic State (Isis) is legal? Good luck. The Obama administration’s secret efforts to redefine the ordinary meaning of key legal terms and phrases has made that near impossible.
For instance, in his Tuesday statement that US airstrikes that have expanded into Syria, Obama studiously avoided any discussion about his domestic legal authority to conduct these strikes. That dirty work was apparently left up to anonymous White House officials, who told the New York Times’s Charlie Savage that both the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) from 2001 (meant for al-Qaida) and the 2002 war resolution (meant for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) gave the government the authority to strike Isis in Syria.
In other words: the legal authority provided to the White House to strike al-Qaida and invade Iraq more than a dozen years ago now means that the US can wage war against a terrorist organization that’s decidedly not al-Qaida, in a country that is definitely not Iraq.
It’s been weeks since initial air strikes began, and the administration has still refused to release a detailed written legal rationale explaining how, exactly, that works.
Then on Tuesday, Buzzfeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro reported that the Pentagon is “confident” that no civilians were killed in any of the initial airstrikes in Syria, despite a credible report to the contrary. But we have no idea what that actually means either. The White House previously embraced a re-definition of “civilian” so it could easily deny its drone strikes were killing anyone than “militants” in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere, according to a New York Times report in 2012:
It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
So any casualties, if they’re men, might well be tallied as “militants” even if the actual dead people were not.
(When Obama said that the war against Isis would be based on “the Yemen model” in his address to Congress two weeks ago, is this what he meant?)
In addition to conducting airstrikes against Isis is Syria on Tuesday, the Obama administration also announced it had also targeted the “Khorasan Group”, a separate al-Qaida-linked terrorist organization. They justified it by claiming that the group was plotting an “imminent” attack on the US. Before last week, hardly anyone had heard of the Khorasan Group (in fact, even their name was classified), so it’s difficult to judge from public information just how threatening their alleged plot really was. But when you add in the administration’s definition of “imminent,” it becomes impossible.
Take, for example, this definition from a Justice Department white paper, which was leaked last year, intended to justify the killing of Americans overseas:
[A]n “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.
To translate: “imminent” can mean a lot of things … including “not imminent”.
Finally, there’s the prospect of ground troops in Iraq or Syria – or, as the White House would like the public to believe, the idea that there is no prospect for ground troops in Iraq or Syria. By any layman’s definition, there are already combat troops on the ground in Iraq.
As the New York Times’s Mark Landler detailed over the weekend, White House has “an extremely narrow definition of combat … a definition rejected by virtually every military expert.” According to the Obama administration, the 1600 “military advisers” that have steadily been flowing in Iraq fall outside this definition, despite the fact that “military advisers” can be: embedded with Iraqi troops; carry weapons; fire their weapons if fired upon; and call in airstrikes. In the bizarro dictionary of war employed by this White House, none of that qualifies as “combat”.
So when you hear the words “imminent attack”, “civilians”, militants” or “ground troops” from now on, be careful: if the government says they’re not misleading you, it might only be because they’ve secretly changed the definition of “misleading”.
Source: The Guardian