News Release

Real American Exceptionalism: Torture and Drone Assassination?

Bloomberg is reporting: “A proposed sale of unarmed surveillance drones by General Atomics to the United Arab Emirates — the first to a non-NATO ally — is clearing its final U.S. hurdle.”

ALFRED McCOY, awmccoy at wisc.edu
McCoy is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation and Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. He just wrote the piece “The Real American Exceptionalism” for TomDispatch.com, which states: “‘The sovereign is he who decides on the exception,’ said conservative thinker Carl Schmitt in 1922, meaning that a nation’s leader can defy the law to serve the greater good. Though Schmitt’s service as Nazi Germany’s chief jurist and his unwavering support for Hitler from the night of the long knives to Kristallnacht and beyond damaged his reputation for decades, today his ideas have achieved unimagined influence. …

“Washington, more than any other power, created the modern international community of laws and treaties, yet it now reserves the right to defy those same laws with impunity. A sovereign ruler should, said Schmitt, discard laws in times of national emergency. So the United States, as the planet’s last superpower or, in Schmitt’s terms, its global sovereign, has in these years repeatedly ignored international law, following instead its own unwritten rules of the road for the exercise of world power. …

“Under Obama, drones have grown from a tactical Band-Aid in Afghanistan into a strategic weapon for the exercise of global power. From 2009 to 2015, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force deployed a drone armada of over 200 Predators and Reapers, launching 413 strikes in Pakistan alone, killing as many as 3,800 people. EveryTuesday inside the White House Situation Room, as the New York Times reported in 2012, President Obama reviews a CIA drone ‘kill list’ and stares at the faces of those who are targeted for possible assassination from the air.  He then decides, without any legal procedure, who will live and who will die, even in the case of American citizens. Unlike other world leaders, this sovereign applies the ultimate exception across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and elsewhere if he chooses. …

“By the end of Obama’s first term, the NSA could sweep up billions of messages worldwide through its agile surveillance architecture. This included hundreds of access points for penetration of the Worldwide Web’s fiber optic cables; ancillary intercepts through special protocols and ‘backdoor’ software flaws; supercomputers to crack the encryption of this digital torrent; and a massive data farm in Bluffdale, Utah, built at a cost of $2 billion to store yottabytes of purloined data. …

“As a senior CIA official posted to the Near East in the early 1950s put it, the Agency then saw every Muslim leader who was not pro-American as ‘a target legally authorized by statute for CIA political action.’ Applied on a global scale and not just to Muslims, this policy helped produce a distinct ‘reverse wave’ in the global trend towards democracy from 1958 to 1975, as coups — most of them U.S.-sanctioned — allowed military men to seize power in more than three-dozen nations, representing a quarter of the world’s sovereign states. …

“Can there be any question that, in the decades to come, Washington will continue to violate national sovereignty through old-style covert as well as open interventions, even as it insists on rejecting any international conventions that restrain its use of aerospace or cyberspace for unchecked force projection, anywhere, anytime? Extant laws or conventions that in any way check this power will be violated when the sovereign so decides. These are now the unwritten rules of the road for our planet. They represent the real American exceptionalism.”