Truth be told, Mr Bowers isn’t a particularly powerful man. He has one vote on a 7-person council that is tasked with hiring the city manager who conducts Roanoke’s day-to-day business. He apparently lacks the clout to determine his community’s policy regarding foreign refugees. But Mr Bowers’ limited authority did not stop him from issuing a statement on November 18th summoning the memory of the internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war to call for a halt to the settlement of Syrian refugees in Roanoke:
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Mr Bowers’ facile linkage between the two eras—“I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then”—is literally, and ridiculously, true. As my colleague wrote earlier this week, the threat posed by any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees America has pledged to accept over the coming year is next to nil: the Paris terrorists appear to have been French and Belgian, not Syrian, and America was attacked in 2001 by militants on student or tourist visas, not by refugees. Likewise, no historian finds any credibility in the post-Pearl Harbour bombing fears that individuals of Japanese descent living on America’s west coast might commit sabotage or otherwise jeopardise the war effort. So Mr Bowers is correct that the two inclinations are equally “real and serious”: neither is real or serious in the least. Both are founded in illogical, paranoid fears of an identifiable other on whom blame can be placed and through whose exclusion and ostracisation a false sense of security can be imagined.
To set Mr Bowers’s mangled history straight, it is worth turning back to the now-reviled Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v United States, the case that permitted the War Relocation Authority to go forward with Executive Order 9066 forcing 110,000 Japanese nationals and American citizens of Japanese descent out of their homes and, with subsequent orders, into internment camps. Fred Korematsu was an America-born citizen of Japanese descent who flouted the exclusion order and decided to stay put in his town of San Leandro, California. He was nabbed on a street corner three weeks later and charged with violating the federal rule. Justice Hugo Black began his analysis by insisting that when the government draws racial lines, it must be very careful. “All legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group”, he wrote, “are immediately suspect”. Judges assessing the constitutional validity of these rules must subject them to “the most rigid scrutiny”. But while “racial antagonism never” justifies race-based restrictions, “pressing public necessity”, in certain circumstances, does. Justice Black wrote for six justices in concluding that “Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race”:
He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders—as inevitably it must—determined that they should have the power to do just this…We cannot—by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight—now say that, at that time, these actions were unjustified.
Justice Frank Murphy, one of the three dissenters, expressed incredulity at the majority’s willingness to permit the Roosevelt administration to invade the liberty of an entire “race” based on phantom fears. He called the decision a “legalisation of racism”:
Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilisation of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Justice Murphy was speaking of people who were already living in America, not of refugees from a horrific war seeking entrance into the fold of the American polity. But his dissent rings true 73 years later, as displaced Syrians seek a safe haven for themselves and their families at the shores of a nation beckoning “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. America’s response to the crisis that is under attack by so many is not, we should note, particularly generous. The policy Mayor Bowers and 26 governors have pledged to resist would resettle only the tiniest fraction of the millions of Syrians who have become refugees. The vetting process for the few thousand who may come America’s way is slow and onerous. It is only through a grossly distorted view of American history that even this comparatively stingy offer of hope to beleaguered and endangered Syrians can be cast as a threat to national security.
FORMER DRONE OPERATORS SAY THEY WERE “HORRIFIED” BY CRUELTY OF ASSASSINATION PROGRAM
Nov. 19 2015, 11:31 a.m.
U.S. DRONE OPERATORS are inflicting heavy civilian casualties and have developed an institutional culture callous to the death of children and other innocents, four former operators said at a press briefing today in New York.
The killings, part of the Obama administration’s targeted assassination program, are aiding terrorist recruitment and thus undermining the program’s goal of eliminating such fighters, the veterans added. Drone operators refer to children as “fun-size terrorists” and liken killing them to “cutting the grass before it grows too long,” said one of the operators, Michael Haas, a former senior airman in the Air Force. Haas also described widespread drug and alcohol abuse, further stating that some operators had flown missions while impaired.
In addition to Haas, the operators are former Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Bryant along with former senior airmen Cian Westmoreland and Stephen Lewis. The men have conducted kill missions in many of the major theaters of the post-9/11 war on terror, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We have seen the abuse firsthand,” said Bryant, “and we are horrified.”
An Air Force spokesperson did not address the specific allegations but wrote in an email that “the demands placed on the [drone] force are tremendous. A great deal of effort is being taken to bring about relief, stabilize the force, and sustain a vital warfighter capability. … Airmen are expected to adhere to established standards of behavior. Behavior found to be inconsistent with Air Force core values is appropriately looked into and if warranted, disciplinary action is taken.”
Beyond the press conference, the group also denounced the program yesterday in an interview with The Guardian and in an open letter addressed to President Obama.
press-conference Former drone operators Brandon Bryant, Michael Haas and Cian Westmoreland. Photo: Joe FiondaAt the press conference, Bryant said the killing of civilians by drone is exacerbating the problem of terrorism. “We kill four and create 10 [militants],” Bryant said. “If you kill someone’s father, uncle or brother who had nothing to do with anything, their families are going to want revenge.”
The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to keep details of the drone program secret, but in their statements today the former operators opened up about the culture that has developed among those responsible for carrying it out. Haas said operators become acculturated to denying the humanity of the people on their targeting screens. “There was a much more detached outlook about who these people were we were monitoring,” he said. “Shooting was something to be lauded and something we should strive for.”
The deaths of children and other non-combatants in strikes was rationalized by many drone operators, Haas said. As a flight instructor, Haas claimed to have been non-judicially reprimanded by his superiors for failing a student who had expressed “bloodlust,” an overwhelming eagerness to kill.
Haas also described widespread alcohol and drug abuse among drone pilots. Drone operators, he said, would frequently get intoxicated using bath salts and synthetic marijuana to avoid possible drug testing and in an effort to “bend that reality and try to picture yourself not being there.” Haas said that he knew at least a half-dozen people in his unit who were using bath salts and that drug use had “impaired” them during missions.
The Obama administration’s assassination program has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. This October, The Intercept published a cache of classified documents leaked by a government whistleblower that showed how the program killed people based on unreliable intelligence, that the vast majority of people killed in a multi-year Afghanistan campaign were not the intended targets, and that the military by default labeled non-targets killed in the campaign as enemies rather than civilians.
The operators said that they felt increasing urgency to speak out in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week; they believe drone assassinations have fed the rise of the extremist group the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Westmoreland said of drones: “In the short term they’re good at killing people, but in the long term they’re not effective. There are 15-year-olds growing up who have not lived a day without drones overhead, but you also have expats who are watching what’s going on in their home countries and seeing regularly the violations that are happening there, and that is something that could radicalize them.”
In their open letter to Obama, the former drone pilots made a similar point, writing that during their service they “came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS,” going on to describe the program as “one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”
At the press conference today, the pilots echoed these sentiments. “It seems like our actions of late have only made the problems worse. … The drones are good at killing people, just not the right ones,” Bryant said. “Have we forgotten our humanity in the pursuit of vengeance and security?”
Update: November 19, 5:25 p.m.
Added previously requested statement from Air Force.
The letter (pdf), addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and CIA Chief John Brennan accuses the administration of fueling “tragedies such as the attacks in Paris” while “lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program.”
“We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS,” the whistleblowers wrote, “while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay.”
According to Guardian reporters Ed Pilkington and Ewan MacAskill, who broke the story, the servicemen have “more than 20 years of experience between them operating military drones.” In the letter, the men say they all “succumbed to PTSD” and were subsequently “cut loose by the same government we gave so much to—sent out in the world without adequate medical care, reliable public health services, or necessary benefits.”
Facing possible persecution for speaking out, the men are being represented by attorney Jesselyn Radack, director of national security and human rights at the nonprofit ExposeFacts. Radack says this letter marks the “first time we’ve had so many people speaking out together about the drone program.”
The full text of the letter is below: