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Warfare tactics in the US and a lawless state look eerily similar

March 14, 2013
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Earlier this week, The Guardian brought to light one of the tactics employed by the Syrian Army to repress the opposition. In an investigative piece about the Aleppo massacre in January, when 110 bodies washed ashore the Quwaiq River in Syria rather
mysteriously, The Guardian shared testimony of victims’ families and eyewitnesses. According to them, the Syrian Army rounded up young men in one area of Aleppo, accusing them of being part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Shiekh al-Aurora, whose cousin Mohammed died in the massacre, says: “Mohammed was going to the dentist in Jamila, and he was taken by the military. He was arrested because he was young and the military thought he was the FSA.”

The tactic of targeting young men because of their geographic proximity to the actual FSA speaks to the desperation of a regime trying to hold onto power, even at the cost of violating war convention and international law to quell the opposition. Furthermore, it speaks to the deteriorating situation in Syria, and the intensifying challenge of providing justice after the war is over.

Except that Syria is not the only who uses such tactic. As we know, the United States employs this strategy in its global war on terrorists. As part of the Obama Administration’s secretive drone and targeted killing program, the US considers
all “military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, drones killed an upward of 880 civilians in Pakistan alone between June 2004 and September 2012. That does not count the men of military age that the US loosely defines as “militants”.

How can we discern the differences between the tactics employed by the Syrian Army and the United States? Is it that the US’s actions are supported by the rule of law? Not unless you count the Executive’s authority to conduct this program, which is in violation of international law. As Rand Paul pointed out through his filibuster, we have yet to receive substantive evidence of a legal framework for the Obama Administration’s drone program. No, the difference here is that the US believes it has a moral authority— one that allows it to target men based on their proximity to actual extremists, and one that dangerously allows it to expand its battlefield to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

Despite 50 years of trying to create world order and establishing laws that protect human rights, the US still believes it alone has the authority to violate these standards. This was apparent most clearly this week, when the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, said that a recent rebel attack on the Syrian army was considered an act of “terrorism” because the Syrian troops were “non-combatant”. The irony was not lost on reporters, who prodded her about the US drones that target non-combatants that are not engaged in fighting at the time. Her answer? “It depends on the circumstances”.

But the circumstances are not clear. What is clear is that the US has embraced a carte blanche to employ any tactics and any means to fight “terrorists”—despite the flawed assumptions and the illegality of such tactics. As we see in Syria, the repercussions
of such lawlessness can be damaging. The act of fighting without any adherence to standards and law, killing indiscriminately, is not a tactic that is not morally reprehensible, but is entirely self-fulfilling.

The Guardian quotes the family of another victim, who was not part of the FSA, nor any other combatant organization fighting the Syrian Army. Amer al-Ali, cousin of the victim, explains how the young man’s death changed the family: “The mother asked
if she can join the FSA to take revenge and so did their father. They only have two daughters left and now the whole family wants to join a jihad.”

Maybe the US should reconsider what it is that it is trying to accomplish in the first place.

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