Facebook Slider


Optional Member Code
Get News Alerts!
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 02:32

Was Nixon Right: If a President Does It, Is It Legal?

  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email


What's the explanation for a ‘secret kill list' that's been given the President's stamp of approval?

Regarding Yemen, could the answer to that question have something to do with oil? Oil companies operating in Yemen include Austria's OMV, the U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum and French oil group Total SA.

As reported in Reuters , "Yemen's oil and gas pipelines have been repeatedly sabotaged since anti-government protests broke out in January 2011, with the feed line for the Yemen LNG gas export terminal blown up within hours of an air strike.

Ansar al-Sharia, an armed group affiliated with al-Qaeda, said in a text message on that the latest oil pipeline explosion was part of "a chain of attacks" planned in response to the U.S. strike..." Oil and gas are transported through Somalia and Pakistan.

Suffice it to say that where there is oil, there will be blood, to quote from Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel about excessive greed and corruption involving the seizing of and selling of oil.

It's no secret that the U.S. government is in the oil business. Combined, Big Oil makes a trillion dollars a year in profits. Oil lobbyists pay for expensive campaign ads worth millions to the corporate media networks, which enables said candidate to purchase a seat in the House or Senate, and if a candidate is willing to bury his conscience for good, then s/he may be eligible to win the grand petroleum prize to the White House, and that prize is conditioned on establishing a quid pro quo, sleazy relationship with oil oligarchs.

Example: after a brief period of "talking" about prevention of oil spills, there were no safety regulations implemented and enforced by law after BP's Horizon exploded, killing eleven workers and producing the worst oil spill in history, which makes the point that our government is owned and controlled primarily by the oil industries, and let's not forget Wall Street investors who own a sizeable share in oil and weapon profiteering.

The corporate media is also heavily sponsored by the oil industry. As much as I admire Rachel Maddow, the fact that her MSNBC show is sponsored by Exxon-Mobile, one of the worst, polluting, unethical oil industries in the world, presents a conflict of interest for her. It sends the wrong message to her viewers that this company must be good if it's good enough for Rachel. I have no idea if Ms. Maddow has any say about it or not, but if she does, you would think, given her ethical politics, that they would run ads on electric cars, wind and solar instead of promoting filthy oil, which is the crucial cause of probably 50% of the problems she discusses starting with politicians that owe their souls to the oil industry.

When corporate profits for oil investors become the government's priority, expect to see self-serving politicians ruled by greed and corruption that make Shakespeare's most contemptible villains look like poor misunderstood fellows.

Consider this hypothesis: the not so secret kill list can be explained from the context of protecting oil profits. Anyone who stands in the way of oil distribution, anyone who protests or sabotages oil distribution via pipelines will be tracked by drones, named and targeted, mafia style, for assassination without so much as a charge, a hearing, a trial, or a chance to express their grievances; no due process, no rule of law. They will simply be murdered. Period.

This is business as usual for the oil industry. In 1995, Dutch Royal Shell was allegedly responsible the hanging of anti-oil protester Ken Saro-Wiwa. The evidence showed that Shell was complicit in murder, torture and other abuses by Nigeria's former military government against campaigners in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Royal Dutch Shell has agreed a $15.5m (£9.7m) out-of-court settlement in the case accusing it of complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria.

Pulitzer Prize author Steve Coll has painstakingly documented similar horrific charges against Exxon-Mobile in his new book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.

And Loren C. Steffy did an extraordinary job of researching the history of British Petroleum in his book Drowning in Oil, BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit. Steffy proves that BP had the worst appalling record of oil catastrophes in the U.S. prior to the Gulf oil spill. For instance, I was shocked to learn how catastrophic BP's Texas City refinery explosion was in March 2005. It explains why Republicans deliberately made the Terri Schiavo "prolonged life support case" a huge media spectacle. It served as a convenient distraction because the explosion was by far the most horrifying, deadly, terrifying explosion that ever occurred in this country next to BP's disastrous Gulf spill.

"There was nothing left of the plant. The final number of the dead was impossible to determine because many were vaporized, but the best estimation of loss of life was at 567 and more than 5,000 were injured. Warnings went unheeded and maintenance was ignored until it became an open invitation for death." As one survivor put it, "Those people (BP Executives) who make the decisions to cut corners, to maximize profits, to compromise safety, will never see what I saw." If the U.S. government wasn't in bed with the oil industry, BP would have been permanently denied permission to drill in the U.S. given BP's appalling and reoccurring pattern of tragic oil spills and explosions due to "cutting maintenance corners for profits". Between the lack of corporate responsibility and government oversight, as well as government protection for the oil industry, these environmental crimes and oil wars will continue to play out at our expense.

Incidentally, someone should ask Mr. Romney the next time he criticizes the solar company Solyndra that yes, maybe it is the only solar company that isn't doing a booming business as so many are in California, Hawaii and elsewhere around the world, and maybe there was mismanagement of funds, but did Solyndra kill 567 hundred people as well as severely injure 5,000 people? Did Solyndra kill eleven workers in a massive explosion that left the once beautiful Gulf of Mexico a filthy, toxic oil dump that killed thousands of sea mammals, dolphins, whales, sea turtles and bankrupted nearly all the businesses that rely on fishing and tourism at the Gulf? Did Solyndra contribute to the man-made C02 pollution that is producing an extreme climate change crisis that grows worse every year of rising sea levels and melting glaciers and hundreds of cataclysmic tornadoes and hurricanes?

As for the not so secret kill list, whether there is a connection or not between it and protecting oil profits, regardless, a "kill list" ordered by the President of the United States strays so far from our moral civic principles represented in our U.S. Constitution that it shocks the imagination. It represents the very definition of a rogue state: "...a state that conducts its policy in a dangerously unpredictable way, disregarding international law, constitutional law, the rule of law, and diplomacy."

Let me state categorically that I am not justifying any form of terrorism, but the question of why these pipelines are being targeted as an act of protest should be raised for discussion. Using a dose of deductive reasoning, one could argue, I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that some natives could be a little upset that their one and only resource, namely oil, is being controlled by U.S. and foreign oil companies, and it can be assumed, though perhaps I'm mistaken, that the starving people of that region are not getting much out of the oil deal in return.

This is a familiar story, with the exception of those crazy socialists who believe that nationalizing the oil is a good thing, that a certain percentage of oil profits should be used towards building a productive society that would pay for public health care, hospitals, universities and a college education for those who've earned the grades. Outrageous! How dare they do anything for the people! After all, the U.S. oil companies reap billions of dollars from our national oil reserves, tax free! Furthermore, we, the taxpayers, continue to give millions of dollars for oil subsidies, thanks to our oil-soaked congress, despite the fact that the oil industry earns more money than nearly all the world's governments combined. Why should it be any different where oil is drilled? Nevertheless, my guess is that there are some disgruntled individuals, label them terrorists, Al-Qaeda, or call them barefooted, conga-playing troublemakers who think it's wrong for the oil companies to horde it all to themselves.

So what message does a Presidential hit list send throughout the world? Um, I think it's obvious, don't you? Do not mess with the oil profits even if you're a teenage girl, otherwise...there will be blood. According to the New York Times report on the Secret Kill List...

"The New York Times revealed this week that President Obama personally oversees a ‘secret kill list' containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well as teenage girls as young as 17 years old. "The president of the United States believes that he has the power to order people killed, assassinated, in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind," says Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. "I really do believe it's literally the most radical power that a government and a president can seize, and yet the Obama administration has seized this power and exercised it aggressively with very little controversy."

Think about this for a minute. An antiterrorist advisor gives President Obama a set of photos of individuals. Obama stares at the faces pictured on the cards. The advisor tells Obama, in so many words, "These are bad people, Mr. President-we need to take them out," a deplorable phrase that objectifies human beings. The question of burden of proof doesn't come up. The question of whether or not they've got the wrong person or persons doesn't come up. The question of the charges and what their side of the dispute is doesn't matter, and the question that some of these individuals are thousands of miles away in a foreign land doesn't play a role in rendering a decision. Instead, President Obama looks at the photos, and without any moral conflict or deliberation-gives the approval to kill them, and as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, if they kill parents and children from the drone attacks...well, that's just the way it goes, what is the euphemism? Ah yes, collateral damage, they were in the way and shouldn't be in the way of oil distribution in the first place.

Question: What if Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa's had appeared on one of the photos shown to President Obama, would he approve of the assassination? We all know by now that Martin Luther King Jr. was on a CIA-FBI hit list, and look what happened to him. Without due process, how is it possible for the President to know categorically by his advisor's word alone what these individuals have done without hearing their side of things, without a fair trial? For centuries, innocent people were tortured and killed because of "secret kill lists". Does the President need to go back to elementary school to learn why the Founding Authors of the Constitution did everything they could to insure that there would not be a repeat of the Dark Ages? Does Mr. Obama, the Professor of Constitutional Law, need to be reminded that the Bill of Rights is not a document that the government can give or take away or alter? Do we need to explain to him that these rights are self-evident truths, and that every human being is born with inalienable rights, and that an ‘order to kill list' is prima facie intuitively wrong?

Some constitutional lawyers would find the "order to kill" an impeachable high crime because it fits the exact definition of "premeditated murder"...but no problem for Obama, as Nixon put it, "If the President does it, it's legal."

What do you think? Is it legal? Is it right? If only we could ask Martin Luther King Jr. for the answer to that question...

King would probably remind us of our inalienable rights that no person or national security act can erase those truths because they represent self-evident principles. No matter how many immoral laws they pass in the attempt to dissolve all that is good and decent, they cannot destroy our fundamental understanding of a Higher Justice.

Tragically, this President is groping in the dark to the extent that he cannot discern the difference between right and wrong. A "Kill List" is morally repugnant. A rational human being would know that it is apriori wrong.

We are at the end of Obama's first term, contrary to his 2008 campaign promises, this is one more shocking decision on a long list of unethical and unconstitutional decisions he's made, including a recent Executive Order that allows the Treasury Department to seize all assets from U.S. citizens involved in criticizing the new leadership of Yemen, proving many times over that he is no Martin Luther King Jr., not even close. President Clinton also made use of the Executive Order but it was to protect millions of acres in the pristine Tongass National Forest from oil and logging industries.

Some may argue, "Romney will be worse." That may be so, but that isn't the point of this commentary. It's much bigger than presidential politics: think of the fall of Rome and you'll get the picture: "...widespread corruption, financial ruin of large segments of the population, and the dangerous decline in the army's morale," were the conditions that led to Rome's collapse in the words of Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard Professor of Humanities.


Recommended reading:

With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful by Glenn Greenwald

Drowning in Oil, BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit by Loren C. Steffy

Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of Gulf Oil Spill by Antonia Juhasz

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll

Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben


Jacqueline Marcus taught ethics and political philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her book of poems, Close to the Shore, was published by Michigan State University Press. She is the editor of www.ForPoetry.com.