Nothing is truer than philosopher Samuel Johnson’s apercu 258 years ago in The Idler that, “Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.”
Additional proof of Johnson’s wisdom was forthcoming last Friday. The Obama administration argued that since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 through 2015, the number of non-combatants killed (largely by predator drones) in our permanent, global war against international terrorism outside conventional war zones in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan was at least 64, or as high as 116, depending on cogency of evidence used in the counting. The administration further argued that these unintended deaths were collateral damage in 473 CIA and military counterterrorism strikes that killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants.
The administration’s arguments were not made under oath. They were made without disclosing a crumb of objective evidence to support the number of non-combatants and combatants allegedly killed. They pivoted on statistics compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Its Director, James Clapper, achieved notoriety in 2013 for falsely denying to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the National Security Agency was indiscriminately collecting telephonic metadata on the entire United States population, and then declining an opportunity to correct on the record. Moreover, the 64-116 range of civilians allegedly killed by drones during Obama’s tenure is but a fraction of the corresponding numbers compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, New American Foundation, and Long War Journal, respectively. Further, in 2011, near the peak of the drone war in Pakistan, Obama’s then lead counterterrorism adviser and now CIA Director, John Brennan, dubiously asserted that for approximately one year “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”
War legalizes what is customarily first degree murder. Once a nation enters that moral abyss, any scruples about lies disappear. And they remain dormant during Cold War years. Thus, former CIA Director Richard Helms lied to Congress about CIA covert action to prevent the 1970 election of Salvador Allende as President of Chile. Within the intelligence community, Helms’ criminal conviction for deceit was viewed as a badge of honor, and President Ronald Reagan honored Helms with a national security medal for distinguished achievement in the field of intelligence.
President Woodrow Wilson lied about munitions on the RMS Lusitania on the eve of United States entry into World War I. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lied in a “fireside chat” about the U.S.S. Greer’s tracking and actions against a Nazi submarine which provoked a retaliatory attack. FDR also lied to the United States Supreme Court in Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States about the racist motivation behind concentration camps for 120,000 Japanese American citizens or permanent residents during World War II.
President Harry Truman falsely asserted that the Korean War was a “police action,” and lied to the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Reynolds about an alleged national security need to keep an Air Force accident report secret. President Dwight D. Eisenhower concocted the “domino theory” about Vietnam, and lied about Francis Gary Powers and the U-2 spy plane shoot down by the Soviet Union. During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kenney lied about a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union. President Lyndon Johnson lied about a second North Vietnamese torpedo attack to sway Congress to pass the ill-fated 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
The Pentagon Papers chronicles the government’s chronic lies about Vietnam and the Vietnam War.
President Richard Nixon lied about the secret bombing of Cambodia.
President George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and making democracy blossom in the Middle East.
President Obama has lied about ending U.S. military participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which remain undiminished. Anyone who believes Mr. Obama will honor his promise to reduce U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 before he leaves office should be sold the Brooklyn Bridge.
In sum, lies, untruths or misleading omissions are signature features of our military-industrial-counterterrorism complex. Trust but verify.