To get to where they are, imperial powers will deceive, dissimulate and distort. The US imperium, that most awesome of devilish powers, has tentacled itself across the globe, often unbeknownst to its own citizens.
In a report released by the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center of Justice titled Secret War: How the US Uses Partnerships and Proxy Forces to Wage War Under the Radar, there is little to shock, though much to be concerned about. The author of the report contends that the list of countries supplied by the Pentagon on US military partnerships is a savagely clipped one. The list is so wrong that 17 countries have been omitted.
Katherine Yon Ebright, counsel in the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program, betrays a charmless naivete in remarking that the "proliferation of secret war is a relatively recent phenomenon", something she regards as "undemocratic and dangerous". She is certainly right about the last two points, but distinctly wrong about the novelty.
The United States, since its inception, has schemed, through purchase, conspiracy and force of arms, to spread its power and embrace an empire without declaring it. Along with that embrace came the perceived need to wage secret war.
The illegal, covert engagement by US forces in Laos was one of the most brutal examples of a clandestine conflict waged unawares to many politicians back home. It was, as the dark title of Joshua Kurlantzick's book on the subject suggests, a great place to have war.
It began with a Central Intelligence Agency outfit training and arming members of the Hmong ethnic minority who would, some 14 years later, partake in full scale engagements with Communist allies of the North Vietnamese.
This development was accompanied by an aerial campaign that saw more bombs dropped by the US than used by its air force in the entirety of World War II. Between 1964 and 1973, more than 2.5 million tons of ordnance from over 580,000 bombing sorties was dropped.
US lawmakers tend to express much surprise that US forces should mysteriously appear in countries they can barely find on the map. But to a large extent, the circumstances arose with their own connivance. The authorising backdrop to such engagements centre on a number of instruments that have proliferated since September 11, 2001: the US Title 10 authorities, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), deployment notifications under the War Powers Resolution, and the souped up idea of the right to self-defence.
Of concern here is the broad umbrella of "security cooperation" programs that are authorised by Congress under the AUMF against designated terrorist groups. Codified as 10 U.S.C.§ 333, the provision permits the DoD to train and equip foreign forces in any part of the globe.
Section 127e, or 10 U.S.C. §127e, stands out, as it authorises the DoD to "provide support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing military operations by United States special operations forces to combat terrorism."
The 2001 AUMF has become an instrument of vast elasticity, stretched by every administration since its inception to cover a list of terrorist groups that remains secret to the public. The executive had long withheld the list from Congress, something it was bound to do given its cavalier interpretation as to what "associated forces" in the context of terrorist groups are.
The DoD has also kept quiet on the specific circumstances US forces operate under these authorities. As Ebright puts it, the reasoning at play is "that the incident was too minor to trigger statutory reporting requirements." Confrontations deemed "episodic" and part and parcel of "irregular" warfare do not amount to "hostilities".
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