With the strange, twisted tale of Morten Storm continuing to garner attention outside of our nation’s borders, Denmark finds itself a minor player in the ongoing controversy surrounding the US’s use of unmanned drones.
The story of Storm, who directed the CIA’s drones to the hideout of American-born al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, is featured in the latest issue of Newsweek, and the Jyllands-Posten journalists who have written extensively about Storm were recently awarded the European Press Prize.
As Storm continues his quest for the credit he feels he deserves from the Americans, the debate over the legality of drone attacks is heating up in Washington, with the al-Awlaki incident front and centre.
At the congressional confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, Brennan defended the decision to take out al-Awlaki in the September 2011 drone attack that also killed Samir Khan, another American citizen. A subsequent attack weeks later killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also a US citizen. No word yet if the media-happy Storm wants credit for those deaths too.
The Obama administration, which has ordered more than 300 drone attacks in Pakistan alone, recently granted access to classified documents that claim to outline the legal basis for America’s killing of individuals with drones – even if it’s their own citizens.
The ‘legality’ of the drone strikes is down to Obama claiming for himself the power to order killings if he feels that the individual’s death will keep Americans safer. There is no due process and no independent oversight. And these ‘targeted killings’ often hit much more than just their target. It is estimated that the drone strikes have claimed the lives of 800 innocent civilians. The whole stink famously recalls the logic of Richard Nixon, who declared: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Trying perhaps to minimise the fallout to such an approach, when addressing the use of drones in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, albeit without once uttering the word 'drone', Obama acknowledged that "no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way."
While that admission and the Brennan confirmation hearings indicate that Obama is finally facing some serious blowback from his fellow American politicians including, importantly, members of his own party, several lawmakers in Denmark have been outspoken in their criticism of Obama’s use of drones.
Leading that charge has been the former immigration minister, Søren Pind (Venstre), who last summer characterised the drone attacks as “assassination” and maintained that Obama was “violat[ing] the principles of the Western world”.
When the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), refused to condemn the drone killings, Pind called it “disgusting” and accused Søvndal of violating his own stated principles because Obama is “one of his icons”.
Pind has continued to actively criticise President Obama over the use of drones, publicly airing his opinions so often that there is now speculation he has hurt his own political career by doing so.
Several sources within Venstre told Ekstra Bladet earlier this month that Pind’s outspokenness may cost him the coveted position of foreign minister if the opposition were to take the next election.
Anonymous party sources told the tabloid that by speaking out against the US, a vital ally to Denmark, Pind is showing that he lacks the self-control and diplomatic finesse to be foreign minister.
They’re right, of course, that openly criticising your most powerful ally isn’t particularly diplomatic, but it is principled. Rather than being thrown under the bus by anonymous members of his party, Pind should receive their support for speaking truth to power.
But let’s be honest here. Neither President Obama, John Brennan nor any other high-ranking US official is likely to be losing any sleep over what politicians in Denmark think about their decisions. And with no-one in PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s cabinet thus far joining the chorus of criticism, it is pretty clear that Denmark’s official line will be to continue to support America’s seemingly never-ending ‘war on terror’, despite how much further it may stray from international conventions.
But Pind and the other Danish MPs who have spoken out against the drone attacks should continue to do so. And the American Left, which for far too long has given Obama a pass on actions for which they would have vilified George W Bush, needs to push back on drone attacks.
That way, perhaps the next time a ‘Morten Storm’ comes on the scene, he could actually deliver a terrorist to justice rather than a targeted execution that is only legal because the president says it is.