Nobel Prize

War Crimes and Misdemeanors

Drone, Oleg Yarko / Shutterstock.com

HEY PRESIDENT OBAMA: The Nobel Peace Prize committee is calling. They want their medal back.

The coveted award, which many felt was premature, at best, when bestowed during the president’s first year in office, was seriously tarnished in the eyes of many by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and other military endeavors.

But Obama’s role in waging drone warfare—particularly in Pakistan and Yemen—has made a mockery of the prize that Alfred Nobel said should go to the person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.”

Obama’s drone attacks—according to a May investigation by The New York Times, Daniel Klaidman’s new book Kill or Capture, and other sources—are arguably in direct violation of U.S. and international law, and immoral to boot.

The drone attacks started out with clear rules: Only target those who represent a direct threat to the United States. Those rules soon went out the door—a senior U.S. official called it a “little liberalization that went on in the kill lists,” according to The Washington Post, while a former counterterrorism official said that “the elasticity of that has grown over time.”

This “elastic” interpretation of rules also led to a change of targeting strategy by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, the two agencies that carry out most of the drone attacks. No longer aiming only at specific “high-value individuals”—those considered a real threat to launch terrorist attacks—U.S forces began targeting groups of men who bear certain “signatures” of behavior, even if the identity of those targeted is unknown. According to Klaidman, CIA Director Michael Hayden saw advantages to this “crowd killing” approach: “You could take out a lot more bad guys when you targeted groups instead of individuals, he said.”

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Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Rodney King

Aung Sun Suu Kyi photo, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images; Rodney King photo David Living
Aung Sun Suu Kyi photo, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images; Rodney King photo David Livingston/Getty Images

In 1991, Rodney King was stopped and beaten by a group of Los Angeles police officers. The stop was not unusual, and the beating was a tragic reminder of the history and the reality of police brutality in the United States. The difference this time was that the beating was recorded on videotape. Rodney King became a symbol of racist injustice perpetrated by ordinary people, of injustice perpetrated by law enforcement.

Also in 1991, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a Burmese activist for democracy. Under house arrest at the time, she could not travel to Oslo to receive the award. She was then and is today a symbol of patient persistent witness against oppression and for human rights.

On June 16, 2012, Aung Sun Suu Kyi received her 1991 prize in Oslo. On June 17, 2012, Rodney King was found dead in the swimming pool of his home.  Both of these individuals are important because of their choices for peace.

Nobel Prize Winner Delivers Acceptance Speech 21 Years Late

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1991 for her work for democracy and human rights in Burma. But at the time of her award, she was under house arrest by Burma’s military; her husband and sons traveled to Norway to accept the prize on her behalf. Now, 21 years later, she is able to travel freely and finally, give the acceptance speech for her award.

Is the Afghanistan War 'Just'?

President Barack Obama is no stranger to global audiences. He has delivered major speeches in Berlin, Prague, and Cairo. But no audience would have been quite so surprised by his words as the dignitaries gathered to hear his Nobel Prize lecture in Oslo last Dec. 10.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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