Society has always had a double standard when it comes to war. Although most people believe that killing another human being is wrong, they are willing to make an exception for war. The radical right, so fond of the Ten Commandments, does not apply number five to war. If the president tells you to do it, it must be okay.
Some people are unwilling to make that exception, but not many. Very few people (and no one on the radical right) are willing to examine whether or not a war is justified. If the United States is in a war, the killing must be justified. Only sometimes it’s not.
The rhetoric that got the United States into the current armed conflicts did an excellent job of convincing most Americans that war was necessary. Now, 5,000 dead soldiers and nearly nine years later, the killing continues. “Five thousand dead American soldiers” doesn’t begin to tell the story. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have died. Millions more in the two countries have been maimed and had their lives disrupted. Most Americans continue to look the other way.
Today, the New York Times reports that Michael Furlong, a private contractor searched out important members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Furlong then passed information about them to military and intelligence officials, who sent drones to kill them.
It is futile to try to destroy an organization of fanatics by assassinating its leaders. There will always be another fanatic to step up to the plate. Furthermore, such an operation is illegal. The United States military is not allowed to hire private spies. Furlong seems to have been paid with funds diverted from a program designed to deepen cultural understanding. This makes his actions doubly heinous. Not only did Furlong aid in murder, he retarded efforts to understand the other side, and presumably end, the conflict.
Robert Young Pelton, whose work was misused by Furlong, feels betrayed. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” he said (NYT).
The idea of private, covert agents informing the government, for pay, of the doings of anyone is terrifying. If they run out of genuine information, will they not be tempted to manufacture some? If they inform on the Taliban, will they inform on the ACLU? Where exactly will they draw the line?
These are questions that no one on the radical right wants to hear, much less answer. It matters, if only because the radical right led the country into this trap. President Obama has found it difficult to extricate the country from the “War on Terror.” That war never had a clear enemy, which meant it was going to be devilishly difficult to win.
At some point Americans’ collective consciences should begin to bother us for all the people we are killing. Robert Young Pelton has arrived at that point. One hopes that the rest of us are not far behind.