I lived in the Philippines during the height of Marcos' power, including the years where he ruled the country with the power of the military instead of the power of the people. It is true that he did not need martial law to cause his political opponents to disappear, he had been doing that for years already, but he did need it to exceed the term limits imposed by the constitution.
It is interesting to note that the main justification for his declaration of martial law (1972-1981) was the communist rebels in the southern part of the country. Leaders wishing to implement desperate measures manage to create desperate times for justification and communism was the villain we feared the most then. Even though we were aware of Maros' tactics, and knew they conflicted with our values, Marcos was supported by the US government.
In 1987, U2 and Amnesty International collaborated to bring attention to the plight of the citizens of many central and south American nations who's life and liberty were under threat from lawless dictators. The campaign honored the Mothers of the Disappeared, and was critical of the way the US government supported dictators in countries including Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, and Nicaragua that had turned on their own citizens - taking them away in the night to a fate of torture and death. No one knows the number, but is likely that these dictators captured and killed thousands of people they did not like -- all with the endorsement of the US government, and all without basic legal process.
Today the New York Times reported that in September 2011 we joined those dictators as a country where our president kills citizens he does not like without due process.
For what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial.
I fear that this article is the best possible spin we can put on our actions. Even with the ugliest parts papered over and painted in bright friendly colors, it is a frightening story that we all hope is not the start of our descent into the horrors of Marcos and Pinochet.
Also in the NY Times today is an editorial calling for the repeal of the military force law. This law, passed right after 9/11 makes it easier for our president to do the things we do not believe in. We must repeal this law and make it harder for our president to kill our citizens.
Journalist Jeremy Scahill has been working to expose these actions for several years now and just released his documentary Dirty Wars at Sundance this year. I was lucky enough to see it and I recommend it highly. The movie chronicles the work of Scahill and by the time the credits rolled, all of us at the screening were quite fearful that our government would kill him next. Very scary stuff indeed. Here is a review of the movie in The Guardian. Dirty Wars does a very good job of investigating and documenting the work of the "American Taliban"; bearded US Special Forces teams that dispatch people on kill lists with very little regard for collateral damage.
It was an incident in Gardez, Afghanistan that got Scahill started on the trail of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the terrifying nighttime raiders in the direct control of the White House.
In Gardez, they interviewed survivors of that violent raid on the night of 12 February 2010. After watching his brother and his wife, his sister and his niece killed by US special forces, Mohammed Sabir was handcuffed on the ground. He watched, helpless, as the US soldiers dug the bullets out of his wife's corpse with a knife.
The most frightening part of the movie is an interview with a member of the American Taliban (JSOC) where he says that "we have built a hell of a hammer and are out looking for nails". Even with the scrambled face and voice it is a credible warning from within our military that the ever expanding kill lists are out of control. We started with a kill list of 7 people right after 9/11, by the time we invaded Iraq the kill list was the 55 people on the deck of cards (I am guessing this is 52 cards, 2 jokers, and Sadam), and now the list numbers over 3,000 -- with some unknown number of Americans included.
Have we become like those dictators we supported in the 70s and 80s who used fear to justify desperate measures? Even though I was only ten years old at the time, I remember talking to a Filipino employee of my dad's church about the men that would appear in the middle of the night and take people away. Marcos used the fear of communist rebels to justify many terrible human rights offenses. Now, 40 years later, the rebels in the south are not called communists anymore but members of an Islamist group called al Queda -- the very people we are the most afraid of. Fortunately, the Filipino people overthrew Marcos in 1986 with the people power revolution. They have not let their leaders use fear to compromise their values and as a result their citizens are safe at night.
I would like to be safe a night too, so let's rein in the American Taliban.