Saturday, June 8, 2013
I was in Erie, Pennsylvania last week. The city is named after the famous lake and the Native American tribe that lived along its southern shore. In the middle of a meeting on Friday I got a recorded voice message from the US Airways stating that my return flight to Philadelphia had been cancelled because of an anticipated storm hitting the area in the evening. I called the America Express travel agent to find out if there were any other flights I could take to return home. She said that I could fly from Buffalo, New York at night. This arrangement would, however, require driving all the way from Erie to Buffalo, which would take nearly two hours and hoping that the flight from there would leave on time. Since there was no such guarantee and that there was no other flight leaving Erie for Philadelphia until Sunday, I surmised that I was probably better off driving all the way to Philadelphia, which is nearly 400 miles away.
After returning the rental car at the airport, I rented another one from Hertz for my one-way trip. I left Erie airport around 3 p.m. It was a long trip lasting more than six hours. And I was glad that the traffic condition was good and I could reach home shortly after 9 p.m., i.e., an hour before the scheduled arrival time for the flight from Buffalo. On my way home, I stopped by a McDonald’s and tried to call home. But I did not have any luck. I later learnt that the storm, although a mild one, had knocked out electric power in the evening in my neighborhood.
I listened to the NPR - my favorite radio station and some other ones just to keep my mind engaged in this solo trip so as to avoid falling into sleep. I learned that Richard Ramirez, the demonic serial killer known as the Night Stalker, had died that morning - early Friday in a hospital.
Ramirez, a Catholic Christian - originally from El Paso, Texas, was convicted of 13 murders that terrorized Southern California in 1984 and 1985 as well as charges of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, burglary and attempted murder. Back then I was a resident of California, and still remember how he had terrorized the city. The residents were warned to lock their doors and windows at night.
The killing spree reached its peak in the hot summer of 1985, as the night-time killer entered homes through unlocked windows and doors and killed men and women with gunshot blasts to the head or knives to the throat, sexually assaulted female victims, and burglarized the residence.
Some of the crimes were horrid beyond imagination: A Muslim man was murdered in his bed and his wife was raped beside the dead body. The killer beat a small child and attempted to sodomize him. He tried to rape even an old lady. He was demon possessed and never repented for his crimes.
At his first court appearance, Ramirez raised a hand with a pentagram drawn on it and yelled, "Hail, Satan." The jury recommended death penalty for his gruesome crimes. After the conviction, Ramirez flashed a two-fingered "devil sign" to photographers and muttered a single word: "Evil."
Like most serial killers, he had many admirers – mostly women who fell in love with him. A magazine editor even married him in 1996 while he was serving death sentence in the prison.
Ramirez had been housed on death row for decades in San Quentin prison and was awaiting execution. And now with his natural death, he seemed to have dodged execution.
Richard Ramirez, of course, won’t be the last of the serial killers. He was “unlucky” to have been caught and punished for his crime.
What about other more sinister killers – the mass murderers - of our time who kill thousands of innocent people? If you are pondering about the difference between the two terms – here is a hint from the U.S. Department of Justice, Statistics Bureau. Serial killers commit many murders in a series of events (three or more) -- usually one murder per event – with ‘cooling off’ periods in between events lasting over a long period of time. Mass murderers, on the other hand, commit many murders in a single event or in multiple events - involving four or more victims per event per location. Terrorism – committed by an individual or a group - and government sanctioned murders qualify as mass murders.
The latter categories of mass murderers often claim that their murders are ‘legal’ and/or ‘justified,’ and sometimes necessary for the greater good of the society – especially, when those crimes are perpetrated by a state or a group. Their crime is tied up with myth, false assumptions, and misinformation – often sensationalized in the press, while the complex motivations of the perpetrator are ignored or soon forgotten. The individual mass murderer is often a psychopath and rarely a crazy killer who lashes out against his victims in a mindless frenzy of violence. The precise knowledge of what makes a non-state, individual mass murderer tick is harder to come by than in a case of a serial killer. The former usually doesn’t commit mass murders more than once, while the same cannot be said about a state perpetrator.
Sadly, there is hardly any international mechanism to convict the state perpetrators in mass murders, unless of course, they are defeated or routed out from office! They are often the ‘lucky’ ones who save their necks. In spite of their horrendous crimes at home or abroad, they can be quite popular – dead or alive - in their own countries.
Consider President Bashar al-Assad of Syria who has been killing his people for the last couple of years. He has already killed more than 70,000 Syrians and will probably continue to murder more unless his tyrannical regime falls. Aided by its huge supply of racist and bigot Buddhists, the Myanmar government has been killing thousands of its Muslim population in the recent years in a calculated way to wipe off the Muslim identity and force them to leave in what can best be described as genocidal campaigns. Former U.S. President George W. Bush, in his attempts to oust the Taliban regime and the Ba’athist regime, has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghan and Iraqi civilians, respectively, who had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and the WMDs. The mass murder of the innocent civilians is still going on under President Barack Obama. Thousands of Pakistanis have died and will probably continue to die. But who is there to stop Obama’s mass murder? His Attorney General says whatever he is doing is all legal, even when the victims included American citizens!
President Obama had no problem killing American citizens, even a teenager. Not surprisingly, the lawyers of the Department of Justice argued in a court filing this week that the Obama Administration's targeted drone strikes against American citizens were constitutional in part because the president said so. "The Attorney General’s statement last month that the use of remotely piloted aircraft and the targeting of Anwar Al-Aulaqi were subject to 'exceptionally rigorous interagency legal review' and determined to be lawful -- along with the President’s statement that those actions were legal -- only support the conclusion that those actions were lawful, and certainly were not clearly established to be unconstitutional in 2011," the government said in a Wednesday court filing signed by Paul E. Werner, a trial lawyer in the Justice Department's Civil Division.
The government was responding to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the estates of three American citizens killed in drone strikes. The lawsuit, Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, alleges that the government's killing of Al-Aulaqi and his 16-year-old son, Abdur-Rahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan were unconstitutional because they were not given due process.
The administration's court filing also claimed that the government deserved qualified immunity because the plaintiffs "failed to allege the violation of any clearly established constitutional rights." The previously classified information disclosed by Obama and Holder is "wholly consistent with Defendants’ showing that Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s due process rights were not violated," the government said. The government also argued that because Khan and Abdur-Rahman Al-Aulaqi were not specifically targeted by the government, they cannot claim they were subjected to an unconstitutional process.
The Obama administration claims its use of lethal force, including with drones, is "legal", "ethical", and "wise". But, as rightly noted by the Amnesty International (AI) and the ACLU and rights groups the Obama administration is killing people outside the bounds of human rights and the law. International law permits the use of lethal force in very restricted circumstances. But the U.S. drone strike policy allows extrajudicial executions in violation of the right to life, virtually anywhere in the world.
So, how is President Obama different than Richard Ramirez – the serial killer? To most human rights activists and legal experts, Obama is actually worse.
If Obama is serious of not having this epithet, as AI has recently called for: the Obama administration must follow the international law that restricts the use of lethal force. He must stop his drone attacks that kill innocent human beings. The U.S. Congress and the courts must uphold international law and stop a mass murderer. They owe it to the people who put them in the office. After all, Obama’s drone attacks are only breeding more terrorists who want to wreak havoc by attacking American citizens for no fault of their own except that they have elected a monster who has brought so much pain on so many. When we belittle other people’s pains, which we have caused, we only buy insecurity for ourselves!
[This essay is revised on June 11, 2013]