The military analyst industrial complex – not known for reining in the military ambitions of US presidents – has struck back at Donald Trump’s call to shoot immigrants at the US border if they throw rocks.
“They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” the first-term president has declared. “I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mexican military and police I say consider it a rifle.”
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded on CNN: “My reaction in listening to that, coming from the commander in chief of our forces, president of the United States, is one of disgust. That’s a wanton incitement of unnecessary violence. It’s a distraction. It’s a distortion.”
Retired US General Mark Hertling insisted to CNN’s Don Lemon that the threat against Trump’s imagined rock throwers at the US-Mexico border “goes against the uniform code of military justice.” He added, “It goes against the law of land warfare and it goes against the Geneva Convention.”
Hertling cited the principle of “proportionality,” saying, “You don’t strike with a rifle or you don’t shoot at someone who has thrown a rock.”
The words are striking as I do not recall a retired US military leader speaking so forcefully on cable news against Israel’s use of firearms against Palestinian children throwing stones.
The citation of international law should be routine in their analysis of Israel’s military actions against an occupied people. Yet it is anything but routine.
A personal note to Lemon asking him to remind his colleagues of Hertling’s remarks when Israeli military forces shoot Palestinian children throwing stones went unanswered.
CNN has gained a reputation lately for trying to hold Trump accountable. Yet the channel’s record on exposing state violence leaves much to be desired.
Military analysts employed by the cable news networks generally do not note, as Amnesty International did in 2014, that “often, the force used by Israeli forces against protesters seems to be unnecessary, arbitrary and abusive.”
Imagine how different CNN’s coverage of Israeli human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank could be if a military analyst invoked international law in discussing deadly Israeli gunfire – using US-made weapons – against Palestinian children.
Instead, viewers frequently face spin.
In 2014, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed Michael Oren, previously Israeli ambassador to the US and a spokesperson for the Israeli military, about the death of the Palestinian child Nadim Nuwara. Oren, then employed as a “CNN Mideast analyst,” questioned whether Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, another child slain the same day by Israeli occupation forces, were even dead.
Oren said nothing about international law and the egregious abuse of the principle of proportionality, not to mention that neither child was actually a threat when shot dead.
“Who is Amnesty International?”
The Nigerian military has already used Trump’s words in an attempt to exonerate itself for killing, according to Amnesty International, more than 40 protesters, some of whom were throwing rocks.
John Agim, a Nigerian military spokesperson, stated, “We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” He added, “What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”
Trump has subsequently tried to backtrack. “They won’t have to fire. What I don’t want is I don’t want these people throwing rocks,” Trump has declared. “If they do that with us, they’re going to be arrested for a long time.”
Yet the damage is done. Impressionable young troops may now believe their president has given them license to shoot to kill at the border against what Trump has described as an “invasion” by immigrants that he asserts – without evidence – includes “unknown Middle Easterners.” Trump appears to want his supporters to think of terrorism and violence when they hear him claim that “Middle Easterners” and “very bad thugs and gang members” comprise the caravan hundreds of miles from the US border.
How quickly would Trump leap to defend any such soldier who fires on civilians at the border?
He’s already on record offering to pay possible legal bills of supporters at his rallies who attack protesters. And he can certainly look for an example to political friends and allies in Israel who jumped to defend Israeli army medic Elor Azarya who executed the severely injured and, at the time, unarmed Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in occupied Hebron.
Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to the president, remains the driving force behind Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Miller has documented connections to the white supremacist Richard Spencer – with whom he has previously worked on immigration issues – and to Ben Packer, an extremist rabbi actively involved in expelling Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem.
Despite the tense relationship between Trump’s entourage and journalists, the mainstream media have failed to probe the full extent of such connections. Israel’s crimes – and how the US enables them – remain something that cable military analysts fail to address with the same vigor they have recently shown regarding Trump’s abuses.