The Bourne Ultimatum: A lesson in impunity

Posted: August 20, 2007 in Movies, Political killings Philippines, War on Terror

Watching the Bourne Ultimatum was exciting as it was disturbing.


In the latest installment in the Bourne series, we are given a close-up (fictional but still close to reality) view of the US anti-terror campaign. The movie revolves around the black-ops unit of the Central Intelligence Agency called “Blackbriar”, an upgrade of the “Treadstone” unit from which Jason Bourne came from. Blackbriar is a counter-terrorism unit principally based in New York and has access to a whole range of information gathering and monitoring.


The mandate of Blackbriar is simple. Engage the enemies of the US government minus the bureaucratic the red tape, diplomatic gridlock and of course, beyond the reaches of the law. It is a unit that has very broad discretion when it comes to targeting and neutralizing enemies of the US. Blackbriar is also sanctioned to carry out assassinations and abductions, the use of deadly force, if necessary.


We are also given a glimpse of the surveillance capabilities of the US. A cellphone in the conversation in the United Kingdom can trigger a keyword which can then initiate massive surveillance on a target from halfway around the world. Such technology is not fictional and is believed to be used widely by the US government in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. Bush placed American citizens under surveillance as a so-called pre-emptive measure to thwart terror attacks.


In the film, we see how cellphone technology is easily used to place a person under heavy surveillance. Cellphones are easily tracked to reveal a person’s location. In one instance in the film, even turning of a cellphone was enough to incriminate one insider as the source of a leak. All the CIA had to do was to check which cell phones were closed at a given time and these numbers were immediately segregated.


In one sequence, CIA agent Pamela Landy refers to Echelon as a means for data gathering and hacking into emails, phone records and other stuff. Echelon is believed by many to be real. It has been referred to as an elaborate signal intelligence system wherein the US and UK government intercept, tap and eavesdrop on various forms of electronic communication. The allegations have come from various sources and have been acknowledged even by the European Parliament.


The film also shows us a common practice of the CIA called extraordinary rendition wherein operatives abduct a suspect or a target. The CIA deputy director in the film, during a briefing, said that they are prepared to use all means, including rendition, to get to their target (a journalist). There is this scene where agents use some kind of serum to incapacitate a person. The agents injected this person, an unwitting suspect (albeit the wrong one), during one of the chase scenes in the film. The innocent bystander injected by the serum was later dragged into a waiting vehicle. Extraordinary rendition involves the snatching or abduction of suspects or targets and bringing them to a third country or location where they are far from the reaches of the law and legal processes.


What may appear shocking to some is that Blackbriar operatives truly believe in what they do, that they are protecting American lives even if this means operating with impunity and utter disregard for human rights and the law. Covert agents are routinely tapped to carryout assassinations, bombings and other atrocities in the name of fighting terror.


One of the characters in the film was outraged over the practices of Blackbriar because it already targeted CIA agents themselves as well as a host of other American citizens. Sad though that the outrage was triggered only with the murder of the Americans. What about the other nationalities murdered by Treadstone and Blackbriar? Perhaps for the characters in the film, the fact that the agency was killing the very same people it was supposed to protect, that was the only cause of indignation.


A friend of mine said that watching the film was like viewing the Philippine counter insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya and the anti-terror law called the Human Security Act. True.


The film highlights the impunity of state security forces, in this case the world’s number one superpower, in the course of its so-called “war on terror”. The US does not recognize privacy, the rule of law, human rights and due process when it comes to pursuing its war on terror. This war has claimed the lives of people, denying them due process and other legal recourse. They have been killed on mere suspicion and sometimes on mere impulse.


Isn’t this the same logic behind the Bantay Laya and the HSA when it comes to government dealing with activists? Doesn’t Bantay Laya resort to legal and extrajudicial shortcuts since activists are now targeted for liquidation instead if prosecution? Doesn’t the Human Security Act treat everyone as suspects that need to be placed under surveillance? Doesn’t the US-Arroyo regime use the “war on terror” to justify the impunity with which military operations are carried out even against unarmed civilians? Isn’t this the same logic by which the bombing of Muslim communities in Mindanao is carried out? That they are all terrorist supporters according to the military?


At all costs. This is the battle cry of the OBL and HSA. That’s fact, not fiction.


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