President Barack Obama: “Drones? Drone attacks? Mr. Holder, do you know anything about this?
United States Attorney General Eric Holder, “I’ve never heard of drones, Mr. President. Leon, what do you hear from the generals?
Former Director of the CIA and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, “No, Eric, I have no information about drones. Perhaps, Director Petraeus would know about these drones”
The three men look around the room for CIA Director David Petraeus. He’s nowhere to be found.
That fictional conversation never took place but the Obama administration would now like us all to believe that they cannot even confirm or deny the existence of a drone program at all without seriously damaging national security. Huh? They really don’t expect anyone to accept that statement that was made in response to an ACLU lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act requesting the “the government to disclose the legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct “targeted killings” overseas. In particular, the ACLU seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killings.”
Glenn Greenwald in an in depth article at Salon dissected this laughable “defense” of national security about predator drones, targeted assassinations and Obama’s taking “Bush’s secrecy games one step further“:
What makes this so appalling is not merely that the Obama administration demands the right to kill whomever it wants without having to account to anyone for its actions, choices or even claimed legal authorities, though that’s obviously bad enough [..]
What makes it so much worse is how blatantly, insultingly false is its claim that it cannot confirm or deny the CIA drone program without damaging national security.
Numerous Obama officials – including the President himself and the CIA Director – have repeatedly boasted in public about this very program. Obama recently hailed the CIA drone program by claiming that “we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied,” and added that it is “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.” Obama has told playful jokes about the same drone program. Former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also likes to tell cute little jokes about CIA Predator drones, and then proclaimed in December that the drone program has “been very effective at undermining al Qaeda and their ability to plan those kinds of attacks.” Just two weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech purporting to legally justify these same drone attacks.
“Cute little jokes”? Is that like President George W. Bush’s “cute” little video looking for weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office? I don’t think the people who have lost family and friends and had their lives destroyed by America’s misadventures in the Middle East think this is amusing.
And just where is the secret? Everyone in the world is talking about the predator drone program that has killed more innocent people than Al Qaeda operatives and put the US relationship with ally Pakistan on very thin ice. Just this weekend there was a long article in The Washington Post with an unnamed CIA official who was directing drone attacks in Pakistan:
Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, may be the most consequential but least visible national security official in Washington – the principal architect of the CIA’s drone campaign and the leader of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In many ways, he has also been the driving force of the Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killing as a centerpiece of its counterterrorism efforts.
Glenn further notes that this fixation of the Obama administration on secrecy, as evidenced by its increased prosecution of whistleblowers, is a means to protect itself from rule of our laws. He quotes from President G.W.Bush DOJ lawyer Jack Goldsmith, who defended executive authority and secrecy powers but recognized that Obama was taking this too:
First, it is wrong . . . for the government to maintain technical covertness but then engage in continuous leaks, attributed to government officials, of many (self-serving) details about the covert operations and their legal justifications. It is wrong because it is illegal. It is wrong because it damages (though perhaps not destroys) the diplomatic and related goals of covertness. And it is wrong because the Executive branch seems to be trying to have its cake (not talking about the program openly in order to serve diplomatic interests and perhaps deflect scrutiny) and eat it too (leaking promiscuously to get credit for the operation and to portray it as lawful).
This can be filed under the “You’ve Got To Be Kidding” defense.
Drones? What drones? Hmm. Ask Iran, maybe they know something about this drone thing.