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Feb 08 2013

The Drone Wars

There weren’t many questions about the legality of targeted assassinations from the Senators for CIA Director nominee during his hearing before the  Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to Pres. Jimmy Carter, said the problem with drones was not the drones themselves but the how they are used. There are many questions about the legality of targeted assassinations, not just with regard to its constitutionality, but its permissibility under international law and treaties.

This analysis by Kevin Gosztola of the Justice Department undated white paper memo that was revealed by Michael Isikoff, discusses the convoluted and weak defense of the program:

According to the Justice Department’s white paper, “The threat posed by al Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat, making the use of force appropriate.” A “decision maker” cannot know all the al Qaida plots being planned at any one moment and, as a result, “cannot be confident” no plots are about to occur. There may be a small window of opportunity to take action. And so, the United States does not need to have “clear evidence that a specific attack on US person and interests will take place in the immediate future” to attack a target.

There is absolutely no way the targeted killing program can operate under these incredibly authoritarian presumptions and reasonably considered to follow international law.

UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson, who has launched an investigation into the use of drones and targeted killings by countries for the purposes of fighting terrorism, does not appear to think the US is abiding by international law. [..]

The targeted killing program does not appear to adhere to international law. The Justice Department knows that, which is why it lifted phrases from actual tenets of international law and cited historical analysis of legal questions offered to excuse massive war crimes. That was the best it could do to piece together some kind of argument that it it is legal.

Moreover, the Justice Department’s assertion it can preemptively attack individuals out of “self-defense” is as questionable as the claim Bush made that Iraq posed an “imminent threat” and needed to be attacked out of “self-defense.” Both twist international law to provide cover for the inevitable commitment of atrocities. And, in the end that may not be surprising because, like the justification for war in Iraq, the justification for targeted killings is intended to make normal the use of state-sanctioned murder to further the agenda of American empire.

National security correspondent for The Nation, Jeremy Scahill joined Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez to talk about John Brennan’s testimony fro the Senate committee:

President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the increase use of armed drones and the targeted killings of American citizens during his confirmation hearing Thursday. “None of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way,” says Jeremy Scahill, author of the forthcoming book “Dirty Wars.” “In the cases where people like Sen. Angus King or Sen. Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA has the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The questions were very good – Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. Then there would be almost a no follow-up.” Scahill went on to say, “[Brennan has] served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they’re discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand.



Transcript not yet available.

Mr. Brennan’s testimony did raise some serious questions about oversight of this program:

The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters after the hearing that she wanted to open more of the program to the public so U.S. officials can acknowledge the strikes and correct what she said were exaggerated reports of civilian casualties.

Feinstein said she and other senators were considering legislation to set up a special court system to regulate drone strikes, similar to the one that signs off on government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases. [..]

Feinstein said other senators including Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Pat Leahy, D-Vt., have all indicated “concern and interest” over how to regulate drones.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said some members of his panel also had been looking at establishing a “court-like entity” to review the strikes.

It appears that Mr. Brennan will be confirmed and that should be a huge concern for all Americans.

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