Tag Archive: Jeremy Scahill

Feb 12 2013

Drones: How America Kills

How America kills using drones has been a hot topic for many on the left who feel that the Obama administration has gone too far with the ubiquitous “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) when the president ordered the assassination of Anwar Al Awlaki and two weeks later his 16 year old son. The disagreement over this policy became even more heated when the Justice Department released an undated White Paper that outlined the memos that allegedly justifies extrajudicial executions by the Executive branch without due process. Constitutional lawyer and columnist at The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald observed that the memo has forced many Democrats “out of the closet as overtly unprincipled hacks:”

Illustrating this odd phenomenon was a much-discussed New York Times article on Sunday by Peter Baker which explained that these events “underscored the degree to which Mr. Obama has embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism, right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces.” [..]

Baker also noticed this: “Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama’s hands, not Mr. Bush’s.” As but one example, the article quoted Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor and fervent Obama supporter, as admitting without any apparent shame that “if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms” because, she said “we trust the president“. Thus did we have – while some media liberals objected – scores of progressives and conservatives uniting to overtly embrace the once-controversial Bush/Cheney premises of the War on Terror (it’s a global war! the whole world is a battlefield! the president has authority to do whatever he wants to The Terrorists without interference from courts!) in order to defend the war’s most radical power yet (the president’s power to assassinate even his own citizens in secret, without charges, and without checks). [..]

What this DOJ “white paper” did was to force people to confront Obama’s assassination program without emotionally manipulative appeal to some cartoon Bad Guy Terrorist (Awlaki). That document never once mentioned Awlaki. Instead – using the same creepily clinical, sanitized, legalistic language used by the Bush DOJ to justify torture, renditions and warrantless eavesdropping – it set forth the theoretical framework for empowering not just Obama, but any and all presidents, to assassinate not just Anwar Awlaki, but any citizens declared in secret by the president to be worthy of execution. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee wrote that the DOJ memo “should shake the American people to the core”, while Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman explained “the revolutionary and shocking transformation of the meaning of due process” ushered in by this memo and said it constituted a repudiation of the Magna Carta.

In doing so, this document helpfully underscored the critical point that is otherwise difficult to convey: when you endorse the application of a radical state power because the specific target happens to be someone you dislike and think deserves it, you’re necessarily institutionalizing that power in general. That’s why political leaders, when they want to seize extremist powers or abridge core liberties, always choose in the first instance to target the most marginalized figures: because they know many people will acquiesce not because they support that power in theory but because they hate the person targeted. But if you cheer when that power is first invoked based on that mentality – I’m glad Obama assassinated Awlaki without charges because he was a Bad Man! – then you lose the ability to object when the power is used in the future in ways you dislike (or by leaders you distrust), because you’ve let it become institutionalized. [..]

What’s most remarkable about this willingness to endorse extremist policies because you “trust” the current leader exercising them is how painfully illogical it is, and how violently contrary it is to everything Americans are taught from childhood about their country. It should not be difficult to comprehend that there is no such thing as vesting a Democratic President with Power X but not vesting a GOP President with the same power. To endorse a power in the hands of a leader you like is, necessarily, to endorse the power in the hands of a leader you dislike.

Like Bob Herbert’s statement – “policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House” – this is so obvious it should not need to be argued. As former Bush and Obama aide Douglas Ollivant told the NYT yesterday about the “trust” argument coming from some progressives: “That’s not how we make policy. We make policy assuming that people in power might abuse it. To do otherwise is foolish.

Hypocrisy thy name is Obama loyalists.

This weekend on Up with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes and his guest examined he government’s use of drone strikes and its “targeted killing” program in light of the release of the White Paper and the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA. They discussed what the law allows, what the constitution allows, what American’s think should be allowed and the what are the moral and ethical implications.

To discuss “How America Kills,” Chris was joined by Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine; Jennifer Draskal, Associate law professor at Georgetown University and fellow at the school’s Center on National Security; Richard Epstein, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, professor of law at New York University Law School; and Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project for the ACLU.

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.

Nov 08 2012

Drone Wars & War Crimes Will Continue

A major topic that was never mentioned during any of the campaign speeches or debates from either of the two major party candidates was the continued, and escalating, use of drones in the eternally, nebulous war on terror. During the election night coverage at Democracy Now!, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich discuss the expansion of the drone war and the targeted assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen struck by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last year.

In Obama’s 2nd Term, Will Dems Challenge U.S. Drones, Killings?

The transcript can be read here.

Aug 25 2011

Libya: Not Quite Mission Accomplished Or Legal

While the world will not miss Mommar Gadaffi, there are some very serious questions about how this was achieved, particularly for Americans who were opposed to Pres. George W. Bush military intervention policies while excusing Obama’s violation of the law.

Glenn Greenwald makes two salient points in his critique of an article by Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast that argues “the war in Libya highlights how “one can see how he (Obama) might become not just a good but a great foreign-policy president” and how some intellectual progressives conceive of the Obama presidency”.

First, this is not “mission accomplished” by any means:

No matter how moved you are by joyous Libyans (just as one was presumably moved by joyous Iraqis); no matter how heinous you believe Gadaffi was (he certainly wasn’t worse than Saddam); no matter how vast you believe the differences are between Libya and Iraq (and there are significant differences), this specific Iraq lesson cannot be evaded.  When foreign powers use military force to help remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.

Greenwald’s second point is the illegality:

The Atlantic‘s Conor Freidersdorf argues that no matter how great the outcome proves to be, Libya must be considered a “Phyrrhic victory for America” because:

   Obama has violated the Constitution; he willfully broke a law that he believes to be constitutional; he undermined his own professed beliefs about executive power, and made it more likely that future presidents will undermine convictions that he purports to hold; in all this, he undermined the rule of law and the balance of powers as set forth by the framers.

snip

The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson warns of the serious precedential dangers not only from Obama’s law-breaking but from our collective willingness to overlook it.  Honestly: can anyone claim that if George Bush had waged an optional war without Congressional approval — and continued to wage it even after a Democratic Congress voted against its authorization — that progressives would be lightly and parenthetically calling it “ridiculous” on their way to praising the war?  No, they’d be screaming — rightfully so — about lawlessness and the shredding of the Constitution; that this identical contempt for the law by Obama has become nothing more than a cursory progressive caveat (at most) on the way to hailing the glorious war is astounding.

(emphasis mine)

The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe discussing Libya setting Gov. Howard Dean and Newsweek‘s Tina Brown straight. He says what’s happening in the country is essentially “a NATO enforced regime change” and that President Obama is “implementing the Bush domino agenda in the Middle East”. Scahill also expresses concern that the US is making future enemies across the Middle East.

This article was a tough call for me to write because like so many I would rejoice to see Gadaffi in shackles at The Hague and that this revolution was initiated by the Libyan people. That said and as Glenn also points out in his article:

Does anyone know how many civilians have died in the NATO bombing of Tripoli and the ensuing battle?  Does anyone know who will dominate the subsequent regime? Does it matter?

 

But my, how soon some have forgotten the Bush regime’s policies.

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