I recently attended a party for investigative journalist and founding editor of The Intercept Jeremy Scahill’s new book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program and party it was. The Intercept staff gave talks interspersed with music and food. Glenn Greenwald, the other founding editor, appeared via live feed from Brazil. In …
May 26 2016
May 12 2015
Every now and then one of our “representative” leaders lets the mask slip and Americans get a peek at the monster behind the mask. The monsters that represent us are well-known elsewhere in the world by the people who are variously invaded, bombed, incinerated by flying death robots, disappeared, held in gulags, tortured, sanctioned, starved, treated to heaping helpings of depleted uranium, attacked with banned weapons like white phosphorus, brutalized by authoritarian dictators and puppets that our monsters support with weapons Made in America(tm). I could go on, but you get the picture.
One of the most memorable mask-slips of recent times was when the ghastly gasbag Madelaine Albright revealed the sociopathic policy of the Clinton administration – claiming that it was “worth it” to cause the deaths, estimated in a 1995 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report as 567,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, to bring Saddam Hussein to heel.
Apr 24 2015
Back in 2013, in the aftermath of his murder of Americans Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16 year old son, when Mr. Obama was trying to justify his arrogated powers to incinerate people with his fleet of flying death robots, he made certain assertions about the process by which he and his merry minions selected victims [bolding mine]:
First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force, whether it is against a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.
Second, the United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that
all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.
Third, the following criteria must be met before
lethal action may be taken:
1) Near certainty that the terrorist target is present;
2) Near certainty that non – combatants will not be injured or killed;
3) An assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation;
4) An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S.
5) An assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.
Further on in the document Obama states:
These decisions will be informed by a broad
analysis of an intended target’s current and past role in
plots threatening U.S. persons.
Fast forward to 2015.
From recent news coverage:
The White House was forced to concede on Thursday that it killed two innocent hostages – one American, one Italian – in a drone strike that targeted an al-Qaida compound despite officials not knowing precisely who was in the vicinity. …
Conceding that the operation was not ordered against any individual targets, Earnest said the administration only discovered later that the compound was occupied by Weinstein, La Porto and another American named Ahmed Farouq, who the White House says was a “leader” of the terrorist group.
Farouq was not, however, the target of the operation. The drone strike was not targeted at known al-Qaida members; instead, it was directed against anyone in the vicinity of what the US believed was a compound being used by the terrorist group.
Here’s one of today’s headlines:
Here’s a little additional information:
The targets of the deadly drone strikes that killed two hostages and two suspected American members of al-Qaida were “al-Qaida compounds” rather than specific terrorist suspects, the White House disclosed on Thursday. …
The two US civilians killed, longtime English-language propagandist Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq of al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent, were not “high-value targets” marked for death, he confirmed.
What we have here is very strong evidence that at best Mr. Obama is operating in bad faith with the American people and at worst he is a devious liar.
The standards that he proclaimed in the document entitled “U.S. Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities” are nothing but a sham.
To wit: Obama did not know that the persons he incinerated posed “a contniuing, imminent threat to US persons,” Obama did not know to a “near certainty that the [or any] terrorist target [was] present,” and one can only hope that he isn’t lying that he did not know to a “near certainty that non – combatants will not be injured or killed.”
Further, since Obama had no idea of who he was incinerating, it would be impossible to know whether they could have been captured, that the relevant authorities would not have cooperated in “effectively addressing the [unknown] threat” that the unknown persons posed, nor could Obama have known of any other reasonable alternatives existed.
There’s good reason to wonder if Obama ever really knows who is present when he sends his flying death robots. Amy Goodman points out on Democracy Now:
Despite hundreds of hours of surveillance, the White House said it had no reason to believe the U.S. and Italian hostages were being detained in the al-Qaeda compound targeted during the operation.
It appears that the methods by which Obama collects information in order to verify to a “near certainty that non – combatants will not be injured or killed” is horribly unreliable and hence amounts to a violation of his stated standards. Frankly, if the intelligence that Obama collects “hundreds of hours of” is this poor, then there would seem to be no reasonable basis for his flying death robot attacks at all.
Regardless of whether use of the intelligence was negligent, it is quite plain that no “broad analysis of an intended target’s current and past role in plots threatening U.S. persons,” was ever conducted, since of course, there was no intended target.
It’s not like this, “let’s blow some stuff up and see who we kill,” is something new for Obama, though:
For years, the vast majority of drone strikes victims have never been positively identified as terrorists. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has the most comprehensive data on drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, published a study last year showing only 12% of victims were identified as militants and only 4% were identified as members of al-Qaida. This study is backed up by the excellent reporting by McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay, who gained access to years of classified CIA reports to show that the vast majority of drone strike victims were not high level terrorist operatives like the administration claimed.
And we know the government thinks it can kill US citizens overseas without a trial or even a finding by any independent body. Despite a clear public interest in knowing about such an extreme claim to power, the Justice Department has fought to keep its supposed legal authority for drone strikes on Americans completely secret.
When will there be accountability?
Unfortunately, members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee have been the biggest cheerleaders of drone strikes, rather than their biggest skeptics. … If there’s ever going to be accountability for the CIA and military drone program, we need a fully independent commission, divorced from the intelligence committees. Without it, this controversy will just fade back into the background, where it will stay hidden under the government’s ever-expanding veil of secrecy.
Obama has irresponsibly used the vast powers that come with the office of President. His use of the fleet of flying death robots under his command is both a crime and a national disgrace.
To use an idiom that the President is known for, it is time for Americans to step up and take away the car keys.
Apr 23 2015
At news conference, President Barack Obama expressed “profound regret” for killing two civilians, who were being held captive by Al Qaeda, during a counter-terrorism strike in an attempt to rescue them along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border this past January. The operation involved a drone strike.
The US president spoke shortly after the White House announced that intelligence officials had concluded that the January counter-terrorism operation had “accidentally” killed Dr Warren Weinstein, a US government aid worker, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker. [..]
Separately, the White House also disclosed that it had mistakenly killed two other Americans, both of whom were suspected of being high-level al-Qaida members but had not been specifically targeted.
Obama did not mention the two American al-Qaida members in the statement from the White House, in which he sought to explain how his counter-terrorism strike could have take the lives of two hostages. Neither did he use the word “drone”. [..]
Yet the president struck a surprisingly defiant tone, insisting that his administration had acted on the best intelligence available at the time and claiming that his decision to declassify the operation and initiate a review was a sign of American exceptionalism.
He said he had decided to make the existence of the operation public because Weinstein and Lo Porto’s families “deserve to know the truth” and “the United States is a democracy, committed to openness, in good times and in bad”.
Also mentioned in the article by a team of reporters at The Guardian was that, despite the president’s claim of “transparency,” there is still a great deal of secrecy surrounding the use of drones and a lack of accountability for the number of civilian killed during these raids.
The American Civil Liberties Union in March sued the Obama administration, which has proclaimed itself the most transparent in history, for disclosure of critical legal documents underpinning what the administration calls its “targeted killing” program – including the criteria for placement on a list permitting the US to kill people, including its own citizens, without trial.
Obama’s admission regarding the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto is likely to intensify criticism of the president’s worldwide drone strikes, conducted by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. A recent analysis by human-rights group Reprieve estimated that US drone strikes intending to target 41 men had killed 1,147 people as of November.
These drone operations may get even more exposure due to the court on Germany that has allowed a law suit brought by families of Waleed bin Ali Jaber and Salim bin Ali Jaber, innocent civilians who were killed in a drone strike on August 12, 2012 in Yemen, to go forward. It may also put Germany in a awkward position
Salim and Waleed’s deaths sparked protests in their village, and the incident was later well-documented by international media and human rights groups. Their family representative, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, has met with Yemeni and U.S. national security officials and members of Congress. But the United States still has not formally acknowledged or apologized for the incident.
The previously unreported intelligence report, viewed by The Intercept, indicates that the U.S. government knew soon after the strike that it had killed two civilians. It could add fire to a lawsuit that Faisal bin Ali Jaber has launched in Germany, as further evidence that U.S. strikes put innocent Yemenis at risk.
Jaber will testify next month in front of a German court, alleging that Germany is violating a constitutionally enshrined duty to protect the right to life by allowing the United States to use Ramstein Air Base as part of its lethal drone operations.
It is the first time a victim of a U.S. drone strike will air his grievances in court, lawyers for the case told The Intercept. The lawsuit could put Germany in the awkward position of having to publicly defend its role in the U.S. drone program.
As The Intercept reported today, the U.S. military sees Ramstein as an essential node in the technical infrastructure for its armed and unarmed drone operations. A budget request for the Ramstein station stated that without the facility, “weapon strikes cannot be supported.”
The Obama administration has come under heavy criticism from international and human rights organizations over the legality of its drone program and the targeted assassinations of American citizens suspected of terrorist involvement without due process.
In a another case in Pakistan, a judge has ordered the [police to investigate the CIA for its authorization of drone strikes in 2009:
Last Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered police to open a criminal case against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John A. Rizzo for murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.
The complainant is Kareem Khan, whose son Zahin Ullah Khan and brother Asif Iqbal were killed in an alleged December 2009 CIA drone strike in the mountainous Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.
The case was lauded as the “first of its kind for directly implicating and naming a CIA official” by University of Hull international legal expert Niaz Shah. [..]
However, the case appears to rest on whether Pakistan’s political apparatus is willing to pursue a sensitive legal action that police say may imperil U.S.-Pakistan relations.
According to court documents seen by TIME, not only does Khan’s case implicate ex-CIA officials, it also calls for an investigation into the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, where Khan believes the drone strike was ordered. [..]
Even if the investigation receives the green light, bringing ex-CIA officials to trial will be an onerous battle in Pakistan. Should Bank and Rizzo fail to appear, one recourse is the international police body Interpol, which can extradite former CIA officials to stand trial, says Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the Pakistani attorney leading case. However, cases against CIA officials seldom succeed, even when Interpol is invoked, for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity. [..]
Even if the investigation receives the green light, bringing ex-CIA officials to trial will be an onerous battle in Pakistan. Should Bank and Rizzo fail to appear, one recourse is the international police body Interpol, which can extradite former CIA officials to stand trial, says Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the Pakistani attorney leading case. However, cases against CIA officials seldom succeed, even when Interpol is invoked, for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity.
Assassin and murder, this is Obama’s legacy.
Mar 18 2015
Andrew Cockburn, the editor of Harper‘s magazine, sat down with “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to discuss his new book “Kill Chain: The Rise of High-Tech Assassins,” that exams America’s flawed obsession with high tech ways to assassinate people with drones.
You can read an excerpt from his book at Counterpunch.
Jan 07 2015
MSNBC’s host Rachel Maddow discusses how the CIA making deals for black site torture facilities undercut the State Department calling for open disclosure about the prisoners that were being held in those countries.
She is joined by Philip Zelikow, counselor to the State Department from 2005 to 2007, to discuss the conflict between the CIA and State Department.
It isn’t just the secret dealing to cover up the crime of torture that is damaging foreign policy, drone strikes that allegedly target Al Qaeda and ISIS leaders have angered the governments of the countries that have been attacked. The effectiveness of these strikes are dubious since there is no evidence of their effectiveness. What is certain is that the strikes have killed more civilians than terrorists and made Americans less safe.
Scott Horton, human rights attorney and contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to the US secret foreign policy of drone sites and torture black sites.
At least nine Pakistanis were killed Sunday in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, the first reported drone strike of 2015. News accounts of the strike are based on unnamed Pakistani government and security officials. The Obama administration has said nothing so far. For years, the United States did not even publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone strikes. The drone program is just one example of the national security state’s reliance on secret operations. The recent Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed another example: the shadowy network of overseas CIA black sites where the United States held and tortured prisoners. The report also noted the CIA shrouded itself in a cloak of secrecy keeping policymakers largely in the dark about the brutality of its detainee interrogations. The agency reportedly deceived the White House, the National Security Council, the Justice Department and Congress about the efficacy of its controversial interrogation techniques
Full transcript can be read here
Nov 19 2014
I have 3 articles for you this Wednesday morning!
First, on media complicity in framing our drone victims:
Since its 2012 report, the Times itself has tended to avoid the “militant” language in its headlines, but often lends credence to dubious official claims, as when it said this about a horrific U.S. drone strike last December on a Yemeni wedding party that killed 12 people and wounded at least 15 others, including the bride: “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” Other U.S. media accounts of that strike were just as bad, if not worse. The controversies over the definition of “militant” are almost never mentioned in any of these reports.
A new article in The New Yorker by Steve Coll underscores how deceptive this journalistic practice is. Among other things, he notes that the U.S. government itself-let alone the media outlets calling them “militants”-often has no idea who has been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s because, in 2008, George W. Bush and his CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, implemented “signature strikes,” under which “new rules allowed drone operators to fire at armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown.” The Intercept previously reported that targeting decisions can even be made on the basis of nothing more than metadata analysis and tracking of SIM cards in mobile phones.
Oct 01 2014
John Oliver’s “This Week Tonight” on HBO is fast becoming the show to watch, especially his longer segments. This past Sunday John explains how drones are making the blue skies terrifying.
“Drone strikes will be as much a characteristic of the Obama presidency as Obamacare or receiving racist email forwards from distant relatives.” [..]
“Drone strikes are one of those things that it’s really convenient not to think about that much,” Oliver lamented. “Like the daily life of a circus elephant or that Beck is a Scientologist.” [..]
“When children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky,” he insisted, “it might be time to ask some hard questions.” [..]
“Congratulations everyone. We did it. We managed to make blue skies completely terrifying.”
It’s all in how you define “imminent.”
Jun 25 2014
Three years ago the Unites States on the orders of President Barack Obama assassinated a native born American citizen, Anwar al Awlaki, in Yemen, using the rational that he was an “immanent threat” and, well, because they could. To this day, other than al-Awlaki’s videos and writing, that are covered under the First Amendment, there has been no evidence that this man was an immanent threat to the security of United States. No evidence, no indictment, no trial. Just a clear violation of al-Awlaki’s rights as an American.
One of the memos that was used to justify this murder was released this week after the Obama administration’s loss of a FOIA request by the ACLU and the New York Times. Needless to say, the memo written by Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel, and now United States Circuit Judge, David Barron, is heavily redacted. The memo is, as the New York Times Editorial Board so blithely put it, “a slapdash pastiche of legal theories – some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law – that was clearly tailored to the desired result”.
Citing the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), that started the nebulous “global war on terror,” is hardly a defense for taking a man’s life without due process under our laws and wouldn’t hold water in any legitimate court like the Hague.
The redacted version of the memo released Monday does not reveal much of the factual basis for the government’s claims that Awlaki represented an imminent threat to the United States.
In the disclosed portions, Barron’s memo does not explicitly vouch for the government’s case against Awlaki, referring instead to “the facts represented to us”. It refers instead to Awlaki as a “leader” who was “continuously planning attacks” against the US, without providing an evidentiary basis for claims central to the extraordinary circumvention of normal due process procedures. Nor do the public sections explain why capturing Awlaki was not feasible, nor why the Justice Department believes it need not have provided Awlaki with judicial process. [..]
The Justice Department memo “confirms that the government’s drone killing program is built on gross distortions of law”, said Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who challenged the Awlaki killing, who added that the “forced transparency comes years late”.
Rejecting a government argument that the release of the memorandum would chill attorney-client communications, the court wrote on Monday: “If this contention were upheld, waiver of privileges protecting legal advice would never occur. … We need not fear that OLC will lack for clients.”
As Tim cushing at Techdirt writes, the “AUMF trumps all and rights are subject to revocation in times of war.”
The justifications listed below constantly cite 18 USC 1119(b), a law that simply states that it’s illegal for a US citizen to kill another US citizen residing outside US borders, making them subject to the United States’ laws on murder and manslaughter. But what looks simple and solid on the law books is apparently filled with loopholes and things Congress meant to make clear but apparently didn’t. [..]
On page 73, the DOJ notes that there’s actually no federal statute that grants the government the same “rights” (in terms of justified use of deadly force) local law enforcement agencies enjoy, but that doesn’t slow down the rationalizing. The DOJ looks back through legislative to find something that might apply to its drone attacks. But what it quotes here has nothing to do with executions. [..]
Technically, we’re not “at war” anywhere in the world. There’s no declared war, other than the one on terrorism, which the DOJ terms (using the AUMF wording) a “non-international armed conflict.” If this is the justification, terming anything a “war on…” would justify extrajudicial killing, because no one expects murder charges to be brought against them during normal acts of war (i.e., combatants killing other combatants).
Because the AUMF says we can detain a US citizen who is assisting our enemies, it also means we can kill a US citizen who does the same.
The question of what makes it legal to kill an American overseas is still unanswered.
May 09 2014
This week Senator Rand Paul has threatened to filibuster President Barack Obama’s nominee to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The nomination of David Barron, who was a Justice Department lawyer at the start of the administration and is now a Harvard Law School professor was the author of the contentious memo that authorized the assassination of an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki.
(M)embers of both parties say they are disturbed by Mr. Barron’s authorship of legal memos that justified the United States’ killing of an American citizen overseas with a drone.
The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to all 100 senators on Monday urging them to put off a vote on Mr. Barron’s confirmation until the White House allowed them to read all of his writings on the drone program. [..]
The A.C.L.U.’s objections, along with the announcement by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that he would use his power to slow down the confirmation unless the administration released one of the legal memos written by Mr. Barron, raised fresh questions on Capitol Hill on Monday about whether the nomination would survive. [..]
Two Democrats who are up for re-election in states where Republicans have a political edge – Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana – are said to be unsure if they will vote yes on Mr. Barron.
A court has ordered the administration to release some of Mr. Barron’s legal work as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. But White House lawyers have not done so while they weigh whether to appeal. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who is in a tight race, said Monday that he would vote no unless the White House released what the court ordered.
Republicans are not alone in their objections of this nominee. Democrats, who are up for reelection and those who have questioned the administration’s legal right to assassinated American citizens without due process and the drone program, have expressed doubts about voting to confirm Mr. Barron
But with so many Democrats concerned about the administration’s drone policy, sufficient support for Barron is uncertain. Senate leaders have yet to set a vote on his nomination to join the appeals court with jurisdiction over federal cases in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. He faces opposition from a mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans concerned with his involvement in establishing the administration’s drone policy.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and a frequent critic of Obama’s counterterrorism policies, said Thursday that “the public has a right to know” the administration’s justification for drone strikes on American citizens.
“To me, the central question has always been on intelligence matters,” Wyden told reporters. “There is a difference between secret operations. They have to be kept secret, because otherwise Americans can die and be hurt. But the rules and the underlying policies — those ought to be public.”
Other Democrats, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), have also expressed concern about Barron’s work and this week called for the public release of Barron’s memos.
Marcy Wheeler of emptywheel, writing for The Week, weighs in on why Sen. Paul’s threat of filibuster should be taken seriously
Eleven years ago, the Senate confirmed Jay Bybee to a lifetime appointment on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. At the time, almost no senators knew about – much less had reviewed the contents of – a set of memos authorizing torture that Bybee had signed when he was head of the OLC in 2002. Paul is trying to prevent similarly rewarding Barron before senators can review the legal arguments he made authorizing another troubling executive branch action: killing an American citizen with no due process.
Barron, who is currently a Harvard Law School professor, served as the acting head of the OLC from 2009 until 2010. The office provides legal advice to executive branch agencies that can provide (usually secret) legal sanction for controversial positions.
A July 16, 2010, memo written by Barron authorizing the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist Yemeni-American cleric, is one such opinion. Awlaki died in a CIA drone strike (along with Samir Khan, another American citizen who had become an extremist propagandist) on Sept. 30, 2011. [..]
Eventually, at least 31 members of Congress made at least 23 attempts to obtain the memo permitting the executive branch to kill an American citizen with no due process. Most of Congress still hasn’t seen it. [..]
Paul may have the courts on his side. He invoked an April 21 decision by New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that the government must release a redacted version of the memo to the ACLU and two New York Times reporters who had sued in 2011 to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request for the memo. The court order makes it easier to for Paul to call for a public release, rather than just a release to Congress. [..]
Four years ago, David Barron opened a Pandora’s box, giving presidents an inadequately limited authority to kill Americans outside all normal judicial process. As Paul notes in his letter, it would simply be “irresponsible” for the Senate to confirm his nomination without discovering what the memo could reveal about his views on due process, civil liberties, and international law. In a letter to all 100 senators, the ACLU echoed this language, recalling the precedent of Jay Bybee. “No senator can meaningfully carry out his or her constitutional obligation to provide ‘advice and consent’ on this nomination to a lifetime position as a federal appellate judge without being able to read Mr. Barron’s most important and consequential legal writing.”
The Senate took such an irresponsible step in 2003 with Jay Bybee. It can avoid that mistake here.
Instead of appointing those who justify torture, rendition and assassinations to hight courts, we should be looking into their criminal culpability in the crimes that they are justifying in their legal briefs. Yet those briefs and memos remain classified as our representatives are asked to appoint these people to high positions for life.