Tag Archive: accountability

Apr 24 2015

It’s long past time to take away Obama’s flying death robots

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.

persons; and

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:

White House admits: we didn’t know who drone strike was aiming to kill

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:

Secrecy, misdirection and lies have shielded much of the public from the realization that US drone strikes have killed countless civilians in the past decade

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.

Feb 13 2014

Obama Administration Abuses National Security, Secrecy Powers

Would the US Government executive branch abuse it’s state secrets privilege, abuse the classification of documents, and use its ability to prevent a foreign national’s entry to the US to bar her access to the court system? Would it spend millions of taxpayer dollars on lawyers improperly?

The answer is unequivocally yes.

Would top Obama administration officials practice deceit  repeatedly in support of efforts to avoid admission of a simple error?

Absolutely.

Here is proof that the Obama administration at the highest levels cannot be trusted to fairly, prudently and honestly wield the powers they have arrogated unto themselves in the name of national security.  Not only are they a pack of liars, they are people that lack the honor and decency to admit when they have made a simple mistake and apologize for it.

How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Eric_Holder perjuryEric Holder declared to the court that the government would not claim national security privileges to conceal administrative errors or prevent embarrassment.

Holder should have been charged with perjury for his mendacity and the administration should be beyond embarrassed.

Due to the clerical error committed by the FBI agent, the plaintiff in this case, having recently had a hysterectomy and wheelchair bound, was handcuffed, detained and denied her pain medications for hours. After she was released and returned to her home country, the administration barred her from returning to the US to attend her trial.

Most normal folks after discovering that they have by error caused someone pain, embarrassment and severe inconvenience would find apologizing for their error to be the right thing to do.  Apparently the Obama administration is not peopled by normal folks.

The administration almost got away with it.  The judge initially dismissed the case basis of the government’s claims.  After a federal appeals court reinstated the suit, the judge learned what the government had been at pains to conceal. In a pretrial conference the judge said, “I feel that I have been had by the government.”  

From the decision:

At long last, the government has conceded that plaintiff poses no threat to air safety or national  security and should never have been placed on the no-fly  list. She got there by human error within the FBI. This too is conceded. This was no minor human error but an error with palpable impact, leading to the humiliation, cuffing, and incarceration of an innocent and incapacitated air traveler. That it was human error may seem hard to accept – the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit – human error, yes, but of considerable consequence. Nonetheless, this order accepts the agent’s testimony.

The judge goes on in the ruling to describe some of the various abuses that the Obama administration engaged in to conceal the information from the public on realization that the petty error they had expended so much effort to conceal would be known to the court:

In stubborn resistance to letting the public and press see the details of this case, the government has made numerous motions to dismiss on various grounds, including an overbroad complete dismissal request based on state secrets. When it could not win an outright dismissal, it tried to close the trial from public view via invocation of a statutory privilege for “sensitive security information” (“SSI”), 49 U.S.C. 114(r) and 49 C.F.R. 1520.5, and the “law enforcement privilege.” Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59 (1957). At least ten times the trial was interrupted and the public asked to leave so that such evidence could be presented.

Given the lengths that this administration has gone to in order to cover up a petty error made during a previous administration, one can only imagine the abuses of office and the national security and secrecy powers that they have arrogated unto themselves to cover up errors serious enough to be called war crimes.

When the Obama administration wielded the full power of the United States to prevent an international investigation of the Bush administration’s war crimes, perhaps his base which claims to care about these things should have paid more attention:

One of the little reported details from the latest batch of Wikileaks material are cables showing that the Obama Administration worked hard behind the scenes not only to prevent any investigation of torture in the United States but shutdown efforts abroad to enforce the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. …

American officials pressured government officials, including prosecutors and judges, not to enforce international law and that this was “a very serious matter for the USG.” It was Obama’s own effort at creating a “Coalition of the Unwilling” – nations unwilling to enforce treaties on torture and war crimes when the alleged culprits are American officials. …

Just as many conservatives abandoned their principles in following George Bush blindly, many liberals have chosen to ignore Obama’s concerted efforts to protect individuals accused of war crimes.

James_R._Clapper tehwahwistsObama’s “most transparent administration ever” is transparently untrustworthy and abuses the powers of office to cover up errors and crimes great and utterly petty. The powers that it has arrogated unto itself are enormous.  Besides the ability to scream 9/11! 9/11! Terrorists are everywhere!, which apparently is all congress and the press need to hear, the president has acquired some of the most extraordinary powers ever granted to the executive:

The administration has no burden of proof whatsoever to overcome before “disposing” of someone, even an American citizen. … When he ordered the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen without charging him with any crime, and without presenting any evidence to anyone, he avoided questions by hiding behind executive privilege. Only weeks later, Obama ordered another drone strike that killed Awlaki’s 16 year old son, and also refused to answer the serious questions surrounding that strike.

And there are further options:

In December 2011, President Obama signed the 2012 NDAA, codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history. The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield.

This is just too much unaccountable power to be vested in any president.  

Would the people who claim to care about justice, civil rights and civil liberties please wake up?

Nov 26 2012

Why President Obama’s drone assassination program must be made accountable

It’s 2020, and unless Mr. Obama has successfully declared himself President-for-life, somebody else is President. Perhaps this time the lesser evil has lost.  Thanks to the groundwork laid by President Obama and the boys at DARPA, the new president has the sort of technology that dystopian fiction is based upon.

In 2020 the president has at his disposal the drone technology to surveil anyone, anywhere on earth.  The technology has the visual resolution to see disturbed dirt from a mile high in the sky and track footprints, to identify individuals using biometric data, even to “see” through walls and ceilings. Drones will also be outfitted with the means to collect electronic communications, phone calls, texts, gps location data, etc., creating a tool that can track individuals in the physical realm as well as their “footprints” in cyberspace to deliver the information needed for lethal actions

In 2020 the Earth will be surrounded by a triple canopy of drones at various heights to surveil us and deliver sudden death and destruction from above, wherever on earth or space the president desires:

At the lowest tier of this emerging U.S. aerospace shield, within striking distance of Earth in the lower stratosphere, the Pentagon is building an armada of 99 Global Hawk drones equipped with high-resolution cameras capable of surveilling all terrain within a 100-mile radius, electronic sensors to intercept communications, efficient engines for continuous 24-hour flights, and eventually Triple Terminator missiles to destroy targets below.

070301-F-9126Z-329

By late 2011, the Air Force and the CIA had already ringed the Eurasian land mass with a network of 60 bases for drones armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs, allowing air strikes against targets just about anywhere in Europe, Africa, or Asia. … If things go according to plan, in this same lower tier at altitudes up to 12 miles unmanned aircraft such as the “Vulture,” with solar panels covering its massive 400-foot wingspan, will be patrolling the globe ceaselessly for up to five years at a time with sensors for “unblinking” surveillance, and possibly missiles for lethal strikes. …

For the next tier above the Earth, in the upper stratosphere, DARPA and the Air Force are collaborating in the development of the Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle.  Flying at an altitude of 20 miles, it is expected to “deliver 12,000 pounds of payload at a distance of 9,000 nautical miles from the continental United States in less than two hours.” …

At the outer level of this triple-tier aerospace canopy, the age of space warfare dawned in April 2010 when the Pentagon quietly launched the X-37B space drone, an unmanned craft just 29 feet long, into an orbit 250 miles above the Earth.

Test Vehicle

By the time its second prototype landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in June 2012 after a 15-month flight, this classified mission represented a successful test of “robotically controlled reusable spacecraft” and established the viability of unmanned space drones in the exosphere.

This drone technology, which is well on its way now, will vest in the president and his minions a great deal of very concentrated power to breach individual privacy and security.  How this power is held will have great implications for its ability to corrupt, or perhaps as Lord Acton would have put it, to corrupt absolutely.  Our machines are extensions of ourselves. They implement our will (at least when we write competent programming). The issue is inequality; the machines that belong to the already powerful are so much more effective than the machines of we regular slobs and the potential for expanding the inequality of power that exists between the regular folks and the privileged elites is daunting.

Aug 01 2012

9th Circuit ruling favorable for Occupiers to hold police, gov’ts accountable for excessive force

A three judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals filed an unanimous ruling in Nelson v. City of Davis. The student plaintiff, Timothy Nelson was seriously and permanently injured by the excessive use of force by police in a 2004 incident at UC Davis.

The Court found that the police actions violated a basic constitutional right, the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable seizure and invalidated qualified immunity for the police, meaning that police could be held liable for damages.  This ruling should offer considerable support to Occupiers pressing suit against police and governments for their often brutal and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.