Tag Archive: Drone War

Apr 23 2014

Targeted Assassinations, Executive Overreach and Impeachment

In an article posted here by our friend and editor, Edger, reported that a federal court panel ruled on Monday the  U.S. government must publicly disclose secret papers describing its legal justification for using drones to kill citizens suspected of terrorism overseas, because President Barack Obama and senior government officials have publicly commented on the subject.

The 2nd US circuit court of appeals in New York ruled in a Freedom of Information Act case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and two reporters for the New York Times. In 2011, they sought any documents in which Department of Justice lawyers had discussed the highly classified “targeted-killing” program.

The requests came after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader who had been born in the United States, and another US citizen, Samir Khan, and after an October 2011 strike killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Awlaki’s teenage son and also a US citizen. Some legal scholars and human rights activists complained that it was illegal for the US to kill American citizens away from the battlefield without a trial. [..]

In January 2013, US district court judge Colleen McMahon ruled that she had no authority to order the documents disclosed, although she chided the Obama administration for refusing to release them.

In an opinion written by 2nd circuit judge Jon Newman, a three-judge panel noted that after McMahon ruled, senior government officials spoke about the subject. The panel rejected the government’s claim that the court could not consider official disclosures made after McMahon’s ruling, including a 16-page Justice Department white paper on the subject and public comments by Obama in May in which he acknowledged his role in the Awlaki killing, saying he had “authorized the strike that took him out”.

Most certainly, the Obama administration will appeal this ruling.

Earlier this month, Constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein addressed a panel discussion on government secrecy and overreach at Yale Law School that was arranged by activist and former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader.  He spoke directly about President Barack Obama’s dangerous level of executive power and the lack of congressional oversight.

“And what about Congress? That’s not an impeachable offense, to lie under oath and mislead the American people?!” he asked, referring to testimony by Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. “No. He’s still serving. We have as our Director of National Intelligence, who’s entrusted with secrets about us, a known perjurer, remains in office, untarnished, public reputation there. Where’s all the newspapers calling for his resignation? Silence.”

Clapper confirmed in a letter sent last week to Senator Wyden that U.S. persons have been targeted by the surveillance program – something he had earlier and categorically denied.

Fein, who also worked under the acting attorney general in the early 1970s to write a paper outlining a rationale for impeachment of President Richard Nixon, says Obama is exercising a dangerous level of executive power without adequate checks. “This president has authority to kill anyone on the planet, to play prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, if he decides, in secret, that the target of the Predator drone – could be another instrument of death, doesn’t have to be a Predator drone – is an imminent threat to U.S. national security.” Fein added the process “is not subject to review by Congress, it’s not subject to review by courts, it’s not subject to review by the American people. It is limitless.”

We apparently still have judges and courts that are willing to rein in the administration, now if we only had the congress we had in the 1970’s.

Apr 11 2014

Court Upholds Obama’s Power to Kill

We have gone down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass.

“Off With His Head”: Court Upholds Obama’s Power to Kill



Full transcript can be read here

Joining us now is Michael Ratner. Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the attorney for Julian Assange, and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He’s also a board member for The Real News. [..]

Michael Ratner: [..] In a chilling ruling this federal judge in this federal district court dismissed the case. And the key language from that opinion is: the government must be trusted. I want to repeat that: the judge said the government must be trusted. And here’s the exact quote: “Defendants must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the U.S. Constitution when they intentionally target a U.S. citizen abroad at the direction of the president and with the concurrence of Congress. It’s a really outrageous ruling. The president kills whom he pleases, just so Congress is given broad authority for the president to determine who the enemy is.

It’s an utter abdication by the court. It gives up on the so-called checks and balances we all learned as schoolchildren. It ends, actually, a key principle of the Magna Carta, which is the American and British charter of liberties, which was actually ratified or signed by King John in the year 1215. We’re coming up to the 800th anniversary. So what this court ruling does, what the president’s action does do is overturn 800 years of constitutional history.

Courts are supposed to be a buffer between what was the absolute power of kings and the people. We no longer have the rule of law; we have the rule of the king. In other words, we have the syndrome of “off with his head”.

Drone killings case thrown out in US

Judge dismisses lawsuit over death of Anwar al-Awlaki and two others in Yemen, saying it is a matter for Congress

The families of the three – including Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born militant Muslim cleric who had joined al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, as well as his teenage son – sued over their 2011 deaths in US drone strikes, arguing that the killings were illegal.

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the US district court in Washington threw out the case, which had named as defendants the former defence secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, the former senior military commander and CIA chief David Petraeus and two other top military commanders.

“The question presented is whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill U.S. citizens,” Collyer said in her opinion. “The question raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles and it is not easy to answer.”

But the judge said she would grant the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

Feb 12 2014

Obama Targets Another American for Assassination by Drone

On September 30, 2011, President Barack Obama authorized the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen by virtue of his birth in New Mexico in 1971, by an American drone in Yemen along with another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, who grew up in New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina. Two weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed by another US strike in Yemen. Jude Kenan Mohammad, alleged to have at one stage been part of an eight-man terror cell in North Carolina, was killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan later in 2011. These assassinations made Barack Obama the first president known president to have authorized the assassination of a US citizen.

Now, as was reported by the Associated Press, Pres. Obama is trying to find a way to legally justify the assassination of another American citizen living in Pakistan. The target has been accused, without evidence, of plotting attacks against America with Al Qaeda:

The CIA drones watching him cannot strike, because he’s a US citizen and the Justice Department must build a case against him, a task it hasn’t completed.

Four US officials said the American suspected terrorist is in a country that refuses US military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him. And President Obama’s new policy says American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, creating a policy conundrum for the White House. [..]

Under new guidelines Obama addressed in a speech last year to calm anger overseas at the extent of the US drone campaign, lethal force must only be used “to prevent or stop attacks against US persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” The target must also pose “a continuing, imminent threat to US persons” – the legal definition of catching someone in the act of plotting a lethal attack.

Co-founders of the new digital magazine Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald discuss the issue of another American being targeted for assassination with [Democracy Now! ]’s Amy Goodman.

While the Associated Press had agreed to keep the name and location of Pres. Obama’s latest target, his location was disclosed by the Los Angeles Times.

Why should we, as Americans, accept that the Executive Branch can act as judge, jury and executioner without a trial in a duly recognized court of law? Where is any evidence that this person is a threat or even doing what the Obama administration charges are his alleged crimes? At FDL Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola asks why should a news organization should conceal the target’s identity and location for an administration that has touted greater transparency:

Knowing where he is currently located would help one understand this story appropriately. So, in what country would certain officials like to be able to launch an attack? [..]

It seems reasonable to question this decision by the AP to not publish. The decision bears a distinct similarity to refusing to print that a secret drone base is located in a certain country when covering the issue of drones, which US media organizations have previously done.

If it is illegal to add the person to a list and the government cannot come up with a legal way to launch a US military attack because the country opposes it, why should a media organization play the role of not “interrupting” this “ongoing counterterror operation”?

Just how many alleged American members of al Qaeda are there? This report disseminated on the Internet could now aid an “enemy” in figuring out some details on the extent to which he is being tracked and monitored for assassination in order to stop him from launching more attacks on Americans overseas. So, it would seem if AP really wants to protect counterterror operations from “interruption” they would simply not publish the story at all.

The story was given to Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier by four anonymous “US officials,” who were not authorized to speak, and a “senior administration official” possibly from the Department of Justice may have political undertones. Marcy Wheeler suggested that the sources may have been congressional staffers since Dozier mentioned Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who is upset because Obama’s new guidelines would impede the assassination of another American.

Whatever the allegations are against this person, it does not legally justify the use of a drone to target an American in a sovereign country that we are not at war with or without due process. Breaking the law under the guise of protecting America from terrorist attack is not justifiable. Regardless of who is in the Oval Office, the US should be a nation of laws and respect the constitutional rights of its citizens.

Feb 11 2014

Death by Metadata

In their premier article for the new online magazine, The Intercept, co-founders Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald take an in-depth look at how the NSA mass surveillance plays an intrinsic role in President Barack Obama’s assassination program. In the article they reveal how the NSA is providing information that targets, not an individual, but a nameless SIM cards that have led to the deaths of innocent civilians:

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using. [..]

In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device. [..]

One problem, he explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike. According to the former drone operator, the geolocation cells at the NSA that run the tracking program – known as Geo Cell – sometimes facilitate strikes without knowing whether the individual in possession of a tracked cell phone or SIM card is in fact the intended target of the strike. [..]

What’s more, he adds, the NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a SIM card, rather than the actual content of the calls. Based on his experience, he has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata.

(emphasis mine)

Jeremy and Glenn joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss the NSA’s secret role in President Obama’s assassination program and, defying the threats, the launch of The Intercept.



Transcript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

Oct 18 2013

Homeland Security Nominee an Assassination Apologist

A high up administration official, speaking anonymously, confirmed rumors that former Defense Department general counsel, Jeh Johnson, is President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Napolitano stepped down in August to become president of the University of California.

In an article at Washington’s blog that outlines Johnson’s career at DoD, it is not surprising that as the top Pentagon lawyer Johnson was the lead apologist for the endless war on terror and the abuses of the Obama administration, including arguing for the justification of targeted assassinations including American citizens, as reported by the Associated Press in 2011.

U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.

***

The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson … said U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States.

Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

In a speech at Yale Law School in 2012, Johnson said

Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives.

Washington Blog also noted a major concern about Johnson’s Yale speech:

[..] Johnson invoked a lawsuit filed by Mr. Awlaki’s father before the killing that had sought an injunction against targeting his son, citing with approval a district judge’s decision to dismiss the case and saying that targeting decisions are not suited to court review because they must be made quickly and based on fast-evolving intelligence.

***

“The legal point is important because, in fact, over the last 10 years Al Qaeda has not only become more decentralized, it has also, for the most part, migrated away from Afghanistan to other places where it can find safe haven,” Mr. Johnson said.

This is particularly concerning since the U.S. wants to expand the assassination program to cover “ASSOCIATES of ASSOCIATES” of Al Qaeda … and blurs the lines between bad guys and average Americans.    This violates a little thing called the Fifth Amendment.

The Washington Post points out:

[A senior administration official] added that Johnson was “responsible for the prior legal review and approval of every military operation approved by the president and secretary of defense” during Obama’s first term.

That presumably includes supporting Al Qaeda in Libya.

This is the Wikipedia summation of Johnson’s tenure at the Defense Deaprtment that began in January of 2009:

As General Counsel of the Defense Department, Johnson was a major player in certain key priorities of the Obama Administration, and he is considered one of the legal architects of the U.S. military’s current counterterrorism policies. In 2009, Johnson was heavily involved in the reform of military commissions, and testified before Congress numerous times in support of the Military Commissions Act of 2009. [..]

In January 2011, Johnson provoked controversy when, according to a Department of Defense news story, he asserted in a speech at the Pentagon that deceased civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite King’s outspoken opposition to American interventionism during his lifetime. Johnson argued that American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq were playing the role of the Good Samaritan, consistent with Martin Luther King Jr.’s beliefs, and that they were fighting to establish the peace for which Dr. King hoped. Jeremy Scahill called Johnson’s remarks “one of the most despicable attempts at revisionist use of Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve ever seen,” while Justin Elliott of Salon.com argued that based on Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War, he would likely have opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the covert wars in Pakistan and Yemen. Cynthia Kouril has defended Johnson’s remarks, arguing in her blog that his speech has been misinterpreted.

In a February 2011, speech to the New York City Bar Association, Johnson “acknowledged the concerns raised” about the detention of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning and “stated that he had personally traveled to Quantico to conduct an investigation.” Human rights attorney and journalist Scott Horton wrote that “Johnson was remarkably unforthcoming about what he discovered and what conclusions he drew from his visit.

Johnson’s tenure as General Counsel was also notable for several high-profile speeches he gave on national security. In a speech he delivered at the Heritage Foundation in October 2011, Johnson warned against “over-militarizing” the U.S. government’s approach to counterterrorism: “There is risk in permitting and expecting the U.S. military to extend its powerful reach into areas traditionally reserved for civilian law enforcement in this country.”  

Finally, at the Oxford Union in England in November 2012, shortly before his resignation, Johnson delivered a widely noted address entitled “The conflict against al Qaeda and its affiliates: how will it end?” in which he predicted a “tipping point” at which the U.S. government’s efforts against al Qaeda should no longer be considered an armed conflict, but a more traditional law enforcement effort against individual terrorists.

Johnson’s speech in England was highly praised for the acknowledgment that the war on terror would eventually come to an end but, as Bob Deyfuss noted in his article at The Nation on Johnson’s nomination, actions speak louder that words:

Problem is, of course, until that as-yet-undefined moment when the “war” against Al Qaeda ends and the “counterterrorism effort against individuals” begins has not, it appears, yet occurred-at least in the eyes of the Obama administration. So, as a result, the White House continues to order drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere, launch Special Forces raids to kill or capture alleged Al Qaeda officials in Africa and Asia, and, in Afghanistan, insist on the continuing right of U.S. forces to seek and destroy Al Qaeda units in that country, even though experts say only about 75 members of the organization remain there. And, as long as the “war” continues, then everything that goes with it-extra-judicial detention of captured fighters, vast electronic surveillance of U.S. and foreign citizens by the National Security Agency and its partners, the Guantanamo prison, and the rest, continues too. All of that, in his Oxford speech, Johnson-as the then-DOD lawyer-was willing to support, justify and explain, even while admitting, as he did:

Some legal scholars and commentators in our country brand the detention by the military of members of al Qaeda as “indefinite detention without charges.” Some refer to targeted lethal force against known, identified individual members of al Qaeda as “extrajudicial killing.”

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal, in reporting Johnson’s 2012 speech, noted that in fact it was delivered primarily as a justification to the Europeans for Obama’s widely reviled counterterrorism policies:

Pentagon officials and legal experts also noted that Mr. Johnson chose to deliver the speech in the United Kingdom, in part to reassure European allies about the Obama administration’s legal justification for its continuing war on al Qaeda as well as other counterterrorism operations.

“It’s important that the DOD General Counsel has chosen to give this speech in Britain where many legal experts disagree with the concept that the U.S. is in a war with al Qaeda,” said John Bellinger, a former State Department legal adviser during the George W. Bush administration. “Most of the previous speeches by administration officials have been given inside the U.S.”

Anyone who thought that New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly was a terrible choice for head of DHS was just proven wrong. Don’t let Johnson;s support of the repeal of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” fool you, he makes Kelly look like a good guy.  

Jul 28 2013

Obama: Killing Children Is Above The Law

The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?  

~Nasser al-Awlaki~

Nasser al-Awlaki: “My Grandson Was Killed by His Own Government”

by Jim White, emptywheel

While the nation grieves over the senseless death of Trayvon Martin and the missed opportunity to hold his killer responsible for that death, there is another senseless death of an American teenager of color where an attempt is continuing, after previous failures, to hold accountable those responsible for the lawless way in which this life was arbitrarily ended.

Exactly one year ago today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit (pdf) on behalf of Nasser al-Awlaki (father of Anwar al-Awlaki and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki) and Sarah Khan (wife of Samir Khan). The defendants in the case are former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Commander of Special Operations Command William McRaven, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command Joseph Votel and former CIA Head David Petraeus. The complaint cites violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as violation of the Bill of Attainder Clause in the targeted killings of Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. [..]

Given what is known about the role of Barack Obama in these killings and his personal authorization of the “kill list” in his Terror Tuesday meetings, I find it perplexing that he is not also a defendant in this case.

The complaint seeks damages in an amount to be determined at the trial and any other relief the court deems just and proper.

Coincident with the filing of the complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia a year ago, the video above was released.

Sadly, we can state with confidence that even before the proceedings open the government will argue that it does not have to explain why it killed Abdulrahman. Because terror. Even more sadly, it is quite likely that the court will side with this senseless and lawless argument. Because terror.

What has our country become?

US government argues drone strikes are above the law

by David Sirota, Salon

A new lawsuit challenges whether counterterrorist officials should be allowed to operate without fear of litigation

Court cases are often cures for insomnia, but every so often a lawsuit is an eye-opening journey through the looking glass. One of those is suddenly upon us – and we should be thankful because it finally provides an unfiltered look at our government.

You may not know about this case, but you should. Called Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, it illustrates the extremism driving the policies being made in the public’s name. [..]

But perhaps the most important thing to know about this case is what the government is arguing about the law itself. In defending the administration, Hauck asserted that such suits should not be permitted because they “don’t want these counterterrorism officials distracted by the threat of litigation.”

The radical message is obvious: Yes, the government now claims that America should not want public officials to have to consider the constraints of the law.

If this harrowing doctrine sounds familiar, that’s because the sentiment behind it has been creeping into our political dialogue for years. [..]

Consider, though, what’s more dangerous: a government that has to momentarily think about following the law when using violence or a government that gets to use such violence without having to think at all?

Government officials pretend they have the only answer to that question. But Nasser Al-Aulaqi’s dead grandson suggests there is a far more accurate answer than the one those officials are offering.

 

May 23 2013

Yes, We Did Assassinate Four Americans, But

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D- VT) (pdf), Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in Pakistan and Yemen.

In conducting U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and its associated forces, the government has targeted and killed one American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, and is aware of the killing by U.S. drones of three others, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.

Al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric, was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen. Holder said three other Americans were killed by drones in counterterrorism operations since 2009 but were not targeted. The three are Samir Khan, who was killed in the same drone strike as al-Awlaki; al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a native of Denver, who also was killed in Yemen two weeks later; and Jude Kenan Mohammed, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.

AGLetter5-22-13

Attorney Jesselyn Radack, former Justice Department ethics attorney who blew the whistle in the case of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, in a blog post writes:

The biggest revelation in Holder’s letter  – that the U.S. has droned a fourth American, Jude Kenen Mohammed  – is also the greatest of many deficiencies. All Holder says is the U.S. killed but didn’t target these two American men (Mohammed and Samir Kahn) and one American child (al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son). [..]

Ms. Raddack points out that while the letter includes new and credulous accusations about al-Awlaki posing an “imminent threat”, it tells us nothing about how the other Americans ended up being killed by drones. Good question, that I doubt we’ll ever get an answer.

The other point MS. Raddack makes goes to the public’s right to know the legal justification that was given to the president by the Office of Legal Council:

If Holder wants to draw a distinction between Americans that the U.S. government targets and kills without due process and those Americans that the U.S. government kills without due process but doesn’t target, then the American people are entitled to know the legal basis for when the government finds it acceptable to make Americans collateral damage in the legally-unsustainable, morally-reprehensible unilateral drone drops.

There are lots of questions. If these three Americans were not the targets, then who were they targeting? And why?

In an interview this morning on Democracy Now, author and journalist, Jeremy Scahill say that this admission “raises more questions than it answers“:

“In Eric Holder’s letter,” Scahill stated, “he talks about how Anwar Awlaki was actively involved in imminent plots against the United States, that he had directed the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a U.S. airplane over the city of Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. And what’s interesting is that all of these allegations are made by Eric Holder, but no actual evidence has ever been presented against Awlaki to indicate that he played the role that Eric Holder is asserting. His trial was basically just litigated through leaks in the press. He was never indicted on any of these charges. And Holder, in fact, in his letter, says that we have all of this evidence, but it’s too dangerous to be made public. And so, there’s really a continuation of a posthumous trial of Anwar Awlaki through leaks and now through this letter from Eric Holder.”

Scahill notes that the details of the death of Jude Mohammad, who had been indicted, have not been released; that there were no criminal charges against Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American from North Carolina who was killed alongside al-Awlaki; and Holder used an curious phrase, “not specifically targeted,” referencing the death of 16 year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.



Full transcript is here

He goes on:

“You know, what does that phrase mean? It’s almost like an Orwellian statement, ‘not specifically targeted.’ Well, it could mean that these individuals were killed in the signature strikes that you mentioned, which is a sort of form of pre-crime, where the U.S. determines that any military-aged males in a targeted area are in fact terrorists, and their deaths will be registered as having killed terrorists or militants. So, it’s possible that the other Americans that were killed were killed in these so-called signature strikes.

“But in the case of this 16-year-old boy, it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s a coincidence that two weeks after his father is killed, he just happens to be killed in a U.S. drone strike. And there were leaks at the time from U.S. officials telling journalists that, oh, he actually was 21 years old, he was at an al-Qaida meeting. But they’ve never been able to identify who they killed in that strike. And the Obama administration has never publicly taken on the fact that they killed one of their own citizens who was a teenage boy. There are no answers to that question. So, I think that there has to be a far more intense scrutiny of the statements of the attorney general and also what we understand the president is going to say later.”

Yes, the Obama administration assassinated four Americans, but …..

President Barack Obama’s speech on his never ending war on terror.

In short, war for without end anywhere on earth because the president said so.

 

Mar 22 2013

CIA Drones War Shift To Pentagon

Earlier this week it was leaked to the press by those “anonymous White House sources” that the CIA’s drone program would be gradually transferred to the Pentagon supposedly making oversight by Congress more transparent and according to Daniel Klaidman, who first reported the shift at the Daily Beast it would also toughen the “criteria for drone” strikes and “strengthen the program’s accountability:”

Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. [..]

Officials anticipate a phased-in transition in which the CIA’s drone operations would be gradually shifted over to the military, a process that could take as little as a year. Others say it might take longer but would occur during President Obama’s second term. [..]

uring that time, CIA and DOD operators would begin to work more closely together to ensure a smooth hand-off. The CIA would remain involved in lethal targeting, at least on the intelligence side, but would not actually control the unmanned aerial vehicles. Officials told The Daily Beast that a potential downside of the agency’s relinquishing control of the program was the loss of a decade of expertise that the CIA has developed since it has been prosecuting its war in Pakistan and beyond. At least for a period of transition, CIA operators would likely work alongside their military counterparts to target suspected terrorists.

Spencer Ackerman at The Wire, doesn’t think that this is much of a change. The CIA will still be involved telling military personnel what and who to target. Nor does Ackerman think that the program will be more transparent:

The congressional reporting requirements for so-called Title 50 programs (stuff CIA does, to be reductive) are more specific than those for Title 10 (stuff the military does, to be reductive). But the armed services committees tend to have unquestioned and broader oversight functions than the intelligence committees enjoy, not to mention better relationships with the committees: Witness the recent anger in the Senate intelligence committee that the CIA lied to it about its torture programs. The military is more likely than the CIA to openly testify about future drone operations, allow knowledgeable congressional staff into closed-door operational briefings and allow members of Congress to take tours of drone airbases.

As, Klaidman pointed out this could lead to even less transparency since there is nothing in the law that requires the military to account for its lethal operations while the CIA is obligated to report its activities.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee which has oversight of the CIA, expressed her concerns

Feinstein told reporters her “mind, certainly, is not made up.” But she quickly added she has reservations about turning over to the military the CIA’s armed drone fleet and the missions they conduct.

   During the last few years, she said, “We’ve watched the intelligence aspect of the drone program: how they function. The quality of the intelligence. Watching the agency exercise patience and discretion,” Feinstein said.

   “The military [armed drone] program has not done that nearly as well,” she said. “That causes me concern. This is a discipline that is learned, that is carried out without infractions…. It’s not a hasty decision that’s made. And I would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that way.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) preferred the program be transferred to Defense bringing it under the House and Senate Armed Services Committees:

“I believe the majority of the responsibility for this should rest with the military,” McCain told reporters Tuesday. [..]

“The majority of it can be conducted by the Department of Defense,” McCain said. “It’s not the job of the Central Intelligence Agency. … It’s the military’s job.”

Transferring the program to the Pentagon — and under the auspices of the House and Senate Armed Services committees — would create more “openness” and “oversight” and public hearings about the program, he said.

In reality, the Obama administration would still be running a secretive and questionably legal program.

Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” gives a a short history of the CIA and talks with former congressman and now MSNBC contributor, Patrick Murphy, who served on the House Armed Services Committee, about oversight of the drone program.

Mar 15 2013

Court Rules for ACLU Against the CIA

Apparently a federal court of appeals didn’t think that the Department of Justice’s argument that the CIA had no “intelligence interest” in drone strikes carried out by the United States government and the refusal to even admit in court that the program exists, was either believable or plausable. That nonsense ended today. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled today in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union request for information about the CIA’s drone program.

CIA Drone Strikes Case: Court Finds It Not ‘Plausible’ That Agency Has No Role

by Ryan J. Reilly, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court’s decision (pdf) that dismissed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA, ruling on Friday that it was neither “logical nor plausible” for the government to contend the agency had no interest in drone strikes.

“It is hard to see how the CIA Director could have made his Agency’s knowledge of — and therefore ‘interest’ in — drone strikes any clearer,” the ruling states. “And given these statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that ‘no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA … has an interest in drone strikes,’ … is at this point neither logical nor plausible.”

Court Rejects CIA’s Drone Secrecy Arguments Because Obama, Brennan & Panetta Made Statements

by  Kevin Gosztola, FDL The Dissenter

Judge Merrick B. Garland wrote in the decision the question before the court was whether it was “logical or plausible” for the “CIA to contend that it would reveal something not already officially acknowledged to say that the Agency ‘at least has an intelligence interest’ in” drone strikes.

“Given the extent of the official statements on the subject, we conclude that the answer to that question is no.”

A statement by President Barack Obama, made during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012, statements from then-counterterrorism adviser John Brennan during a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 30, 2012, and remarks made by then-CIA director Leon Panetta at the Pacific Council on International Policy in 2009 were all cited as “official acknowledgments that the United States has participated in drone strikes.” The acknowledgments made it implausible and illogical for the CIA to maintain “that it would reveal anything not already in the public domain to say that the Agency ‘at least has an intelligence interest’ in such strikes.”

“The defendant is, after all, the Central Intelligence Agency,” wrote Garland.

As the judge noted, Obama has “publicly acknowledged that the United States uses drone strikes against al Qaeda.” Brennan made statements that left no doubt that “some agency” operates drones. “It strains credulity to suggest that an agency charged with gathering intelligence affecting the national security does not have an ‘intelligence interest’ in drone strikes, even if that agency does not operate the drones itself.”

This is the press release from the ACLU:

DC Appeals Court Rejects CIA’s Secrecy Claims in ACLU’s Targeted Killing FOIA Lawsuit

Court Rules that CIA Cannot Deny “Interest” in Drone Program



March 15, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled today that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot deny its “intelligence interest” in the targeted killing program and refuse to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about the program while officials continue to make public statements about it.

“This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program’s scope and legal basis,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court in September. “It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them.”

The ACLU’s FOIA request, filed in January 2010, seeks to learn when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the U.S. ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings. In September 2011, the district court granted the government’s request to dismiss the case, accepting the CIA’s argument that it could not release any documents because even acknowledging the existence of the program would harm national security. The ACLU filed its appeal brief in the case exactly one year ago, and today the appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling in a 3-0 vote.

“We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jaffer said. “The program has already been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in an unknown number of countries. The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders. The Obama administration, which has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of government transparency, should give the public the information it needs in order to fully evaluate the wisdom and lawfulness of the government’s policies.”

Today’s ruling is at: aclu.org/national-security/drone-foia-appeals-court-ruling

Mar 11 2013

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki

Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman wrote in The Guardian that Americans should be ashamed that Rand Paul and the radical Tea Party Republicans were the only ones talking about drone executions.

Members of Congress, tasked with oversight of intelligence and military matters, have repeatedly demanded the memoranda from the White House detailing the legal basis for the drone program, only to be repeatedly denied. The nomination of Brennan has opened up the debate, forcing the Obama administration to make nominal gestures of compliance. The answers so far have not satisfied Senator Paul. [..]

The issue of extrajudicial execution of US citizens, whether on US soil or elsewhere, is clearly vital. But also important is the US government’s now-seemingly routine killing of civilians around the world, whether by drone strikes, night raids conducted by special operations forces or other lethal means. [..]

Barack Obama and John Brennan direct the drone strikes that are killing thousands of civilians. It doesn’t make us safer. It makes whole populations, from Yemen to Pakistan, hate us. Senator Paul’s outrage with the president’s claimed right to kill US citizens is entirely appropriate. That there is not more outrage at the thousands killed around the globe is shameful … and dangerous.

For a thoughtful discussion of the Awlaki assassinations and the president’s claim that he can legally do so, Ms. Goodman was joined by Scott Shane, national security reporter for The New York Times and, in the second video, Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project .

Anwar al-Awlaki: NYT Details How Obama Admin Justified & Carried Out the Killing of U.S.-Born Cleric

As John Brennan is confirmed to head the CIA, we examine one of the most controversial U.S. targeted killings that occurred during his time as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser: the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. The U.S.-born cleric died in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011, along with American citizen Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also killed in a separate drone strike just weeks later. On Sunday, The New York Times published a major front-page article on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki called “How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs.The New York TimesScott Shane, one of the reporters on the piece, joins us from Washington, D.C. includes rush transcript

White House Changing Story on Anwar al-Awlaki? A Debate on NYT’s Inside Account of ’11 Drone Strike

The New York Times’ front-page account of the U.S. assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki has drawn criticism from critics of the Obama administration’s targeted killings overseas. In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights called the story “the latest in a series of one-sided, selective disclosures that prevent meaningful public debate and legal or even political accountability for the government’s killing program.” We discuss the article and the White House assassination program with two guests: Scott Shane, national security reporter at The New York Times, and Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights director at the Government Accountability Project and former legal ethics adviser at the Justice Department. includes rush transcript

From Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel in which she shreds the NYT’s article and its authors:

Anwar al-Awlaki Is the New Aluminum Tube

Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane team up to provide the government’s best case – and at times, an irresponsibly credulous one – for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and the collateral deaths of Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

Yet even in a 3,600 word story, they don’t present any evidence against the senior Awlaki that was fresher than a year old – the October 2010 toner cartridge plot – at the time the Yemeni-American was killed. (I’m not saying the government didn’t have more recent intelligence; it just doesn’t appear in this very Administration-friendly case.) Not surprisingly, then, the story completely ignores questions about the definition of “imminent threat” used in the OLC memo and whether Awlaki was an “imminent” threat when he was killed. [..]

Moreover, the case they do present has various weaknesses.

The “linked in various ways” standard for killing Americans

The story provides a fair amount of space to Awlaki’s celebration of the Nidal Hasan attack (though it does make it clear Awlaki did not respond enthusiastically to Hasan’s queries before the attack). [..]

It uses far vaguer language to describe Awlaki’s role in the Faisal Shahzad and toner cartridge plots.

NYT doesn’t care about problems with the Abu Tarak explanation

Which leaves the UndieBomb attack as the sole attack in which the NYT presents evidence about Awlaki’s direct role. But there’s a problem with their claims there, too. [..]

NYT finally finds a WikiLeaks cable it doesn’t like!

There’s one other really irresponsible piece to this story. [..]

It is our job, and that of Congress, to ask these questions and hold the president responsible for violations of our civil liberties.

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