Tag Archive: Law Justice

Jun 07 2013

Now They Tell Us They Didn’t Know Who They Were Killing

As if many of us didn’t know that the CIA didn’t always know who they were dropping hellfire missiles on from drones, NBC News’ Richard Engel and Robert Windrem revealed classified documents that confirmed it. The documents were from a 14 month period that began in 2010 listing 114 drone strikes that killed as many as 613 people. However, in some of those strikes, the CIA did not know the identity of the victims.

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as “other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists — picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”

Three former senior Obama administration officials also told NBC News that some White House officials were worried that the CIA had painted too rosy a picture of its success and likely ignored or missed mistakes when tallying death totals.

Micah Zenko, a former State Department policy advisor who is now a drone expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “incredible” to state that only one non-combatant was killed. “It’s just not believable,” he said. “Anyone who knows anything about how airpower is used and deployed, civilians die, and individuals who are engaged in the operations know this.”

Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence from Jan. 2009 to May 2010, declined to discuss the specifics of signature strikes, but said “to use lethal force there has to be a high degree of knowledge of an individual tied to activities, tied to connections.”

This article in McClatchy News, found that fewer of than 2% of those killed were Al Qaeda leaders, which is who the U.S. government says it targets.

Obama’s drone war kills ‘others,’ not just al Qaida leaders

by Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers,  April 9, 2013

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.” [..]

The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.” [..]

McClatchy’s review found that:

– At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”

Who’s the US Killing in Pakistan? Even the CIA Doesn’t Know

by Daphne Eviatar, Huffington Post, June 6, 2013

In his speech at the National Defense University in May, President Obama said that his administration “has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists — insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance” that he had just signed.

Conveniently for the government, that policy guidance remains classified — which pretty much negates the claim about oversight and accountability.

The laws of war allow the United States to kill only members of declared enemy armed forces or civilians directly participating in hostilities. It’s hard to believe the U.S. government is actually following that law if it doesn’t even know who a quarter of the people it’s killing even are.

President Obama’s speech sounded pretty good when he made it, but the more facts trickle out about the drone program the more reason we all have to be skeptical.

What can be done? Human Rights First has set out exactly what steps (pdf) the United States can take to make sure its drone program complies with international law and doesn’t undermine human rights.

The president should start by making public that Presidential Policy Guidance he announced with such pride. Otherwise, neither the American public nor foreign allies or enemies have any reason to believe the U.S. government has reined in its clandestine killing operations at all.

Meanwhile, the White House and the Justice Department says that the assassinations of Americans is constitutional because they said so. At Huffington Post, Ryan J. Reilly reports on the lawsuit,  Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the estates of Anwwar Al-Aulaqi and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan. The lawsuit claims that their deaths were unconstitutional because they were denied due process.

The administration’s court filing also claimed that the government deserved qualified immunity because the plaintiffs “failed to allege the violation of any clearly established constitutional rights.” The government maintained that neither Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to members of Congress nor Obama’s speech on national security had any effect on its legal posture in the case even though it was the first time the government formally acknowledged it had killed the American citizens. The previously classified information disclosed by Obama and Holder is “wholly consistent with Defendants’ showing that Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s due process rights were not violated,” the government said.

The judicial branch, the Obama administration argued, “is ill-suited” to evaluate the myriad “military, intelligence, and foreign policy considerations” that went into the decision to kill the American citizens. The government also argued that because Khan and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi were not specifically targeted by the government, they cannot claim they were subjected to an unconstitutional process.

So the Executive Branch is claiming to be judge, jury and executioner because the courts couldn’t possibly understand their reasoning now matter how illegal, unlawful or criminal the actions were because, omg, they were terrorists, maybe. Never mind, that we still don’t know who was targeted that resulted in the killing of Abdulrahman. Maybe if was the cafe owner, one of the other customers or the cousins. No other explanations has been given. That is not acceptable.

So long as the legal arguments for these drone strikes and “targeted” killings remain classified, it makes it damned difficult, if not impossible, to have an open debate in public on the effectiveness and legality of this program and other counter-terrorism programs. The vague statements, filled with nebulous claims are not going to placate the critics of these not so clandestine programs. We need to know what the government is doing in our names.

Time to come clean, Barack.

Feb 22 2013

The Outlaw In the Oval Office

The word in beltway circles is that President George W. Bush Barack Obama is negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya in order to insure the confirmation of his nominee for CIA Director, John Brennan, who headed the CIA torture program under the Bush administration. So why you ask is this of any importance? It would seem this new capitulating to Republican whining, as reported in The New York Times is a tactic to hold back the Department of Justice memos authorizing drone attacks:

The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos. [..]

Only after an unclassified Justice Department white paper summarizing the legal arguments was leaked to NBC News this month did the administration make two legal opinions on the targeted killing of American citizens briefly available to members of the Intelligence Committees.

But the documents were available to be viewed only for a limited time and only by senators themselves, not their lawyers and experts.

This news set off a most righteous rants by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce that prompted Glenn Greenwald to tweet:

After reading The New York Times article and Ed Kilgore’s reaction at the Washington Animal, Charles Pierce had this to say about a bad idea that is getting worse:

This is what happens when you elect someone — anyone — to the presidency as that office is presently constituted. Of all the various Washington mystery cults, the one at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue is the most impenetrable. This is why the argument many liberals are making — that the drone program is acceptable both morally and as a matter of practical politics because of the faith you have in the guy who happens to be presiding over it at the moment — is criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future. The powers we have allowed to leach away from their constitutional points of origin into that office have created in the presidency a foul strain of outlawry that (worse) is now seen as the proper order of things. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior. Every four years, we elect a new criminal because that’s become the precise job description.

(emphasis mine)

The previous paragraph was just as bruising.

So much for the pledge of greater transparency made by Pres. Obama in his last State of the Union address:

I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

The most worrisome parts of all of this is that these criminal acts by the president, vice president or any of the civil officers of the United States are now the norm, unconstitutional laws that have been passed and unlawful executive orders are acceptable and rubber stamped by the courts. The system of checks and balances no longer exists since Congress has refused to hold the Executive Branch accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors since Ronald Reagan ignored the law with the Iran/Contra affair and literally taken off the table by the Speaker of the House never to be mentioned. Now, Congress and the Courts nonchalantly brush aside the concerns that President Barack Obama has become judge, jury and executioner of American citizens for crimes against the United States that they might commit simply for what they said or for whom they were associated. The proud principles that we cherished have been not merely diminished but dismissed and the Constitution is now just a lovely document that is on display in the National Archive.

Charles Pierce has it only partially right when he said liberals were “criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future.” If they aren’t speaking out and standing against this criminal in the Oval Office, demanding that Congress fulfill its sworn duty, then they too are criminals under the law.

Democracy in the United States is on life support with little hope for recovery.