Congress voted on border wall in 2006, Hillary, Schumer, Feinstein voted Yes https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00262 … Bernie voted no http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2006/roll446.xml …
Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen. Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister. January 31, 2017Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Trump, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
Tags: aclu, Anwar al-Awlaki, civil liberties, dirty wars, drone missiles, due process, glenn greenwald, jeremy scahill, lee fang, Nasser al-Awlaki., navy seal team 6, obama assassin, presidential assassination, roger hollander, trump assassin, yemen
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Roger’s note: As we confront the groundwork for massive atrocities being laid in these first days of the neo-Fascist Trump government, perhaps we need to be reminded that a substantial amount of the groundwork had already been put in place, much of it by the Obama administration. That the political classes and the mainstream media have no problem with the president of the United States ordering bombings that kill dozens of civilians, including American citizens, it an abomination. I had read in the New York Times that an American soldier died in these attacks. That was it. No mention of the atrocity described in this article.
In 2010, President Obama directed the CIA to assassinate an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, despite the fact that he had never been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime, and the agency successfully carried out that order a year later with a September 2011 drone strike. While that assassination created widespread debate — the once-again-beloved ACLU sued Obama to restrain him from the assassination on the ground of due process and then, when that suit was dismissed, sued Obama again after the killing was carried out — another drone killing carried out shortly thereafter was perhaps even more significant yet generated relatively little attention.
Two weeks after the killing of Awlaki, a separate CIA drone strike in Yemen killed his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman, along with the boy’s 17-year-old cousin and several other innocent Yemenis. The U.S. eventually claimed that the boy was not their target but merely “collateral damage.” Abdulrahman’s grief-stricken grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, urged the Washington Post “to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman,” which explained: “Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies. His Facebook page shows a typical kid.”
Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like this one. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries: just weeks after he won the Nobel Prize, Obama used cluster bombs that killed 35 Yemeni women and children. Even Obama-supporting liberal comedians mocked the arguments of the Obama DOJ for why it had the right to execute Americans with no charges: “Due Process Just Means There’s A Process That You Do,” snarked Stephen Colbert. And a firestorm erupted when former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have “had a more responsible father.”
The U.S. assault on Yemeni civilians not only continued but radically escalated over the next five years through the end of the Obama presidency, as the U.S. and the U.K. armed, supported, and provide crucial assistance to their close ally Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen through a criminally reckless bombing campaign. Yemen now faces mass starvation, seemingly exacerbated, deliberately, by the U.S.-U.K.-supported air attacks. Because of the West’s direct responsibility for these atrocities, they have received vanishingly little attention in the responsible countries.
In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence. On Sunday, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, using armed Reaper drones for cover, carried out a commando raid on what it said was a compound harboring officials of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A statement issued by President Trump lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths. U.S. military officials initially denied any civilian deaths, and (therefore) the CNN report on the raid said nothing about any civilians being killed.
But reports from Yemen quickly surfaced that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and children. Among the dead: the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar, who was also the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.
As noted by my colleague Jeremy Scahill — who extensively interviewed the grandparents in Yemen for his book and film on Obama’s “Dirty Wars” — the girl “was shot in the neck and killed,” bleeding to death over the course of two hours. “Why kill children?” the grandfather asked. “This is the new (U.S.) administration — it’s very sad, a big crime.”
The New York Times yesterday reported that military officials had been planning and debating the raid for months under the Obama administration, but Obama officials decided to leave the choice to Trump. The new president personally authorized the attack last week. They claim that the “main target” of the raid “was computer materials inside the house that could contain clues about future terrorist plots.” The paper cited a Yemeni official saying that “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13, had been killed in the raid,” and that the attack also “severely damaged a school, a health facility and a mosque.”
As my colleague Matthew Cole reported in great detail just weeks ago, Navy SEAL Team 6, for all its public glory, has a long history of “‘revenge ops,’ unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities.” And Trump notoriously vowed during the campaign to target not only terrorists but also their families. All of that demands aggressive, independent inquiries into this operation.
Perhaps most tragic of all is that — just as was true in Iraq — al Qaeda had very little presence in Yemen before the Obama administration began bombing and droning it and killing civilians, thus driving people into the arms of the militant group. As the late, young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana told Congress in 2013:
Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants. … Unfortunately, liberal voices in the United States are largely ignoring, if not condoning, civilian deaths and extrajudicial killings in Yemen.
During George W. Bush’s presidency, the rage would have been tremendous. But today there is little outcry, even though what is happening is in many ways an escalation of Mr. Bush’s policies. …
Defenders of human rights must speak out. America’s counterterrorism policy here is not only making Yemen less safe by strengthening support for AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] but it could also ultimately endanger the United States and the entire world.
This is why it is crucial that — as urgent and valid protests erupt against Trump’s abuses — we not permit recent history to be whitewashed, or long-standing U.S. savagery to be deceitfully depicted as new Trumpian aberrations, or the war on terror framework engendering these new assaults to be forgotten. Some current abuses are unique to Trump, but — as I detailed on Saturday — some are the decades-old byproduct of a mindset and system of war and executive powers that all need uprooting. Obscuring these facts, or allowing those responsible to posture as opponents of all this, is not just misleading but counterproductive: Much of this resides on an odious continuum and did not just appear out of nowhere.
It’s genuinely inspiring to see pervasive rage over the banning of visa holders and refugees from countries like Yemen. But it’s also infuriating that the U.S. continues to massacre Yemeni civilians, both directly and through its tyrannical Saudi partners. That does not become less infuriating — Yemeni civilians are not less dead — because these policies and the war theories in which they are rooted began before the inauguration of Donald Trump. It’s not just Trump but this mentality and framework that need vehement opposition.
Tags: constitution, drone policy, drone strikes, due process, extrajudicial, fbi, george monbiot, habeas corpus, ibragim todashev, judicial process, kill list, obama doctrine, Obama presidency, roger hollander
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Once a state gets used to abusing the rights of foreigners in distant lands, it’s almost inevitable it will import the habit
Did the FBI execute Ibragim Todashev? He appears to have been shot seven times while being interviewed at home in Orlando, Florida, about his connection to one of the Boston bombing suspects. Among the shots was the assassin’s hallmark: a bullet to the back of the head. What kind of an interview was it?
An irregular one. There was no lawyer present. It was not recorded. By the time Todashev was shot, he had apparently been interrogated by three agents for five hours. And then? Who knows? First, we were told, he lunged at them with a knife. How he acquired it, five hours into a police interview, was not explained. How he posed such a threat while recovering from a knee operation also remains perplexing.
At first he drew the knife while being interviewed. Then he acquired it during a break from the interview. Then it ceased to be a knife and became a sword, then a pipe, then a metal pole, then a broomstick, then a table, then a chair. In one account all the agents were in the room at the time of the attack; in another, all but one had mysteriously departed, leaving the remaining officer to face his assailant alone.
If – and it remains a big if – this was an extrajudicial execution, it was one of hundreds commissioned by US agencies since Barack Obama first took office. The difference in this case is that it took place on American soil. Elsewhere, suspects are bumped off without even the right to the lawyerless interview Ibragim Todashev was given.
In his speech two days after Todashev was killed, President Obama maintained that “our commitment to constitutional principles has weathered every war“. But he failed to explain which constitutional principles permit him to authorise the killing of people in nations with which the US is not at war. When his attorney general, Eric Holder, tried to do so last year, he got himself into a terrible mess, ending with the extraordinary claim that “‘due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same … the constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process”. So what is due process if it doesn’t involve the courts? Whatever the president says it is?
Er, yes. In the same speech Obama admitted for the first time that four American citizens have been killed by US drone strikes in other countries. In the next sentence, he said: “I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process.” This suggests he believes that the legal rights of those four people had been respected before they were killed.
Given that they might not even have known that they were accused of the alleged crimes for which they were executed, that they had no opportunities to contest the charges, let alone be granted judge or jury, this suggests that the former law professor’s interpretation of constitutional rights is somewhat elastic. If Obama and his nameless advisers say someone is a terrorist, he stands convicted and can be put to death.
Left hanging in his speech is the implication that non-US citizens may be killed without even the pretence of due process. The many hundreds killed by drone strikes (who, civilian or combatant, retrospectively become terrorists by virtue of having been killed in a US anti-terrorism operation) are afforded no rights even in principle.
As the process of decision-making remains secret, as the US government refuses even to acknowledge – let alone to document or investigate – the killing by its drones of people who patently had nothing to do with terrorism or any other known crime, miscarriages of justice are not just a risk emerging from the deployment of the president’s kill list. They are an inevitable outcome. Under the Obama doctrine, innocent until proved guilty has mutated to innocent until proved dead.
The president made his rejection of habeas corpus and his assumption of a godlike capacity for judgment explicit later in the speech, while discussing another matter. How, he wondered, should the US deal with detainees in Guantánamo Bay “who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted – for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law”? If the evidence has been compromised or is inadmissible, how can he know that they have participated? He can suspect, he can allege, but he cannot know until his suspicion has been tested in a court of law.
Global powers have an antisocial habit of bringing their work back home. The British government imported some of the methods it used against its colonial subjects to suppress domestic protests and strikes. Once an administrative class becomes accustomed to treating foreigners as if they have no rights, and once the domestic population broadly accepts their justifications, it is almost inevitable that the habit migrates from one arena into another. If hundreds of people living abroad can be executed by American agents on no more than suspicion, should we be surprised if residents of the United States began to be treated the same way?
Tags: Abdulrahman, aclu, anwar awlaki, assassination, constituion, Criminal Justice, democracy, doj, drone missiles, due process, eric holder, extrajudicial killings, glenn greenwald, global battlefield, john brennan, obama hit list, presidential assassination, roger hollander, samir khan, terrorism, war on terror
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The president’s partisan lawyers purport to vest him with the most extreme power a political leader can seize
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.
Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama’s top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president’s power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title “disposition matrix”.
When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama’s hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying “he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president”. When the existence of Obama’s hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, she wrote that the “list includes three Americans”.
What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.
In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama’s first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that “the Bush Administration’s excessive reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”
But when it comes to Obama’s assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He’s maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.
Last night, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff released a 16-page “white paper” prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama’s power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama’s kill list – that is still concealed – but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.
This new memo is entitled: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”. It claims its conclusion is “reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen”. Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.
I’ve written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat – see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder’s statements before obtaining power – and won’t repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:
1. Equating government accusations with guilt
The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to “terrorists” when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.
Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out “against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force.”
This ensures that huge numbers of citizens – those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true – will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That’s the “reasoning” process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death.
But of course, when this memo refers to “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida”, what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.
This is the crucial point: the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.
Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.
(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an “associated force” of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo “authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law”.)
The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo – and the entire theory justifying Obama’s kill list – centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.
They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That’s why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can’t be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.
2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor
The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president’s power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US” where capture is “infeasible”, it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: “This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful.” Instead, as the last line of the memo states: “it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation” – not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.
Critically, the rationale of the memo – that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and “associated forces” – can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn’t apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.
3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield
The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the “battlefield” is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited “battlefield”. That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president’s powers are basically omnipotent on a “battlefield”. There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.
This “world-is-a-battlefield” theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world”.
But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama’s assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That’s because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can’t defend the application of “war powers” in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a “battlefield” and the president’s war powers thus exist without geographic limits.
This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, “retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities“. In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional “feasibility of capture” element, no geographic limits to the president’s authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.
4. Expanding the concept of “imminence” beyond recognition
The memo claims that the president’s assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”. That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it’s similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the “imminence” of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.
But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of “imminence”. Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future“. The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.
Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of “imminence”. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning”. Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer’s objection “an understatement”, noting that the memo’s understanding of “imminence” is “wildly overbroad” under international law.
Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo’s reasoning – that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces – then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an “imminent” threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.
The only reason to add these limitations of “imminence” and “feasibility of capture” is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president’s assassination power. As the ACLU’s Jaffer says: “This is a chilling document” because “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen” and the purported limits “are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts
This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one’s lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.
Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic – getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president’s conduct is legal – was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:
“validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble.”
Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That’s all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party’s leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.
That’s why courts, not the president’s partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn’t want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.
That’s all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this – secret memos from partisan lackeys – has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president’s conduct.
6. Making a mockery of “due process”
The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. It provides that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law”. Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.
The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: “Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person’s interest in his life.” But it nonetheless argues that a “balancing test” is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: “while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”
Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president’s assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:
“Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them.”
It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what “due process” requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ’s core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes “judicial encroachment” on the “judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force”. And then it cites the Bush DOJ’s mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.
The reason this is so fitting is because, as I’ve detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.
Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed – and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.
DOJ White Paper
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Obama: A GOP President Should Have Rules Limiting the Kill List November 27, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian casualties, cluster bombs, constitution, cruise missiles, democratic party, drone missile, due process, fifth amendment, George Bush, glenn greenwald, kill list, Muslims, Obama, presidential assassination, roger hollander, targetede killing, terrorists, War Crimes, war on terror
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Roger’s note: No one says it better than Glenn Greenwald.
Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by The Guardian/UK
The president’s flattering view of himself reflects the political sentiments in his party and the citizenry generally
For the last four years, Barack Obama has not only asserted, but aggressively exercised, the power to target for execution anyone he wants, including US citizens, anywhere in the world. He has vigorously resisted not only legal limits on this assassination power, but even efforts to bring some minimal transparency to the execution orders he issues.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the second US presidential debate. (Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters)
This claimed power has resulted in four straight years of air bombings in multiple Muslim countries in which no war has been declared – using drones, cruise missiles and cluster bombs – ending the lives of more than 2,500 people, almost always far away from any actual battlefield. They are typically targeted while riding in cars, at work, at home, and while even rescuing or attending funerals for others whom Obama has targeted. A substantial portion of those whom he has killed – at the very least – have been civilians, including dozens of children.
Worse still, his administration has worked to ensure that this power is subject to the fewest constraints possible. This was accomplished first by advocating the vague, sweeping Bush/Cheney interpretation of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) – whereby the President can target not only the groups which perpetrated the 9/11 attack (as the AUMF provides) but also those he claims are “associated” which such groups, and can target not only members of such groups (as the AUMF states) but also individuals he claims provide “substantial support” to those groups. Obama then entrenched these broad theories by signing into law the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which permanently codified those Bush/Cheney interpretation of these war powers.
From the start, Obama officials have also ensured that these powers have no physical limits, as they unequivocally embraced what was once the core and highly controversial precept of Bush/Cheney radicalism: that the US is fighting a “global war” in which the “whole world is a battlefield”, which means there are no geographical constraints to the president’s war powers. In sum, we have had four straight years of a president who has wielded what is literally the most extreme and tyrannical power a government can claim – to execute anyone the leader wants, even his own citizens, in total secrecy and without a whiff of due process – and who has resisted all efforts to impose a framework of limits or even transparency.
But finally, according to a new article on Sunday by The New York Times’ Scott Shane, President Obama was recently convinced that some limits and a real legal framework might be needed to govern the exercise of this assassination power. What was it that prompted Obama finally to reach this conclusion? It was the fear that he might lose the election, which meant that a Big, Bad Republican would wield these powers, rather than a benevolent, trustworthy, noble Democrat – i.e., himself [emphasis added]:
“Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials. . . .
“The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But . . . Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory. . . .
“For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.
“But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies wherever they are found.
“Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American drone strikes. . . .
“The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for compiling ‘kill lists’ and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.
“‘There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,’ said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an ‘amorphous’ program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.”
Now that Obama rather than Romney won, such rules will be developed “at a more leisurely pace”. Despite Obama’s suggestion that it might be good if even he had some legal framework in which to operate, he’s been in no rush to subject himself to any such rules in four full years of killing thousands of people. This makes it safe to assume that by “a more leisurely pace”, this anonymous Obama official means: “never”.
There are many important points raised by this report: Kevin Gosztola and Marcy Wheeler, among others, have done their typically excellent job of discussing some of them, while this Guardian article from Sunday reports on the reaction of the ACLU and others to the typical Obama manipulation of secrecy powers on display here (as usual, these matters are too secret to permit any FOIA disclosure or judicial scrutiny, but Obama officials are free to selectively leak what they want us to know to the front page of the New York Times). I want to focus on one key point highlighted by all of this:
Democratic Party benevolence
The hubris and self-regard driving this is stunning – but also quite typical of Democratic thinking generally in the Obama era. The premise here is as self-evident as it is repellent:
I’m a Good Democrat and a benevolent leader; therefore, no limits, oversight, checks and balances, legal or Constitutional constraints, transparency or due process are necessary for me to exercise even the most awesome powers, such as ordering people executed. Because of my inherent Goodness and proven progressive wisdom, I can be trusted to wield these unlimited powers unilaterally and in the dark.
Things like checks, oversight and due process are desperately needed only for Republicans, because – unlike me – those people are malevolent and therefore might abuse these powers and thus shouldn’t be trusted with absolute, unchecked authority. They – but not I – urgently need restrictions on their powers.
This mentality is not only the animating belief of President Obama, but also the sizable portion of American Democrats which adores him.
There are many reasons why so many self-identified progressives in the US have so radically changed their posture on these issues when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush. Those include (a) the subordination of all ostensible beliefs to their hunger for partisan power; (b) they never actually believed these claimed principles in the first place but only advocated them for partisan opportunism, i.e., as a way to discredit the GOP President; and (c) they are now convinced that these abuses will only be used against Muslims and, consumed by self-interest, they concluded that these abuses are not worth caring about because it only affects Others (this is the non-Muslim privilege enjoyed by most US progressives, which shields them from ever being targeted, so they simply do not care; the more honest ones of this type even admit this motivation).
But the primary reason for this fundamental change in posture is that they genuinely share the self-glorifying worldview driving Obama here. The core premise is that the political world is shaped by a clean battle of Good v. Evil. The side of Good is the Democratic Party; the side of Evil is the GOP. All political truths are ascertainable through this Manichean prism.
This is the simplistic, self-flattering morality narrative that gets reinforced for them over and over as they sit for hours every day having their assumptions flattered and validated (and never questioned or challenged) by watching MSNBC, reading pro-Obama blogs that regularly churn out paeans to his greatness, and drinking up the hundreds of millions of dollars of expertly crafted election-year propaganda from the Party that peddles this Justice League cartoon.
The result is that, for so many, it is genuinely inconceivable that a leader as noble, kind and wise as Barack Obama would abuse his assassination and detention powers. It isn’t just rank partisan opportunism or privilege that leads them not to object to Obama’s embrace of these radical powers and the dangerous theories that shield those powers from checks or scrutiny. It’s that they sincerely admire him as a leader and a man so much that they believe in their heart (like Obama himself obviously believes) that due process, checks and transparency are not necessary when he wields these powers. Unlike when a GOP villain is empowered, Obama’s Goodness and his wisdom are the only safeguards we need.
Thus, when Obama orders someone killed, no due process is necessary and we don’t need to see any evidence of their guilt; we can (and do) just assume that the targeted person is a Terrorist and deserves death because Obama has decreed this to be so. When Obama orders a person to remain indefinitely in a cage without any charges or any opportunity to contest the validity of the imprisonment, that’s unobjectionable because the person must be a Terrorist or otherwise dangerous – or else Obama wouldn’t order him imprisoned. We don’t need proof, or disclosed evidence, or due process to determine the validity of these accusations; that it is Obama making these decisions is all the assurance we need because we trust him.
Similar sentiments shaping the Bush era
This mindset is so recognizable because it is also what drove Bush followers for years as they defended his seizures of unchecked authority and secrecy powers. Those who spent years arguing against the Bush/Cheney seizure of extremist powers always confronted this mentality at bottom, once the pseudo-intellectual justifications were debunked: George Bush is a Good man and a noble leader who can be trusted to exercise these powers in secret and with no checks, because he only wants to keep us safe and will only target the Terrorists.
Molded by exactly the same species of drooling presidential hagiography now so prevalent in progressive circles – compare this from the Bush era to things like this and this – conservatives believed that Bush was a good man and a great leader and thus needed no safeguards or transparency. If Bush wanted to eavesdrop on someone, or wanted to imprison someone, then – solely by virtue of his decree – we could and should assume the person was a Terrorist, or at least there was ample evidence to believe he was.
We were graced with a leader we could trust to exercise unlimited war powers in the dark. This is precisely the same mentality applied by Democrats (and by Obama himself) to the current President, except it not only justifies due-process-free eavesdropping and detention but also execution.
Faith v. reason and evidence
It is, for several reasons, extraordinary that so many citizens have been successfully trained to so venerate their Party’s leaders that they literally believe no checks or transparency are necessary, even as those leaders wield the most extremist powers: executing people, bombing multiple countries, imprisoning people with no charges, mass monitoring and surveilling of entire communities.
For one, there is ample evidence that virtually every leader of both major parties over the last century systematically abused these powers because they were able to exercise them in the dark. It was this discovery by the Church Committee that led to the reforms of the mid-1970s – reforms grounded in the premise that virtually all leaders, by virtue of human nature, will inevitably abuse these powers, exercise them for ignoble ends, if they operate without serious restraints and oversight. One has to ignore all of this historic evidence in order to place trust in any particular leader to exercise these powers without checks.
Then there is all the specific evidence of all the post-9/11 abuses. Over the last decade, the US government – under both parties – has repeatedly accused people of being Terrorists and punished them as Terrorists who were nothing of the sort. Whether due to gross error or more corrupt motives, the Executive Branch and its various intelligence and military agencies have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that their mere accusation that someone is a Terrorist – unproven with evidence and untested by any independent tribunal – is definitively unreliable.
Even beyond that, it is well-documented that the US government, under Obama, often targets people for death when they don’t even know the identity of the person they’re trying to kill. From the Sunday New York Times article:
“Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown. In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as ‘a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.’ But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to ‘personality strikes’ against named terrorists, the CIA and the military have carried out ‘signature strikes’ against groups of suspected, unknown militants.
“Originally that term was used to suggest the specific ‘signature’ of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the ‘signature’ of militants in general – for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.”
It is truly staggering to watch citizens assert that their government is killing “Terrorists” when those citizens have no clue who is being killed. But that becomes even more astounding when one realizes that not even the US government knows who they’re killing: they’re just killing anyone whose behavior they think generally tracks the profile of a Terrorist (“young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups”). And, of course, the Obama administration has re-defined “militant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone” – reflecting their propagandistic sloganeering that they are killing Terrorists even when they, in fact, have no idea who they are killing.
In light of all this evidence, to continue to blindly assume that unproven government accusations of “Terrorist” are tantamount to proof of those accusations is to embrace the type of faith-based trust that lies at the core of religious allegiance and faith in a god, not rational citizenship. Yet over and over, one encounters some form of this dialogue whenever this issue arises:
ARGUMENT: The US government shouldn’t imprison/kill/surveil people without providing evidence of their guilt.
GOVERNMENT-DEFENDING RESPONSE: But these are Terrorists, and they have to be stopped.
OBVIOUS QUESTION: How do you know they’re Terrorists if no evidence of their guilt has been presented and no due process accorded?
Ultimately, the only possible answer to that question – the only explanation for why this definitively authoritarian mentality persists – is because people have been so indoctrinated with the core Goodness of their particular party leader that they disregard all empirical evidence, and their own rational faculties, in order to place their blind faith in the leader they have grown to love and admire (if my leader says someone is a Terrorist, then I believe they are, and I don’t need to see evidence of that).
One can reasonably debate the extent to which democracy requires that some degree of trust be vested in the capabilities and judgment of whichever political leaders one supports. But however far that trust should extend, surely it must stop well before the vesting of the power to imprison and kill in total secrecy, far from any battlefield and without any checks or due process.
Core principles disregarded in lieu of leader-love
The Times article describes the view of Obama that some “drone rules” would be needed to be developed in light of the possibility of Romney’s victory. But at least some such rules already exist: they’re found in these things called “the Constitution” and “the Bill of Rights”, the Fifth Amendment to which provides:
“No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;”
Yet all of that has been tossed aside in lieu of a deeply disturbing and unhealthy faith-based belief that our leader can make these determinations without the need for any such bothersome impediments.
To me, this comment, left in response to a Gawker post from Sunday on the new NYT article, perfectly conveys the sentiment I heard for years in right-wing circles to justify everything Bush did in secret, and is now just as miserably common in progressive circles to justify Obama’s wielding of the same and even greater powers:
“The fact of the matter is that the complexities of security and war go far beyond what those interested in appearing morally superior are willing to concede. It just so happens that a lot of liberals are most interested in the appearance of moral superiority. . . .
“I used to be the exact same way, but then I actually genuinely considered how I would feel if I held the weight of the presidency and these decisions. I have no doubt that most liberals, when presented with that, would act just as Obama has. . . .
“I’m liberal, I’m no fan of war, I’m no fan of Republican fanaticism and thumping America-is-the-best nonsense across the globe. But I can understand why drone strikes might be the most expedient option in a war. Or, perhaps more precisely, can understand just how incapable I am of understanding. And instead of supposing myself worthy of understanding the complexity and therefore offering criticism, I trust those more intelligent than myself. But a lot of my fellow liberals don’t believe there are people more intelligent than themselves. I have no self-loathing of liberals. Its just like a moderate Republican finding the right wing of their party crazy even if they believe in most of the same stuff.”
That’s the Platonic form of authoritarian leader-faith:
I don’t need to know anything; my leader doesn’t need to prove the truth of his accusations; he should punish whomever he wants in total secrecy and without safeguards, and I will assume that he is right to do so (as long as I and others like me are not the ones targeted) because he is superior to me and I place my faith in Him.
Anyone who thinks the leader (when he’s of my party) should have to show proof before killing someone, or allow them due process, is being a childish purist. I used to be like that – until Obama got in office, and now I see how vital it is to trust him and not bother him with all this “due process” fanaticism. That’s what being an adult citizen means: trusting one’s leader the way children trust their parent.
This is the only sentiment that can explain the comfort with allowing Obama (and, before him, Bush) to exercise these extreme powers without checks or transparency. This is exactly the sentiment any Obama critic confronts constantly, even if expressed a bit more subtly and with a bit more dignity.
Ultimately, what is most extraordinary about all of this – most confounding to me – is how violently contrary this mentality is to the ethos with which all Americans are instilled: namely, that the first and most inviolable rule of government is that leaders must not be trusted to exercise powers without constant restraints – without what we’re all taught in elementary school are called “checks and balances”. Here is how Thomas Jefferson expressed this warning in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:
“In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
And here is what John Adams said in his 1772 Journal:
“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty”.
It is literally impossible to conceive of any mindset more at odds with these basic principles than the one that urges that Barack Obama – unlike George Bush or Mitt Romney or whoever the scary GOP villain of the day is – can be trusted to unilaterally and secretly kill or imprison or surveil anyone he wants because he is a Good man and a trustworthy leader and therefore his unproven accusations should be assumed true. But this is, overwhelmingly, the warped and authoritarian sentiment that now prevails in the bulk of the Democratic Party and its self-identified “progressive” faction, just as it did in the GOP and its conservative wing for eight years.
Ultimately, this unhealthy and dangerous trust in one’s own leader – beyond just the normal human desire to follow – is the by-product of over-identifying with the brand-marketed personality of politicians. Many East and West Coast progressives (which is overwhelmingly what Democratic Party opinion leaders are) have been trained to see themselves and the personality traits to which they aspire in Obama (the urbane, sophisticated, erudite Harvard-educated lawyer and devoted father and husband), just as religious conservatives and other types of Republicans were trained to see Bush in that way (the devout evangelical Christian, the brush-clearing, patriotic swaggering cowboy, and devoted father and husband).
Politicians are thus perceived like contestants in a reality TV show: viewers decide who they like personally and who they dislike – but the difference is that these images are bolstered with hundreds of millions of dollars of relentless, sophisticated, highly manipulative propaganda campaigns (there’s a reason the Obama 2008 campaign won multiple branding awards from the advertising and marketing industry). When one is taught to relate to a politician based on a fictitious personal relationship, one comes to place excessive trust in those with whom one identifies (the way one comes to trust, say, a close family member or loved one), and to harbor excessive contempt for those one is trained to see as the villain character. In sum, citizens are being trained to view politicians exactly the way Jefferson warned was so dangerous: “In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man.”
There’s one final irony worth noting in all of this. Political leaders and political movements convinced of their own Goodness are usually those who need greater, not fewer, constraints in the exercise of power. That’s because – like religious True Believers – those who are convinced of their inherent moral superiority can find all manner to justify even the most corrupted acts on the ground that they are justified by the noble ends to which they are put, or are cleansed by the nobility of those perpetrating those acts.
Political factions driven by self-flattering convictions of their own moral superiority – along with their leaders – are the ones most likely to abuse power. Anyone who ever listened to Bush era conservatives knows that this conviction drove them at their core (“you are with us or with the Terrorists”), and it is just as true of Obama-era progressives who genuinely see the political landscape as an overarching battle between forces of Good (Democrats: i.e., themselves) and forces of Evil (Republicans).
Thus should it be completely unsurprising that Obama (and his most ardent followers) genuinely believe that rules are urgently necessary to constrain Republicans from killing whoever they want, but that such urgency ceases to exist when that power rests in the hands of the current benevolent leader. Such a dangerous and perverse mindset is incredibly pervasive in the citizenry, and goes a long way toward explaining why and how the US government has been able to seize the powers it has wielded over the last decade with so little resistance, and with no end in sight.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Extremism normalized July 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Torture.
Tags: constitution, dianne feinstein, drone missiles, drone pilots, due process, glenn greenwald, habeas corpus, kill list, patriot act, presidential assassinations, roger hollander, surveillance state, targeted killing, torture
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of Barry Goldwater’s infamous statement in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Republican nomination: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!” Today’s neo-con Republicans have come a long way since then, in a neo-fascist direction that I suspect would trouble a libertarian like Goldwater, who was an Air Force General if I remember correctly. I would argue in fact that Goldwater’s genuine spiritual heirs are not the nut case Republican leadership or Fox News racists, but rather the libertarian Republicans such as Ron Paul, who are the only vocal critics in Congress (apart from a handful of Democrats) of the Bush/Clinton/Obama super imperialist and militarist foreign policy (while, unfortunately, remaining shills for American corporatism with respect to domestic policy).
Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012 05:19 AM EST, www.salon.com
How Americans are efficiently trained to acquiesce to ideas once deemed so radical as to be unthinkable
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, shakes hands with Vice President Dick Cheney after McCain introduced Cheney during a campaign stop, Friday, July 16, 2004, at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich. (Credit: AP Photo/Al Goldis)
(updated below – Update II)
Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal. Here are several examples from the last couple of days illustrating that same dynamic; none seems overwhelmingly significant on its own, but that’s the point:
Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.
Isn’t it amazing that the first sentence there (“I respect the vice president”) can precede the next one (“He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not”) without any notice or controversy? I realize insincere expressions of respect are rote ritualism among American political elites, but still, McCain’s statement amounts to this pronouncement: Dick Cheney authorized torture — he is a torturer — and I respect him. How can that be an acceptable sentiment to express? Of course, it’s even more notable that political officials whom everyone knows authorized torture are walking around free, respected and prosperous, completely shielded from all criminal accountability. “Torture” has been permanently transformed from an unspeakable taboo into a garden-variety political controversy, where it shall long remain.
Equally remarkable is this Op-Ed from The Los Angeles Times over the weekend, condemning President Obama’s kill lists and secret assassinations:
Allowing the president of the United States to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence is impossible to reconcile with the Constitution’s guarantee that a life will not be taken without due process of law.
Under the law, the government must obtain a court order if it seeks to target a U.S. citizen for electronic surveillance, yet there is no comparable judicial review of a decision to kill a citizen. No court is even able to review the general policies for such assassinations. . . .
But if the United States is going to continue down the troubling road of state-sponsored assassination, Congress should, at the very least, require that a court play some role, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does with the electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists. Even minimal judicial oversight might make the president and his advisors think twice about whether an American citizen poses such an “imminent” danger that he must be executed without a trial.
Isn’t it amazing that a newspaper editorial even has to say: you know, the President isn’t really supposed to have the power to act as judge, jury and executioner and order American citizens assassinated with no transparency or due process? And isn’t it even more amazing that the current President has actually seized and exercised this power with very little controversy? Recall that when The New York Times first confirmed Obama’s targeting of citizens for assassinations in 2010, it noted, citing “officials,” that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” No longer. That presidential power — literally the most tyrannical power a political leader can seize — is also now a barely noticed fixture of our political culture.
Meanwhile, we have this, from the Associated Press yesterday:
Remember when John Poindexter’s “Total Information Awareness” program – which was “to use data mining technologies to sift through personal transactions in electronic data to find patterns and associations connected to terrorist threats and activities”: basically create real-time surveillance of everyone – was too extreme and menacing even for an America still at its peak of post-9/11 hysteria? Yet here we have the NYPD — more than a decade removed from 9/11 — announcing a very similar program in very similar terms, and it’s almost impossible to envision any real controversy.
Similarly, in the AP’s sentence above describing the supposed targets of this new NYPD surveillance program: what, exactly, is a “potential terrorist”? Isn’t that an incredibly Orwellian term given that, by definition, it can include anyone and everyone? In practice, it will almost certainly mean: all Muslims, plus anyone who engages in any activism that opposes prevailing power factions. That’s how the American Surveillance State is always used. Still, the undesirability of mass, “all-seeing,” indiscriminate surveillance regime was a given — a view, in sum, that the East German Stasi was a bad idea that we would not want to replicate on American soil — yet now, there is almost no limit on the level of state surveillance we tolerate.
In The New York Times yesterday, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote about the very moving and burdensome plight of America’s drone pilots who, sitting in front of a “computer console  in the Syracuse suburbs,” extinguish people’s lives thousands of miles away by launching missiles at them. The bulk of the article is devoted to eliciting sympathy and admiration for these noble warriors, but when doing so, she unwittingly describes America’s future with domestic surveillance drones:
Among the toughest psychological tasks is the close surveillance for aerial sniper missions, reminiscent of the East German Stasi officer absorbed by the people he spies on in the movie “The Lives of Others.” A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.
“They watch this guy do bad things and then his regular old life things,” said Col. Hernando Ortega, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Air Education Training Command, who helped conduct a study last year on the stresses on drone pilots. . . . ”You see them wake up in the morning, do their work, go to sleep at night,” said Dave, an Air Force major who flew drones from 2007 to 2009 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and now trains drone pilots at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
That’s the level of detailed monitoring that drone surveillance enables. Numerous attributes of surveillance drones — their ability to hover in the same place for long periods of time, their ability to remain stealthy, their increasingly cheap cost and tiny size — enable surveillance of a breadth, duration and invasiveness unlike other types of surveillance instruments, such as police helicopters or satellites. Recall that one new type of drone already in use by the U.S. military in Afghanistan — the Gorgon Stare, named after the “mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them” — is “able to scan an area the size of a small town” and “the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity”; boasted one U.S. General: “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”
There is zero question that this drone surveillance is coming to American soil. It already has spawned a vast industry that is quickly securing formal approval for the proliferation of these surveillance weapons. There’s some growing though still marginal opposition among both the independent left and the more libertarian-leaning precincts on the right, but at the moment, that trans-ideological coalition is easily outgunned by the combination of drone industry lobbyists and Surveillance State fanatics. The idea of flying robots hovering over American soil monitoring what citizens do en masse is yet another one of those ideas that, in the very recent past, seemed too radical and dystopian to entertain, yet is on the road to being quickly mainstreamed. When that happens, it is no longer deemed radical to advocate such things; radicalism is evinced by opposition to them.
* * * * *
Whatever one thinks of the RT network, Alyona Minkovski, a host of a show on that network, is an excellent journalist and interviewer. Last night was her last show — she’s leaving to work on a Huffington Post video show — and I was on last night, along with Jane Hamsher, discussing several domestic police state issues…
Over the weekend, in the column I wrote hailing the Internet’s capacity to detect falsehoods and myths better than traditional journalism, I made reference to the “mass panic” caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” Numerous people — in comments, via email and elsewhere — objected by arguing that no such panic was ever documented. Journalism Professor W. Joseph Campbell makes the case here that this is nothing more than urban myth. He suggests that the widespread propagation of this myth on the Internet undermines my argument because it shows how the Internet can spread rather than combat falsehoods (Dan Drezner makes a related argument here), but (at least with regard to Campbell’s argument) I’d say the opposite is true. Leaving aside that this “mass panic” myth was widely believed long before the Internet was widely used, I was quickly exposed to, and persuaded by, the likely mythical nature of my claim as a result of the interactive process of Internet journalism which I praised.
UPDATE: In Mother Jones, Adam Serwer argues that “Congress is finally standing up to President Barack Obama on targeted killing” — specifically that they “are pushing the administration to explain why it believes it’s legal to kill American terror suspects overseas.” Notably, this push is coming from Republican Senators, while leading Democrats such as are attempting to impede these efforts to bring basic accountability and transparency to this most radical power. Note the debate here: not whether the President should have the power to order Americans executed without due process, but simply whether he should have to account to Congress for what he does and what the legal framework is that he believes authorizes this.
Why do they hate us?
John Brennan’s new power May 22, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, War on Terror.
Tags: civil liberties, counterterrorism, drone missile, due process, glenn greenwald, human rights, john brennan, kill list, presidential assassination, roger hollander, rule of law, war on terror
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Roger’s note: Picture Mr. Brennan enters the Oval Office and informs the President that it is time to sit down and decide who they are going to kill today. This is how a president spends his time? Surreal.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 07:34 AM EST, www.salon.com
President Obama’s counter-terrorism chief has “seized the lead” in secretly determining who will die by US drone
In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaks in Washington. )Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
In November, 2008, media reports strongly suggested that President Obama intended to name John Brennan as CIA Director. But controversy over Brennan’s recent history — he was a Bush-era CIA official who expressly advocated “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition — forced him to “withdraw” from consideration, as he publicly issued a letter citing “strong criticism in some quarters” of his CIA advocacy.
Undeterred by any of that unpleasantness, President Obama instead named Brennan to be his chief counter-Terrorism adviser, a position with arguably more influence that he would have had as CIA chief. Since then, Brennan has been caught peddling serious falsehoods in highly consequential cases, including falsely telling the world that Osama bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with U.S. forces entering his house and “used his wife as a human shield,” and then outright lying when he claimed about the prior year of drone attacks in Pakistan: “there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” Given his history, it is unsurprising that Brennan has been at the heart of many of the administration’s most radical acts, including claiming the power to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA without due process and the more general policy of secretly targeting people for death by drone.
Now, Brennan’s power has increased even more: he’s on his way to becoming the sole arbiter of life and death, the unchecked judge, jury and executioner of whomever he wants dead (of course, when Associated Press in this report uses the words “Terrorist” or “al-Qaida operative,” what they actually mean is: a person accused by the U.S. Government, with no due process, of involvement in Terrorism):
White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure for both military and CIA targets.
The effort concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House.
The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults with the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the target list, making the Pentagon’s role less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government goes after terrorists. . . .
Brennan’s effort gives him greater input earlier in the process, before making final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan’s office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials. . . .
Some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of “how easy it has become to kill someone,” one said. The U.S. is targeting al-Qaida operatives for reasons such as being heard in an intercepted conversation plotting to attack a U.S. ambassador overseas, the official said. . . .
Human rights and civil liberties groups have argued for the White House to make public the legal process by which names end up on the targeting lists.
“We continue to believe, based on the information available, that the (drone) program itself is not just unlawful but dangerous,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It is dangerous to characterize the entire planet as a battlefield.”
Shrinking the pool of people deciding who goes on the capture/kill list means fewer people to hold accountable, said Mieke Eoyang from Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.
“As a general principle, if people think someone is checking their work, they are more careful,” Eoyang said. “Small groups can fall victim to group-think.”
Needless to say, all of this takes place in total secrecy, with no legal framework and no oversight of any kind. Indeed, even after they had Brennan publicly defend the CIA drone program, the Obama administration continue to insist in federal court that the program is too secretive even to confirm its existence. It’s just a tiny cadre of National Security State officials who decide, in the dark, whom they want dead, and then — once the President signs off — it is done. This is the Change with which the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has gifted us: ”some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of ‘how easy it has become to kill someone.’”
Reuters previously described the secret process used to determine which human beings, including American citizens, would be targeted for due-process-free death-by-CIA: they “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials” with “no public record” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules” — an actual death panel, though one invented by the White House rather than established by law. And now John Brennan has even more control over the process, and fewer checks, when issuing these death sentence decrees.
Remember in the Bush era when little things like the Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping and military commissions were the Radical and Lawless Assaults Trampling on Our Constitution and Our Values? Now, all those things are completely normalized — controversies over those policies are like quaint and obsolete relics of a more innocent era — and we now have things like unelected Death Sentence Czars instead.
* * * * *
UPDATE: I was on Al Jazeera yesterday debating the potential de-listing of the MeK as a Terrorist group, and that can be seen here (because of technical issues, my participation began at 19:40). I was also interviewed yesterday by Anti War Radio about Obama’s detention policies and the recent court case invalidating the NDAA’s detention powers, and that can be heard here.
Tags: aclu, al-Qaeda, cia assassination, civil liberties, Criminal Justice, democratic party, due process, eric holder, glenn greenwald, judicial review, Obama, presidential power, roger hollander, rule of law, terrorists, war on terror, warrantless eavesdropping
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Roger’s note: declare “war” on something, war on terror, for example, and you then have the absolute right to kill the “enemy” no questions asked. Prior to the so-called war on terror, there had been acts of terrorism for centuries. They were always dealt with via intelligence gathering and other policing techniques, and alleged terrorists prosecuted through he judicial system (albeit with notable examples of abuse, e.g. Sacco and Vanzetti). This made sense. The ultimate purpose of the war on terror today is to militarize civilian authority. Declare war and you have every right to kill whomever you say is the enemy, be it a citizen or a foreigner. The world is a battlefield. By this logic, the president and the CIA should be able to execute anyone they deem active in the phony “war on drugs.” I am surprised that they haven’t … yet. When they declare war on left-wing political comedians, look out Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012 4:50 AM 20:09:43 EST, www.salon.com
A new speech by Eric Holder cements Obama’s legacy as the president who pioneered secretive, charge-less executions
Barack Obama and Eric Holder (Credit: Reuters)
In a speech at Northwestern University yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder provided the most detailed explanation yet for why the Obama administration believes it has the authority to secretly target U.S. citizens for execution by the CIA without even charging them with a crime, notifying them of the accusations, or affording them an opportunity to respond, instead condemning them to death without a shred of transparency or judicial oversight. The administration continues to conceal the legal memorandum it obtained to justify these killings, and, as The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage noted, Holder’s “speech contained no footnotes or specific legal citations, and it fell far short of the level of detail contained in the Office of Legal Counsel memo.” But the crux of Holder’s argument as set forth in yesterday’s speech is this:
Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.
When Obama officials (like Bush officials before them) refer to someone “who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” what they mean is this: someone the President has accused and then decreed in secret to be a Terrorist without ever proving it with evidence. The “process” used by the Obama administration to target Americans for execution-by-CIA is, as reported last October by Reuters, as follows:
American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions . . . There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council . . . Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.
As Leon Panetta recently confirmed, the President makes the ultimate decision as to whether the American will be killed: “[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go.”
So that is the “process” which Eric Holder yesterday argued constitutes “due process” as required by the Fifth Amendment before the government can deprive of someone of their life: the President and his underlings are your accuser, your judge, your jury and your executioner all wrapped up in one, acting in total secrecy and without your even knowing that he’s accused you and sentenced you to death, and you have no opportunity even to know about, let alone confront and address, his accusations; is that not enough due process for you? At Esquire, Charles Pierce, writing about Holder’s speech, described this best: “a monumental pile of crap that should embarrass every Democrat who ever said an unkind word about John Yoo.”
* * * * *
I’ve obviously written about the Obama assassination program many times before but there are several points worth examining in light of Holder’s speech and the reaction to it:
(1) The willingness of Democrats to embrace and defend this power is especially reprehensible because of how completely, glaringly and obviously at odds it is with everything they loudly claimed to believe during the Bush years. Recall two of the most significant “scandals” of the Bush War on Terror: his asserted power merely to eavesdrop on and detain accused Terrorists without judicial review of any kind. Remember all that? Progressives endlessly accused Bush of Assaulting Our Values and “shredding the Constitution” simply because Bush officials wanted to listen in on and detain suspected Terrorists — not kill them, just eavesdrop on and detain them — without first going to a court and proving they did anything wrong. Yet here is a Democratic administration asserting not merely the right to surveil or detain citizens without charges or judicial review, but to kill them without any of that: a far more extreme, permanent and irreversible act. Yet, with some righteous exceptions, the silence is deafening, or worse.
How can anyone who vocally decried Bush’s mere eavesdropping and detention powers without judicial review possibly justify Obama’s executions without judicial review? How can the former (far more mild powers) have been such an assault on Everything We Stand For while the latter is a tolerable and acceptable assertion of war powers? If Barack Obama has the right to order accused Terrorists executed by the CIA because We’re At War, then surely George Bush had the right to order accused Terrorists eavesdropped on and detained on the same ground.
That the same Party and political faction that endlessly shrieked about Bush’s eavesdropping and detention programs now tolerate Obama’s execution program is one of the most extreme and craven acts of dishonesty we’ve seen in quite some time. By stark contrast, right–wing leaders, pundits and bloggers are being commendably consistent: they cheered for Bush’s due-process-free eavesdropping and detention programs and, based on exactly the same reasoning, they now lavishly praise President Obama for extending that mentality to assassinations.
(2) It isn’t merely the Democratic Party generally and its hordes of adherents who have performed a complete reversal on these issues as of January 20, 2009. It’s also true of Barack Obama and Eric Holder themselves.
Throughout the Bush years, then-Sen. Obama often spoke out so very eloquently about the Vital Importance of Due Process even for accused Terrorists. As but one example, he stood up on the Senate floor and denounced Bush’s Guantanamo detentions on the ground that a “perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence.” He spoke of “the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence.” He mocked the right-wing claim “that judicial inquiry is an antique, trivial and dispensable luxury.” He acknowledged that the Government will unavoidably sometimes make mistakes in accusing innocent people of being Terrorists, but then provided the obvious solution: “what is avoidable is refusing to ever allow our legal system to correct these mistakes.” How moving is all that? What a stirring tribute to the urgency of allowing accused Terrorists a day in court before punishing them.
Then we have Eric Holder, who in 2008 gave a speech to the American Constitution Society denouncing Bush’s executive power radicalism and calling for a “public reckoning.” He specifically addressed the right-wing claim that Presidents should be allowed to eavesdrop on accused Terrorists without judicial review in order to Keep Us Safe. In light of what the Attorney General said and justified yesterday, just marvel at what he said back then, a mere three years ago:
To those in the Executive branch who say “just trust us” when it comes to secret and warrantless surveillance of domestic communications I say remember your history. In my lifetime, federal government officials wiretapped, harassed and blackmailed Martin Luther King and other civil rights leader in the name of national security. One of America’s greatest heroes whom today we honor with a national holiday, countless streets, schools and soon a monument in his name, was treated like a criminal by those in our federal government possessed of too much discretion and a warped sense of patriotism. Watergate revealed similar abuses during the Nixon administration.
To recap Barack Obama’s view: it is a form of “terror” for someone to be detained “without even getting one chance to prove their innocence,” but it is good and noble for them to be executed under the same circumstances. To recap Eric Holder’s view: we must not accept when the Bush administration says “just trust us” when it comes to spying on the communications of accused Terrorists, but we must accept when the Obama administration says “just trust us” when it comes to targeting our fellow citizens for execution. As it turns out, it’s not 9/11/01 that Changed Everything. It’s 1/20/09.
(3) The ACLU said yesterday that Holder’s speech “is ultimately a defense of the government’s chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens, far from any battlefield without judicial review or public scrutiny.” The ACLU then added:
Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact.
Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.
This is notable for three reasons. First, the ACLU isn’t merely saying this is a bad policy; they are instead pointing out the obvious: that there are “few things as dangerous” as having your own Government assert the right to target citizens for death with no judicial process, yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration is doing with little backlash. Second, the ACLU is challenging progressive defenders of the President to do what none will ever do: explain why they would trust not only Barack Obama, but also Sarah Palin, or Newt Gingrich, or Michele Bachmann, with the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination in secret and with no judicial oversight. Third, that the ACLU is condemning an Obama policy as “as dangerous to American liberty” as a policy can be — also known as: a supreme hallmark of tyranny — demonstrates the huge gulf that has arisen under the Obama presidency between the Democratic Party and the ACLU (a group universally praised by Democrats when a Republican President is in office), though this gulf has been obvious for quite some time.
(4) What’s so striking is how identical Obama officials and their defenders sound when compared to the right-wing legal theorists who justified Bush’s most controversial programs. Even the core justifying slogans are the same: we are at War; the Battlefield is everywhere; Presidents have the right to spy on, detain and kill combatants without court permission; the Executive Branch is the sole organ for war and no courts can interfere in the President’s decisions, etc. I spent years writing about and refuting those legal theories and they are identical to what we hear now. Just consider how similar the two factions sound to one another.
When it came to their War on Terror controversies, Bush officials constantly said back then exactly what Obama officials and defenders say now: we’re only using these powers against Terrorists — The Bad People — not against regular, normal, Good Americans; so if you’re not a Terrorist, you have nothing to worry about. Here’s White House spokesman Trent Duffy in December, 2005, defending Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program:
This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches.
Similarly, when George Bush went before the cameras in December, 2005, to proudly admit and defend his warrantless spying program, he assured the nation that this was all justified because it was only aimed at “the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.”
Find a defender of Obama’s assassination program and all you’ll hear is exactly the same thing: this is only being directed at The Terrorists like Awlaki, so we don’t need any court review or due process. Here was Holder yesterday: “it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks,” and assassination orders are only issued once “the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”
This is nothing more than an exercise of supremely circular reasoning and question-begging: whether someone is actually a Terrorist can be determined only when the evidence of their guilt is presented and they have an opportunity to respond, just as Holder and Obama said during the Bush years. Government assurances that they’re only targeting Terrorists — whether those assurances issue from Bush or Obama — should reassure nobody: this is always what those who abuse power claim, and it’s precisely why we don’t trust government officials to punish people based on unproven accusations. Here’s what Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, said in order to assuage growing fears of new government eavesdropping powers, as reported by this July 25, 1969 article from Time Magazine:
Mitchell refused to disclose any figures, but he indicated that the number was far lower than most people might think. “Any citizen of this United States who is not involved in some illegal activity,” he added, “has nothing to fear whatsoever.”
We supposedly learned important lessons from the abuses of power of the Nixon administration, and then of the Bush administration: namely, that we don’t trust government officials to exercise power in the dark, with no judicial oversight, with no obligation to prove their accusations. Yet now we hear exactly this same mentality issuing from Obama, his officials and defenders to justify a far more extreme power than either Nixon or Bush dreamed of asserting: he’s only killing The Bad Citizens, so there’s no reason to object!
Here’s a critique I wrote in January, 2006, of the Bush DOJ’s 42-page whitepaper justifying its warrantless eavesdropping on accused Terrorists. Just read that and you’ll see: the essence of the Bush view of the world was that when it comes to war, it is the President who has sole responsibility and power and courts may not review or interfere with what he decides about who is a Terrorist and what should be done to them. The President is the “sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs,” declared the Bush DOJ, and ”among the President’s most basic constitutional duties is the duty to protect the Nation from armed attack” and thus, “the Constitution gives him all necessary authority to fulfill that responsibility.” Or, as Holder put it yesterday: “The conduct and management of national security operations are core functions of the Executive Branch, as courts have recognized throughout our history” and therefore “the president is [not] required to get permission from a federal court.” One cannot reject the Bush legal worldview invoked to justify those programs while embracing the Obama worldview expressed here — at least not with an iota of intellectual coherence or dignity.
(5) The dubious or outright deceitful legal claims made by Holder are too numerous to chronicle all of them, but there are a couple worth highlighting. He said, for instance, that “the Supreme Court has made clear that the Due Process Clause does not impose one-size-fits-all requirements, but instead mandates procedural safeguards that depend on specific circumstances.” That part is true: in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s argument that it could detain American citizens accused of Terrorism without any process for them to contest the accusations against them, though the Court held that something less than a full-scale trial could satisfy the Due Process clause. But as Marcy Wheeler points out, the Court imposed “due process” requirements that are the exact opposite of what the Obama administration is doing with its assassinations. Said the Court (emphasis added):
It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad. . . .
We therefore hold that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker. . . .
In sum, while the full protections that accompany challenges to detentions in other settings may prove unworkable and inappropriate in the enemy-combatant setting, the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.
How can Eric Holder possibly cite the Supreme Court’s Due Process holdings in the War on Terror context when the Court has held that citizens — merely to be detained, let alone killed — are entitled to exactly that which the Obama administration refuses to provide: “a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker” and “a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator”? It’s precisely because Obama refuses to fulfill those Court-imposed obligations before ordering citizens executed that this behavior is so objectionable.
If, as Holder argues, the Due Process Clause allows a citizen to be killed based on accusations by the President that are made in total secrecy and which he has no opportunity even to hear, let alone refute, then that core Constitutional safeguard is completely meaningless. And the Supreme Court in the very ruling Holder references leaves no doubt about that, as it required an adversarial hearing before a neutral arbiter even for someone accused of being an “enemy combatant” at the height of the War on Terror.
Then there is Holder’s reliance on the old neocon trick: cite what Lincoln did in the Civil War or what FDR did in World War II — as though those are comparable to the War on Terror — to justify what is being done now. Thus we hear this from Holder: “during World War II, the United States tracked the plane flying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto — the commander of Japanese forces in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway – and shot it down specifically because he was on board.” This argument has been hauled out before by administration officials when responding to my critiques of Obama’s assassination program.
Even leaving aside the vast difference between wars posing an existential threat (the Civil War, WW2) and the so-called War on Terror, the difference between the Yamamoto killing and Obama’s citizen assassinations is self-evident. There was no doubt that Adm. Yamamoto was in fact a commander of an enemy army at war with the U.S.: he wore that army’s uniform and identified himself as such. By contrast, there is substantial doubt whether Anwar Awlaki or other accused Al Qaeda members are in fact guilty of plotting Terrorist attacks on the U.S. That’s true for exactly the reason that Holder, in another part of his speech, explained: Al Qaeda members “do not behave like a traditional military – wearing uniforms, carrying arms openly, or massing forces in preparation for an attack.”
That’s why applying traditional war doctrine to accused Terrorists (who are not found on a battlefield but in their cars, their homes, at work, etc.) is so inappropriate, and why judicial review is so urgent: because the risk of false accusations is so much higher than it is when capturing uniformed soldiers on an actual battlefield. Just recall how dubious so many government accusations of Terrorism turned out to be once federal courts began scrutinizing those accusations for evidentiary support. Indeed, Yemen experts such as Gregory Johnsen have repeatedly pointed out in response to claims that Awlaki plotted Terrorist attacks: “we know very little, precious little when it comes to his operational role” and “we just don’t know this, we suspect it but don’t know it.” Given this shameful record in the War on Terror, what rational person would “trust” the Government to make determinations about who is and is not a Terrorist in the dark, with no limits or checks on what they can do?
(6) Holder’s attempt to justify these assassinations on the ground that “capture is not feasible” achieves nothing. For one, the U.S. never even bothered to indict Awlaki so that he could voluntarily turn himself in or answer the charges (though at one point, long after they first ordered him killed, they “considered” indicting him); instead, they simply killed him without demonstrating there was any evidence to support these accusations. What justifies that? Additionally, the fact that the Government is unable to apprehend and try a criminal does not justify his murder; absent some violent resistance upon capture, the government is not free to simply go around murdering fugitives who have been convicted of nothing. Moreover, that Awlaki could not have been captured in a country where the government is little more than an American client is dubious at best; if the U.S. could locate and enter the home of Osama bin Laden without the cooperation of the Pakistani government, why could it not do the same for Awlaki in Yemen?
But the most important point is that Holder is not confining this assassination power to circumstances where “capture is not feasible.” To the contrary, he specifically said that killing “would be lawful at least in the following circumstances”: meaning that the President’s asserted power is not confined to those conditions. As Charlie Savage wrote: “Significantly, Mr. Holder did not say that such a situation is the only kind in which it would be lawful to kill a citizen. Rather, he said it would be lawful ‘at least’ under those conditions.” We have no idea how far the Obama administration believes its assassination power extends because it refuses to release the legal memorandum justifying it; there is no legal framework governing it; and there is no transparency or accountability for the President’s execution orders.
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In sum, Holder’s attempt to make this all seem normal and common should insult anyone with the most basic understanding of American law. As The New York Times put it when first confirming the assassination program in April, 2010: ” The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen. . . . It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.” To date, not a single such citizen has been identified.
As always, the most important point to note for this entire debate is how perverse and warped it is that we’re even having this “debate” at all. It should be self-negating — self-marginalizing — to assert that the President, acting with no checks or transparency, can order American citizens executed far from any battlefield and without any opportunity even to know about, let alone rebut, the accusations. That this policy is being implemented and defended by the very same political party that spent the last decade so vocally and opportunistically objecting to far less extreme powers makes it all the more repellent. That fact also makes it all the more dangerous, because — as one can see — the fact that it is a Democratic President doing it, and Democratic Party officials justifying it, means that it’s much easier to normalize: very few of the Party’s followers, especially in an election year, are willing to make much of a fuss about it at all.
And thus will presidential assassination powers be entrenched as bipartisan consensus for at least a generation. That will undoubtedly be one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy. Let no Democrat who is now supportive or even silent be heard to object when the next Republican President exercises this power in ways that they dislike.
The NDAA: a clear and present danger to American liberty March 3, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
Tags: civil liberties, Civil Rights, democracy, due process, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, naomi wolf, national defense, ndaa, perpetual incarceration, roger hollander, torture
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Roger’s note: THIS IS TRULY FRIGHTENING.
The US is sleepwalking into becoming a police state, where, like a pre-Magna Carta monarch, the president can lock up anyone
Yes, the worst things you may have heard about the National Defense Authorization Act, which has formally ended 254 years of democracy in the United States of America, and driven a stake through the heart of the bill of rights, are all really true. The act passed with large margins in both the House and the Senate on the last day of last year – even as tens of thousands of Americans were frantically begging their representatives to secure Americans’ habeas corpus rights in the final version.
It does indeed – contrary to the many flatout-false form letters I have seen that both senators and representatives sent to their constituents, misleading them about the fact that the NDAA destroys their due process rights. Under the act, anyone can be described as a ‘belligerent”. As the New American website puts it,
“[S]ubsequent clauses (Section 1022, for example) unlawfully give the president the absolute and unquestionable authority to deploy the armed forces of the United States to apprehend and to indefinitely detain those suspected of threatening the security of the ‘homeland’. In the language of this legislation, these people are called ‘covered persons’.
“The universe of potential ‘covered persons’ includes every citizen of the United States of America. Any American could one day find himself or herself branded a ‘belligerent’ and thus subject to the complete confiscation of his or her constitutional civil liberties and nearly never-ending incarceration in a military prison.”
And with a new bill now being introduced to make it a crime to protest in a way that disrupts any government process – or to get close to anyone with secret service protection – the push to legally lock down the United Police States is in full force.
Overstated? Let’s be clear: the NDAA grants the president the power to kidnap any American anywhere in the United States and hold him or her in prison forever without trial. The president’s own signing statement, incredibly, confirmed that he had that power. As I have been warning since 2006: there is not a country on the planet that you can name that has ever set in place a system of torture, and of detention without trial, for an “other”, supposedly external threat that did not end up using it pretty quickly on its own citizens.
And Guantánamo has indeed come home: Guantánamo is in our front yards now and our workplaces; it did not even take much more than half a decade. On 1 March, the NDAA will go into effect – if a judicial hearing scheduled for this week does not block it – and no one in America, no US citizen, will be safe from being detained indefinitely – in effect, “disappeared.”.
As former Reagan official, now Ron Paul supporter, Bruce Fein points out, on 1 March, we won’t just lose the bill of rights; we will lose due process altogether. We will be back at the place where we were, in terms of legal tradition, before the signing of the Magna Carta – when kings could throw people in prison at will, to rot there forever. If we had cared more about what was being done to brown people with Muslim names on a Cuban coastline, and raised our voices louder against their having been held without charge for years, or against their being tried in kangaroo courts called military tribunals, we might now be safer now from a new law mandating for us also the threat of abduction and fear of perpetual incarceration.
We didn’t care, or we didn’t care enough – and here we are. We acclimated, we got distracted, the Oscars were coming up … but the fake “battlefield” was brought home to us, now real enough. Though it is not “we” versus Muslims in this conflict; it is our very own government versus “us”. As one of my Facebook community members remarked bitterly, of our House representatives, our Senate leaders and our president, “They hate our freedoms.”
The NDAA is, in the words of Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, “the worst threat to civil liberties since COINTELPRO. It gives the government the power to presume guilt rather than innocence, and indefinitely imprison anyone accused of a ‘belligerent act’ or terror-related offense without trial.” He points out that it gives future presidents the power to arrest their political critics. That may even be understating things: it is actually, in my view, the worst threat to civil liberty in the US since habeas corpus was last suspended, during the American civil war.
On a conference call for media last Friday, hosted by the cross-partisan BORDC (which now includes the 40,000 members of the American Freedom Campaign, which we had co-founded as a response to the warning in 2007 that America was facing a “fascist shift”) and the right-leaning Tenth Amendment Foundation, we were all speaking the same language of fear for our freedom, even though our perspectives spanned the political spectrum. As the Tenth Amendment Foundation put it, we are a family with diverse views – and families know when it is time to put aside their differences. If there were ever a time to do so, it is now. This grassroots effort is pushing hard in many places. Protests that included libertarians, progressives, Tea Party members and Occupy participants have been held nationwide in recent weeks. State legislators in Virginia, Tennessee, and Washington have also introduced bills to prevent state agencies from aiding in any detention operations that might be authorized by the NDAA. In other words, they are educating sheriffs and police to refuse to comply with the NDAA’s orders. This presents an Orwellian or 1776-type scenario, depending upon your point of view, in which the federal government, or even the president, might issue orders to detain US citizens – which local sheriffs and police would be legally bound to resist.
What will happen next? I wrote recently that the US is experiencing something like a civil war, with only one side at this point – the corporatist side – aggressing. This grassroots, local-leader movement represents a defensive strategy in what is being now tacitly recognized as unprovoked aggression against an entire nation, and an entire people. (Here I should say, mindful of the warning issued to me by NYPD, which arrested me, to avoid saying anything that could be construed as “incitement to riot” and that I believe in nonviolent resistance.)
The local resistance to the police state goes further: midwestern cities, such as Chicago and Minneapolis, are considering “torture-free city” resolutions that would prohibit the torture which civil libertarians see as likely under a military detention regime expanded by the NDAA. (Bradley Manning’s initial treatment in solitary confinement, for instance, met some Red Cross definitions of torture.)
But I am far more scared than hopeful, because nothing about the NDAA’s legislative passage worked as democracy is supposed to work. Senator Dianne Feinstein, for instance, in spite of her proposed (defeated) amendment that could have defended due process more completely, has nonetheless not fought to repeal the law – even though her constituents in California would, no doubt, overwhelmingly support her in doing so. Huge majorities passed this bill into law – despite the fact that Americans across the spectrum were appalled and besieging their legislators. And this president nailed it to the table – even though his own constituency is up in arms about it.
History shows that at this point, there isn’t much time to mount a defense: once the first few arrests take place, people go quiet. There is only one solution: organize votes loudly and publicly to defeat every single signer of this bill in November’s general election. Then, once we have our Republic back and the rule of law, we can deal with the actual treason that this law represents.
Leon Panetta’s explicitly authoritarian decree January 30, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
Tags: awlaki, bill of rights, cia execution, civil liberties, constitution, due process, first amendment, glenn greenwald, indefinite detention, journalism, leon panetta, Obama, presidential assassination, roger hollander, rule of law, scott pelley, state secrets, terrorism suspects, terrorists, war on terror
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CBS News‘ Scott Pelley appears to be one of the very few American journalists bothered by, or even interested in, the fact that President Obama has asserted and exercised the power to target U.S. citizens for execution-by-CIA without a shred of due process and far from any battlefield. It was Pelley who deftly interrogated the GOP presidential candidates at a November debate about the propriety of due-process-free assassinations, prompting Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann to applaud President Obama for assassinating Awlaki (just as Rick Perry, Dick and Liz Cheney, and Bill Kristol had done). Last night, Pelley did the same when he interviewed Defense Secretary and former CIA chief Leon Panetta on 60 Minutes. It’s well worth watching this three-minute clip because, although Panetta doesn’t say much that is new (he simply asserts the standard slogans and unproven assertions that Obama defenders on this topic always assert), watching a top Obama official, under decent questioning, defend the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination viscerally conveys the rigidly authoritarian mindset driving all of this:
Panetta’s answers are suffused with dubious and even factually false claims. It is, for instance, false that the U.S. provides due process to everyone apprehended for Terrorism. To the contrary, the Obama administration has been holding dozens of Terrorism suspects without any charges for years, and President Obama just signed into law a bill codifying the power of indefinite detention for accused Terrorists. But even if it were true that all Terrorism suspects who are detained were entitled to receive due process, that merely underscores how warped it is to assert the power to target them for execution without due process. After all, how can it be that the Government must prove guilt merely to imprison Terrorists but not to execute them?
But this is one of the towering, unanswerable hypocrisies of Democratic Party politics. The very same faction that pretended for years to be so distraught by Bush’s mere eavesdropping on and detention of accused Terrorists without due process is now perfectly content to have their own President kill accused Terrorists without due process, even when those targeted are their fellow citizens: obviously a far more Draconian and permanent abuse than eavesdropping or detention (identically, the very same faction that objected to Bush’s radical whole-world-is-a-Battlefield theory now must embrace exactly that theory to justify how someone riding in a car, or sitting at home, or sleeping in his bed, in a country where no war is declared, is “on a battlefield” at the time the CIA ends his life).
It is equally false, and independently both misleading and perverse, for Panetta to assert that a citizen in Awlaki’s position could come to the U.S. to assert his due process rights. For one thing, Awlaki was never charged or indicted for anything in the U.S. — he was simply executed without any charges (the Obama administration, after trying to kill him, reportedly “considered” charging him with crimes at one point but never did) – and thus, there was nothing to which he could “turn himself” in even if he wanted to. Even worse, President Obama’s hit list of those he approves for assassination is completely secret; we only learned that Awlaki was being targeted because someone happened to leak that fact to Dana Priest. The way the process normally works, as Reuters described it, is that targeted Americans are selected “by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions”; moreover, “there is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.” So, absent a fortuitous leak (acts for which the Obama administration is vindictively doling out the most severe punishment), it would be impossible for American citizens to know that they’ve been selected for execution by President Obama (and thus obviously impossible to to assert one’s due process rights to stop it).
Worse still, if a judicial proceeding is commenced by a targeted American seeking to put a halt to the assassination attempt in the absence of a trial — as Awlaki’s father did, with the help of the ACLU and CCR, on behalf of his son — then the Obama DOJ will insist that the reasons for the assassination are “state secrets” and cannot be judicially examined, and independently, that such matters are for the President alone to decide and courts thus have no role to play in interfering with such decisions (see POINT II). American courts, largely deferential to claims of presidential secrecy and authority in the post-9/11 era, almost reflexively accept such claims. In other words, if a targeted American tries to assert these due process rights, the Obama administration will go into court and take exactly the opposite position of the one Panetta is claiming here: namely, that the person has no rights to have a court interfere in the President’s assassination order.
So for so many reasons, Panetta’s claim is utterly false: American citizens secretely targeted by President Obama for execution have no means of obtaining due process even in the unlikely case that they learn they have been so targeted. And this is all independent of Panetta’s warped notion that an American has to be on U.S. soil to claim constitutional protections, a wholesale rejection of well-settled Constitutional law that Americans have the right to travel abroad and, when they do, they retain their Constitutional rights against the U.S. government even when on foreign soil. As the Supreme Court put it in 1956, specifically discussing the requirement that a citizen be given a trial before punishment can be doled out (emphasis added):
At the beginning, we reject the idea that, when the United States acts against citizens abroad, it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government.
But the final point is the most important and revealing of all: Panetta’s whole case rests on simply asserting, without proving, that Awlaki was a Terrorist trying to “kill Americans.” That, of course, is precisely what is in dispute: actual Yemen experts have long questioned whether Awlaki had any operational role at all in Al Qaeda (as opposed to a role as its advocate, which is clearly protected free speech). No evidence has been publicly presented that Awlaki had any such role. We simply have the untested, unverified accusations of government officials, such as Leon Panetta, that he is guilty: in other words, we have nothing but decrees of guilt. The U.S. Constitution, first and foremost, was designed to prohibit the doling out of punishments based on government accusations untested and unproven in a court of law; for those who doubt that, just read the relevant provisions (“No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court“; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).
But as I wrote the other day, “the U.S. really is a society that simply no longer believes in due process: once the defining feature of American freedom that is now scorned as some sort of fringe, radical, academic doctrine.” Instead:
Supporters of both political parties endorse, or at least tolerate, all manner of government punishment without so much as the pretense of a trial, based solely on government accusation: imprisonment for life, renditions to other countries, even assassinations of their fellow citizens. Simply uttering the word Terrorist, without proving it, is sufficient.
Here we have the U.S. Defense Secretary, life-long Democrat Leon Panetta, telling you as clearly as he can that this is exactly the operating premise of the administration in which he serves: once the President accuses you of being a Terrorist, a decision made in secert and with no checks or due process, we can do anything we want to you, including executing you wherever we find you. It’s hard to know what’s more extraordinary: that he feels so comfortable saying this right out in the open, or that so few people seem to mind.
* * * * *
ABC News‘ Jake Tapper pressed White House spokesman Jay Carney back in October about the evidence the administration possesses showing Awlaki’s guilt, and the same authoritarian decree issued: we have said he’s a Terrorist and that is all that is necessary.