Unpacking the Ramifications of Obama’s Targeted Killing Memo

Drones

Rosa Brooks unpacks the Obama JD’s targeted killing memo: “Like many legal documents, this one does fine on its own terms, but looks a lot less satisfying when taken out of its hermetically sealed legal universe.”

Related: John Fugelsang talks with Harper’s Scott Horton and Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK about the kill memo and a possible slippery slope into domestic assassination:

Update: Via Jack Goldsmith, two different takes on the white paper — first, Jeffrey Rosen is outraged:

The Justice Department white paper released on Monday by NBC News is the public’s first direct glimpse at the legal reasoning that the Obama administration relied on in using a drone strike to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen. The memo’s arguments are troubling on many levels. Although the Obama administration’s brief is directed at the assassination of Americans abroad, the arguments it offers could apply with equal force to the assassination of Americans at home; lawyers for the Bush administration who tried to justify lesser outrages have been pilloried for supporting torture. But perhaps most troubling is the administration’s attempt to redefine the idea of the kind of “imminent threat” that can justify a targeted assassination. . . .

There are other reasons to object to the administration’s justification of targeted assassinations—including its questionable claim that they are legally supported by Congress’s authorization of the use of force after 9/11. On pragmatic grounds, the administration’s brief is a disaster: As the Church Commission found after studying the attempted assassinations of Castro, targeted killings are likely to produce an international backlash that threatens far more American lives than they protect. But, as a legal matter, the casual, and unpersuasive, attempt to read out of American constitutional law the principle that government can only kill citizens in order to prevent imminent death or violence in return is the most objectionable of all.

And then there’s Eric Posner, who is not so outraged (and wonders what all the fuss is about):

So far, the reporting on the leaked white paper from the Justice Department about drone attacks clearly assumes that we are supposed to be outraged by the Obama administration’s legal theories, just as we were supposed to be outraged by the Bush administration’s. And outrage is being dutifully ginned up. But the memo is utterly conventional as legal analysis; its arguments could easily have been predicted. . . .

Obama and Bush administration lawyers have stretched the Constitution and traditional rules of international law to accommodate the threat posed by terrorism. Some people will say they violated the law. But given the political consensus supporting these moves within the U.S., it is more accurate to say that the law has evolved. It gives the president the discretion he needs, or at least wants, to address an amorphous threat. Let’s hope he uses that discretion wisely.

Quite the leap of faith, that (YMMV).

More from Goldsmith here and here, and from Ben “Keep Calm and Carry On Killing The Wogs” Wittes, who thinks this is all much ado about nothing.

Mumbai Attacks: “These Weren’t Just Terrorists”

by matttbastard

ForaTV:

Counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman describes the November, 2008 attacks on downtown Mumbai, India as “more like a military operation than a terrorist attack,” and examines what implications the incident may have for the ongoing fight against global terrorism.

Complete video here

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Mumbai Attack Resources

by matttbastard

Canadians concerned about relatives/loved ones in Mumbai can call the Department of Foreign Affairs at 1-613-996-8885 from inside Canada or 1-800-387-3124 from other countries. US citizens contact special State Department call center phone number set up for the crisis: 1-888-407-4747. UPDATE For Australians:1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 (DFAT) UK: 0207 008 0000 (Foreign Office) (h/t Brandy Betz)

Please add additional resources in comments and I’ll update accordingly.

- Indian dead tree media: Hindustan Times, Times of India, The Hindu, Outlook India, Deccan Herald, Indian Express

- list of Mumbai bloggers liveblogging events as they unfold, comprehensive round-up from DesiPundit

- Vinu’s Mumbai attacks Flickr photostream UPDATE new sets from Vinu here and here, ashesh shah’s photostream (h/t Gauravonomics) UPDATE Boston Globe photoset (h/t dina)

- Google Map of attacks

- regularly updated Wikipedia page

- YouTube and VodPod videos, sorted by date (most recent first)

- Ongoing coverage from Neha Vishwanathan of Global Voices Online [UPDATE Global Voices special Mumbai attacks page) and from GroundReport.com

- searchable list of injured/dead

- regularly updated emergency information at Mumbai Help

- PinStorm information page

- Livestreams from CNN-IBN and NDTV

- Twitter content marked #mumbai, Colaba, Oberoi, Taj

- Mumbai Tweetgrid (automatically refreshes)

- invaluable Twitter updates from MumbaiAttacks, zigzackly, vinu, gsik, chhavi, asfaq and dina .

- SkyNews MicroBlog

- Timeline of terror attacks in India, 1993-present

- UPDATE public Google Notebook aggregating key points and facts (thanks, Anannya Deb!)

- UPDATE Mahalo , Addictomatic and NowPublic pages

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John Brennan Will Not Be CIA Director in Obama Administration

by matttbastard

Thank Maude:

John Brennan, President-elect Barack Obama’s top adviser on intelligence, took his name out of the running Tuesday for any intelligence position in the new administration.Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment as CIA director has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition policies.

[...]

In a 2005 interview on “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” Brennan defended rendition as “an absolutely vital tool.” In 2007 on CBS News, he said the CIA’s harsh interrogation program, which included waterboarding on at least three prisoners, produced “life saving” intelligence. Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning.

Brennan has spoken out publicly against waterboarding.

“The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored,” he wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current administration only to be rebuffed by the White House.”

Glennzilla explains why every decent human being should be breathing a sigh of relief at this development, and why Brennan’s contention that he should have gotten a plate of cookies because he was out of the loop with regards to the sausage-making process of torture “enhanced interrogation” is, in a word, bullshit:

Whether he “was involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies” is not and never was the issue.  Rather, as I documented at length when I first wrote about Brennan, he was an ardent supporter of those policies, including “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition, both of which he said he was intimately familiar with as a result of his CIA position.  As virtually everyone who opposed his nomination made clear — Andrew Sullivan, Digby, Cenk Uygur, Big Tent Democrat and others — that is why he was so unacceptable.

You can read Brennan’s withdrawal letter in full here.

h/t pogge @ BnR

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On Jack Bauer and US Interrogation Policy

by matttbastard

I know this has already been revealed by Philippe Sands in the April May issue of Vanity Fair. However, after reading this excerpt from Sands’ upcoming book, Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty And The Compromise Of Law, I still can’t fathom the callous indifference of the sick fucking bastards who drew up the blueprints for US torture policy:

[Major General Michael E Dunlavey, former head of military interrogations at Guantánamo] told me that at the end of September a group of the most senior Washington lawyers visited Guantánamo, including David Addington, the vice president’s lawyer, Gonzales and Haynes. “They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in DC.” When the new techniques were more or less finalised, Dunlavey needed them to be approved by Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, his staff judge advocate in Guantánamo. “We had talked and talked, brainstormed, then we drew up a list,” he said. The list was passed on to Diane Beaver.”

[...]

Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging. Beaver mentioned one source that I didn’t immediately follow up with her: “24 – Jack Bauer.”

It was only when I got home that I realised she was referring to the main character in Fox’s hugely popular TV series, 24. Bauer is a fictitious member of the Counter Terrorism Unit in LA who helped to prevent many terror attacks on the US; for him, torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. Just about every episode had a torture scene in which aggressive techniques of interrogations were used to obtain information.

Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, “he gave people lots of ideas.” She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline – and to go further than they otherwise might.

Under Beaver’s guidance, a list of ideas slowly emerged. Potential techniques included taking the detainees out of their usual environment, so they didn’t know where they were or where they were going; the use of hoods and goggles; the use of sexual tension, which was “culturally taboo, disrespectful, humiliating and potentially unexpected”; creating psychological drama. Beaver recalled that smothering was thought to be particularly effective, and that Dunlavey, who’d been in Vietnam, was in favour because he knew it worked.

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.” A wan smile crossed Beaver’s face. “And I said to myself, you know what, I don’t have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached.”

Beaver confirmed what Dunlavey had told me, that a delegation of senior lawyers came down to Guantánamo well before the list of techniques was sent up to Washington. They talked to the intelligence people, they even watched some interrogations. The message from the visitors was that they should do “whatever needed to be done”, meaning a green light from the very top – from the lawyers for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA.

“Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, “he gave people lots of ideas. “”

“You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.”

“[W]hatever needed to be done”.

International law and years of precedent, casually tossed under the post-9/11 bus by junior sadists (after being given the “green light from the very top”) obsessed with a fictional fucking TV show; words fail me.

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Quote of the Day: Redefining What’s Possible

by matttbastard

One of the great dangers of the Bush administration is that it will permanently alter our sense of what is possible or acceptable. You can see an analog of this when people say things like: Bush won’t be able to do X, or: he will have to do Y, where these statements do not refer to physical necessity or impossibility. (E.g., if memory serves, when the surge began, some Republicans said: if it doesn’t work, Bush will have to withdraw.) The sense in which people who say such things think that Bush “has to” or “can’t” do something or other is just that there are certain things we do not believe that any President would do, and others we think he must do. There are lines we assume he would never cross.

But this administration does not recognize the existence of any such lines. They do not “have to” withdraw just because none of their plans have worked, the army is breaking, and the war has next to no popular support. They would “have to” withdraw only if someone put a gun to their collective heads and forced them to. They do not “have to” obey the law or the Constitution: they will only if they are literally compelled to. Likewise, they do not “have to” respect even the most basic principles of decency and humanity, even when obligated to do so by US law and treaties we have signed, which are, according to the Constitution, the law of the land. Neither moral suasion nor legal obligation seem to matter to them. The only sense in which they “have to” do anything is the sense involving physical necessity.

[...]

The Bush administration threatens us with the catastrophe of losing our sense that there are things the government cannot do every time they do one of those things. I never, ever want to go along with their redefinition of what is possible, which is why I refuse to stop being outraged when something like this happens.

- Hilzoy, Approving Torture: Better Late Than Never?

Related: Scott Horton on “The Torture Team”; Philippe Sands examines “how the torture at Guantánamo began, and how it spread”; Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris profile Sabrina Harman, “[t]he woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib”; Jeremy Waldon reviews Cass Sunstein’s Worst Case Scenarios; and David Bromwich looks at “Euphemism and American Violence”.

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