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.

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney On Targeted Killing: Lethal Strikes On U.S. Citizens ‘Legal,’ ‘Ethical,’ And ‘Wise’

Words fail (h/t):

A friendly reminder from TAFKAdnA:

The Obama administration claims that the secret judgment of a single “well-informed high level administration official” meets the demands of due process and is sufficient justification to kill an American citizen suspected of working with terrorists. That procedure is entirely secret. Thus it’s impossible to know which rules the administration has established to protect due process and to determine how closely those rules are followed. The government needs the approval of a judge to detain a suspected terrorist. To kill one, it need only give itself permission.

“Trust me” != due process, Mr. POTUS.

Related: Thomas P.M. Barnett:

For now, the only club whose membership can earn you such a “pre-sentence” is al-Qaeda, but how many dangerous organizations (you tell me where to put the sarcastic quotation marks on that phrase) will be added to this list in the years and decades ahead?

[…]

This is an extremely dangerous rule-set for America to be exporting around the world: threaten or scare of just plain piss off the wrong great-power government, and it reserves the right to assassinate you at will.  The quid pro quos are easy to imagine:  you, China, turn your back when we need to kill ours and . . . America can probably do the same when you take out those “protestors” (I mean, terrorists!).

I just have to ask: how does Obama lecture Netanyahu about anything at this point?

Unintended Consequences, Redux

by matttbastard

(Photo: Paul Keller, Flickr)

Jane Mayer on the sudden prominence of ex-W speechwriter (and current Hiatt-approved pro-torture propagandist*) Marc Thiessen and why those who don’t pop wood for enhanced interrogation [sic] should be wary:

The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Teach the controversy, maaan. Nothing is true; everything is permitted.

*As Harry Allen would say, don’t just read Alex Pareene’s superlative Gawker piece ‘The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America‘ — memorize it.

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Panetta: “CIA pays a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist.”

by matttbastard

"I hope Broder appreciates the pastiche."

Shorter Leon Panetta: ‘Hey, remember all that shit I talked last year about how “[w]e either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground“? Well, surprise, I finally found that middle ground — hidden behind a desk @ Langley!’

Even shorter: ‘Accountability is for partisan suckers.’

‘Shorter’ concept created by Daniel Davies and perfected by Elton Beard.

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Don’t Go Back to the Bunker Just Yet, Dick!

by matttbastard

From Dan Balz’s latest WaPo piece on GOP discomfort with Dick Cheney’s recent media ubiquity:

Liz Cheney strongly disagreed with the claim that her father’s vocal defense of Bush administration policies has caused significant unrest within the GOP. She said he has received phone calls, e-mails and letters from people around the country, from officials in government and from members of the military and their families, thanking him for standing up and speaking out. “He’s got hundreds of people coming to him saying, ‘Please keep doing what you’re doing,’ ” she said.

Yes, well, unfortunately for the Grand Old Poopyheads, a number of the lurkers supporting Deadeye Dick in email are likely agent provocateurs from the Democrat Socialist Party.  Regardless, let me second the sentiment: Please, keep filling the wingnut leadership vacuum with the nostalgic stench of recent history, you overflowing shitbag of fetid amorality.

Please.

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Losing My Religion

by matttbastard

Three must-reads on the consequences of embracing torture as official US policy at the expense of long-established (if not always consistently applied) American values.

Glenn Greenwald:

It’s certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles.  Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.  We’re now a country where the leading “intellectuals” of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do:  namely, “prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Karen J. Greenberg:

One day, perhaps soon, much of the rest of the minutiae produced by the Bush administration’s torture-policy bureaucracy will come to light. Procurement lists, for example, will undoubtedly be found. After all, who ordered the sandbags for use as hoods, the collars with chains for bashing detainees’ heads into walls, the chemical lights for sodomy and flesh burns, or the women’s underwear? The training manuals, whatever they were called, will be discovered: the schooling of dogs to bite on command, the precise use of the waterboard to get the best effects, the experiments in spreading the fingers just wide enough in a slap to comport with policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, released last week, has already begun to identify the existence of training sessions in techniques redefined as not rising to the level of torture.

For now, however, we have far more than we need to know that what the United States started when, in 1948, it led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became the moral figurehead for human rights concerns worldwide for more than a half-century, has come to an end. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the commission that drafted that 1948 Declaration, remarked at the time that the United States was “the showcase” for the principles embodied in the declaration. Sixty-one years later, that is no longer true.

Gary Kamiya:

Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles. When one of the country’s leading pundits, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, can argue that the Bush administration torturers should suffer no legal consequences because “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways,” and that Americans “would have told the government (and still will) ‘Do whatever it takes,'” he is basically saying that the inchoate fears and primal emotions of the people should override morality and law.

This widely shared attitude is like a dormant virus: It may appear to be harmless now, but it could come to life at any time.

DJ rewind — what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

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‘Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.’

by matttbastard

Something to keep in mind, bottom-lined by former FBI special agent Ali Soufan:

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Also, what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

Methinks the inimitable Charles Pierce is wearing soothsayer garb here:

It seems fairly plain now that the torture story has the kind of legs that neither this administration, nor, certainly, the previous one, wish that it had. The question of whether there will be an investigation is now off the boards. There will be a number of them, official and unofficial. There are now too many people talking for anything else to happen. The career military and the FBI are pretty pissed and, sooner or later, the CIA lifers are going to push back and pin the whole thing on the political apparatchiks inside the Bush White House. That the apologists now seem to be simply rooting for another attack, after which they plan to gloat themselves back into power, is demonstration enough that they perceive the moral bankruptcy of their own position, and that they sense a very strong tide turning against them. The oddest thing is how seriously the rising outrage seems to have wrong-footed the Obama Administration. They had to know this was coming, even though torture–and the theories of executive power from which the atrocities sprang — was nowhere near the issue during the campaign that it should have been.They’ve been stumbling around for two weeks looking for some way to spin this into the message of “Change” without actually doing anything about it. The best thing they can do is let the investigations — all of them, official and unofficial — continue to gather steam and see where the whole thing leads. Events are in the saddle now, and I don’t think the president is comfortable with that, but there isn’t anything else he can do about it. A while back, in response to some tut-tutting by the insufferable Parson Meacham, I suggested that, while anger might not take us very far, as he suggested, we should see how far it would take us anyway. I suspect we’re about to find out. I didn’t believe this for a long time, but I do now. Somebody’s going to jail behind this stuff.

Please, let it be so.

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