White House Debates President’s ‘Right’ to Assassinate Americans

February 11th, 2014 - by admin

David Swanson / War Is a Crime & Jon Swaine / The Guardian – 2014-02-11 19:14:45


The Essence of the US Drone War =
Targeted Assassination Squad Promoting Empire

The Associated Press revealed today that the Obama administration is considering killing an unnamed American citizen who they say is an al Qaeda operative in an unnamed country. The AP says “the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year. The CIA drones watching him cannot strike because he’s a US citizen and the Justice Department must build a case against him, a task it hasn’t completed.”

Is a Policy a Law? Is Murder Murder?
David Swanson / War Is a Crime & World Can’t Wait

(|February 10, 2013) — From the Associated Press:
“An American citizen who is a member of al-Qaida is actively planning attacks against Americans overseas, US officials say, and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year.”

Notice those words: “legally” and “policy.” No longer does US media make a distinction between the two. Under George W. Bush, detention without trial, torture, murder, warrantless spying, and secret missile strikes were illegal. Under Obama they are policy. And policy makes them “legal” under the modified Nixonian understanding that if the President does it as a policy then it is legal.

Under the US Constitution, the laws of the nations in which drone murders take place, treaties to which the US is party, international law, and US statutory law, murdering people remains illegal, despite being policy, just as it was illegal under the less strict policy of some months back.

The policy was made stricter in order to bring it into closer compliance with the law, of course — though it comes nowhere close — and yet the previous policy remains somehow “legal,” too, despite having not been strict enough.

Under that previous policy, thousands of people, including at least four US citizens, have been blown to bits with missiles. President Obama gave a speech last year in which he attempted to justify one of those four US deaths on the basis of evidence he claimed to have but would not reveal. He made no attempt to justify the other three.

The new policy remains that the president can murder anyone, anywhere, along with whoever is near them, but must express angst if the person targeted is a US citizen.

The idea that such lunacy can have anything to do with law is facilitated by human rights groups’ and the United Nations’ and international lawyers’ deference to the White House, which has been carried to the extreme of establishing a consensus that we cannot know whether a drone murder was legal or not unless the president reveals his reasoning, intention, motivation, and the details of the particular murder.

No other possible criminal receives this treatment. When the police read you your rights, you are not entitled to object: “Put those handcuffs away, sir! I have a written policy justifying everything I did, and I refuse to show it to you. Therefore you have no grounds to know for certain that my justification is as insane and twisted as you might imagine it to be based merely on what I’ve done! Away with you, sir!”

The loss of a coherent conception of law is a grievous one, but that’s not all that’s at stake here.

Numerous top US officials routinely admit that our drone wars in the Middle East and Africa are creating more enemies than they kill. General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan said in June 2010 that “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”

Veterans of US kill teams in Iraq and Afghanistan interviewed in Jeremy Scahill’s book and film Dirty Wars said that whenever they worked their way through a list of people to kill, they were handed a larger list; the list grew as a result of working their way through it.

The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses of prisoners during them, became major recruiting tools for anti-US terrorism. In 2006, US intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reached just that conclusion.

We are shredding the very concept of the rule of law in order to pursue a policy that endangers us, even as it helps to justify the erosion of our civil liberties, to damage the natural environment, and to impoverish us, as it kills many innocent people. Maybe they’ve secretly got drones doing the thinking as well as the killing.

This article originally appeared on warisacrime.org on February 10, 2014.

Obama Pressured over Drone Policy
Amid Reports US Citizen Targeted

Jon Swaine / The Guardian

NEW YORK (February 10, 2014) – The Obama administration came under renewed pressure to disclose the legal grounds for its drone programme on Monday, amid reports that another US citizen accused of plotting attacks against Americans for al-Qaida overseas is to be assassinated.

Legal experts and civil liberties campaigners urged the White House to explain the basis for a potential strike against the suspect, alleged to be an active “facilitator” for the terrorist network and already responsible for deadly attacks on Americans.

Senior US officials were reported by the Associated Press to be weighing the benefits of killing the man against the likelihood of international condemnation and domestic criticism for targeting an American who has not been not charged with a crime. The Washington Post said it had confirmed the story.

Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Security Project, said the Obama administration “continues to fight against even basic transparency” about how it justifies the executions of thousands of people under the programme.

“The targeted killing of an American being considered right now shows the inherent danger of a killing programme based on vague and shifting legal standards, which has made it disturbingly easy for the government to operate outside the law,” she said.

Citing several US officials, the AP reported that the man was accused of planning further strikes with improvised explosive devices. He was reported to be hiding, well guarded, in a remote part of a state unwilling to allow US operations on its soil and “unable to go after him”, prompting speculation that a strike would mean the drone programme being extended into a new country, such as Libya.

One official said that the Pentagon did ultimately decide to recommend lethal action, according to the report.

His case is apparently the first test for a new guideline, outlined by President Obama in May last year following sharp criticism of the secrecy cloaking the drone programme, on the checks needed for the targeting of an American citizen.

“The Department of Justice will conduct an additional legal analysis to ensure that such action may be conducted against the individual consistent with the constitution and laws of the United States,” a White House policy note said at the time.

The case was apparently alluded to last week by Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, who complained that Obama’s “self-imposed red tape” limiting drone strikes had placed a number of suspects out of reach and “placed Americans’ lives at risk”.

Justice Department officials have reportedly not yet built a formal case against the man defining him as an “enemy combatant” under the resolution authorising military force against al-Qaida, passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks.

The president also insisted that his administration would only ever launch a drone strike against any suspect to stop a planned attack, when it was not possible to capture a suspect, and when there was “near certainty” that civilians would not be injured or killed.

He declined, however, to outline the administration’s explicit legal basis for its assassination policy, and Justice Department memos doing so have only been shared with select congressmen. The ACLU and media organisations are currently suing the US government for public access to the documents.

“Once again we are all left guessing,” Sarah Knuckey, an international human rights lawyer and an adviser to the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, told the Guardian. “We can not have an informed public debate. We do not have effective oversight.”

Calling for a new system of “serious and meaningful democratic accountability”, Knuckey said: “We are taking people’s lives, and my view is that this could be quite lawful and appropriate, in some circumstances, for self-defence. But what are we doing, and on what basis? We don’t know.”

Officials were also said to be debating how a strike against the suspect could be authorised under the guidelines announced by Obama last year.

In its policy note, the White House stressed that the US “respects national sovereignty and international law” yet also threatened action against suspects when “authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat” posed to Americans.

The AP also reported that under new internal rules shifting responsibility for drones to the Pentagon, “American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA,” which previously carried out a large number of the deadly strikes. Yet the Pentagon may only operate in established conflict zones, a definition that extends to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

If assassinated, the man would become the fifth American known to have been killed by US drones since Obama came to office in 2009. Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical preacher alleged to have been plotting to attack Americans, was killed in Yemen in September 2011 along with Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American who published Inspire, al-Qaeda’s English-language magazine.

Two weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed by another US strike in Yemen. Jude Kenan Mohammad, alleged to have at one stage been part of an eight-man terror cell in North Carolina, was killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan later in 2011.

The White House, the Justice Department and the Defense Department declined to comment.

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