US Drone Kills 7 'Suspects' in Yemen. Sen. Paul Says: 'Show Us the Drone Memos'
May 14, 2014
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & BBC & Rand Paul / The New York Times
A US drone strike on a car traveling in Yemen has killed six people, all of whom the Yemeni government dubbed "al-Qaeda" suspects. The attacks sparked fears of retaliatory strikes, leading the US to close its embassy in Sanaa. Now President Obama has nominated David J. Barron to a seat on the US Court of Appeals. While at the Justice Department, Barron wrote legal memos justifying the execution without a trial of an US citizen abroad. Now Mr. Obama is refusing to release that legal argument.
US Drone Strike Kills Six in Southeast Yemen
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 12, 2014) -- A US drone strike has destroyed a car traveling in the southeastern Maarib Province on Yemen today, killing six people, all of whom the Yemeni government dubbed "al-Qaeda" suspects. The killings are a continuation of the ramshackle US-Yemeni offensive across Yemen, which has killed large numbers of people, virtually none of whom have been identified, in the past couple of weeks.
While each attack has Yemen raising hopes they killed a "al-Qaeda leader," so far, those beliefs have not panned out. The attacks have also sparked fears of retaliatory strikes, leading the US to close its embassy in Sanaa.
Though the move was described as merely precautionary, violence is rocking the Yemeni capital again today, with a gun-battle reported outside the presidential palace. The attackers were not believed to be al-Qaeda, but rather one of the many tribal factions aggrieved by the US-backed government's policies.
Yemen Drone Strike 'Kills al-Qaeda Militants' in East
(May 12, 2014) -- At least six suspected al-Qaeda militants have been killed in a drone strike in eastern Yemen, reports say. The drone reportedly destroyed the car in which they were travelling in the Wadi Abida district of Maarib province. State media and local tribal sources said they were members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The strike comes as the Yemeni army continues a major offensive against strongholds of AQAP and its allies in two provinces in the south. It says it has inflicted heavy losses on the militants, killing dozens of leaders - most of them foreigners - and capturing weapons.
The army regained control of several major towns in Shabwa and Abyan provinces during a similar campaign in 2012, but AQAP members were able to retreat to remote rural areas and regroup. Since the new campaign began on 29 April, following a series of deadly drone strikes on AQAP strongholds, militants have stepped up attacks on government and security personnel.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car outside a police station in the southern city of Mukalla, killing 11 police officers and wounding 15 others, the interior ministry said. Three suspected militants were also killed when they attacked a security checkpoint not far from the presidential palace in Sanaa. Four soldiers were killed in a gun battle in the same area on Friday. Western interests have also been targeted in recent weeks.
Last week the US temporarily suspended operations at its embassy in Sanaa because of security concerns, a day after gunmen opened fire on three French security guards working with the European Union mission in Sanaa, killing one and wounding another.
Washington also revealed on Friday that a US special operations commando and a CIA officer shot and killed two armed Yemenis who had tried to kidnap them while the Americans were in a barbershop in Sanaa on 24 April, according to the New York Times. They have left since Yemen with the government's permission.
The killings were initially attributed to "unknown gunmen" in media reports.
Show Us the Drone Memos
Senator Rand Paul / Op-Ed The New York Times
WASHINGTON (May 11, 2014) -- I believe that killing an American citizen without a trial is an extraordinary concept and deserves serious debate. I can't imagine appointing someone to the federal bench, one level below the Supreme Court, without fully understanding that person's views concerning the extrajudicial killing of American citizens.
But President Obama is seeking to do just that. He has nominated David J. Barron, a Harvard law professor and a former acting assistant attorney general, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
While he was an official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Mr. Barron wrote at least two legal memos justifying the execution without a trial of an American citizen abroad. Now Mr. Obama is refusing to share that legal argument with the American people.
On April 30, I wrote to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, urging him to delay this nomination, pending a court-ordered disclosure of the first memo I knew about. Since that letter, I have learned more. The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to all senators on May 6, noting that in the view of the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, "there are at least eleven OLC opinions on the targeted killing or drone program."
It has not been established whether Mr. Barron wrote all those memos, but we do know that his controversial classified opinions provided the president with a legal argument and justification to target an American citizen for execution without a trial by jury or due process.
I believe that all senators should have access to all of these opinions. Furthermore, the American people deserve to see redacted versions of these memos so that they can understand the Obama administration's legal justification for this extraordinary exercise of executive power. The White House may invoke national security against disclosure, but legal arguments that affect the rights of every American should not have the privilege of secrecy.
I agree with the A.C.L.U. that "no senator can meaningfully carry out his or her constitutional obligation to provide ‘advice and consent' on this nomination to a lifetime position as a federal appellate judge without being able to read Mr. Barron's most important and consequential legal writing." The A.C.L.U. cites the fact that in modern history, a presidential order to kill an American citizen away from a battlefield is unprecedented.
The Bill of Rights is clear. The Fifth Amendment provides that no one can be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Sixth Amendment provides that "the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury," as well as the right to be informed of all charges and have access to legal counsel. These are fundamental rights that cannot be waived with a presidential pen.
In battle, combatants engaged in war against America get no due process and may lawfully be killed. But citizens not in a battlefield, however despicable, are guaranteed a trial by our Constitution.
No one argues that Americans who commit treason shouldn't be punished. The maximum penalty for treason is death. But the Constitution specifies the process necessary to convict.
Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who was subject to a kill order from Mr. Obama, and was killed in 2011 in Yemen by a missile fired from a drone. I don't doubt that Mr. Awlaki committed treason and deserved the most severe punishment. Under our Constitution, he should have been tried -- in absentia, if necessary -- and allowed a legal defense. If he had been convicted and sentenced to death, then the execution of that sentence, whether by drone or by injection, would not have been an issue.
But this new legal standard does not apply merely to a despicable human being who wanted to harm the United States. The Obama administration has established a legal justification that applies to every American citizen, whether in Yemen, Germany or Canada.
Defending the rights of all American citizens to a trial by jury is a core value of our Constitution. Those who would make exceptions for killing accused American citizens without trial should give thought to the times in our history when either prejudice or fear allowed us to forget due process.
During World War I, our nation convicted and imprisoned Americans who voiced opposition to the war. During World War II, the government interned Japanese-Americans.
The rule of law exists to protect those who are minorities by virtue of their skin color or their beliefs. That is why I am fighting this nomination. And I will do so until Mr. Barron frankly discusses his opinions on executing Americans without trial, and until the American people are able to participate in one of the most consequential debates in our history.
Rand Paul is a Republican senator from Kentucky.
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