Posts Tagged ‘Yemen’
Can’t say anything but agreeing completely. From the people at Tahrir square, Egypt and in Tunisia to those in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Qatar, from the 15-M movement in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, to the Occupy protesters on Wall Street, New York, in London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, to those now marching against Putin in Russia: whatever the cynics, ‘realists’ and conservatives say, 2011 has been the year of the democratic protester.
Let’s hope it continues - in the Middle East, in Russia, and the West - in 2012. It’s still more than necessary.
TIME Magazine: Person of the Year 2011
The Drone War is Obama’s original contribution to the “War” on Terror. In his term, by the president’s order more “terrorists” – that is, people suspected of being terrorists without any sort of judicial process involved – have been assassinated using unmanned drones than during the entire Bush administration.
While the Obama administration may make it look like there is nothing to worry about, of course there is. Drone strikes take place in foreign, sovereign countries, and are committed at the behest of the executive branch in the United States. These are extrajudicial, executive branch assassinations of people that have not been given any sort of trial.
With this practice, Obama effectively continues the “war model” approach to counterterrorism that was established by Bush-Cheney. In this paradigm, the world is a global battlefield in which anyone deemed a “terrorist” by the president of the United States can be summarily executed. This process takes place entirely outside the rule of law.
Unless you’re a neoconservative with no brain, you may appreciate what kind of precedents this creates. Imagine Russia taking out people it deems “terrorists” in foreign countries – for instance, in the US – and the response that would elicit. As a matter of fact, Russia has already expanded its definition of terrorists and embarked on its own policy of killing them internationally.
David Cole explains exactly why the Obama administration’s policy on drone strikes is so lawless and dangerous. It is to be noted, moreover, that there seems to be a rift within the administration about this policy.
On Friday, a front-page New York Times story reported that a rift has emerged within the Obama Administration over whether it has authority to kill “rank-and-file” Islamist militants in foreign countries in which there is not an internationally recognized “armed conflict.” The implications of this debate are not trivial: Imagine that Russia started killing individuals living in the United States with remote-controlled drone missiles, and argued that it was justified in doing so because it had determined, in secret, that they posed a threat to Russia’s security, and that the United States was unwilling to turn them over. Would we calmly pronounce such actions compliant with the rule of law? Not too likely.
And yet that is precisely the argument that the Obama Administration is now using in regard to American’s own actions in places like Yemen and Somalia—and by extension anywhere else it deems militant anti-US groups may be taking refuge. On the same day the Times article appeared, John Brennan, President Obama’s senior advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism, gave a speech at Harvard Law School in which he defended the United States’ use of drones to kill terrorists who are far from any “hot battlefield.” Brennan argued that the United States is justified in killing members of violent Islamist groups far from Afghanistan if they pose a threat to the United States, even if the threat is not “imminent” as that term has traditionally been understood. (As if to underscore the point, The Washington Post reports that the US has “significantly increased” its drone attacks in Yemen in recent months, out of fears that the government may collapse.)
In international law, where reciprocity governs, what is lawful for the goose is lawful for the gander. And when the goose is the United States, it sets a precedent that other countries may well feel warranted in following. Indeed, exploiting the international mandate to fight terrorism that has emerged since the September 11 attacks, Russia has already expanded its definition of terrorists to include those who promote “terrorist ideas”—for example, by distributing information that might encourage terrorist activity— and to authorize the Russian government to target “international terrorists” in other countries. It may seem fanciful that Russia would have the nerve to use such an authority within the United States—though in the case of Alexsander Litvinenko it appears to have had few qualms about taking extreme measures to kill an individual who had taken refuge in the United Kingdom. But it is not at all fanciful that once the US proclaims such tactics legitimate, other nations might seek to use them against their less powerful neighbors.
Yet as the New York Times report makes clear, when it comes to targeted killings, there is serious dispute, even within the administration, about what the law permits. Some, like State Department legal advisor Harold Koh, take the position that beyond the battlefield, we can attack only those “high-value individuals” who are actually engaged in plotting attacks on the United States, and only where their threats are specific enough to allow the US to claim the right to self-defense granted to all states under the UN Charter. The Charter permits nations to use unilateral military force only in self-defense against an armed attack, and has been interpreted to permit self-defense against threatened attacks only when they are imminent. Defense Department lawyers maintain, by contrast, that the ongoing war against al-Qaeda authorizes us to kill any of the thousands of rank and file members not only of al-Qaeda itself, but also of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—a Yemen-based group founded in 2009—and of al-Shabab, a Somalia-based militant group. Although both of the latter organizations were founded well after the September 11 attacks, the Defense Department considers them fair game because it deems them to be associated with al Qaeda.
Brennan further argued that the UN Charter requirement that a threat be imminent before a nation can exercise its right of self-defense makes less sense when a country faces a threat from a clandestine terrorist group, whose threats may be harder to spot in advance. But the purpose of that requirement was to ensure that military force is truly a last resort. Too many wars have been launched on the basis of ill-defined future threats. The watered-down imminence that Brennan seemed to advocate, especially when coupled with his suggestion that even a temporary disruption of “capabilities” is sufficient reason to strike, would seem to permit targeting even where no attack is in fact imminent. Such reasoning could also be used to justify lethal force in cases where it might well be possible to foil a possible attack through arrest, criminal prosecution, interdiction, or other means. As many countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Spain, and, Italy have shown, the fact that organized groups seek to engage in politically motivated violence does not necessitate a military response.
The legal parameters defining the use of military force against terrorists are unquestionably difficult to draw. On the one hand, no one disputes that it is permissible to kill an enemy soldier on the battlefield in an ongoing armed conflict. On the other hand, absent extreme circumstances, constitutional and international law bar a state from killing a human being in peacetime without a trial (and even then, many authorities hold that capital punishment violates international human rights law). Al-Qaeda has not limited its fight to the battlefield in Afghanistan, and most agree that, as long as sovereignty concerns are met, the use of military force can follow this enemy beyond the battlefield at least in some situations. Killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan—whose tribal areas are for all practical purposes part of the theater of war—was the justified targeting of the enemy’s leader. But are al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or al-Shabab the same “enemy,” or merely sympathetic adherents of a terrorist philosophy? They certainly did not attack us on September 11, nor are they harboring those who did. Can we summarily execute all terrorists who we fear might someday commit a terrorist act against us? Brennan’s speech offered no answers.
And that makes it especially disturbing that the contours of US policy and practice in this area remain largely secret. Presumably the administration has developed criteria for who can be killed and why, and a process for assessing who fits those criteria and when their targeting is justified. But if so, it hasn’t told us. Instead, it exercises the authority to kill, not only in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan, but in Yemen,Somalia, and presumably elsewhere, based on a secret policy. We learn more about its outlines from leaks to The New York Times than from the cryptic comments of US officials in speeches like Brennan’s. If we are engaging the enemy within the rule of law, as Brennan insisted we must, we should have the courage to make our policies transparent, so that the people, both in the United States and beyond, can judge for themselves. And if, by contrast, we continue to justify such practices in only the vaguest of terms, we should expect other countries to take them up—and almost certainly in ways we will not find to our liking.
The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post both report that the Obama administration plans to ‘dramatically escalate’ the CIA-led drone bombing campaign in Yemen, without (just like in Libya) any form of congressional approval.
This leads Kevin Drum of Mother Jones to ask how it is that the massive operation of unmanned drones apparently allows a government to wage an undeclared and therefore illegal war in another country, and what it means for the future of robotic warfare.
I know I’m not the first to ask this, but exactly what theory of military action allows President Obama to do this without congressional approval? In Afghanistan and Nicaragua in the 80s, you could argue that we were merely funding allies, not fighting a war ourselves. In Grenada and Panama, you could argue that we were merely pursuing small-scale police actions. In Pakistan, you can argue that our operations are all part of the Afghanistan war. You might not like any of those arguments, but at least they’re something.
But what’s the theory here? This is obviously not a short-term operation (it began well over a year ago). It’s obviously not part of the Afghanistan war. You’d have to twist yourself into a pretzel to pretend that the post-9/11 AUMF applies here. (The fact that Congress is considering an extension of the 2001 AUMF in order to cover operations like this is a tacit admission that the old AUMF doesn’t apply.) Nor does the fact that Yemen’s president has given it his blessing really mean anything from a war powers standpoint.
In practice, the theory seems to be that unmanned drones are somehow not as real as actual manned fighter jets. After all, does anyone seriously believe that Obama could send sortie after sortie of F-22s over Yemen and not have anyone complain about it? I doubt it. But as long as they’re just drones, no problem. Given the inevitable growth of robotic warfare in both the near and long term, this doesn’t bode well for the future.
Glenn Greenwald responds:
Both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post report today that the Obama administration is planning to exploit the disorder from the civil war in Yemen by dramatically escalating a CIA-led drone bombing campaign. In one sense, this is nothing new. Contrary to false denials, the U.S., under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been bombing Yemen for the last two years, including one attack using cluster bombs that killed dozens of civilians. But what’s new is that this will be a CIA drone attack program that is a massive escalation over prior bombing campaigns.
The one point of Kevin’s with which I disagree is his last one: I absolutely believe that if he sent F-22s into Yemen to bomb, very few people would object. Not only has virtually nobody objected to prior bombing campaigns in that country, but he’s currently waging a war in Libya without a whiff of Congressional approval, and nobody seems to mind. That’s because — for all the Democratic mockery of Richard Nixon’s “If-the-President-does-it-it’s-not-illegal“ decree, bolstered by the Cheney/Yoo/Addington theory of presidential omnipotence — that’s exactly how this President is viewed, by his followers and himself. If he wants to fight a war somewhere, that — his will, his decree — is all that is needed. Such matters, as the once-discredited-but-now-vindicated John Yoo put it, “are for the President alone to decide.”
Stuff like this gets the historian in me very excited. The Guardian has a cool, interactive, quasi-3D timeline about the events in the Arab world ever since the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 20, 2010. Scroll joyfully along everything that happened since then, like on a rollercoaster.
I’m thinking about how to expand this… Moving images, documents, links, connections. And imagine such a thing for other historical events, like the French or Russian revolutions.
After mass demonstrations (and weeks of mass demonstrations before that), the regime of President Saleh is crumbling from within: the second most important man of the country, General Mohsen, has defected and is joining the protesters, taking large sections of the army with him. Ambassadors around the world are standing down, and the French – apparently the French have something to make up for, being very busy rebranding themselves as at the forefront of revolutions – have said the departure of President Saleh is ‘inevitable’.
The Guardian (also check Al Jazeera):
After 32 years in power Yemen‘s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, looks destined to become the next Arab leader to be toppled as 11 military commanders, including a senior general, defected from the regime, promising to protect anti-government protesters in the capital.
General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a long-time confidant of the president and head of the Yemeni army in the country’s north-west, announced he would support “the peaceful revolution” by sending soldiers under his command to protect the thousands gathered in the capital demanding for Saleh to step down.
“According to what I’m feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers … I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution,” Ali Mohsen said via a video statement released before noon.
Ali Mohsen’s pledge opened the floodgates to a stream of defections from the regime. Scores of ambassadors, regional governors, editors of government newspapers, prominent businessmen and senior members of the ruling party are among those who have either quit or announced their allegiance to protesters in the past few hours.
Within hours, seven Yemeni ambassadors – to Japan, Syria, the Czech Republic, Jordan, China, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – announced they were standing down.
“The regime is crumbling, there is very little support left for the president now,” said Mohammed al-Naqeeb, head of the ruling party in Aden who resigned this afternoon.
Minutes after Ali Mohsen’s defection, tanks belonging to the republican guards, an elite force led by the president’s son Ahmed Ali, rolled into the streets of Sana’a, setting the stage for a standoff between defectors and loyalists.
Republican guard tanks took up a strategic location across the city at Saleh’s residence, the ministry of defence and at the central bank. Meanwhile, tanks of Ali Mohsen’s 1st armoured division took positions elsewhere in the city.
At first protesters gathered at Sana’a University were unsure what to make of the general’s pledge, with many fearing an increased military presence might mean further attacks.
But confusion soon gave way to jubilation as hundreds of soldiers from the 1st armoured division arrived on foot, greeted by protesters who kissed them and hoisted them onto their shoulders.
Soon a line of policemen, soldiers, and businessmen had formed each waiting their turn to step up onto a huge stage and announce their resignations to a roaring crowd of thousands.
“We’ve bought you a birthday present ya Ali, it’s a plane ticket to Saudi,” shouted Haeman Saeed, a leading Yemeni businessman after announcing his resignation from the ruling party.
“The army are with you,” roared Abdallah al-Qahdi, a senior military general from Aden who was fired from his position last week for refusing to put down a peaceful demonstration.
Al-Qahdi said many regime insiders had been waiting for someone like Ali Mohsen to lead the way, and he expected most of the army to have defected by nightfall.
The outcome remains unclear. Analysts say there may soon be a violent standoff within the military between those who have defected and the significant portions of the army still under the president’s control.
“Unfortunately the president and his sons still have control over powerful sections of the military including the republican guard and the air force,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdul Irayani.
“We are all praying that Saleh leaves quickly and quietly to prevent the situation deteriorating rapidly.”
Others suggest the resignations may have been negotiated behind the scenes.
“I believe this is a step towards a transitional military government in Yemen,” said Abdullah Al-Faqih, a professor at Sana’a University.
The army split followed Saleh’s decision to sack his entire government after tens of thousands of mourners flooded the streets of the Yemeni capital on Sunday in a mass funeral for the 52 protesters killed on Friday in a sniper attack by loyalists.
The president asked the cabinet to serve as a caretaker government until he forms a new administration.
Piling further pressure on Saleh, the country’s most powerful tribal confederation also called on him to step down.
Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of Hashed, which includes Saleh’s tribe, issued a statement on Sunday asking the president to respond to the people’s demands and leave peacefully. It was co-signed by several religious leaders.
Ali Mohsen is between 50 and 60 years old, and is generally perceived to be the second most powerful man in Yemen.
Most reports indicate Ali Mohsen is the cousin of Saleh’s two half-brothers, although there is much confusion on this matter, with some claims that he is himself a half-brother to Saleh.
Another victory for executive power, another loss for the Rechtsstaat. According to a US federal judge, there are no legal limits on the President’s power to order the killing of alleged terrorists outside the US, even if these individuals happen to be US citizens. At least, no legal limits that can be enforced in a US courtroom – Judge Bates of the DC District Court ruled that the matter amounts to an unjusticiable “political question”.
The NY Times:
WASHINGTON — A federal judge threw out a lawsuit on Tuesday that sought to block the American government from trying to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen and Muslim cleric accused of playing a significant role in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.
The ruling clears the way for the Obama administration to continue to try to kill Mr. Awlaki and represents a victory in its efforts to shield from judicial review one of its most striking counter-terrorism policies.
The court not only rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that Mr. Awlaki’s father had no standing to file it on behalf of his son, but held that decisions to mount targeted killings overseas are a “political question” for executive officials to make — not judges.
In an 83-page opinion, Judge John Bates of the District of Columbia district court acknowledged that the case raised “stark, and perplexing, questions” — including whether the president could “order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization.”
But even though the “legal and policy questions posed by this case are controversial and of great public interest,” he wrote, they would have to be resolved on another day or outside of the courts, since this case had to be dismissed at the onset.
The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the ruling. But Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who helped represent Mr. Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, in the matter, called the decision “a profound mistake” that he said would dangerously expand presidential powers.
“If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation,” Mr. Jaffer said. “It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution, or more dangerous to American liberty.”
Judge Bates rejected the notion that his ruling amounting to holding that the executive possesses “unreviewable authority to order the assassination of any American whom he labels an enemy of the state.” His ruling emphasized that it was limited to the circumstances of Mr. Awlaki, whom the intelligence community has said is engaged in specific operational planning of attacks against the United States.
“The court only concludes that it lacks capacity to determine whether a specific individual in hiding overseas, whom the director of national intelligence has stated is an ‘operational member’ ” of Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, Judge Bates said, “presents such a threat to national security that the United States may authorize the use of lethal force against him.” Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in national security law, said the limits of the theory articulated by Judge Bates would be a matter of hot dispute.
“The slippery slope is obviously the concern here,” Mr. Chesney said. “Judge Bates is at pains not to decide this question for other circumstances. But the question remains, what else besides this fact pattern would enable the government to have the same result — no judicial involvement in a targeted-killing decision?”
The A.C.L.U., along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, brought the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Awlaki’s father last summer. It first had to receive permission to represent Nasser al-Awlaki from the Treasury Department, which has labeled Anwar al-Awlaki a “specially designated global terrorist.”
Granted, Judge Bates was in an unenviable position, having to juggle national security concerns and fundamental human rights. No matter how he would have ruled, he was going to be severely criticized. Nevertheless, that doesn’t delegitimize critique on his ruling – here are three points:
First, Judge Bates denied the father of Mr. al-Awlaki standing to bring the claim, arguing that Mr. al-Awlaki’s incommunicado status is of his own choosing – surely he could easily walk up to the US embassy in Yemen to claim his constitutional rights. It is rather unfortunate that the judge relies on this legal fiction: who really believes that the US government would quietly sit down with one of the most sought-after individuals on its hit list, rather than fire a – Presidentially authorized –missile at him as soon as he discloses his location?
Second, the political question doctrine is a well-known and legitimate tool that prevents judges from having to meddle in political issues, such as foreign affairs and national security. Yet in this case national security concerns directly challenge one of the most fundamental human rights, namely the right not to be killed without due process (presuming that capital punishment is okay in the first place, which it is not). It’s the very raison-d’être of the judiciary to offer a counter-balance against the executive in these situations – Judge Bates effectively undermines the carefully constructed checks and balances of the American constitutional system.
Third, the slippery slope is very real. Judge Bates understandably tries to do away with this case on the basis of exceptional circumstances, arguing that this case of a “specially designated global terrorist” is one-of-a-kind. Yet a similar logic applied to the 775 “unlawful combatants” at Guantánamo Bay, the approximately 3000 extraordinarily renditioned individuals, and the War on Terror as a whole. Repeated exceptions for hard cases dilute the rule of law. As the ACLU stated, this expansion of executive power could prove more dangerous to American liberty than a former imam in Yemen.
P.S.: It would be interesting if this case goes up to the Supreme Court, though I’m not optimistic about the outcome of such a ruling.
It’s on: despite a cyberattack on their website just hours ago, WikiLeaks has published more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from American embassies around the globe. In major newspapers, there’s now talk about a worldwide diplomatic crisis.
What’s in it is, well, huge and encompassing, with lots and lots of information on countless international matters.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.
These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cache of cables contains specific allegations of corruption and against foreign leaders, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from tiny islands in the Caribbean to China and Russia.
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” and Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium. They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other newspapers: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
They are classified at various levels up to “SECRET NOFORN” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. The embassies which sent most cables were Ankara, Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait and Tokyo.
I just sent an angry e-mail to Andrew Sullivan – a blogger who, although I do not always agree with him, I hold in high esteem.
In his post The Power To Kill American Citizens At War With The US, he writes the following:
But a single American al Qaeda terrorist in a foreign country actively waging war against us seems to me to be a pretty isolated example. And Obama always said he would fight a war against al Qaeda more ruthlessly than Bush. As he has. I agree that invoking state secrets so comprehensively as to prevent any scrutiny of this is a step way too far. But I do believe we are at war; and that killing those who wish to kill us before they can do so is not the equivalent of “assassination”. My concern has always been with the power to detain without due process and torture, not the regrettable necessity of killing the enemy in a hot and dangerous war.
This refers to the case of Anwar Aulaqi, a Yemeni-American terrorist suspect who is an official killing target for the U.S. government. By all accounts, he is a prominent member of Al Qaeda, suspected of involvement in the Fort Hood shooting and the Detroit underpants assault. So I don’t really care about him. But he’s also formally still a suspect, and an American citizen at that. Obama, in targeting this guy for assassination, has in terms of ignoring the rule of law pretty much gone beyond whatever Bush and Cheney did. That, I think, makes Obama an incredibly disappointing and untrustworthy politician.
My response to Sullivan:
I’m absolutely dumbfounded with your comment in this post:
And that’s coming from you?
First of, this guy holds an American passport. That makes him a U.S. citizen, with every right and protection that is attached to that. Secondly, you should know that “isolated examples” don’t remain isolated examples. These sort of “exceptions” have a tendency to spread and become normality after a while, just like happened with the Bush counterterrorism measures (and with the torture regime, spreading to Iraq, and with the Patriot Act, and so forth). Thirdly, since when are the life and rights of one individual somehow less worth than those of other individuals?
I know that this guy is probably a terrorist and what not. But this is a matter of principle, and an extremely important one at that. If you don’t care about the unchecked, unbounded killing by a government of one of its own citizens, merely because he is declared a terrorist, nobody can take your stance on “due process” and torture seriously either.
Had to vent that.
For more about this, read Glenn Greenwald (who, I see just now, also passionately attacks Andrew Sullivan on this).
The New York Times has a sweeping and revealing article about the “shadow war on terrorism” the United States, under the leadership of Barack Obama, are waging. While everyone knows that drone raids are a frequent occurrence in Pakistan, and that missile attacks have been undertaken in Yemen, the sheer size of the global operations of the U.S. conducted by the Pentagon and the CIA against Al Qaeda is news. It ranges from the employment of unmanned drones and missiles to spy and commando teams, as well as the contracting of private soldiers; and the playing field is not only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, but also Kenya, North Africa and central Asia. What is interesting is that this is a counterterrorism policy that is explicitly owned by Obama; although the Bush administration of course also conducted operations like these, they have grown in scope and intensity in the past one and a half years.
Analytically, I think the article makes an interesting point by pitching Obama’s shadow war against the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of entire countries. The rationale behind the Afghanistan war, of course, was the idea that the U.S. needs to have military control over a geographical area in order to prevent terrorists from attacking American soil; an idea that then almost necessarily leads to the nation building concept, and has gotten the West into a protracted, absurdly expensive war to which no end is in sight, and which has done much to discredit its image in the Muslim world. The disadvantages of the neoconservative view on counterterrorism should after nine years be pretty obvious.
On the other hand, a massive clandestine “shadow war” has its own negativities as well. The most important one is that it makes civilian casualties, just like invading countries does. In Yemen, for example, a December 2009 attack against an Al Qaeda camp with a cruise missile loaded with cluster bombs is said to have killed more than 50 civilians. Aside from the obvious and inexcusable human tragedy such “covert actions” incur, one should easily be able to grasp how this affects Middle Eastern’s populations’ viewpoints of America, and the West. Secondly, the problem is you sometimes have to rely on local leaders whose bona fides can be questioned as well. Thirdly, a shadow war like this is essentially shadowy: this means, first, that the boundaries of international law between soldiers, spies and civilians become blurred (with consequences for the applicability of, for example, the Geneva Conventions) and secondly, that Congressional and judicial oversight on covert operations and military attacks is weakened, opening up the prospective of an uncontrolled Executive and military operating throughout the world. In the case of Anwar Aulaqi, a Yemeni Al Qaeda leader who also has the American nationality, the grave yet hardly-reported-on situation presents itself that the President here orders the execution through military means of an American citizen… Finally, the risks of contracting private fighters, like a weaking of accountability and control, are clear.
What I also thought interesting was the transformation of the CIA from an intelligence agency into what is almost a paramilitary organization. But read the article, it’s probably the most comprehensive overview of the “war on terror” as conducted today that is now available.
The New York Times:
In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.
The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French strike in Algeria. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.
While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged. In contrast with the troop buildup in Afghanistan, which came after months of robust debate, for example, the American military campaign in Yemen began without notice in December and has never been officially confirmed.
Obama administration officials point to the benefits of bringing the fight against Al Qaeda and other militants into the shadows. Afghanistan and Iraq, they said, have sobered American politicians and voters about the staggering costs of big wars that topple governments, require years of occupation and can be a catalyst for further radicalization throughout the Muslim world.
Yet such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties.
The administration’s demands have accelerated a transformation of the C.I.A. into a paramilitary organization as much as a spying agency, which some critics worry could lower the threshold for future quasi-military operations. In Pakistan’s mountains, the agency had broadened its drone campaign beyond selective strikes against Qaeda leaders and now regularly obliterates suspected enemy compounds and logistics convoys, just as the military would grind down an enemy force.
For its part, the Pentagon is becoming more like the C.I.A. Across the Middle East and elsewhere, Special Operations troops under secret “Execute Orders” have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies. With code names like Eager Pawn and Indigo Spade, such programs typically operate with even less transparency and Congressional oversight than traditional covert actions by the C.I.A.
And, as American counterterrorism operations spread beyond war zones into territory hostile to the military, private contractors have taken on a prominent role, raising concerns that the United States has outsourced some of its most important missions to a sometimes unaccountable private army.
This sounds harsh, but it’s simply the way it is. Two months ago, we blogged about the secret hit list program, enacted by President Bush in the days after 9/11 and continued by President Obama, that gives the American president the “authority” to kill American citizens abroad if they are suspected of involvement in carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States. Then, radical Muslim cleric Anwar Aulaqi, U.S. citizen and Yemen resident, suspected of involvement in the Fort Hood shootings and the Detroit underpants bomber incident, was considered to be one of the targets. Now he’s been officially approved for elimination.
Of course, you might think that terrorists are mindless people bent on killing others as much as they can themselves, and that their elimination as war combatants is simply the normal thing to do. But you have to realize that first of all, whether strong evidence against them exists or not, they are still suspects. They have not been brought to court, been given a trial, and through due process been convicted of criminal activities. They are suspected of terrorist activity. Second, these are American citizens. That means they are an inherent part of the American polity; they have political, economical and social rights. They are entitled to the protection of the state against violence, and if they commit crimes, to be prosecuted and convicted by the state within the boundaries of the rule of law. That is what the state is for. They are not to be subjects of targeted killing, of the most fundamental form of violence imaginable: death, brought on to them by an almost omnipresent entity, without any protection against this whatsoever.
Barack Obama, however, thinks otherwise.
This is the president of hope and change. And he goes further than George Bush and Dick Cheney ever went.
Now, however, even the normally deferential New York Times is getting second thoughts.
The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.
American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.
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.
The possibility that Mr. Awlaki might be added to the target list was reported by The Los Angeles Times in January, and Reuters reported on Tuesday that he was approved for capture or killing.
“The danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words,” said an American official, who like other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke of the classified counterterrorism measures on the condition of anonymity. “He’s gotten involved in plots.”
The official added: “The United States works, exactly as the American people expect, to overcome threats to their security, and this individual — through his own actions — has become one. Awlaki knows what he’s done, and he knows he won’t be met with handshakes and flowers. None of this should surprise anyone.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think terrorists are very evil and I actually think Obama is the best president, both in terms of governing and personally, since, I don’t know, Johnson or FDR. But people have to realize what these moves represent. They represent a shift from a situation in which the rule of law reigns, in which individuals are protected by rights against the powers of the state, to a situation of lawlessness, to an executive power that deems it within its discretion to target and kill anyone (yes, anyone on the planet) who they deem a threat. And Obama is presiding over this shift.
It’s worth citing Greenwald once more.
Just think about this for a minute. Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests.” They’re entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration’s policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges — based solely on the President’s claim that they were Terrorists — produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn’t Obama’s policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind — not imprisoned, but killed — produce at least as much controversy?
Even if you’re someone who does want the President to have the power to order American citizens killed without a trial by decreeing that they are Terrorists (and it’s worth remembering that if you advocate that power, it’s going to be vested in all Presidents, not just the ones who are as Nice, Good, Kind-Hearted and Trustworthy as Barack Obama), shouldn’t there at least be some judicial approval required? Do we really want the President to be able to make this decision unilaterally and without outside checks? Remember when many Democrats were horrified (or at least when they purported to be) at the idea that Bush was merely eavesdropping on American citizens without judicial approval? Shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about the President’s being able to assassinate Americans without judicial oversight?
And Greenwald’s recent post on this matter should make any Obama supporter think. Just compare his statements as a candidate with his extreme actions today.
When Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination, the Constitutional Law Scholar answered a questionnaire about executive power distributed by The Boston Globe‘s Charlie Savage, and this was one of his answers:
5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?
[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.
So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges. Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges. Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documents today, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here.