Good Thing John Brennan Didn’t Have to Follow His “Rule Book” When He Killed Adnan al-Qadhi

The other day, I suggested that the “rule book” John Brennan reportedly rushed to finish in case Mitt won but apparently backed off since may have been an effort to refute Michael Hayden’s criticisms of Obama’s counterterrorism strategy. Hayden has suggested that by using drones rather than torture, the Obama Administration has embraced a more ethically problematic approach.

I was just speculating, of course, that the “rule book” was nothing more than a show for the benefit of Hayden, to try to pretend the drone program wasn’t as ad hoc as it looks and as Hayden has suggested.

Yet I find it interesting that less than a day after Mitt Romney didn’t win the election, Brennan’s drone program took out a Yemeni who–by local accounts, at least–could have easily have been captured.

American counterterrorism officials have painted drone strikes as a tool of last resort, utilized only when targets represent an imminent threat and are nearly impossible to take out by other means. But people in Beit al Ahmar say it’s hard to argue that [Adnan al-]Qadhi’s capture would have been out of the question. He’d already been arrested, and released, before, in 2008 after an attack on the American Embassy. And Beit al Ahmar, nine miles outside Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, is no isolated enclave – it’s the birthplace of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and home to much of the military’s leadership.

Sitting less than an hour’s drive from the capital, residents here say Qadhi could have been captured easily.

[snip]

Few here dispute Qadhi’s open sympathy toward AQAP. After all, the target’s house, modest compared to nearby fortress-like compounds, sticks out because of a mural on one side that shows al Qaida’s signature black flag.

But his relatives and associates say there’s more nuance to Qadhi’s story. While he was labeled as a local leader of AQAP after his death, as recently as last winter he’d participated on a team that mediated between the government and AQAP-linked militants who’d seized control of the central town of Rada.

Back in April–the last time Drone Assassination Czar John Brennan was making a big show of the purported order of his drone program–here’s some of what he said about who the US targeted with drones.

Even if it is lawful to pursue a specific member of al-Qaida, we ask ourselves whether that individual’s activities rise to a certain threshold for action, and whether taking action will, in fact, enhance our security. For example, when considering lethal force we ask ourselves whether the individual poses a significant threat to U.S. interests.  This is absolutely critical, and it goes to the very essence of why we take this kind of exceptional action.

[snip]

I am not referring to some hypothetical threat, the mere possibility that a member of al-Qaida might try to attack us at some point in the future.  A significant threat might be posed by an individual who is an operational leader of al-Qaida or one of its associated forces.  Or perhaps the individual is himself an operative, in the midst of actually training for or planning to carry out attacks against U.S. persons and interests.

[snip]

In addition, our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible. [my emphasis]

Of course, I’ve suggested that the entire speech was bullshit, just an attempt to prepare an intent-based defense in case Brennan ever got in trouble for killing so many illegitimate targets.

But the case of Adnan al-Qadhi appears to show that John Brennan can’t even follow the rules he has claimed publicly he follows.

And that bit about whether or not a particular drone strike would enhance our security?

Here’s what al-Qadhi’s villagers–who up until this strike were peaceful–have to say about the strike.

In the center of the village, a farmer named Abduljaber Saber held forth on the strike with his neighbors, calling the attack a violation of the rule of law, casting it as an example of “American hypocrisy.”

His neighbor, Mohamed Abdulwali, took a break from repairing a water canister to chime in: “Any action has a reaction. Any violence will breed violence.”

John Brennan, the priest-like assassination czar, doesn’t seem to be following his own rules.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. Brindle says:

    At the most basic and human level it is a crime….and one which should, in a just world, result in some American official serving some years in a prison.

    Adnan al-Qadhi’s brother:

    —“We could have made sure he turned himself in,” said Himyar al Qadhi, Adnan’s brother. “If Adnan was guilty of any crime, then arrest him, put him on trial.”

    Still reeling from the loss, Himyar, standing at his brother’s gravesite, was open about seeking revenge. The impact crater from the missile that killed Qadhi is little more than a dip in the road now, but local outrage still burns.

    “What way is this to kill a person, in such a place?” said Qalil Lahib, owner of the land where the strike took place, pointing out civilian homes and a nearby school as he stood over the missile site. “It’s shameful, it’s a crime.”—

    Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/28/175794/family-neighbors-of-yemeni-killed.html#storylink=cpy

  2. GKJames says:

    You highlight an enduring mystery: We’ve endured the public utterances of the Brennans, Kohs, Yoos, and even Bushes and Obamas for years about this stuff, but it’s never been clear who, exactly, they’re talking to or trying to convince. Typically, the format is either a public speech or chat with a preferred journalist. In neither case is there a risk of substantive challenge to the ramblings. Is it, as you say, intended as an exculpatory pre-emptive strike? A massaging of the public to get its continued acquiescence? An internal circle jerk of bureaucratic infighting over careers, money and influence? Or, as with Brennan in particular, is it a group of people who don’t get much sunlight and crave the exposure? Each is somewhat plausible but not convincing. And each has at the heart of it a manipulative coyness, the sandlot equivalent of “Nah, nah, you can’t me.”

    And surely Obama, of all people, knows that only an Art. III proceeding is worth anything. Which, presumably, is why the all effort goes into preventing that. Why interfere with the killing-without-accountability program? It’s bringing us undreamed-of benefits … if someone could just tell us what they are.

  3. thatvisionthing says:

    John Brennan, the priest-like assassination czar, doesn’t seem to be following his own rules.

    Followed your link, got to your post http://www.emptywheel.net/2012/10/25/the-moral-rectitude-assassination-czar/. Priest and rectitude are the words Brennan’s drone supporters use as his face.

    Among other descriptions offered of the guy in charge of drone assassinations, Harold Koh described him as a priest.

    “If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

    That same formulation–moral rectitude–shows up in Karen DeYoung’s profile of John Brennan today.

    Some White House aides describe him as a nearly priest-like presence in their midst, with a moral depth leavened by a dry, Irish wit.

    One CIA colleague, former general counsel John Rizzo, recalled his rectitude…

    Anyone who’s a fan of Harry Shearer’s Le Show has to think of his continuing segment News of the Godly, which I think is practically exclusively about the hypocrisy of priests, and Catholic pedophilia, and the incredible multinational church-state bureaucratic facade that has excused and covered it up for decades, at least. “Priest” says a lot, just like “doesn’t seem to be following his own rules.” I know Harry always says “a trademarked feature of this show” — but really News of the Godly would fit your continuing posts on drone morality too.

  4. thatvisionthing says:

    …And as we wonder about Cheney’s insane plan for America in your parallel diary on climate inaction, there’s this:

    One CIA colleague, former general counsel John Rizzo, recalled his rectitude surfacing in unexpected ways. Brennan once questioned Rizzo’s use of the “BCC” function in the agency’s e-mail system to send a blind copy of a message to a third party without the primary recipient’s knowledge.

    “He wasn’t joking,” Rizzo said. “He regarded that as underhanded.”

    Wasn’t that one of the revelations about Cheney in the Libby trial, that he had had himself blind cc’d on all NSA e-mails or something? Where’s Brennan and the godly on that? Man, I wish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuYbDP2kDfg

  5. thatvisionthing says:

    @GKJames:

    You highlight an enduring mystery: We’ve endured the public utterances of the Brennans, Kohs, Yoos, and even Bushes and Obamas for years about this stuff, but it’s never been clear who, exactly, they’re talking to or trying to convince. … And surely Obama, of all people, knows that only an Art. III proceeding is worth anything. Which, presumably, is why the all effort goes into preventing that. Why interfere with the killing-without-accountability program? It’s bringing us undreamed-of benefits … if someone could just tell us what they are.

    cf Hannah Arendt’s Rule by Nobody, described by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker:

    TheOrA:

    http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2009/09/08/cheneys-sabotage-of-counter-terrorism/#comment-188330

    h/t to Spencer Ackerman and The Daily Dish

    Jane Mayer observes that Hannah Arendt called it. The rule of Nobody.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2009/09/jane-mayer-calling-hannah-arendt.html

    “Attorney General Eric Holder is stuck trying to investigate an entire bureaucracy. Those on the top can claim to have clean hands, while those on the bottom can claim they were following ostensibly legal orders. What’s left, Arendt suggests, is an all-powerful government that is beyond accountability.”

    (as if Eric Holder wanted to investigate anything)

    and me:

    http://www.emptywheel.net/2012/07/07/failed-overseers-prepare-to-legislate-away-successful-oversight/#comment-363228

    You cannot encompass how secrecy fucks up our country and everyone we touch. There are no trustworthy checks and balances at all, it’s all poisoned. We the People, no longer equal and no longer self governors, are shut out of it, audience/fodder. Somewhere I guess there’s a king now, but who is it really? Hannah Arendt called it Rule by Nobody. The buck stops nowhere. There’s not even majesty, just mutual distrust, and what goes round comes round is lies and idiocy and dog eat dog. Reality is treason. Aye aye.

    Actually I think this is essentially how the federal government dissolves itself. Who is talking? Who are they talking to? About what? All disappeared.

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