The White House’s Self-Authorization to Use Military Force in Algeria and Mali

Back when the Administration dug in its heels over releasing 7 OLC memos on targeted killing, I suggested at least some of the authorized targeted killing in places we’re not at war.

This National Journal story seems to suggest that that’s correct, at least in the case of Mali and Algeria.

Others may have been signed with the leaders of Algeria and Mali, the legal expert said. Given the widespread unpopularity of the drone program, the disclosure of these agreements could prove extremely embarrassing both for the United States and partner governments.

I have also suggested (though usually verbally) that others of the missing 7 memos authorize signature strikes in the two places we’re using them — Pakistan and Yemen. And while the NJ story is more confused on this point (it seems unclear how many memos there are, for example), it does appear that several of the memos involve secret protocols with those two countries.

A senator who sits on the Intelligence Committee and has read some of the memos also said that the still-unreleased memos contain secret protocols with the governments of Yemen and Pakistan on how targeted killings should be conducted. Information about these pacts, however, were not in the OLC opinions the senator has been allowed to see.

I’d be really curious how much the Yemeni memo involves protocols with Yemen, and how much it involves protocols with our buddies the Saudis.

The best part of the story, though, is the cranky Administration figure who may or may not be Tommy Vietor bitching that Dianne Feinstein would use this opportunity to force the Administration to hand over what it would otherwise refuse to hand over.

An Obama administration official who is familiar with the negotiations with Feinstein’s committee indicated that the White House was miffed at efforts by the senator and her staff to obtain all the memos at once, because such efforts play into the Republican strategy of using the dispute to delay the confirmation of John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA and the main architect of the drone program, as well as Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary.

“These guys don’t even know what the hell they’re asking for,” the official said. “They think they can ‘reverse-engineer’ the [drone] program by asking for more memos, but these are not necessarily things that exist or are relevant…. What they’re asking for is to get more people read into very sensitive programs. That’s not a small decision.”

Uh, last I checked the only Republican — on the Senate Intelligence Committee, at least — who has made a stink about the OLC memos is Susan Collins (though given the reporting on this front, which says only Democrats care about memos, I think she may have flipped parties). The Democrats — plus Collins — who are pushing for memos are pushing to conduct oversight, not to delay the confirmation of Brennan and Hagel per se.

Maybe if the Administration hadn’t adopted a worse transparency standard than Bush lawyer Steven Bradbury, it wouldn’t leave key votes like this the only opportunity to conduct oversight.

But that’s a choice the Administration made, not some Republicans — or even Democrats — in the Senate.

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.

10 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    This cracked me up: “These guys don’t even know what the hell they’re asking for,”

    In a gallows humor kind of way.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    Wowee, zowee. Deals with Algeria and Mali that allow the US to violate their sovererignty and kill their citizens in return for vetting the citizens who will be up for killing.

    As for protecting sensitive programs, sensitive in what way? If the enemy found out…..or if the American public found out….

  3. orionATL says:

    that phrase struck me too – struck me as extremely condesecending and as implying that the senators were some foolish rabble who were making a nuisances of themselves demanding policy bases,

    rather than senators trying to do the job they are supposed to do.

    there was also a competitive, adversarial tone to the comment which, if generally shared, could bode ill for the whouse.

  4. orionATL says:

    the other thing that struck me in the press stories ew used as the basis of her post was the notion of secret “protocols” not to be revealed. do the admin guys really believe that the pakistanis and yemenis won’t know instantly who sent the drones? oh, that was just a meteor shower.

    could it really be the case that as long as these agreements are never mentioned publicly, then citizens of these nations will never suspect their own government’s collusion with the u.s. the gov’t

  5. orionATL says:

    ew reports on and analyses a variety of related events such as military incursions into countries with whom we are not at war but who sent us an invite.

    from the standpoint of what’s more important than what -a hierarchy of constitutional problems/violations –
    i think the extra-judicial killing of american citizens is at the top of the hiersrchy of concerns.

    if this issue gets merged with whether or not to lend intelligent military aid to other countries, then that presages a huge loss in power and clarity for the anti-(extra-judicial execution) argument.

    similarly, when that argument is limited to “on u.s. soil”, it has been caged and diminished.

    for me at least, the key issue is that the president has arrogated to himself the right to kill an american citizen without explanation or judicial process.

    this arbitrariness of power is precisely what the men who worked out the constitution and subsequent government were determined to prevent. the history of arbitrary abuse of power by british kings is precisely the history that can be played out in any government in any era if there are not clear restrictions on that power.

    forgetting this past history will eventually lead to political disasters just as forgetting the past history that led to the need for the glass-steagell banking act led to an economic disaster 70 yrs after its passage and twenty years afted its repeal.

  6. Jim Hicks says:

    A little o/t but not by much –
    NYT today (2/23)
    WASHINGTON — Opening a new front in the drone wars against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, President Obama announced on Friday that about 100 American troops had been sent to Niger in West Africa to help set up a new base from which unarmed Predator aircraft would conduct surveillance in the region.

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