Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

Judge Collyer’s Factually Erroneous Freelance Rubber Stamp for Killing American Citizens

As I noted on Friday, Judge Rosemary Collyer threw out the Bivens challenge to the drone killings of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.

The decision was really odd: in an effort to preserve some hope that US citizens might have redress against being executed with no due process, she rejects the government’s claims that she has no authority to decide the propriety of the case. But then, by citing precedents rejecting Bivens suits, including one on torture in the DC Circuit and Padilla’s challenge in the Fourth, she creates special factors specifically tied to the fact that Awlaki was a horrible person, rather than that national security writ large gives the Executive unfettered power to execute at will, and then uses these special factors she invents on her own to reject the possibility an American could obtain any redress for unconstitutional executions. (See Steve Vladeck for an assessment of this ruling in the context of prior Bivens precedent.)

The whole thing lies atop something else: the government’s refusal to provide Collyer even as much information as they had provided John Bates in 2010 when Anwar al-Awlaki’s father had tried to pre-emptively sue before his son was drone-killed.

On December 26, Collyer ordered the government to provide classified information on how it decides to kill American citizens.

MINUTE ORDER requiring the United States, an interested party 19 , to lodge no later than January 24, 2014, classified declaration(s) with court security officers, in camera and ex parte, in order to provide to the Court information implicated by the allegations in this case and why its disclosure reasonably could be expected to harm national security…, include[ing] information needed to address whether or not, or under what circumstances, the United States may target a particular foreign terrorist organization and its senior leadership, the specific threat posed by… Anwar-al Aulaqi, and other matters that plaintiff[s have] put at issue, including any criteria governing the use of lethal force, updated to address the facts of this record.

Two weeks later, the government moved to reconsider, both on jurisdictional grounds and because, it said, Collyer didn’t need the information to dismiss the case.

Beyond the jurisdictional issue, the Court should vacate its Order because Defendants’ motion to dismiss, which raises the threshold defenses of the political question doctrine, special factors, and qualified immunity, remains pending. The information requested, besides being classified, is not germane to Defendants’ pending motion, which accepts Plaintiffs’ well-pled facts as true.

As part of their motion, however, the government admitted to supplementing the plaintiffs’ facts.

Defendants’ argument that decedents’ constitutional rights were not violated assumed the truth of Plaintiffs’ factual allegations, and supplemented those allegations only with judicially noticeable public information, the content of which Plaintiffs did not and do not dispute.

The plaintiffs even disputed that they didn’t dispute these claims, pointing out that they had introduced claims about:

  • AQAP’s status vis a vis al Qaeda
  • Whether the US is in an armed conflict with AQAP
  • The basis for Awlaki’s listing as a Special Designated Global Terrorist

Ultimately, even Collyer scolds the government for misstating the claims alleged in the complaint.

The United States argued that the factual information that the Court requested was not relevant to the Defendants’ special factors argument because special factors precluded Plaintiffs’ cause of action, given the context in which the claims, “as pled,” arose––that is, “the alleged firing of missiles by military and intelligence officers at enemies in a foreign country in the course of an armed conflict.” Mot. for Recons. & to Stay Order at ECF 10. The United States, however, mischaracterizes the Complaint. Continue reading

Erik Prince’s Latest Graymail: Deliberately Targeting an American Teenager

Technically, I suppose, Erik Prince’s latest disclosure (unlike some earlier ones) is not gray mail, as he seems intent (as Jeff Stein reported months ago) to exact revenge no matter what and claims the CIA has already done whatever damage it can to him.

Which makes me wonder whom he’s trying to exact revenge on with his claim that Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was deliberately targeted (a claim Jeremy Scahill reported back in April, though sourced it to a former Senior Administration Official).

“I am all in favor of killing terrorists,” Prince said. “But the fact that [Anwar] al-Awlaki was killed and his 16-year-old son, born in Colorado, was killed with no due process other than that he got on the ‘kill list’ is troubling to me.” The Obama administration has claimed that Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed in a drone strike in 2011, was an operational leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.

Prince said he believes al-Awlaki’s son was deliberately targeted in a second strike after the one that killed Awlaki. The Obama administration has said that strike was not targeting Awlaki’s son, but someone else.

Prince also said the over-reliance on drone warfare in the Middle East and South Asia would likely reap “a bitter harvest,” because of the scale of collateral damage from drone strikes. He said it was wiser to send in small teams to such denied areas to find and target terrorists, or outsource this kind of work to local surrogates.

In the other day’s installment of Erik Prince’s complaints, after all, he blamed his plight on Leon Panetta, who cut off his assassination training program and pulled some drone targeting activities away from Blackwater, reportedly in 2009. Panetta was Secretary of Defense at the time Abdulrahman was killed, having moved over from running CIA and its drone assassination months earlier. David Petraeus had his button on CIA’s drone killing machine by the time of Anwar and Adbulrahman’s deaths.

That said, there were reports JSOC targeted Abdulrahman…

Red-Teaming Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s Assassination?

The Senate Intelligence Committee just released their Intelligence Authorization for next year. As part of it, they include “Targeted Lethal Force Reform.” Part of it — a useful part — requires the government to produce unclassified numbers on the total combatant and non-combatant deaths through targeted force (it exempts Afghanistan — though remains mute about Pakistan — and any new wars authorized by new Congressional authorizations).

But I’m even more interested in this.

(1) NOTIFICATION OF DIRECTOR.—Upon a determination by the head of an element of the intelligence community that a particular, known United States person is knowingly engaged in acts of international terrorism against the United States, such that the United States Government is considering the legality or the use of targeted lethal force against that United States person, the head of the element shall, as soon as practicable, notify the Director of the determination.

(2) INDEPENDENT ALTERNATIVE ANALYSIS.

(A) REQUIREMENT FOR ALTERNATIVE ANALYSIS.—Not later than 15 days after the date the Director receives a notification under paragraph (1), the Director shall complete an independent alternative analysis (commonly referred to as ‘‘red-team analysis’’) of the information relied on to support the determination made under paragraph (1).

It may be that SSCI put this into place to provide more “due process” to someone like Anwar al-Awlaki. And while that might have changed things back in December 2009, when they apparently tried to kill him before they believed him to be operational, it wouldn’t have changed things in the long run because his killing was so thoroughly discussed in at least 3 different Agencies of government.

Rather, this language would seem to prevent an Agency head — which, particularly giving confirmation of what I’ve been saying for years (that CIA would remain in charge of the drone campaign), means CIA — from killing someone without someone outside the Agency getting review.

Which is more like what happened to Abdulrahman al-Awlaki than his father. As Jeremy Scahill reported, John Brennan came to believe the 16 year old American citizen was purposely killed, though no one will release the report on the killing Brennan ordered.

The now-former SAO goes on to describe how pissed the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar John Brennan was about the strike, because he believed Abdulrahman was deliberately set up to be killed (though Scahill’s source doesn’t appear to specify whom Brennan thought was setting up an American teenager for death, JSOC, Yemeni partners, or the Saudis).

However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”

So Brennan sets up a review … that apparently got stashed in the same black hole as every other report on drone killing.

Yes, this language will provide a tiny modicum of protection to the Anwar al-Awlakis of the United States. But I’m far more interested in whether it’s an admission that Awlaki’s son could have been saved by a simple Red Team review.

Nasser al-Awlaki: “My Grandson Was Killed by His Own Government”

While the nation grieves over the senseless death of Trayvon Martin and the missed opportunity to hold his killer responsible for that death, there is another senseless death of an American teenager of color where an attempt is continuing, after previous failures, to hold accountable those responsible for the lawless way in which this life was arbitrarily ended.

Exactly one year ago today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit (pdf) on behalf of Nasser al-Awlaki (father of Anwar al-Awlaki and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki) and Sarah Khan (wife of Samir Khan). The defendants in the case are former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Commander of Special Operations Command William McRaven, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command Joseph Votel and former CIA Head David Petraeus. The complaint cites violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as violation of the Bill of Attainder Clause in the targeted killings of Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Oral arguments on the suit begin tomorrow.

Given what is known about the role of Barack Obama in these killings and his personal authorization of the “kill list” in his Terror Tuesday meetings, I find it perplexing that he is not also a defendant in this case.

The complaint seeks damages in an amount to be determined at the trial and any other relief the court deems just and proper.

Coincident with the filing of the complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia a year ago, the video above was released. Today, an op-ed by Nasser al-Awlaki was published in the New York Times, helping to focus attention on tomorrow’s opening arguments. The video and op-ed are truly gut-wrenching.

From the op-ed:

I LEARNED that my 16-year-old grandson, Abdulrahman — a United States citizen — had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after he died.

The missile killed him, his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in southern Yemen.

The grandfather describes his anguish as he seeks answers to the question of why his grandson was killed:

Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death.

Nasser al-Awlaki describes the huge impact an education in the United States made on his life and how he put that education to use when he returned to Yemen. More importantly, he puts the actions of the United States in killing his son and grandson significantly at odds with the values of the United States when he was a student here:

A country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew. From 1966 to 1977, I fulfilled a childhood dream and studied in the United States as a Fulbright scholar, earning my doctorate and then working as a researcher and assistant professor at universities in New Mexico, Nebraska and Minnesota.

/snip/

After returning to Yemen, I used my American education and skills to help my country, serving as Yemen’s minister of agriculture and fisheries and establishing one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning, Ibb University. Abdulrahman used to tell me he wanted to follow in my footsteps and go back to America to study. I can’t bear to think of those conversations now.

The op-ed closes with a direct and haunting question:

The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?

Sadly, we can state with confidence that even before the proceedings open the government will argue that it does not have to explain why it killed Abdulrahman. Because terror. Even more sadly, it is quite likely that the court will side with this senseless and lawless argument. Because terror.

What has our country become?

What “Not Specifically Targeted” Means for Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

A number of people are discussing the killing of Abdulraham al-Awlaki as if the government has claimed he was accidentally targeted.

That’s not what the government has officially said. In his letter declassifying American drone deaths the other day, Eric Holder said Abdulrahman, Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammad were “not specifically targeted.” Which is quite different from saying it was an accident.

Administration officials were quick to offer an explanation about one of these deaths, that of Mohammad: he died in a signature strike, officials said anonymously, but a former consultant also suggests he was on the kill list.

American officials said on Wednesday that Mr. Mohammad had been killed with about 12 other insurgents in what the C.I.A. calls a “signature strike,” an attack based on patterns of activity, such as men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the sharpest divisions inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.

[snip]

While Mr. Mohammad was not directly targeted, he had come under increasing scrutiny by American counterterrorism officials, who said he was involved in recruiting militants for Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, as well as making videos on YouTube to incite violence against the United States.

“He had risen to the top of the U.S. deck,” said Seth G. Jones, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and former adviser to the military’s Special Operations Command. Mr. Jones said that while in Pakistan, Mr. Mohammad had made contact with five young Virginia men who disappeared from their homes around Thanksgiving in 2009 and turned up seeking to join militant groups. Instead they were arrested and remain in Pakistani custody.

But officials have been a lot more squirmy about Abdulrahman’s death.

At a pre-speech briefing yesterday, a senior Administration official was asked about Abdulrahman specifically. Between an unbelievable number of “ums,” he first tried to generalize about all three “not specifically targeted” individuals and then provided two possibilities: presence at “al Qaeda and associated facilities” or civilian accidents (neither of which incorporates the explanations provided the NYT for Mohammad’s death).

I don’t want to get into the details of each of those instances.  What I will say generally is that there are times when there are individuals who are present at al Qaeda and associated forces facilities, and in that regard they are subject to the lethal action that we take.  There are other instances when there are tragic cases of civilian casualties and people that the United States does not in any way intend to target — because, again, as in any war, there are tragic consequences that come with the decision to use force, including civilian casualties.

The first of those — presence at an al Qaeda “facility” — is closer to what the Administration has said about Abdulrahman’s death in the past, when they have claimed they were targeting Ibrahim al-Banna. Though AQAP reported that he was never at the site.

But here’s what a former Obama official told Jeremy Scahill about Abdulrahman’s killing.

A former senior official in the Obama administration told me that after Abdulrahman’s killing, the president was “surprised and upset and wanted an explanation.” The former official, who worked on the targeted killing program, said that according to intelligence and Special Operations officials, the target of the strike was al-Banna, the AQAP propagandist. “We had no idea the kid was there. We were told al-Banna was alone,” the former official told me. Once it became clear that the teenager had been killed, he added, military and intelligence officials asserted, “It was a mistake, a bad mistake.” However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”

In other words, it sounds like some in the Administration suspect that someone within the targeting chain of command may have invented the Ibrahim al-Banna presence as a way to get at Awlaki’s son. (Note, elsewhere Scahill suggested that the Awlaki family suspects a teacher may have been trying to recruit Abdulrahman to help hunt down his father, which might give those recruiters reason to want to silence him after they did kill Awlaki.)

In a piece on the drone program yesterday, Daniel Klaidman revealed that some people within the Administration were trying to keep mention of Abdulrahman and the two others out of Holder’s letter from the other day.

Officials tell The Daily Beast the original plan was to name only Anwar al-Awlaki, while referring to the other three anonymously. That changed when some officials at the Department of Justice argued that withholding the names would defeat the purpose of Obama’s much-touted call for more openness.

If Abdulrahman was killed deliberately, via some kind of deceit, I can understand why the Administration was reluctant to make its role in his death official. John Brennan’s report about it is presumably out there somewhere (though as a White House report, it would be harder to FOIA than a CIA IG Report).

Clearly, the Administration has made some effort to gain a greater understanding of how Abdulrahman was killed than the hemming and hawing official admitted to yesterday. Which suggests “not specifically targeted” might not even rule out “targeted in deceitful fashion.”

600 Days after Assassinating Anwar al-Awlaki, Administration Admits Doing So

In this letter boasting of “unprecedented transparency,” Eric Holder officially tells Congress that since 2009 the government has killed 4 Americans: Anwar al-Awlaki was specifically targeted and killed, and Samir Khan, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and Jude Mohammed were “not specifically targeted.”

One paragraph of the letter details how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab told US officials of Awlaki’s involvement in the UndieBomb plot.

Too bad that in two of three confessions, Abdulmutallab said someone besides Awlaki did the things Holder lists here. Too bad that Abdulmutallab’s lawyer now says the solitary confinement associated with the interrogations in which he did implicate Awlaki made him incompetent.

Did an Intelligence Asset Persuade Abdulrahman al-Awlaki to Search for His Father?

There’s an inconclusive — but nevertheless intriguing — detail in Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars that might explain why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki decided, in September 2011, to go search for his father. After the boy ran away from home, the family tried to figure out why, having expressed no plans to go search for his father, he would up and leave like he did.

The family called around to Abdulrahman’s friends. Someone told [Awlaki's father] Nasser that a teacher at the school had recently gotten close to Abdulrahman, and Nasser believed the teacher had been encouraging Abdulrahman to find his father and to reconnect with him, that it would be good for the boy. “He had influence on him, an they used to go to a pizza parlour to eat pizza.” Nasser said. When Nasser tried to find the teacher to ask him if he had any information about Abdulrahman’s whereabouts, the teacher had “vanished.”

Granted, this amounts to no more than an observation that someone who had become influential on the boy disappeared right as the family started looking for answers; there’s no affirmative evidence there was a connection.

That said, the CIA had already twice tried to use family ties to get to Awlaki by this point. As the Danish agent Morten Storm has described, he arranged a marriage between a Croatian convert to Islam and Awlaki in a failed attempt to track the cleric.

In addition, as Scahill laid out in his book and excerpted in the Nation, a CIA officer unsuccessfully approached Awlaki’s brother, Ammar, in February 2011 to help them find Awlaki.

Chris made it clear that he worked for the CIA. He told Ammar that the United States had a task force dedicated to “killing or capturing your brother”—and that while everyone preferred to bring Anwar in alive, time was running out. “He’s going to be killed, so why don’t you help in saving his life by helping us capture him?” Chris said. Then he added, “You know, there’s a $5 million bounty on your brother’s head. You won’t be helping us for free.”

Ammar told Chris that he didn’t want the money, that he hadn’t seen Anwar since 2004 and had no idea where he was. The American countered, “That $5 million would help raise [Anwar’s] kids.”

“I don’t think there’s any need for me to meet you again,” Ammar told Chris. Even so, the American told Ammar to think it over, perhaps discuss it with his family. “We can meet when you go to Dubai in two weeks,” he said. Ammar was stunned: his tickets for that trip had not yet been purchased, and the details were still being worked out. Chris gave Ammar an e-mail address and said he’d be in touch.

Clearly, by 2011, the CIA was willing to try any scheme that might help them find Awlaki, regardless of the family bounds it abused. So it is conceivable, at least, that they might try to use Abdulrahman as “bait,” a word Awlaki’s mother used.

I wonder if John Brennan considered this possibility in his review of why the United States assassinated one of its teenaged citizens?

John Brennan’s Review of How He Killed an American Teenager

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Jeremy Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars, comes out tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it over the next few weeks.

But for now, he’s got an adaptation at the Nation that describes a Senior Administration Official involved in drone targeting, who would have left sometime between October 14, 2011 and now (so, maybe Petraeus, Panetta, Clinton, or Vietor?? Update: Or Jeh Johnson?), claiming that the strike was all a mistake, launched in response to apparently crappy intelligence from Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government (or possibly the Saudis?) claiming that senior AQAP leader Ibrahim al-Banna was present, alone.

A former senior official in the Obama administration told me that after Abdulrahman’s killing, the president was “surprised and upset and wanted an explanation.” The former official, who worked on the targeted killing program, said that according to intelligence and Special Operations officials, the target of the strike was al-Banna, the AQAP propagandist. “We had no idea the kid was there. We were told al-Banna was alone,” the former official told me. Once it became clear that the teenager had been killed, he added, military and intelligence officials asserted, “It was a mistake, a bad mistake.”

The now-former SAO goes on to describe how pissed the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar John Brennan was about the strike, because he believed Abdulrahman was deliberately set up to be killed (though Scahill’s source doesn’t appear to specify whom Brennan thought was setting up an American teenager for death, JSOC, Yemeni partners, or the Saudis).

However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”

So Brennan sets up a review … that apparently got stashed in the same black hole as every other report on drone killing.

Because the whole thing is embarrassing.

Brennan, who is now director of the CIA, recently answered an inquiry from the Senate Intelligence Committee on such after-strike reviews. When civilians are killed, Brennan said, “we not only take account of the human tragedy, but we also go back and review our actions.” Analysts “draw on a large body of information—human intelligence, signals intelligence, media reports, and surveillance footage—to help us make an informed determination about whether civilians were in fact killed or injured,” Brennan asserted in his written response. “In those rare instances in which civilians have been killed, after-action reviews have been conducted.” No such review of Abdulrahman’s killing has ever been made public.

The consensus that has emerged from various anonymous officials commenting on Abdulrahman’s killing was that it was a mistake. I asked the former senior administration official why, if that was the case, the White House didn’t publicly acknowledge it. “We killed three US citizens in a very short period,” he told me. “Two of them weren’t even targets: Samir Khan and Abdulrahman Awlaki. That doesn’t look good. It’s embarrassing.”

Recall, when JSOC killed almost an entire Bedouin clan in al-Majala, David Petraeus claimed that only the alleged targets immediate family had been killed, well after people had been to the site to document the carnage. Immediately after Abdulrahman’s death, the Administration immediately, almost boisterously, claimed the boy was 21, either based on crappy intelligence or in an attempt to justify a “military aged male” claim.

This is why it is so important to declassify the documents on targeted killing. Even according to the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar, this kid was set up.

He just won’t tell us by whom.

Anwar al-Awlaki Is the New Aluminum Tube

Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane team up to provide the government’s best case — and at times, an irresponsibly credulous one — for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and the collateral deaths of Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

Yet even in a 3,600 word story, they don’t present any evidence against the senior Awlaki that was fresher than a year old — the October 2010 toner cartridge plot — at the time the Yemeni-American was killed. (I’m not saying the government didn’t have more recent intelligence; it just doesn’t appear in this very Administration-friendly case.) Not surprisingly, then, the story completely ignores questions about the definition of “imminent threat” used in the OLC memo and whether Awlaki was an “imminent” threat when he was killed.

The “linked in various ways” standard for killing Americans

Moreover, the case they do present has various weaknesses.

The story provides a fair amount of space to Awlaki’s celebration of the Nidal Hasan attack (though it does make it clear Awlaki did not respond enthusiastically to Hasan’s queries before the attack).

Investigators quickly discovered that the major had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki, though the cleric’s replies had been cautious and noncommittal. But four days after the shootings, the cleric removed any doubt about where he stood.

“Nidal Hassan is a hero,” he wrote on his widely read blog. “He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people.”

It uses far vaguer language to describe Awlaki’s role in the Faisal Shahzad and toner cartridge plots.

Meanwhile, attacks linked in various ways to Mr. Awlaki continued to mount, including the attempted car bombing of Times Square in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen who had reached out to the preacher on the Internet, and the attempted bombing by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of cargo planes bound for the United States that October.

“Linked in various ways” seems to be the new standard for killing an American. That, in spite of the fact that Shahzad’s tie to Awlaki seems to be the same Hasan had: an inspiration, but not any involvement in the plot. And while Awlaki is reported to have had some role in the toner cartridge plot, reports from Saudi infiltrator Jabir al-Fayfi apparently fingered others in AQAP as the chief plotters.

I guess that would be too much nuance to include in a 3,600 word article.

NYT doesn’t care about problems with the Abu Tarak explanation

Which leaves the UndieBomb attack as the sole attack in which the NYT presents evidence about Awlaki’s direct role. But there’s a problem with their claims there, too.

The would-be underwear bomber told F.B.I. agents that after he went to Yemen and tracked down Mr. Awlaki, his online hero, the cleric had discussed “martyrdom and jihad” with him, approved him for a suicide mission, helped him prepare a martyrdom video and directed him to detonate his bomb over United States territory, according to court documents.

In his initial 50-minute interrogation on Dec. 25, 2009, before he stopped speaking for a month, Mr. Abdulmutallab said he had been sent by a terrorist named Abu Tarek, although intelligence agencies quickly found indications that Mr. Awlaki was probably involved. When Mr. Abdulmutallab resumed cooperating with interrogators in late January, an official said, he admitted that “Abu Tarek” was Mr. Awlaki. With the Nigerian’s statements, American officials had witness confirmation that Mr. Awlaki was clearly a direct plotter, no longer just a dangerous propagandist.

I don’t doubt that Awlaki was directly involved in this attack in some way. And I got the same explanation about Abu Tarak from “an official” back when I first noted the discrepancy between DOJ’s public claims (thanks for not crediting me on that one, NYT boys). But either Abdulmutallab said something beyond “Abu Tarak was Awlaki,” or the entire explanation is not credible.

That’s because Abdulmutallab’s initial interrogation — according to the version presented by Jonathan Tukel in the opening arguments of Abdulmutallab’s trial — said Abu Tarak did the following:

  1. Spoke daily with Abdulmutallab about jihad and martyrdom
  2. Suggested to Abdulmutallab that he become involved in a plane attack against the United States aircraft
  3. Gave him training in detonating the bomb
  4. Told him to make sure he attacked a U.S. aircraft and make sure the attack takes place over the United States

Yet according to the version of Abdulmutallab’s interrogation presented in his sentencing memo, here’s who did those things:

  1. Awlaki and Abdulmutallab discussed martyrdom and jihad
  2. Defendant and Ibrahim Al Asiri discussed defendant’s desire to commit an act of jihad; Asiri discussed a plan for a martyrdom mission with Awlaki, who gave it final approval
  3. Asiri trained defendant in the use of the bomb
  4. Awlaki instructed defendant that the only requirements were that the attack be on a U.S. airliner, and that the attack take place over U.S. soil

Continue reading

Snowpocalypse and Obama’s Drone Talk

As I’ve said a few times, I suspect one reason the Administration may be acting so ridiculously with respect to drones is because the families of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan are suing for wrongful death. The ace in the hole the Administration would use to dismiss that suit would normally be state secrets. But as more and more officials discuss aspects of the drone program, it will be harder to sustain any state secrets invocation if they need one (though that didn’t help the Jeppesen plaintiffs). And if the suit goes forward, there might be really interesting claims exposed, more so with Samir Khan (who no one has accused of being operational) and Abdulrahman than Anwar al-Awlaki.

That is, recent events have made it more likely that wrongful death suit will turn into precisely what Steve Vladeck has proposed for targeted killings of Americans, a real review of the killings.

And that may be more true after the President makes some kind of public statement on drones, as Eric Holder suggested yesterday he would (see 53:00 and following).

What you will hear from the President in a relatively short period of time is, uh–I don’t want to preempt this, but we talked about a need for greater transparency, in what we share, what we talk about. Because I am really confident that if the American people had access, for example–some of this stuff cannot be shared. I understand that. But at least the representatives of the American people had the ability–as members of the Intelligence Committee have been able to see–some of those OLC opinions, there would be a greater degree of comfort that people would have to understand that this government does these things reluctantly, but also we do it in conformity with international law, with domestic law, and with our values as of the American people.

And so I think there is going to be a greater effort at transparency, a number of steps are going to be taken–I expect you are going to hear the President speaking, about this.

Which is why I find it interesting that DOJ used the overblown snowpocalpyse to request a two-day delay in its reply to ACLU’s response to the government’s motion to dismiss the wrongful death suit. Judge Rosemary Collyer granted the request, giving DOJ the weekend to write its brief. After all, DOJ has had a full month to write their brief, and it can be filed remotely. They didn’t ask for a delay because of not-snow. I suspect they asked for a delay because the Administration is in the middle of changing its approach to targeted killing transparency.

That doesn’t mean they’re about to let a judge review their legal case for killing Awlaki and friends. But it likely does mean they need to account for how a Presidential speech acknowledging drone killing will affect this suit.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @onekade Also, stay outta my way bc I'm about 10 minutes away from a serious road rage incident.
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emptywheel @HanniFakhoury @NateWessler Michael Horowitz trying to investigate Hemisphere, also complaining abt grand jury info. http://t.co/6eepobqvt4
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JimWhiteGNV @emptywheel He just comes off as the typical @_FloridaMan
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bmaz @thepoettrap @benjaminwittes This is just too stupid to continue. Good luck in you further pursuits!
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emptywheel @Popehat I love the piece for that. I only wish @JasonLeopold had quoted him saying "GET OFF MY LAWN!"
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bmaz @thepoettrap @benjaminwittes Well, aren't you cute. No, my disingenuous friend, I was the one who objected to the other person's tripe.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @emptywheel: Shorter James Mitchell: I'm kind of dipshit who bitches abt ObamaCare & Global Warming Hoax & I say torture works. http://t…
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emptywheel Shorter James Mitchell: I'm kind of dipshit who bitches abt ObamaCare & Global Warming Hoax & I say torture works. http://t.co/oTR69zpTLf
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emptywheel Hahahaha! Torturer James Mitchell uses interview to call ObamaCare a shit sandwich. http://t.co/oTR69zpTLf
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emptywheel Is DOJ's control over IG's access to grand jury info slowing his investigation of DEA's parallel construction? http://t.co/6eepobqvt4
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emptywheel DOJ Inspector General Investigating DEA’s Use of Parallel Construction under Hemisphere http://t.co/0FrmQklvw8
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bmaz @thepoettrap Seriously, I can fathom disagreement (I am sure Ben+I have it here) but "makes no sense" seems a bit obtuse @benjaminwittes
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April 2014
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