John Bellinger

Zoe Lofgren Didn’t Vote to Let Presidents Wage Unlimited War, But John Yoo Did

As a series of Presidents continue to claim the September 18, 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force authorizes fairly unlimited power on an unlimited battlefield, I keep coming back to this Tom Daschle op-ed, in which he described how Congress refused to extend the AUMF to US soil.

Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words “in the United States and” after “appropriate force” in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas — where we all understood he wanted authority to act — but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.

The op-ed is, as far as I know, the only public statement describing how Congress narrowed a breathtakingly broad claim for military force.

Until Wednesday’s drone hearing, that is.

In response to a comment from John Bellinger that it was appropriate for the Executive Branch to refuse to share its OLC memos with Congress, Zoe Lofgren suggested (1:36 and following) the President was exceeding the terms of the AUMF (she comes very close to saying the President broke the law, but stops herself). She refers to — as Daschle did — negotiations leading up to the AUMF that actually did get passed.

Lofgren: If you take a look at the Authorization to Use Military Force, which all of us voted for — those of us who were here (there was only one no vote in the House) — it says “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.” Now, are we to believe that everyone on this list was responsible for the 9/11 attack? I mean, is that the rationale?

Bellinger: No, your exactly right. All four of us agree with you that the 2001 AUMF, which was only about 60 words long — I was involved in drafting it literally almost on the back of an envelope while the World Trade Center was still smoldering — now is very long in the tooth. The good government solution, while extremely difficult and controversial, would be for Congress to work together with the Executive Branch to revise that AUMF. It’s completely unclear about what it covers, who it covers, where it covers.

Lofgren: If I may, I think it’s not as unclear as you suggest. There are — this was a limitation, and there were big arguments about it as you’re, I’m sure, aware, there was a prior draft that was  much more expansive. There was a prior draft that was much more expansive and it was narrowed so we could get bipartisan consensus and it was narrowed for an important reason. And I guess I — yes, the Executive has the ability to keep his legal advice confidential, that’s a long-standing principle, but since it looks like — at least, questions are raised — as to whether the executive is complying with the law, then if he feels he is, then I feel it would be a very positive thing for the Administration to share that legal advice with this committee and with the American people. Continue reading

Another Republican Lawyer Warns Obama about Legal Problems

I know it’s probably easy for Obama supporters, if not members of the Administration, to dismiss the warnings of lawyers who fought within the Bush Administration to cloak our counterterrorism policy in legal sanction as trolling.

But you’d think that as Jack Goldsmith and now John Bellinger raise the same kind of warnings they did with Bush, they’d be treated with the same kind of alarm among the pundit class.

I have been warning for several years about the international legal risks posed by the Obama Administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes, including my Post op-ed in October 2011 entitled “Will Drone Strikes Become Obama’s Guantanamo?”   This article was not intended as partisan criticism but rather as a cautionary note, based on my own eight years of experience explaining US counter-terrorism policies.

At the time I wrote it, I thought there was perhaps only a 25% chance that Obama’s drone strikes would become as internationally maligned as Guantanamo, given the preference of human rights groups and European governments to avoid criticising the Obama Administration.  But over the last eighteen months, I have seen a crescendo in international criticism, resulting in lawsuits in the US, Britain, and Pakistan, and a potential decrease in intelligence cooperation.  This has echoes of the rapid decline in European governmental support for US counterterrorism efforts after 9-11 as national parliaments pressed their governments to distance themselves from unpopular US policies.  I would not be surprised if, in the next year, war crimes charges are brought against senior Obama officials in a European country with a universal jurisdiction law.   The Administration is increasingly on the back foot internationally in explaining and defending the legal aspects of the drone program.  It needs to step up its efforts.

These are not starry-eyed hippies. They’re solidly conservative lawyers. And yet it seems their warnings are being treated with the seriousness they would if I had made them.

One more point. As I traced last year, the White House’s unusual efforts to keep all mention of the “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes many of these counterterrorism programs mapped closely to the exposure of Binyam Mohammed’s torture through an effort very nearly parallel to the suit Bellinger discusses in his post: Noor Khan’s suit against the UK for cooperating in the drone strike that killed his father.

The UK has used various strategies to try to hide its role in US covert operations: effectively a Glomar in this case, and a larger effort to create a secret court to hide our counterterrorism programs.

Maybe these British efforts will work. Maybe this particular ally will succeed in hiding the things we work hard to hide.

But not all of them will be.

The Administration seems increasingly committed to claiming all of this was a covert op, immune even from full disclosure to the Intelligence Committees, to say nothing of ordinary citizens. Perhaps it is so committed in an effort to avoid embarrassing our allies like this.

But it’s not fooling anyone.

Angler 2.0: Brennan Wields His Puppet Strings Differently

As I said earlier, the parallel between the Jo Becker/Scott Shane Angler 2.0 story and the earlier series by Becker and Barton Gellman is hard to miss.

But I’m very interested in how the stories are structured differently. With Angler 1.0, the story was very clearly about Dick Cheney and the methods he used to manipulate Bush into following his advice. Here, the story is really about John Brennan, Obama’s Cheney, portrayed deep in thought and foregrounding Obama in the article’s picture. Indeed, halfway through, the story even gives biographical background on Brennan, the classic “son of Irish immigrants” story, along with Harold Koh’s dubious endorsement of Brennan’s “moral rectitude.”

But instead of telling the story of John Brennan, Obama’s Cheney, the story pitches Obama as the key decision-maker–a storyline Brennan has always been one of the most aggressive pitchmen for, including when he confirmed information on the Anwar al-Awlaki strike he shouldn’t have. In a sense, then, Brennan has done Cheney one better: seed a story of his own power, but sell it as a sign of the President’s steeliness.

The Silent Sources for the Story

I already pointed out how, after presenting unambiguous evidence of Brennan’s past on-the-record lies, the story backed off calling him on it.

But there are other ways in which this story shifts the focus away from Brennan.

A remarkable number of the sources for the story spoke on the record: Tom Donilon, Cameron Munter, Dennis Blair, Bill Daley, Jeh Johnson, Michael Hayden, Jim Jones, Harold Koh, Eric Holder, Michael Leiter, John Rizzo, and John Bellinger. But it’s not until roughly the 3,450th word of a 6,000 word article that Brennan is first quoted–and that’s to largely repeat the pre-emptive lies of his drone speech from last month.

“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.”

That is the only on-the-record direct quote from Brennan in the entire article, in spite of the centrality of Brennan to the story.

And I would bet several of the sources quoted anonymously in the section describing Obama’s method of counting the dead (which still ignores the women and children) are Brennan: “a top White House adviser” describing how sharp Obama was in the face of the first civilian casualties; “a senior administration official” claiming, in the face of credible evidence to the contrary, that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan were in “single digits.”

Note, too, the reference to a memo his campaign national security advisors wrote him.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

The memo was written not long after Brennan started playing a more central role among Obama’s campaign advisors. But the story makes no mention of his presumed role in it. Further, in describing Jeh Johnson to introduce a quote, the piece notes that he was “a campaign adviser” (it doesn’t say Johnson was also focused on voter protection). But it does not note that Brennan, too, was a key campaign advisor, one with an exclusively national security focus.

Nor does the story note, when it describes how Obama “deployed his legal skills … to preserve trials in civilian courts” it was John Brennan making that case, not the Attorney General.

In other words, in several places in this story, Brennan plays a key role that is downplayed.

The Pro-Drone Narrator

Given that fact, I’m really interested in the several places where the story adopts a pro-drone viewpoint (it does adopt a more critical stance in the narrative voice at the end).

For example, the story claims, in the first part of the story, that the drone strikes “have eviscerated Al Qaeda” without presenting any basis for that claim. This, in spite of the fact that al Qaeda has expanded in Yemen since we’ve started hitting it with drones.

Later, the article uncritically accepts the claim that the drone–regardless of the targeting that goes into using it–is a “precision weapon” that constitutes a rejection of a “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

For fucks sake! This article describes how the White House has adopted a “guilt by association” approach to drone targeting. Continue reading

The Albatross of Obama’s “Rule of Executive Order”

The other day, John Bellinger and Matthew Waxman joined the long list of people voicing opposition to the detention provisions of the Defense Authorization. Yet there’s a part of their column that has received little focus, in spite of the fact it’s one of the things Bellinger emphasized when he linked to their column at Lawfare.

Bellinger and Waxman scold President Obama for not following through on his promise to develop laws covering terrorism detainees.

President Obama should have followed through on his pledge in his May 2009 National Archives Speech to work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime for detention of terror suspects who cannot be prosecuted or released, and Congress should have been more responsive to the concerns of counterterrorism officials in the Executive branch.

The substance of that promise–given at a time, remember, when Democrats had the majority in the House and 59 (soon to be 60) Senators in the Senate–was:

Now let me be clear:  We are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates.  We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat.  But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.

[snip]

There are no neat or easy answers here.  I wish there were.  But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo.  As President, I refuse to allow this problem to fester.  I refuse to pass it on to somebody else.  It is my responsibility to solve the problem.  Our security interests will not permit us to delay.  Our courts won’t allow it.  And neither should our conscience.

[snip]

Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded.  They can’t be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone.

[snip]

I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred.  Our goal is not to avoid a legitimate legal framework.  In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man.  If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.  And so, going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.

[snip]

We seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for addressing these issues in the long term — not to serve immediate politics, but to do what’s right over the long term.  By doing that we can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my administration, my presidency, that endures for the next President and the President after that — a legacy that protects the American people and enjoys a broad legitimacy at home and abroad. [my emphasis]

Obama made that promise in a speech that spoke grandly about the importance of using our fundamental values–our laws–to beat tyranny.

I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.  The documents that we hold in this very hall — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — these are not simply words written into aging parchment.  They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world.

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John Bellinger: If the War Is Illegal, Just Change the Law

John Bellinger has been publicly suggesting the Obama Administration had exceeded the terms of the AUMF for some time. So it is unsurprising that he took the opportunity of a Republican House, the incoming Armed Services Chair’s explicit support for a new AUMF, and the Ghailani verdict to more fully develop his argument in an op-ed. It’s a well-crafted op-ed, such as in the way it avoids explicitly saying the government has been breaking the law in its pursuit of terrorism, when he pretends the only people we’ve been targeting in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are al Qaeda leaders.

The Bush and Obama administrations have relied on this authority to wage the ground war in Afghanistan; to exert lethal force (including drone strikes) against al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; and to detain suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan.

In fact, the targets include a heck of a lot of grunts and many people with terrorist ties, but not direct affiliation with al Qaeda. Oh, and a bunch of civilians, but I guess we’re to assume the government just has bad aim.

Then there’s this game attempt to pretend that everyone will find something to love in the Forever War.

Nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Obama administration, congressional Republicans and Democrats, and civil liberties groups all have an interest in updating this aging legislation. Republicans should be willing to help the president ensure that combatant commanders and intelligence agencies have ample legal authority to kill or capture terrorists who threaten the United States today. Many Republicans also want to give clearer statutory direction to federal judges regarding who may be detained and for how long. For their part, civil liberties groups and their Democratic supporters in Congress can insist that terrorist suspects who are U.S. nationals receive additional protections before being targeted and that persons detained now or in the future under the laws of war have a right to adequate administrative or judicial review.

As if Republicans weren’t already clamoring for more war and more war powers. As if there would be any doubt that Republicans would answer the “who may be detained and for how long” with any answer but, “Forever War, Baby!” As if dubbing the new AUMF “the al-Awlaki and PETA law”–putting some limits on the targeting of American citizens that presumably already exist–would be enough to entice civil libertarians (whom, Bellinger seems to suggest, only have support among Democrats).

And did you notice how Bellinger slipped in giving intelligence agencies the legal authority to kill terrorists? One of the problems–though Bellinger doesn’t say this explicitly–is that we’re increasingly using non-military personnel to target drones, which raises legal questions about whether they’re not unprivileged combatants in the same way al Qaeda is.

In any case, the lawyer did his work on this op-ed.

But here’s what I find to be the most interesting detail in it:

For at least five years, lawyers in and outside the Bush and Obama administrations have recognized the need to replace this act with a clearer law. The Bush administration chose not to seek an update because it did not want to work with the legislative branch.

Which I translate to read, “Back in 2005, several lawyers in the Bush Administration and I [I'm assuming Comey and Zelikow and Matthew Waxman] told the President he was breaking the law and should ask for an updated AUMF. But in spite of the fact that Congress was at that very moment passing the Detainee Treatment Act, the Bush White House claimed it couldn’t work with Congress to rewrite the AUMF to try to give the war they were already fighting some legal cover.”

Though of course, in 2005, Bush’s lawyers may have been trying to pretty up the fact that their illegal wiretap program–which constituted the use of military powers within the United States against US citizens–some kind of pretty face before it was exposed.

We’ve been fighting the Forever Whoever War since at least 2005. And now this clever lawyer wants to make sure the Forever War is legally sanctioned for the foreseeable future.

Cap’n Jack’s Crackerjack Logic!

Here’s where Jack Goldsmith’s op-ed, purporting to offer a solution to the Gitmo problem, breaks down (see Spencer’s take on it here).

Civilian trials for terrorists have also proven difficult. They gathered disfavor when Attorney General Eric Holder said he would prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other alleged Sept. 11 plotters in civilian court in Manhattan. Disfavor grew when the failed Christmas Day plotter, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the Times Square suspect, Faisal Shahzad, were placed in the civilian criminal system and read Miranda rights rather than detained and interrogated in the military system. The Bush administration prosecuted scores of terrorists in civilian court with little controversy. But the charge that the Obama administration is insufficiently tough on terrorists has made it harder for this administration to try terrorists in civilian court.

Difficulties with trials have left the Obama administration, like its predecessor, relying primarily on military detention without trial to hold terrorists.

Granted, Goldsmith uses the lawyerly trick of hiding the agency in his statement–substituting “disfavor grew” for “Republicans drummed up disfavor because it polled well”–to hide his faulty logic. But what he’s basically saying is that: (1) there’s no big deal with civilian courts, as the Bush experience shows, (2) nevertheless a bunch of fearmongerers who just happen to come from Goldsmith’s own party have been bad-mouthing civilian trials for crass political reasons, and therefore (3) civilian trials are just too difficult to pull off.

The rest of Goldsmith’s op-ed follows from this artificially created difficulty.

The correct response, for someone in Goldsmith’s position, would be to say, “stop being such cynical assholes, Republicans, this is about law, not your political stunts!” But instead, he wrings his hand and invents a new legal system to work around the difficulty created by his colleagues in the Republican party.

Which offers him the ability to make this move, which addresses an issue that has nothing to do with closing Gitmo:

Courts have given their general blessing to military detention as a legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. But military detention still raises hard legal questions, about which Congress has said practically nothing. As a result, unaccountable judges are making fateful detention decisions, demanding release of some whom the administration thinks are dangerous terrorists.

[snip]

Second, acknowledge that military detention will remain the primary basis for holding terrorists, and strengthen the system. The president will eventually need Congress’s help, not only to put Guantanamo detentions on firmer footing but also to support the growing global fight against terrorists beyond traditional battlefields. The main legal foundation for targeting and detention in places such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen is the September 2001 congressional authorization to deal with the Sept. 11 attacks. But as dangerous terrorists have ever-dimmer connections to Sept. 11, the government is bumping up against the limits of what this authorization permits.

Again, Goldsmith hides his logic here. But what he’s actually saying is, “those mean judges on whom our entire legal system relies have pointed out that we’ve illegally been holding people who have nothing to do with 9/11″ (and in fact have been doing so since the Bush Administration collected a lot of people who they called terrorists but weren’t tied to al Qaeda), “so we need to invent some means to hold them and more like them even though we have no legal basis to do so.” Sure, he, like John Bellinger, notes that the Obama Administration is pushing the legal limits of what the AUMF for Afghanistan legally authorized. But what he’s really calling for is some new legal authorization to just pick up anyone anywhere in the world and hold them indefinitely and maybe give them a civilian trial if we feel like it.

In the process he ignores the larger logical problem with this argument. Yes, the international community recognizes military detention as legal during times of war.

But what Goldsmith is advocating for is that Congress create some legal justification for military detention of those we are not at war with.

Now, Cap’n Jack isn’t really a big fan of international law binding US actions, which may be why he introduces this idea with so little thought, the same way he dismisses the symbolic value of closing Gitmo.

But if Congress were to pass a law granting the Executive the authority to unilaterally declare organizations terrorist groups, and on that basis, to indefinitely detain those alleged to be members without even the guise of war as a time-limiting factor, my guess is the international community would look none too fondly on it. It would be a new stain on our international reputation, added to the still-oozing sore of Gitmo.

And Jack Goldsmith, whose entire op-ed is premised on allowing his party to do anything it wants for political gain, doesn’t see where this kind of unilateral Executive power might lead.

Even the Crusades Weren’t “Forever”

I’m going to assume John Cole was asking sincerely when he posted this request.

Can someone explain this reaction from Emptywheel:

After prompting Kagan to deliver the standard justification for detaining enemy combatants during war and rewarding her with a condescending compliment, Lindsey starts by getting Kagan to agree that the war on terror will never end.

Lindsey: [Speaking of her rote recitation of the basis for indefinite detention] That’s a good summary. The problem with this war is that there will never be a definable end to hostilities, will there?

Kagan: [Nodding] That is exactly the problem, Senator.

 

What a breath-taking exchange! Rather than challenge Lindsey on his slippery definition (referring to “hostilities” rather than war), rather than challenging him on the premise, Kagan simply nods in agreement. One minority party Senator and the Solicitor General sat in a hearing today and decided between them the state of hostilities under which the Executive Branch has assumed war-like powers to fight terrorism will never end.

The police state will continue forever.

Maybe I am misinterpreting these remarks, and you have to watch the video, but didn’t Kagan just say it is a bad thing that we are currently engaged in never-ending hostilities? Don’t we agree that is a bad thing? Isn’t Kagan right? What should she have said?

The question of whether the GWOT will have a “definable end” that justifies indefinite detention means two things in practical terms. First, how long will a state of war exist that justifies our holding of 48 Gitmo detainees who can’t otherwise be prosecuted. And second, how long will a state of war exist that justifies holding people at Bagram, including bringing them to Afghanistan after being captured in other locations, for indefinite detention.

48 Gitmo detainees

So how long will we have a legal claim–both within US and international law–to justify holding the 48 detainees at Gitmo that we currently can’t charge but deem too dangerous to release?

As I pointed out in this post, the Gitmo Review Task Force Report provided the following reasons why we can’t charge these men:

  • At least some of these detainees can’t be charged because evidence against them is tainted (this probably includes people like Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abu Zubaydah).
  • For others, we only have evidence they were members of al-Qaeda, and not that they engaged in any actual terrorism against the United States, even including actions taken after October 2001 which might be legally considered self-defense but which in some cases (such as with Omar Khadr) we’ve chosen to label as terrorism. If these people had engaged in the same activities for which we’ve got evidence after October 2001–and especially after December 2004–we might be able to charge them, but they haven’t.
  • For a number of these men, we had evidence that we could have used to charge them with material support for terrorism but held them so long without charges that the statute of limitations has expired.
  • For some of these men, we purportedly could have charged them with material support, but did not because of “sentencing considerations,” which I take to mean we believed that the 15 year maximum sentence was too short, and so have not charged them (note, the Obama administration has not gone to Congress and asked for a change to this sentence).

Given that we can’t try these men, we are instead justifying holding them under the law of war. As Kagan explained,

Under the traditional law of war, it is permissible to hold an enemy combatant until the end of hostilities and the idea behind that is that the enemy combatant not be enabled to return to the battlefield.

And, as she made explicit elsewhere in this exchange and repeatedly during her hearings, our ability to invoke the law of war depends on our ability to invoke the AUMF passed after 9/11, which states,

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. [my emphasis]

We can only legally use this justification against people who either by themselves aided 9/11, or were members of an organization or nation that aided 9/11.

Now, we’re already pushing this, as the government’s lousy 14-36 record on habeas cases makes plain. For example, the Gitmo Task Force claimed the ability to hold people who simply have a “history of associations with extremist activity” without requiring that they have actually either membership in al Qaeda or direct participation in 9/11.

But to envision that the hostilities authorized by the AUMF will not end, you have to envision both that the  al Qaeda and affiliates that existed at the time of 9/11 will exist indefinitely, and/or that we will remain at war against the Taliban forever.  In some cases, this is obviously not going to be the case. Hamid Karzai is already talking about bringing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into government. If he does so, will we still have justification to hold the members of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin who are among the 48? Discussions about a deal with the Taliban are less optimistic, but if we really do withdraw in 2011, will we still have the basis to hold the Taliban members who are among the 48? If we kill or capture Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, will we still claim holding someone who served as OBL’s guard in 2001 is too dangerous to release?

But even the al Qaeda and affiliates described in the AUMF seem to have a definite endpoint. After OBL and Zawahiri are gone and we’ve managed to kill our 217th “al Qaeda Number 3″ will we still be able to say that the al Qaeda that hit us on 9/11 still exists? At some point, judges are going to consider the al Qaeda copycat groups that pop up in various locales to be too tenuously connected to the al Qaeda of 9/11 to be meaningfully the same group anymore.

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The Illegal War on Latin American (!) Terrorism

I linked to this Jeremy Scahill post already, but I wanted to point out a few things about Scahill’s elaboration on the WaPo’s covert ops story of the other day.

First, Scahill provides a list of locations where Obama’s expanded special operations war has deployed:

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

I’m not sure about you, but I, for one, have never heard of “Al Qaeda in Ecuador” or “Al Qaeda in Belgium.” While some of these deployments likely do have ties to fighters just one step removed from al Qaeda (later in the article, Scahill describes JSOC partnering with Georgia to pursue Chechens), others might be more likely to have ties to terrorist financing (Belgium) or illicit trade (including drugs) that might fund terrorism. Or hell, maybe just oil and gas, since they’re pretty criminal and we’re addicted, so it’s practically the same thing.

Which brings me back to the UN report on targeted killings. When describing the target of these covert ops, the WaPo story said the ops are directed “against al Qaeda and other radical organizations.” As I highlighted from the WaPo story, John Bellinger believes many of those targeted have nothing to do with 9/11.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.

Which is a concern the UN report expresses: that the US has declared itself to be in a non-international armed conflict that is sufficiently vaguely defined as to include many people whose targeting would be illegal under international humanitarian law.

53. Taken cumulatively, these factors make it problematic for the US to show that – outside the context of the armed conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq – it is in a transnational non-international armed conflict against “al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other associated forces”107 without further explanation of how those entities constitute a “party” under the IHL of non-international armed conflict, and whether and how any violence by any such group rises to the level necessary for an armed conflict to exist.

[snip]

55. With respect to the existence of a non-state group as a “party”, al-Qaeda and other alleged “associated” groups are often only loosely linked, if at all. Sometimes they appear to be not even groups, but a few individuals who take “inspiration” from al Qaeda. The idea that, instead, they are part of continuing hostilities that spread to new territories as new alliances form or are claimed may be superficially appealing but such “associates’ cannot constitute a “party” as required by IHL – although they can be criminals, if their conduct violates US law, or the law of the State in which they are located.

56. To ignore these minimum requirements, as well as the object and purpose of IHL, would be to undermine IHL safeguards against the use of violence against groups that are not the equivalent of an organized armed group capable of being a party to a conflict – whether because it lacks organization, the ability to engage in armed attacks, or because it does not have a connection or belligerent nexus to actual hostilities. It is also salutary to recognize that whatever rules the US seeks to invoke or apply to al Qaeda and any “affiliates” could be invoked by other States to apply to other non-state armed groups. To expand the notion of non-international armed conflict to groups that are essentially drug cartels, criminal gangs or other groups that should be dealt with under the law enforcement framework would be to do deep damage to the IHL and human rights frameworks. [my emphasis]

The UN reports that the US has admitted to using drones to take out Afghan drug lords; Scahill notes we’ve used these covert teams to target drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. And the inclusion of so many Latin American countries on Scahill’s list suggests further possible drug ties (while the presence of Georgia and Ukraine on Scahill’s list suggest the possibility of organized crime targets).

In other words, precisely the concern the UN report lays out may be reflected in Scahill’s list.

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Obama and JSOC Targeting People Not Included under AUMF

The WaPo has an important story today–apparently following up on the NYT’s JUnc-WTF story from last week–describing the way Obama has expanded the scope of the use of special operations forces. Some key details are:

  • Obama has deployed JSOC in 15 new countries since taking over as President, for a total of 75
  • JSOC has about 4,000 people in countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan
  • JSOC has 100 people in Pakistan but would like to triple that
  • Obama has changed the reporting structure in some good ways (reading Ambassadors into operations and reporting through regional commands) but has apparently increased direct conversations with JSOC (though remember that JSOC was supposed to be doing operations reporting directly to Cheney before)
  • JSOC is whining about needing civilian approval for targeting people in countries against which we are not at war, like Somalia and Yemen

But the most disturbing part of the story is something that parallels something in the Gitmo Review Task Force Report: Obama is claiming the right to target people not included under the Authorization to Use Military Force passed in response to 9/11.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

The Obama administration has rejected the constitutional executive authority claimed by Bush and has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the president in 2001 to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” he determines “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.

If Obama is purportedly relying on the AUMF to authorize JSOC missions, then his authority should be limited to those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, at least according to John Bellinger, these operations are targeting people who had nothing to do with the attacks–presumably, people whose ties to al Qaeda are so attenuated that they couldn’t be claimed to have had a role in 9/11.

Continue reading

The Context of the July 13 Fax

As I pointed out in an earlier post, when Counterterrorism Center lawyer Jonathan Fredman sent the torturers in Thailand a green light for torture in August 2002, he relied on language about intent from a July 13, 2002 fax from John Yoo to John Rizzo rather than the finalized August 1 Bybee Memo. In a second post on this, I also showed that both of Yoo’s nominal supervisors–Jay Bybee and John Ashcroft–claim they knew nothing about that fax. In this post, I’m going to show how that fax appears to arise out of DOJ discomfort with CIA’s torture program.

As the timeline below shows, Yoo dated (but did not send) the fax the same day that the numerous parties involved in reviewing the Bybee Memo had an apparently contentious meeting at which they discussed the draft memo as well as the CIA’s torture plan (I’m doing a big update on the Torture Timeline, so some of this is not reflected in the timeline yet).

July 10, 2002: John Yoo tells Jennifer Koester that they will present the Bybee memo to NSC at 10:45 on July 12 (and names the Bybee Memo the “bad things opinion”!).

July 11, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester have briefing session with Michael Chertoff on Bybee Memo.

July 11, 2002: An OLC paralegal cite-checks the draft, and someone schedules a July 12 meeting with Alberto Gonzales and a July 13 meeting with (effectively) NSC.

July 12, 2002: First draft of Bybee Memo distributed outside of OLC.

July 12, 2002: John Yoo meets with Alberto Gonzales (and either David Addington or Tim Flanigan) on Bybee Memo.

July 13, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester present July 12 draft to John Rizzo, John Bellinger, Michael Chertoff, Daniel Levin, and Alberto Gonzales. Rizzo provides overview of interrogation plan. Chertoff refuses to give CIA advance declination of prosecution. Levin states that FBI would not participate in any interrogation using torture techniques, nor would it participate in discussions on the subject.

July 13, 2002: Rizzo asks Yoo for letter “setting forth the elements of the torture statute.”

July 15, 2002: John Yoo faxes John Rizzo July 13 letter on the torture statute.

July 15, 2002: John Yoo sends Jennifer Koester an email telling her to include a footnote in the opinion stating that they had not been asked about affirmative defenses like necessity, self-defense, or commander-in-chief powers.

July 16, 2002: John Yoo and Jennifer Koester meet with Alberto Gonzales and (probably) David Addington and Tim Flanigan. Yoo shared the July 13 fax with them. At the meeting, it is decided that Yoo will include Commander-in-Chief and other affirmative defenses in Bybee Memo.

July 16, 2002: In response to earlier request from Michael Chertoff (perhaps as early as July 13), John Yoo has Jennifer Koester draft, but not send, a letter to CIA refusing a letter of declination of prosecution.

July 17, 2002: George Tenet meets with Condi Rice, who advised CIA could proceed with torture, subject to a determination of legality by OLC.

Of course, two things are going on in the background. First, when Ali Soufan left the black site in May because James Mitchell threatened Abu Zubaydah with mock burial, DOJ got official notice that one of its top terrorism agents believed that the CIA was using torture with Zubaydah. Yet, two months later, the torturers were almost certainly already using the most aggressive torture with Abu Zubaydah.

What seems to have happened is the following. Yoo and Koester were all set for an NSC meeting on July 12, perhaps until they had a July 11 briefing with Chertoff. In any case, something made them reschedule that NSC meeting to arrange an Alberto Gonzales (and presumably, Addington) meeting first. After which they appear to have had an incredibly contentious meeting with Bellinger, Chertoff, Levin and others. Perhaps the fact that John Rizzo presented the latest interrogation plan (which, we suspect, was already in process anyway) made things worse. We do know, for example, that mock burial remained in the plan, even after Soufan had balked when Mitchell tried to use it two months earlier. Whether because of Rizzo’s presentation or Yoo’s draft memo, at the meeting Chertoff definitively refused an advance declination and Levin announced that FBI would have nothing more to do with CIA’s torture program.

And so Rizzo, perhaps noting that the head of DOJ’s Criminal Division and the FBI Chief of Staff were reacting rather unfavorably to CIA’s torture plan, asked Yoo for some kind of cover. In response, Yoo wrote a memo raising the bar for prosecution of inflicting severe mental suffering incredibly high.

What I find particularly interesting is the 2-day delay before Yoo sent the fax, dated July 13, to Rizzo on July 15. That likely coincided with another delay; we know Chertoff asked Yoo to send Rizzo a letter refusing advance declination sometime between July 13 and July 16, but Yoo didn’t act on that request until he had sent Rizzo his July 13 fax already.

Did Yoo get both the request for the letter refusing advance declination and the request for the letter laying out the torture statute at the same contentious meeting?

And then there’s one more unexplainable coincidence. On the same day Yoo sent the July 13 memo (on July 15), Yoo instructed Koester they not only wouldn’t include any affirmative defenses in the memo, but they would claim they weren’t asked for such things. Yet that happened just a day before heading into a meeting with Gonzales and (almost certainly) Addington, at which they did decide to include such things. And incidentally–a fact I hadn’t noted before–Yoo gave Gonzales and (almost certainly) Addington a copy of his July 13 fax at the same meeting where it was decided to add affirmative defenses to the Bybee Memo.

I can’t prove it. But it appears that Yoo wrote the July 13 fax in response to serious reservations from Chertoff and Levin. And in response to that, Addington directed him to add a bunch more defenses (literal and figurative) into the Bybee Memo.

One last point. As I said, one key difference between the July 13 fax and the Bybee Memo is that Yoo rebutted an obvious objection to his reading of how the Torture Statute treated intent with severe mental suffering.

It could be argued that a defendant needs to have specific intent only to commit the predicate acts that give rise to prolonged mental harm. Under that view, so long as the defendant specifically intended to, for example, threaten a victim with imminent death, he would have had sufficient mens rea for a conviction. According to this view, it would be further necessary for a conviction to show only that the victim factually suffered mental harm, rather than that the defendant intended to cause it. We believe that this approach is contrary to the text of the statute.

Any bets on whether Chertoff and/or Levin made precisely this argument at that July 13 meeting?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @dmataconis Maybe, but I think the original purposes are still valid. Also think Musk is a whiny asshole.
8mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @dmataconis Actually original intent was to insure there are parts+service available locally for customers. And to provide local tax base
13mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @dmataconis Either way they can't be selective, which is what Musk desires. May be outdated, but there are good reasons to keep it.
15mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @kevinjonheller Really no need for trial either I should think.
17mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @emptywheel @wellsbennett Come on man, go easy of Wells. He has been overwhelmed with the new "Ask Wells Anything" feature at @lawfareblog
22mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @RobertsDan @lrozen At the complete trashing of procedural due process and substantive jurisdiction law, but what the hell, right?
32mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @ScottGreenfield @bobambrogi "Reinvent"™ the interview
33mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @chriskingstl @alicesperi I know push is on to say supports Wilson+cops, but no reason to bite off on that w/o noting both @JasonLeopold
36mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @chriskingstl @alicesperi Why do selectively "leaked" details support Wison's version any more than they do Dorian Johnson's? @JasonLeopold
39mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @JasonLeopold I have applied for the job. I insured them you will get NOTHING.
44mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @ddayen I presume you went as Mark Penn
48mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@jaketapper Frankly, that "evidence", i.e. inappropriate grand jury leaks, supports Dorian Johnson's version as much as it does Wilson's.
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