John McHugh

The OTHER Assault on the Fourth Amendment in the NDAA? Drones at Your Airport?

Steven Aftergood notes that the Army just issued new directives for the use of drones in civilian airspace. The new directives include nothing earth shattering (my favorite part is the enclosure from 2009 explaining what to do when you lose contact with one of your drones, on PDF 18–but really, what could go wrong?). But it does, as Aftergood notes, reflect a real enthusiasm for using more drones in civilian airspace.

Which brings me to a part of the NDAA debate that has remained largely undiscussed.

Days after the NDAA past, Chuck Schumer started boasting about how the NDAA would bring jobs to Syracuse, NY because the city’s airport might be one of 6 sites approved as test sites for drones flying in civilian airspace.

The National Defense Authorization Act signed into law last week by President Barack Obama allows for the establishment of six national test sites where drones could fly through civil air space.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he pushed for the establishment of six spots, instead of the planned four, to improve the chances that Hancock Field would be included.

[snip]

Schumer said Hancock already meets FAA requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles because about 7,000 square miles surrounding the airport is designated as “special use” airspace.

He said that “making Hancock a test site for this technology would be a boon for Central New York, creating jobs and bringing new investments to our defense contractors that provide thousands of good paying jobs.”

Curiously, the language addressing drones in civilian airspace in the NDAA, as passed, doesn’t actually say this.

SEC. 1074. REPORT ON INTEGRATION OF UNMANNED AERIAL SYSTEMS INTO THE NATIONAL AIRSPACE SYSTEM.

(a) REPORT REQUIRED.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and on behalf of the UAS Executive Committee, submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report setting forth the following:

(1) A description and assessment of the rate of progress in integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.

(2) An assessment of the potential for one or more pilot program or programs on such integration at certain test ranges to increase that rate of progress.

Rather, it seems to require Secretary Panetta to tell Congress whether “one or more” test ranges would “help” us get drones into civilian airspace more quickly. Perhaps the new Army guidelines are part of DOD’s preparation for the report to Congress.

That said, there is evidence that the legislative intent behind the NDAA is to push those 6 sites forward. Here’s what the managers’ statement said about this section (note, the numbering changed as sections got squished together into a bill).

Unmanned aerial systems and national airspace (sec. 1097)

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DOD Passes the Buck Rather than Let Kucinich Visit Bradley Manning

On February 4, Dennis Kucinich asked DOD to allow him to visit Bradley Manning so he could assess his conditions of confinement. On February 8, Robert Gates wrote Kucinich a short note telling him we was referring his request to Secretary of the Army, John McHugh. In a letter dated February 24–but apparently not received in Kucinich’s office until March 1–McHugh told Kucinich he was referring his request to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs.

In short, a full month after the date when a member of Congress requested a visit with Manning, DOD is still stalling on a real response with bureaucratic buck-passing.

As to the substantive response McHugh offered Kucinich? It matches all the disingenuous boilerplate responses the rest of DOD has offered–claiming that Manning is treated as any other “similarly situated” pretrial detainee at Quantico, without mentioning that there is at most one other Max prisoner, and none who have been held on Prevention of Injury watch for eight months.

PFC Manning experiences the same confinement conditions as other similarly situated pretrial prisoners at the MCBQ Pretrial Confinement Facility.

In addition, McHugh appeals to the same bogus privacy excuse that Quantico is now using to avoid explaining why they’re submitting Manning to the same treatment they used at Abu Ghraib.

PFC Manning’s custody and status classifications, like all pretrial prisoners at the MCBQ Pretrial Confinement Facility, are evaluated regularly by a board of corrections specialists pursuant to Department of Navy regulations. As United States laws prohibit the release of personal identification, including personal health information, I am not able to discuss PFC Manning’s specific custody and status classifications and other aspects of his care and treatment.

Effectively, they’re using “privacy” as their excuse not to admit that under POI, Manning is subject to some of the same degrading techniques we objected to in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

Kucinich isn’t missing that parallel, either. In his response today, he said,

My request to visit with Pfc. Manning must not be delayed further. Today we have new reports that Manning was stripped naked and left in his cell for seven hours. While refusing to explain the justification for the treatment, a marine spokesman confirmed the actions but claimed they were ‘not punitive.’

Is this Quantico or Abu Ghraib? Officials have confirmed the ‘non-punitive’ stripping of an American soldier who has not been found guilty of any crime. This ‘non-punitive’ action would be considered a violation of the Army Field Manual if used in an interrogation overseas. The justification for and purpose of this action certainly raises questions of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and could constitute a potential violation of international law. [my emphasis]

As I said, it has been a full month since Kucinich made a legitimate request to visit with an American citizen who, thus far, must be assumed innocent. Yet DOD seems to be deploying the most transparent kind of bureaucratic stall to prevent Kucinich form visiting Manning.

Update: Corrected date of Gates note.

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