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:
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
The decision is based on a theory Merrick Garland used in the hearing (which Wells Bennett analyzed here). Whether or not the CIA had admitted to the agency being involved in drones, it had admitted to having an interest in them. Which makes any claim that it cannot reveal it has documents ridiculous.
And there is still more. In 2009, then-Director of the CIA Leon Panetta delivered remarks at the Pacific Council on International Policy. In answer to a question about “remote drone strikes” in the tribal regions of Pakistan, Director Panetta stated:
[O]bviously because these are covert and secret operations I can’t go into particulars. I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage. . . . I can assure you that in terms of that particular area, it is very precise and it is very limited in terms of collateral damage and, very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.8
It is hard to see how the CIA Director could have made his Agency’s knowledge of — and therefore “interest” in — drone strikes any clearer. And given these statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that “no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA . . . has an interest in drone strikes,” Cole Decl. ¶ 43; see CIA Br. 43, is at this point neither logical nor plausible.
It is true, of course, that neither the President nor any other official has specifically stated that the CIA has documents relating to drone strikes, as compared to an interest in such strikes. At this stage of this case, however, those are not distinct issues. The only reason the Agency has given for refusing to disclose whether it has documents is that such disclosure would reveal whether it has an interest in drone strikes; it does not contend that it has a reason for refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents that is independent from its reason for refusing to confirm or deny its interest in that subject. And more to the point, as it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject.
But again, there is more. In the above-quoted excerpt from the CIA Director’s Pacific Council remarks, the Director spoke directly about the precision of targeted drone strikes, the level of collateral damage they cause, and their usefulness in comparison to other weapons and tactics. Given those statements, it is implausible that the CIA does not possess a single document on the subject of drone strikes. Continue reading
I’ve been working on this timeline for almost nine months, trying to pull together the known dates about strikes against Americans, the evidence supporting the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the legal cases surrounding both targeted killing and torture, to which targeted killing is linked via the Memorandum of Notification, and Congressional efforts to exercise oversight.
September 17, 2001: George Bush signs Memorandum of Notification (henceforth, Gloves Come Off MON) authorizing a range of counterterrorism techniques, including torture and targeted killing.
September 18, 2001: Congress passes the Authorization to Use Military Force.
November 3, 2002: US citizen Kamal Derwish killed in drone purportedly targeting Abu Ali al-Harithi.
Late 2008: Ruben Shumpert reported killed in Somalia.
June 24, 2009: Leon Panetta gets briefed on assassination squad program.
June 26, 2009: HPSCI passes a funding authorization report expanding the Gang of Eight briefings.
July 8, 2009: The Administration responds with an insulting appeal to a “fundamental compact” between Congress and the President on intelligence matters.
July 8, 2009: Silvestre Reyes announces CIA lied to Congress.
October 26, 2009: British High Court first orders British government to release language on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment.
October 28, 2009: FBI kills Imam Luqman Asmeen Abdullah during Dearborn, MI arrest raid.
October 29, 2009: Hearing on declassifying mention of Gloves Come Off MON before Judge Alvin Hellerstein; in it, Hellerstein reveals NSA James Jones has submitted declaration to keep mention of MON secret.
November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan attacks Fort Hood, killing 13.
December 24, 2009: JSOC tries but fails to hit Anwar al-Awlaki. On that day, the IC did not yet believe him to be operational.
December 25, 2009: With Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack, FBI develops full understanding of Awlaki’s operational goals.
January 2, 2010: In conversation with David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks as if Awlaki, whom he refers to as a cleric, not an AQAP member, was a designated target of December 24 attack.
In addition to yesterday’s letter’s explanation that the government needed an extension in ACLU and NYT’s Anwar al-Awlaki drone FOIA because Obama and/or his closest aides–the highest level of the Executive Branch–were getting involved, there was one other interesting phrase I wanted to note: the way in which it portrays the FOIA.
We write respectfully on behalf of the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency (collectively, the “Government”) to seek a further extension until May 21, 2012, of the Government’s deadline to file its consolidated motion for summary judgment in these related Freedom of Information Act cases seeking records pertaining to alleged targeted lethal operations directed at U.S. citizens and others affiliated with al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. [my emphasis]
That description doesn’t precisely match the request in any of the three FOIAs, which ask for:
ACLU: the legal authority and factual basis of the targeted killing of [Anwar] al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman [al-Awlaki], and [Samir] Khan.
NYT Savage: all Office of Legal Counsel memorandums analyzing the circumstances under which it would be lawful for United States armed forces or intelligence community assets to target for killing a United States citizen who is deemed to be a terrorist.
NYT Shane: all Office of Legal Counsel opinions or memoranda since 2001 that address the legal status of targeted killings, assassination, or killing people suspected of ties to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups by employees or contractors of the United States government.
The government seems squeamish, first of all, about repeating the language used in all three of these requests–targeted killing–opting instead for the phrase “targeted lethal operations.” Note, significantly, that these requests, and especially Shane’s, would not be limited to drone strikes, but also would include hit squads.
The government understandably opts not to use the names specified by ACLU, opting instead to use the generic “US citizen” used by Savage.
Equally understandably, it uses Shane’s language to describe the target: “Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.” But I find the adoption of Shane’s formulation significant, because it is much broader than the language from the AUMF:
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
And somewhat broader than the language from the NDAA:
person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners
Now, it’s not just Shane’s language that broadens the scope here. None of the three requests mention AQAP, which would at least give the government the ability to focus on questions about how it decided that Awlaki was a legitimate target under the AUMF (on that topic, note this exchange between Robert Chesney and Bruce Ackerman). Both NYT requests ask for information about targeting terrorists generally. Which might get into some interesting targeting decisions both specific to Pakistan (for example, the original decision to target Beitullah Mehsud–and therefore the Pakistani Taliban–was based on a potentially erroneous information about a dirty bomb) and more generally in places like Gaza or Iran or Latin America.
In other words, if the government maintains it has the authority to assassinate terrorists, generally, perhaps tied to the Iraq AUMF or perhaps tied to the Gloves Come Off MON, then this language might make it hard for the government to provide a tidy response to this FOIA.
The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has quietly dropped its legal representation of more than a dozen Bush-era Pentagon and administration officials – including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and aide Paul Wolfowitz – in a lawsuit by Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla, who spent years behind bars without charges in conditions his lawyers compare to torture.
Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the government has agreed to retain private lawyers for the officials, at a cost of up to $200 per hour. Miller said “conflicts concerns” prompted the decision. He did not elaborate.
One private attorney involved in the case, who asked not to be named, said the Obama administration apparently concluded “its duty to represent the defendants zealously, which includes the duty to argue any and all defenses, can’t be discharged for reasons of policy and other government interests.”
That’s mighty interesting. Because the last time DOJ withdrew from defending such a high profile defendant was John Yoo, in the partner lawsuit in this case, in which Padilla is suing Yoo for his horrible OLC memos. The DOJ withdrew from defending Yoo just two weeks before DOJ finished the OPR Report (on July 29, 2009) finding grave problems with the OLC memos John Yoo wrote authorizing torture. The very memos Padilla sued Yoo about.
Which makes this observation from Gerstein and Stephen Gillers all the more interesting.
Legal ethics experts said the Justice Department’s withdrawal could stem from qualms about a full-throated defense of Padilla’s treatment while in military custody. His lawyers claim that Padilla’s captors in the brig subjected him to abuse including sensory deprivation, prolonged isolation, imminent death threats, forced drugging and interference with his practice of Islam.
“Some of the [defendants] may have wanted to make more extreme arguments about the legality of their conduct than the Justice Department was willing to accept,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University. [my emphasis]
That same OPR Report would virtually prohibit DOJ from helping Rummy and others defend the claim that death threats used on Padilla were legal. After all, we know that mock burials–a kind of death threat–were just about the only thing that John Yoo said was illegal!
Now, as it happens, Judge Collyer, in the ACLU’s FOIA case, appears to have made a really ridiculous argument that DOJ’s declassification of that reference to mock burial does not amount to an acknowledgment that Yoo judged death threats, more generally, to be illegal. And the death threats used against Rahim al-Nashiri at least allegedly are still being investigated.
But it would be mighty interesting if this were all about death threats. Padilla’s lawyers are suing because–among other reasons–Rummy ordered up treatment that included death threats. And that’s the only thing our Department of Justice has deemed illegal.
Josh Gerstein reports that a Federal Judge has rejected ACLU’s effort to get the government to remove more of the redactions in the OPR Report on the torture memos. Judge Rosemary Collyer basically argued that the President’s need to get candid advice on how to make torture legal trumps citizens’ right to know about such illegal activity.
Rather than arguing that exemptions (b)(1) and (3) are inapplicable under the Executive Order or the proffered statutes, Plaintiffs argue that the substance of the redactions: (1) the names of the detainees; and (2) the “actual and potential implementation” of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including “conditions of confinement” that functioned as part of the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” are unlawful, and therefore fall outside the protection of “intelligence sources and methods” granted by those exemptions. Pls.’ Mem. at 11–24. But, as recently stated by the D.C. Circuit, the illegality of information is immaterial to the classification of such information under exemptions (b)(1) and (3) as intelligent sources or methods.
While the Court recognizes the public’s interest, this interest does not overcome the need for frank discussions on serious issues that confront a President. Without a free and candid dialectic, the President cannot be properly armed with the tools required to make difficult decisions on consequential issues. Because the declaration sufficiently details its rationale for redaction, and because the public’s interest does not overcome the privilege in this case, the Court finds that Defendant has satisfied its burden as to the limited redactions withheld pursuant to the presidential communications privilege.
Mind you, the Judge is reading broadly here. For at least one of the meetings, we have evidence a decision was made without the input of the President. Yet she has interpreted meetings of Administration officials where Bush was absent as Presidential communications.
So in reality, she’s not just shielding Bush’s decisions, she’s shielding Cheney’s and Alberto Gonzales’ decisions as well. Eh, I guess she thinks Cheney was really in charge?
Where Judge Collyer’s opinion gets really crazy is where she accepts the government’s argument that, having left its discussion about “mock burial” unredacted in one instance, it does not have to reveal the other instances.
Plaintiffs next argue that the name of the interrogation technique that the CIA considered using, i.e. “mock burial,” has already been unclassifed and thus should be disclosed. It is true that when the government has officially acknowledged information, a FOIA plaintiff may compel disclosure of that information even over an agency’s otherwise valid exemption claim. See Wolf, 473 F.3d at 378; Fitzgibbon, 911 F.2d at 765. For information to qualify as “officially acknowledged,” however, it must satisfy three criteria: (1) the information requested must be as specific as the information previously released; (2) the information requested must match the information previously disclosed; and (3) the information requested must already have been made public through an official and documented disclosure. Id. After reviewing additional information in camera, the Court finds that the redacted information does not match the very broad information previously disclosed. Due to the specificity and context of the redacted information, coupled with the agency affidavit that affirmatively states that: “notwithstanding these prior disclosures (which I took into account when reviewing the Report), many details of the detention and interrogation program and the intelligence activities undertaken in support of it remain classified,” Payne Decl. ¶ 28, the Court is satisfied that this redacted information has not been already “officially acknowledged,” and thus is appropriately redacted pursuant to exemptions (b)(1) and (3) as “intelligent sources or methods.”
Maybe this is particularly sensitive because they actually did use mock burial and mock executions with detainees but didn’t prosecute? Or maybe the CIA just asked her, on the basis that they sometimes referred to mock execution and other times referred to mock burial and other times referred to death threats, these are different specifics?
It gets worse. If you want to ruin your appetite, click through and see how she justified sustaining the redactions of Jennifer Koester’s name.