targeted killing

Yes, the Government Does Believe the Military Can Use Military Force in the US

I made an error.

In this post, I suggested that debates about whether the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force constituted an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act ignore that for 7 years — from the time John Yoo wrote a memo on whether the Fourth Amendment inhibited military deployment in the US  in 2001 until the time Steven Bradbury “withdrew” the memo in 2008 — the official position of the Executive Branch was that PCA had been suspended under the AUMF.

Armando Llorens and Adam Serwer have debated — specifically in the context of whether the President could kill Americans within the US – whether PCA applies in this war. And while they’re staging an interesting argument (I think both are engaging the AUMF fallacy and therefore not discussing how a President would most likely kill Americans in the US), what the Yoo memo shows, at the least, is that the folks running the Executive Branch believed, for 7 years, the PCA did not apply.

To be clear, this memo was withdrawn in October 2008 (though not without some pressure from Congress). While the PCA aspect of the opinion is one of the less controversial aspects in the memo, as far as we know it has not been replaced by similar language in another memo. So while this shows that PCA was, for all intents and purposes, suspended for 7 years (as witnessed by NSA’s wiretapping of Americans), it doesn’t mean PCA remains suspended.

My error was in suggesting Bradbury “withdrew” the memo.

He did not.

Instead, Bradbury directed that “caution should be exercised” before relying on it.

The purpose of this memorandum is to advise that caution should be exercised before relying in any respect on the Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States (Oct. 23, 2001) (“10/23/01 Memorandum”) as a precedent of the Office of Legal Counsel, and that certain propositions stated in the 10/23/01 Memorandum, as described below, should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.

As noted, he said that five propositions in the Yoo memo should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.

We also judge it necessary to point out that the 10/23/01 Memorandum states several specific propositions that are either incorrect or highly questionable. The memorandum’s treatment of the following propositions is not satisfactory and should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose:

But then, in a series of bullet points laying out the problems with those five propositions, Bradbury doesn’t always dismiss the outcomes Yoo’s analysis supported, but in several cases accepts the outcomes but simply provides a different basis for supporting them. Continue reading

Is There a Pre-2001 OLC Opinion Authorizing Targeted Killing of US Citizen Terrorists?

Update: I realize now this can’t be the explanation. I’ve just referred back to the original request and the ACLU actually did time-limit their general requests to records created after September 11, 2001. So maybe the issue relates to non-al Qaeda terrorists?

I’m still working through all the declarations submitted in the government’s response to the drone targeting FOIAs; I will have far, far more to say about what they suggest.

But for now I wanted to point to a detail in OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Bies’ declaration that suggests OLC has a pre-2001 memo authorizing the targeted killing of US citizen terrorists.

As Bies’ declaration lays out, the three FOIAs at issue in this suit ask for OLC memos relating to the targeted killing of US citizens. To summarize:

  • Scott Shane asked for OLC memos since 2001 on the targeted killing of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups
  • Charlie Savage asked for OLC memos on the targeted killing of a United States citizen who is deemed to be a terrorist
  • ACLU asked for all records on the legal basis under which US citizens can be subjected for targeted killings

That is, Shane put a start date on his FOIA–post 2001–and limited it to terrorist groups. Savage put no start date on it and didn’t specify which terrorist groups he was addressing. ACLU didn’t limit it with either a start date or ties to terrorist groups. Note, too, ACLU was looking for info on the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki as well as his father and Samir Khan; Savage used language suggesting an interest in Anwar al-Awlaki, though he did not limit his request to the older Awlaki. Shane used no such limiting language.

As I’ve analyzed and will show at more length, the government gave inconsistent responses to these three FOIAs, even though on the surface they appeared to ask for the same information.

More interesting still is Bies’ claim in his declaration that the responses to Savage and the ACLU were limited to the recent spate of targeted killings of US citizens. Bies wrote,

By letter dated October 27, 2011, [OLC Special Counsel] Colburn responded to the Savage Request on behalf of the OLC. … Interpreting the request as seeking OLC opinions pertaining to al-Aulaqi, OLC neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such documents, pursuant to FOIA Exemptions One, Three, and Five.

[snip]

By letter dated November 14, 2011, Mr. Colburn responded to [ACLU lawyer Nate] Wessler on behalf of OLC, interpreting the request as seeking OLC opinions pertaining to those three individuals [Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki] and informing him that, pursuant to FOIA Exemptions One, Three, and Five, OLC “neither confirms nor denies the existence of the documents in your request” because the very fact of the existence of nonexistence of such documents is itself classified, protected from disclosure by statute, and privileged.” [my emphasis]

Bies’ declaration had no language about Colburn “interpreting” Shane’s FOIA to pertain only to these killings in Yemen. In addition, as you can see from the letters Colburn sent (linked above), Colburn actually didn’t note his interpretation in his response letters to Savage and ACLU. I guess they were just supposed to guess.

And while this is just a wildarsed guess, the totality of these three requests and the caveats Bies made about the responses suggests that Colburn had to make such interpretations because of the open timeframe of the requests. That is, what is common to the Savage and ACLU requests but not the Shane one is the way they set no start point for their request.

Which suggests there may be OLC documents pertaining to the targeted killing of Americans (potentially as terrorists) dating back before the 2001 start point of Shane’s request. Who knows? Maybe there’s an OLC opinion authorizing the assassination of Black Panther Fred Hampton, for example (though the FBI would only fall under Savage’s request if considered “intelligence community assets”). If that’s correct, then is that OLC memo still on the books?

There are, I suspect, a number of other reasons why the government is so squirrely about this FOIA. But one of them may relate to documents lying around OLC’s archives from before the time 9/11 changed everything … or returned an earlier state of targeted killing.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV RT @TampaBayTK: Rarely does Rays news stun me. IMO, Joe is the best manager in every phase of the game I've ever seen. #saddayinTampaBay
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bmaz RT @emmaroller: Nina Pham gets a hug from Obama (Saul Loeb/Getty) http://t.co/n3DxQP5H0F
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JimWhiteGNV RT @emmaroller: Nina Pham gets a hug from Obama (Saul Loeb/Getty) http://t.co/n3DxQP5H0F
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emptywheel @anubiszz No no no. Even just bc of ease of public transportation, it cannot be considered in same breath as NYC's airports.
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emptywheel RT @HanniFakhoury: It's not just the DEA; local cops need to follow Facebook's rules too: https://t.co/d823yno7s4 important post by @maassi
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emptywheel @shrubfree Dunno. World class, some of them. Better than their airports and beer, surely.
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emptywheel @attackerman Man, that is clever.
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emptywheel @robert_mariani Yes. Tho I agree that Newark is the least unbelievably horrible and inadequate to a great city of the bunch.
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emptywheel @attackerman The NSA surely just made a SPECIAL file of all your recent encrypted emails being kept forever to see what those say.
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emptywheel Mind you, NYC's beer is not as badly unworthy of the greatness of the city as its airports are. But that's not saying much.
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emptywheel People people people. Obviously reason NYT did a snitty bit on @MattLaslo's pool report is bc NYC is a great city w/less than great beer.
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