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


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.

10 replies
  1. Snoopdido says:

    I read Scahill’s piece and watched his interview on MSNBC. His article seems to lead one to the conclusion that JSOC did the actual strike on Abdulrahman though it leaves up in the air whether the CIA was partnering behind the scenes with JSOC.

    When the subject of the movement of US drone strikes from the CIA to DOD was leaked by the Obama administration, I remember hearing Senator Diane Feinstein saying that she didn’t think that was a good idea given some bad performances previously by DOD.

    One question that comes up is whether the strike on Abdulrahman’s was one that had been approved personally by Obama, or whether that Presidential approval process was a change that occurred after and as a result of Abdulrahman’s killing.

  2. scribe says:

    Killer(s), caught out, claiming to have not intended the result and to have been the victim of circumstance and malefactors not themselves in the harsh glare of the spotlight.

    Same schtick as just about any and every other hood, mook, and thug when caught in the law’s net. So much bullshit, every time.

  3. FrankProbst says:

    Oopsie. Sounds like someone got a stern talking-to after this happened.

    Not sure what the logic is here, but 21 is just as much of a “military-aged male” as 18. I’d go with crappy intelligence, since they didn’t even know he was there in the first place. (And yes, I know he was 16.)

    Seriously, do we really believe anything the Saudis or the Yemenis tell us? And do we really think that our drone targets are all prone to long, quiet walks by themselves, away from the rest of humanity? The mind boggles. These aren’t “surgical strikes”. They’re sledgehammers.

  4. P J Evans says:

    ‘Surgical strike’ would be someone going in with a rifle and taking out just the one person. We don’t seem to be capable of that kind of precision, probably because it’s slow and dangerous.

  5. What Constitution? says:

    We’re supposed to take comfort in the “fact” that maybe it was just a “mistake”? And the comfort follows from what, exactly? That our guys followed centuries of established respect for due process rights? No, that’s not it. That there was lots and lots of confirmatory work done, which just happened to be a little off? Nope, not that either. Must be the old “they’re all bahd” thing. Yep, that’s the best they got. Prison. Oh, wait — AG Holder is pleased with his guys’ ability not to write memos justifying this kind of thing, he just doesn’t see it as his guys’ job to enforce the law when The President’s Men break it.

  6. lefty665 says:

    “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.”

    Those two murders are as many as US citizens killed by the Boston bombs. The weapons used to kill Kahn and Awlaki are WMDs under US law. Where is the coverage? Where is the outrage? Where are Lindsey Graham’s calls for the perps to be treated as enemy combatants?

    Two administrations of murderers and war criminals, yet we slumber on. Is it any wonder there are “radicals” who wish us ill? With every strike we create more.

    Boston gives us an idea of what it is like to be on the other side of the equation, never justification but perhaps motive.

    This could be an opportunity for a “lesson learned” if we have public dialog that goes beyond righteous indignation, flag waving adulation of our first responders, heightened xenophobia and demonization. Or, we could have more of the same and focus our outrage on big “clips”. “It’s embarrassing”. Indeed.

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