Drones

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After Five Years, Saudis Will Finally Get Their Drones to Strike Houthis

Thanks to Chelsea Manning, we know that almost exactly five years ago, the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith met with the then Assistant Minister for Defense Khalid bin Sultan about a disastrous Saudi air attack on a Houthi hospital on the Yemeni-Saudi border that killed a thousand people, many civilians. Prince Khalid used the American scolding not only to redouble his requests for US satellite assistance targeting Houthis — with more accuracy, Khalid suggested, the Saudis might kill fewer civilians — but also to ask for Predator drones.

IF WE HAD THE PREDATOR, THIS MIGHT NOT HAVE HAPPENED
—————————————————-

¶3. (S/NF) Upon seeing the photograph, Prince Khalid remarked, “This looks familiar,” and added, “if we had the Predator, maybe we would not have this problem.” He noted that Saudi Air Force operations were necessarily being conducted without the desired degree of precision, and recalled that a clinic had been struck, based on information received from Yemen that it was being used as an operational base by the Houthis. Prince Khalid explained the Saudi approach to its fight with the Houthis, emphasizing that the Saudis had to hit the Houthis very hard in order to “bring them to their knees” and compel them to come to terms with the Yemeni government. “However,” he said, “we tried very hard not to hit civilian targets.” The Saudis had 130 deaths and the Yemenis lost as many as one thousand. “Obviously,” Prince Khaled observed, “some civilians died, though we wish that this did not happen.”

The attack on the hospital and the Saudi request for more war toys all took place amid assurances that the strikes on the Houthis would “bring them to their knees” which would in turn lead to a lasting ceasefire, which would free up Saudi attention to go after al Qaeda, the ostensible purpose for US intelligence cooperation in the first place.

In the interim five years, a few key developments have happened. Back in 2011, after JSOC couldn’t seem to get clean intelligence on Anwar al-Awlaki, the US built a drone base on the Saudi border that magically managed to find and kill the cleric within months.

More recently, Houthis have brought their fight to Sanaa and beyond, overthrowing the US and Gulf Cooperation Council selected President Abdo Rabi Mansour Hadi. In the wake of what the government has deemed (unlike Egypt) a coup, the US and most western governments have withdrawn embassy personnel, an action that will have little effect on their security but significant effect on the legitimacy of the Houthi-run government.

And now, just in time, the State Department has rolled out a framework under which the US will sell drones to our allies.

But don’t worry! State has included a bunch of rules that cover precisely the same concerns Ambassador Smith voiced 5 years ago in the face of evidence the Saudis were targeting civilians in an effort to “bring them to their knees.”

As the most active user of military UAS, and as an increasing number of nations are acquiring and employing UASs to support a range of missions, the United States has an interest in ensuring that these systems are used lawfully and responsibly. Accordingly, under the new UAS export policy, the United States will require recipients of U.S.-origin military UAS to agree to the following principles guiding proper use before the United States will authorize any sales or transfers of military UASs:

  • Recipients are to use these systems in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable;
  • Armed and other advanced UAS are to be used in operations involving the use of force only when there is a lawful basis for use of force under international law, such as national self-defense;
  • Recipients are not to use military UAS to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations; and
  • As appropriate, recipients shall provide UAS operators technical and doctrinal training on the use of these systems to reduce the risk of unintended injury or damage.

Compare those guidelines with the assessment Ambassador Smith conducted 5 years ago to clear the Saudis for increased sharing of satellite data.

¶2. (S/NF) Ambassador Smith delivered points in reftel to Prince Khaled on February 6, 2010. The Ambassador highlighted USG concerns about providing Saudi Arabia with satellite imagery of the Yemen border area absent greater certainty that Saudi Arabia was and would remain fully in compliance with the laws of armed conflict during the conduct of military operations, particularly regarding attacks on civilian targets. The Ambassador noted the USG’s specific concern about an apparent Saudi air strike on a building that the U.S. believed to be a Yemeni medical clinic. The Ambassador showed Prince Khaled a satellite image of the bomb-damaged building in question.

[snip]

¶6. (S/NF) Prince Khaled, in addressing the Ambassador’s concerns about possible targeting of civilian sites appeared neither defensive nor evasive. He was unequivocal in his assurance that Saudi military operations had been and would continue to be conducted with priority to avoiding civilian casualties. The Ambassador found this assurance credible, all the more so in light of Prince Khaled’s acknowledgment that mistakes likely happened during the strikes against Houthi targets, of the inability of the Saudi Air Force to operate with adequate precision, and the unreliability of Yemeni targeting recommendations. Based on these assurances, the Ambassador has approved, as authorized in reftel, the provision of USG imagery of the Yemeni border area to the Saudi Government. While the fighting with the Houthis appears to be drawing to a close, the imagery will be of continuing value to the Saudi military to monitor and prevent Houthi incursions across the border as well as enhancing Saudi capabilities against Al-Qaeda activities in this area.

Call me crazy, but given Prince Khalid’s determination to bring the Houthis to their knees, I’m unimpressed with Ambassador’s Smith assessment that the Saudis were adequately protecting civilians (indeed, some of our most catastrophic strikes in Yemen appear to have relied on Saudi intelligence).

Nothing has changed in the interim 5 years — beyond even more tolerance for Saudi repression amid the rise of an Islamic State for which KSA has been an ideological fount.

I assume the Saudis will be among the first that get approved for a set of drones. Hell, they’ve surely got practice in using them at the Saudi drone base, and they already have their base from which to target the Houthis.

The question is whether that will do anything for Yemen, or even for US interests.

Aside from the drone manufacturers, of course.

CIA’s Careful Terrorism

Both WaPo and Newsweek have stories out on CIA’s role in assassinating Imad Mugniyah in 2008. As described, Michael Hayden loved the idea, but then got a bit squeamish about ordering a hit. Luckily, President Bush was all too happy to approve it. Here’s Newsweek:

“General Hayden, at first, was all for this,” the former official said, “But slowly, or maybe not so slowly, the realization set in for him that he was ordering an assassination, that basically he was putting out a hit. And once he became pretty much cognizant of the fact that he was basically ordering the murder of someone, he got cold feet. He didn’t fancy himself as a Corleone.”

And he wasn’t, really. That role would ultimately fall to the president.

“Obviously [Hayden] had to get authority for this, and authority could come from only one person, and that would be POTUS,” said the participant. “So he went down to see President Bush. It took Bush apparently only about 30 seconds to say, ‘Yes, and why haven’t you done this already? You have my blessing. Go with God.’”

[snip]

But in late December, with the bomb ready and Mugniyah firmly in their sights, Hayden “started to get really cold feet again,” the participant said. He decided to go see President Bush personally—on Christmas Eve 2007, at Camp David.

“On Christmas Eve morning, he and [Deputy CIA Director Steven] Kappes fly up to Camp David to see POTUS, to say, ‘Okay, look, here’s what we got, everything is in place, do we still have the go-ahead?’ And POTUS basically threw both of them out, saying, ‘Why are you up here wasting my time on Christmas Eve? Get the fuck out and go do this. Not quite in those terms. But it was, ‘Yes, I’ve already given you my approval. Go do this; go with God.’”

“Go with our Christian God,” I guess Bush meant.

Both pieces emphasize how careful the CIA and Mossad were with their terrorist tactics, to make sure only their target was killed. Again, Newsweek:

Finally, the car was in place. But then there were always other people around. Weeks more went by. Hayden’s demands that only Mugniyah be killed, and no one else, with no collateral damage, had to be met.

“It was always either he wasn’t alone, or he had his kids with him, or somebody else with him, or there were casuals in the area, or he was gone, he was in the Bekka [Valley] or someplace else, he wasn’t in his apartment,” the participant said. “The rules of engagement were so tight that he probably walked past the thing dozens of times but they just couldn’t do anything because somebody was there or it just didn’t fit into the rules of engagement.”

“They were keeping watch on this just about all the time,” he added. “They were taking shifts, a station officer and a Mossad officer. The Mossad officer was there just to make the confirmation that, ‘yeah, that’s him.’”

The kill was made all the harder by the way the bomb would be detonated. There was a two-second delay from the time the CIA and Mossad agents in the lookout post pushed the button to when the bomb exploded. Under the plan, the Mossad agent would ID Mugniyah, and the CIA man would press the remote control.

“So you would have to count—one, one thousand; two, one thousand… “ the participant said. “They had about six seconds from the time he came out of the apartment door to the time he moved out of the danger zone. So they had to do it really fast.”

And WaPo notes how tedious it was to get approval to kill a guy whose attacks on the US were years earlier, under Reagan.

Former U.S. officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the operation, asserted that Mughniyah, although based in Syria, was directly connected to the arming and training of Shiite militias in Iraq that were targeting U.S. forces. There was little debate inside the Bush administration over the use of a car bomb instead of other means.

“Remember, they were carrying out suicide bombings and IED attacks,” said one official, referring to Hezbollah operations in Iraq.

[snip]

The authority to kill Mughniyah required a presidential finding by President George W. Bush. The attorney general, the director of national intelligence, the national security adviser and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department all signed off on the operation, one former intelligence official said.

The former official said getting the authority to kill Mughniyah was a “rigorous and tedious” process. “What we had to show was he was a continuing threat to Americans,” the official said, noting that Mughniyah had a long history of targeting Americans dating back to his role in planning the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

“The decision was we had to have absolute confirmation that it was self-defense,” the official said.

(Note, Newsweek says the Finding was signed under Reagan, which actually makes more sense since the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification Bush and Obama have relied on was also a modification of a Finding signed by him.)

This is, presumably, meant to be a big success story for CIA. My hope, however, is that it adds some nuance to debates about our use of drones. If the US kills more collateral casualties using drones than using a classic terrorist technique — in both cases making really attenuated claims about current threats — which is the greatest terror technique?

Update: Kevin Jon Heller argues the US violated the Terrorist Bombing Convention.

Jim Comey Bullies NYT to Stop Publishing Anonymous Claims about Drone Killings

Best as I can tell, the FBI Director has officially told the NYT to stop republishing anonymous government claims about drone strikes anymore.

“Your decision to grant anonymity to a spokesperson for [an organization] so he could clarify the role of his group in assassinating innocents, including a wounded police officer, and distinguish it from the assassination of other innocents in Paris in the name of another group of terrorists, is both mystifying and disgusting,” Mr. Comey said in a letter to The Times.

He added: “I fear you have lost your way and urge you to reconsider allowing your newspaper to be used by those who have murdered so many and work every day to murder more.”

Oh wait. That’s not what Comey was complaining about.

He’s complaining about this paragraph, which — in an article that also grants “American counterterrorism authorities” anonymity (with no explanation) — helps clarify the relationship between the perpetrators of the Hebdo Charlie attack.

A member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said the joint timing of the two operations was a result of the friendship between Mr. Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, not of common planning between the Qaeda group and the Islamic State.

That is, Comey is complaining that the NYT is using the same methods — anonymous sourcing — to find more knowledgeable sources to explain the attacks that it uses to parrot official governmental sources. Only Comey and his colleagues’ claims about the attack may be laundered through anonymity under his approach. Not better positioned sources.

Which I guess means he’s happy that the NYT anonymously publishes the claims of US government officials clarifying that the civilians they kill in drone strikes are not civilians, or even clarifying whether the CIA or DOD killed a particular person. He just doesn’t want the NYT to anonymously quote other killers’ spokespersons trying to clarify what the killing is about.

Broad Response By Pakistan to Peshawar School Attack

Pakistan's army chief  General Raheel Sharif meeting with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani on December 17 to discuss cooperation in fighting terror.

Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif meeting with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani on December 17 to discuss cooperation in fighting terror. (ISPR photo)


The deadly attack by Pakistan’s Taliban, the TTP, against a school in Peshawar on Tuesday has prompted a huge and sweeping response in Pakistan and beyond. Perhaps most significantly, Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, went to Kabul the very next day:

General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army staff today visited Afghanistan and held separate meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and General John F Campbell, ISAF commander. Matters related to security situation along Pak-Afghan border region came under discussion. Vital elements of intelligence were shared with concerned authorities, with regard to Peshawar incident. Afghan President assured General Raheel Sharif that Afghan soil will not be allowed for terrorists activities against Pakistan and any signature found in this regard will be immediately eliminated.

COAS also assured Afghan President full support to the Unity government in all spheres including joint efforts against terrorists.

ISAF commander also assured of its complete support in eliminating terrorist in his area of responsibility.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been at odds about Taliban factions within each country using it as a haven from which to attack the other. ToloNews reports on the potential for the Peshawar attack to change this relationship:

Following his visit, General Sharif said that the Afghan president and ISAF commander assured him that the Taliban would not be allowed to use Afghan soil as a launching pad for attacks on Pakistan, exposing the simmering distrust that remains between the sides after 13 years of war. The general’s comments come after Afghan and NATO coalition leaders have for years pleaded with the Pakistani government to do more to keep the Taliban from using the tribal belt as a safe haven for recruiting fighters and launching attacks into Afghanistan.

But after the Tuesday’s deadly attack by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on a military-run school in Peshawar, it is possible the Pakistani armed forces and civilian government in Islamabad are more inclined to crack down on terrorism and seek help in doing so than ever before. A number of security analysts have encouraged that view, arguing that Afghanistan and Pakistan should come together and establish a joint counter-terrorism task force.

Other steps that Pakistan has taken have been swift. Military courts for trial of terrorism suspects are being established and Pakistan’s moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism offenses has been lifted. Six executions are expected within the next 24 hours. In choosing to move forward with military courts, I guess Pakistan is overlooking the horrible track record in the US for military commissions at Guantanamo when compared to trying terror suspects in criminal court.

Pakistan’s military action against terrorists launched in June, Zarb-e-Azb, is being expanded, with attacks now taking place outside the tribal areas. But it is not just Pakistan’s military that is expanding its activity outside the tribal area. A drone strike today took place right on the Afghan border with Pakistan, just outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. US drone strikes in Pakistan have been almost exclusively in the tribal region, so an attack right on the border of another province is rare. Dawn reports that the attack targeted those believed to be responsible for the Peshawar attack: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Vindictive John Brennan Should Be Fired Before He Strikes Again

Rarely do we get to see both faces of John Brennan.

Rarely do we get to see both faces of John Brennan.

Since the release of the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on torture, I don’t think we’ve seen a return of the fawning press pieces over John Brennan where we see reverent mention of his moral rectitude. That’s a good thing, since the hummus incident in the report would suggest that those he leads at the CIA display something more like moral rectaltude. Sadly, though, it seems that outgoing Senator Mark Udall of Colorado is the lone voice in the wilderness calling for Brennan to be fired. Here he is on Wednesday, in the Senate, disclosing more information from the Panetta review on torture and calling for Brennan to be fired over his continued lies to Congress and the American people (at 3:09 of the video, “In other words, the CIA is lying.”):

As Udall notes, Brennan has continued to cover for CIA lies and misrepresentations to Congressional overseers. He also has mostly claimed that CIA torture saved lives, although yesterday he did engage in some semantics over that point, presumably in response to Udall’s Wednesday speech.

But besides Udall’s point about Brennan needing to be fired over his failure to clean house over torture or even to fully recognize it, there is another, stronger, reason to call for Brennan’s removal. Brennan has demonstrated, multiple times, that he will allow political vindictiveness to drive his actions. And he has done so in the worst possible way: in his previous counterterrorism role and then at CIA in his control of drone strikes.  As I have noted in this post and this one, drone strikes in which Brennan would have played a controlling role can be seen as being driven by political retaliation rather than security.

A man who has used drone strikes as political retaliation tools has no business running a CIA that is once again under siege for its crimes. Even though few in the US are calling for prosecutions, calls for prosecutions have now come from more than one UN figure.

Also, don’t forget another event that will factor into Brennan’s anger over calls for prosecutions and/or his removal: he undoubtedly feels that the anti-torture crowd caused him to have to wait to take his rightful role as head of CIA. Recall that he withdrew his name for consideration in 2008 due to his association with the torture program and has been director now for less than two years.

How can Barack Obama leave in office a man who has used lethal drone strikes in the past to score political points to remain in office when the organization he leads is under siege for its demonstrated breaches of international law? Brennan makes the case for his removal even more urgent when he says that a return to torture is simply a question for future policymakers rather than something that is clearly illegal.

Obama Would Not — Cannot — Deem Any Activities Authorized by Gloves Come Off Finding Illegal

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero has what I’m sure he believes to be an out of the box op-ed in the NYT. In it, he calls on President Obama to issue pardons for all those who masterminded the torture program.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.

[snip]

But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout. He should therefore take ownership of this decision. He should acknowledge that the country’s most senior officials authorized conduct that violated fundamental laws, and compromised our standing in the world as well as our security. If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.

Mr. Obama could pardon George J. Tenet for authorizing torture at the C.I.A.’s black sites overseas, Donald H. Rumsfeld for authorizing the use of torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison, David S. AddingtonJohn C. Yoo andJay S. Bybee for crafting the legal cover for torture, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for overseeing it all.

There are many many problems with this proposal, some of which Kevin Jon Heller hits in a piece that notes this would not be pardon, but blanket amnesty.

But Romero’s proposal (if it is intended as anything beyond a modest proposal meant to call Obama’s bluff) fundamentally misunderstands the situation — a situation the ACLU has been at the forefront in exposing.

Obama would not — categorically cannot — admit that what Tenet and Bush and Cheney did on torture is illegal. That’s because he has authorized war crimes using the very same Presidential Finding as the Bush Administration used to authorized torture.

As I have laid out at length, the torture program started as a covert op authorized by the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification. And along with torture, that Finding also authorized drone strikes. The drone strikes that Obama escalated.

Just 3 days after he assumed the Presidency, a drone strike Obama authorized killed as many as 11 civilians, including one child, and gravely injured a 14 year old boy, Farim Qureshi.  And several years into his Administration, Obama ordered the CIA to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with no due process. As far as we know, both of those things were done using that very same Finding, the Finding that Romero would like Obama to declare authorized war crimes.

When the 2nd Circuit ruled the President — President Obama, not President Bush — could keep a short phrase hidden making it clear torture had been authorized by that Finding in ACLU’s very own torture FOIA, it did so because the Finding still authorized intelligence activities. The Finding authorizing torture was still active — President Obama was still relying on it — at least as recently as 2012.

For Obama to pardon Bush, Cheney, and Tenet, he would have to admit that the same Finding that he used to authorize drone strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians authorized war crimes. There is absolutely zero chance Obama is going to do that.

The Drone Rule Book Has Made It Easier for Our Partners To Drone Kill With Us Again

As I noted earlier, one of the questions that National Counterterrorism Center nominee Nick Rasmussen got asked in his prehearing confirmation questions pertained to the Drone Rule Book.

He was asked about his role in writing the “US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.” He replied that he participated in “very initial drafts” of the document in May and June 2012 while at NSC, and then participated in the interagency process before it was approved in May 2013.

He was then asked, “Has the Presidential Policy Guidance made our counterterrorism operations more effective?”

Click through to read his full answer to question 17, but he basically talks a lot about institutionalizing the process, all while emphasizing that the Drone Rule Book simply recorded the swell procedure that was already in place. After several bullets of that, he finally answers what was ultimately a yes or no question.

By refining and documenting the careful and deliberate way in which these operations are approved and conducted and by contributing to greater transparency in our CT operations, I believe the PPG has made it easier for some of our key allies and CT partners to support those operations by sharing intelligence and/or providing other forms of support for our CT operations. I believe PPG had likely contributed to making some of our CT operations more effective by making critical forms of CT cooperation with key partners more sustainable. By standardizing and institutionalizing the considerations and processes that inform our policymaking on direct action operations, we have become more effective in reviewing these operations and ensuring all appropriate national security equities are considered prior to approval.

In response to a question about whether the Drone Rule Book “is a good long term solution for this type of irregular warfare,” Rasmussen talked about how it combined flexibility with a framework to balance many issues.

Obviously, I’m most interested in the benefit Rasmussen says the Drone Rule Book has brought: that it makes it easier for key partners to cooperate with us on drone strikes and other lethal operations.

That’s particularly interesting given the lawsuit by a Yemeni man against British Telecom for its role in a drone strike that killed his brother. He bases his suit on BT’s role in providing cable service between a base in the UK and Djibouti, from where some of the drone strikes are launched.

And here we come to find out that the Drone Rule Book is an effort to make it easier for partners — which probably includes both the UK and Djobouti (because I can’t imagine the Saudis, Yemenis, and Pakistanis much care) — to help out on our drone killing program.

 

Pre-Empting the Abdulmutallab “Confession” with a Drone Killing Decision

Make sure to read the update below: It’s possible McMahon’s estimate is off and this whole review process has gotten hopeless screwed up. 

Update: yes, this memo is actually the February 19, 2010 memo, not an earlier one. The referenced pages refer to the discussion from the February 19 memo. I’m marking out this post, because it appears to be incorrect.

If I’m understanding this heavily redacted memo from Colleen McMahon correctly, the government was reviewing whether it was legal to kill Anwar al-Awlaki before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab implicated him in his High Value Interrogation Group obtained “confession.”

That’s because, in her discussion of what she, at times, calls “the first Barron memo,” she says this:

Bies Exhibits B, which is responsive to both FOIA requests, is a memorandum prepared by OLC six months prior to its preparation of the OLC-DoD memorandum and the Draft White Paper. It pertains specifically to the proposed al-Aulaqi operation that was the subject of the Draft White Paper and the OLC-DoD Memorandum. Written by David J. Barron, it is entitled “Lethal Operation Against Shaykh Anwar Aulaqi.” I will refer to it hereafter as the Bies Exhibit B or as “The First Barron Memorandum.”

The “OLC-DoD” memo is the July 16, 2010 memo. McMahon justifies the partial release of “the First Barron Memo” because the July 16, 2010 memo cites it specifically. Apparently, the reference “As we explained in our earlier memorandum, Barron Memorandum at 5-7″ (page 94) refers to that memo, and further discussions on the Fourth and Fifth Amendment and EO 12333 rely on that memo.

But McMahon tells us this earlier memo — the first Barron memo considering the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki — was “prepared by OLC six months prior” to the July 16, 2010 one.

That would date it around January 16, 2010. Before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could have implicated Awlaki in his plot. We know that’s true because:

  • In the opening at Abdulmutallab’s trial, prosecutor Jonathan Tukel made it clear that Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day confession attributed everything to “Abu Tarak.”
  • After that confession, Abdulmutallab stopped cooperating for almost a month.
  • According to the sentencing documents turned over, Abdulmutallab did not start “cooperating” until January 29, which accords with public claims as well.

That is, unless McMahon’s estimate is off by 2 weeks, there’s no way they could be relying on Abdulmutallab’s confession in their case against Awlaki. And yet that is the one thing the government points to to explain its changed view — from December 24, 2009 — that Awlaki was not operational.

The government appears to be aware of this problem. In trying to claim this document was still secret, they claimed “the date, title, and recipient of the analysis provided in the document relate to “entirely separate deliberative processes.” Indeed, it seems likely this was one of the memos the government was trying to bury after the Second Circuit ruled.

Because, when this memo gets released with a mid-January release date, it will be clear that the entire story they’ve been telling about Awlaki doesn’t hold up.

In any case, McMahon is having none of that claim.

The Government’s arguments are demonstrably untrue. There were no “separate deliberative processes” here; rather, the Government deliberated about  whether or not it could and should kill al-Aulaqi over the course of many months, during which time it asked OLC to render advice on a number of occasions.

The deliberation process is the same process. And it started before such time as the government had what it claims is first-hand evidence against Awlaki.

Update: There is one more possibility. That this memoreleased in August and dated February 19, 2010–is the memo in question. That would mean 1) That McMahon was off in her estimate by a month and 2) that she’s very confused about what she’s reviewing, given that her opinion dates to a month and a half after the memo was released. But the content and the title would match up. So it seems possible that’s the memo, at which point they had their first “confession” implicating Awlaki.

The Forgotten OPR Report Exposing the White House Role in Torture

Brennan with TortureMcClatchy reports today that the Senate Intelligence Report will include no details on the White House role in torture.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.

McClatchy’s story is interesting, in part, because I had heard that the report was going to admit what has been in the public domain for years: the torture program, contrary to almost all reporting, was authorized by Presidential finding, not primarily by the memos that garner all the attention.

If the Torture Report is no longer going to confirm that, it is far bigger news than McClatchy has conveyed. It would mean someone — presumably the White House! (though remember the Finding’s author, Cofer Black, was involved in reviewing the document) — had won concessions in the declassification discussions to hide the role of President Bush in personally authorizing torture.

That would be consistent with President Obama’s rather remarkable efforts to keep a short mention of the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification suppressed in ACLU’s torture FOIA (something that’s in the public record, but which I have been the only one to report).

But if President Obama’s White House has, a second time, intervened to prevent public confirmation that the President authorized torture, we really ought to start demanding to know why that’s the case. Remember when the 2nd Circuit backed White House efforts to keep mention of the MON suppressed, the White House said it was still using the MON.

The other reason I find McClatchy’s report curious is because it leaves something utterly central out of its narrative.

As Katherine Hawkins noted yesterday, McClatchy missed a key detail in the chronology of when and how Republicans backed out of the torture review.

Obama DOJ investigation into torture is not “prior” to SSCI report. Launched after SSCI, & is reason GOP withdraws

But there’s one more part of that chronology — one McClatchy might actually review if it wants the things it says it wants: the Office of Public Responsibility report into OLC lawyers’ role in the torture memos. Reporting in 2009 made it clear that Eric Holder launched the John Durham investigation in response to reading the OPR Report. So the chronology goes OPR Report, Durham investigation, GOP withdraws from SSCI Torture Report which (McClatchy argues) is when the Democrats could have turned and pushed to get documents implicating Bush White House figures.

While both David Addington and Tim Flanigan refused to be interviewed for the OPR report, it made it clear (especially Jay Bybee and John Yoo’s rebuttals) that both had had a direct role in setting up the legal loopholes CIA used to conduct torture. Between that and other public (largely unreported by anyone but me) documents, it is fairly clear that in response to concerns raised around July 10, 2002, CIA tried to get DOJ to give “advance” declination of prosecution (though for conduct that surely had already occurred). On July 13, Michael Chertoff refused, probably because Ali Soufan had already raised concerns about the conduct (his concerns probably relate to the use of mock burial) to give advance declination for torture. This led John Yoo to freelance a July 13, 2002 fax laying out how CIA could avoid accountability; that appears to be what Jonathan Fredman relied on in his advice to the torturers, not the more famous Bybee Memos. Nevertheless, at a July 16, 2002 meeting at the White House, it was decided (Yoo and Addington differ, it appears, on who did the deciding, but it is a rock solid bet that Addington did) that the Bybee Memo would include Commander of Chief language on how to avoid prosecution.

There are a number of other moments in the history of the program where White House responsibility is clear. But at that moment on July 16, 2002, David Addington got John Yoo to provide legal cover for anything the President ordered CIA do; he did so, of course, after CIA had been torturing for months on Presidential orders.

The answers to many of the questions McClatchy says have gone unanswered are sitting right there in the OPR report. And those answers are crucial to understanding the dance over declassification going on right now.

Aside from whatever else the Torture Report is, it is also a report that dodges the underlying power structure, in which the President orders the CIA to break the law and later ensures CIA avoids any accountability for doing so. At some point in this Torture Report process — fairly recently too! — Democrats seemed interested in exposing that dynamic, a dynamic President Obama has benefitted from at least as much as Bush did, going so far as to permit him to have CIA kill a US citizen with no due process. (That’s probably why Leon Panetta told some fibs in his memoir on this point.)

Ultimately, we’re never going to rein in CIA until we expose the mutual embrace of complicity the White House and CIA repeatedly rely on. Now it looks like the Senate Intelligence Committee has — in bipartisan fashion — decided to back off doing so here.

Iran Threatens to Chase Terrorists in Pakistan (Just Like US!)

As I noted in discussing the first reports of the explosion at Parchin, early September saw a larger than usual incident along the Iran-Pakistan border, with a force of over 70 militants and a truck packed with over 1000 pounds of explosives attacking an Iranian border station. Thomas Erdbrink then noted last week that two separate incidents along the border resulted in the deaths of “a senior officer” and “three police officers” in two separate incidents in the same region.

Iran is quite upset by these events and no less than the second in command of the IRGC is speaking out today, warning Pakistan that if they can’t control the terrorists in the border region, then Iran will have no alternative but to chase them, even in Pakistani territory:

Iran will step in to contain terrorists if Pakistan refuses to take measures in order to secure its borders to keep terrorists from slipping into the Islamic Republic, a senior Iranian military commander says.

“We believe that every country should respect its commitments vis-à-vis its own internal security as well as that of neighboring countries. Border security is a common and pressing need for neighboring countries. We are, in principle, against intervening in the affairs of any country, but if they fail to abide by their obligations we will have [no choice but] to act,” the second-in-command of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Hossein Salami, said on Thursday.

“Terrorists, wherever they may be, even on the soil of neighboring countries, we will find them, and if they do not give up acts of terrorism, we will deal with them without reservation,” the senior commander added.

Gosh, maybe the US should go to the UN or the ICC to complain about such a blatant violation of Pakistani sovereignty if such an attack takes place. Just as soon as the US stops violating Pakistani sovereignty with drones, that is.

The article goes on to quote Salami that Iran has very good intelligence on the terrorist groups in the border region and then notes that “Iranian security forces have apprehended a number of perpetrators behind the recent killings” regarding the incidents described in the Erdbrink report.

Gosh, with intelligence that good on the border zone terrorists, maybe Iran will start using drones in Pakistan, too. I can only imagine the chaos that would sow among the chattering classes inside the Beltway.

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