Man, I must have written about this letter Ron Wyden sent to John Brennan during his confirmation process 15 times (of which just a few are linked below). Which is why I’m so fascinated by the back and forth between Wyden’s office (the staffer’s name is redacted) and ODNI, largely Bob Litt, both before and after Wyden sent the letter on January 14, 2013. (Many many kudos to Zack Sampson who FOIAed it through MuckRock.)
Wyden’s office submitted the letter for a declassification review on January 11, 2013. Wyden’s office did not get an answer before he sent it. And on January 15, Bob Litt complained,
I have a concern that there are several references in this letter that are not only classified but compartmented.
So the staffer writes back letting Litt know that he or she had unclassified comments by Executive Branch officials for all the references, and he or she will happily share it. To which Litt responded (on January 17),
Although I am dubious, since there are statements in there that assume as fact things that we have recently succeeded in convincing a judge remain classified, I’ll take a look.
It went on for a while (the email thread is from page 21 to 24), with Litt complaining some more, promising Brennan wouldn’t answer questions about it, and the staffer ultimately pointing out that the reason they keep asking publicly is because ODNI won’t provide answers even in classified form (this exchange precedes Clapper’s lies about the dragnet — about which most of the other documents released under this FOIA pertain — by two months).
What Litt was talking about, clearly, was the Administration’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the memos authorizing which Judge Colleen McMahon, citing Alice in Wonderland for the bizarreness of it all, had just ruled remained exempt from FOIA on January 2, 2013.
In other words, Litt was suggesting that Wyden should not have said the following — which cites McMahon!! — because McMahon had ruled that the government did not have to give the OLC memos authorizing the Awlaki killing to ACLU and NYT, which is rather different from ruling they didn’t have to share such information with the Intelligence Committee or claiming that Wyden could not refer to official comments in a letter to someone who made those comments because citing back those comments made them classified.
I have asked repeatedly over the past two years to see the secret legal opinions that contain the executive branch’s understanding of the President’s authority to kill American citizens in the course of counterterrorism operations. Senior intelligence officials have said publicly that they have the authority to knowingly use lethal force against Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations, and have indicated that there are secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that explain the basis for this authority. I have asked repeatedly to see these opinions and I have been provided with some relevant information on the topic, but I have yet to see the opinions themselves.
Both you and the Attorney General gave public speeches on this topic early last year, and these speeches were a welcome step in the direction of more transparency and openness, but as I noted at the time, these speeches left a large number of important questions unanswered. A federal judge recently noted in a Freedom of Information Act case that “no lawyer worth his salt would equate Mr. Holder’s statements with the sort of robust analysis that one finds in a properly constructed legal opinion,” and I assume that Attorney General Holder would agree that this was not his intent.
As Wyden noted, both Brennan and Holder had given big dog-and-pony shows that were clearly about killing Awlaki, and yet Bob Litt wanted to prevent Wyden from pressuring Brennan to turn over the actual legal authorizations to the Intelligence Community’s oversight committee? Really?
Ah well, it all worked out for the forces of good, as when the Committee threatened to hold up Brennan’s confirmation, someone leaked the White Paper to Mike Isikoff that therefore had to be shared with Jason Leopold that ultimately led McMahon to liberate the opinions themselves.
Which is probably precisely what Bob Litt was worried about.
“Hey, William Shirer? It’s J. Edgar here. I think you’re disgusting for reporting from Nazi Germany.”
Actually, I have no idea what J. Edgar Hoover thought of William Shirer’s reporting from Nazi Germany. I don’t even know whether Hoover ever spoke to Shirer. But I’m trying to imagine what it would feel like for the FBI Director to publicly call out one of the most invaluable journalists — and after that, historians — during World War II and tell him his work was disgusting.
It’s an image conjured up by this Jack Goldsmith response to my earlier post on Jim Comey’s suggestion that the NYT was “disgusting” for giving an AQAP member anonymity to clarify which Parisian terrorists they have ties with and with they do not.
Marcy Wheeler implies that Comey here “bullies” the NYT. No, he criticized it and “urge[d]” it to “reconsider.” He made no threat whatsoever, and he had no basis to make one. That is not bullying. Wheeler is on stronger ground in pointing out that the USG speaks to the press through anonymous sources all the time, including in its claims about civilian casualties in drone strikes. I don’t like press reliance on anonymous sources. But I also don’t think that the U.S. government and its enemy in war, AQAP, are on the same footing, or should be treated the same way in NYT news coverage. (Imagine if the NYT said: “A source in the child exploitation ring told the New York Times on condition of anonymity that his group was responsible for three of the child kidnappings but had nothing to with the fourth.”) The NYT appears to think they are on the same footing and should be treated the same when it comes to anonymous sources. Comey disagrees, and there is nothing wrong with him saying so publicly. The press is immune from many things, but not from criticism, including by the government.
For what it’s worth, I actually can imagine it might be incredibly important for a newspaper to give criminals anonymity to say something like this, particularly if the newspaper could vet it. It might well save lives by alerting cops they were looking for two child exploitation rings, not one. As with the NYT quote, which alerts authorities that the threat is a lot more nebulous than declaring it AQAP might make it seem.
Yet Goldsmith is involved in a category error by comparing AQAP to a gang. Sure, they are thuggish and gang-like (albeit less powerful than some Mexican cartels).
But the US does not consider them a gang. It considers them, legally, an adversary in war (just ask Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed based on such an assertion). And there is a very long and noble history of journalists reporting from both sides in time of war, through whatever means (though as with Shirer, the journalists ultimately need to judge whether they’re still able to do independent reporting). Indeed, having journalists who could make some claim to neutrality has been fundamentally important to get closer to real understanding. More recently, Peter Bergen’s reporting — including his secure meeting with Osama bin Laden — was crucially important to US understanding after 9/11, when few knew anything about bin Laden.
And the logic behind giving an AQAP source anonymity — and secure communications — is particularly powerful given that the US shows no respect for journalists’ (or human rights workers’ or lawyers’) communications in its spying. Nor does it consider anyone “in” a terrorist group, whether they be propagandists, cooks, or drivers, illegitimate for targeting purposes. Thus, any non-secure communication can easily lead immediately to drone killing. But killing this one guy talking to NYT, however much that might make Jim Comey feel good, is not going to solve the problem of Muslims in the west choosing to declare allegiance to one or another Islamic extremist group before they go on a killing spree. Hell, if some of the claims floating around are correct, killing Awlaki hasn’t even diminished his ability to inspire murder.
In the case of Yemen (or Pakistan, or Somalia, or Syria) in particular, just speaking to a journalist can put someone in grave danger. For example, I’ve long wondered whether problematizing the US government claims about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Jeremy Scahill’s book made Mullah Zabara, who at least accepted AQAP’s role in his province, a target for assassination. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to him (and Scahill) for revealing Abdulmutallab was staying at Fahd al-Quso’s farm, which presented a critical counter detail to some of the government’s claims accepted credulously in the press.
The US government and the US public is far, far too ignorant about the people we’re fighting. A little better insight into their views would help us all. If journalists have to use secure communications and extend anonymity to get that — and ethically, there may be little else they can do — then they should do that.
We are not winning this conflict, and we won’t win it, so long as we try to criminalize the adversary’s propaganda rather than offer a more compelling ideology than they are to those they’re successfully recruiting. And this urge for someone as powerful as Jim Comey to get snitty when the NYT reports not ideology, but information, from AQAP reveals nothing more than an impotence to wage that ideological battle.
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.
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. Addington, John 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.
November 2, 2014 was the first annual International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
To mark the date, the President just issued this statement.
History shows that a free press remains a critical foundation for prosperous, open, and secure societies, allowing citizens to access information and hold their governments accountable. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reiterates the fundamental principle that every person has the right “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Each and every day, brave journalists make extraordinary risks to bring us stories we otherwise would not hear – exposing corruption, asking tough questions, or bearing witness to the dignity of innocent men, women and children suffering the horrors of war. In this service to humanity, hundreds of journalists have been killed in the past decade alone, while countless more have been harassed, threatened, imprisoned, and tortured. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the perpetrators of these crimes against journalists go unpunished.
All governments must protect the ability of journalists to write and speak freely. On this first-ever International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the United States commends the priceless contributions by journalists to the freedom and security of us all, shining light into the darkness and giving voice to the voiceless. We honor the sacrifices so many journalists have made in their quest for the truth, and demand accountability for those who have committed crimes against journalists.
It’s a wonderful sentiment, but I wonder if President Obama has thought this through.
After all, as Jeremy Scahill reported several years ago, President Obama personally intervened to ensure that Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye would remain in prison after having been tortured and subjected to a trumped up trial.
On February 2, 2011, President Obama called Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The two discussed counterterrorism cooperation and the battle against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. At the end of the call, according to a White House read-out, Obama “expressed concern” over the release of a man named Abdulelah Haider Shaye, whom Obama said “had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP.” It turned out that Shaye had not yet been released at the time of the call, but Saleh did have a pardon for him prepared and was ready to sign it. It would not have been unusual for the White House to express concern about Yemen’s allowing AQAP suspects to go free. Suspicious prison breaks of Islamist militants in Yemen had been a regular occurrence over the past decade, and Saleh has been known to exploit the threat of terrorism to leverage counterterrorism dollars from the United States. But this case was different. Abdulelah Haider Shaye is not an Islamist militant or an Al Qaeda operative. He is a journalist.
In addition to interviewing Anwar al-Awlaki just as the US started targeting the radical cleric, Shaye also provided important coverage exposing the US role in an attack on the village of al Majala that massacred women and children.
On December 17, the Yemeni government announced that it had conducted a series of strikes against an Al Qaeda training camp in the village of al Majala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, killing a number of Al Qaeda militants. As the story spread across the world, Shaye traveled to al Majala. What he discovered were the remnants of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which are in the Yemeni military’s arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label “Made in the USA,” and distributed the photos to international media outlets. He revealed that among the victims of the strike were women, children and the elderly. To be exact, fourteen women and twenty-one children were killed.
Shaye was kept in prison for an additional two and a half years after Obama’s intervention.
There are a number of other examples of US crimes against journalists that have been treated with impunity. In particular, the detention of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj at Gitmo for over six years, reportedly in an effort to recruit him to inform on his employer, comes to mind.
But with Shaye, President Obama personally intervened to ensure a journalist would remain imprisoned in a brutal prison system.
Does President Obama decry the impunity he has enjoyed for imprisoning Shaye for his journalism?
Cross-posted from ExposeFacts.
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: 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 memo–released 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.
Jason Leopold liberated another White Paper — this one dated May 25, 2011 — on drone killing.
Man. It’s just like they kept throwing legal arguments against the wall in hopes that one saying “You can kill Americans with no due process” would stick. And since this one is not signed, we may never know what lawyer gets rewarded with a lifetime judicial sinecure!
I’ll have a lot more to say on the logistics of all this in a later post.
But I want to comment briefly on a point that Kevin Jon Heller made in his post on the memo (remember, Heller’s the guy who forced David Barron to write more than 7 pages to authorize killing Awlaki by raising a statute Barron hadn’t considered).
Heller still sees absolutely no justification for CIA being granted public authority to kill Americans in this White Paper.
Like the earlier memorandum, the White Paper is largely devoted to establishing that the public-authority justification applies to the foreign-murder statute and that members of the US military would be entitled to the justification. (Two conclusions I agree with.) It then simply says this (pp. 14-15):
Given the assessment that an analogous operation carried out pursuant to the AUMF would fall within the scope of the public-authority justification, there is no reason to reach a different conclusion for a CIA operation.
That’s it. That’s the sum total of the unredacted argument. But there is a reason to reach a different conclusion “for a CIA operation” — as pointed out above, the AUMF does not apply to the CIA. Which means that the source of the public-authority justification must lie elsewhere.
Now let me be clear: I am not saying the CIA cannot be entitled to the public-authority justification. I am simply pointing out that the AUMF does not provide the CIA with the necessary authority. Perhaps there is another source, such as Title 50 of the US Code, as my co-blogger Deb Pearlsteinhas suggested. Indeed, the redaction on page 16 of the new White Paper may well refer to that other source of authority, given that five or six lines of redacted text follow this statement:
Thus, just as Congress would not have intended section 1119 to bar a military attack on the sort of individual described above, neither would it have intended the provision to prohibit an attack on the same target, in the same authorized conflict and in similar compliance with the laws of war, carried out by the CIA in accord with _____.
I don’t understand why the OLC would need to redact a reference to Title 50 (or to some other source of authority). The legal source of the CIA’s authorization to kill Americans overseas — if one exists — hardly seems like a state secret. Until the government reveals that source, however, we remain entitled to conclude that the CIA drone-strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki violated 18 USC 1119.
I don’t think those redacted lines he points to are a reference directly to statute.
I think it’s a reference to the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification which we know authorized killing high value al Qaeda figures with drones.
After all, that’s precisely where Stephen Preston — then CIA’s General Counsel before he moved onto bigger and better General Counseling at DOD — said he’d look to for the authority for CIA to carry out certain operations (and when he gave this speech, it was regarded to be part of the set of drone killing speeches Obama’s top officials gave in 2012, and he discusses assassination, which several of the drone authorizations also do, specifically).
Authority to Act under U.S. Law.
First, we would confirm that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in the exercise of his powers under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, for example, the President’s responsibility as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief to protect the country from an imminent threat of violent attack. This would not be just a one-time check for legal authority at the outset. Our hypothetical program would be engineered so as to ensure that, through careful review and senior-level decision-making, each individual action is linked to the imminent threat justification.
A specific congressional authorization might also provide an independent basis for the use of force under U.S. law.
In addition, we would make sure that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in accordance with the covert action procedures of the National Security Act of 1947, such that Congress is properly notified by means of a Presidential Finding.
Preston would look to a Finding, and we know there was (still is, as far as we know!) a Finding authorizing precisely the thing the government claimed to have done, kill a top al Qaeda figure.
Remember, too, David Kris — who left DOJ not long before this White Paper explicitly authorizing CIA’s execution of the execution got written — issued this warning about the real secrets behind the National Security Act’s language prohibiting CIA from violating US statute.
For example, the covert action statute could be interpreted and applied in ways that may be extraordinarily important, but about which very, very few Members of Congress, let alone the American People, ever learn. The statute defines covert action to exclude “traditional” military and law-enforcement activities, provides that a covert action finding “may not authorize any action that would violate the Constitution or any statute of the United States,” and specifically warns that “No covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.” Without making any comment, express or implied, on any actual or hypothetical covert action, or even acknowledging that any covert action of any kind has ever actually taken place, it is quite obvious that each of those elements of the statute could raise enormously difficult and complex interpretive questions, some of which might affect many Americans. Yet it might be impossible, in many cases, to explain those interpretations without revealing the most sensitive classified information. [60; footnotes removed]
In killing Awlaki, CIA was acting in both a law enforcement (that’s where the Fourth Amendment argument derives from) and Traditional Military capacity (which is how these endless justifications apply the public authority to CIA, by claiming CIA officers are just like soldiers). Kris tells us the statute says CIA can’t, but that the NSA “could be interpreted and applied in ways [that] very few Members of Congress, let alone the American People, ever learn.”
It has to have in this case, because CIA acted as both law enforcement and military in violating a slew of statutes to carry out the drone killing of an American citizen as part of a covert op. Kris is basically saying that part of the NSA doesn’t mean what it says. That it means something far more horrible.
Which means he’s also saying — as was Preston — that the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki was done on Article II authority.
It is, admittedly, a guess. But I believe that behind that redaction, the White Paper makes it clear this killing was done on Presidential authorization.
Back in June, I compared the content of Charlie Savage’s account of the Awlaki drone memo with the content of the July 16, 2010 memo released that month. I noted that Savage reported the memo discussed whether killing Awlaki would violate the “ban” on assassinations in EO 12333, but the July memo did not. I suggested the earlier memo probably included that section.
Before Savage’s report turns to the consideration of 18 USC 1119 — which is where the memo starts its analysis — it describes a section considering whether the “ban” (in an unenforceable Executive Order that gets changed from time to time without notice in the actual text) on assassinations would prohibit such a killing.
It then considered possible obstacles and rejected each in turn.
Among them was an executive order that bans assassinations. That order, the lawyers found, blocked unlawful killings of political leaders outside of war, but not the killing of a lawful target in an armed conflict.
No discussion of assassination appears in the memo (unless it appears in a classified section and is not noted by the court opinion, but that seems unlikely as there’s no logical place for it). That said, the “ban” on assassinations did appear prominently in Harold Koh’s justification for drones given in March 2010.
Fourth and finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”
This leads me to suspect the structure of the first memo may parallel the structure of Koh’s speech, with the assassination “ban” figuring prominently in that memo. That is, it seems likely Savage’s sources, in conflating the two memos (if that’s what they did), included that language because it appeared in the first memo.
Voila! The memo released Friday — dated February 19, 2010 — does indeed focus on the assassination “ban,” though much of that discussion, like the entire memo, remains redacted.
[T]he use of lethal force against Aulaqi would not violate the assassination ban in Executive Order 12333.
And if you add the length of the February (7 pages) and July (41 pages) OLC memos and round up, you get the rough page length Savage’s sources provided: 50 pages.
So it does seem that Savage’s sources just synthesized the two memos as one.
That said, comparing Koh’s March 2010 speech presumably incorporating OLC’s assassination discussion with the (overly redacted) memo raises another question.
Several words in the title of the memo remain redacted.
I wonder — and this is a guess — whether the redacted words pertain to using drones to executive an American citizen?
I ask that because Koh’s speech includes this paragraph about drones and other high tech weapons.
Second, some have challenged the very use of advanced weapons systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, for lethal operations. But the rules that govern targeting do not turn on the type of weapon system used, and there is no prohibition under the laws of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict– such as pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs– so long as they are employed in conformity with applicable laws of war. Indeed, using such advanced technologies can ensure both that the best intelligence is available for planning operations, and that civilian casualties are minimized in carrying out such operations.
That is, I wonder whether some significant part of the 7 pages David Barron originally dedicated to weighing Awlaki’s due process free execution pertained to whether using drones to kill him changed the legal question?
Another possibility for the redacted phrase is a reference to Yemen, though the 2nd Circuit has already deemed that unclassified. Or, perhaps, this memo started the discussion of CIA’s involvement in an execution, which would explain the focus on EO 12333, which governs their covert operations.
In any case, it does seem that the Administration self-justification evolved over the first half of 2010, and only later in the year did the Department of Justice consider whether there were laws that might prohibit CIA from executing a US citizen with no due process.
For years, defenders of the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki have always pointed to the second confession Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab made, implicating Awlaki in each and every part of his plot.
There were always problems with that. Several pieces of evidence indicate the drone attack on December 24, 2009 that missed Awalaki had specifically targeted him; at that point, the government did not consider Awlaki operational. Abdulmutallab made 3 confessions, and only the one made to the High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) after a month of isolation and in the context of a (I’ve heard second-hand, unbelievably generous) plea deal that was never finalized implicated Awlaki in planning his attack. Claims Awlaki helped Abdulmutallab make his martyrdom video don’t explain why AQAP’s best English language propagandist would make a video with a man schooled in English in Arabic. Subsequent evidence suggests actions attributed to Awlaki in that confession were probably taken by Fahd al-Quso and Nasir al-Wuhayshi.
In other words, there are a lot of holes in the confession always used to justify Awlaki’s drone killing. Abdulmutallab’s second confession should be treated the same as his first and third ones: a narrative crafted by someone who has a big incentive to shade the truth, and therefore of dubious reliability.
The release of yesterday’s ridiculously cursory OLC memo authorizing the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki introduces one more reason to doubt the narrative that claims Abdulmutallab’s second confession provided justification for Awlaki’s killing.
The memo relies not on what FBI has told OLC. It relies on CIA’s assessment that Awlaki is “a senior leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula” based on “factual predicates as represented by the CIA and in the materials provided to use from the Intelligence Community.”Abdulmutallab’s second confession might be included in those materials provided from the IC. Even though the confession was obtained as part of a criminal investigation, the FBI is part of the IC, so broadly speaking that second confession would qualify, I guess.
But the assessment came not from FBI, which had the lead investigating the Undiebomb attack, but from the CIA. Which ought to give you pause, given that just months before this memo was written, the intelligence community’s partners had convinced the US that they hadn’t killed a Bedouin clan in the al-Majala strike. Indeed, the intelligence relating to Awlaki seemed to be consistently stinky until such time as the CIA set up its own drone base in Saudi Arabia in mid-2011.
Besides, what are we executing American citizens based on the CIA’s assessment for anyway?
At least according to David Barron, the case against Awlaki came not from FBI, but from CIA. That doesn’t mean CIA didn’t have evidence supporting its claims (and remember, CIA has a role in HIG, as does JSOC). But it does suggest Abdulmutallab’s second confession may not have the role the defenders of Awlaki’s execution like to cling to.
That’s all that current 1st Circuit Court Judge and then acting OLC head David Barron needed — in February 2010 — to dispense with niceties like the Constitution and Rule of Law before he okayed the drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.
Lucky for Barron — and President Obama — International Law scholar Kevin Jon Heller, never having seen that 7 page memo, raised some things Barron hadn’t considered. Which led Barron to write a still totally laughable but nevertheless less ridiculous 41-page memo 5 months later, which Barron’s friends insist is not-so-bad if you want to rationalize drone killing an American with no due process.
I wonder how they’ll defend Barron’s much more circumspect drone killing justification (especially since DOJ has redacted it beyond any legibility)?
I’ll have more to say about this latter — I suspect that it shows that DOJ actually tried on 3 different theories for drone-killing Awlaki.
But for the moment, know that if you ever come before Judge Barron, he believes he legitimize drone killing you in 7 pages or less.
Two days before the Administration was due to release a memo laying out its rationale for drone-killing American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP released a video that challenges the narrative the Administration has used for doing so.
As Gregory Johnsen reports, the memo shows (see correction below)
former Gitmo detainee Said al-Shihri embracing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, then whispering in his ear.
In the video, Shihri says he was the head of external operations — the title the US always used to describe Anwar al-Awlaki.
The video says that it was Shihri — not Awlaki — who was “responsible for external operations against America.” For years, the Obama administration has argued the opposite, claiming that Awlaki was directing AQAP’s efforts against the U.S., including the failed underwear bomb on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
On the day Awlaki was killed, Obama called him “the leader of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” and said he “directed” the 2009 attack. The video appears to refute both claims, giving credit to Shihri, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee.
Halfway through the video there is a clip of Shihri embracing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber in the Christmas Day attack, and whispering in his ear as a narrator reads that the attack was conducted “under the direct supervision of (Shihri) and a number of his brothers in the section in charge of external operations.”
While there may be some disagreement about how best to translate Shihri’s role — “directed” or “supervised” — this video clearly says that Shirhi was in charge, directly to the contrary to the narrative DOJ released purportedly summarizing Abulmutallab’s confession (the one that conflicted in key ways with his two other confessions).
What Johnsen doesn’t say — but is clear from comparison — is that that embrace took place while Abdulmutallab was dressed to make his martyrdom video.
Compare this frame, which appears just after the embrace in the new video (at 21:54),
With this one from Abdulmutallab’s martyrdom video (at 0:52).
That’s important because arranging to make the martyrdom video is one of the tasks DOJ’s narrative says Awlaki did.
Awlaki told defendant that he would create a martyrdom video that would be used after the defendant’s attack. Awlaki arranged for a professional film crew to film the video. Awlaki assisted defendant in writing his martyrdom statement, and it was filmed over a period of two to three days. The full video was approximately five minutes in length.
Shihri’s presence at the making of Abdulmutallab’s martyrdom video doesn’t refute the claim that Awlaki had a role in making it (though none of the experts I have asked has ever given a remotely credible explanation why AQAP’s greatest English-language propagandist and someone formally schooled in English would make a martyrdom video in Arabic). But it does place him there, suggesting Awlaki was not the only one directing the production of the video, if he had a role at all.
This video definitely doesn’t prove that Awlaki didn’t have an operational role in the UndieBomb attack. But it shows that the narrative the government released — which Abdulmutallab’s lawyer said had been made in the context of a plea deal never finalized and which the government agreed not to rely on at the trial, where it could have been challenged — neglects not just the role of Fahd al-Quso, but also Said al-Shihri. It is, at the very least, incomplete in some important ways.
And yet that is the only public “proof” the government has ever released that justified their execution of Anwar al-Awlaki.
Update: Apparently al-Shihri isn’t the one portrayed in this video, Nasir al-Wuhayshi is. In which case this connection is not meaningful.