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The Folks Who Brought You Military Detention in the NDAA Are Rewriting the AUMF

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced a hearing to revisit the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. In addition to a bunch of DOD figures (but not the recently departed Jeh Johnson, the DOD-connected person who said the most interesting things about the AUMF), it’ll have (I’ve linked their most salient comments on the AUMF):

Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Geoffrey Corn, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law

Jack Goldsmith, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Charles Stimson, Manager, National Security Law Program, The Heritage Foundation

Curiously, John Bellinger who (as far as I understand) started the discussion of a new AUMF is not slated to testify. Also note that the Deputy Director of Special Operations for Counterterrorism will testify, but no one from CIA is scheduled to; while JSOC can operate under the President’s inherent authority, it likely prefers the legal cover of an AUMF (and therefore may be one of the entities pushing for an AUMF that matches reality on the ground).

Politico reports that this hearing is more than speculative: Levin and no-longer-SASC-Ranking-Member-but-he-might-as-well-be John McCain are planning to rewrite the AUMF, with help from Bob Corker, Dick Durbin, and Lindsey “all detainees must be military” Graham.

And if the inclusion of Graham in that group doesn’t scare you, remember that this crowd is substantively the same one that enshrined military detention in 2012’s NDAA. While that effort might be regarded as “reasonable” Carl Levin and John McCain’s attempt to present something more reasonable than House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon was pushing for, and while the NDAA originally included exceptions for US citizens, in the event, the White House pushed Carl Levin to effectively rubber stamp its claims to unlimited authority, including detaining (or killing) US citizens.

And if that doesn’t have you worried enough about this effort, consider this quote, which mocks the contributions Rand Paul or Ted Cruz might make to this debate.

“Can you imagine what Paul or Cruz would do with this?” said one top Democratic aide. “It could be a disaster. And it would be worse in the House.”

As a threshold matter, a top aide who can’t distinguish between Paul’s more heartfelt libertarianism from Cruz’ authoritarianism pretending to be libertarianism is a concern. But to call the influence of both as “a disaster” is troubling.

Ultimately, though, what is likely to happen with this debate is that all players will be unwilling to discuss openly what we’ve actually been doing in the name of war against al Qaeda, up to and including waging war in the “homeland.”  That’s one thing the 2001 AUMF was written to exclude. And I can almost guarantee you, it’s an authority the President — and the top Democratic aides who mock Rand Paul — will want to preserve.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Even as He Joins Tribute to George W. Bush, Obama Capitulates to WMD Fearmongers

Congratulations to Shrub, who today gets his very own (as Jim calls it) Lie Bury.

How appropriate that even as the President who lied us into war with false WMD claims was speaking, the national security establishment was hyperventilating over what some are claiming is “confirmation” that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.

The reports are based on a letter sent to John McCain and Carl Levin — in response to a request they made 24 hours ago — stating (in part) the following:

Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin. This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example, the chain of custody is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and in what conditions. We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime. Thus far, we believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons, and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people.

[snip]

Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making, and strengthen our leadership in the international community.

This letter comes a week after, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had suggested whether Syria had used chemical weapons was a policy question, not an intelligence one, and DIA Director Mike Flynn had said (in response to a question about North Korea intelligence) that DIA’s standard for confidence was lower than that of other Intelligence Community Agencies.

The government is saying the following:

  • Some IC members are very confident Assad has used sarin; others are not as confident
  • That judgment is based on physiological evidence (presumably taken from victims), but not “corroborated” by evidence about chain of control
  • That judgment assumes that any chemical weapons used in Syria would come from Assad

And based on that information, McCain and far too many members of the press are saying this “confirms” that Assad used chemical weapons.

Well, if and when we go to war based on WMD this time, Obama will be able to say that Congress was the entity making the most out of carefully caveated intelligence claims, not the President (though John Kerry appears to speaking without nuance).

Update: I’ve changed the headline to try to clarify the relationship between the Bush library ceremony and this release. I’m still not certain I’m happy with it, though, so please let me know if you’ve got suggestions.

Update: Arms Control Wonk’s Jeffrey Lewis commented on this, talking about the implicit shortcomings in the claims above (though with more credibility). In addition, he notes that because we’ve made this a “red line,” it increases the likelihood those who want us to intervene will cross it themselves.

Having set a red line for US involvement to deter Assad, we’ve also created an incentive for certain groups to tell stories that might result in more US assistance.  As I have noted before, these groups don’t appear particularly scrupulous when it comes to the truth.  So, I’d be very, very careful about leaping to conclusions.

And he also observes that even while the evidence might support a claim that someone in Assad’s regime used Sarin, it doesn’t appear to amount to an attack.

Suddenly the constant references to the “small scale” use becomes more clear — we don’t have multiple victims in a single use, as might be expected if the Syrians gassed a military unit or a local community.  At most, we have two events in which only one person was exposed.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Cox on Rogers: “Like he was J. Edgar Hoover”

Since Carl Levin announced he would retire, I’ve been hoping to see Justin Amash take on Mike Rogers in a Republican primary. This National Journal article captures the dynamics of that possibility well (though may overestimate how much money Amash could raise).

But before I get into why I’d be so fascinated about such a race, check out how former Republican  Attorney General Mike Cox describes Mike Rogers.

If Rogers were to run, he would have to give up his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, for which there are no term limits. Former GOP Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox downplayed that motivation, saying Rogers’ ambition for higher office trumps his desire to make a meaningful influence in foreign policy. “If [Rogers] lost, he could make a lot of money in D.C. as a lobbyist,” Cox said last week. “He’s so full of [expletive] to begin with. He tells all these stories about being an FBI agent, and he was in the FBI for two years. Like he was J. Edgar Hoover.”

“He’s so full of shit to begin with.”

This is the great hope of MI’s GOP to take over Levin’s seat.

Now, Gary Peters, who’ll run on the Democratic side, is one of MI’s rising Democratic stars. And as the article notes, he hails from Oakland County, which is critical not just because of the fundraising base there, but because it’s the second largest county and pretty evenly split; Peters has a proven ability to win that critical swing county’s votes.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that if Amash ran (whether or not he won), I’d probably end up represented by a GOP neanderthal rather than Amash (because Democrats are unlikely to win the district in an off year, and because there are tons of up-and-coming neanderthal GOPers in the Grand Rapids area), I’d still really like to see a Rogers-Amash race.

That’s because it’d serve as a nationally watched race between the GOP’s rising libertarian wing and one of the GOP’s most authoritarian leaders. Mike Rogers has championed CISPA and whatever other new surveillance efforts anyone wanted. Justin Amash led those few Republicans who opposed it. Amash even came out in favor of reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a Miranda warning this weekend.

In other words, in a battle between Rogers and Amash, civil liberties and the Constitution would be central.

Mike Cox was making fun of Rogers’ self-promotion when he drew the analogy with J. Edgar (and there’s an implicit respect for Hoover in his comment). But it’s high time someone started making the analogy between the fear-mongering and surveillance Rogers and others embrace and Hoover’s.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Senate Armed Services Committee Enters Fantasyland in Hearing on Afghanistan Withdrawal

Yesterday, while much of the world’s attention was focused on emerging details relating to the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday (along with a tiny bit of attention on the Constitution Center’s report on torture that Marcy was banned from improving), the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. This was the first hearing for new ISAF Commander General Joseph Dunford since he was confirmed.

I was only able to watch the first half of the hearing as it unfolded, but my overwhelming impression was that the committee felt it could put words into Dunford’s mouth. He mostly went along with that although at one point he finally did get fed up with John McCain speaking for him and pushed back a bit.

Completely missing in the hearing (at least in the part I was able to watch) was any perspective on the real controlling factor on whether the US leaves any troops in Afghanistan after the planned “end of combat operations” set for the end of 2014. The precedent of the Iraq full withdrawal once Iraq refused to grant criminal immunity to any US troops remaining there demonstrates that the Obama administration views criminal immunity as a controlling prerequisite for whether we will leave troops in Afghanistan. To that end, then, negotiation of a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, is the most important step in determining whether we will keep troops in Afghanistan past 2014 and how many there will be.

Despite all the feel-good talk from the Defense Department and Capitol Hill, it seems very unlikely that Afghanistan will agree to grant immunity to US troops. However, an idea was floated by NATO back in February that I viewed as a very thinly veiled offer of an additional $22 billion dollars for Afghan officials to embezzle in return for a grant of immunity. The proposal was in the form of suggesting that NATO (primarily the US) would provide financial support for Afghanistan to maintain its Afghan National Security Force at 352,000 (a number that is more myth than reality) through the end of 2018 rather than reducing the force size by about a third once we leave.

Committee Chair Carl Levin opened the hearing by endorsing this purchase of a $22 billion SOFA. From his transcript of his opening statement:

It is in everyone’s interest to promptly set the conditions for any post-2014 partnership with Afghanistan.  NATO defense ministers have already begun consideration of the size and mission for a post-2014 force in Afghanistan.  One factor that will influence that decision is the size and capacity of the Afghan security forces.  In this regard, the recent decision by NATO defense ministers to support maintaining the Afghan security forces at the current 352,000 level through 2018, rather than reducing the support to a level of 230,000 as previously planned, sends an important signal of our continued commitment to a safe and secure Afghanistan, and may make it feasible for us to have a smaller U.S. and coalition presence after 2014.

Jim Inhofe’s opening statement was a magnificent exercise in ignorance and obfuscation. He chastised Obama for his “precipitous withdrawal” from Iraq and never acknowledged the lack of criminal immunity as the reason for the full and rapid withdrawal. Is there any doubt that if the US had left troops in Iraq without immunity that Inhofe would have been among the first to criticize Obama for leaving them there under those conditions once the first soldier was arrested?

The Tulsa World covered his statement: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

CIA Continues to Cover Up Dick Cheney’s War-Mongering

10 years ago today, George Bush gave his final warning to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war. While the first half of Bush’s speech cited Saddam’s purported refusal to give up his WMD program, the second half of the speech was littered with insinuations about Saddam’s terrorist allies.

If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power, he will remain a deadly foe until the end. In desperation, he and terrorists groups might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our friends. These attacks are not inevitable. They are, however, possible. And this very fact underscores the reason we cannot live under the threat of blackmail. The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.

[snip]

We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.

 [snip]

Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations — and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now. [my emphasis]

We know that Dick Cheney tried, in the days leading up to this speech and an earlier March 14 one, to boost these vague allegations in part by resuscitating the claim that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi diplomat-spook Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in April 2001. The CIA pushed back hard on the claim. An account of that fight is one of the most significant redactions in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2006 assessment of the bullshit lies told to get us into Iraq (see numbered page 96), as explained by Mark Hosenball.

According to two sources familiar with the blacked-out portions of the Senate report that discuss the CIA cable’s contents, the document indicates that White House officials had proposed mentioning the supposed Atta-Prague meeting in a Bush speech scheduled for March 14, 2003. Originated by Czech intelligence shortly after 9/11, the tendentious claim was that in April 2001, Atta, the 9/11 hijack leader, had met in Prague with the local station chief for Iraqi intelligence. The sources said that upon learning of the proposed White House speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining in detail why the agency believed the anecdote was ill-founded. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Carl Levin Takes on Tax Cheats and Dark Money in Retirement Statement

Carl Levin, a pretty old but very healthy 78, but relatively young given MI’s very old Congressional delegation, announced his retirement today.

I don’t always agree with Levin. But he is one of the smartest, most effective (when he wants to be) Senators in the Senate. I will miss having him represent me in DC.

I expect Gary Peters will replace Levin.

I’m just as interested in how Levin will go out. Here’s most of his statement:

I have decided not to run for re-election in 2014.

This decision was extremely difficult because I love representing the people of Michigan in the U.S. Senate and fighting for the things that I believe are important to them.

As Barbara and I struggled with the question of whether I should run again, we focused on our belief that our country is at a crossroads that will determine our economic health and security for decades to come. We decided that I can best serve my state and nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us that I am in a position to help address; in other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.

Here are some of those issues. Years of bipartisan work by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that I chair have shed light on tax avoidance schemes that are a major drain on our treasury. The huge loss of corporate tax receipts caused by the shift of U.S. corporate tax revenue to offshore tax havens is but one example of the egregious tax loopholes that we must end. Thirty of our most profitable companies paid no taxes over a recent three year period although they had over $150 billion in profits.

Tax avoidance schemes that have no economic justification or purpose other than to avoid paying taxes may be legal but they should not be. These schemes add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. They lead to cuts in education, research, national security, law enforcement, infrastructure, food safety and other important investments in our nation. And they add to the tax burden of ordinary Americans who have to pick up the slack and accelerate the economic inequality in our country. I want to fight to bring an end to this unjustified drain on the Treasury.

Second, I want to ensure that the manufacturing renaissance that has led Michigan’s economic comeback continues. We’ve made progress in building the partnerships we need to help U.S. manufacturers succeed, but the next two years will be crucial to sustaining and building on that progress.

A third item I want to tackle is a growing blight on our political system that I believe I can help address: the use of secret money to fund political campaigns. Our tax laws are supposed to prevent secret contributions to tax exempt organizations for political purposes. My Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations needs to look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy.

Finally, the next two years will also be important in dealing with fiscal pressures on our military readiness. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am determined to do all I can to address that issue. I also believe we need to pursue the rapid transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans. And, as our troops come home, we must do a better job of caring for those who bear both the visible and invisible wounds of war.

These issues will have an enormous impact on the people of Michigan and the nation for years to come, and we need to confront them. I can think of no better way to spend the next two years than to devote all of my energy and attention to taking on these challenges.

Carl Levin has said his priorities in the next two years will include finding a way to tax the rich and prevent the rich from stealing our elections. Having made the decision he will not need those rich donors to fund his reelection, he will have significant flexibility to piss them off.

Levin has never been known to shy away from pissing people off in any case.

May Senator Levin go out in style, taking on those rich looters who are gutting our country.

 

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Department of Pre-Crime, Part 4: The NDAA Congress Is Not About to Legislate Targeted Killing

In three earlier posts, I have discussed the problem with turning the FISA Court into the Drone and/or Targeted Killing Court: As I noted, the existing FISA Court no longer fulfills the already problematic role it was set up to have, ensuring that the government have particularized probable cause before it wiretap someone. On the contrary, the FISA Court now serves as a veil of secrecy behind which the government can invent new legal theories with little check.

In addition, before the FISA Court started rubberstamping Drone Strikes and/or Targeted Killings of Americans, presumably it would need an actual law to guide it. (Though Carrie Cordero, who is opposed to the Drone and/or Targeted Killing FISA Court idea because it might actually restrain the Executive, seems to envision the Court just using the standards the Executive has itself invented.) And there’s a problem with that.

The same Congress that hasn’t been successful passing legislation on detention in the 2012 NDAA is certainly not up to the task of drafting a law describing when targeted killing is okay.

As a reminder, here’s what happened with the NDAA sections on military detention. The effort started with an attempt to restate whom we are at war with, so as to mandate that those we’re at war with be subject to law of war detention. The language attempting to restate whom we’re at war with ended up saying:

(a) IN GENERAL.—Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) COVERED PERSONS.—A covered person under this section is any person as follows:

(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.

(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

Compare that language with what the actual AUMF says:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Part of the difference arises from the shift to focusing exclusively on persons (you can’t detain a nation, after all, though Palestine might disagree).

Part of the difference comes from the effort — clause 2 above — to extend the AUMF to those associated forces. This was meant to cover groups like AQAP and al-Shabaab, but as we’ll see, it’s one source of the problem with the law.

But part of the problem is that the NDAA language smartly took out the “he determines” and “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism” language. The former has long been a giant loophole, allowing the President to define in secret whom we’re at war against. And I increasingly suspect the Administration has been using the latter language to expand the concept of imminent threat.

In other words, in an effort to parrot back its understanding of whom we’re at war against, Congress both introduced some new fuzzy language — associated forces — and took out existing loopholes — the “he determines” and “prevent any future acts.”

Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

John Brennan Decimates the Logic of Drone Program

John Brennan will be confirmed as CIA Director.

But along the way he has utterly decimated the drone program’s legitimacy.

Twice in his confirmation hearing, he insisted he was not a lawyer. Most notably, Carl Levin went to some length to try to get Brennan to admit waterboarding was torture. Brennan said that he thought it was reprehensible, but he repeatedly stopped short of saying it was torture because “I’m not a lawyer.” Over and over again, he is not a lawyer.

He is, however, almost certainly, the “informed, high-level official of the US government who [determines] that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” That person not only determines whether capture would be “feasible” and what “imminent” means. But he decides whether killing the person would be “consistent with law of war principles.”

In other words, this man, who can’t (or refuses to) say whether waterboarding is torture because he is not a lawyer, is entrusted every Tuesday to make far more difficult legal decisions, both on the subjective feasible and imminent questions, but also on specific international laws.

In other words, according to the guy who has been acting as judge and jury for the last four years, the guy who has been acting as judge and jury is completely incompetent to act as judge and jury.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Levin’s Fifth Question: Chain of Command under Title 10

I was planning on spending the morning using Twitter to juxtapose the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearing, the ongoing decline of the 9/11 trial into Kangaroo status, and the opening of the Rios Montt trial in Guatemala. Sadly, Twitter failed.

So instead, I began to read Hagel’s confirmation questionnaire.

And I’m particularly interested in the fifth question.

Section 162(b) of title 10, United States Code, provides that the chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense and from the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commands. Section 163(a) of title 10 further provides that the President may direct communications to combatant commanders be transmitted through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and may assign duties to the Chairman to assist the President and the Secretary of Defense in performing their command function.

Do you believe that these provisions facilitate a clear and effective chain of command?

I believe that having a clear and effective chain of command is essential to successful military operations, and that these provisions of law lay the foundation for such a chain of command.

In your view, do these provisions enhance or degrade civilian control of the military?

In my view, these provisions significantly enhance civilian control by codifying the placement of the President, as Commander-in-Chief, and his principal assistant for military matters, the Secretary of Defense, where they can best exercise civilian control of the military: in the top two positions of the military chain of command.

Are there circumstances in which you believe it is appropriate for U.S. military forces to be under the operational command or control of an authority outside the chain of command established under title 10, United Sates Code?

I believe that all military forces normally should operate under the chain of command established under section 162 of title 10, United States Code. However, in certain sensitive operations a temporary exception to that chain of command may be appropriate. I understand that only the President may approve such an exception and the President retains overall command responsibility, as also recognized in section 162. Any military personnel supporting such sensitive operations remain accountable to the military chain of command, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If confirmed, I will provide the President with my best advice regarding any operation where an exception to the established chain of command may be appropriate.

While I can’t tell how strongly Carl Levin–whose staffers I assume wrote these questions–objects to the practice or not, he seems to be asking about Obama’s practice (exercised under the Osama bin Laden raid and probably many other covert ops) of putting DOD personnel–usually JSOC–under Title 50 authority.

And while Hagel seems okay with the practice (remember, Hagel has presumably been overseeing some of these operations as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board), he does say two things.

First, the President must approve this Title 50 shell game. While I’m sure that’s meant to reassure Levin that the civilian Chain of Command remains intact, it also puts Obama solidly in the middle of this shell game.

Also Hagel insists that anyone involved in this shell game remains subject to UMCJ. Perhaps this is meant to address the danger of prisoner abuse (JSOC was one of the worst offenders as Levin, with his SASC report on abuse, knows as well as anyone). But I wonder if it presents an opportunity for better oversight than we’re getting over these operations right now?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Maybe John Brennan Didn’t Want to Talk about CIA Lying to Congress?

Mark Udall just released word that John Brennan failed to connect the dots do his homework before meeting with Udall about his CIA confirmation.

Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he is “deeply disappointed” that CIA nominee John Brennan was unprepared to discuss the Intelligence Committee’s recent report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. Udall and Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) met with Brennan today after asking him to review the committee’s findings, which were based on a documentary review of more than 6 million pages of CIA and other records, and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight.

“I was deeply disappointed today during my meeting with John Brennan. A few weeks ago, I had asked that he be prepared to discuss at today’s meeting the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s comprehensive study on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program. Not only was he not prepared to discuss the important findings, but he hadn’t reviewed the report at all,” Udall said. “Brennan promised today to review the findings before the Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing next Thursday. I intend to hold him to that promise, and I hope Mr. Brennan will be more forthcoming in his testimony next week. I understand that he may not see it in his or the CIA’s interests to criticize the very agency that he hopes to lead, but I see this as an opportunity for Mr. Brennan to correct the record, institute the necessary reforms and help restore the CIA’s reputation for integrity and analytical rigor.” [my emphasis]

Take a close look at the bolded language in Udall’s statement.

Udall’s meeting with Brennan was also attended by Carl Levin and Ron Wyden.

We know that Ron Wyden has two significant concerns about the torture report.

I am particularly interested in getting your reaction to the report’s revelation that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress, and your view on what steps should be taken to correct inaccurate statements that were made to the public.

The CIA has made inaccurate statements to the public–something that seems to be echoed in Udall’s interest in Brennan “correct[ing] the record.”

And that CIA provided inaccurate information lied about the torture program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress. Udall’s suggestion that Brennan might not want to criticize the agency, his suggestion that CIA needs to restore its integrity, and his mention of oversight (which, after all, is impossible if CIA insists on lying) all seem to parallel Wyden’s concerns about CIA’s lies to everyone who was supposed to be overseeing it.

So maybe it’s just that Brennan failed to do his homework.

Or maybe it’s that Brennan, a serial liar, intends to dodge all questions about CIA’s own lying to its overseers.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.