As a number of outlets have reported, the Second Circuit last month upheld the government’s effort to keep a March 29, 2002 OLC memo pertaining to targeted killing secret; the opinion was unsealed yesterday. The government is probably doing so to keep changes in their rationale for why assassinations don’t violate the prohibition on assassination in EO 12333 secret.
The judges on the panel — especially Judge Jon Normand, who wrote the opinion — had pushed during an ex parte hearing in June to release language in that earlier memo because the dog & pony show around drone strikes in 2012 to 2013 had used closely related language. But after some more secret briefing, the court decided the application of EO 12333 was different enough such that it remained properly protected.
It seems highly likely the specific part of EO 12333 under discussion pertains to the assassination ban. Between the earlier hearing and the opinion, the court pointed to language in the March 25, 2010 Harold Koh speech, the March 5, 2012 Eric Holder speech, and the April 30, 2012 John Brennan speech on targeted killing (they also pointed to two Panetta comments). Each of the cited speeches discusses the assassination ban — and little else that might directly pertain to EO 12333, besides just generally covert operations authorized under Article II. There’s this language in Koh’s speech.
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 language in Holder’s speech,
Some have called such operations “assassinations.” They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced. Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.
And this language in Brennan’s speech.
In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces are legitimate military targets. We have the authority to target them with lethal force just as we targeted enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as German and Japanese commanders during World War II.
But even though all these public speeches commented on this interpretation of the assassination ban, the 2nd Circuit still permitted the government to shield the earlier memo.
The transcript of the June ex parte hearing reveals one explanation for that: the earlier memo was a “far broader interpretation” of the issue.
Although the district court noted that the OLC-DOD Memorandum released by this Court contained a “brief mention” of Executive Order 12,333, the district court concluded that the analysis in the March 2002 Memorandum is significantly different from any legal analysis that this Court held has been officially disclosed and for which privilege has been waived.
In other words, while the earlier memo discusses the same aspect of EO 12333 as these public speeches (again, the assassination ban is by far the most likely thing), the earlier memo uses significantly different analysis, and so it may be hidden.
The June transcript also reveals that OLC lawyers reviewed and wrote on the 2002 memo at a later time — the implication being that someone in OLC reviewed the earlier memo in 2010 when writing the Awlaki one (and curiously, that hard copy with handwritten notes is the only one DOJ claims it can find).
There are two things I find increasingly interesting about this earlier memo about EO 12333 — including at least one part presumably about the assassination ban. First, the implication that one of the lawyers reviewing it in 2010 saw the need to write a new memo (perhaps seeing the need to clean up yet more crazy John Yoo language? who knows). As I repeat endlessly, we know there’s a memo of uncertain date in which Yoo said the President could pixie dust the plain language of EO 12333 without changing the public language of it, and it’s possible this is what that memo did (though the President was clearly pixie dusting surveillance rules).
But I’m also interested in the date: March 29, 2002. The day after we captured Abu Zubaydah (who, at the time, top officials at least claimed to believe was a top leader of al Qaeda). The SSCI Torture Report made it clear the CIA originally intended to disappear detainees. Were they planning to execute them? If so, what stopped things?
In any case, CIA won its battle to hide this earlier discussion so we may never know. But it appears that DOJ may have felt the need to think thing through more seriously before drone assassinating a US citizen. So there is that.
Way back in 2013, in Marty Lederman’s review of the NSA Review Group’s Report, he pointed to the Report’s suggestion that Section 702 collection was limited to use with counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and cybersecurity.
The Report contains an interesting clue about how the government is presently using Section 702 that I do not recall being previously disclosed—and raises a related question about legal authorities under that provision of the FAA:
The Report explains (page 136) that in implementing Section 702, “NSA identifies specific ‘identifiers’ (for example, e-mail addresses or telephone numbers) that it reasonably believes are being used by non-United States persons located outside of the United States to communicate foreign intelligence information within the scope of the approved categories (e.g., international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and hostile cyber activities).
Later, on pages 152-53, the authors “emphasiz[e] that, contrary to some representations,section 702 does not authorize NSA to acquire the content of the communications of masses of ordinary people. To the contrary, section 702 authorizes NSA to intercept communications of non-United States persons who are outside the United States only if it reasonably believes that a particular ‘identifier’ (for example, an e-mail address or a telephone number) is being used to communicate foreign intelligence information related to such matters as international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, or hostile cyber activities.” (Italics in original.)
I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe that there’s anything in the statute itself that imposes the limitations in bold–neither that the NSA must use such “identifiers,” nor that international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and hostile cyber activities are the only topics of acceptable foreign intelligence information that can be sought. Perhaps the FISC Court has insisted upon such limits; but, as far as I know, the Section 702 authority as currently codified is not so circumscribed.
Of course, if you’re a regular emptywheel reader, you likely know where this has been suggested in the past, since I’ve been pointing out this apparent limitation to Section 702 since June 10 and discussed some implications of it here, here, and here.
In a response to Lederman, Julian Sanchez provided some specific cautions about treating these category limits as true “limitations.” He suggests it is unlikely that the Intelligence Community or the FISA Court would impose such limitations.
The 702 language, codified at 50 U.S.C. §1881a, permits the NSA to acquire any type of “foreign intelligence information,” which is defined extraordinarily broadly to encompass, inter alia, anything that relates to the “conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.” But here we have the Review Group suggesting repeatedly that 702 surveillance is only for acquiring certain specific types of foreign intelligence information, related to nuclear proliferation, international terrorism, or cybersecurity. Have the intelligence agencies or the FISC imposed a more restricted reading of “foreign intelligence information” than the FISA statute does? I doubt it.
While I agree with most of Sanchez’ other cautions, I actually do think it likely that the FISC conducts a review that ends up in such limited certifications. They did it for application of Section 215 to the phone dragnet (which legally could have been used for counterintelligence purposes) and I think they may well have done so with Section 702.
FISCR only ruled bulk content collection legal for “national security” foreign intelligence purposes
We’ll learn whether I’m right or not when the FISC releases more of the 2008 Yahoo challenge to Protect America Act directives. But there is enough detail in the unclassified August 22, 2008 FISA Court of Review opinion released in early 2009 to suggest where that limitation may have come from.
The FISCR opinion, written by Bruce Selya, describes the certifications before the Court as limited to “foreign intelligence for national security purposes,” a limitation that already circumscribes PAA (and the FISA Amendments Act, as Sanchez has laid out), which allow their use for foreign intelligence generally.
In essence, as implemented, the certifications permit surveillances conducted to obtain foreign intelligence for national security purposes when those surveillances are directed against foreign powers or agents of foreign powers reasonably believed to be located outside the United States. [my emphasis]
This limitation is important because of the way Selya deals with the affirmation, in the FISC ruling before the FISCR, that there is a foreign intelligence exception to the Fourth Amendment: by instead finding a special needs exception to the Fourth tied to national security. Continue reading
I know, I know. I’ve promised my substantive post on David Kris’ paper on the phone and Internet dragnets.
I know, I know. My repeated harping on the failure to inform the 2011 House freshmen about the dragnet is getting tedious.
But Kris dedicated 16 pages of his 67 page paper to arguing that the statutory requirements for briefing Congress about the dragnets (which Kris says require only Intelligence and Judiciary Committee briefing) have been met. He ultimately makes a half-hearted attempt to make the same argument Claire Eagan did about Congress adopting judicial interpretation. And he lays out the fatally weak case Ben Wittes has in the past to justify his wails of NAKED!
In doing so, Kris claims that, “all Members were offered briefings on the FISC’s interpretation.”
The briefings and other historical evidence raise the question whether Congress’s repeated reauthorization of the tangible things provision effectively incorporates the FISC’s interpretation of the law, at least as to the authorized scope of collection, such that even if it had been erroneous when first issued, it is now—by definition—correct. There is a basic principle of statutory construction that “Congress is presumed to be aware of an administrative or judicial interpretation of a statute and to adopt that interpretation when it reenacts a statute without change,”208 as it did repeatedly with the tangible things provision.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to presume that Congress adopted a classified interpretation of a law of which it could not have been aware. As described above, however, the historical record shows that many Members were aware, and that all Members were offered briefings on the FISC’s interpretation, even if they did not attend the briefings.
And yet, in all those 16 pages, he offers not one whit of evidence that the 93 members of Congress elected in 2010 (save the 7 on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees) could have learned about the program save two briefings offered in May 2011.
Unless you count this argument, which suffers from a basic logic problem.
In an unclassified report published in March 2011, the Senate Intelligence Committee emphasized that it had offered a briefing to all Members of Congress concerning the bulk telephony metadata collection:
Prior to the extension of the expiring FISA provisions in February 2010, the Committee acted to bring to the attention of the entire membership of the Senate important information related to the nature and significance of the FISA collection authority subject to sunset. Chairman Feinstein and Vice Chairman Bond notified their colleagues that the Attorney General and the DNI had provided a classified paper on intelligence collection made possible under the Act and that the Committee was providing a secure setting where the classified paper could be reviewed by any Senator prior to the vote on passage of what became Public Law 111–141 to extend FISA sunsets. [my bold]
The entire membership of the Senate, after all, is not the same thing as “all Members of Congress.”
Ultimately, though, Kris concedes (citing just the white paper, and not citing me, the Guardian, any other reporting, or Justin Amash’s public statements to the effect) that just maybe this information wasn’t passed on in 2011 — but don’t worry, the Executive did its job!
Although the House Intelligence Committee did notify Members of the House of the classified documents and briefings in 2010 (when it was led by Chairman Sylvestre Reyes), it may not have done so in 2011 (when it was led by Chairman Mike Rogers). See White Paper at 18 n.13.
Regardless of any intracongressional issues in 2011, as a matter of inter-branch relations, it is clear that the Executive Branch provided the materials with the intent that they be made available to all Members of Congress, as they had been in 2009.
Now, Kris is a much better lawyer than the flunkies who wrote the Administration’s far weaker White Paper on Section 215, and his argument here betrays not only that, but, I suspect, a hint that he realizes the flaw in his argument.
Notice in his claim that “all Members were offered briefings on the FISC’s interpretation,” he doesn’t argue all members got the Executive Branch notices on the program. He doesn’t argue that all members got briefed on the content on the notices. Rather, he claims only that they were offered briefings on the FISC’s interpretation.
NYT’s excellent new ombud, Margaret Sullivan, returns to a perennial ombud issue, how the Grey Lady refers to Executive Branch actions and abuses. She includes a long quote from Scott Shane that reveals a great deal about his reporting, and ultimately convinces me we should be calling drone killing assassination.
Adherence to “Targeted Killing” Even While Admitting It’s Not
Let’s start with Shane’s defense of the term “targeted killing” (a term I sometimes use but should not). Sadly, Sullivan cuts off the direct quote from Scott Shane at its most important part, but in the following, the first paragraph here is a direct quote from Shane, the second Sullivan’s report of his comment.
This leaves “targeted killing,” which I think is far from a euphemism. It denotes exactly what’s happening: American drone operators aim at people on the ground and fire missiles at them. I think it’s a pretty good term for what’s happening, if a bit clinical.
Mr. Shane added that he had only one serious qualm about the term. That, he said, was expressed by an administration official: “It’s not the targeted killings I object to — it’s the untargeted killings.” The official “was talking about so-called ‘signature strikes’ that target suspected militants based on their appearance, location, weapons and so on, not their identities, which are unknown; and also about mistaken strikes that kill civilians.”
Shane defends using “targeted killing,” even while admitting that a great deal of drone killing is not targeted. Unless Shane knows a great deal more about individual strikes than he lets on — and therefore knows which drone strikes are targeted at known identities and which are targeted at crowds of unknown military aged males — then he is party to an apparently deliberate strategy on the part of the Administration to spin its killing program as much more orderly and legally justified than it actually is. We saw this operate as recently as yesterday, when John Brennan responded to a question from Jan Schakowsky about signature strikes by telling her to look back at speeches that address only “targeted killing.”
SCHAKOWSKY: Let me ask you this, is there any way that you can define and distinguish between targeted strikes and signature strikes by the — by drones?
BRENNAN: I would refer to the comments that were made by a number of U.S. government officials publicly in speeches, including when I was at the White House. I’m not going to engage in any type of discussion on that here to the Congress, ma’am.
As I said, I’m as guilty of using this term without sufficient awareness as Shane. But doing so consciously really is participating in a propaganda effort the Administration is engaged in.
Executive Order 12333’s Invisible Ink
Then there’s Shane’s refusal to use “assassination” based on Administration claims about Executive Order 12333, which ostensibly prohibits the practice.
“Assassination” is banned by executive order, but for decades that has been interpreted by successive administrations as prohibiting the killing of political figures, not suspected terrorists. Continue reading
I’ll have far more to say about this irresponsibly credulous accounting of the background to the Anwar al-Awlaki killing from the NYT tomorrow. But for the moment I wanted to point to an interesting detail about the genesis of the June-July 2010 OLC memo.
The NYT explains that David Barron and Marty Lederman wrote an initial short OLC memo to authorize Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing. But then, after reading a blog post that describes why such a killing would be a violation of 18 USC 1119, they decided they needed to do a more thorough memo.
According to officials familiar with the deliberations, the lawyers threw themselves into the project and swiftly completed a short memorandum. It preliminarily concluded, based on the evidence available at the time, that Mr. Awlaki was a lawful target because he was participating in the war with Al Qaeda and also because he was a specific threat to the country. The overlapping reasoning justified a strike either by the Pentagon, which generally operated within the Congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda, or by the C.I.A., a civilian agency which generally operated within a “national self-defense” framework deriving from a president’s security powers.
They also analyzed other bodies of law to see whether they would render a strike impermissible, concluding that they did not. For example, the Yemeni government had granted permission for airstrikes on its soil as long as the United States did not acknowledge its role, so such strikes would not violate Yemeni sovereignty.
And while the Constitution generally requires judicial process before the government may kill an American, the Supreme Court has held that in some contexts — like when the police, in order to protect innocent bystanders, ram a car to stop a high-speed chase — no prior permission from a judge is necessary; the lawyers concluded that the wartime threat posed by Mr. Awlaki qualified as such a context, and so his constitutional rights did not bar the government from killing him without a trial.
But as months passed, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman grew uneasy. They told colleagues there were issues they had not adequately addressed, particularly after reading a legal blog that focused on a statute that bars Americans from killing other Americans overseas. In light of the gravity of the question and with more time, they began drafting a second, more comprehensive memo, expanding and refining their legal analysis and, in an unusual step, researching and citing dense thickets of intelligence reports supporting the premise that Mr. Awlaki was plotting attacks. [my emphasis]
This post — an April 8, 2010 post entitled “Let’s Call Killing al-Awlaki What It Is — Murder” — is almost certainly the blog post in question. There’s almost nothing else written on 1119 (there’s this legal journal article, but from Fall 2011), much less focusing specifically on Awlaki and published in a legal blog.
Which is interesting, because the post describes one of the possible bases for arguing that 1119 does not apply to the killing of Awlaki that Obama is just ignoring the statute as Commander-in-Chief.
Which leads us to the second possible explanation of why 18 USC 1119 does not apply: because Obama has authorized the CIA to kill al-Awlaki. That explanation seems implicit in much of the media’s coverage of the Obama administration’s decision; I have yet to see any reporter ask why Obama believes he has the legal authority to order Americans killed, given that 18 USC 1119 specifically criminalizes such killings. The argument, however, is deeply problematic — and eerily reminiscent of debates over the Bush administration’s authorization of torture. The Bush administration argued that Bush had the authority as Commander-in-Chief to ignore the federal torture statute, 18 USC 2340; the Obama administration seems to now be arguing, albeit implicitly, that Obama has the authority as Commander-in-Chief to ignore the foreign-murder statute.
As I noted, while the white paper, at least, plays a neat rhetorical game to collapse AUMF and Article II authorizations, ultimately it uses this language to explain why an Article II authorized killing of Awlaki would not violate 1119.
Similarly, under the Constitution and the inherent right to national self-defense recognized in international law, the President may authorize the use of force against a U.S. citizen who is a member of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
In other words, the white paper, at least, does precisely what Kevin Jon Heller warned might be so troubling — it said that if the President authorized Awlaki’s killing, it would mean 1119 would not apply.
To the extent that the white paper fairly reflects the content of the OLC memo, then, David Barron and Marty Lederman failed to find a counterargument to precisely the argument that appears to have convinced them to write a second, longer OLC memo in the first place.
Which may be why the NYT article goes to such lengths to try to explain away this apparent problem.
I’ve been working on this timeline for almost nine months, trying to pull together the known dates about strikes against Americans, the evidence supporting the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the legal cases surrounding both targeted killing and torture, to which targeted killing is linked via the Memorandum of Notification, and Congressional efforts to exercise oversight.
September 17, 2001: George Bush signs Memorandum of Notification (henceforth, Gloves Come Off MON) authorizing a range of counterterrorism techniques, including torture and targeted killing.
September 18, 2001: Congress passes the Authorization to Use Military Force.
November 3, 2002: US citizen Kamal Derwish killed in drone purportedly targeting Abu Ali al-Harithi.
Late 2008: Ruben Shumpert reported killed in Somalia.
June 24, 2009: Leon Panetta gets briefed on assassination squad program.
June 26, 2009: HPSCI passes a funding authorization report expanding the Gang of Eight briefings.
July 8, 2009: The Administration responds with an insulting appeal to a “fundamental compact” between Congress and the President on intelligence matters.
July 8, 2009: Silvestre Reyes announces CIA lied to Congress.
October 26, 2009: British High Court first orders British government to release language on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment.
October 28, 2009: FBI kills Imam Luqman Asmeen Abdullah during Dearborn, MI arrest raid.
October 29, 2009: Hearing on declassifying mention of Gloves Come Off MON before Judge Alvin Hellerstein; in it, Hellerstein reveals NSA James Jones has submitted declaration to keep mention of MON secret.
November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan attacks Fort Hood, killing 13.
December 24, 2009: JSOC tries but fails to hit Anwar al-Awlaki. On that day, the IC did not yet believe him to be operational.
December 25, 2009: With Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack, FBI develops full understanding of Awlaki’s operational goals.
January 2, 2010: In conversation with David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh Continue reading
I’ve been working on a theory on why the white paper is so crappy based, in part, on a problem international law experts keep making. For my purposes, Noura Erakat’s description of the problem will suffice, but a ton of people have raised it.
Imminence is one element of the law of self defense and has no bearing upon the lawfulness of a target where there is an existing armed conflict. Instead, in ongoing hostilities, the legality of a target is a status-based assessment that distinguishes combatants from civilians. Unless he surrenders, a combatant can be killed regardless of activity. In contrast, a civilian retains his immunity unless he directly participates in hostilities, which is subject to a wholly distinct legal analysis. The point is this: if Al-Awlaki, or another target, is indeed a combatant in the U.S.’s ongoing hostilities authorized by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), an imminence analysis is not relevant at all.
If, as the white paper sort of suggests, the AUMF is what justifies Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing and the government had evidence he was operational (that is, a legitimate combatant with AQAP after the point when AQAP was added to the official AQ roster) then imminence should be moot. So why is it in there, particularly in such a crazyass form?
Consider, though, that we know there are multiple memos: two, according to DiFi, in the opening moments of the John Brennan hearing, though Ron Wyden insisted the Committee hadn’t received all the targeted killing memos and DiFi may have said they’re waiting on 8 more.
Also we know that Ron Wyden has been asking whether the Administration killed Awlaki under AUMF or Article II authorities, suggesting that the Administration may be making arguments based on one or another in different memos.
So I’m going to advance the wildarsed guess that — rather than being a simple summary of the June 2010 memo we know about — the white paper is actually a pained amalgam meant to encompass the more radical memos, while still retaining some patina of whatever decent argument Marty Lederman and David Barron made in June 2010.
The big headline that came out of yesterday’s American Bar Association National Security panels is that DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson and CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston warned that US citizens could be targeted as military targets if the Executive Branch deemed them to be enemies.
U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.
Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.
We knew that. Still, it’s useful to have the Constitutional Lawyer President’s top aides reconfirm that’s how they function.
But I want to point to a few other data points from yesterday’s panels (thanks to Daphne Eviatar for her great live-tweeting).
First, Johnson also said (in the context of discussions on cyberspace, I think),
Jeh Johnson: interrupting the enemy’s ability to communicate is a traditionally military activity.
Sure, it is not news that the government (or its British allies) have hacked terrorist “communications,” as when they replaced the AQAP propaganda website, “Insight,” with a cupcake recipe (never mind whether it’s effective to delay the publication of something like this for just one week).
But note what formula Johnson is using: they’ve justified blocking speech by calling it the communication of the enemy. And then apparently using Jack Goldsmith’s formulation, they have said the AUMF gives them war powers that trump existing domestic law, interrupting enemy communications is a traditional war power, and therefore the government can block the communications of anyone under one of our active AUMFs.
Johnson also scoffed at the distinction between the battlefield and the non-battlefield.
Jeh Johnson: the limits of “battlefield v. Non battlefield is a distinction that is growing stale.” But then, it’s not a global war. ?
Again, this kind of argument gets used in OLC opinions to authorize the government targeting “enemies” in our own country. On the question of “interrupting enemy communication,” for example, it would seem to rationalize shutting down US based servers.
Then, later in the day Marty Lederman (who of course has written OLC opinions broadly interpreting AUMF authorities based on the earlier Jack Goldsmith ones) acknowledged that Americans aren’t even allowed to know everyone the US considers an enemy.
Lederman: b/c of classification, “we’re in armed conflicts with some groups the American public doesn’t know we’re in armed conflict with.”
Now, as I’ve noted, one of the innovations with the Defense Authorization passed yesterday is a requirement that the Executive Branch actually brief Congress on who we’re at war with, which I take to suggest that Congress doesn’t yet necessarily know everyone who we’re in “armed conflict” with.
Which brings us to how Jack Goldsmith defined the “terrorists” whom the government could wiretap without a warrant.
the authority to intercept the content of international communications “for which, based on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent persons act, there are reasonable grounds to believe … [that] a party to such communication is a group engaged in international terrorism, or activities in preparation therefor, or any agent of such a group,” as long as that group is al Qaeda, an affiliate of al Qaeda or another international terrorist group that the President has determined both (a) is in armed conflict with the United States and (b) poses a threat of hostile actions within the United States;
It’s possible the definition of our enemy has expanded still further since the time Goldsmith wrote this in 2004. Note Mark Udall’s ominous invocation of “Any other statutory or constitutional authority for use of military force” that the Administration might use to authorize detaining someone. But we know that, at a minimum, the Executive Branch used the invocations of terrorists in the Iraq AUMF–which are much more generalized than the already vague definition of terrorist in the 9/11 AUMF–to say the President could use war powers against people he calls terrorists who have nothing to do with 9/11 or al Qaeda.
So consider what this legal house of cards is built on. Largely because the Bush Administration sent Ibn Sheikh al-Libi to our Egyptian allies to torture, it got to include terrorism language in an AUMF against a country that had no tie to terrorism. It then used that language on terrorism to justify ignoring domestic laws like FISA. Given Lederman’s language, we can assume the Administration is still using the Iraq AUMF in the same way Goldsmith did. And yet, in spite of the fact that the war is ending, we refuse to repeal the AUMF used to authorize this big power grab.
Glenn Greenwald has a typically provocative post on the news that Marty Lederman and David Barron wrote the authorization to kill Anwar al-Awlaki. He uses Dawn Johnsen’s comments on the way secret OLC memos create secret law that undermine democracy.
Obama’s original choice to head the OLC, Dawn Johnsen, repeatedly railed against this Bush practice of concealing OLC memos as “secret law,” writing that “the Bush Administration’s excessive reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.” In her April, 2008 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was nothing short of scathing on the practice of concealing OLC memos. [Glenn’s emphasis]
From there, he notes that Lederman and Barron used the same justification–the AUMF–that John Yoo used to justify the detention without due process of Jose Padilla.
So the AUMF allowed the President to designate Awlaki an “enemy combatant” without a shred of due process, and then to act against him using the powers of war, because we are at war with an entity for which Awlaki had become a combatant.
There are many problems with that reasoning, but one in particular that deserves attention now is this: that was exactly the theory repeatedly offered by the Bush DOJ for far less draconian acts than assassinating a U.S. citizen, and it was one that the very same Marty Lederman categorically rejected. As I’ve noted many times, one of the most controversial Bush/Cheney acts was its claimed power to detain U.S. citizen Jose Padilla without charges or due process — not to kill him, but merely detain him — on the theory that the AUMF authorized the President to designate him as an “enemy combatant” and treat him accordingly. [Glenn’s emphasis]
I’m not sure I buy this comparison. There are times when the US might legally wage war against one of its citizens, but because of its own secrecy, the Administration has simply not made the case that that is true in this case.
One of the big problems with Lederman and Barron’s interpretation of the AUMF, though–one Glenn doesn’t treat closely but which perfectly exemplifies Johnsen’s point–is the extension of the AUMF to apply to AQAP, an entity that simply didn’t exist when the AUMF authorized war against groups that had launched 9/11.
Other assertions about Mr. Awlaki included that he was a leader of [AQAP], which had become a “cobelligerent” with Al Qaeda, and he was pushing it to focus on trying to attack the United States again. The lawyers were also told that capturing him alive among hostile armed allies might not be feasible if and when he were located.
Based on those premises, the Justice Department concluded that Mr. Awlaki was covered by the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda that Congress enacted shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — meaning that he was a lawful target in the armed conflict unless some other legal prohibition trumped that authority.
One area where Lederman’s reported memo is particularly dangerous, IMO, is in the extension of the AUMF to groups clearly not included in the congressional authorization.
All the more so given events that have transpired since the memo was written in June 2010. One of the first things the new Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, did after last year’s election was to call for a new AUMF. Notably, he wanted to include Yemen (and AQAP) in the new AUMF. The Administration was disinterested in that new AUMF, stating they believed already had the authority to do what they need to.
They claim to have that authority, of course, because Marty Lederman said they have it.
No wonder they discouraged a new AUMF! An open debate over the new terms of the AUMF might interpret AQAP more restrictively than Lederman did in secret, which might have challenged the OLC memo authorizing the Awlaki killing (yeah, I know, the chances of that are almost nonexistent).
Furthermore, I wonder whether the Administration told Congress they had already effectively legally expanded the AUMF? McKeon counterpart Carl Levin’s call for the Administration to release the memo makes me wonder whether he has seen it, and if not whether he knows the Administration legally expanded the AUMF by secret fiat.
Which is why Glenn’s point that the Administration avoided not just Article III oversight, during the ACLU/CCR suit, on this killing, but also Congressional oversight is so important. I don’t support McKeon’s effort to write a new AUMF. But it is undeniable that Congress proposed changing the law in such a way that would have given the Awlaki killing more–though probably not adequate–sanction. Rather than embracing the opportunity by working with Congress to formally extend the war to Yemen and AQAP, the Administration instead operated with the secret self-sanction Lederman had already given it.
The Administration chose not to avail itself of the opportunity to explain in the context of an Article III court why it had the authority to kill Awlaki. So, too, it chose not to avail itself of the opportunity to negotiate with Congress to give the Awlaki killing more (though not adequate) legal sanction. Instead, it used its own secret law-making power to do what the other two branches of government could have done with transparency and legitimacy.
Update: Meanwhile, McKeon is holding the Defense Authorization hostage to his bigotry.
The memorandum did assert that other limitations on the use of force under the laws of war — like avoiding the use of disproportionate force that would increase the possibility of civilian deaths — would constrain any operation against Mr. Awlaki.
That is, among the other restrictions on the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the memo also said the government had to make efforts to avoid “civilian deaths.”
You know? Civilians? Like Samir Khan, the other American citizen killed in the strike? A propagandist, but not–according to any claim–an operational terrorist?
Yet in spite of the fact they had been following Awlaki for weeks–presumably gathering a good deal of detail in the process–they still killed him in such a way that they didn’t avoid killing an American citizen.
As Savage describes, the memo also says they can only kill someone like Awlaki if they can’t take him alive. But we’ve already seen a stream of articles saying the government simply avoids capture now because it’s … well … inconvenient. Did the David Barron memo prohibit the killing of Americans if capture was inconvenient?
Two more important details of this. First, as seemingly always happens, OLC simply trusted the Executive Branch agency to give it credible intelligence.
The memorandum, which was written more than a year before Mr. Awlaki was killed, does not independently analyze the quality of the evidence against him.
I presume the memo says, “you’ve given us this information; if it proves to be otherwise, our advice might be different.”
And then there’s the timing:
December 24, 2009: Administration tries unsuccessfully to kill Awlaki as collateral damage
Before January 26, 2010: Awlaki may or may not be placed on CIA (or JSOC) kill list
April 2010: Awlaki put on kill list
June 2010: OLC opinion authorizing Awlaki assassination
June 2010: David Barron announces his departure
July 2010: Marty Lederman announces his departure
August 2010: ACLU and CCR sue on Awlaki targeting
September 2010: Administration considers charging Awlaki
September 2010: After not charging Awlaki, the government declares the material just leaked to Charlie Savage a state secret
April 2011: The Administration tries, but fails, to kill Awlaki
September 2011: The Administration assassinates Awlaki and Khan
In other words–as Savage suggests–they had Awlaki on the kill list before they had actually done the review whether or not he should be there.
I can see why I’d want to leave the department if that had happened to me in OLC.