No Wonder the Administration Didn’t Want Buck McKeon’s New AUMF; Marty Lederman Already Gave Them One

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.

How Can Samir Khan Be “Collateral Damage” If OLC Memo Restricted Civilian Death?

Here’s the 32nd of 33 paragraphs in a Charlie Savage story describing the state secrets-protected explanation that justifies the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

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.

Will DOJ Finally Finish Its “Review” of Faulty White Paper on Illegal Wiretapping on Monday?

Steven Aftergood reports that, as of December 10, DOJ was still “reviewing” the flawed January 2006 white paper that the Bush Administration used to retroactively claim the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force also authorized Bush to ignore FISA.

In June 2009, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) asked the Obama Administration to rescind certain classified legal opinions issued by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that asserted legal justifications for the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

But more than a year and a half later, those OLC opinions remain under review and no action has been taken to invalidate them, the Justice Department indicated in a newly published hearing volume.


In a December 2010 response (pdf, at pp. 29-30) that has just been published, DOJ repeated that “The Department is still conducting its review, and will work with you and your staff to provide a better sense regarding the timing of the completion of the review.” (at pp. 29-30)

Now, Aftergood suggests that, without Feingold around to nag DOJ twice a year, this is where things will remain, with the white paper under permanent review (sort of the same way torture is under permanent “investigation”).

But a review that continues indefinitely is practically indistinguishable from no review at all.  And since Senator Feingold has now left the Senate, the Department will not be working with him and his staff to resolve this issue.  All that remains is the Senator’s warning about the hazards of embracing “unsupportable claims of executive power.”

And he may well be right.

But I wonder whether, some time years from now, we will learn that DOJ ended up completing its review and deciding to keep the white paper around about next Monday, March 7.

After all, Feingold was likely not the only one nagging DOJ to ditch the white paper.

David Kris was probably doing so too.

Even as the white paper was being written, now Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris tried to persuade members of the Bush Administration their effort to legitimize the program was problematic. And within two weeks after the white paper was released, Kris wrote a very clear debunking of the white paper. He demolished the Administration’s effort to claim AUMF authorized the program.

In sum, I do not believe the statutory law will bear the government’s weight. It is very hard to read the AUMF as authorizing “electronic surveillance” in light of the nearly simultaneous enactment of the Patriot Act. It is essentially impossible to read it as repealing FISA’s exclusivity provision. And the AUMF suffers further in light of FISA’s express wartime provisions. Even with the benefit of constitutional avoidance doctrine, I do not think Congress can be said to have authorized the NSA surveillance.

And while his final conclusion was more gentle, predicting the program would be “met with … hostility,” Kris made it clear that, though he didn’t know all the facts about the program, it was probably constitutionally suspect.

So I would imagine Kris has been pushing DOJ to “review” this dubious white paper since he rejoined DOJ.

But Friday is his last day. With Marty Lederman’s departure last summer and Dawn Johnsen’s abandonment by the Administration, Kris’ departure will mean the last of the noted defenders of the rule of law will be gone from DOJ. Along with Russ Feingold, seemingly the last real defender of the Constitution in Congress.

So Monday morning, nothing–no one–will be there to stop DOJ from simply declaring “Mission Accomplished” of making the white paper, rather than Congressionally-passed statute, the law of the land.

DOJ Still Deliberating about 2006 White Paper

As I noted in my last post, the Obama Administration is following Bush Administration precedent in shielding OLC memos from Congressional oversight.

The Kyl and Coburn requests for OLC memos on any rights Gitmo detainees would get if brought into the US were not the only questions about OLC memos posed to Eric Holder after his November 2009 appearance before the Senate Judiciary. Russ Feingold raised an issue he always raises during oversight hearings: the still-operative OLC memos authorizing warrantless wiretapping.

Office of Legal Counsel White Memos:

20. In your October 29, 2009, responses to Questions for the Record from the June 17, 2009, Department of Justice Oversight hearing, you stated that there was an ongoing review of whether to withdraw the January 2006 White Paper and other classified Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos providing legal justification for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. What is the current status of that review? When will it be complete? Has anyone at the Department made an affirmative decision to leave those opinions in effect?

Response: The Department is still conducting its review, and will work with you and your staff to provide a better sense of the timing of the completion of the review. No one in the Department has made any affirmative decision about the treatment of the OLC opinions.

This is the White Paper based largely on a May 6, 2004 Jack Goldsmith opinion written after the hospital confrontation and designed to replace Yoo’s expansive claims to inherent authority with an argument that the AUMF authorized the warrantless wiretap program. And according to Holder, DOJ is still dithering around with the question of whether they need to withdraw the memo.

Presumably, that decision is being made at least partly at OLC. You know–OLC? The department Dawn Johnsen should be running?

And I find that curious because, while I have no idea what Acting OLC  head David Barron thinks of the January 2006 White Paper, we do know what another key OLC attorney thinks about it. While still at Balkinization, Marty Lederman repeatedly explained why the AUMF could not be claimed to have authorized the warrantless wiretap program. In February 2006, Lederman was one of a number of lawyers who wrote Congress explaining that the AUMF argument made no sense. In March 2006, Lederman wrote a long post analyzing what David Kris–now AAG for National Security–said in arguing that the AUMF couldn’t justify the warrantless wiretap program.

Yet, in spite of the fact that two of the DOJ’s key people believe this White Paper to be bogus, DOJ is still trying to figure out whether they need to withdraw it.

Marty Lederman Takes over John Yoo's Former Position

If you needed any further proof that things are different–very different–today, there’s this: Balkinization blogger Marty Lederman will take John Yoo’s former position, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OLC.

As of today, the commencement of the Obama Administration, he begins work as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. There he will be joined by two of his former OLC colleagues, Dawn Johnsen, nominated to be head of the office; and David Barron, who will serve as the Principal Deputy (and as the Acting AAG while the Senate considers Dawn’s nomination).

We’ve replaced the guy who did Bush and Cheney’s evil bidding with a blogger-prof and Constitutional champion, Marty Lederman.

Welcome to a new day, America.