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We'd never change the definition of 'bad guy', honest!
February 4, 2013 9:36 PM   Subscribe

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
posted by Malor (148 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Note also that 'an associated force' is a term so elastic as to be meaningless; it can be any person or organization that has ever exchanged an email with someone defined as being a member of Al Qaeda.

One can only assume that the same logic will apply as applies to existing drone strikes; if you are killed by a drone strike, you are defined as a militant, unless you can prove otherwise.

Ergo, if you are assassinated in this way, it seems likely that you will be declared retroactively guilty, even if you weren't the original target. And, man, is it ever hard to find and pay a lawyer from the grave.
posted by Malor at 9:38 PM on February 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Just to prevent confusion, this memo isn't law, it's legal advice.

Also, this should have linksto relevant previous threads; like the previous Anwar threads, here and here. And the drone threads....

And more meaningful tags than 'freedom.' Maybe 'dueprocess?'
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:42 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for contributing them, snuffleupagus, please add anything else you think is relevant.
posted by Malor at 9:42 PM on February 4, 2013


Is this the first time both MSNBC and Drudge have shared the same headline of a story that is not mentioned on neither CNN nor Fox's home page?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:45 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, it's shit like this that makes you wish the US commander-in-chief was, oh, a Harvard-educated progressive trained in constitutional law.
posted by docgonzo at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2013 [50 favorites]


Oh, and in reference to: this memo isn't law, it's legal advice.

It's how the Justice Department is interpreting the law, which means that it is the law, until Congress or the Supreme Court says otherwise.
posted by Malor at 9:51 PM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


emptywheel has some analysis here:
[It is] not the actual legal memos used to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and who knows who else. As Michael Isikoff notes in his story, the Senators whose job it is to oversee the Executive Branch — even the ones on the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be read into covert operations — are still demanding the memos, for at least the 12th time. The release of this white paper must not serve to take pressure off of the White House to release the actual memos.
posted by kithrater at 9:54 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man, it's shit like this that makes you wish the US commander-in-chief was, oh, a Harvard-educated progressive trained in constitutional law.

Yeah, I feel you. But consider that just like losing war plans, a President's administration might request a legal opinion like this without the intention of relying on it. Sometimes seeing just how objectionable a rationale is when it's laid bare is what you need to win the case against it. Not that I'm too confident (or even hopeful) that's how this memo would be received, given the Administration's policy to date.

It's how the Justice Department is interpreting the law, which means that it is the law, until Congress or the Supreme Court says otherwise.

No, that's just not so. It means, at the upper limit, that his could be how the Department of Justice intends to enforce the law. The judiciary says what the law is, after Congress writes it. Marbury v. Madison. (The "Judicial Department" referred to in Marbury means the judiciary, not the DoJ.)

There has been some dust up as of late over Presidential Findings and their force of law, but this is not a Finding or an Executive Order. It's a research memo.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:55 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


if they are believed to be “senior operational figures"

...and if they're "Al Qaeda's number two in the region" they can expect to be killed several times over.
posted by pompomtom at 10:01 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


it can be any person or organization that has ever exchanged an email with someone defined as being a member of Al Qaeda.

Oh, horseshit.
posted by empath at 10:02 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Research memo or not - may I remind the listening audience that American citizens have already been targeted for assassination for their supposed role in aiding al Qaeda. Kind of makes the whole "this is just research" argument rather academic (sorry).
posted by jason says at 10:03 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Empath - please note the following before dismissing this argument so out of hand.
posted by jason says at 10:05 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Although not an official legal memo, the white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides authoritative legal advice to the president and all executive branch agencies.
-
It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly.


God forbid we Americans discuss publicly the guiding legal policies under which our fellow citizens can be killed by our people's government.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:07 PM on February 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Maybe I should buy that assault rifle after all.
posted by Ardiril at 10:08 PM on February 4, 2013


Maybe I should buy that assault rifle after all.

Unfortunately, assault rifle's do not exist.
posted by crushedhope at 10:15 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man, it's shit like this that makes you wish the US commander-in-chief was, oh, a Harvard-educated progressive trained in constitutional law.

Looking forward to seeing what a president who isn't gets up to with this legal advice...
posted by Jimbob at 10:17 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, assault rifle's do not exist.

Yes, they do, but they aren't exactly as easy to buy in the US as the semi-automatic weapons sometimes described as "Assault Weapons". But this isn't the thread for that stuff. ;)
posted by Drinky Die at 10:18 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Research memo or not - may I remind the listening audience that American citizens have already been targeted for assassination for their supposed role in aiding al Qaeda. Kind of makes the whole "this is just research" argument rather academic (sorry).

It's not academic, because arguments like those contained in the memo/report may ultimately determine whether the Court decides that the law will or will not continue to permit these policies and actions, should they reach further judicial review. Just because the courts have gone along thus far doesn't mean that it won't come to a head eventually.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:19 PM on February 4, 2013


docgonzo: "Man, it's shit like this that makes you wish the US commander-in-chief was, oh, a Harvard-educated progressive trained in constitutional law."

More's the irony.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:20 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh man, the link that jason says posted is chilling.
posted by Phire at 10:40 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is bullshit.
posted by Windopaene at 10:57 PM on February 4, 2013


Maybe I should buy that assault rifle after all.
Which would do what, exactly? I always laugh at those gun nuts who think their AR-15s are somehow going to stop their houses from getting bombed.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have news for you, your government, or anyone else for that matter, can kill you any time it wants.
posted by psmealey at 11:02 PM on February 4, 2013


The previous president kidnapped and tortured people without judicial oversight. The current president carries our targeted assassinations without judicial oversight. I'm kind of hoping that the next president will aim lower in selecting a crime of choice. He/she can jaywalk with impunity as far as I'm concerned.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:02 PM on February 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


I want open stoner President.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:06 PM on February 4, 2013


I have news for you, your government, or anyone else for that matter, can kill you any time it wants.

No. My fellow citizens are deterred from killing me by the police and the courts. The leaders of my government are deterred from killing me by constitutional restrictions and the threat of removal from office by the votes of my fellow citizens. I'm not bulletproof, but I'm quite safe. This is why open democratic government and the rule of law are really great.

Nothing could be more contrary to the rule of law than arbitrary assassinations, and keeping the purported legal justification of such a program secret is a deliberate attempt to undermine the democratic process.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:16 PM on February 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


I don't disagree with the ideal, or the premise. I'm just alluding to the corruption and blatant disregard for the rule of law rampant throughout the system, that such things can and do happen every day. Until we get a government actually accountable to the rule of law and the will of the people (or actually have a majority of people who give a shit about such things), this will always be a risk.
posted by psmealey at 11:38 PM on February 4, 2013


Surely this will spell the end of the Bush Administration!
posted by Justinian at 11:38 PM on February 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Is it the ease with which this can be carried out that disturbs people? Or is it just that now it's all a little bit more transparent and obvious that these assassinations (and civilians-we-call-"combatants" killings) are happening? Because we've been killing "bad guys" for decades and decades -- it's just that now the tool is 18,000 feet in the air as opposed to two-thirds of a mile away with a sniper rifle, or six feet away with an exploding cigar.

Although good on you if you've been protesting the cigar for the last fifty years.
posted by incessant at 11:57 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And, which American citizens is it we killed with exploding cigars?
posted by Drinky Die at 11:58 PM on February 4, 2013


I'm starting to like Holder less and less. At least Ashcroft and Gonzales were shills with transparent - one could say more immediate - political motivations. The Obama Administration has extended the Patriot Act and kept Guantanamo open. "Broader concept of imminence"? That is some dark shit, man. I really don't understand what the play is here for the Democrats, and I don't like where any of this is going.
posted by phaedon at 12:11 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's Orwell's world - we just live in it.
posted by twsf at 12:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


phaedon: " I really don't understand what the play is here for the Democrats, and I don't like where any of this is going."

The Republicans were "Bad Cop". What we're seeing now is Good Cop getting precisely what he wants.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:27 AM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I really don't understand what the play is here for the Democrats, and I don't like where any of this is going.

Democrats? Republicans?

I can't tell the difference anymore. Who were we going to prosecute for war crimes again?
posted by Avenger50 at 12:38 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ah -- I was responding more to the general "Drones are bad!" sentiment than the more direct "America killing Americans with drones is bad!" sentiment.

(I get that America killing Americans feels worse to me than Americans killing non-Americans, although when I step back and think about it, I'm not entirely sure why. In both scenarios, people are dying, and certainly an American life isn't worth more or less than a Pakistani or Egyptian or Indonesian life. Perhaps my nuance meter is broken.) (But again, I'm more interested in why people feel "Drones are bad and worse than other stuff we've ever done!")
posted by incessant at 12:44 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think drones are worse. They aren't nuking Nagasaki. They are just bad, all on their own.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:47 AM on February 5, 2013


"In both scenarios, people are dying, and certainly an American life isn't worth more or less than a Pakistani or Egyptian or Indonesian life. Perhaps my nuance meter is broken."

Because Americans are nominally under the protection of the American government. Same as how Pakistani lives are the purview of Pakistan and Egyptian lives, Egypt. America can't protect every person around the world; the first priority should be protecting Americans.

However, that makes killing them something that needs more scrutiny rather than less; the ability of a Pakistani or Egyptian to raise holy hell over this sort of thing is much more limited than an American's.

(I think the drone program is fucked up in general, and that the only way to provide any reasonable accountability is to send people to prison for war crimes, and this administration has abdicated its responsibility in that arena. I don't think this memo necessarily reflects active policy in all its details, but that secrecy is part of the problem.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


To put it another way, how would you feel if China started killing Falun Gong activists in the US with drone strikes?
posted by brokkr at 1:29 AM on February 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile, 54 countries freely cooperated with the US in the running of an international post-nation kidnapping syndicate. Note that GwB's definition of good and bad guys are completely frivolous here:
Iran and Syria – two-thirds of George W Bush's so-called axis of evil – are identified by the OSJI as having participated in the rendition programme. Syria is said to have been one of the "most common destinations for rendered suspects", while Iran is said to have participated in the CIA's programme by handing over 15 individuals to Kabul shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan, in the full knowledge that they would fall under US control.
posted by the cydonian at 1:48 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


incessant, what bothers me is that there used to be a widespread, instinctive revulsion to things like torture and extrajudicial assassination, and we're losing that. They used to be unthinkable. We used to think that only the most depraved of our enemies would stoop so low. The fact that they would do such things was visceral proof of the inferiority of their systems of government.

This was always more than a little hypocritical. The US has been torturing foreigners overseas since 1899, that's nothing new. However, plausible deniability was required in the cold war era. The largest scale American torture-promotion institution of the cold war, the School of the Americas, existed to train foreigners to act as proxies and even then had to operate in secret.

The innovation now is that we're making the unthinkable legal. Being able to operate openly without fear of legal repercussions has allowed government-sponsored torture programs to grow larger and more deeply entrenched than ever before. What's even worse is that we're losing the once universal sense that torture and assassination should be scandalous. Exposing evidence of torture used to rock the government.

An example of what's being lost: the Somalia affair. In 1993 a number of Canadian soldiers in Somalia tortured and killed a Somali civilian. The soldiers who committed the act were imprisoned, along with their Major who was deemed to have been negligent. Their regiment was disbanded and training procedures were revised throughout the armed forces. Two subsequent Chiefs of the Defence Staff were forced to resign. The scandal was a major factor in shortening the political career of Prime Minister Kim Campbell. Widespread public revulsion can force things to change.

Right now using drones to kill American citizens for what they have said is happening openly. It is considered a matter for polite debate. Therefore it will continue.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:54 AM on February 5, 2013 [23 favorites]


Right now using drones to kill American citizens for what they have said is happening openly.

How many examples can you name of this outside of Allawi? Just interested in an actual figure.
posted by longbaugh at 2:14 AM on February 5, 2013


Empath - please note the following before dismissing this argument so out of hand.

That has nothing to do with this. He was arrested and charged with a crime. He's not senior leadership, and no one is going to get killed by the government for uploading a youtube video.
posted by empath at 2:15 AM on February 5, 2013


(Just in case people misinterpret me: I'm against targetted killings even when Americans aren't involved. I just think we should be realistic about what is actually happening here).
posted by empath at 2:18 AM on February 5, 2013


Man, it's shit like this that makes you wish the US commander-in-chief was, oh, a Harvard-educated progressive trained in constitutional law.

Naw, sounds like the kind of position someone you'd like to hang out with and have a drink would give.

Surely this will ....
posted by rough ashlar at 3:21 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, this same legal obfuscation and consequent illogical interpretation is incidiously infesting the governing bodies of Australia, the UK and no doubt other aspiring democracies.

It will take a miracle to reverse this particular stream of psychopathy.
posted by bigZLiLk at 3:22 AM on February 5, 2013


How can you make that assertion, empath? They're already trying to lock someone up for 23 years for making a Youtube video. How long is it going to be until some government employee gets irritated and figures that someone needs to be shut the hell up right now?

If you seriously argue this isn't going to happen, and in fact may already have happened, I'd say you're not giving the existing evidence the consideration that you should.

What we're allowed to know about is despicable. So what goes on in secret?
posted by Malor at 3:23 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


send people to prison for war crimes, and this administration has abdicated its responsibility in that arena.

VS the previous how many administrations?

It used to be if someone thought some law/policy was bull, that someone could bring a challenge to the courts and see if the law was valid. (pre 1920 Frothingham v. Mellon and Fairchild v. Hughes ) Now, if one is charged under a bogus law and want to "take it all the way to the Supreme Court" if the charges are dropped, so is the ability to take the law up the chain.

In the case of assassinations, exactly what standing does the dead have? Zombie Pro-Se?

When the local courts/court officials are corrupt/incompetent - aka getting the DA to put in front of the Grand Jury your charge of Felony false pleading in an affidavit submitted to the Clerk of the Courts - exactly how is this assassination policy idea to be challenged in the Courts?
posted by rough ashlar at 3:35 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


So what goes on in secret?

Operation Gladio?

The stuff the Church Commission reported on?

The Businessman Plot? (Smedley Butler) (and a rumor exists that 2 reports were submitted to Congress. One that 'gosh, there was a plot but we can't figure out who the plotters were' and the "missing" one that named names. So ripe for a forgery is the claimed "missing" one....)
posted by rough ashlar at 3:40 AM on February 5, 2013


How can you make that assertion, empath? They're already trying to lock someone up for 23 years for making a Youtube video. How long is it going to be until some government employee gets irritated and figures that someone needs to be shut the hell up right now?

I'm sure that somebody in the state department reading metafilter right now is confusing a 'flag comment' button with a 'bombs away' button.

The government sucks at keeping secrets. If they were planning on killing Americans for uploading youtube videos, we'd know about it. I'm taking this paper at face value. Let's just assume that they mean what they are saying. There is plenty here to oppose without fantasizing worst-case scenarios.
posted by empath at 3:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is, perhaps, worth reminding everyone that the only time you need your civil liberties is when the government hates you and wants you imprisoned or dead.

If you only have rights when you're popular, you don't have rights, you have privileges in exchange for conformity.

It's when everyone thinks you're an absolute scumbag and should immediately be killed, and you still have rights, and due process, everything is adhered to scrupulously and by the letter, and there's a very real chance you'll walk out the other end of the process a free man or women.... THEN you have rights, the real honest-to-god genuine article. And the way you know you have rights is that Public Enemy Number One has them. If he doesn't, you don't either, so you should in there screaming about Al-Alwaki and the thousands of drone deaths.

If Public Enemy Number One can just be killed in an extrajudicial assassination, then so can you. You just have play rights. As long as you stay in the dotted line and obey the authorities, you can pretend whatever you like. But they will put you fucking six feet under if you step too far out of line.... or if they think you stepped out of line.
posted by Malor at 3:43 AM on February 5, 2013 [53 favorites]


Let me be clear: The justice department's position here is wrong, even if they are talking only about assassinating American citizens overseas who are senior leadership of Al Queada.

It's bad policy that will lead to the deaths of innocent people and blowback that we can't predit, will lead to other countries with fewer constitutional restraints than we have to go further with it and point to us as an example, and will lead to confusion and fear at home. It's terrible policy, practically and morally.
posted by empath at 3:44 AM on February 5, 2013


If they were planning on killing Americans for uploading youtube videos, we'd know about it.

They've already done it once. Once that we know about. Al-Alwaki died because he was an effective spokesperson, not because they had sufficient evidence to lock him up.
posted by Malor at 3:44 AM on February 5, 2013


One could try dipping into the past - extrajudicial outlawry.

A bit more on outlawry
posted by rough ashlar at 3:47 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Al-Alwaki died because he was an effective spokesperson, not because they had sufficient evidence to lock him up.

He wasn't just posting videos. He was in direct communication with multiple people who were involved in terrorist attacks, raised money, etc..
posted by empath at 3:50 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


there used to be a widespread, instinctive revulsion to things like torture and extrajudicial assassination, and we're losing that. We used to think that only the most depraved of our enemies would stoop so low. The fact that they would do such things was visceral proof of the inferiority of their systems of government.
It still is.
posted by fullerine at 3:54 AM on February 5, 2013


What if one is declared a terrorist on a State level?

Texas has a law about cattle and saying bad things about cattle products like 'Beef burgers - now with less horsemeat'.

How do you keep consumers in the dark about the horrors of factory farms? By making it an “act of terrorism” for anyone to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on the corporate-controlled farms that produce the bulk of our meat, eggs and dairy products.

And who better to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, designed to protect Big Ag and Big Energy, than the lawyers on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the corporate-funded and infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska are the latest states to introduce Ag-Gag laws aimed at preventing employees, journalists or activists from exposing illegal or unethical practices on factory farms. Lawmakers in 10 other states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012. The laws passed in three of those states: Missouri, Iowa and Utah. But consumer and animal-welfare activists prevented the laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

posted by rough ashlar at 4:03 AM on February 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


He was in direct communication with multiple people who were involved in terrorist attacks, raised money, etc..

If you're looking for American citizens who were bestest buddies with unsavoury funders of terrorism, you don't have to look much former than some recent predidents. Just putting that out there. I'm sure they're being watched closely.
posted by Jimbob at 4:08 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


He wasn't just posting videos. He was in direct communication with multiple people who were involved in terrorist attacks, raised money, etc..


real shame that statement will never get vetted in a court of law, real shame that is, mm hmm yes sir it is.
posted by Shit Parade at 4:32 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


real shame that statement will never get vetted in a court of law, real shame that is, mm hmm yes sir it is.

If he wanted to dispute it, he could have turned himself in when they put a warrant out on him. It's not like they'd have put a bullet in his head rather than try him if they had a choice.
posted by empath at 4:45 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If he wanted to dispute it, he could have turned himself in when they put a warrant out on him. It's not like they'd have put a bullet in his head rather than try him if they had a choice.
Related Posts
Notes From Guantánamo January 9, 2012
posted by fullerine at 4:55 AM on February 5, 2013


Malor: "Note also that 'an associated force' is a term so elastic as to be meaningless; it can be any person or organization that has ever exchanged an email with someone defined as being a member of Al Qaeda."

Well then its a good thing that the actual fucking justice department memo none of us are reading helpfully defines the term on the first page:
An associated force of al-Qa'ida incudes a group that would qualify as a co-belligerent under the laws of war. See Hamily v. Obama, 616 F. 2d 63, 74-75 (D.D.C. 2009) (authority to detain extends to "associated forces,'" which "mean 'co-belligerents' as that term is understood under the laws of war").
posted by Blasdelb at 5:17 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Just out of self interest, I'd be more interested in knowing what it excludes as opposed to merely an incomplete list of the things it includes.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:20 AM on February 5, 2013


Man, it's shit like this that makes you wish the US commander-in-chief was, oh, a Harvard-educated progressive trained in constitutional law.

Thing is, I expect that they're right, which isn't much fun. At least if you think about this in other contexts. Would the President (or his men) have the power to order the killing of specific people with no judicial review, even if the person is American?

Probably, if we're involved in a civil war and the person is in the Confederate Army. Even someone well behind the lines dealing with supplies who poses no immediate physical threat to anyone. Likewise someone who was merely a Confederate politician or other civilian war-planner high enough to be noticed by name. Repeat for other armed forces the US might be at war with, and their associated states or whatever.

The fun part here is that the US is at war with a squishy nebulous entity where it isn't even clear that the opposing forces have any real capacity to end hostilities apart from being killed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:35 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"They're already trying to lock someone up for 23 years for making a Youtube video."

Its not like there wouldn't be historical precedent for this.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:40 AM on February 5, 2013


Well then its a good thing that the actual fucking justice department memo none of us are actually reading helpfully defines the term on the first page:

yeah, that's not really so helpful. "Co-belligerent" could also be fairly elastic when you're dealing with non-military terrorist networks and insurgent groups. These aren't the uniformed standing armies of a nation-state.

We do have the precedent of Reid v. Covert, which says that the protections of the 6th amendment extends to US citizens outside of the country:

At the beginning, we reject the idea that, when the United States acts against citizens abroad, it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government....

Though I doubt my solution to this would please many mefites much more than the memo's: I think we should try people like this in absentia for forfeiture of their citizenship for joining a foreign & hostile force. Then, bombs away. I do not weep for Anwar Al-Awlaki's loss (his son's killing was by for more questionable in my view--a trial in absentia would definitely have helped there). I weep for the loss of our rights and our principles.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


"The fun part here is that the US is at war with a squishy nebulous entity where it isn't even clear that the opposing forces have any real capacity to end hostilities apart from being killed."

Are you asserting that surrender, negotiated or otherwise, to the rule of law, either in the form of American or foreign authorities, is somehow not possible here?
posted by Blasdelb at 5:54 AM on February 5, 2013


If Anwar al-Aulaqi's assassination can be taken at face value as being somewhat justified, what about his 16-year-old son's?

It's already pretty despicable that the only citizens Americans care about are their own. This isn't some random line drawn in the sand; there are reported hundreds of innocent civilians dead by direct executive order. That's the argument we miss when we focus only on American citizens. And then that's only deaths. Most Afghani children 10 and under suffer from symptoms of PTSD as a combined result of living through war and having to fill the breadwinner role. Living Under Drones reports that the drones in Pakistan are a constant psychological and mortal threat and that the CIA has a strategy of 'double-tapping' a strike zone, killing first-responders and would-be rescuers. In October a drone strike in Pakistan injured a group of children who were out gathering firewood with their grandmother, who was killed by the strike. The children were "were left critically burned and with shrapnel injuries in an apparent ‘double-tap’ strike by CIA drones". According to White House policy, if the 18-year-old in the group who was injured in the strike dies, he is retroactively considered a militant and the legal pressure is on the family to not have him classified as such on CIA hard-drives.

Oh if they had only known better to have surrendered themselves to a foreign entity!
posted by dubusadus at 5:55 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's already pretty despicable that the only citizens Americans care about are their own. This isn't some random line drawn in the sand; there are reported hundreds of innocent civilians dead by direct executive order. That's the argument we miss when we focus only on American citizens. And then that's only deaths....

That's a different discussion. I'm pretty sure Malor would agree with you, for instance, but he posted this thread so we could discuss the legal whitepaper that NBC has released; which is precisely about the Constitutional limits on the Government's ability to target Americans abroad it believes are hostile.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:01 AM on February 5, 2013


I'd like to think this is specific to international situations and a real threat of terrorism but just last week I watched a video of a homeless Chicago man being slowly strangled to death by a group of men after shoplifting some toothpaste. So a lynching caught on video. No charges at all.

Things are broken in America.
posted by srboisvert at 6:28 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The scandal Reform Party was a major factor in shortening the political career of Prime Minister Kim Campbell.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:30 AM on February 5, 2013


Are you asserting that surrender, negotiated or otherwise, to the rule of law, either in the form of American or foreign authorities, is somehow not possible here?
posted by Blasdelb at 1:54 PM on February 5 [+] [!]


Not the original commenter. But how does "terrorism" surrender? Seeing as it is a tactic and not an organised force with recognised leaders who can speak on its behalf.

You could say that Al Qaida could surrender via whoever is recognised as their leader at the time but seeing as the "war on terror" now covers associated forces and those inspired by Al Qaida how could anyone ever be satisfied that all possible terrorists have given up?
posted by Reggie Knoble at 6:44 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"But how does "terrorism" surrender?"

There are no drones attacking 'terrorism', 'terrorism' cannot be killed (extra-judicially, legally, in self-defense, in combat, illegally, or otherwise), and there is no aspect of 'terrorism' that could really conceivably be thought of as an American citizen; my understanding is that we're talking about and wringing our hands over 'terrorists'.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:21 AM on February 5, 2013


There's always going to be a gray area in America, in terms of executing citizens who take up arms. The trick is keeping that gray area as small as possible. The current administration isn't helping in that area.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


How Obama Transformed an Old Military Concept So He Can Drone Americans (Wired)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:05 AM on February 5, 2013


There are no drones attacking 'terrorism', 'terrorism' cannot be killed (extra-judicially, legally, in self-defense, in combat, illegally, or otherwise), and there is no aspect of 'terrorism' that could really conceivably be thought of as an American citizen; my understanding is that we're talking about and wringing our hands over 'terrorists'.
posted by Blasdelb 53 minutes ago [+]


Ah. The person you were replying to was referring to a "squishy nebulous entity", not American citizens.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 8:17 AM on February 5, 2013


Many American citizens are squishy and nebulous.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:19 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If he wanted to dispute it, he could have turned himself in when they put a warrant out on him. It's not like they'd have put a bullet in his head rather than try him if they had a choice.

From my reading al-Aulaqi had an arrest warrant put out for passport fraud back in 2002, then came into the US months later and the statute of limitations had expired, so he was not arrested. Then he was murdered by our government a number of years later.

So I guess my question would be, do you believe it is a general right of sovereign nations to murder their own citizens abroad based on expired arrest warrants for minor crimes that could no longer be prosecuted, or is that only something the United States of Fuck Yeah gets to do?
posted by crayz at 8:25 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not even remotely implying that this is what's happening here at MeFi, but: As a pretty far-out leftie, I'm always amazed by how many milquetoast liberal standard-bearers come a-runnin' back into the Glenn Greenwald-esque fold when stories like this start to move up into the MSM, after spending months/years otherwise accusing Greenwald & co. of being tinfoil-hatted whackjobs with Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Too much criticism of the current administration, particularly when it comes to the whole "hey, uh, your government is totally A-OK with the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens" ilk, tends to send the Democratic standard bearers scurrying away from Greenwald's level of rhetoric like rats, but he's suddenly the Pied Piper when the stories he helped to break days/weeks/months ago finally start gaining traction on NBC, CNN, etc.
Alternately, as people continue to move toward a general agreement that the horrific things Bush did are actually still bad when Obama does them, Greenwald gets some small but richly-deserved credibility boosts (and a socialist gets its wings!). I had to take his column off of my RSS feed because every post is so goddamned depressing, but he's an international treasure.

Huzzah!

Thanks for posting. I need a fucking drink.
posted by divined by radio at 8:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are you asserting that surrender, negotiated or otherwise, to the rule of law, either in the form of American or foreign authorities, is somehow not possible here?

Sure. There's no definitive organization that can credibly surrender on behalf of Al Qaeda, and even if there were the US's position has not even been to demand unconditional surrender but to simply wipe them out. At the very least, ceasing hostilities through surrender is a very remote possibility.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:55 AM on February 5, 2013


Well, according to Robert Gibbs, having a "irresponsible father" is enough to warrant assassination. So I am not confident in the ability of the administration to calmly and deliberately decide who should be a target for assassination.
posted by jason says at 9:00 AM on February 5, 2013


Kill List Exposed: Leaked Obama Memo Shows Assassination of U.S. Citizens "Has No Geographic Limit"
posted by homunculus at 9:15 AM on February 5, 2013


If he wanted to dispute it, he could have turned himself in when they put a warrant out on him. It's not like they'd have put a bullet in his head rather than try him if they had a choice.

No he couldn't, and yes they would have. The US had no charges against him and there was no warrant for anything. He was put on the kill list, and his father filed a lawsuit to have him taken off, which was dismissed because the kill list is warfare and not a judicial matter.

Right before they killed him the DoJ did say there was a prepared case against Alwaki, but ONLY as a fallback if after the strike the Yemenis pulled him out of the wreckage alive. So the US position was that only after making every effort to put a bullet in his head would they resort to a trial.
posted by queen zixi at 9:16 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


a fallback if after the strike the Yemenis pulled him out of the wreckage alive

Surely THAT will end the Bush Administration!
posted by rough ashlar at 9:30 AM on February 5, 2013


Republicans will have hearings when someone in the Obama administration farts too loudly. Think they'll actually have the balls to have a fair hearing on this? And if they're willing to do this, let's not forget about all this shit they let the previous administration get away with. The nation is now filthy with hypocrites.
posted by gaspode at 9:51 AM on February 5, 2013


To put it another way, how would you feel if China started killing Falun Gong activists in the US with drone strikes?
posted by brokkr


Well, it depends doesn't it? Did these Falun Gong activists orchestrate a tragically large terrorist attack on innocent Chinese civilians?
posted by SollosQ at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2013


SollosQ - much like the US Memo, China says that Falun Gong are destabilizing to their internal security without citing actual imminent threat. This memo does not require actual threats, just perceived threats. So under the terms of this memo, China would be well within its rights to start assassinating Falun Gong members inside the US.

On a related note, Glenn Greenwald speaks.
posted by jason says at 10:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's not what this memo says.

It explicitly states that it is not here enumerating the necessary requirements to be considered, but that the focus of its intent is: "a senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida... actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans."

If you read the memo, it is clear that the level of standards is intended to be much higher than that put forth in your example.
posted by SollosQ at 10:19 AM on February 5, 2013


I quote from the article I included above: "To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: "This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful." Instead, as the last line of the memo states: "it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation" - not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible. "
posted by jason says at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Very, Very Dangerous': Experts Fear Implications Of Drone Memo -- "Experts say White House memo dangerously expands the definition of national self-defense and of what constitutes an imminent attack."
posted by ericb at 1:00 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If he wanted to dispute it, he could have turned himself in when they put a warrant out on him.

I'm curious if learning that there was no warrant changes your view on this at all.

Personally, I don't think you can rationally expect anyone to turn themselves in when you accuse them of a crime your nation has tortured and held people indefinitely without trial for.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:33 PM on February 5, 2013


“I'm more interested in why people feel "Drones are bad and worse than other stuff we've ever done!"

Drones are awesome. They can be used to avoid bombing, or risking lives gathering intelligence. They can be used to survey environmental damage safely (e.g. at the Fukushima nuclear accident), dynamically redirect traffic flow, etc.
They have vast potential enrich our lives, like television or the internet.

Unfortunately, in the actual they're in our lives like television or the internet.


From ericb’s link: “But the memo obtained by NBC News refers to a broader definition of imminence and specifically says the government is not required to have “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”… Naureen Shah: “And there’s no one outside of the White House who has real oversight over that process. What’s put forward here is there’s no role for the courts, not even after the fact.”

That’s the big problem from a cold-blooded functional standpoint is there’s no accountability.
In the first place, the ROE there is that you can take someone out if you have evidence that they’re involved in an ongoing evolution, but if you don’t have evidence – that too is reason enough to take them out. And then, who follows up? No one. So why not sanction some guy, call him the head man, look like a big hero and call it a day?

It’s sort of the practical reason we have the 4th amendment. Yes, you protect people in general. But it also prevents government officials from “staking out” whorehouses all day and “confiscating” liquor and say they’re doing their jobs.
So it’s not merely a due process problem, there is incentive to (as Malor stated) retroactively declare someone guilty because they were targeted.

It’s pretty much all the same things that were wrong with the “enemy combatant” Bush era policy and the use of the military to fight terrorism while arguing the military is unfettered by congressional oversight because of jurisdiction.
It’s why torture isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid. It doesn’t work.

This too, is a big excuse to not actually accomplish anything beyond needless bloodshed and the opportunity to put on a big show. More theater and excuses to avoid actual fixes.

So it doesn’t ultimately matter what conditions are set to use lethal force, or their nationality, or whether the threat is imminent or not or whether the killing itself is a priori lawful - the argument/interpretation is (under the AUMF and other laws like the Aircraft sabotage act) actions by military personnel, in this case targeting AQ, et.al, terrorists for assassination, can’t be criminalized which means there is no judicial oversight or (in effect) congressional oversight (because it falls under international law and the laws of armed conflict).

Something I didn’t see mentioned - congressional oversight is further watered down by reporting to respective committees in terms of operations involving essentially the same hardware and personnel. So you have reports going to, f’rinstance the armed services committee and some going to intelligence committee and whatnot depending on if it’s coming from JSOC or the NSC or CIA or the Counterterrorism Security Group, or… etc.

Makes it kinda tough to get a coherent picture. Which is sorta the point in a democracy. The targeted killing is nowhere near as dangerous as the lack of transparency. Yes, explosives are dangerous, sure. But it’s always been secrecy that kills en mass.

Congress should just repeal the AUMF. (And the Patriot Act. And the laws on contractors, etc. etc.) From there it would be easier to craft a law that overtly demands a system of oversight. Regardless of whether we’re ok with assassination or not we'd have a framework with an independent review authority.

Given we want one that is. Plausible deniability is a hellova drug.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:36 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I quote from the article I included above..."

THE ACTUAL MEMO IS JUST SIXTEEN PAGES AND AVAILABLE HERE FOR YOU TO READ YOURSELF AND DIRECTLY QUOTE FROM ITSELF WITHOUT HAVING TO RELY ON SOMEONE TO IDEOLOGICALLY FILTER IT. We don't need to play this bizarre game of liberal telephone where the tin foil only ever seems to pile higher. Its really not that dense or obscure and is written simply enough for non-lawyers to be able to understand it.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It does take a lawyer to understand the full implications of the language used, and it seems reasonable to consider Greenwald's views on this stuff, even if you don't agree in the end.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:44 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


We don't need to play this bizarre game of liberal telephone where the tin foil only ever seems to pile higher.

I'll amend my excoriation of the purple monkey dishwasher provision then.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:17 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, 54 countries freely cooperated with the US in the running of an international post-nation kidnapping syndicate. Note that GwB's definition of good and bad guys are completely frivolous here

How countries around the world were allegedly involved in CIA rendition – interactive
posted by homunculus at 6:13 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Easy on the all-caps, blasdelb. Having time to read sixteen pages of dense text is a privilege that not everyone has. If everyone is going to have the chance to participate in the democratic process then reading an accurate summary (like the one in the linked article) must be sufficient for participation in discussion. That really is a sufficient amount of information so long as there are some people on the thread who have read the whole thing and are able to correct misrepresentations and add detail.

My personal favorite part of the memo is the bit where it defends stretching the 2001 AUMF beyond Afghanistan by citing the way the Vietnam war spilled over into Cambodia (p.4).
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:27 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you have time to comment on the substance, you have time to read the substance.

And seriously, 16 pages is too much? Yeah, yeah, literacy privilege etc., but it's not like it's Moby Dick or even the Patriot Act. But MetaFilter's a better place when people read the fucking article.
posted by klangklangston at 7:44 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It does take a lawyer to understand the full implications of the language used, and it seems reasonable to consider Greenwald's views on this stuff,

It's never really reasonable to consider anything Greenwald says. The guy always writes incredibly over-wrought diatribes.
posted by empath at 8:27 PM on February 5, 2013


...it doesn’t ultimately matter what conditions are set to use lethal force, or their nationality, or whether the threat is imminent or not or whether the killing itself is a priori lawful - the argument/interpretation is (under the AUMF and other laws like the Aircraft sabotage act) actions by military personnel, in this case targeting AQ, et.al, terrorists for assassination, can’t be criminalized which means there is no judicial oversight or (in effect) congressional oversight (because it falls under international law and the laws of armed conflict)....

Judicial review reaches both international law as it is applied, and military justice. I'm not sure what you're getting at with the AUMF or other statutes, but actions by military personnel can absolutely be criminalized. See the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:56 PM on February 5, 2013


It's never really reasonable to consider anything Greenwald says. The guy always writes incredibly over-wrought diatribes.

I think that's overstating the case a bit. He makes legal arguments and explains his points in a decisive and unyielding manner. Even if you are a bit irked by his style it's good to keep an open mind so you can appreciate the perspective he brings. Not many people are willing to be as non-partisan in their criticism and stick to what they believe like he does and I think there is some definite value there. It's tempting to just call something horseshit and refuse to consider the perspective if it is attacking a politician you support, but it's not a good way to fully understand the big picture.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:44 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Top 5 Objections To The White House's Drone Killing Memo
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:28 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


rough ashlar linked up above to this article, and I thought I'd pull in a couple of paragraphs that were highly relevant. The author used italics at the end of the first paragraph; I added a bit of boldface at the start of the second:
In designing a purportedly new category of killing (which is akin to but much worse than the Bush administration's controversial creation of the novel status of “enemy combatant,”) the Obama administration sought to create another gray area that allows for actions that would not be allowed under either existing legal framework. Shouldn't the fact that we are outstripping even long-shunned medieval practices upset us? If not, will we finally become outraged when we realize that an order may now be issued specifying that a particular citizen can be killed, under any circumstances, even if they are nonthreatening and attempting surrender — on the basis of nothing more than allegations from the executive?

We must not lose sight of the most essential fact: the accusations lodged against al-Awlaki are exactly that. Despite what any of us might think about his obvious guilt, this has never been proven in a court of law: he is being subjected to targeted killing after what the President has argued (in Al-Aulaqi v. Obama) was a review within the executive branch that purportedly provided the requisite due process. Neither you nor I (nor even the president) should possess the power to assume the facts that justify the death of a citizen without an adversarial proceeding. Unfortunately, we see in the submissions to the District Court (and in leaked statements to the media from the executive branch) the traces of a third paradigm of justice, one in which the President's determination, unreviewable and made in secret, allegedly constitutes adequate due process under the law of the land.
In other words, all it takes, in this shiny new world Obama has made, is a simple accusation to have the same weight as a full judicial proceeding.

You don't get a defense. You get to die.
posted by Malor at 2:39 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I think that's overstating the case a bit. He makes legal arguments and explains his points in a decisive and unyielding manner. Even if you are a bit irked by his style it's good to keep an open mind so you can appreciate the perspective he brings."

While I certainly agree that Greenwald's, sure lets call it a perspective, can be valuable and add to good conversations, accepting it uncritically without some basic knowledge of what he is talking about leads to FPPs like this one where the tinfoil tone is picked up and run with, well away from the actually real things that are often in his articles. We at least like to pride ourselves on being the kind of place where reading the comments adds perspective rather than just provides a bad regurgitation of someone else's; a reality based community where this kind of memo should lead to thoughtful discussions about things like the nature of 'rebellion' and 'war' in the modern world, or exactly how much should putative American citizenship affect the due process given to leaders of organizations in open war with the United States that are out of reach of American law enforcement, or historical perspective on how things like this have been handled before, or even just anything that we haven't all heard before over and over again. The moment it stops being embarrassing to not read the first page of the actual substance you're linking to and bullshit about how Obama will shoot you for sending an email to the wrong person, or just fly by with a three word unpointed "This is bullshit.", or take seriously bullshit like this that is plainly counting on us not reading the actual source document, we become little better than just blue flavored Freepers.


"My personal favorite part of the memo is the bit where it defends stretching the 2001 AUMF beyond Afghanistan by citing the way the Vietnam war spilled over into Cambodia (p.4)."

"An example of what's being lost: the Somalia affair. In 1993 a number of Canadian soldiers in Somalia tortured and killed a Somali civilian."

This is what I come to metafilter for.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:00 AM on February 6, 2013


The American Lockdown State
Post-Legal Drones, the Bin Laden Tax, and Other Wonders of Our American World
By Tom Engelhardt

posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:06 AM on February 6, 2013


accepting it uncritically without some basic knowledge of what he is talking about leads to FPPs like this one where the tinfoil tone is picked up and run with

Exactly. Let's just assume that the program will only be used to kill leaders of Al Queada and associated forces. It's still bad policy. If you rally opposition based on a paranoid fantasy about gunning down people for twitter posts the administration doesn't like, all the administration needs to do is rewrite the policy to make it more clear about who can or can't be targeted and all the pressure is off. It's intellectually lazy and self-defeating.

The policy of targeted killings by drones is bad and needs to be stopped, regardless of who is being killed.
posted by empath at 3:22 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Notes From Guantánamo January 9, 2012

This was, btw, a good point, and another good reason why all this extraconstitional cowboy bullshit needs to stop. We now have a well-earned reputation as a country that assassinates, tortures and imprisons people without trial. It doesn't exactly make it easier to have people extradited or to encourage people to turn themselves in.
posted by empath at 3:26 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You don't have to uncritically accept the arguments of Greenwald any more than you do the arguments in the memo. I would encourage people to seek multiple legal perspectives.

The most famous aspect of Awlaki's involvement in terrorism was his online presence in English. That is a major aspect of this discussion so it's easy to see why someone might use things like Twitter or e-mails to the wrong people as an example.

Consider some of the thinking that was reported regarding Awlaki's e-mails to Nadal Hasan.

In one of the e-mails, Hasan wrote al-Aulaqi: "I can't wait to join you [in the afterlife]". "It sounds like code words," said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. "That he's actually either offering himself up, or that he's already crossed that line in his own mind."


Had he sent that as a tweet instead, the thinking would still be the same. While I would agree with you it is unlikely Obama would have someone killed solely for what they post online, I can't see it as impossible in the future that a President might see someone acting as an online mouthpiece for a terrorist group as a terrorist and using their executive power to have them killed.

How much or how little evidence will be involved (just one e-mail?) I can't tell you because as a member of the public I will not see the evidence in a public trial. I don't really see it as tinfoil to consider the worst case scenario you are setting up if someone is abusing that power.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:43 AM on February 6, 2013


What if their interpretations are wrong? It's not like he could get a trial; if he showed his face in the US, they claimed they could shoot him on the spot. At best, he'd disappear into Guantanamo and never come out.

His father tried to use the legal system, and was completely shut down.

He didn't have any real options. For communicating with the wrong people, and for being a very effective spokesperson saying that the US is doing some really, really bad stuff in the world, he was executed. If he'd been reasonably able to avail himself of a lawyer and a real judicial proceeding, it's highly possible we might have found out that the whole case was predicated on bullshit.

It's not like that hasn't happened before. Most of the "terrorist plots" in the US seem to be created by the FBI. They conceive and execute the whole thing, convince some poor sucker to go along with it, and then throw him in jail forever when he pulls the pin and the "bomb" doesn't explode.
posted by Malor at 4:50 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of the "terrorist plots" in the US seem to be created by the FBI. They conceive and execute the whole thing, convince some poor sucker to go along with it, and then throw him in jail forever when he pulls the pin and the "bomb" doesn't explode.

I'd love to see this list of terrorist plots, with notes of which ones were FBI conceived and executed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:18 AM on February 6, 2013


Well, trivial searching shows this, boldface mine:

FBI creating terrorist plots to scare Americans
Last year, Trevor Aronson, with the aid of the Investigative Reporting Program at University of California-Berkley, completed a yearlong investigation of every case of terrorism that the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuted since 9/11 that was published in Mother Jones monthly . Out of 508 defendants at the time, 248 were targeted via an informant, 158 were nabbed via a sting operation, and 49 were lured via an informant who led the plot. Only three cases did not involve an informant and/or a FBI sting operation. In 53 percent of the cases, the charges the defendants were convicted of did not involve terrorism. (See charts here).

One former high-level FBI official speaking to Mother Jones said that, for every informant officially employed by the bureau, up to three unofficial agents are working undercover. There are upward of 15,000 undercover agents today, ten times what the FBI had on the roster back in 1975, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.
So, somewhere north of fifty thousand undercover informants, 15,000 on the books, and three times that many working undercover.

Fifty thousand paid informants. You might want to think about that a minute.
posted by Malor at 5:50 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


All that for:

Duke Today: Fourteen Muslim-Americans committed or were charged with terrorist crimes in 2012, down from 21 in 2011, 26 in 2010 and 49 in 2009.

posted by Drinky Die at 5:59 AM on February 6, 2013


I'd love to see this list of terrorist plots, with notes of which ones were FBI conceived and executed.

Yeah, this is a real thing. FBI criminal stings are nothing new, but the implications when it comes to an intersection terrorism and national security are. Or, were.

WashPo, April 2012:

Documents provide rare insight into FBI’s terrorism stings

There have been 138 terrorism or national security cases involving informants since 2001, and 51 of those have come over the past three years, according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York. The center said the government secured convictions in 91 percent of those cases.

Law enforcement officials say stings are a vital tactic for heading off terrorism. But civil rights activists and others say the FBI has been identifying individuals with radical views who, despite brash talk, might have little ability to launch attacks without the government’s help.

“It almost seems like the government is creating a theatrical event that produces more fear in the community,” said Michael German, a senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent who worked undercover.

Yet in these terrorism stings, every attempted defense that has alleged entrapment by the government has failed, according to Fordham’s Center on National Security. The FBI said that record speaks volumes and rejected any suggestion that it has invented terrorist plots. “They present the idea,” FBI spokesman Kathleen Wright said of the targets of investigations. “It is not us coming up with these ideas.”


The Nation, June 2013: Deploying Informants, the FBI Stings Muslims.

A quick search didn't find any official Fordham study, but it did find Fordham's link to this 2011 Guardian article, "How Terrorist Entrapment Ensares Us All." Here's a 2010 Salon article that Bruce Schneier linked to at the time.

There was also a memorable long form story on This American Life, "The Convert." [audio stream] [transcript]
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:32 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those of you think Glenn Greenwald is overwrought (a view I don't share) here is a different and not very laudatory review of the memo by someone who is consistently squarely in the camp of Team Obama.

Regardless of whether the memo justifies killing people for tweets or what have you, it does absolutely (and even under the most conservative of interpretations) justify the extrajudicial assassination of individuals out side of the rules of war to which the United States is a signatory state. That is what is truly appalling.
posted by jason says at 8:41 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


“It doesn't exactly make it easier to have people extradited or to encourage people to turn themselves in.”
Yeah, we had the Rana and David Headley thing in Chicago recently.

One of the problems the judge – and a lot of other people – had was with the light sentencing because of cooperation.

We seem to have a hard time finding the middle ground in U.S. policy. Why people think it’s somehow cleaner to take someone out with a drone than up close with a knife I have no idea. I have no problem shooting someone engaged in an ongoing operation that may or may not be an imminent threat.
By the same token, that’s A. Me with the responsibility for pulling the trigger. B. My direct superior. C. His superiors who ordered me there in the first place – all on the hook to explain the whys and wherefores. That’s not to mention, yes, the opportunity to put a bag on him, bring him to trial and get better intel out of him. Believe it or not there are actual terrorist threats. Granted, they’re far less likely to kill you than your own bathtub, but the fact that the U.S. can’t seem to find it’s own ass with both hands and a flashlight when it comes to sorting this out doesn’t mean (for example since Headly is in my brain just now) the LeT isn’t a real threat.

With a drone – it’s a vast difference. There’s no direct chain accountable because all the operations overlap. Well, it started as intelligence because we were scouting, then we saw Mr.X so it became a military operation and the UAV operators are in Nevada but the drones themselves are serviced and launched by civilian contractors in country but miles away, maybe they’re in Pakistan but when they flew they were in Afghanistan, so - who the hell knows? And you wind up having to sort the guy out by dna or body parts and no one is come up, throw up their hands and to cooperate with the guys doing that.

Additionally, there’s no one to talk to in the first place. Typically if you’ve got people in an area someone can come and make contact, try to negotiate either way, etc. Drones just foster paranoia. If you look sideways at someone they think you’re a spy and execute you. Meanwhile, maybe you do have some actual informants and spies in the area.
What it winds up doing is ruining the context too.

On the one hand, you want every bit of information, no matter how trivial, because it might become useful. On the other hand, any piece of information no matter how useful can be rendered trivial by a change in context. And so much more of that is likely using drone strikes.
Particularly because it’s so easy to reverse a tactic that is consistently used and predictable and use it for one’s own ends.
Like Bart playing good ol' Rock all the time in rock, paper, scissors.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:43 AM on February 6, 2013


And another, slightly more humorous, take on the memo from another law blog...
posted by jason says at 10:55 AM on February 6, 2013


Anybody interested in drone strikes should be paying attention to John Brennan's confirmation hearings as director of the CIA:
Drone Strikes’ Dangers to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye
Brennan nomination exposes criticism on targeted killings and secret Saudi base
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:49 AM on February 6, 2013


Riyadh Station Chief Operated Drone War from and for His Old Stomping Grounds
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on February 6, 2013


First, is it not the actual legal memos used to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and who knows who else. As Michael Isikoff notes in his story, the Senators whose job it is to oversee the Executive Branch — even the ones on the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be read into covert operations — are still demanding the memos, for at least the 12th time. The release of this white paper must not serve to take pressure off of the White House to release the actual memos.
-
Cornyn: As Senator Durbin and others have said that they agree that this is a legitimate question that needs to be answered. But we’re not mere supplicants of the Executive Branch. We are a coequal branch of government with the Constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight and to legislate where we deem appropriate on behalf of our constituents. So it is insufficient to say, “pretty please, Mr. President. pretty please, Mr. Attorney General, will you please tell us the legal authority by which you claim the authority to kill American citizens abroad?” It may be that I would agree with their legal argument, but I simply don’t know what it is, and it hasn’t been provided.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:07 PM on February 6, 2013


The Map Of Droneworld
It should come as a surprise to nobody any more how quickly and how easily the institutions of a democratic republic can transform themselves under the spell of the conjuring words of the national-security state. It was the dark force implicit in self-government because self-government depended upon human beings, who are easily terrified by every rustling in the bushes and every branch against the window. It was the dark force dreaded most by the authors of the Constitution, because they knew what people were like, and they knew how deeply embedded was the need for something like a king even among the people who'd just booted one off the continent. They feared it even worse than they feared theocracy. So they did what they could to keep it in check. They lodged the war powers in the national legislature, rather than in the executive branch. They lodged the power to pay for a war in the same place, because they knew what a single national leader could do with both the public purse and an army at his disposal.
WHY THE WHITE PAPER IS SO TERRIFYING
Where are we going to find a better description of what the Obama administration is doing with their legal defense of targeted killing? They have made the president into a sovereign. Their language hides this basic fact: The president now gets to decide when the law doesn't apply. The vague terminology in the white paper — "imminent threat" and "national self-defense" — is intended to be meaningless. Threat and self-defense can be defined in any way the president likes. He gets to choose.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:18 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


What Americans Are Targets?
posted by homunculus at 4:42 PM on February 6, 2013


Ta-Nehisi Coates: What Would Orwell Make of Obama's Drone Policy?
posted by homunculus at 4:46 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some pages follow about the Constitutional rights unique to Americans caught in the sights of the War on Terror but, honestly, who gives a shit? After you get through reading the broad authority given to assassinate, the idea that the 4th Amendment might somehow give pause is a joke. The power claimed to drop bombs in civilian areas to kill enemy combatants of ambiguous operational importance is the real moral horrorshow here. The Constitutional rights stuff is picayune academic jerking off.

I agree with this. The claimed power to assassinate, no matter who it is directed against, is the problem. Making this about whether he can kill Americans is a distraction.
posted by empath at 6:52 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, horseshit.
...
That has nothing to do with this. He was arrested and charged with a crime. He's not senior leadership, and no one is going to get killed by the government for uploading a youtube video.
...
There is plenty here to oppose without fantasizing worst-case scenarios.

This is the exact kind of derisive dismissal of concerns about domestic abuse of surveillance and executive powers I pointed out in the last drone thread.

We've been discussing drones for a couple years now on MeFi, so we have a decent history of predictions from various sides on how they would be used and abused.

And as I pointed out there, those concerned with abuse have been right far too often.

I won't repeat everything in the previous comment. What I will say here is from casual reading of various drone strike news stories the CIA is very deliberately assassinating targets at the center of the communication networks of enemy groups.

They are taking out the hubs and highly connected nodes in a very smart and strategic way. Focusing resources on those who are spread information effectively in these complex information networks.

It was obvious with Anwar al-Awlaki, where the Youtube production was a prominent factor they released.

But there are other cases, like Tariq Aziz, a 16 year old who was attending discussions on drone strikes in his country and, probably the deciding factor, was talking with western journalists. At the meeting, a New York Times journalist talks about gathering physical evidence of drone strikes killing innocents as a way of changing American's opinions. Tariq Aziz volunteers at the end of the meeting to help with this evidence gathering.

This was Friday. On Monday, he was killed by a targeted drone strike.

The CIA understand the importance of information and communication, as any intelligence agency should, so this makes perfect sense. I don't blame them for this. It's a mistake to think "The government sucks at keeping secrets." or that they're incompetent, etc.

No, they're good at their jobs. For the past 10 years, they have gotten everything they've wanted, and then some. Who went to jail for torture? The agent who leaked the story.

They might fuck up royally, say in a Three Stooges-esque exploding cigar attempt. But last I checked, the only outcome of that was a still ongoing embargo that mostly punishes the poor.

I know you disagree with this policy, I'm not trying to imply you do. I mostly just wanted to call attention to the fact that communication hubs and activists are a natural target for the CIA.
posted by formless at 9:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jon Stewart Tears Into Obama Hypocrisy And Secrecy On Drones: Only Transparent ‘About The Last Guy’s Secrets’
posted by homunculus at 10:34 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't help but think of how flimsy the evidence the government uses can be, like with all the people left to rot in Guantanamo.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.

The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.


Would have been so much simpler just to kill him, right?
posted by Drinky Die at 7:06 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


WHY THE WHITE PAPER IS SO TERRIFYING
Especially to Harry Tuttle.

“These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise.”

Has there ever been a White House spokesperson who wasn't just blatantly a whore?
I'd love to see someone at the podium get asked a question and just break: "Yeah? ...Huh. Holy cow we're doing that? Shit, I don't know. The President probably has his head way up his ass on this one. Damn. In fact, screw this noise, I quit. I can go back to making $25K at the Picayune and sleep at night. What do I need a BMW for anyway?" *walks off*

Here's (Pakistan) Ambassador Rehman on the drone strikes: "Still, she made clear that the drone issue is the main sticking point in a relationship that remains delicate after a series of shocks in 2011 -- the diplomatic fracas over the shooting of two Pakistanis by a CIA employee; ire over the U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden without alerting Pakistan; and the accidental killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a U.S. airstrike along the Afghan-Pakistan border."

And here is a piece on extraordinary rendition in Pakistan (with a nice link to the Open Society Foundation report).

One of the big problems with drone strikes in that region is the schizophrenic nature of Pakistan and U.S. foreign policy.
Rehman refers to the "wink and nod" situation that she says doesn't exist in Pakistan agreeing to allow strikes within borders.
But by the same token - look at the situation with rendition. We have an illegal (well, ok, strictly speaking debatably illegal, but should be) program which Pakistan - or rather elements within the Pakistani government - comply with the U.S. - or rather elements within the U.S. government.

It really is a massive shit sandwich. And I think a lot of people are trying to cut the Gordian Knot. But it's instructive to note that Alexander's empire died in that region.

...goddamn nuclear weapons. Really, if they didn't have them, we could make a case for just taking a walk ourselves.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2013


Globalizing Torture: Ahead of Brennan Hearing, International Complicity in CIA Rendition Exposed
posted by homunculus at 11:28 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Has there ever been a White House spokesperson who wasn't just blatantly a whore?"

Everything else aside, can we instead not make these metaphors?
posted by Blasdelb at 11:59 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, whores are much better people than White House press secretaries.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:04 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The law of war does not shield the CIA and John Brennan's drone kill list. The US prosecuted Omar Khadr in Guantánamo for not being a lawful combatant. Exactly the same applies to the civilian CIA
posted by homunculus at 10:44 AM on February 8, 2013


Defending Drone Policy
Many of the questions and criticisms raised by the white paper have focused on the criterion that targets must pose an “imminent” danger to the United States, which indeed has been given an expansive interpretation. This term is obviously employed in order to try to tie necessary counterterrorism measures to established international norms and laws, which recognize—as the UN charter does—that a nation has a right to act in self-defense when its citizens are in immediate danger. “Imminent” to most people connotes enemy troops lined up across the border ready to attack, or a North Korea or Iran loading nuclear arms onto the tips of transcontinental missiles capable of reaching our shores. However, because terrorists disguise themselves as civilians and attack with no warning—as they did on 9/11—a nation that seeks to defend itself must either broaden the meaning of “imminent” danger or allow its citizens to be killed en masse.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:38 PM on February 8, 2013


Killed en masse, but still about as dangerous as bee stings and lightning strikes.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:14 PM on February 8, 2013


American Citizens Split On DOJ Memo Authorizing Government To Kill Them
“I wouldn’t mind if federal officials blew up other citizens and claimed it was in the name of my safety. But it’s just that when it comes to me, I guess I’d rather not be slaughtered by my own elected officials on charges that never have to be validated by any accountable authority. This is tough.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:03 AM on February 10, 2013


How do you explain drone killings? With post-Orwellian “Newspeak”
In fairness, we heard a few extraordinary things said about topics that are almost never discussed in open congressional session. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., almost the only Senate Democrat willing to criticize President Obama on civil liberties, told Brennan, “Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to kill them.” (The director-designate did not respond directly.) Newly elected Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, suggested that the CIA’s drone-targeting decisions should be subject to judicial review, as espionage warrants are. King’s Maine colleague Susan Collins, arguably the Senate’s last moderate Republican, actually challenged the effectiveness, if not the underlying morality, of the drone war: “If the cancer of al-Qaida is metastasizing, do we need a new treatment?”
Support grows for U.S. "drone court" to review lethal strikes
During a fresh round of debate this week over President Barack Obama's claim that he can unilaterally order lethal strikes by unmanned aircraft against U.S. citizens, some lawmakers proposed a middle ground: a special federal "drone court" that would approve suspected militants for targeting.
The Idiocies Of Oversight And Accountability
The FISA court is regarded by almost everyone as an admirable model for oversight of especially sensitive issues. This is because almost everyone is irredeemably stupid. ... The chart begins with 1979. In all the years from 1979 through 2011, applications were not immediately approved in only five years. Out of the many thousands of applications presented, a total of 11 were not approved. If you read the footnotes, you discover that even the "rejections" were usually not ultimate "denials of the requested authority"; the government would make minor modifications to the application in question, and it was then approved. In other words, the FISA court is a governmental rubber stamp of the first order. It represents no meaningful oversight in any manner whatsoever.
Toward The World Of Nightmare
Barring entirely unexpected developments, Brennan will certainly be confirmed. And that is precisely how Brennan's confirmation will be viewed in the future: as Congressional approval of the Murder Program. That, I submit, is the prize the Obama administration was after. Appreciate how easily the administration will have achieved its goal: move Petraeus out, move Brennan in -- Brennan, who withdrew his name from consideration as C.I.A. Director four years ago because of "concerns" about his involvement in torture, and who today represents a program of unrestricted, worldwide murder. And the Senate will now confirm his appointment. Once Brennan is confirmed, the Obama administration is home free: it can expand the program as it wishes and employ it on a constantly increasing scale, eventually including assassinations within the United States. (Again, see the second half of this post for a description of how that is likely to happen.) Whenever people object, the administration can trumpet: "But Congress has approved all of this!" And they will be telling the truth.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2013


The Drones Controversy Shows Why Leaks Are Vital to Democracy
posted by homunculus at 10:52 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Greenwald: DOJ kill list memo forces many Dems out of the closet as overtly unprincipled hacksLast week's controversy over Obama's assassination program forced into light many ignored truths that were long obvious
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:36 AM on February 12, 2013


Drones and Double Standards
Last Friday, MSNBC’s “The Cycle” co-host Krystal Ball attempted to take on the argument that, as she puts it, “if you feel any differently about the drone program under President Obama than you would have under George W. Bush, you are an utter, hopeless hypocrite.” In response, she makes the following case:
I voted for President Obama because I trust his values and his judgment and believe that he is a fundamentally responsible person. Without gratuitously slamming an ex-president, I think Bush displayed extraordinary lapses in judgment in executing his primary responsibility as commander-in-chief and put troops in harm’s way imprudently. President Obama would have exercised better judgment and he has exercised better judgment. . . . So yeah, I feel a whole lot better about the program when the decider is President Obama.
Ball’s position may not be hypocritical, but it is completely wrong. It is at least logically consistent in that if you believe that one president has exercised better judgment than another, there is some reason for you to be more comfortable with the first one having certain powers. But what Ball apparently fails to realize is that when you agree to trust one president with a kind of power, you are necessarily entrusting all of his or her successors with that power.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:00 AM on February 12, 2013


Dick Cheney Latest, Highest Profile Bush Administration Official To Support Obama Drone Policy

Cheney, Bolton, Hayden, Rove, Yoo.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:32 AM on February 12, 2013


Obama's Secret Legal Technology for Drones
posted by homunculus at 3:03 PM on February 13, 2013


The Pentagon is creating a new high-level military medal that will recognize drone pilots and, in a controversial twist, giving it added clout by placing it above some traditional combat valor medals in the military’s “order of precedence.”
posted by Drinky Die at 1:05 AM on February 14, 2013


Obama's Expanding Kill List
Are we to be reassured or alarmed that 24% of registered voters believe that the terrorist threat is so great that suspicion alone without evidence, trial, and conviction is sufficient for Washington to terminate US citizens? Should not we be disturbed that a quarter of registered voters, despite overwhelming evidence that Washington’s wars are based on conscious lies–”weapons of mass destruction,” “Al-Qaeda connections”–are still prepared to believe the government’s claim that the person it just murdered was a terrorist? Why are so many Americans willing to believe a proven liar?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:12 AM on February 14, 2013


Reviews for a Predator Drone toy
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on February 14, 2013


Torture or Death by Drone? The Bush Administration tortured terrorist suspects. The Obama Administration kills them with drones. Which is worse?
posted by homunculus at 9:58 AM on February 17, 2013


seagulls
posted by homunculus at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2013


The Drones Come Home: Unmanned aircraft have proved their prowess against al Qaeda. Now they’re poised to take off on the home front. Possible missions: patrolling borders, tracking perps, dusting crops. And maybe watching us all?
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on February 21, 2013


Former Obama Officials Call for Oversight Over Targeted Killing
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on February 21, 2013


The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About: Most drone strikes are directed at unidentified targets—not U.S. citizens or known Al Qaeda leaders—with murky justification.
posted by homunculus at 8:47 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


British terror suspects quietly stripped of citizenship… then killed by drones
posted by Drinky Die at 6:18 AM on March 1, 2013


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