The obama administration finally responded to mounting outcry about its campaign of targeted killings with drones — by bragging about it.
Until this week, the White House had deflected criticism and blocked Freedom of Information requests by refusing to either confirm or deny the existence of the drone operations, which opponents say violates both federal and international law. But with activist groups like Codepink holding anti-drone rallies over the weekend, and following a Sunday editorial in the New York Times by the ACLU, which urged the courts to intervene if the president did not direct the CIA to release relevant documents, the time had come to address their concerns. The response came not by the president himself, rather in a prepared statement recited before the Woodrow Wilson Center by a White House designated liar, John Brennan. Long-winded and obtuse, it not only confirmed the existence of president
Nixon’s obama’s secret bombing of Cambodia drone killings in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, it attempted to defend it under international law and on moral grounds.
Through Brennan, the obama administration made five main claims about it’s murder-by-drone spree is:
- Legal under Federal Law
- Legal under International Law
All five are brazen lies.
1. It’s Effective?
With obama having launched five times as many drones strikes as Bush (267 vs. 52), Brennan gave a glowing report on the “great progress” made and the pending demise of al-Qaeda:
- ” a shadow of its former self”
- “left with just a handful of capable leaders and operatives”
- “ranks have dwindled and scattered”
- “on the road to destruction”
- “struggles to communicate with subordinates and affiliates”
- “Morale is low”
- “struggling to attract new recruits”
- “In short, al-Qa’ida is losing, badly.”
But check that sigh of relief, children — the al-Qaeda bogeyman under your bed is still very, very scary:
- “the dangerous threat from al-Qa’ida has not disappeared”
- “continues to look to its affiliates and adherents to carry on its murderous cause”
- “worrying to witness al-Qa’ida’s merger with al-Shabaab, whose ranks include foreign fighters, some with U.S. passports”
- “still have the intent to attack the United States”
- “a mistake to believe this threat has passed.”
It would be foolish for us to trust two proven lairs, Bush and obama. Yet, since everything is secret, it’s impossible for the public to assess whether the drone attacks are doing much good. We really have no idea how strong al-Quaeda is, or ever was. Over the course of eleven years, al-Quaeda has launched a grand total of three terrorists attacks against the West. In comparison, from 1967 to 1977, the Baader-Meinhof Gang/RAF, a loose network of urban radicals, pulled off dozens of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. Groups like RZ, ETA, and the IRA were even more prolific.
One thing we can be sure of — so long as it aids obama’s agenda, obama will always spot the bogeyman under our beds.
2. There’s Transparency?
The obama administration’s idea of “transparency” is to send John Brennan to the Wilson Center to issue platitudes. “I’m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.”
After reminding us that obama “had pledged to share as much information as possible with the American people ‘so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable’”, Brennan refused to “discuss the sensitive details of any specific operation today. I will not, nor will I ever, publicly divulge sensitive intelligence sources and methods.”
In a fatherly tone, Brennan noted that counter-terrorism tools,
do not exist in a vacuum. They are stronger and more sustainable when the American people understand and support them. They are weaker and less sustainable when the American people do not. As a result of my remarks today, I hope the American people have a better understanding of this critical tool, why we use it, what we do, how carefully we use it, and why it is absolutely essential to protecting our country and our citizens.”
So, children, trust Dear Leader. And stop asking annoying questions.
3. Legal Under U.S. Law?
“[A]s a matter of domestic law,” Brennan assured us, “the Constitution empowers the President to protect the nation from any imminent threat of attack.” Hmm. Art. II, Sec. 2 states: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the Unites States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Art. IV Sec. 4 states “The United States shall … protect each [State] against Invasion….”
In Congress is vested power to:
- Declare war
- Make rules concerning capture
- Raise and support Armies, maintain a Navy
- Make rules for the regulation of the armed Forces
- Call forth the militia
The Framers were exceedingly cautious about granting the president war powers. “The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates,” wrote Madison to Jefferson, “that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the Legislature.”
The claim of iron-clad constitutionality is actually thinly based on the standard interpretation of the president’s role as CiC & ‘first responder’ to invasions or imminent threats of attack on the US. Such a scenario envisions the United States at peace but about to be hit with an invasion or attack. Following his handling of this initial attack, the president is still required to get Congress’ approval to continue hostilities, as now codified by the War Powers Act. If 9/11 counts as the first blow in a war, akin to Pearl Harbor, then we have been “at war” with Al Qaeda for over a decade. Any of the subsequent attacks the enemy is allegedly concocting — and the drone strikes allegedly thwarting — are no more “imminent threats” than was the Japanese fleet’s action at Leyte Gulf.
Our Republic has long struggled to check the propensity of presidents to recklessly engage in war without the consent of the people. On the eve of the Mexican-American War, a young congressman, Abraham Lincoln, wrote words that resonate today:
“Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose — and allow him to make war at pleasure…. how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of [an invasion]’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’
“The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress,” Lincoln believed, was to prevent the oppression of kings, who “had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.” So the Framers “resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.” To do otherwise” places our President where kings have always stood.”
While our current
flock of sheep Congress has acquiesced in obama’s usurpation of its war powers, that does not make it constitutional.
4. Legal Under International Law?
The obama administration’s justification for its drone campaign so twists & perverts what international law actually says, it’s worth debunking it in detail.
A State of Armed Conflict
“As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces”
Under the Geneva Convention, only sovereign entities employing regular military forces are granted belligerent status. The Taliban, as the deposed former government, could be considered a belligerent fighting a war of liberation in afghanistan. But al-Qaeda is neither a sovereign entity, nor do its personnel operate as regulated soldiers under arms. International law is explicit on this — al-Qaeda is a terrorist group, its members civilians subject to civilian criminal law. Using a drone to kill a suspected terrorist violates international humanitarian law — for one, the drone is incapable of offering the suspect the required chance to surrender.
Like Bush before him, obama chooses to treat al-Qaeda as a sovereign belligerent to justify using military force against it. While this may be convenient, it creates a conundrum. International law treats everyone in a combat zone as either a lawful combatant or a civilian. Combatants receive what is known as privilege — they cannot be punished for any (militarily legitimate) violent acts they may commit. Combatants may, however, be proscetuted for war crimes: violent acts not militarily justified.
Civilians in a combat zone may not be the targets of combat actions. Civilians who directly participate in hostilities (“DPH”) lose that immunity (i.e., they may be targeted while engaged in combat) and are considered unlawful combatants subject to trial and punishment. Ironically, this makes the CIA employees piloting the drones war criminals.
If al-Qaeda is a belligerent at war with us, then its acts are legitimate acts of war, its members lawful combatants immune from criminal prosecution. To circumvent this, obama has adopted the Bush administration’s expediency of fabricating a new class unrecognized by international law, “unlawful enemy combatant”, and denying this class either due process as civilians or fair treatment as PoWs.
Right of Self-Defense
“…We may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense…”
This assumedly refers to Chapter VII, Art. 51 of the UN Charter: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations….” But again, this is irrelevant when dealing with a terrorist group. The UN has only ever approved non-military sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and in 2011 de-linked the sanctions to better distinguish between the Taliban’s “insurgency” vs. al-Qaeda’s “terrorism.”
No Ban on Drones
“… There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose …”
It comes as no surprise that drones are not mentioned by name as one of the weapons banned in either the 1925 or 1980 Geneva Protocols. The 1977 Additional Protocol I, however, does declare that “the right … to chose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited”, prohibits the employment of “weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering”, and obliges signatories to determine whether the “adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare” is subject to these prohibitions.
Regardless, any conventional weapon can be misused in the commission of a war crime.
“.. There is nothing … that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield…”
The treaties governing the conduct of war (Geneva Convention IV & 1977 Additional Protocols; Hague Convention V) stipulate distinct rules for conduct permissible inside a “combat zone” vs. outside. In brief, engaging in military actions outside of a combat zone is a grave violation of international law. The obama administration has concocted the neologism “active-“ or “hot battlefield” to cloak in a fig leaf of propriety its illegal use of military force outside of combat zones. In effect, obama has declared the entire world to be a battle zone. This reckless and unprecedented act has alarmed the international human rights community and badly tarnished the reputation of the United States.
“…at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat…”
Outside of Afghanistan, our co-belligerent whose territory is a combat zone, drone attacks are a clear violation of the sovereignty of neutral nations. Simply having John Brennan utter the words “The United States of America respects national sovereignty and international law” does not make it so. The same day as Brennan’s speech, Pakistan’s foreign minister declared: “[w]e consider drones as illegal, non-productive and accordingly unacceptable.”
The US could claim that, by failing to meets its Hague IV obligations as a neutral, Pakistan has become a co-belligerent of al-Qaeda … and declare war. As it stands, Pakistan has the right to shoot down our drones, and appeal to the UN. Under Hague IV, individual nationals of belligerent states enjoy extensive protections, their neutral host in fact is enjoined from interning or handing them over.
Targeting of Civilians
“…Targeted strikes conform to the principle of distinction—the idea that only military objectives may be intentionally targeted and that civilians are protected from being intentionally targeted…”
Who we target for murder-by-drone, and how we decide, may well constitute a war crime. The International Red Cross clarifies DPH as including:
- Capturing, wounding or killing military personnel;
- Damaging military objects;
- Disturbing military logistics through sabotage or road blocks;
- Interfering electronically with military computer networks;
- Transmitting tactical targeting intelligence for a specific attack;
- Laying mines or booby-traps.
Distinct is ‘indirect’ participation in hostilities “which contributes to the general war effort of a party, but does not directly cause harm and, therefore, does not lead to a loss of protection against direct attack.“ (my emphasis). It is hard to shoe-horn into the DPH definition the activities of Anwar Al’Alawki, his 16 year-old son, people administering first-aid and attending funerals, or couples driving down the road on their honeymoon, all who obama has sentenced to death.
Thanks to a leak by a former obama administration official, we now have confirmation of how targets are selected for murder by drone. A name is selected off a “hit list” by an administration official, and permission (sic) is given by one of ten attorneys to have the person killed. This clearly violates Geneva IV, Art. 3 prohibition of “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”
The obama drone doctrine is hopelessly muddled. It conflates one nation’s right to defend against an imminent attack by the armed forces of another nation, with the right of a law enforcement officer to use deadly force against an individual criminal suspect who poses an imminent danger. It attempts to justify killing al-Qaeda members by pretending they are military commanders, or soldiers engaged in combat, then admits they are criminal suspects by insisting “[i]t is our preference to capture suspected terrorists whenever feasible” in order to “prosecute them in our federal courts.”
Boiled down, the obama drone doctrine states: ‘If a terrorist suspect is in a “hard-to-reach place” and thus a pain to capture and bring to trial, we reserve the right to call him a ‘soldier’ & assassinate him with a missile.’
5. It’s Ethical?
Brennan claims that obama’s drone killing conform to the ethical principles of “the law of war that govern the use of force”:
- Necessity — “the requirement that the target have a definite military value”
- Distinction — “the idea that only military objectives may be intentionally targeted and that civilians are protected from being intentionally targeted”
- Proportionality—“the notion that the anticipated collateral damage of an action cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage”
- Humanity — “which requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering.”
Accept, for the sake of argument, the Bush/obama fiction that we are at war with a sovereign entity, and one is still hard-pressed to match drone killings to Brennan’s lofty list of ideals:
- Necessity — How the center of an entire village is a target of definite military value;
- Distinction — how firing missiles at funerals, first-aid responders, or children gathering firewood protects civilians from being intentionally targeted;
- Proportionality — how killing six civilians for every one suspected terrorist is not “excessive”;
- Humanity — how a “signature attack” on a single suspect using two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, each of which carries a 20 lb. thermobaric warhead “that can suck the air out of a cave, collapse a building, or produce an astoundingly large blast radius out in the open”, or the 500 lb. GBU-12 fragmentation bomb, does not inflict unnecessary suffering.
Indeed, under international law, obama’s use of drones meets every definition of a war crime.
barack obama has expanded the imperialism of the presidency to a level unprecedented even under Nixon and Bush. He has brazenly and repeatedly usurped war powers from a sheepish Congress while bullying the Judiciary. One by one, he has stripped away the Constitutional civil liberties of the citizenry.
With a chilling aptness for orwellian double-speak, obama declares
secrecy = transparency
indiscriminate killings = effective & ethical
disregard for international law = respect for that law
war = peace
Like Orwell’s Big Brother, obama casts himself as the all-wise, benevolent yet also vindictive supreme leader. He smugly lectures us lowly prols, chides us for sloth, sneers when we doubt his infallibility. With FISA and the Patriot Act, obama also has BB’s universal powers of surveillance.
In short, barack obama personifies what our Founding Fathers feared most: an omnipotent tyrant. “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy”, warned Madison. Under Bushama, we have spend eleven years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and caused tens of thousands of deaths, to defeat a chimerical terrorist group that’s struck the US (counting the 1993 WTC garage bomb and the 2000 USS Cole bombing) a grand total of three times in two decades. Were our efforts commensurate to the threat? Or was this just the ruse of all tyrants through the ages — to oppress the people at home with endless wars abroad. Madison again:
Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended … and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
We’re told we’re waging war against a foe who by definition cannot wage war, on a battlefield that encompasses every point on the globe, where any civilian in any nation can be labeled a combatant and murdered. Under cover of continual, infinite, boundless warfare, obama has already negated much of our Constitutional liberties. With the “flexibility” of a second term, is there any doubt that obama will complete the conversion of our Republic into a tyrannical police state?
Freedom-loving Americans have one last chance to avert tyranny by defeating obama this November. Failing that, our options will be few:
The liberties of our country, the freedoms of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards; it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood. It will bring a mark of everlasting infamy on the present generation – enlightened as it is – if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of designing men. — Sam Adams
(c) 2012 by True Liberal Nexus. All rights reserved.
Fascinating piece, Tamerlane. Impeccably researched, as always. Much food for thought, so I’ll sit with it for awhile before I comment further.
As an initial matter, I’ll make an embarrassing confession: my head and my heart are in different places on the drones. My head is where yours is — requiring that military action to be constrained by Constitutional and legal strictures. My heart, however, is in more lawless terrain — inclined to say b*gger these AQ b*ggers (and those who tolerate them) and their medieval, murderous ways.
Ultimately, however, my head wins out: drones deployed by and at the discretion of an unchecked Executive, abroad or domestically, have no place in a free republic. The obama admininstration’s Orwellian doublespeak is bone-chilling, to say the least.
PS: Thank you for setting and maintaining the standard of always spelling TheOne’s name with a lower-case “o”. (I know Walthe appreciates it too.)
that’s not embarrassing to feel that way — it’s human nature. And devious charlatans like obama play on our emotions to distract us from common sense. But we can adhere to principle and the Rule of Law, while still defeating evil SOB’s like all 23 al-Qaeda members.
Flawless piece, Tamer. I hope my first thought upon reading this, does not diminish its’ impact. “I have met the enemy, and they is us.” Pogo.
We have become an outlaw nation, the type of country many of us decried for years.
“I have met the enemy and they is US” pogo
We have become an outlaw nation, the type many of us have decried for years.
Flawless piece, Tamer
I am in wordpress hell, while I am sophie everywhere, wordpress insists I am Conner, the name I use to order pet meds..
sorry for near duplication, I write badly under both names.
Well, at least now both Sophie and Conner have made it past this blog’s bouncer, Grimhild, the ex-East German border guard.
seriously, this is one of your very best.