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Natasha Lennard | Salon

NBC obtains a confidential document on legal reasoning behind targeted killing, which the ACLU calls "chilling".

NBC obtains a confidential document on legal reasoning behind targeted killing, which the ACLU calls “chilling”.

Organizations including the ACLU and the New York Times have for some months been engaged in lawsuits to gain information from the government about the legal reasoning behind the targeted killing of U.S. citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in a 2011 drone strike. A federal judge told the Times that the Obama administration does not, under law, have to provide legal justification for its targeted kills.

However, a confidential Justice Department memo obtained by NBC News sheds some light on the legal reasoning for including U.S. citizens on Obama’s controversial kill lists. According to the ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, “It’s a pretty remarkable document.”

NBC’s Michael Isikoff, who obtained the white paper from an unnamed source, wrote that it “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.” Read More

Natasha Lennard | Salon

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's choice for CIA director (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s choice for CIA director (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This month a federal judge defended the Obama administration’s right to keep secret the legal justifications for targeted drone killings. But a cadre of senators is pushing the issue again. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote a letter to John Brennan — nominee for CIA director, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, and central architect of U.S. drone warfare — asking to see the legal opinions and rules behind the targeted killing of U.S. citizens in counterterrorism efforts and demanding a list of countries where America is conducting shadow wars. Wyden wrote:

Senior intelligence officials have said publicly that they have to authority to knowingly use lethal force against Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations, and have indicated that there are secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and explain the basis of this authority. I have asked repeatedly to see these opinions, and I have been provided some relevant information on the topic, but I have yet to see the opinions themselves.

… Second, as you may be aware, my staff and I have been asking for over a year for the complete list of countries in which the intelligence community has used its lethal counterterrorism authorities. To my surprise and dismay, the intelligence community has declined to provide me with the complete list.

Wyden’s letter highlights the obfuscation surrounding intelligence decisions on assassinations, such that members of the Senate have struggled for more than a year just to learn about the reach of U.S. drone attacks. Wyden stresses in his letter that a “pattern is forming in which the executive branch is evading congressional oversight by simply not responding to congressional requests for information.” Read More

Natasha Lennard | Salon

For a decade, Code Pink activists have been a central fixture at anti-war protests around America. Not for the first time in its history, the group’s supporters are putting their bodies on the ground where U.S. bombs strike.

A delegation of 32 American women have traveled to Islamabad and will march alongside Pakistani organizers and political groups to South Waziristan — a nucleus of Taliban militancy regularly struck by U.S. drones. The aim of the trip is to draw greater attention to the harm wrought by drone attacks, while reaching out and building solidarity with Pakistanis on the ground.

“We want to make it known to Pakistanis that there are Americans with a conscience who do care about their lives,” Code Pink co-founder and delegation organizer, Medea Benjamin told Salon on the phone from Islamabad.

“We’ve encountered some overwhelming admiration over the fact that we’re here, willing to put ourselves at risk,” said Benjamin, who said she has been meeting with human rights groups, women’s groups, Pakistani generals, U.S. diplomats and even members of the military spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Islamabad.

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Murtaza Hussain | Salon

A philosopher’s arguments in defense of drone strikes are both odious and wrong. (Credit: Reuters)

“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer … [but] I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy. I have a duty, and I execute the duty.” By their own accounts, drone pilots spend weeks stalking their targets — observing the intimate patterns of their daily life such as playing with their children, meeting neighbors, talking to their wives — before finding a moment when the family is away to launch the missile that will end their target’s life. Afterward they drive home like any other commuter, perhaps stopping at a fast food restaurant or convenience store before coming home to their families for the night. “I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, I just don’t deploy to do it.”

Recently, the Guardian published a piece about Bradley Strawser, an assistant professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., which made the argument that drone strikes are not just moral but that the U.S. should in fact consider itself morally obliged to use them in combat. “It’s all upside. There’s no downside. Both ethically and normatively, there’s a tremendous value … You’re not risking the pilot. The pilot is safe.”

That the overwhelming majority of Strawser’s argument is based on the reduced potential of physical harm to the aircraft pilot, while precious little concern is given the people on the ground — often completely innocent, who are being killed in huge numbers by these strikes — is certainly abhorrent. But it must also be noted that for all the attention his work is receiving, he is of course a paid employee of an institution devoted to serving the military and his opinion is far from unbiased. His livelihood comes from the very people whom he is tasked with philosophically critiquing, a circumstance far more conducive to obsequious rationalization than moral criticism. At the end of the piece he even expresses his own gratitude for receiving gainful employment in his field of study: “I wanted to be a working philosopher and here I am. Ridiculous good fortune.”

Of course it would be nearly impossible for Strawser to come to a conclusion that would morally condemn the practice of his own employer, so in that sense it is difficult to fault him for coming to the conclusion he did. But it still does not mean that his philosophical opinions on such subjects are any more credible or less troubling – the employment of philosophers by governments and militaries to legitimize odious policies has a long and ignoble history and should be looked at as what it is: propaganda. Read More

Jefferson Morley | Salon

Credit: Shutterstock/Salon

Stung by mounting hostility from the left and right, America’s drone industry is fighting back.

“We’re going to do a much better job of educating people about unmanned aviation, the good and the bad,” said Michael Toscano, president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry’s trade group in Washington. “We’re working on drafting the right message and how to get it out there.”

The P.R. blitz comes after drones suffered a round of negative attention last week. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called for a ban on drones in U.S. airspace, and two other conservative commentators endorsed the idea of shooting down unmanned aircraft flown by U.S. law enforcement agencies. (Opposition to the U.S. government’s deployment of unmanned vehicles had previously come from left-liberal groups concerned about civilian casualties in the drone war in Pakistan and potential threats to civil liberties at home.) The nation also witnessed drone “scares”: An unidentified flying object nearly collided with a planeover Denver, and rumors circulated of a surveillance drone flying near the NATO summit in Illinois.

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(Credit: romakoma via Shutterstock/Aurora Flight Sciences/Benjamin Wheelock)

Jefferson Morley | Salon

In November 2010, a police lieutenant from Parma, Ohio, asked Vanguard Defense Industries if the Texas-based drone manufacturer could mount a “grenade launcher and/or 12-gauge shotgun” on its ShadowHawk drone for U.S. law enforcement agencies. The answer was yes.

Last month, police officers from 10 public safety departments around the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area gathered at an airfield in southern Maryland to view a demonstration of a camera-equipped aerial drone — first developed for military use — that flies at speeds up to 20 knots or hovers for as long as an hour.

And in late March, South Korean police and military flew a Canadian-designed drone as part of “advance security preparations” for the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul whereprotesters clashed with police.

In short, the business of marketing drones to law enforcement is booming. Now that Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up U.S. airspace to unmanned vehicles, the aerial surveillance technology first developed in the battle space of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is fueling a burgeoning market in North America. And even though they’re moving from war zones to American markets, the language of combat and conflict remains an important part of their sales pitch — a fact that ought to concern citizens worried about the privacy implications of domestic drones.

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Glenn Greenwald | Salon

This headline and first paragraph from today’s Washington Post scoop by Greg Miller speaks volumes about so many things:

There are many evils in the world, but extinguishing people’s lives with targeted, extra-judicial killings, when you don’t even know their names, based on “patterns” of behavior judged from thousands of miles away, definitely ranks high on the list. Although the Obama White House has not approved of this request from CIA Director David Petraeus, these so-called “signature strikes” that “allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior” are already robustly used in Pakistan — having been started by George Bush in 2008 and aggressively escalated by Barack Obama. There is much to say on this new report, but in order for me to focus on three discrete points, permit me to highly recommend two superb articles that highlight other vital aspects of this policy: (1) this article from my Salon colleague Jefferson Morley this morning on why this form of drone-targeting is pure American Terrorism, and (2) this essay from Chris Floyd about a recently published Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings on Obama’s love of drones and secret wars and how the military’s slang for drone victims — “bug splat” — reflects the sociopathic mindset that drive them.

Initially, it’s critical to note how removed all of these questions are from democratic debate or accountability, thanks to the Obama administration’s insistence that even the basic question of whether the CIA has a drone program is too secret to permit it to publicly acknowledge, even though everyone knows it exists — especially in the countries where it routinely kills people. Recall that Obama officials refused to tell the ACLU, in response to a FOIA request, whether any documents relating to a CIA drone program even exist because even that is too much of a secret to address, and when the ACLU then sued the Obama administration — seeking the most basic information about why the Obama administration thinks it has the power to kill people this way and how it decides who will die — the Obama DOJ again insisted in court that it cannot even acknowledge that such a program exists, let alone provide any basic disclosure or transparency about it.

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