[Vision2020] Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy

Art Deco art.deco.studios at gmail.com
Tue Nov 27 11:08:25 PST 2012

November 26, 2012
Obama’s Drone Problem
Posted by Amy Davidson<http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/bios/amy_davidson/search?contributorName=Amy%20Davidson>

[image: drones-davidson.jpg]

A good question, for anyone, is what in your life makes you a little bit
ashamed—what’s the thing you would throw in a closet if someone visited
unexpectedly, the e-mail you would delete first, the pictures you don’t
want anyone to see? It’s an exercise worth going through before the
doorbell rings or your company is audited or some estranged family member
is left to clear out your desk drawers—or before you lose an election. That
thought apparently occurred to Barack Obama and the people around him.
According to a story by the *Times*’ Scott
there was a scramble in the White House, when it looked like Obama might
lose, to try to write down some rules for when the President could order
targeted assassinations, “so that a new president would inherit clear
standards and procedures.”

Should we take it, then, that Obama had been having people killed abroad
without clear standards and procedures? We already had a sense that that
was the case. (I’ve written about the legal and moral issues with the
President’s “kill lists”
as has Steve Coll<http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/08/kill-or-capture.html>.
And Nicholas Schmidle as a Talk
last week’s issue about the drone program.) And, as numerous reports
have made clear, there is still no consensus about what the limits should
be—how much “flexibility” a President gets. The Obama Administration has
already approved the killing of an American citizen living abroad without
any judicial proceedings. That was in Yemen, but why couldn’t it have been
in Paris? The targets of the assassination are referred to as terrorists,
but what’s often meant by that is alleged terrorists, or alleged terrorist
associates, or alleged by some other government to be dangerous in ways
more or less defined. Since in some so-called signature strikes, carried
out by drones, we are not killing people whose names we even know, but ones
who are behaving in ways that fit a certain profile, the right phrase might
be “suspected bad-guy character.” Or something—our targets are frequently
no clearer than our standards. Meanwhile, the strikes kill and displace
civilians, and earn us enemies and distrust.

It apparently took some bad polls in swing states for the Administration to
begin to confront the situation—except that then Obama won, with the
result, Shane writes, that “the matter may have lost some urgency.” If
Obama thinks that there’s room for delay, he’s making a mistake. A first
term hasn’t yet been enough to close Guantánamo, and long enough to get
some very bad practices codified. Eight years pass almost as quickly as

For a brief moment, though, someone in the Administration apparently
pictured Romney sitting down and doing what Obama had been doing, and
worried. But even then, did they see the scene for the mess it was? “There
was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” an
Administration official told Shane. That concern will have been wasted if
it is taken as a reflection only on the hands, and not on the levers. Did
idea that some Presidents are better than others at deciding whom to kill
cause anyone to feel smug rather than abashed? When it comes to “kill
lists,” Obama’s weakness has been to act as though the clarity of his
judgment is the same thing as a clear standard; perhaps the thought of
losing gave him a sense that this wasn’t the case. But what was most vivid
for those in the present Administration, in their vision of President
Romney haphazardly dispatching drones? Their distrust of Obama’s successor,
or embarrassment about what they might be leaving, unattended to, on the
Oval Office desk?

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On Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 10:13 AM, Sunil Ramalingam <
sunilramalingam at hotmail.com> wrote:

>  Greenwald on the new drone story:
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/26/obama-drones-kill-list-framework
> On praise for their leaders when they do this:
> 'It is, for several reasons, extraordinary that so many citizens have been
> successfully trained to so venerate their Party's leaders that they
> literally believe no checks or transparency are necessary, even as those
> leaders wield the most extremist powers: executing people, bombing multiple
> countries, imprisoning people with no charges, mass monitoring and
> surveilling of entire communities.'
> Sunil
> ------------------------------
> Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2012 10:53:29 -0800
> From: godshatter at yahoo.com
> To: art.deco.studios at gmail.com
> CC: vision2020 at moscow.com
> Subject: Re: [Vision2020] Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone
> Policy
> Why didn't they start trying to codify this *before* the first drone
> strike, instead of waiting until Romney was possibly about to take over?
> There is so much wrong here, I don't know where to begin.  Why didn't our
> constitutional scholar of a president question this "signature"
> assassination thing?  Why didn't he question the idea of assassination as a
> military tool, to begin with?
> Oh, and I loved this bit:
> "The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies
> over the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that
> it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail."
> So much for his promises of an open and transparent government.
> Paul
> On 11/25/2012 08:12 AM, Art Deco wrote:
>  [image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>
> ------------------------------
> November 24, 2012
> Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy By SCOTT SHANE<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/scott_shane/index.html>
> WASHINGTON — Facing the possibility that President Obama<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/o/barack_obama/index.html?inline=nyt-per>might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the
> weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted
> killing of terrorists by unmanned drones<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/u/unmanned_aerial_vehicles/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>,
> so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures,
> according to two administration officials.
> The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But with more than
> 300 drone strikes and some 2,500 people killed<http://www.longwarjournal.org/pakistan-strikes.php>by the Central
> Intelligence Agency<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/central_intelligence_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org>and the military since Mr. Obama first took office, the administration is
> still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and
> disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified.
> Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control
> killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the
> United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied
> governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling
> territory.
> Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of
> drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense
> Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry
> out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the
> president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/john_o_brennan/index.html?8qa>,
> have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.
> More broadly, the administration’s legal reasoning has not persuaded many
> other countries that the strikes are acceptable under international law.
> For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely
> condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most
> countries still object to such measures.
> But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two
> administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war
> with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its
> enemies wherever they are found.
> Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is
> setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed
> drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to
> investigate American drone strikes.
> The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last
> summer after news reports on the drone program<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html>,
> started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed
> some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for
> compiling “kill lists” and approving strikes. Though national security
> officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president
> and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action
> that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win
> the presidency.
> “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said
> one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate
> about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave
> an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort,
> which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won,
> will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.
> Mr. Obama himself, in little-noticed remarks, has acknowledged that the
> legal governance of drone strikes is still a work in progress.
> “One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place,
> and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not
> only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the
> decisions that we’re making,” Mr. Obama told Jon Stewart in an appearance
> on “The Daily Show”<http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-october-18-2012/exclusive---barack-obama-extended-interview-pt--1>on Oct. 18.
> In an interview with Mark Bowden for a new book on the killing of Osama
> bin Laden, “The Finish<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/books/review/the-finish-the-killing-of-osama-bin-laden-by-mark-bowden.html?pagewanted=all>,”
> Mr. Obama said that “creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight
> checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me
> and my successors for some time to come.”
> The president expressed wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to
> policy makers. “There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think
> that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security
> problems,” he said.
> Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for
> targeted killing, the program remains officially classified. In court,
> fighting lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union<http://www.aclu.org/>and The New York Times seeking secret legal opinions on targeted killings,
> the government has refused even to acknowledge the existence of the drone
> program in Pakistan.
> But by many accounts, there has been a significant shift in the nature of
> the targets. In the early years, most strikes were aimed at ranking leaders
> of Al Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States. That is the
> purpose Mr. Obama has emphasized, saying in a CNN interview in September<http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/05/obama-reflects-on-drone-warfare/>that drones were used to prevent “an operational plot against the United
> States” and counter “terrorist networks that target the United States.”
> But for at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s
> success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed
> at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who
> fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/afghanistan/index.html?inline=nyt-geo>.
> In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed
> militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of
> those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.
> “Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an
> attack, they were not an imminent threat to the United States,” said Micah
> Zenko<http://www.cfr.org/experts/national-security-conflict-prevention/micah-zenko/b15139>,
> a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the
> strikes. “We don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of
> Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are.”
> Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are
> unknown. In an online video chat<http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/01/30/president-obama-hangs-out-america>in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as “a targeted,
> focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” But for
> several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to
> “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military
> have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown
> militants.
> Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a
> known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place.
> But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for
> instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups.
> Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama
> administration, with some officials questioning whether killing
> unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.
> Many people inside and outside the government have argued for far greater
> candor about all of the strikes, saying excessive secrecy has prevented
> public debate in Congress or a full explanation of their rationale. Experts
> say the strikes are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part
> because of allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties, which
> American officials say are exaggerated.
> Gregory D. Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and
> America’s War in Arabia<http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/06/jihadis-yemen/?pagination=false>,”
> argues that the strike strategy is backfiring in Yemen. “In Yemen, Al Qaeda
> is actually expanding,” Mr. Johnsen said in a recent talk at the
> Brookings Institution <http://www.brookings.edu/events/2012/11/13-yemen>,
> in part because of the backlash against the strikes.
> Shuja Nawaz <http://www.acus.org/users/shuja-nawaz>, a Pakistan-born
> analyst now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the United States
> should start making public a detailed account of the results of each
> strike, including any collateral deaths, in part to counter propaganda from
> jihadist groups. “This is a grand opportunity for the Obama administration
> to take the drones out of the shadows and to be open about their
> objectives,” he said.
> But the administration appears to be a long way from embracing such
> openness. The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among
> agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials
> said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by
> e-mail.
> --
> Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
> art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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