Obama officials will finally speak on the Awlaki killing, but most notable is what they will continue to conceal
Topics: Politics News
On Saturday in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news. Roughly one year ago, El-Berjawi was stripped of his British citizenship, obtained when his family moved to that country when he was an infant, through the use of a 2006 British anti-Terrorism law — passed after the London subway bombing — that the current government is using with increasing frequency to strip alleged Terrorists with dual nationality of their British citizenship (while providing no explanation for that act). El-Berjawi’s family vehemently denies that he is involved with Terrorism, but he was never able to appeal the decree against him for this reason:
Berjawi is understood to have sought to appeal against the order, but lawyers representing his family were unable to take instructions from him amid concerns that any telephone contact could precipitate a drone attack.
Obviously, those concerns were valid. So first the U.S. tries to assassinate people, then it causes legal rulings against them to be issued because the individuals, fearing for their life, are unable to defend themselves. Meanwhile, no explanation or evidence is provided for either the adverse government act or the assassination: it is simply secretly decreed and thus shall it be.
Exactly the same thing happened with U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki. When the ACLU and CCR, representing Awlaki’s father, sued President Obama asking a federal court to enjoin the President from killing his American son without a trial, the Obama DOJ insisted (and the court ultimately accepted) that Awlaki himself must sue on his own behalf. Obviously, that was impossible given that the Obama administration was admittedly trying to kill him and surely would have done so the minute he stuck his head up to contact lawyers (indeed, the U.S. tried to kill him each time they thought they had located him, and then finally succeeded). So again in the Awlaki case: the U.S. targets someone for death, and then their inability to defend themselves is used as a weapon to deny their legal rights.
The refusal to provide transparency is also the same. Ever since Awlaki was assassinated, the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to disclose not only any evidence to justify the accusations of Terrorism against him, but also the legal theories it is using to assert the power to target U.S. citizens for death with no charges. A secret legal memo authorizing the Awlaki assassination, authored by Obama lawyers David Baron and Marty Lederman, remains secret. During the Bush years, Democratic lawyers vehemently decried the Bush DOJ’s refusal to release even OLC legal memoranda as tyrannical “secret law.” One of the lawyers most vocal during the Bush years about the evils of “secret law,” Dawn Johnsen (the never-confirmed Obama appointee to be chief of the OLC) told me back in October: “I absolutely do not support the concealment of OLC’s Awlaki memo . . . .The Obama administration should release either any existing OLC memo explaining why it believes it has the authority for the targeted killings or a comparably detailed legal analysis of its claimed authorities.”
A Daily Beast report today says that the Obama administration “is finally going to break its silence” on the Awlaki killing, but here’s what they will and will not disclose:
In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. . . .
An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing.
In other words, they’re going to dispatch Eric Holder to assert that the U.S. Government has the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination by-CIA-drone, but will not even describe a single piece of evidence to justify the claim that Awlaki was guilty of anything. In fact, they will not even mention his name. As Marcy Wheeler said today:
This is simply an asinine compromise. We all know the Administration killed Awlaki. We all know the Administration used a drone strike to do so. . . .
The problem–the problem that strikes at the very heart of democratic accountability–is that the Administration plans to keep secret the details that would prove (or not) that Awlaki was what the Administration happily claims he is under the veil of anonymity, all while claiming that precisely that information is a state secret.
The Administration seems to be planning on making a big speech on counterterrorism–hey! it’s another opportunity to brag again about offing Osama bin Laden!–without revealing precisely those details necessary to distinguish this killing, and this country, from that of an unaccountable dictator.
The CIA seems to have dictated to our democratically elected President that he can’t provide the kind of transparency necessary to remain a democracy. We can kill you–they appear to be planning to say–and we’ll never have to prove that doing so was just. You’ll just have to trust us!
That, of course, is the heart and soul of this administration’s mentality when it comes to such matters, and why not? Between Republicans who always cheer on the killing of Muslims with or without any explanation or transparency, and Democrats who do so when their leader is the assassin, there is little political pressure to explain themselves. If anything, this planned “disclosure” makes the problem worse, since we will now have the spectacle of Eric Holder, wallowing in pomp and legal self-righteousness, finally defending the power that Obama already has seized — to assassinate U.S. citizens in secret and with no checks — but concealing what is most needed: evidence that Awlaki was what the U.S. Government claims he is. That simply serves to reinforce the message this Government repeatedly sends: as Marcy puts it, “We can kill you and we’ll never have to prove that doing so was just. You’ll just have to trust us!” The Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen added: “The US legal opinion on Awlaki is one thing, but it rests on assumptions made by the intelligence community, which won’t be revealed.”
This no longer seems radical to many — it has become normalized — because it’s been going on for so long now and, more important, it is now fully bipartisan consensus. But to see how extreme this all really is, to understand what a radical departure it is, just consider what George Bush’s neocon Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, told the Israelis in 2001, as flagged by this Guardian Op-Ed by Mary Ellen O’Connell comparing Obama’s assassinations to Bush’s torture program:
The United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.
What George Bush’s Ambassador condemned to the Israelis’ face just a decade ago as something the nation was steadfastly against has now become a staple of government policy: aimed even at its own citizens, and carried out with complete secrecy. And those who spent years mocking the notion that “9/11 Changed Everything” will have no choice but to invoke that propagandistic mantra in order to defend this: what else is there to say?
More Related Stories
- Is the Environmental Defense Fund ruining environmentalism?
- Top 5 investigative videos of the week: "Winning" Afghanistan
- Jester clowns Westboro Baptist Church
- GOP: Party of crybabies
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Glenn Greenwald (email: GGreenwald@salon.com) is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of three New York Times Bestselling books: two on the Bush administration's executive power and foreign policy abuses, and his latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, an indictment of America's
two-tiered system of justice. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive detention of Bradley Manning.