Obama Administration to Release Drone Memo; #StandWithRand Sees Short Sequel


Sen. Rand Paul, in more filibustery days.

Soon, once the Obama administration has redacted what it sees fit to redact for national security reasons, we will finally get to see the Department of Justice's legal justification for killing American citizens overseas with drones without the benefit of any sort of trial. All it took was a court order and the possibility that the Senate wouldn't approve an appellate court nominee due to his role in crafting this memo to make it happen. Easy!

David Barron, the nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, faced a possible filibuster or hold this week from senators wanting to bring about an end to some of the administration's secret justifications for drone use. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned he would put a hold on the nomination, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he thinks he has the votes now to get Barron his judgeship. We will see today. Paul took to the Senate floor this morning showing he has no interest in supporting Barron. Bring on "StandwithRand 2: Still About the Drones." Actually, no. Though Rand spoke at length this morning, changes to the filibuster rules (which he also criticized during his speech) ensured that we didn't get a repeat of Paul's 2013 attempt to delay voting on John Brennan's nomination as director of the CIA.  

Paul nevertheless did speak at length this morning about his concerns that Barron and the Obama Administration's extrajudicial drone strikes challenge years of jurisprudence that places such a strong emphasis on the rights of the accused to have a trial. That Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al Qaeda leader, was in all likelihood guilty of plotting harm against his own country, was not the point: "We're talking about not even having the protection of a trial. Are we comfortable killing them based on accusations that no jury has reviewed?" He pointed to the history of American leaders treated with honor for defending the accused, such as John Adams defending the British soldiers accused of the Boston massacre. He called the use of drones to kill targets "sophisticated vigilantism." If you missed his speech (what, you have something better to do than watch C-Span?), his Twitter account excerpted choice quotes.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sued, along with The New York Times, to get access to the drone strike memo. The ACLU is hoping the report will open folks' eyes:

"We hope this report signals a broader shift in the administration's approach to the official secrecy surrounding its targeted killing program," said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the FOIA lawsuit before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The release of this memo will allow the public to better understand the scope of the authority that the government is claiming. We will continue to argue in court for the public release of the other targeted killing memos and related documents."

Given it took both of the other branches of the government to force the administration to accept some more transparency in revealing its guidelines for assassinating its own citizens, I am not expecting a broader shift in the administration's approach to secrecy. And even so, if Reid is correct, the Senate stands poised to approve Barron anyway. Though it is a problem that the memo was kept classified, the justifications were pretty poorly kept secrets. We actually know why the administration thinks it can execute citizens overseas (it did not believe they would be able to get to al-Awlaki to arrest him and put him on trial). The concealing of the memo doesn't resolve the problem that our president believes he has the power to do this. That's what really makes Paul's comments this morning so important. Revealing the actual memo is only the first step towards trying to put an end to this behavior.

UPDATE: The Senate vote to move Barron along to a final roll call vote today passed 52-43.

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  1. The ACLU wants the memo released. Good for them. What is their position on this guy’s nomination? And more importantly, what are they doing to pressure Democrats to vote against it? I am pretty sure they would be having kittens if the Republicans ever nominated John Yo to an appellate court. So what are they doing about this guy?

  2. …changes to the filibuster rules (which he also criticized during his speech) ensured that we didn’t get a repeat of Paul’s 2013 attempt to delay voting on John Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA.

    Using the nuclear option against the droning of by a senator.

    1. He is plotting against the President. His means have become unsound. Terminate his command with extreme prejudice.

  3. The concealing of the memo doesn’t resolve the problem that our president believes he has the power to do this.

  4. The concealing of the memo doesn’t resolve the problem that our president believes he has the power to do this.

    But it goes a long ways to discrediting his stated justifications for doing so. If the memo were anything but outrageous, indefensible and embarrassing, they would have leaked it long ago.

  5. Really, who expects the administration to release any real documents? They’re just going to mock up something that justifies everything in hindsight, probably in some vague way that allows the president to do anything while sounding like it involves some sort of restrictions.

    I’m so tired of the bullshit. Can we please start holding politicians accountable? Does it matter what party they’re in, really? I mean, would you accept this level of double-dealing, lying, venality, etc. from even a family member? Ye gods.

    1. I am tired of the complete hypocrisy. The same people who destroyed John Yo, who was at least honest enough to stand up and defend his legal opinion, are going to put this asshole on the federal bench. Not only is this guy a fucking idiot hack, he is also a liar and a coward.

    2. Who is “we”, ProL? “We” can’t do shit. Because your only power in this system is to vote, and your vote is worth nothing. So…you can’t do shit. Funny how that works; it’s almost like it’s designed for the politicians and not for you.

      1. I’m pretty sure the nomination gets quashed if the Washington Mall was filled with anti assassination protesters. But that would only happen if Romney had won in 2012.

        1. And last I looked the ACLU commanded a lot of influence among the Democratic party. You mean they can’t get seven or eight Democratic Senators to kill this? Really?

      2. It doesn’t have to be this way. Even within the system, a substantial minority could do quite a bit. And there’s also just revolting against the system.

        I would be curious to see how the government would respond if enough people started actively voting to take the goodies away. Would they accept that, or would a formal coup (from within the government) happen?

        1. How do you “vote to do that” in a representative system? What they do is either get a candidate to lie to get elected or put so much social pressure on them that they get co-opted. Washington does strange things to people. Also, they have set up a campaign finance system and a media culture that pretty much precludes any person with the nerve and mentality to come to Washington and not be cop-opted by the creatures there from getting elected.

          Our media is a real problem and driver for this. They portray anyone who wants to change the system as a loon and a dangerous crazy. Only those who vow to preserve the status quo are spared that treatment and sometimes not even then.

          1. Personally, I think voting people out of office and making lots of noise about removing people from office would help. Instead, we have near-total apathy about abuses of power. Politicians aren’t known for their bravery and could be reined in. If enough of us cared.

            It’s not possible to maintain any kind of limited government without constant vigilance, as has been pointed out before. Even that might not stop the growth of government, but doing nothing can only accelerate that growth.

            1. Voting people out of office and mass civil disobedience, like the gun owners in Connecticut refusing to register or people going around and vandalizing speed cameras.

              1. In a very real sense, all of our social norms, including government, are a fiction we all agree to accept. It blows up very quickly when we don’t. You’d think that would make government more wary of pushing people too far, but humans appear to have a great deal of tolerance for abuse.

                1. You can’t rule an unwilling population, unless you are just willing and able to murder them by the millions. Gandi proved that. If Americans start refusing to convict when they sit on juries, start refusing to pay their taxes, treating cops and judges and prosecutors and regulators as social outcasts, and doing other things like that, the government would be crippled very quickly. It would either have to call out the military and start shooting people, which they would do if they could but I doubt they could get the military to do it, or start doing things differently.

                  1. You’re right. I’m going to walk down to the beach and start making my own salt. Fuck this shit.

  6. I’m more interested in the rationale used to kill the guy’s teenage son who was assassinated by US forces a few weeks later.

    What crime did he commit? According to what I read he was on a temporary trip to Yemen with plans to return to the U.S.. Why did the admin feel they couldn’t arrest him?

    1. Well, if you arrest someone, you have to hold them and try them. Trials require evidence, some or all of which may be classified. A very expensive process, and you may not get the result you want, anyway. So much easier to use drone process, the 21st century’s answer to due process.

    2. I think he was “collateral damage”. They whacked some other guy and he happened to be there. I don’t think they actually put a hit out on the son but I could be wrong.

      1. You know, it just occurred to me that with miniaturization and drone technology advancing so quickly, something akin to Dune‘s hunter-seekers are on the horizon.

        1. They really are. Add in facial recognition and they can send out a mini drone that effectively has your name and address written on it. That drone is even more advanced than the ones in Dune, since it could be targeted at one person rather than any person who happens to walk by.

      2. Yes. As I recall, the target was a known terrorist. The kid was collateral damage. Still, allowing a teenaged American citizen to be killed in an operation is bullshit.

        1. That might not bother me except that they refuse to tell us what a “known terrorist” even is. Basically they are killing anyone they don’t like based on whatever intelligence tells them what they want to hear.

          I am well known in my defense of many elements of the war against Al Quada. But even I think that is insane. Once you start killing people who are away from any battlefield and doing so based on whatever information you find compelling, there is no stopping it.

          We used to have a saying in detention ops in Iraq, “dead people are never the problem, it is live people that are the headache”. Killing someone is always the easy solution to a problem. Worried about something bad happening on your watch and this guy being responsible? Just kill him and that way you don’t have to worry or bother with a trial. This guy saying shit that embarrasses you and causes you problems? Call him a terrorist and kill him and your problems are over. Worried about some other guy producing embarrassing facts at his trial? Call him an enemy combatant and kill him and avoid a trial.

          1. I sounds like you may have evidence of war crimes and need to come forth??

            1. Nope. I never committed any such thing nor authorized or witnessed any such thing. But I certainly understand killing and what killing, not just pulling the trigger but being a part of an organization that is doing it, does to you. Once you start, killing gets very easy. Like Stalin said, one man’s death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic. There is a lot of truth in that.

              1. I think it was in the Holocaust mini-series where the German guy said something like killing 100 Jews is easy once you kill 10 and killing 10 is easy once kill one. I was like 12 at the time and that line really scared/scarred me.

            2. And the point of the “its the live ones who are the headache” was to lament how we had so many live ones and how much easier it would be just to kill them. We of course didn’t do that. But we were not the head of the CIA and didn’t have drones. I suspect had we been and been subject to no accountability the way these people are, the temptation would have been awfully great. And that is my point.

        2. And doctrine already embraces the idea of the interconnection between terrorism and international crime. It is just a matter of time before they apply the logic here to ordinary criminal cases and we are out drone striking drug smugglers, if they haven’t already done that and just not told us about it. You want to see someone corrupted by power and turned into evil, look at John Brennen sometime. The guy has spent 12 years coldly signing death warrants. Don’t tell me doing that doesn’t fuck with a person’s head. The fact that Brennan has hung on through two administrations and never quit to go take it easy, tells me he likes his fucking job and no one should like a job like that or want to do it longer than just enough to say you did your duty.

          1. +1 Clear and Present Danger

          2. 12 years coldly signing death warrants.

            Death warrants would be one thing. The innocent people he routinely murders who happen to be standing next to someone with a death warrant is quite another.

            It’s one thing to justify civilians killed in the heat of battle, it’s quite another when your assassination is the automated equivalent of a drive-by shooting.

            1. Take the issue of the morality of drone strikes as they are currently being done out of it for a second. Even if you thought you were doing the right thing, no normal person, even one who totally believed in the job and felt the deepest sense of patriotism and duty in doing it, could do that job for more than a year or too. Killing people like that eventually gets to you. And Brennen goes merrily on. Only someone who completely lacks a conscience could do that.

  7. …”All it took was a court order *AND* the possibility that the Senate wouldn’t approve an appellant court nominee”…

    So Obo I doesn’t find a court order sufficient?

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