Sunday, November 25, 2012

Obama Pushes to Codify Rules for Drone Warfare

At the New York Times, "U.S. Election Speeded Move to Codify Policy on Drones":
WASHINGTON — Facing the possibility that President Obama 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, 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 by the Central Intelligence Agency 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, 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, 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” on Oct. 18.
In other words, it's illegal, and for outward appearances it might be good if the United States wasn't completely fucking oblivious to international norms, much less international legal regimes, such as the Geneva Conventions, which make illegal the fatalities of civilian non-combatants. Obama campaigned in 2008 on a massive antiwar humanitarian agenda. He attacked the Bush administration on all fronts, from Guantanamo to the Iraq war. His antiwar image was one of the biggest attractions of his candidacy. He was going to heal America's reputation as a warmongering imperialist power. All that was talk, of course. Big rhetorical bullshit in the furtherance of power. One of the biggest scandals of his administration --- and there are many --- is the ease with which he's been able to kill both American citizens and foreign civilians with no checks and balances whatsoever, to say nothing of political consequences. The only person writing about Obama's historical authoritarianism is Glenn Greenwald. Otherwise, progressives down the line give this president a pass where previously they had sought war crimes indictments for such policies under his predecessor. That's the rankest kind of hypocrisy that makes its way all the way to the current Oval Office, for I don't for a second believe that President Obama embraces his unprecedented shift in war powers in terms of national security. No, this president sees targeted killings as gruesome fodder for earned reporting from the Obama media's press retinue, all in service of the maintenance and expansion of power. In contrast, President George W. Bush genuinely believed that his policies would make the nation more secure, and they have.

In any case, Greenwald considers Obama the worst civil liberties president in American history. I don't like Greenwald, although I have recommended his consistency on such matters. See, "Who is the worst civil liberties president in US history?":
Abraham Lincoln illegally suspended the core liberty of habeas corpus without Congressional approval. Wilson's attacks on basic free speech in the name of national security were indeed legion and probably unparalleled. Franklin Roosevelt oversaw the due-process-free internment of more than 100,000 law-abiding Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.

And then there are the two War on Terror presidents. George Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

His successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them (about which the New York Times said: "It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing"). He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, dusting off Wilson's Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history...