FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

White Paper, Dark Deeds

by VINCENT WARREN

What timing.  Just as President Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, was poised to go before the Senate Intelligence Committee for confirmation, someone leaked a white paper that shows he may be just a tad too trigger-happy for the job.

Currently the president’s chief counterterrorism advisor, Brennan has been the lead architect of Obama’s controversial targeted killing program, in which he has claimed authority to kill people far from any battlefield and without capture, charge, or trial—indeed, without any judicial oversight whatsoever.  The paper focuses on the president’s authority to do this to an American citizen—a fate that has befallen at least three Americans, including a 16-year-old boy—and argues that the United States may kill in “self-defense” when the person targeted poses “an imminent threat of violent attack.”  After all, when faced with such dangers, timing is everything.

The assertion of national self-defense as a basis for these killings is legally problematic for different reasons, including that “imminence” according to the white paper doesn’t mean what it the law says it means.  Nor, apparently, does it mean what the dictionary says it means.  The memo explicitly says that the U.S. can kill its own citizens even if it has no clear evidence that an attack will take place “in the immediate future”—in other words, “imminence” doesn’t mean imminence.

Instead, according to the memo, the president may kill an American who has merely been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of violent attack as long as “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.”  Neither “recently” nor “activities” is defined.

Meanwhile, former and current military and CIA officials responsible for the targeted killing program are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the families of three Americans already killed by President Obama.  Their Department of Justice lawyers argue that the courts should stay out of it because the Executive Branch knows best.

The targeted killing program isn’t John Brennan’s only problem.  Back in 2008, when Obama first nominated him for director, Brennan was driven to withdraw his name from consideration amid controversy over his support for “enhanced interrogation techniques”—Bush-speak for torture.  As the Senate now considers Brennan’s nomination, and as the courts weigh the president’s claims of executive prerogative, the Bush era is instructive.

We are reminded of a time when many thought that detention of alleged terror suspects at Guantánamo beyond the reach of law was necessary and legal.  The Bush administration argued that the courts had no role in overseeing such detentions, that they should just trust the president.  The Supreme Court roundly rejected that notion. And when faced with President Bush’s attempt to imprison a U.S. citizen without fair judicial review, the Supreme Court famously responded,  “A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens.”

When the Torture Memos were finally revealed – by the same President Obama who refuses to make the legal memos or the “playbook” justifying and outlining his targeted killing program public – they underscored the wisdom of this decision not to trust the executive alone—the executive was doing reckless things on twisted legal footing.

The white paper released Monday bears a chilling resemblance to the torture memos.  Here, too, the president insists that he knows best and that we—the public, the courts, the citizens he claims the right to kill—should trust him.  Here, too, the executive has fashioned a legal analysis to justify practices that are clearly illegal under the law, not to mention immoral and dangerous.  And here, too, the courts should reject the demand that they turn a blind eye to unconstitutional practices in the hopes that, behind closed executive doors, the president is doing the right thing.  This white paper certainly shows he is not.

Vincent Warren is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail