Sunday, February 10, 2013

Brennan curiosity

MacLeod Cartoons, via In Medias Res.
What Wyden asked (clipped from discussion at Crooks & Liars):
SEN. RON WYDEN: ...What do you think needs to be done to ensure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it’s allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues, the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?
JOHN BRENNAN: I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs, as far as our explaining what we’re doing. What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security. I don’t think that it’s one or the other. It’s trying to optimize both of them. And so, what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews. The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate. It doesn’t mean that we operate at those out of boundaries. And, in fact, I think the American people will be quite pleased to know that we’ve been very disciplined, very judicious, and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.
What Wyden didn't ask: So, uh, what's stopping you?

I'm pleased to hear that Father Brennan thinks I'll be pleased to know how disciplined and judicious they've been, but not sure I'll be as pleased as he thinks I'll be. Or whether what he regards as a last resort is the same as it would be for me. Do they have a sequence of steps they follow, beginning with a warning letter? (Dear Sir, Our current information indicates that you are a paid-up member of Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula. Please either provide evidence to the effect that you are not currently an imminent threat to the United States or its interests. Failure to respond will be regarded as unfriendly and may lead to adverse consequences for you, your family, your house, and any persons or animals who visit you. Also we would advise you to stay out of motor vehicles.)

It's humiliating to say, but I can't sustain any interest in the legal justifications at all—though I was very much intrigued by Emptywheel's suggestion that the recently "leaked" White Paper seemed to be cobbled together out of different sources, those that found the President's authority to conduct targeted assassinations in the Authorization to Use Military Force of September 2001 and those that found it in Article II of the Constitution (acting without congressional authorization in the nation's self-defense). Perhaps they have inadvertently revealed the real secret of the memos: that they're embarrassing, inadequate, and incompetent.

What I'd really like to see is how the rules are put into action. It's the evening of January 23 and Rabae Laheb is out in a double-cab Toyota Hilux on the road from Marib to Sanaa with four Yemeni companions and one or two Saudis, or perhaps a driver, Saleem Muhammed al Qawili. Laheb has been reported dead before, in a drone strike of last November, when Yemeni army colonel Adnan al Qadhi was killed (although he could easily have been arrested by local authorities and may not have been a militant at all). At 8:00 PM a drone passes overhead and four missiles fall out of the sky to hit them, completely destroying their vehicle and burning them all beyond recognition. Did anything happen in the White House? A blip floating across a screen? ("Old Laheb's on the road?" "I thought we killed that sucker six weeks ago!") Or is the White House finished once they've declared him an imminent threat?

Is there a team watching all Sanaa 24 hours a day on video screens somewhere, reporting who gets into a car and where they're driving throughout the entire city? Or is it guys on the ground following particularly those higher up on the list and calling home to say when a target is in a killable situation (i.e., not with wives and children or other non-imminent threats), and the video watchers (and the drone) take over from there?

And how do they know it's him? Especially given that he's supposed to be dead? Have they reopened his file on the receipt of new information? Is he tagged like a Wyoming wolf? (But if he's impossible to arrest, as he's supposed to be to get on the kill list, then he must be impossible to tag.) And how do they get confirmation? (Here in urban Yemen I can see it, but up in North Waziristan where the Pakistani troops themselves dare not move?)

And what about the cost-benefit analysis: How much harm has Laheb been doing, to Americans and American interests, how much since he went on the kill list, how much will have been prevented by his death? How much harm does his death do, how many friends or sons or nephews join the AQAP because of it, how many join some other party to the civil war because the government can't protect them. How many Yemeni doctors and teachers and civil servants will escape to some other country because they can't stand any more grief and terror, thus making Yemen a still more difficult place to live?
The vehicle Rabae Laheb was riding in. Yemen Observer via Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
You have any numbers on that, Father Brennan?

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