Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Eeyore Caucus

[Update: Revised toward the end for clarity 2/1/2015.]

Via StopMeBeforeIVoteAgain.
Vivid piece by Jeff Stein at Newsweek about the Israeli-style assassination of the Hezbollah terror architect Imad Mugniyah in Damascus in February 2008, which turns out not to have been Israeli at all but our own CIA.

Mugniyah was apparently a very dangerous and bad man, too, the alleged planner of the 1983 bombings of the US barracks and embassy in Beirut and many other bombings, murders, and kidnapings, including the bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994. On the other hand, his involvement in these things has never been proven, and it's not clear that he was up to anything at the time of the killing other than visiting one of his wives, and the assassination looks very much like one of those bad things of which Obama is always being accused, an extrajudicial execution without trial.

But a curious detail of the story, noted by Laura Rozen, is that Bush's DCI, Michael Hayden, was worried himself that the strike might be illegal:
“General Hayden, at first, was all for this,” the former official said, “But slowly, or maybe not so slowly, the realization set in for him that he was ordering an assassination, that basically he was putting out a hit. And once he became pretty much cognizant of the fact that he was basically ordering the murder of someone, he got cold feet. He didn’t fancy himself as a Corleone.”

And he wasn’t, really. That role would ultimately fall to the president.

“Obviously [Hayden] had to get authority for this, and authority could come from only one person, and that would be POTUS," said the participant. “So he went down to see President Bush. It took Bush apparently only about 30 seconds to say, ‘Yes, and why haven’t you done this already? You have my blessing. Go with God.’” 
George W. Corleone. Call him "Sonny".

Dudebro Caucus came out swinging, of course, to denounce this new instance of Bush's criminality, right? No, to notice how much worse Obama is than Bush:
Because Bush only ordered the one targeted assassination in the eighth year of his entire presidential career, whereas Obama generally does two or three of them before breakfast, reserving the right (did we forget to mention it?) to murder US citizens at any time and place of his choosing?

Marcy's being deliberately obtuse here, in the service of the larger dudebro narrative, and I really wish she'd stop.

The Bush administration ran its first targeted assassination, including the murder of an American citizen, in November 2002, with the Predator drone attack on a car holding Ali Abu al-Harithi and five other Qa'eda operatives in Yemen (the agency didn't presumably know there was an American, Kamal Derwish, in the car, but insisted afterwards that it would have been legal anyhow). What Hayden was concerned about in the 2008 case was not the killing, he'd been happily signing off on those for years, but the absence of an Authorization to Use Military Force allowing it, since the US was not at war with any Shi'ite conspiracy, or with Syria; an attack on a Hezbollah agent in Syrian territory, no matter how wicked he had been 14 years earlier, would likely fail to meet the requirements set by the standard interpretation of the ban in Executive Order 12333 in the exemptions it lays out:
the clandestine, low visibility or overt use of military force against legitimate targets in time of war, or against similar targets in time of peace where such individuals or groups pose an immediate threat to United States citizens or the national security of the United States, as determined by competent authority, does not constitute assassination or conspiracy to engage in assassination, and would not be prohibited by the proscription in EO 12333 or by international law. 
Although in the 2008 case John Rizzo, counsel to the CIA, was arguing that it was legal to kill Mugniyah, Hayden wasn't comfortable. Then again, his approach to getting comfortable, going directly to Capetto di Tutti Capi Bush to get instructions from him rather than the OLC or whoever the protocol demands, shows that he wasn't all that serious about it either. To my mind, it should be regarded as illegal and Don George himself considered prosecutable for ordering the hit, not that I expect any arrests or care a lot that they're not going to happen.

The drone strikes ordered by the Obama administration, in contrast, have all been carried out under the understanding (which could in some cases be false, I guess) that its victims are actively working to kill US persons—not execution for past crimes but self-defense against ongoing attacks, not judgment but war—and with the clear authority of an AUMF. While they may be pretty ugly and immoral, it's the tradition of war that you are allowed to kill your opponents, and they are certainly legal, as were many of the assassinations ordered under the GWOT of the Bush administration, no doubt (not everything they did was criminal), thanks to the heedlessness of Congress in giving them the power.

(As I've said before, I can't take seriously the issue of whether Anwar al-Aulaqi's US citizenship makes his killing more illegal than anybody else's, because I can't accept that somebody has more human rights than somebody else because of the color of his passport; if you want to argue about the Barron memo you can go play somewhere else.)

The larger dudebro narrative is one that likes to think of itself as left (or "left-libertarian"), or at any rate hip and dynamic (like Newt Gingrich and Rand Paul), but it is essentially conservative in Corey Robin's sense. It starts from a standpoint of personal resentment and loss on the part of a community born to real, if modest, privilege, the mostly white young beneficiaries of the dotcom revolution, who see things getting steadily further away from their expectations, a tale of continuous degeneration and decay.

It's conservative because it's a lament of hopelessness and it rejects every effort to do something about the situation: "You'll only make it worse". And because it's completely focused on my problems, my dudebro healthcare needs as opposed to those of the great working class and poor community, my privacy as opposed to the political freedom of the underserved.

Just as the NRA spurns gun control because it can't save everybody from getting killed, so do the dudebros reject Obamacare because it doesn't eliminate uninsurance (it strikes me that a freelance worker making a decent income—over 400% of poverty—really does get the worst deal from the ACA, with no employer insurance and no subsidy, and that's the kind of person who hates the Act, hi, Jane Hamsher).
He turned around angrily on the others and said "Everybody crowds round so in this Forest. There's no Space. I never saw a more Spreading lot of animals in my life, and in all the wrong places."
They're the Eeyore Caucus. Obama has to be worse than Bush because doesn't that just always happen to me?

Something else that just came up was on my favorite radio show this morning, with reference to the recent scandal of how the Department of Justice had forced Google to provide them with complete emails—including drafts and deletions—and other information on three Wikileaks employees sometime in 2012, and put a gag order on the request so that Google wasn't legally able to tell the Wikileaks people what had happened until a few weeks ago. Why, Brooke Gladstone wanted to know, are we even supposed to be outraged about this? Aren't we just outraged out?
Can I be forgiven for feeling a little ho-hum about this? I mean it doesn't surprise me. It seems as if everybody is now open to the same kind of scrutiny, a kind of fatigue seems to set in, one revelation from Snowden after another, and then it's [sigh] what's the difference?
With all respect, Brooke, it's your fault. Yours and so many other Internet-savvy reporters who have overinterpreted the Snowden documents and allowed the masses to believe all their communications are being monitored by the NSA. The fact is that they aren't; the NSA, least sexy agency in the whole US intelligence system, tries fairly hard to follow the rules and acknowledges in detail when it fails, almost invariably by idiotic mistake (as confirmed once again just this December). In fact cases like this and that of the (perfectly legal, it seems, but clearly unacceptable) surveillance of Associated Press reporters and editors in 2013 prove that they aren't, if you didn't realize it already, because DOJ has to work to get this stuff, getting warrants and ordering cooperation from the providers, even for a non-US person, the Icelander WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson; they can't just go over to NSA headquarters and slip on a pair of headphones, the material they're looking for is not there.

The Snowden revelations have always been basically a dudebro distraction from the real abuses of the FBI and municipal police, which are felt by the non-dudebro community, and the CIA running its evil paramilitary operations abroad. I got tired of saying this a year or two ago, but it's still true and now getting worse, and the result is this indifference; people have been told so long and so emphatically that government is watching our every move that they aren't scandalized by stories like this. The larger dudebro narrative says that we're all of us already more or less in the 1984 world, so what's so special about a Wikileaks guy?

The fact is that the Eeyores are wrong: progress is being made. It's not a New Heaven and a New Earth, it's just progress, or as Claude Lévi-Strauss used to say, des progrès ("some progresses"). The big news in this Wikileaks case is that Google was able to overcome the gag order at last and inform its customers what the DOJ had done to them. (Also it seems the reason for the gag was that DOJ felt too sad over the criticism it got for strongarming Twitter in 2011, for information on another Iceland WikiLeaks supporter, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and just couldn't face getting scolded again by the public. That's not tyrannical, it's pathetic.) The ability of the justice system to grab all our electronic fingerprints is shrinking, day by day, and the process is far from over.

And nothing quite like the murder of Imad Mugniyah has happened since Obama's inauguration, no more John Rizzos and Michael Haydens. The president is still trying to get control over the CIA, no thanks to Senator Feinstein in spite of all her Eeyore groans. If there are more targeted killings now than there were then, there are that many fewer indiscriminate bombing raids, and that's why, because the aim, as I've said before, is to kill fewer people overall and fewer noncombatants in particular, and I believe it's working, though it's not going to be pretty. Obama is not quite the president we want, but he could end up having been the president we needed.
"Very interesting," said Eeyore. "I suppose they will be sending me down the odd bits which got trodden on. Kind and Thoughtful. Not at all, don't mention it."

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