Archive for May 8th, 2012

White House officially acknowledges drone strikes

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 6:34 pm by

On April 30, John Brennan, chief counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, formally recognized the existence of US drone strikes. In a speech before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Brennan defended the program as “ethical and just.” Brennan also argued that the United States government has the authority to use drone strikes on suspected members of al-Qaeda:

In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qaeda or its associated forces are legitimate military targets. We have the authority to target them with lethal force, just as we target enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as Germans and Japanese commanders during World War II.

But unlike Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, al-Qaeda and its “associated forces” do not wear uniforms or fight for any particular government. In addition, as Tom Parker observes for Amnesty International, “in World War II the United States and its allies recognized the neutrality of non-combatant states.”

Furthermore, not all members of al-Qaeda or an “associated force” can be lawfully targeted. Daphne Eviatar, a senior counsel at Human Rights First, explains in Politico:

In a non-international armed conflict like [the "war on terror"], the only “enemies” targetable are those “directly participating in hostilities” against the United States, or performing a “continuous combat function” with armed groups targeting the U.S.

Not every member of Al Qaeda or “associated forces” meets that criteria. A cook, dishwasher or doctor aiding Al Qaeda fighters may well be a “member” of Al Qaeda—yet not be lawfully targetable. Brennan, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, ignored that fact.

In addition, Brennan for the first time publicly acknowledged that drone strikes have killed civilians. But he declared these deaths have been “exceedingly rare.”

However, according to analysis by the New America Foundation, approximately 11 to 17 percent of all those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan have been civilians. Meanwhile, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that since President Obama took office in January 2009, anywhere from 282-535 civilians have been killed by drone strikes, including more than 60 children.

Furthermore, as David Ignatius notes in the Washington Post, these strikes could set a dangerous precedent:

What if Iran used them against Kurdish separatists they regard as terrorists? What if Russia used them over Chechnya? What position would the United States take, and wouldn’t it be hypocritical if it opposed drone attacks by other nations that face “imminent” or “significant” threats?

News Digest 5/8/12

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

John Yoo can’t be sued for torture

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 9:32 am by

John-YooThe Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that Bush administration official John Yoo (pictured) cannot be sued for writing legal memos that approved torture. When he worked for the Department of Justice between 2001 and 2003, Yoo authored memos that provided legal justification for so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods. Among those tortured was Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was arrested and detained as an “enemy combatant” for almost four years.

While detained, Padilla endured brutal practices, including painful stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, death threats, and psychotropic drugs. Padilla was even denied medical attention for “serious and potentially life-threatening ailments.” Padilla later sued Yoo for $1, to symbolically demand accountability.

But instead, the Ninth Circuit granted “qualified immunity” to Yoo and tossed out Padilla’s lawsuit. To defend its decision, the court argued,

Although it has been clearly established for decades that torture of an American citizen violates the Constitution, and we assume without deciding that Padilla’s alleged treatment rose to the level of torture, that such treatment was torture was not clearly established in 2001-03.

Writing in The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal attacks the Ninth Circuit’s “tortured logic”:

In English: If Mr. Padilla’s telling the truth, he was tortured, and that’s obviously unconstitutional…The government willfully ignored commonsense, and manufactured a debate about something obviously illegal. But the Ninth Circuit decided that what was obviously illegal wasn’t technically illegal because the Supreme Court hadn’t said so.

But as Glenn Greenwald notes, this is just the latest “disgraceful” decision made by the federal judiciary:

(1) not a single War on Terror victim — not one — has been permitted to sue for damages in an American court over what was done to them, even when everyone admits they were completely innocent, even when they were subjected to the most brutal torture, and even when the judiciary of other countries permitted their lawsuits to proceed; and,

(2) not a single government official — not one — has been held legally accountable, either criminally or even civilly, for any War on Terror crimes or abuses; perversely, the only government officials to pay any price were the ones who blew the whistle on those crimes.