The Drone Strike Memo That Wasn’t There


A federal court recently ordered the Obama administration — you know, the “most transparent administration in history” — to release the legal memo justifying the drone killing of an American citizen in Yemen. Well they released it, but with so many redactions that it is virtually useless.

The administration had been fighting the memo’s release and losing. Today a redacted version of the memo was released. The ACLU has it posted here (the memo actually begins on page 67, following a lengthy court ruling). The “too long; didn’t read” version: The Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that gave us wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gave the administration permission to pursue and capture or kill members of Al Qaeda; Al-Awlaki was a member of Al Qaeda; therefore, killing was legal.

Al-Awlaki’s Fourth Amendment right to due process is brought up toward the end. The Justice Department argues here that capturing Al-Awlaki was infeasible, yet he presented a threat to the United States as “continued” and “imminent,” therefore lethal force was justified.

What sort of continued and imminent threat did Al-Awlaki present from Yemen? Don’t know. That part is all redacted. The justification of why the CIA pursued this course of action is also almost entirely redacted. Even with the memo, we actually don’t learn anything new from a leak of a similar memo NBC published last year. We don’t know why Al-Awlaki was considered to be an imminent threat and why this drone strike was the only way the Obama administration believed it needed to deal with him.

Also note that the memo is entirely only about the execution of Al-Awlaki. The United States has killed four Americans abroad with drone strikes, including Al-Awlaki’s teenage son.

Transparency…you keep using that word.

Comments

  1. says

    Independent of the memo and the issue of transparency, why does the target’s citizenship matter? There seems to be this assumption that it would be fine for the government to willy-nilly use drones against people who are foreigners, but has to play by the rules when the targets are Americans.

  2. Artor says

    Maybe by transparency the Obama administration really meant trans-parentcy. They want to be parental to everyone! “Because I said so,” should be accepted uncomplainingly by us poor, naive kids.

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Does anyone really think Al-Awlaki was a good guy – or his son was’nt following in his father’s footsteps?

    How many (more?) lives would Al-Awlaki have claimed if he’d been able to do so and not stopped?

    Al-Awlaki was evil. His son was going to be evil. Prove me wrong i fuckn dare yas. With, y’know, actual evidence

    How many innocent civilians lives is a terrorist scumbags life worth?

    Who would you prefer to see killed?

    Terrorists or innocent civilians?

    That is what it comes down to.

    Also Al -Awlaki chose to become a Islamist terrorist. Who reckons Al-Awlaki offered or would have offered his victims any choice in whether to become,well, y’know innocent victims of his terrorism?

    Fuck that scumbag. He shouldn’t have chosen terrorism. He got the consequences of his actions and life choices. Good riddance.

    Ad those considering following his example – well, ya see where that got him. So reconsider and fi9nfd yaselves another career. Seriously.

    Surely to fuckn goodness I can’t be the only one here to think of this situation this way.

    Its pretty simple.

    Choose to become a terrorist.

    If .. then

    Ya get ya just desserts – getting blown away by the good guys.

    Who by definition are NOT terrorist douchecanoes seeking to impose an Islamist Caliphate of some uber-brutal and hateful variety and Shariah law over the whole fucking planet!

    How the fuck? Why the fuck?

    Is this sane perspective actually apparently hard for some folks here to comprehend?!

  4. says

    The Justice Department argues here that capturing Al-Awlaki was infeasible, yet he presented a threat to the United States as “continued” and “imminent,” therefore lethal force was justified.

    That applied to Al Capone and Whitey Bulger, too. Oh, wait.

  5. says

    Surely to fuckn goodness I can’t be the only one here to think of this situation this way.

    Of course not – there are plenty of jackasses like you.

  6. says

    @4:

    In all fairness, Marcus Ranum, it’s highly doubtful that the U.S. Federales would have had any success in convincing the hostile foreign gummints of Boston, MA and Chicago, IL to willingly extradite those two terrarists! {;>)

  7. jthompson says

    @SteveoR:

    People that don’t know you being incapable of proving that you’re a good person seems like an awfully high bar to set for the prevention of extra-judicial murder.

    I’m reasonably certain the way evidence is supposed to work is the people making the claim have to provide it. In this case, that would be the Obama administration claiming he (And his kid) were so bad their evil required assassinating them.

    Your definition of sane is about as accurate as the Obama administration’s definition of transparent.

  8. rory says

    Hey Stevo, I think you might, at some point in the future, become a threat to the safety of American citizens. I can’t show you the evidence on which I make that judgment–it’s all classified, and telling you about it would compromise my collection methods–but you can totally trust me not to abuse my authority or make a mistake.

    So, where should I send your Hellfire missile? It’s not that I want to hurt you, or anything, it’s just that given the choice between a dead terrorist* and innocent civilians, I know who I’d pick. Surely I can’t be the only person to think of the situation this way.

    * – or possible future terrorist

  9. iangould says

    Rory, has Stevo repeatedly gone on the public record boasting about his role in recruiting terrorists and planning terrorist acts and about his intention to continue doing so in the future?

    Has he been on the Most Wanted list for years and ignored numerous opportunities to surrender himself for trial?

  10. dogmeat says

    Stevo:

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    It is the obligation of the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, in a court of law, the criminal activity alleged to have occurred.

  11. rory says

    @9, oh, okay, so those are the criteria that allow us to decide it’s cool to blow someone up, along with anyone else who happens to be with them at the time. Someone should let the DOJ know that; there are probably a lot of slimeballs we could cross off the list if we didn’t have to worry about due process.

  12. eric says

    rturpin:

    why does the target’s citizenship matter? There seems to be this assumption that it would be fine for the government to willy-nilly use drones against people who are foreigners, but has to play by the rules when the targets are Americans.

    I guess it depends on whether you want to have a legal argument or an ethics argument. If you want to have an ethics argument, then you’re right, citizenship probably doesn’t matter. But if you want to have a legal argument, then it matters: the constitution limits what our government can do to its own citizens, it doesn’t limit what the government can do to other people’s citizens.

  13. iangould says

    “It is the obligation of the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, in a court of law, the criminal activity alleged to have occurred.”

    Which is why police aren’t; allowed to shoot at people just because they happen to be running out of a bank carrying bags of money and guns.

  14. eric says

    StevoR:

    Surely to fuckn goodness I can’t be the only one here to think of this situation this way.

    Fortunately I think you are. In particular, I think you’re probably the only one here supporting the killing of the teenage son for the “crime” of his father being a terrorist, under the logic that he must prove he wouldn’t kill before he deserves to live. I expect most of the other posters would, like me, consider that to be an odious, immoral, hypocritical, and frankly counter-productive injustice.

  15. dingojack says

    Uh Stevo – you were the one making this extraordinary claim:
    “Al-Awlaki was evil. His son was going to be evil… ”
    you are one who has to prove this assertion, “…With, y’know, actual evidence”.
    Dingo
    ——-
    PS: Oh the Obama Administration is transparent all right, I bet if you cut all the black bits outta that memo you’d be able to see right trough it with no problems… :p

  16. says

    Eric writes: “if you want to have a legal argument, then it matters: the constitution limits what our government can do to its own citizens, it doesn’t limit what the government can do to other people’s citizens.”

    Not so!

    Much of the Bill of Rights restricts how the government treats people, whether or not they are American citizens. If a French sailor in Annapolis commits murder, and Maryland wants to convict of that, he has the same right to a speedy trial by jury, to confront witnesses, and to counsel, as do you or I.

    There are some differences, of course. The federal government could deport the fellow without trial. Non-citizens have no right to stay here.

    But the notion that our Constitution grants no rights to non-citizens is wrong. Read the first clause of the 14th amendment, and notice when it stops talking about citizens, and starts talking about persons.

    So…. I’m asking again: What difference does citizenship make on this issue?

  17. Nick Gotts says

    StevoR is obviously a Bible-believing Christian, enthusiastically agreeing that the sins of the fathers should be visited on their children (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 5:9).

  18. iangould says

    “you are one who has to prove this assertion, “…With, y’know, actual evidence”.”

    You mean like his repeated e-mails to Nidal Hassan in the days before the Fort hood shootings?

    I’m sure they were just discussing Farmville or Arab Idol.

    Just as I’m sure that when he wrote that cartoonist Molly Norris was “a prime target” “whose proper bode is hellfire” he wasn’t urging his followers to murder her.

    http://www.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2010/07/molly_norris_draw_mohammed_day_1.php

  19. says

    To quote George Carlin. “The Government doesn’t kill anyone… They depopulate the area.”

    It is not just the Obama administration that has had these blunders. Every time America (or any country) has been involved in military conflict there are mistakes. The question really should be, is this gross negligence or something else. I agree we should investigate not just to associate blame but more to the point to prevent these actions in the future.

  20. rory says

    @19

    Ian, that’s certainly a compelling argument in favor of dropping bombs on people who have committed crimes. Just one question: which of those crimes was the son a party to? Or is the mere fact of being around his father the terrorist sufficient to sign his death warrant?

  21. eric says

    @16

    If a French sailor in Annapolis commits murder, and Maryland wants to convict of that, he has the same right to a speedy trial by jury, to confront witnesses, and to counsel, as do you or I.

    And if a US sailor in Paris commits murder, he would not have US rights to a speedy trial. He would fall under French rule. This is consistent with both common-sense notions of the limit of national sovereignty and with Article IV, sections 3 and 4, which talks about the US government operating and guaranteeing rights within and between the US states and territories.

    Also (and I admit this is a bit of a punt on my part), with treaties also being given the power of the ‘law of the land’ by the constitution, then if we sign a treatry recognizing the soverign or judicial rights of another nation over some geopolitical area, and SCOTUS either says nothing about it or rules it constitutional, then the legal question has been answered in that case. It becomes legal to execute someone by drone attack in Yemen if we sign a treaty with Yemen that makes it legal…and that treaty survives judicial review. That is an extreme case of the “US soldier committing murder in Paris” case, but really not different in legal form. The main objection I can think of is that it’s very inconsistent from our typical foreign policy – typically we protect our citizens overseas and try and use political leverage to get other nations to not punish our citizens. But here, we seem to have used our leverage to get another nation to approve of our desire to punish one of our citizens within their territory.

    So you’re right, I got it wrong about citizenship but nevertheless it still matters. The situation is more complicated than I first laid out. Citizenship + presence in US-controlled territory gives you all rights. Territorial presence alone gives you most rights (not stuff like voting obviously). Citizenship outside US-controlled territory may give you some rights, but more likely what it gives you is the US government’s desire to intervene on your behalf. When that desire goes away or gets reversed into a desire that you be hurt, the constitution does not guarantee protection of each citizen outside of the US against domestic violence.

  22. Childermass says

    I have a simple rule for those who don’t wish some military to have the right to kill them: get rid of the guns, bombs, etc. and under no circumstances promise to kill or mane anyone.

  23. Michael Heath says

    rturpin writes:

    . . . why does the target’s citizenship matter? There seems to be this assumption that it would be fine for the government to willy-nilly use drones against people who are foreigners, but has to play by the rules when the targets are Americans.

    eric responds:

    I guess it depends on whether you want to have a legal argument or an ethics argument. If you want to have an ethics argument, then you’re right, citizenship probably doesn’t matter. But if you want to have a legal argument, then it matters: the constitution limits what our government can do to its own citizens, it doesn’t limit what the government can do to other people’s citizens.

    Wildly wrong. The U.S. Constitution predominately references ‘people’ rather than citizens when describing the limitations of government power and that government’s obligations. Certainly there are jurisdictional limits in how the U.S. acts, but we frequently act outside those geographical borders. The framers were not sloppy when they referenced people rather than citizens. That was purposeful precisely because their underlying premise was that the [negative] rights of the people weren’t granted by any particular government but instead inalienable to an individual.

    rturbin point stands.

  24. Suido says

    So, these people are:

    1. known to intelligence agencies,
    2. being monitored by intelligence agencies,
    3. on the opposite side of the world from the USA,
    4. ???
    5. imminent threats that require immediate assassination without due process or judicial oversight.

    Unless they’re hiding ICBMs with WMD warheads under their hats, how does that logic work?

  25. caseloweraz says

    Dingo: PS: Oh the Obama Administration is transparent all right, I bet if you cut all the black bits outta that memo you’d be able to see right through it with no problems… :p

    Nitpick: In this case, they use white space. Clever of them, actually, since it makes it impossible to estimate the lengths of redacted passages and thereby (at least for short passages) possibly deduce from context what they might say.

  26. dogmeat says

    I have a simple rule for those who don’t wish some military to have the right to kill them: get rid of the guns, bombs, etc. and under no circumstances promise to kill or mane anyone.

    So, are we going to start drone striking anyone who has a firearm and a “trespassers will be shot” sign? I mean they have “guns” and have promised to kill or maim someone.

  27. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @18. Nick Gotts

    StevoR is obviously a Bible-believing Christian, enthusiastically agreeing that the sins of the fathers should be visited on their children (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 5:9).

    Bzzzt. Totally wrong in so many, many ways Nick Gotts – as per usual for you.

    I’m certainly not Christian of any sort.

    Nor do I think sons should automatically suffer from their father’s stupidities and actions.

    Y’know your strawmonstering of me consistently makes *you* look really stupid yeah?

    Also, I note you refused to answer the questions I posed there. Again, unsurprising and typical of you.

  28. dingojack says

    Stevo said: “Al-Awlaki was evil. His son was going to be evil.” & “Nor do I think sons should automatically suffer from their father’s stupidities and actions.”

    Dingo

  29. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @15. dingojack

    Uh Stevo – you were the one making this extraordinary claim:
    “Al-Awlaki was evil. His son was going to be evil… ”
    you are one who has to prove this assertion, “…With, y’know, actual evidence”.
    Dingo
    ——-
    PS: Oh the Obama Administration is transparent all right, I bet if you cut all the black bits outta that memo you’d be able to see right trough it with no problems…

    Do you actually know who Al-Awlaki was?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anwar_al-Awlaki

    .. he was a senior talent recruiter and motivator who was involved in planning terrorist operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda.[2][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] With a blog, a Facebook page, the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, and many YouTube videos, the Saudi news station Al Arabiya described him as the “bin Laden of the Internet.”[17][18] After a request from the U.S. Congress, in November 2010 YouTube removed many of Awlaki’s videos.[19] However, Awlaki’s influence continues to be apparent amongst Islamists in the west and internationally, and his statements, articles and lectures are regularly cited and used as inspiration by extremists … (snip) .. al-Awlaki spoke with and preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers, who were al-Qaeda members.[21] In 2001, he presided at the funeral of the mother of Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who later e-mailed him extensively in 2008–09 before the Fort Hood shootings.[22][23] During al-Awlaki’s later radical period after 2006–07, when he went into hiding, he was associated with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who attempted the 2009 Christmas Day bombing of an American airliner.[24][25][26] Al-Awlaki was allegedly involved in planning the latter’s attack.

    There’s your evidence – among so much more.

    Being an Al_Quaida or other Jihadist terrorist leader pretty much automatically makes one evil.

    I don’t think that’s an extraordinary claim at all.

    If you disagree with that then why? What possible basis is there for thinking Jihadist terrorist scumbags, out to kill innocent people for not being not merely Muslim but *their* sort of ultra-extremist Muslim, are anything else?

  30. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @29. Dingojack : And.. ?

    What do you think his son was doing and learning from him?

    Ya reckon he was just enjoying some quality time and letting his daddy buy him an icecream or summin?

    Occams razor.

    I blame Al-Awlaki’s son’s death on his father and hw he raisedhim and what hewa turning him into achipoff the old murderous block.

    Akl-Alaki’sson also chose tobe there and do as he did – he wasn’t running away and rejecting his father’s evil philosophy.

    If Luke Skywalker had gone to the dark side would Leia have been wrong to kill him to save that ‘verse?

  31. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Typo fix :

    I blame Al-Awlaki’s son’s death on his father and how he raised him and what he was turning him into – a chip off the old murderous block.

    Expansion :

    I think Jihadists are actually responsible for *all* the carnage that results from their own ideology and actions such as declaring war on the West and retsof the non-Islamist planet.

  32. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    It sucks that Al-Awlkai’s son died.

    It sucks that even Al-Awlaki had be be blown away like that.

    But they both had a choice in the matter and both faced the consequences of their own evil beliefs and actions.

    They chose poorly. (To cite the old Knight from ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)

    They thought and believed very poorly.

    And it is much better that they died rather than them being allowed to murder other innocent people who did no harm to them.

    If you had to stop a serial killer by killing them in order to stop them, killing again – you would wouldn’t you?

    How is that even an issue? Really?

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