The Laws Obama is Breaking in His Relentless Drone War

John Glaser, September 10, 2012

The Obama administration has superseded both domestic and international law in its targeted killing program in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. A legal memo from the Congressional Research Service has concluded that “none of the established legal frameworks is a perfect fit for the Administration’s lethal targeting operations because the current US practice of lethal targeting involves features that are improvised, inconsistent or otherwise questionable,” according to Secrecy News.

While the laws of war have traditionally been relegated to certain geographic areas of declared conflict, the Obama administration has expanded Congress’s authorization of the use of force, initially granted for Afghanistan, to apply to a borderless conflict that is defined however the President wants. The administration has also extended the authorization for the use of force against those who carried out the attacks of September 11th to apply to anyone the President says is a member of al-Qaeda, anywhere in the world, without any checks or balances or legal process to prove such membership. The administration has also extended this reasoning to US citizens, who have undeniable rights to due process under the Constitution, and while they seem to have written a legal memo from the Office of Legal Counsel, they have refused to release it.

In order to violate established law with a new supplanted version of it, the Obama administration has done what many ruling parties have done in the past to retroactively legalize their crimes: alter the English language. Secrecy News explains:

For example, CRS says the Administration appears to have redefined the meaning of “imminence,” one of the required elements for justifying the use of force in self-defense on the territory of another country.  The standard definition of imminence refers to an overwhelming threat that allows “no moment for deliberation.”  But the Administration uses imminence idiosyncratically “to refer to the window of opportunity for striking rather than the perceived immediacy of the threat of an armed attack.”  This novel usage “may pose some challenge to the international law regarding the use of force,” CRS said.

Yes, the administration’s notion of imminence is certainly “novel,” especially when an entire plank of their drone war includes spying on groups of people for days, sometimes weeks at a time, in order to distinguish a so-called “pattern of behavior,” which by their reasoning is enough to establish membership of al-Qaeda. Whatever this is, it has nothing to do with “imminent” threats, traditionally defined.

This legal memo from CRS, which is supposed to be secret and available only to members of Congress, concludes that the Obama administration’s actions cannot be reconciled with customary laws of war and appears to supersede the supreme law of the land, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But the memo points to two other legal constraints being either ignored or unilaterally overruled.

First, the US laws which prohibit assassinations by government officials. “The US prohibition on assassinations conducted by US officials or persons employed by the United States is set forth most prominently in an executive order originally issued in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan,” CRS writes. “Executive Order 12333 on ‘United States Intelligence Activities,’ provides that ‘[n]o person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.'” To get around this prohibition, advocates of the targeted killing program claim we’re at war, and therefore these aren’t assassinations. But that can only be true if it can be legally accepted that this war is limitless in space and time.

This view of the lawfulness of targeted killing during peace or war is not universally held, which has led to characterizations of U.S. attacks in Yemen and other places as acts of “extrajudicial killing” in violation of international law. After the United States conducted a drone strike in Yemen in 2002 against suspected Al Qaeda militants alleged to have been involved in the 2000 strike against the USS Cole, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued a report calling the strike “a clear case of extrajudicial killing.”

And lastly, the Obama administration appears to be violating the decision of the Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, which said due process must be “accorded to a US citizen deprived of liberty in connection with hostilities, where such deprivation involved detention without trial until the end of hostilities, at a minimum, the right to ‘receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker.'” Obviously this didn’t happen with the three US citizens the President killed last year in Yemen via drone strike, despite the fact that Awlaki’s father tried to file suit in response to his son’s inclusion on a presidential kill list. “This embrace of unchecked executive authority may prove difficult to reconcile with the majority holding in Hamdi,” writes Secrecy News.

And perhaps most importantly, “By withholding its own Office of Legal Counsel opinion on the legality of lethal targeting of suspected terrorists who are US citizens,” Secrecy News warns, “the Obama Administration seems intent not on protecting sensitive operational details but on suppressing public awareness and debate.”




36 Responses to “The Laws Obama is Breaking in His Relentless Drone War”

  1. More proof that the Muslim Brotherhood has taken over the Congressional Research Service.

  2. Board, you're an idiot.

  3. Look up "sarcasm".

  4. People get real. You really think Bush didn't break laws? You really think Romney wouldn't? So pick your 'poison.'

  5. RJSmith, you are not obligated to vote for either Obama or Romney. You can vote for a 3rd party candidate, most of whom would NOT be breaking these laws, or you can simply not vote for President and vote only for Congress or other offices on your ballot.

  6. “By withholding its own Office of Legal Counsel opinion on the legality of lethal targeting of suspected terrorists who are US citizens,” Secrecy News warns, “the Obama Administration seems intent not on protecting sensitive operational details but on suppressing public awareness and debate.”

  7. Why not pick no poison at all?

  8. Which basically means that if nobody knows about it and even if they did they wouldn't be allowed to talk about it then there's nothing really going on. Nothing to see here… move along now.

  9. There is no such option.

  10. You guys are all forgetting, as long as the President does it, it's not illegal:
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig8/whitehead5.html

    I don't understand how many so called lefty peaceniks can still support this guy. And not just support him, but looove him. Cognitive dissonance?

  11. Absolute cognitive dissonance. The pr machine has created a president and candidate that is essentially a "blank slate" upon which people can attach their own ideals and support him. It's very well done, but horribly dangerous. Especially when he's signing the NDAA, continuing and expanding Bush policies, launching drone wars and assassination programs, etc.

    Obama is no Leftist, he's simply another warmongering corporate whore.

    Vote Third Party!

  12. Laws? What laws? The empire don't need no stinkin' laws. Laws are for little people like you and me not for governments and oligarchs.

  13. Jill Stein for President.
    Gary Johnson for President
    Rocky Anderson for President.

    One of the biggest lies the killers want you to believe is that there is no alternative. There is. Vote for an alternative in November and we can end this right now.

  14. The same way that so many Republicans could support Dubya when he was acting in the same way. The PR machines form a Us vs Them mentality, and as long as its the person that some of our unthinking fellow citizens support, they seem perfectly happy to accept great crimes that they would loudly oppose if it was the Them who is committing them.

    The answer is to just say No. Vote for somebody else.

  15. What they always say right up until they have to board the helicopter and flee the country.

  16. Do y'all really think voting for the third party in this upcoming election is going to change anything? The average american has been dumbfounded and made belief that there is only 2 REAL options. So no matter what any of US( with even the slightest reasoning) do, it wont matter in the end because remember "Majority Rules".

    The parties will just continue on with their undying thirst for more power, and we will be able to do is to stand by and watch this bloodshed to happen. THIS is the America we live in today, and we cannot just change it. What we "ABSOLUTELY NEED" (In my opinion) is to tear down this anarchist government that we blindly follow, which we have been granted the right in the constitution where it says the people have the right and duty to tear down the government and make a new one in its place. But i highly doubt that is a day which any of us will live to see unfortunately.

  17. People get real. You really think Bush didn't break laws? You really think Romney wouldn't? So pick your 'poison.'

  18. [...] The Laws Obama is Breaking in His Relentless Drone War By John Glaser [...]

  19. In order to violate established law with a new supplanted version of it, the Obama administration has done what many ruling parties have done in the past to retroactively legalize their crimes: alter the English language. Secrecy News explains:

  20. [...] Obama administration has a good thing going. They get to run a futuristic drone war that operates above the law and allows them to bomb people outside any official theater of conflict, even if they are American [...]

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  22. [...] US-run drone war in Yemen is something of an extra-legal program of targeted assassinations which not only regularly kills civilians but is one of the major [...]

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  25. The Romney/Ryan campaign has so politicized the attack, and the administration has been so busy ducking and weaving, that the facts hardly seem to matter.

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