What Obama Won’t Address in His Big National Security Speech: The Criminal Drone War

John Glaser, May 22, 2013

Obama speech

President Obama is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow at the National Defense University on national security and counterterrorism policy. Many are eagerly awaiting an unprecedented moment of candor, expecting the president at least to clarify certain ‘ambiguities’ (read: utter lack of transparency) on the legal and moral approach to his war on terror.

While the president may mention the drone war, I predict he will fail to address the most hard-hitting questions about its (il)legality.

There is a reason the Obama administration has kept the drone war secret, and it’s not about protecting sources and methods. The real reason is to shield the White House from accountability for crimes committed.

This was articulated rather well by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in deciding on a lawsuit brought against the Obama administration by The New York Times for not disclosing more information about the drone war.

“I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret,” McMahon said.

In Senate testimony last month, Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, reiterated a similar criticism, arguing that “When a government claims for itself the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely unnamed individuals, it undermines the rule of law.”

More specifically, the most glaring breach of law the Obama administration has committed in its drone war is to unilaterally redefine the legal standards that justify the use of force. The Justice Department’s leaked memo on targeted killings showed that Obama has altered the meaning of the word “imminence” – a prerequisite for the use of force by a state.

The memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, insisting actual intelligence of an ongoing or imminent plot against the U.S. is simply not a standard the administration chooses to impose on itself (as if it were up to their discretion).

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states, contradicting conventional international law.

There are other aspects of the drone war that clash with international law. A new report out this week by the International Crisis Group calls on the Obama administration to “Demonstrate respect for the international humanitarian law principles,” by “halting reported signature strikes that target groups of men based on behavior patterns that may be associated with terrorist activity rather than known identities; and ending the reported practice of counting all military-aged men in a strike zone as combatants unless sufficient evidence proves them innocent posthumously.”

And finally, the foundation upon which the drone war rests is the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which empowered the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”

But the administration’s case for the drone war is that it targets “al-Qaeda and its associated forces.” In other words, any individual or group that a couple of high-level officials secretly determine fits that expansive description, including U.S. citizens and Islamist groups that did not even exist at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

In Senate hearings last week, top Pentagon lawyer Robert Taylor kept using the words “associated forces” to justify the legality of the drone war under the 2001 AUMF. Until Senator Angus King of Maine told him those words never appear in the text of the AUMF.

“You guys have invented this term, associated forces, that’s nowhere in this document,” King said. “It’s the justification for everything, and it renders the war powers of Congress null and void.”

On all of the above points, the administration has barely a legal leg to stand on. To expect Obama to substantively address them is to expect him to highlight his own criminality.

8 Responses to “What Obama Won’t Address in His Big National Security Speech: The Criminal Drone War”

  1. I think killing people using drones makes the Obama administration the terrorists. How can targeting and bombing of individuals or groups be considered anything other than terror? — unless there is proof or very strong evidence that individuals or groups are planning an imminent attack on the U.S.

  2. "Many are eagerly awaiting an unprecedented moment of candor…" from Obama? Oh that's rich and hilariously so.
    Obama will preachify, pontificate, blah blah blah, pat himself on the back, and admit nothing while saying even less.
    You make excellent points here Mr. Glaser and highlight the utter absurdity of Team Obama. The immorality of the man as well.

  3. It doesn't matter what laws congress passes, it's up to the soldier to refuse to commit any war crimes. It's the soldier that will be executed, not the legislators in congress, who pass this trash.

    Obama was indicted on April 16, 2013 for Nazi Like War Crimes. Obama was elected in 2008 on the campaign to stop the war crimes. Then instead Obama freely chose to escalate the war crime. He increased executing by drones. He kept GITMO Bay open. He was proven of the Nazi War Crime of Extreme Rendition in Afghanistan and Iraq. He operated many Black Ops prisons like Benghazi.

    So it will be interesting to see if Obama's handlers forfeit Obama, to test their power, and have Obama's teleprompter admit Obama is Guilty of War Crimes for the world to see. If so, these war crimes are punishable by death and will literally be Obama's Swan Song. These war crimes are at least an impeachable offense and more likely punishable by death under the Geneva Conventions, the International War Laws, the International POW laws and the International Humanitarian Laws.

    It doesn't matter how many BS Laws like the AUMF and the Patriot Act that congress passes, the crime still rests on the soldier that committed the crime, not the legislators.

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  6. Here's the #1 thing that Obama sure as Hell won't say:

    Obama is probably going to admit that America has been 'captured' and is now fully "Occupied" by a disguised Global Empire, by a corporate, financial, militarist, media, quasi-legal, and political Secret Global Empire, which hides behind the facade of a modernized and DUAL-Party Vichy sham of faux-democratic and totally illegitimate government —- just as a the earlier wannabe European Nazi Empire tried less successfully to hide behind a crude single-party Vichy sham of phony government in 'captured' and "Occupied" France c. 1940.

    Obama, will admit this — that America (and several other global powers, like; UK, Germany, Israel, NATO, IMF, et al), are under the disguised control of this undiagnosed SGE (Secret Global Empire), and that he, Obama, is "breaking the silence" just as MLK did about the mere 'American Empire' at Riverside Church in April 1967, and that like MLK, he expects to be strongly criticized by the media sector of the Global Empire — and perhaps assassinated by the militarist sector of the EMPIRE — but that he has an obligation to the American people who elected him to such honesty and blunt candor regarding the need to speak truth to the power of this damn disguised Global Empire.

    Anyway, that's my dream — which I'm quite sure Obama, like everything he has done, will greatly disappoint the dreams of even one who did not vote for this gutless and complicit smooth-talking shill of EMPIRE.

    Best luck and love to the fast expanding 'Occupy the Empire' educational and revolutionary movement against this deceitful and disguised Secret Global EMPIRE, which can't so easily be identified as wearing RedCoats, Red Stars, nor funny looking Nazi helmets —- quite yet!

    Liberty, democracy, justice, and equality
    Violent/'Vichy' Rel 2.0

    Alan MacDonald

    We don't merely have a gun/fear problem, or an 'Austerity' problem, or an expanding wars problem, or a 'drone assassinations' problem, or a vast income & wealth inequality problem, or a Wall Street 'looting' problem, or a Global Warming and environmental death-spiral problem, or a domestic tyranny NDAA FISA spying problem, or, or, or, or …. ad nauseam — we have a hidden EMPIRE cancerous tumor which is the prime CAUSE of all these 'symptom problems'.

    "If your country is treating you like ****, and bombing abroad, look carefully — because it may not be your country, but a Secret Global Empire only posing as your former country."

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  8. It doesn't matter what laws congress passes, it's up to the soldier to refuse to commit any war crimes. It's the soldier that will be executed, not the legislators in congress, who pass this trash. text to speech software reviews