"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Drone Warfare’

Attack Of The Clones: China Is Developing Its Own Drone Technology – For Its Own Use & For Sale Around The World

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm
UAV

Oldspeak: “While U.S. Drone technology is highly restricted and expensive, China’s drone fleet is growing at a tenth of the cost. So these death machines are sure to proliferate as the world continues to militarize. Just as the U.S. has claimed the right to send remote controlled killing machines into foreign lands it has not declared war with, to kill enemies of the state, China has as well, with its recently planed hit on a drug boss in Myanmar. Just think, some time in the near future,  Americans will know the unique terror of being hunted and killed by foreign-made and operated flying deathbots!  Just as it started the nuclear arms race, with terrible results, the U.S. started the drone arms race. These armed robot chickens will one day come home roost in a really bad way.  It seems the global surveillance and control grid is slowly taking shape. “Skynet” soon come.

By Trefor Moss @ The Diplomat:

Unmanned systems have become the legal and ethical problem child of the global defense industry and the governments they supply, rewriting the rules of military engagement in ways that many find disturbing. And this sense of unease about where we’re headed is hardly unfamiliar. Much like the emergence of drone technology, the rise of China and its reshaping of the geopolitical landscape has stirred up a sometimes understandable, sometimes irrational, fear of the unknown.

It’s safe to say, then, that Chinese drones conjure up a particularly intense sense of alarm that the media has begun to embrace as a license to panic. China is indeed developing a range of unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAVs/UASs) at a time when relations with Japan are tense, and when those with the U.S. are delicate. But that hardly justifies claims that “drones have taken center stage in an escalating arms race between China and Japan,” or that the “China drone threat highlights [a] new global arms race,” as some observers would have it. This hyperbole was perhaps fed by a 2012 U.S. Department of Defense report which described China’s development of UAVs as “alarming.”

That’s quite unreasonable. All of the world’s advanced militaries are adopting drones, not just the PLA. That isn’t an arms race, or a reason to fear China, it’s just the direction in which defense technology is naturally progressing. Secondly, while China may be demonstrating impressive advances, Israel and the U.S. retain a substantial lead in the UAV field, with China—alongside Europe, India and Russia— still in the second tier. And thirdly, China is modernizing in all areas of military technology – unmanned systems being no exception.

New unmanned missions

Nonetheless, China has started to show its hand in terms of the roles that it expects its growing fleet of UAVs to fulfill. In a clear indication that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an operational armed UAV capability in which it feels relatively confident, last week reports of a plan to send a UAV into Myanmar to assassinate a drug trafficker who had murdered 13 Chinese nationals came to light. The Chinese government ultimately rejected this tactic, but it is evidently tempted to follow Washington’s lead in reserving the right to use UAVs to target enemies of the state, even on foreign soil.

Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea have also persuaded Beijing to accelerate its deployment of UAVs, which are ideally suited to maritime surveillance missions. UAVs are already used routinely to monitor the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, a PLA general recently claimed. “[Both China and Japan] seem intent on establishing more presence in these disputed zones,” comments Peter Singer, Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution,“both to establish their own claims … and to watch what the other is doing. UAS are helpful in those aims, especially with their longer duration versus traditional manned platforms.” The PLA Air Force has also converted its obsolete J-6 fighters into UAVs; based in Fujian, the J-6s are apparently being used for Diaoyu surveillance, as well as being expendable strike assets in the event of an armed engagement.

Nor is China’s deployment of UAVs limited to the military realm. The government of Liaoning Province is reportedly using UAVs to monitor the North Korean border, and is also said to be establishing two coastal UAV bases from which it will oversee its areas of jurisdiction in the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Gulf. Meanwhile, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) – one of China’s main maritime agencies – announced in August that it is setting up 11 UAV bases, one in each of China’s coastal provinces. It expects to have these bases up and running by 2015 (images of some of the SOA’s current UAVs can be seen here). It’s also worth recalling that all of China’s UAV advances have been enabled by the Beidou satellite constellation, which now includes 16 active satellites providing coverage across China and the Asia-Pacific.

If provincial governments and civilian law enforcement agencies plan to induct UAVs in tandem with the PLA, then that’s a large fleet of unmanned aircraft able to perform a variety of different functions that China will need to bring online over the next few years. But, there is no shortage of technology programs competing to make the cut.

China’s UAV programs

Dozens of Chinese UAV concepts have appeared over the years, most of which will never leave the laboratory, let alone the runway. However, the Chinese aerospace sector has clearly devoted a great deal of energy to producing a range of designs from which the PLA has been able to cherry-pick. Chinese engineers have also been able to draw on Israeli technology, having acquired Harpy UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries in the 1990s. “They’ve gone in the last few years from having none in development to at least 25 different models displayed at arms shows,” says Singer.“So, it’s a very ambitious program. But again, it parallels their growth in capabilities and ambitions in many others beyond UAS, from jet fighters to missiles.” He warns against overhyping China’s UAV effort, noting that for now “we’re talking very small numbers [of Chinese UAVs] … and not yet near U.S. capabilities.”

If the example of the U.S military is anything to go by, the PLA should only have operational requirements for around six to ten UAVs. It appears closer to filling some of these operational niches than others.

The China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) has developed a number of ASN series UAVs, at least two of which appear to be in operational use. First is the ASN-15, a small intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAV similar to the U.S. RQ-11 Raven, a small, man-portable system able to perform basic battlefield ISTAR duties. Second is the ASN-209 medium altitude and medium endurance UAV comparable to the U.S. ScanEagle, a larger ISR asset than the Raven with up to 20 hours of flight time for longer-range battlefield and maritime surveillance. The ASN-209 is probably the same aircraft as the “Silver Eagle” which was widely reported to have taken part in naval exercises over the South China Sea in 2011.

Vertical takeoff UAVs (VTUAV), which are especially useful for naval ISTAR and fire control, are also beginning to enter service (though the U.S. Navy’s comparable MQ-8 Fire Scout is itself yet to receive operational clearance). A PLA Navy frigate was pictured in 2012 operating what was probably one of the 18 Camcopter S-100s China acquired from Austrian company Schiebel, supposedly intended for civilian use. Another VTUAV, the SVU-200, made its first flight late last year, while a third unmanned helicopter, the V750, recently entered civilian service. The PLA Navy is known to be exploring the possible applications of VTUAVs, including their use in anti-submarine warfare, and to be interested in the use of UAVs more broadly on its new and future aircraft carriers, not least because UAVs can significantly augment China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. “A2/AD places a premium on extending your range of monitoring and tracking targets from afar,” Singer says.“UAS are very helpful in that.”

Bigger, more advanced UAVs are also now breaking cover. Two in particular appear to be similar to the U.S.’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAVs best known for conducting lethal operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. These are the Yilong/Wing Loong “Pterodactyl”, built by the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI), and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC’s) CH-4. According to a recent Global Times report, the Yilong is primarily regarded as a Reaper-style strike aircraft, while the CH-4 is more of a multi-role aircraft that will be deployed by civilian agencies, as well as by the military, for surveillance purposes, though it can also be weaponized. These two UAVs appear to be in the same class as the CH-91, built by Aerospace Long March International (ALIT), an ISTAR system which is reported to have already entered production, and the more advanced CH-92, which is due to enter production in 2014. A similar class of UAV, the WJ-600, has been showcased by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), though this system – which is jet-powered, unlike the propeller-driven Yilong and the CH-4 – was not seen at the most recent China Air Show.

Finally, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation is working on the Soaring Eagle, an analogue of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Washington’s high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV. Recent pictures of a Soaring Eagle on the runway suggest that its development is moving forward effectively. There are also hints that China is working on a stealthy UAV called the Wing Blade, which is reminiscent of the U.S.’s black-budget RQ-170 Sentinel, while a stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) called the Dark Sword – perhaps along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s experimental X-74B – may also be in development. Chinese technicians are also undoubtedly experimenting with a new generation of nano-UAVs, like the Black Hornet micro-helicopter now in action with the British Army.

China’s drone boom

The aerospace sector must now supply huge demand from both the PLA and civilian authorities. So it is not hard to envisage several of these seemingly competing UAVs, rather than just one winner, being produced in large numbers in order to help the defense industry meet its growing demand. In fact, last November a senior CASIC executive forecast that Chinese UAV sales would double in 2013.

Chinese firms also have high hopes for export sales. The Predator-style CH-4 in particular is being pushed for export, and was displayed at the recent IDEX defense expo in Abu Dhabi. The system is part of CASC’s CH “Rainbow” family of drones, and is understood to be an upgraded version of the CH-3 UAV, which China has already sold to Pakistan. The Yilong has also “already successfully entered the international market”, according to Chinese sources quoted by RIA Novosti at the recent China Air Show.

China has rightly identified a gap in the market, with relatively few countries having inducted UAVs so far, and few capable of building drones themselves, the low cost of Chinese systems will certainly be an advantage. A U.S. Predator costs around $4.5 million, while a Reaper is closer to $10 million for countries that manage to obtain clearance to buy them. Chinese sources have claimed that their equivalent UAVs cost less than $1 million, making them a highly affordable capability for a host of international customers, especially those unable or unwilling to source U.S. and Israeli technology.

So if there is an alarm bell worth ringing about the emergence of Chinese UAVs, it is probably not the threat they will pose to the U.S. or Japan in the Asia-Pacific – it is the proliferation to the developing world of armed, unmanned systems that China’s low prices, and even lower export barriers, may soon begin to drive.

U.S. “Signature Strikes” Ramdomly Kill Thousands Of Unidentified “Suspicious” Muslims: The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Oldspeak: “My Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world. –President Barack Obama, Feburary, 2013. “While four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes. Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered. The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.” –Cora Currier and Justin Elliott. One of these things is not like the other.

Related Stories:

Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

By Cora Currier and Justin Elliott @ Pro Publica:

The nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director has prompted intense debate on Capitol Hill and in the media about U.S. drone killings abroad. But the focus has been on the targeting of American citizens – a narrow issue that accounts for a miniscule proportion of the hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in recent years.

Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period.

The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual.

In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered.

What is the legal justification for signature strikes? What qualifies as a “signature” that would prompt a deadly strike? Do those being targeted have to pose a threat to the United States? And how many civilians have been killed in such strikes?

The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.

“How, for example, does the Administration ensure that the targets are legitimate terrorist targets and not insurgents who have no dispute with the United States?” asked three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in a letter to Attorney General Holder last May.

The legislators sent a second letter in December. Republicans on the committee joined in sending another letter this month. All have gone unanswered, according to committee staff.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently sent his own letter to Brennan asking several pointed questions on signature strikes.

“How do ‘signature strikes’ square with your statement that targeted killing operations are only approved when a targeted individual poses a ‘significant threat to U.S. interests?’” McCain asked, quoting a speech Brennan gave on drone strikes last April.

“How can the Administration be certain it is not killing civilians in areas, like many parts of Yemen and Pakistan, where virtually all men, including civilians, carry weapons?” the letter continued.

A McCain spokesman said the senator had not received a response. The White House declined to comment for this story.

When Obama administration officials publicly address drone strikes, they focus on thwarting imminent threats and targeting Al Qaeda leaders, including U.S. citizens.

Brennan, for example, said at his confirmation hearing that a lethal strike only occurs when “the intelligence base is so strong and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse.” He was talking only about strikes targeting U.S. citizens, not signature strikes.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is now threatening to filibuster Brennan’s nomination until he answers questions on the U.S. citizen issue. And the Justice Department “white paper” leaked to NBC this month outlines the legal rationale for drone strikes, but only in cases when they target U.S. citizens who are also Al Qaeda leaders.

“What about the people who aren’t U.S. citizens and who aren’t on a list?” asks Naureen Shah, a human rights and counterterrorism expert at Columbia Law School. Of the few thousand people killed, Shah notes, “it’s hard to believe all of these people are senior operational leaders of Al Qaeda.”

The hazy history of ‘signature strikes’

The first public reference to a signature strike appears to have been in February 2008, when the New York Times reported a change in drone strike policy, negotiated between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low,” the Times reported.

Over the next few years, they became the majority of strikes conducted in Pakistan, according to media reports citing unnamed officials.

The new policy contributed to an increase in strikes in Pakistan – up to a high of about 120 in 2010 – and also to an increase in the number of low-level militants or foot soldiers killed, according to a New America Foundation analysis.

It’s not clear how much evidence is needed to justify a strike. In media reports, U.S. officials have offered scenarios of signature strikes hitting training camps or fighters who might cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The CIA reportedly uses drone surveillance and other intelligence to try to ensure those targeted are in fact militants.

Other officials, however, have described the policy more loosely – one calling it a “‘reasonable man’ standard.”

Asked what the standard is for who could be hit, former Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter recently told an interviewer: “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40. My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

It is also next to impossible to say which attacks are signature strikes.

The names of militant leaders killed in strikes are often confirmed by officials in news reports. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. knew who was there ahead of the strike. One unnamed former military official claimed last year that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.”

Conversely, strikes in which little information emerges on who was killed could be failed attempts to hit specific individuals. (According to the New Yorker, it took as many as 16 strikes to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.)

The outcomes of strikes are often disputed. In one apparent signature strike two years ago, unnamed U.S. officials told the Associated Press that they had targeted a group that “was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to Al Qaeda, and all ‘acted in a manner consistent with AQ (Al Qaeda)-linked militants.’” The U.S. said about 20 militants were killed. But Pakistani officials said it had been a meeting of tribesmen and villagers provided evidence to the AP that 38 civilians were killed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the attack prompted a debate in the White House about whether signature strikes and strikes on low-level fighters were worth the diplomatic risks.

The pace of strikes in Pakistan has tapered off since 2010, in large part because of deteriorating diplomatic relations with Pakistan, according to Bill Roggio, who tracks strikes for the Long War Journal.

Last spring the U.S. reportedly expanded signature strikes to Yemen, though administration officials said there were stricter standards than in Pakistan and evidence of a threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests was required. Officials referred to the attacks with a new phrase, “Terror Attack Disruption Strikes.”

That tighter standard is reportedly also part of the Obama administration’s new guidelines for the targeted killing program. (The CIA’s strikes in Pakistan will be exempt from any new rules for at least another year, according to the Washington Post.)

The legal debate

Brennan was asked about signature strikes last April but sidestepped the question. He replied: “You make reference to signature strikes that are frequently reported in the press. I was speaking here specifically about targeted strikes against individuals who are involved.”

He continued that “everything we do, though, that is carried out against Al Qaeda is carried out consistent with the rule of law, the authorization on the use of military force, and domestic law… that’s the whole purpose of whatever action we use, the tool we use, it’s to prevent attack [sic] and to save lives.”

The idea of killing members of an enemy force without knowing their identities isn’t itself controversial.

“In a traditional conflict, there is no requirement that you know every single person’s identity before you strike, so long as there are reasonable grounds for determining that the target is part of the enemy force,” said Jennifer Daskal, a professor at Georgetown Law School and a former attorney in the Justice Department during the first Obama administration.

But legal observers hotly debate the bounds of the drone war, and who qualifies as a member of the enemy force. “In the conflict with a clandestine enemy like Al Qaeda, that determination is much harder,” said Daskal.

While President Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to be more transparent about drone policy, the administration appears to maneuvering to avoid sharing additional information with Congress.

According to the New York Times, the administration may opt to share information on last year’s Benghazi attack with Republican senators to avoid revealing any more legal memos on the drone war to Democratic senators.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has said that her committee reviews videos of strikes.But she also recently said that the committee has long sought all of the legal opinions on drone strikes – and that the administration has withheld most of the opinions.

The Obama Administrations Dick Cheney Moment

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm
Oldspeak: “”The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.” -Senator Barack Obama, 2007 Yes. YET ANOTHER instance of candidate Obama, saying one thing and President Obama doing the EXACT OPPOSITE. Near universal silence or worse, cheerleading among far too many so-called progressives, democrats, and liberals. It is ingenious really, how effectively Obama silences dissent from all quarters, simply by being himself. Charming, brilliant,  likeable, thoughtful, well-spoken, self-confident. Most fail to criticize and oppose his corprocratic agenda pushing policies, by choosing to only to pay attention to his words, ignoring or apologizing for his inactions/actions. Conservatives and republicans criticism, is dismissed as crazy right-wing hate mongering (granted, much of it is.), or disgruntled and baseless complaints of a party out of power. The powers this president has claimed; to kill at will and detain indefinitely, with no verifiable reason, oversight or input from courts or congress is patently unconstitutional, anti-democratic, and immeasurably dangerous.  People need to understand that their right to dissent is under threat. We watch the news and it’s depictions of the horrible totalitarian/police state conditions in foreign lands and shake our heads in disdain, secure in the knowledge that “THAT” could never happen here, completely oblivious to the fact that IT IS HAPPENING HERE RIGHT NOW.  There is a “Constitution-Free Zone”, right now today in this “Land of The Free”, that the majority of Americans live in. Courts repeatedly uphold its lawfulness.  how long before that zone expands to include the rest of this “Greatest Nation On Earth”?  Apropos here is some wisdom from a wise man. “Conventional wisdom would have one believe that it is insane to resist this, the mightiest of empires, but what history really shows is that today’s empire is tomorrow’s ashes; that nothing lasts forever, and that to not resist is to acquiesce in your own oppression. The greatest form of sanity that anyone can exercise is to resist that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human spirit.”  –Mumia Abu Jamal


By Dr. Wilmer J Leon @ Black Agenda Report:

In an interview in 2007 Senator Obama (D-IL) said, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.” In 2013 Americans are facing a president with a different mindset.

A recently leaked White Paper is providing insight into the legal justifications for the Obama administration’s “targeted killing” program. The paper asserts that “high-level” government officials can “…use lethal force in a foreign country…against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force…actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.” This legal framework also explains how lethal force can be used even if the “high-level” government officials do not have “…clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

In September 2011 the administration used drone strikes to kill alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was also killed by a drone strike. All three were U.S. citizens and none of them had been indicted by the U.S. government for any crimes. According to The Guardian, “…the drone program now is run out of the White House, where (John) Brennan, the president’s most trusted counter-terror adviser, helps Obama pick the targets.” 

The rational behind the administration’s “assassination by drone” program sounds eerily reminiscent to former V.P. Dick Cheney’s “one-percent doctrine.” Cheney believed the so-called “war on terror” empowered the Bush administration to invade sovereign countries and violate American’s civil liberties without the need for evidence or extensive analysis. The facts did not matter. According to Cheney, “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”

The Obama administrations rational for targeted killings of American citizens contradict some of the basic framework of American democracy.Due process, habeas corpus, checks and balances, and bills of attainder are civil liberty protections guaranteed by the Constitution.

Due process is such an important protection that it is referenced in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government. For the President or other “high-level” government officials to act as judge, jury, and executioner irrespective of “…clear evidence…” of any immediate wrongdoing is the clearest example of arbitrarily denying life and liberty that one can imagine.

Habeas corpus requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge in order to determine if an individual’s detention is warranted. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution states, The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” The language refers to arrests, not assassination, but theoretically, summarily executing American citizens before they can even be detained is a contradiction of the highest order.

The concept of checks and balances is an important part of the Constitution. Each of the three branches of government can limit the powers of the others preventing any one branch from becoming too powerful. Under no circumstance should members of the executive branch be allowed to condemn American citizens to death, even in times of “war” without the review of an impartial judge. This also violates Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, “No Bill of Attainder … shall be passed.” A Bill of Attainder is an act of a legislature or executive declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without privilege of a judicial trial.

The paper also concludes that the use of drone strikes for targeted killings would not be justified if it violated the fundamental law-of-war principles “…if anticipated civilian causalities (collateral damage) would be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.” The administration has presented and defended drone strikes as an “antiseptic” use of technology. CIA nominee, John Brennan defended drone strikes as a more humane form of warfare. He said that “extraordinary care” is taken to ensure they conform to the “law of war principles” but stopped short of saying they are in compliance.

According to the Center for Research on Globalization, “At the end of January 2013, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle-or senior-ranking militants. A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children. But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.” The administration has championed the use of drones as making Americans safer by killing terrorists. Killing innocent people in foreign countries creates more terrorists.

President Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) containing sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provisions and signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers (PATRIOT ACT) to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.  The rational behind the Obama administrations approach to civil liberties and warfare sounds eerily like a Dick Cheney moment.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues With Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com. http://www.twitter.com/drwleon

U.S. Department Of Justice “White Paper” Justifies Obama Administration Broader Powers To Execute Americans; Engage In Preemptive Cyber-War

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Oldspeak: “Secret Courts”, “Secret Evidence”, “Secret Interpretations of Laws”, “Secret National Security Directives”, Due process/evidence-free, unconstitutional surveillance, indefinite detention, &  execution of citizens accused of being “terrorists”.  These are classic conditions that exist in totalitarian/police states.  Basic rights assured for hundreds of years,  have slowly in this post 9/11 world have been stripped away. Largely in secret. All while the power of the Unitary Executive expands.”

By Washington’s Blog:

Bush and Obama Have Set Us Back 800 Years

NBC News reports:

Legal experts expressed grave reservations Tuesday about an Obama administration memo concluding that the United States can order the killing of American citizens believed to be affiliated with al-Qaida — with one saying the White House was acting as “judge, jury and executioner.”

Anyone should be concerned when the president and his lawyers make up their own interpretation of the law or their own rules,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and an authority on international law and the use of force.

“This is a very, very dangerous thing that the president has done,” she added.

***

Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer who writes about security and liberty for the British newspaper The Guardian, described the memo as “fundamentally misleading,” with a clinical tone that disguises “the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.”

“If you believe the president has the power to order U.S. citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable,” he wrote.

Senator Wyden said:

Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.

Top constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley notes:

In plain language, [the Obama administration memo]  means that [any Americans can be assassinated if] the President considers the citizens to be a threat in the future. Moreover, the memo allows killings when an attempt to capture the person would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel. That undue risk is left undefined.

I think I’ve seen that movie before

Given that drones are being deployed in the American homeland, some fear that the war is coming home.

Indeed, the military now considers the U.S. homeland to be a battlefield.  The U.S. is already allowing military operations within the United States.    The Army is already being deployed on U.S. soil, and the military is conducting numerous training exercises on American streets.  (For more background, see this, this, this, this, and this.)

Similarly, the White House has claimed the unilateral power to launch pre-emptive cyber-strikes against foreign nations.  As FireDogLake notes:

Like with the drone program, President Barack Obama is presiding over the creation and development of a power that previous presidents never imagined having. The national security state is effectively appointing him and all future presidents the proverbial judge, jury and executioner when it comes to cyber warfare.

As Greenwald makes clear, virtually all of the U.S. efforts regarding so-called “cyber-security” are actually efforts to create offensive attack capabilities.

And given that the government may consider normal Americans who criticize any government policy to be terrorists – and that the military is fighting against dissent on the Internet  – it is obvious that the cyber-attack capabilities are coming home to roost.

Of course, indiscriminate drone strikes are war crimes (and here and here) , and cyber-attacks are a form of terrorism. But that won’t stop the U.S. … because it’s only terrorism when other people do what we do.

As Greenwald noted last year:

We supposedly learned important lessons from the abuses of power of the Nixon administration, and then of the Bush administration: namely, that we don’t trust government officials to exercise power in the dark, with no judicial oversight, with no obligation to prove their accusations. Yet now we hear exactly this same mentality issuing from Obama, his officials and defenders to justify a far more extreme power than either Nixon or Bush dreamed of asserting: he’s only killing The Bad Citizens, so there’s no reason to object!

Greenwald notes in an article today:

The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to “terrorists” when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.

Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out “against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force.”

This ensures that huge numbers of citizens – those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true – will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That’s the “reasoning” process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death.

But of course, when this memo refers to “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida”, what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.

This is the crucial point: the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.

Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.

(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an “associated force” of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo “authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law”.)

The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo – and the entire theory justifying Obama’s kill list – centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.

They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That’s why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can’t be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.

We’ve previously pointed out the absurdity of the government’s circular reasoning in the context of indefinite detention:

The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

  • If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain you indefinitely until the war is over
  • But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

See how that works?

The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves, as the separation of powers they fought and died for is being destroyed.  We’ve gone from a nation of laws to a nation of powerful men making laws in secret, where Congressional leaders themselves aren’t even allowed to see the laws, or to learn about covert programs.  A nation where Congressmen are threatened with martial law if they don’t approve radical programs.

Indeed, Bush and Obama have literally set the clock back 800 years … to before the signing of the Magna Carta.

Obama’s War On The Constitution & Other Misadventures In The Absurd

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Constitution

Oldspeak:” President Obama has not only maintained the position of George W. Bush in the areas of national security and in civil liberties, he’s actually expanded on those positions. He is actually WORSE than George Bush in some areas… President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two US citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any US citizen.” –Johnathan Turley, Constitutional Law Professor.  Far too many progressives and Obama apologists have given this man a pass on far too many important issues.  He’s claimed unprecedented power to spy on, detain indefinitely and kill anyone (including U.S. citizens) he chooses, anywhere in the world. Continued to authorize the use of torture in a global network of secret prisons Signed treaties that will outsource American jobsSold record numbers of weapons of  death & destruction world-wide. Conducted a war the likes of which has never been seen, on whistleblowers who’ve tried to expose government corruption, crime, fraud, and waste.  Deported historic numbers of AmericansEngaged in a societal-level war on public education. Allowed “Too big to fail” banks to grow BIGGER & financial oligarchs to gain control of a majority of the U.S. economy.   Enacted a “Jobs Bill” that will have the net effect of CUTTING JOBS.  Weakened health and public safety regulationsSigned off on ending a decades old ban on domestic government-sponsored propaganda... The list of outlandishly ridiculous madness this man has had a hand in is frightfully long and far-reaching in its scope. The response from ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’: Relative silence, ambivalence, even applause in some cases. What we’re seeing is the genius of this illusory “red state/blue state”, “Left/Right” paradigm. When a Demo is in power, the so-called “right-wing” is up in arms. When a Repub is in power, the so-called “left-wing” is railing against government over-reach. The “parties” take turns performing this farce that passes for representative government, enacting their own and each others morally and spiritually bankrupt policies. All the while, status quo is maintained, and the corporatocracy grows stronger on ever more flesh, blood, toil, destruction & fear. It’s getting late early for the people to open their eyes to the fact that their being farmed, like cattle. That their energy is being used to empower a select few.  That their “freedom” is in fact “slavery”.   Here’s hoping the tipping point isn’t far away.

By John Cusack @ Shannyn Moore: Just A Girl From Homer

I wrote this a while back after Romney got the nom. In light of the blizzard of bullshit coming at us in the next few months I thought I would put it out now.

______________

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…

Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.

Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It all makes a terrible kind of sense and I agree completely with Garry Wills who described the Republican primaries as ” a revolting combination of con men & fanatics— “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”

True enough.

But yet…

… there are certain Rubicon lines, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed.

All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.

This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones but to ask fundamentally: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?

Three markers — the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me…

Mr. Obama, the Christian president with the Muslim-sounding name, would heed the admonitions of neither religion’s prophets about making war and do what no empire or leader, including Alexander the Great, could do: he would, he assured us “get the job done in Afghanistan.” And so we have our democratic president receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as he sends 30,000 more troops to a ten-year-old conflict in a country that’s been war-torn for 5,000 years.

Why? We’ll never fully know. Instead, we got a speech that was stone bullshit and an insult to the very idea of peace.

We can’t have it both ways. Hope means endless war? Obama has metaphorically pushed all in with the usual international and institutional killers; and in the case of war and peace, literally.

To sum it up: more war. So thousands die or are maimed; generations of families and veterans are damaged beyond imagination; sons and daughters come home in rubber bags. But he and his satellites get their four more years.

The AfPak War is more H. G. Wells than Orwell, with people blindly letting each other get fed to the barons of Wall Street and the Pentagon, themselves playing the part of the Pashtuns. The paradox is simple: he got elected on his anti-war stance during a perfect storm of the economic meltdown and McCain saying the worst thing at the worst time as we stared into the abyss. Obama beat Clinton on “I’m against the war and she is for it.” It was simple then, when he needed it to be.

Under Obama do we continue to call the thousands of mercenaries in Afghanistan “general contractors” now that Bush is gone? No, we don’t talk about them… not a story anymore.

Do we prosecute felonies like torture or spying on Americans? No, time to “move on”…

Now chaos is the norm and though the chaos is complicated, the answer is still simple. We can’t afford this morally, financially, or physically. Or in a language the financial community can digest: the wars are ideologically and spiritually bankrupt. No need to get a score from the CBO.

Drones bomb Pakistani villages across the border at an unprecedented rate. Is it legal? Does anyone care? “It begs the question,” as Daniel Berrigan asks us, “is this one a “good war” or a “dumb war”? But the question betrays the bias: it is all the same. It’s all madness.”

One is forced to asked the question: Is the President just another Ivy League Asshole shredding civil liberties and due process and sending people to die in some shithole for purely political reasons?

There will be a historical record. “Change we can believe in” is not using the other guys’ mob to clean up your own tracks while continuing to feed at the trough. Human nature is human nature, and when people find out they’re being hustled, they will seek revenge, sooner or later, and it will be ugly and savage.

In a country with desperation growing everywhere, everyday — despite the “Oh, things are getting better” press releases — how could one think otherwise?

Just think about the economic crisis we are in as a country. It could never happen, they said. The American middle class was rock solid. The American dream, home ownership, education, the opportunity to get a good job if you applied yourself… and on and on. Yeah, what happened to that? It’s gone.

The next question must be: “What happened to our civil liberties, to our due process, which are the foundation of any notion of real democracy?” The chickens haven’t come home to roost for the majority but the foundation has been set and the Constitution gutted.

Brian McFadden’s cartoon says it all.

Here’s the transcript of the telephone interview I conducted with Turley.

JONATHAN TURLEY: Hi John.

CUSACK: Hello. Okay, hey I was just thinking about all this stuff and thought maybe we’d see what we can do to bring civil liberties and these issues back into the debate for the next couple of months …

TURLEY: I think that’s great.

CUSACK: So, I don’t know how you can believe in the Constitution and violate it that much.

TURLEY: Yeah.

CUSACK: I would just love to know your take as an expert on these things. And then maybe we can speak to whatever you think his motivations would be, and not speak to them in the way that we want to armchair-quarterback like the pundits do about “the game inside the game,” but only do it because it would speak to the arguments that are being used by the left to excuse it. For example, maybe their argument that there are things you can’t know, and it’s a dangerous world out there, or why do you think a constitutional law professor would throw out due process?

TURLEY: Well, there’s a misconception about Barack Obama as a former constitutional law professor. First of all, there are plenty of professors who are “legal relativists.” They tend to view legal principles as relative to whatever they’re trying to achieve. I would certainly put President Obama in the relativist category. Ironically, he shares that distinction with George W. Bush. They both tended to view the law as a means to a particular end — as opposed to the end itself. That’s the fundamental distinction among law professors. Law professors like Obama tend to view the law as one means to an end, and others, like myself, tend to view it as the end itself.

Truth be known President Obama has never been particularly driven by principle. Right after his election, I wrote a column in a few days warning people that even though I voted for Obama, he was not what people were describing him to be. I saw him in the Senate. I saw him in Chicago.

CUSACK: Yeah, so did I.

TURLEY: He was never motivated that much by principle. What he’s motivated by are programs. And to that extent, I like his programs more than Bush’s programs, but Bush and Obama are very much alike when it comes to principles. They simply do not fight for the abstract principles and view them as something quite relative to what they’re trying to accomplish. Thus privacy yields to immunity for telecommunications companies and due process yields to tribunals for terrorism suspects.

CUSACK: Churchill said, “The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” That wasn’t Eugene Debs speaking — that was Winston Churchill.

And if he takes an oath before God to uphold the Constitution, and yet he decides it’s not politically expedient for him to deal with due process or spying on citizens and has his Attorney General justify murdering US citizens — and then adds a signing statement saying, “Well, I’m not going to do anything with this stuff because I’m a good guy.”– one would think we would have to define this as a much graver threat than good or bad policy choices- correct?

TURLEY: Well, first of all, there’s a great desire of many people to relieve themselves of the obligation to vote on principle. It’s a classic rationalization that liberals have been known to use recently, but not just liberals. The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They’ve convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy.

Now, belief in human rights law and civil liberties leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that President Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution. But that’s not the primary question for voters. It is less about him than it is them. They have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate.

This is nothing new, of course for civil libertarians who have always been left behind at the altar in elections. We’ve always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. We’re used to politicians lying to us. And President Obama lied to us. There’s no way around that. He promised various things and promptly abandoned those principles.

So the argument that Romney is no better or worse does not excuse the obligation of a voter. With President Obama they have a president who went to the CIA soon after he was elected and promised CIA employees that they would not be investigated or prosecuted for torture, even though he admitted that waterboarding was torture.

CUSACK: I remember when we were working with Arianna at The Huffington Post and we thought, well, has anyone asked whether waterboarding is torture? Has anyone asked Eric Holder that? And so Arianna had Sam Seder ask him that at a press conference, and then he had to admit that it was. And then the next question, of course, was, well, if it is a crime, are you going to prosecute the law? But, of course, it wasn’t politically expedient to do so, right? That’s inherent in their non-answer and inaction?

TURLEY: That’s right.

CUSACK: Have you ever heard a more specious argument than “It’s time for us all to move on?” When did the Attorney General or the President have the option to enforce the law?

TURLEY: Well, that’s the key question that nobody wants to ask. We have a treaty, actually a number of treaties, that obligate us to investigate and prosecute torture. We pushed through those treaties because we wanted to make clear that no matter what the expediency of the moment, no matter whether it was convenient or inconvenient, all nations had to agree to investigate and prosecute torture and other war crimes.

And the whole reason for putting this in the treaties was to do precisely the opposite of what the Obama administration has done. That is, in these treaties they say that it is not a defense that prosecution would be inconvenient or unpopular. But that’s exactly what President Obama said when he announced, “I won’t allow the prosecution of torture because I want us to look to the future and not the past.” That is simply a rhetorical flourish to hide the obvious point: “I don’t want the inconvenience and the unpopularity that would come with enforcing this treaty.”

CUSACK: Right. So, in that sense, the Bush administration had set the precedent that the state can do anything it likes in the name of terror, and not only has Obama let that cement harden, but he’s actually expanded the power of the executive branch to do whatever it wants, or he’s lowered the bar — he’s lowered the law — to meet his convenience. He’s lowered the law to meet his personal political convenience rather than leaving it as something that, as Mario Cuomo said, the law is supposed to be better than us.

TURLEY: That’s exactly right. In fact, President Obama has not only maintained the position of George W. Bush in the area of national securities and in civil liberties, he’s actually expanded on those positions. He is actually worse than George Bush in some areas.

CUSACK: Can you speak to which ones?

TURLEY: Well, a good example of it is that President Bush ordered the killing of an American citizen when he approved a drone strike on a car in Yemen that he knew contained an American citizen as a passenger. Many of us at the time said, “You just effectively ordered the death of an American citizen in order to kill someone else, and where exactly do you have that authority?” But they made an argument that because the citizen wasn’t the primary target, he was just collateral damage. And there are many that believe that that is a plausible argument.

CUSACK: By the way, we’re forgetting to kill even a foreign citizen is against the law. I hate to be so quaint…

TURLEY: Well, President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two US citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any US citizen.

CUSACK: But yet the speech that Eric Holder gave was greeted generally, by those others than civil libertarians and a few people on the left with some intellectual honesty, with polite applause and a stunning silence and then more cocktail parties and state dinners and dignitaries, back the Republican Hypocrisy Hour on the evening feed — and he basically gave a speech saying that the executive can assassinate US citizens.

TURLEY: That was the truly other-worldly moment of the speech. He went to, Northwestern Law School (my alma mater), and stood there and articulated the most authoritarian policy that a government can have: the right to unilaterally kill its citizens without any court order or review. The response from the audience was applause. Citizens applauding an Attorney General who just described how the President was claiming the right to kill any of them on his sole inherent authority.

CUSACK: Does that order have to come directly from Obama, or can his underlings carry that out on his behalf as part of a generalized understanding? Or does he have to personally say, “You can get that guy and that guy?”

TURLEY: Well, he has delegated the authority to the so-called death panel, which is, of course, hilarious, since the Republicans keep talking about a nonexistent death panel in national healthcare. We actually do have a death panel, and it’s killing people who are healthy.

CUSACK: I think you just gave me the idea for my next film. And the tone will be, of course, Kafkaesque.

TURLEY: It really is.

CUSACK: You’re at the bottom of the barrel when the Attorney General is saying that not only can you hold people in prison for no charge without due process, but we can kill the citizens that “we” deem terrorists. But “we” won’t do it cause we’re the good guys remember?

TURLEY: Well, the way that this works is you have this unseen panel. Of course, their proceedings are completely secret. The people who are put on the hit list are not informed, obviously.

CUSACK: That’s just not polite, is it?

TURLEY: No, it’s not. The first time you’re informed that you’re on this list is when your car explodes, and that doesn’t allow much time for due process. But the thing about the Obama administration is that it is far more premeditated and sophisticated in claiming authoritarian powers. Bush tended to shoot from the hip — he tended to do these things largely on the edges. In contrast, Obama has openly embraced these powers and created formal measures, an actual process for killing US citizens. He has used the terminology of the law to seek to legitimate an extrajudicial killing.

CUSACK: Yeah, bringing the law down to meet his political realism, his constitutional realism, which is that the Constitution is just a means to an end politically for him, so if it’s inconvenient for him to deal with due process or if it’s inconvenient for him to deal with torture, well, then why should he do that? He’s a busy man. The Constitution is just another document to be used in a political fashion, right?

TURLEY: Indeed. I heard from people in the administration after I wrote a column a couple weeks ago about the assassination policy. And they basically said, “Look, you’re not giving us our due. Holder said in the speech that we are following a constitutional analysis. And we have standards that we apply.” It is an incredibly seductive argument, but there is an incredible intellectual disconnect. Whatever they are doing, it can’t be called a constitutional process.

Obama has asserted the right to kill any citizen that he believes is a terrorist. He is not bound by this panel that only exists as an extension of his claimed inherent absolute authority. He can ignore them. He can circumvent them. In the end, with or without a panel, a president is unilaterally killing a US citizen. This is exactly what the framers of the Constitution told us not to do.

CUSACK: The framers didn’t say, “In special cases, do what you like. When there are things the public cannot know for their own good, when it’s extra-specially a dangerous world… do whatever you want.” The framers of the Constitution always knew there would be extraordinary circumstances, and they were accounted for in the Constitution. The Constitution does not allow for the executive to redefine the Constitution when it will be politically easier for him to get things done.

TURLEY: No. And it’s preposterous to argue that.

CUSACK: When does it become — criminal?

TURLEY: Well, the framers knew what it was like to have sovereigns kill citizens without due process. They did it all the time back in the 18th century. They wrote a constitution specifically to bar unilateral authority.

James Madison is often quoted for his observation that if all men were angels, no government would be necessary. And what he was saying is that you have to create a system of law that has checks and balances so that even imperfect human beings are restrained from doing much harm. Madison and other framers did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government. They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone — a system of shared and balanced powers.

So what Obama’s doing is to rewrite the most fundamental principle of the US Constitution. The whole point of the Holder speech was that we’re really good guys who take this seriously, and you can trust us. That’s exactly the argument the framers rejected, the “trust me” principle of government. You’ll notice when Romney was asked about this, he said, “I would’ve signed the same law, because I trust Obama to do the right thing.” They’re both using the very argument that the framers warned citizens never to accept from their government.

CUSACK: So basically, it comes down to, again, just political expediency and aesthetics. So as long as we have friendly aesthetics and likable people, we can do whatever we want. Who cares what the policy is or the implications for the future.

TURLEY: The greatest problem is what it has done to us and what our relative silence signifies. Liberals and civil libertarians have lost their own credibility, their own moral standing, with the support of President Obama. For many civil libertarians it is impossible to vote for someone who has blocked the prosecution of war crimes. That’s where you cross the Rubicon for most civil libertarians. That was a turning point for many who simply cannot to vote for someone who is accused of that type of violation.

Under international law, shielding people from war-crime prosecutions is itself a form of war crime. They’re both violations of international law. Notably, when the Spanish moved to investigate our torture program, we now know that the Obama administration threatened the Spanish courts and the Spanish government that they better not enforce the treaty against the US This was a real threat to the Administration because these treaties allow other nations to step forward when another nation refuses to uphold the treaty. If a government does not investigate and prosecute its own accused war criminals, then other countries have the right to do so. That rule was, again, of our own creation. With other leading national we have long asserted the right to prosecute people in other countries who are shielded or protected by their own countries.

CUSACK: Didn’t Spain pull somebody out of Chile under that?

TURLEY: Yeah, Pinochet.

CUSACK: Yeah, also our guy…

TURLEY: The great irony of all this is that we’re the architect of that international process. We’re the one that always pushed for the position that no government could block war crimes prosecution.

But that’s not all. The Obama administration has also outdone the Bush administration in other areas. For example, one of the most important international principles to come out of World War II was the rejection of the “just following orders” defense. We were the country that led the world in saying that defendants brought before Nuremberg could not base their defense on the fact that they were just following orders. After Nuremberg, there were decades of development of this principle. It’s a very important point, because that defense, if it is allowed, would shield most people accused of torture and war crime. So when the Obama administration –

CUSACK: That also parallels into the idea that the National Defense Authorization Act is using its powers not only to put a chilling effect on whistleblowers, but to also make it illegal for whistleblowers to bring the truth out. Am I right on that, or is that an overstatement?

TURLEY: Well, the biggest problem is that when the administration was fishing around for some way to justify not doing the right thing and not prosecuting torture, they finally released a document that said that CIA personnel and even some DOJ lawyers were “just following orders,” but particularly CIA personnel.

The reason Obama promised them that none of them would be prosecuted is he said that they were just following the orders of higher authority in the government. That position gutted Nuremberg. Many lawyers around the world are upset because the US under the Obama administration has torn the heart out of Nuremberg. Just think of the implications: other countries that are accused of torture can shield their people and say, “Yeah, this guy was a torturer. This guy ordered a war crime. But they were all just following orders. And the guy that gave them the order, he’s dead.” It is the classic defense of war criminals. Now it is a viable defense again because of the Obama administration.

CUSACK: Yeah.

TURLEY: Certainly part of the problem is how the news media –

CUSACK: Oscar Wilde said most journalists would fall under the category of those who couldn’t tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. But why is it that all the journalists that you see mostly on MSNBC or most of the progressives, or so-called progressives, who believe that under Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez these were great and grave constitutional crises, the wars were an ongoing moral fiasco — but now, since we have a friendly face in the White House, someone with kind of pleasing aesthetics and some new policies we like, now all of a sudden these aren’t crimes, there’s no crisis. Because he’s our guy? Go, team, go?

TURLEY: Some in the media have certainly fallen into this cult of personality.

CUSACK: What would you say to those people? I always thought the duty of a citizen, and even more so as a journalist, had greatly to do with the idea that intellectual honesty was much more important than political loyalty. How would you compare Alberto Gonzalez to Eric Holder?

TURLEY: Oh, Eric Holder is smarter than Gonzalez, but I see no other difference in terms of how they’ve conducted themselves. Both of these men are highly political. Holder was accused of being improperly political during his time in the Clinton administration. When he was up for Attorney General, he had to promise the Senate that he would not repeat some of the mistakes he made in the Clinton administration over things like the pardon scandal, where he was accused of being more politically than legally motivated.

In this town, Holder is viewed as much more of a political than a legal figure, and the same thing with Gonzalez. Bush and Obama both selected Attorney Generals who would do what they wanted them to do, who would enable them by saying that no principles stood in the way of what they wanted to do. More importantly, that there were no principles requiring them to do something they didn’t want to do, like investigate torture.

CUSACK: So would you say this assassination issue, or the speech and the clause in the NDAA and this signing statement that was attached, was equivalent to John Yoo’s torture document?

TURLEY: Oh, I think it’s amazing. It is astonishing the dishonesty that preceded and followed its passage. Before passage, the administration told the public that the president was upset about the lack of an exception for citizens and that he was ready to veto the bill if there was a lack of such an exception. Then, in an unguarded moment, Senator Levin was speaking to another Democratic senator who was objecting to the fact that citizens could be assassinated under this provision, and Levin said, “I don’t know if my colleague is aware that the exception language was removed at the request of the White House.” Many of us just fell out of our chairs. It was a relatively rare moment on the Senate floor, unguarded and unscripted.

CUSACK: And finally simple.

TURLEY: Yes. So we were basically lied to. I think that the administration was really caught unprepared by that rare moment of honesty, and that led ultimately to his pledge not to use the power to assassinate against citizens. But that pledge is meaningless. Having a president say, “I won’t use a power given to me” is the most dangerous of assurances, because a promise is not worth anything.

CUSACK: Yeah, I would say it’s the coldest comfort there is.

TURLEY: Yes. This brings us back to the media and the failure to strip away the rhetoric around these policies. It was certainly easier in the Bush administration, because you had more clown-like figures like Alberto Gonzalez. The problem is that the media has tended to get thinner and thinner in terms of analysis. The best example is that about the use of the term “coerced or enhanced interrogation.” I often stop reporters when they use these terms in questions. I say, “I’m not too sure what you mean, because waterboarding is not enhanced interrogation.” That was a myth put out by the Bush administration. Virtually no one in the field used that term, because courts in the United States and around the world consistently said that waterboarding’s torture. Holder admitted that waterboarding’s torture. Obama admitted that waterboarding is torture. Even members of the Bush administration ultimately admitted that waterboarding’s torture. The Bush Administration pushed this term to get reporters to drop the word torture and it worked. They are still using the term.

Look at the articles and the coverage. They uniformly say “enhanced interrogation.” Why? Because it’s easier. They want to avoid the controversy. Because if they say “torture,” it makes the story much more difficult. If you say, “Today the Senate was looking into a program to torture detainees,” there’s a requirement that you get a little more into the fact that we’re not supposed to be torturing people.

CUSACK: So, from a civil liberties perspective, ravens are circling the White House, even though there’s a friendly man in it.

TURLEY: Yeah.

CUSACK: I hate to speak too much to motivation, but why do you think MSNBC and other so-called centrist or left outlets won’t bring up any of these things? These issues were broadcast and reported on nightly when John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and Bush were in office.

TURLEY: Well, there is no question that some at MSNBC have backed away from these issues, although occasionally you’ll see people talk about –

CUSACK: I think that’s being kind, don’t you? More like “abandoned.”

TURLEY: Yeah. The civil liberties perspective is rarely given more than a passing reference while national security concerns are explored in depth. Fox is viewed as protective of Bush while MSNBC is viewed as protective of Obama. But both presidents are guilty of the same violations. There are relatively few journalists willing to pursue these questions aggressively and objectively, particularly on television. And so the result is that the public is hearing a script written by the government that downplays these principles. They don’t hear the word “torture.”

They hear “enhanced interrogation.” They don’t hear much about the treaties. They don’t hear about the international condemnation of the United States. Most Americans are unaware of how far we have moved away from Nuremberg and core principles of international law.

CUSACK: So the surreal Holder speech — how could it be that no one would be reporting on that? How could it be that has gone by with not a bang but a whimper?

TURLEY: Well, you know, part of it, John, I think, is that this administration is very clever. First of all, they clearly made the decision right after the election to tack heavily to the right on national security issues. We know that by the people they put on the National Security Council. They went and got very hardcore folks — people who are quite unpopular with civil libertarians. Not surprisingly we almost immediately started to hear things like the pledge not to prosecute CIA officials and other Bush policies being continued.

Many reporters buy into these escape clauses that the administration gives them, this is where I think the administration is quite clever. From a legal perspective, the Holder speech should have been exposed as perfect nonsense. If you’re a constitutional scholar, what he was talking about is facially ridiculous, because he was saying that we do have a constitutional process–it’s just self-imposed, and we’re the only ones who can review it. They created a process of their own and then pledged to remain faithful to it.

While that should be a transparent and absurd position, it gave an out for journalists to say, “Well, you know, the administration’s promising that there is a process, it’s just not the court process.” That’s what is so clever, and why the Obama administration has been far more successful than the Bush administration in rolling back core rights. The Bush administration would basically say, “We just vaporized a citizen in a car with a terrorist, and we’re not sorry for it.”

CUSACK: Well, yeah, the Bush administration basically said, “We may have committed a crime, but we’re the government, so what the fuck are you going to do about it?” Right? —and the Obama administration is saying, “We’re going to set this all in cement, expand the power of the executive, and pass the buck to the next guy.” Is that it?

TURLEY: It’s the same type of argument when people used to say when they caught a criminal and hung him from a tree after a perfunctory five-minute trial. In those days, there was an attempt to pretend that they are really not a lynch mob, they were following a legal process of their making and their satisfaction. It’s just… it’s expedited. Well, in some ways, the administration is arguing the same thing. They’re saying, “Yes, we do believe that we can kill any US citizen, but we’re going to talk amongst ourselves about this, and we’re not going to do it until we’re satisfied that this guy is guilty.”

CUSACK: Me and the nameless death panel.

TURLEY: Again, the death panel is ludicrous. The power that they’ve defined derives from the president’s role as Commander in Chief. So this panel –

CUSACK: They’re falling back on executive privilege, the same as Nixon and Bush.

TURLEY: Right, it’s an extension of the president. He could just ignore it. It’s not like they have any power that exceeds his own.

CUSACK: So the death panel serves at the pleasure of the king, is what you’re saying.

TURLEY: Yes, and it gives him cover so that they can claim that they’re doing something legal when they’re doing something extra-legal.

CUSACK: Well, illegal, right?

TURLEY: Right. Outside the law.

CUSACK: So when does it get to a point where if you abdicate duty, it is in and of itself a crime? Obama is essentially creating a constitutional crisis not by committing crimes but by abdicating his oath that he swore before God — is that not a crime?

TURLEY: Well, he is violating international law over things like his promise to protect CIA officials from any prosecution for torture. That’s a direct violation, which makes our country as a whole doubly guilty for alleged war crimes. I know many of the people in the administration. Some of us were quite close. And they’re very smart people. I think that they also realize how far outside the lines they are. That’s the reason they are trying to draft up these policies to give the appearance of the law. It’s like a Potemkin village constructed as a façade for people to pass through –

CUSACK: They want to have a legal patina.

TURLEY: Right, and so they create this Potemkin village using names. You certainly can put the name “due process” on a drone missile, but it’s not delivering due process.

CUSACK: Yeah. And what about — well, we haven’t even gotten into the expansion of the privatization movement of the military “contractors” under George Bush or the escalation of drone strikes. I mean, who are they killing? Is it legal? Does anyone care — have we just given up as a country, saying that the Congress can declare war?

TURLEY: We appear to be in a sort of a free-fall. We have what used to be called an “imperial presidency.”

CUSACK: Obama is far more of an imperial president than Bush in many ways, wouldn’t you say?

TURLEY: Oh, President Obama has created an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon blush. It is unbelievable.

CUSACK: And to say these things, most of the liberal community or the progressive community would say, “Turley and Cusack have lost their minds. What do they want? They want Mitt Romney to come in?”

TURLEY: The question is, “What has all of your relativistic voting and support done for you?” That is, certainly there are many people who believe –

CUSACK: Well, some of the people will say the bread-and-butter issues, “I got healthcare coverage, I got expanded healthcare coverage.”

TURLEY: See, that’s what I find really interesting. When I talk to people who support the administration, they usually agree with me that torture is a war crime and that the administration has blocked the investigation of alleged war crimes.

Then I ask them, “Then, morally, are you comfortable with saying, ‘I know the administration is concealing war crimes, but they’re really good on healthcare?'” That is what it comes down to.

The question for people to struggle with is how we ever hope to regain our moral standing and our high ground unless citizens are prepared to say, “Enough.” And this is really the election where that might actually carry some weight — if people said, “Enough. We’re not going to blindly support the president and be played anymore according to this blue state/red state paradigm. We’re going to reconstruct instead of replicate. It might not even be a reinvented Democratic Party in the end that is a viable option. Civil libertarians are going to stand apart so that people like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and others know that there are certain Rubicon issues that you cannot cross, and one of them happens to be civil liberty.

CUSACK: Yeah, because most people reading this will sort of say, “Okay, this is all fine and good, but I’ve got to get to work and I’ve got stuff to do and I don’t know what these fucking guys are talking about. I don’t really care.”

So let’s paint a scenario. My nephew, Miles, decides that he wants to grow dreadlocks, and he also decides he’s falling in love with the religion of Islam. And he changes his name. Instead of his name being Miles, he changes his name to a Muslim-sounding name.

He goes to Washington, and he goes to the wrong organization or meeting, let’s say, and he goes to an Occupy Washington protest. He’s out there next to someone with a speaker, and a car bomb explodes. He didn’t set it off, and he didn’t do anything. The government can throw him in prison and never try him, right?

TURLEY: Well, first of all, that’s a very good question.

CUSACK: How do we illustrate the danger to normal people of these massive overreaches and radical changes to the Constitution that started under bush and have expanded under Obama?

TURLEY: I mean, first of all, I know Miles, and –

CUSACK: Yes.

TURLEY: –and he is a little dangerous.

CUSACK: Yes.

TURLEY: I played basketball with him and you and I would describe him as a clear and present danger.

CUSACK: I mean, and I know Eric Holder and Obama won’t throw him in prison because they’re nice guys, but let’s say that they’re out of office.

TURLEY: Right, and the problem is that there is no guarantee. It has become almost Fellini-esque. Holder made the announcement a couple of years ago that they would try some defendants in a federal court while reserving military tribunals for others. The speech started out on the high ground, saying, “We have to believe in our federal courts and our Constitution. We’ve tried terrorists before, and therefore we’re transferring these individuals to federal court.”

Then he said, “But we’re going to transfer these other individuals to Guantanamo Bay.” What was missing was any type of principle. You have Obama doing the same thing that George Bush did — sitting there like Caesar and saying, “You get a real trial and you get a fake trial.” He sent Zacarias Moussaoui to a federal court and then he threw Jose Padilla, who happened to be a US citizen, into the Navy brig and held him without trial.

Yet, Obama and Holder publicly assert that they’re somehow making a civil liberties point, and say, “We’re very proud of the fact that we have the courage to hold these people for a real trial, except for those people. Those people are going to get a tribunal.” And what happened after that was remarkable. If you read the press accounts, the press actually credits the administration with doing the right thing. Most of them pushed into the last paragraph the fact that all they did was split the people on the table, and half got a real trial and half got a fake trial.

CUSACK: In the same way, the demonization, whether rightful demonization, of Osama Bin Laden was so intense that people were thrilled that he was assassinated instead of brought to trial and tried. And I thought, if the Nuremberg principles were right, the idea would be that you’d want to take this guy and put him on trial in front of the entire world, and, actually, if you were going to put him to death, you’d put him to death by lethal injection.

TURLEY: You’ll recall reports came out that the Seals were told to kill Osama, and then reports came out to say that Osama might not have been armed when the Seals came in. The strong indication was that this was a hit.

CUSACK: Yeah.

TURLEY: The accounts suggest that this was an assassination from the beginning to the end, and that was largely brushed over in the media. There was never really any discussion of whether it was appropriate or even a good idea not to capture this guy and to bring him to justice.

The other thing that was not discussed in most newspapers and programs was the fact that we violated international law. Pakistan insisted that they never approved our going into Pakistan. Think about it — if the government of Mexico sent in Mexican special forces into San Diego and captured a Mexican national, or maybe even an American citizen, and then killed him, could you imagine what the outcry would be?

CUSACK: Or somebody from a Middle Eastern country who had their kids blown up by Mr. Cheney’s and Bush’s wars came in and decided they were going to take out Cheney–not take him back to try him, but actually just come in and assassinate him.

TURLEY: Yet we didn’t even have that debate. And I think that goes to your point, John, about where’s the media?

CUSACK: But, see, that’s a very tough principle to take, because everybody feels so rightfully loathsome about Bin Laden, right? But principles are not meant to be convenient, right? The Constitution is not meant to be convenient. If they can catch Adolf Eichmann and put him on trial, why not bin Laden? The principles are what separate us from the beasts.

I think the best answer I ever heard about this stuff, besides sitting around a kitchen table with you and your father and my father, was I heard somebody, they asked Mario Cuomo, “You don’t support the death penalty…? Would you for someone who raped your wife?” And Cuomo blinked, and he looked at him, and he said, “What would I do? Well, I’d take a baseball bat and I’d bash his skull in… But I don’t matter. The law is better than me. The law is supposed to be better than me. That’s the whole point.”

TURLEY: Right. It is one thing if the president argued that there was no opportunity to capture bin Laden because he was in a moving car, for example. And then some people could say, “Well, they took him out because there was no way they could use anything but a missile.” What’s missing in the debate is that it was quickly brushed over whether we had the ability to capture bin Laden.

CUSACK: Well, it gets to [the late] Raiders owner Al Davis’ justice, which is basically, “Just win, baby.” And that’s where we are. The Constitution was framed by Al Davis. I never knew that.

And the sad part for me is that all the conversations and these interpretations and these conveniences, if they had followed the Constitution, and if they had been strict in terms of their interpretations, it wouldn’t matter one bit in effectively handling the war on terror or protecting Americans, because there wasn’t anything extra accomplished materially in taking these extra leaps, other than to make it easier for them to play cowboy and not cede national security to the Republicans politically. Bin Laden was basically ineffective. And our overseas intel people were already all over these guys.

It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that’s been hurt here has been us and the Constitution and any moral high ground we used to have. Because Obama and Holder are good guys, it’s okay. But what happens when the not-so-good guys come in, does MSNBC really want to cede and grandfather these powers to Gingrich or Romney or Ryan or Santorum or whomever — and then we’re sitting around looking at each other, like how did this happen? — the same way we look around now and say, “How the hell did the middle of America lose the American dream? How is all of this stuff happening at the same time?” And it gets back to lack of principle.

TURLEY: I think that’s right. Remember the articles during the torture debate? I kept on getting calls from reporters saying, “Well, you know, the administration has come out with an interesting statement. They said that it appears that they might’ve gotten something positive from torturing these people.” Yet you’ve had other officials say that they got garbage, which is what you often get from torture…

CUSACK: So the argument being that if we can get good information, we should torture?

TURLEY: Exactly. Yeah, that’s what I ask them. I say, “So, first of all, let’s remember, torture is a war crime. So what you’re saying is — ”

CUSACK: Well, war crimes… war crimes are effective.

TURLEY: The thing that amazes me is that you have smart people like reporters who buy so readily into this. I truly believe that they’re earnest when they say this.

Of course you ask them “Well, does that mean that the Nuremberg principles don’t apply as long as you can show some productive use?” We have treaty provisions that expressly rule out justifying torture on the basis that it was used to gain useful information.

CUSACK: Look, I mean, enforced slave labor has some productive use. You get great productivity, you get great output from that shit. You’re not measuring the principle against the potential outcome; that’s a bad business model. “Just win, baby” — we’re supposed to be above that.

TURLEY: But, you know, I’ll give you an example. I had one of the leading investigative journalists email me after one of my columns blasting the administration on the assassin list, and this is someone I deeply respect. He’s one of the true great investigative reporters. He objected to the fact that my column said that under the Obama policy he could kill US citizens not just abroad, but could kill them in the United States. And he said, “You know, I agree with everything in your column except that.” He said, “You know, they’ve never said that they could kill someone in the United States. I think that you are exaggerating.”

Yet, if you look at how they define the power, it is based on the mere perceived practicality and necessity of legal process by the president. They say the President has unilateral power to assassinate a citizen that he believes is a terrorist. Now, is the limiting principle? They argue that they do this “constitutional analysis,” and they only kill a citizen when it’s not practical to arrest the person.

CUSACK: Is that with the death panel?

TURLEY: Well, yeah, he’s talking about the death panel. Yet, he can ignore the death panel. But, more importantly, what does practicality mean? It all comes down to an unchecked presidential power.

CUSACK: By the way, the death panel — that room can’t be a fun room to go into, just make the decision on your own. You know, it’s probably a gloomy place, the death panel room, so the argument from the reporter was, “Look, they can… if they kill people in England or Paris that’s okay, but they — “

TURLEY: I also don’t understand, why would it make sense that you could kill a US citizen on the streets of London but you might not be able to kill them on the streets of Las Vegas? The question is where the limiting principle comes from or is that just simply one more of these self-imposed rules? And that’s what they really are saying: we have these self-imposed rules that we’re only going to do this when we think we have to.

CUSACK: So, if somebody can use the contra-Nuremberg argument — that principle’s now been flipped, that they were only following orders — does that mean that the person that issued the order through Obama, or the President himself, is responsible and can be brought up on a war crime charge?

TURLEY: Well, under international law, Obama is subject to international law in terms of ordering any defined war crime.

CUSACK: Would he have to give his Nobel Peace Prize back?

TURLEY: I don’t think that thing’s going back. I’ve got to tell you… and given the amount of authority he’s claimed, I don’t know if anyone would have the guts to ask for it back.

CUSACK: And the argument people are going to use is,”Look, Obama and Holder are good guys. They’re not going to use this power.” But the point is, what about after them? What about the apparatchiks? You’ve unleashed the beast. And precedent is everything constitutionally, isn’t it?

TURLEY: I think that’s right. Basically what they’re arguing is, “We’re angels,” and that’s exactly what Madison warned against. As we discussed, he said if all men were angels you wouldn’t need government. And what the administration is saying is, “We’re angels, so trust us.”

I think that what is really telling is the disconnect between what people say about our country and what our country has become. What we’ve lost under Bush and Obama is clarity. In the “war on terror” what we’ve lost is what we need the most in fighting terrorism: clarity. We need the clarity of being better than the people that we are fighting against. Instead, we’ve given propagandists in Al Qaeda or the Taliban an endless supply of material — allowing them to denounce us as hypocrites.

Soon after 9/11 we started government officials talk about how the US Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process. And it was perfectly ridiculous.

CUSACK: Feels more grotesque than ridiculous.

TURLEY: Yeah, all the reports that came out after 9/11 showed that 9/11 could’ve been avoided. For years people argued that we should have locked reinforced cockpit doors. For years people talked about the gaps in security at airports. We had the intelligence services that had the intelligence that they needed to move against this ring, and they didn’t share the information. So we have this long list of failures by US agencies, and the result was that we increased their budget and gave them more unchecked authority.

In the end, we have to be as good as we claim. We can’t just talk a good game. If you look at this country in terms of what we’ve done, we have violated the Nuremberg principles, we have violated international treaties, we have refused to accept–

CUSACK: And you’re not just talking about in the Bush administration. You’re talking about –

TURLEY: The Obama administration.

CUSACK: You’re talking about right now.

TURLEY: We have refused to accept the jurisdictional authority of sovereign countries. We now routinely kill in other countries. It is American exceptionalism – the rules apply to other countries.

CUSACK: Well, these drone attacks in Pakistan, are they legal? Does anyone care? Who are we killing? Do they deserve due process?

TURLEY: When we cross the border, Americans disregard the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign nation, let alone an ally, and they insist that they have not agreed to these operations. They have accused us of repeatedly killing people in their country by violating their sovereign airspace. And we just disregard it. Again, its American exceptionalism, that we –

CUSACK: Get out of our way or we’ll pulverize you.

TURLEY: The rules apply to everyone else. So the treaties against torture and war crimes, sovereign integrity –

CUSACK: And this also speaks to the question that nobody even bothers to ask: what exactly are we doing in Afghanistan now? Why are we there?

TURLEY: Oh, yeah, that’s the real tragedy.

CUSACK: It has the highest recorded suicide rate among veterans in history and no one even bothers to state a pretense of a definable mission or goal. It appears we’re there because it’s not convenient for him to really get out before the election. So in that sense he’s another guy who’s letting people die in some shithole for purely political reasons. I mean, it is what it is.

TURLEY: I’m afraid, it is a political calculation. What I find amazing is that we’re supporting an unbelievably corrupt government in the Karzai administration.

Karzai himself, just two days ago, called Americans “demons.” He previously said that he wished he had gone with the Taliban rather than the Americans. And, more importantly, his government recently announced that women are worth less than men, and he has started to implement these religious edicts that are subjugating women. So he has American women who are protecting his life while he’s on television telling people that women are worth less than men, and we’re funding –

CUSACK: What are they, about three-fifths?

TURLEY: Yeah, he wasn’t very specific on that point. So we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars. More importantly, we’re losing all these lives because it was simply politically inconvenient to be able to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

CUSACK: Yeah. And, I mean, we haven’t even touched on the whole privatization of the military and what that means. What does it mean for the state to be funding at-cost-plus private mercenary armies and private mercenary security forces like Blackwater, or now their names are Xe, or whatever they’ve been rebranded as?

TURLEY: Well, the United States has barred various international rules because they would allow for the prosecution of war crimes by both military and private forces. The US barred those new rules because we didn’t want the ability of other countries to prosecute our people for war crimes. One of the things I teach in my constitutional class is that there is a need for what’s called a bright-line rule. That is, the value for bright-line rules is that they structure relations between the branches, between the government and citizens. Bright-line rules protect freedom and liberty. Those people that try to eliminate bright-line rules quickly find themselves on a slippery slope. The Obama administration, with the Bush administration, began by denying rights to people at Guantanamo Bay.

And then they started to deny rights of foreigners who they accused of being terrorists. And eventually, just recently, they started denying rights to citizens and saying that they could kill citizens without any court order or review. It is the fulfillment of what is the nightmare of civil liberties. They crossed that bright line. Now they’re bringing these same abuses to US citizens and changing how we relate to our government. In the end, we have this huge apparatus of the legal system, this huge court system, and all of it has become discretionary because the president can go ahead and kill US citizens if he feels that it’s simply inconvenient or impractical to bring them to justice.

CUSACK: Or if the great O, decides that he wants to be lenient and just throw them in jail for the rest of their life without trial, he can do that, right?

TURLEY: Well, you’ve got Guantanamo Bay if you’re accused of being an enemy combatant. There is the concept in law that the lesser is included in the greater.

So if the president can kill me when I’m in London, then the lesser of that greater is that he could also hold me, presumably, without having any court involvement. It’d be a little bizarre that he could kill me but if he held me he’d have to turn me over to the court system.

CUSACK: Yeah. We’re getting into kind of Kafka territory. You know, with Bush I always felt like you were at one of those rides in an amusement park where the floor kept dropping and you kept kind of falling. But I think what Obama’s done is we’ve really hit the bottom as far as civil liberties go.

TURLEY: Yet people have greeted this erosion of civil liberties with this collective yawn.

CUSACK: Yeah, yeah. And so then it gets down to the question, “Well, are you going to vote for Obama?” And I say, “Well, I don’t really know. I couldn’t really vote for Hillary Clinton because of her Iraq War vote.” Because I felt like that was a line, a Rubicon line –

TURLEY: Right.

CUSACK: — a Rubicon line that I couldn’t cross, right? I don’t know how to bring myself to vote for a constitutional law professor, or even a constitutional realist, who throws away due process and claims the authority that the executive branch can assassinate American citizens. I just don’t know if I can bring myself to do it.

If you want to make a protest vote against Romney, go ahead, but I would think we’d be better putting our energies into local and state politics — occupy Wall Street and organizations and movements outside the system, not national politics, not personalities. Not stadium rock politics. Not brands. That’s the only thing I can think of. What would you say?

TURLEY: Well, the question, I think, that people have got to ask themselves when they get into that booth is not what Obama has become, but what have we become? That is, what’s left of our values if we vote for a person that we believe has shielded war crimes or violated due process or implemented authoritarian powers. It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, he did all those things, but I really like what he did with the National Park System.”

CUSACK: Yeah, or that he did a good job with the auto bailout.

TURLEY: Right. I think that people have to accept that they own this decision, that they can walk away. I realize that this is a tough decision for people but maybe, if enough people walked away, we could finally galvanize people into action to make serious changes. We have to recognize that our political system is fundamentally broken, it’s unresponsive. Only 11 percent of the public supports Congress, and yet nothing is changing — and so the question becomes, how do you jumpstart that system? How do you create an alternative? What we have learned from past elections is that you don’t create an alternative by yielding to this false dichotomy that only reinforces their monopoly on power.

CUSACK: I think that even Howard Zinn/Chomsky progressives, would admit that there will be a difference in domestic policy between Obama and a Romney presidency.

But DUE PROCESS….I think about how we own it. We own it. Everybody’s sort of let it slip. There’s no immediacy in the day-to-day on and it’s just one of those things that unless they… when they start pulling kids off the street, like they did in Argentina a few years ago and other places, all of a sudden, it’s like, “How the hell did that happen?” I say, “Look, you’re not helping Obama by enabling him. If you want to help him, hold his feet to the fire.”

TURLEY: Exactly.

CUSACK: The problem is, as I see it, is that regardless of goodwill and intent and people being tired of the status quo and everything else, the information outlets and the powers that be reconstruct or construct the government narrative only as an election game of ‘us versus them,’ Obama versus Romney, and if you do anything that will compromise that equation, you are picking one side versus the other. Because don’t you realize that’s going to hurt Obama? Don’t you know that’s going to help Obama? Don’t you know… and they’re not thinking through their own sort of self-interest or the community’s interest in just changing the way that this whole thing works to the benefit of the majority. We used to have some lines we wouldn’t cross–some people who said this is not what this country does …we don’t do this shit, you had to do the right thing. So it’s going to be a tough process getting our rights back, but you know Frankie’s Law? Whoever stops fighting first – loses.

TURLEY: Right.

Also see Jason Leopold’s December 2011 report: Obama’s “Twisted Version of American Exceptionalism” Laid Bare

Western Justice And The Refusal To Provide Transparency

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Anwar Awlaki and Barack Obama

Oldspeak:”In totalitarian states, government sanctioned extrajudicial killing passes with barely a stir. “On Saturday in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news.” This is how the U.S. does business now. Judge, jury and executioner, while refusing to reveal alleged evidence justifying ‘targeted assassination’ of ‘terrorists’. Charging people with terrorism and making it impossible for them to contest charges, because doing so could precipitate their deaths. This policy, this assassination program, perfectly illustrates the barbarically low value Americans place on the lives of “others”. This policy purports that a 27 year old man, who just had a baby, is incapable of change. Once labeled a terrorist, this man has can never be anything else, and he must be utterly destroyed, expeditiously.  This policy allows to go unexamined, the conditions that exist in the globalized scarcity/austerity/cruelty dominated world that drive desperate and disenfranchised people to turn to terrorism to force their participation in the world community. Ten years ago, a neocon Bush Ambassador to Israel said “The United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.” 9/11 was the moment we went to the dark side, as illustrated in a scene out of the 1999 film the “The Siege” God help us if we don’t find our way back.

By Glenn Grunwald @ Salon:

On Saturday in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news. Roughly one year ago, El-Berjawi was stripped of his British citizenship, obtained when his family moved to that country when he was an infant, through the use of a 2006 British anti-Terrorism law — passed after the London subway bombing — that the current government is using with increasing frequency to strip alleged Terrorists with dual nationality of their British citizenship (while providing no explanation for that act). El-Berjawi’s family vehemently denies that he is involved with Terrorism, but he was never able to appeal the decree against him for this reason:

Berjawi is understood to have sought to appeal against the order, but lawyers representing his family were unable to take instructions from him amid concerns that any telephone contact could precipitate a drone attack.

Obviously, those concerns were valid. So first the U.S. tries to assassinate people, then it causes legal rulings against them to be issued because the individuals, fearing for their life, are unable to defend themselves. Meanwhile, no explanation or evidence is provided for either the adverse government act or the assassination: it is simply secretly decreed and thus shall it be.

Exactly the same thing happened with U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki. When the ACLU and CCR, representing Awlaki’s father, sued President Obama asking a federal court to enjoin the President from killing his American son without a trial, the Obama DOJ insisted (and the court ultimately accepted) that Awlaki himself must sue on his own behalf. Obviously, that was impossible given that the Obama administration was admittedly trying to kill him and surely would have done so the minute he stuck his head up to contact lawyers (indeed, the U.S. tried to kill him each time they thought they had located him, and then finally succeeded). So again in the Awlaki case: the U.S. targets someone for death, and then their inability to defend themselves is used as a weapon to deny their legal rights.

The refusal to provide transparency is also the same. Ever since Awlaki was assassinated, the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to disclose not only any evidence to justify the accusations of Terrorism against him, but also the legal theories it is using to assert the power to target U.S. citizens for death with no charges. A secret legal memo authorizing the Awlaki assassination, authored by Obama lawyers David Baron and Marty Lederman, remains secret. During the Bush years, Democratic lawyers vehemently decried the Bush DOJ’s refusal to release even OLC legal memoranda as tyrannical “secret law.” One of the lawyers most vocal during the Bush years about the evils of “secret law,” Dawn Johnsen (the never-confirmed Obama appointee to be chief of the OLC) told me back in October: “I absolutely do not support the concealment of OLC’s Awlaki memo . . . .The Obama administration should release either any existing OLC memo explaining why it believes it has the authority for the targeted killings or a comparably detailed legal analysis of its claimed authorities.”

Daily Beast report today says that the Obama administration “is finally going to break its silence” on the Awlaki killing, but here’s what they will and will not disclose:

In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. . . .

An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing. 

In other words, they’re going to dispatch Eric Holder to assert that the U.S. Government has the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination by-CIA-drone, but will not even describe a single piece of evidence to justify the claim that Awlaki was guilty of anything. In fact, they will not even mention his name. As Marcy Wheeler said today:

This is simply an asinine compromise. We all know the Administration killed Awlaki. We all know the Administration used a drone strike to do so. . . .

The problem–the problem that strikes at the very heart of democratic accountability–is that the Administration plans to keep secret the details that would prove (or not) that Awlaki was what the Administration happily claims he is under the veil of anonymity, all while claiming that precisely that information is a state secret.

The Administration seems to be planning on making a big speech on counterterrorism–hey! it’s another opportunity to brag again about offing Osama bin Laden!–without revealing precisely those details necessary to distinguish this killing, and this country, from that of an unaccountable dictator.

The CIA seems to have dictated to our democratically elected President that he can’t provide the kind of transparency necessary to remain a democracy. We can kill you–they appear to be planning to say–and we’ll never have to prove that doing so was just. You’ll just have to trust us!

That, of course, is the heart and soul of this administration’s mentality when it comes to such matters, and why not? Between Republicans who always cheer on the killing of Muslims with or without any explanation or transparency, and Democrats who do so when their leader is the assassin, there is little political pressure to explain themselves. If anything, this planned “disclosure” makes the problem worse, since we will now have the spectacle of Eric Holder, wallowing in pomp and legal self-righteousness, finally defending the power that Obama already has seized — to assassinate U.S. citizens in secret and with no checks — but concealing what is most needed: evidence that Awlaki was what the U.S. Government claims he is. That simply serves to reinforce the message this Government repeatedly sends: as Marcy puts it, “We can kill you and we’ll never have to prove that doing so was just. You’ll just have to trust us!”The Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen added: “The US legal opinion on Awlaki is one thing, but it rests on assumptions made by the intelligence community, which won’t be revealed.”

This no longer seems radical to many — it has become normalized — because it’s been going on for so long now and, more important, it is now fully bipartisan consensus. But to see how extreme this all really is, to understand what a radical departure it is, just consider what George Bush’s neocon Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, told the Israelis in 2001, as flagged by this Guardian Op-Ed by Mary Ellen O’Connell comparing Obama’s assassinations to Bush’s torture program:

The United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.

What George Bush’s Ambassador condemned to the Israelis’ face just a decade ago as something the nation was steadfastly against has now become a staple of government policy: aimed even at its own citizens, and carried out with complete secrecy. And those who spent years mocking the notion that “9/11 Changed Everything” will have no choice but to invoke that propagandistic mantra in order to defend this: what else is there to say?

America’s Secret Empire Of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed For The First Time

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Oldspeak:“Behold! The future of war in America! Remote-controlled, automated, outsourced and cheaply produced for your viewing pleasure! Hey! The Libyan intervention/regime change only cost 2 Billion Dollars! Sooo much cheaper than the Iraq War! Drones are awesome, they’re cheaper and save American lives! It’s come to this. Cheering the fact that Humanity is slowly and surely being phased out of the war making business. A terribly slippery slope to tread. When wars begin to be defined in terms of dollars and cents instead of the untold millions of lives negatively affected and outright lost because of them; it becomes crystal clear what war is all about. Money. Arms Sales. Business. Repeat Business. Industry. Cost-Effectiveness. The Bottom Line. “The U.S. Government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world todayDr Martin Luther King. Business is BOOMING. Soon robots will fight our wars for us.  When humans are phased out of war-making, the costs of war seem smaller, even if in reality they’re growing larger with each remote-controlled vehicle and robot built, each unnamed woman or child or bride or husband killed  largely out of public view. Perpetual War becomes routine. War becomes entertainment. War Is glamorized. War is commercialized. Was is a drug. “Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.” -Nick Turse. No significant discussion of  the conditions created to facilitate waging war, or policies which could be employed to minimize the outbreak and sustenance of war. “War Is Peace”.

By Nick Turse @ Alter Net:

 

They increasingly dot the planet.  There’s a facility outside Las Vegas where “pilots” work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth that almost no one talks about at an air base in the United Arab Emirates.

And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide.  Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous — until now.

Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases — some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment — are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war.  They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad — in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign “footprint” and little accountability.

Using military documents, press accounts and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by AlterNet has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations.  There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.

A Galaxy of Bases

Over the last decade, the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has expanded exponentially as has media coverage of their use.  On September 21st, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military has deployed missile-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones on the “island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia.” A day earlier, a Washington Post piece also mentioned the same base on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago, as well as one in the African nation of Djibouti, another under construction in Ethiopia, and a secret CIA airstrip being built for drones in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (suspected of being Saudi Arabia).

Post journalists Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock reported that the “Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”  Within days, the Post also reported that a drone from the new CIA base in that unidentified Middle Eastern country had carried out the assassination of radical al-Qaeda preacher and American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen.

With the killing of al-Aulaqi, the Obama Administration has expanded its armed drone campaign to no fewer than six countries, though the CIA, which killed al-Aulaqi, refuses to officially acknowledge its drone assassination program.  The Air Force is less coy about its drone operations, yet there are many aspects of those, too, that remain in the shadows.  Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes recently told AlterNet that, “for operational security reasons, we do not discuss worldwide operating locations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, to include numbers of locations around the world.”

Still, those 60 military and CIA bases around the world, directly connected to the drone program, tell us a lot about America’s war-making future.  From command and control and piloting to maintenance and arming, these facilities perform key functions that allow drone campaigns to continued expanding as they have for more than a decade.  Other bases are already under construction or in the planning stages.  When presented with our list of Air Force sites within America’s galaxy of drone bases, Lieutenant Colonel Haynes responded, “I have nothing further to add to what I’ve already said.”

Even in the face of government secrecy, however, much can be discovered .  Here, then, for the record is a AlterNet accounting of America’s drone bases in the United States and around the world.

The Near Abroad

News reports have frequently focused on Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas as ground zero in America’s military drone campaign. Sitting in darkened, air conditioned rooms, 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board.  Their faces lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone, by squeezing a trigger on a joystick one of these Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.

While Creech gets the lion’s share of attention — it even has its own drones on site — numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars.  The same video-game-style warfare is carried out by U.S and British pilots not far away at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS).  According to a factsheet provided to AlterNet by the Air Force, the 2nd SOS and its drone operators are scheduled to be relocated to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida in the coming months.

Reapers or Predators are also being flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.  Recently, it was announced that Reapers, flown by Hancock’s pilots, would begin taking off on training missions from the Army’s Fort Drum, also in New York State.  While at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by the New York Times earlier this year, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell phone intercepts, high altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan — what they call “Death TV” — while instant-messaging and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements.

CIA drone operators also reportedly pilot their aircraft from the Agency’s nearby Langley, Virginia headquarters.  It was from here that analysts apparently watched footage of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, for example, thanks to video sent back by the RQ-170 Sentinel, an advanced drone nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar.”  According to Air Force documents, the Sentinel is flown from both Creech Air Force Base and Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

Predators, Reapers, and Sentinels are just part of the story.  At Beale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia).  Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.

Other bases have been intimately involved in training drone operators, including Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, as is the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona which is home to, according to a report by National Defense magazine, “the world’s largest UAV training center.”  There, hundreds of employees of defense giant General Dynamics train military personnel to fly smaller tactical drones like the Hunter and Shadow.  The physical testing of drones goes on at adjoining Libby Army Airfield and “two UAV runways located approximately four miles west of Libby,” according to Global Security, an on-line clearinghouse for military information.

Additionally, small drone training for the Army is carried out at Fort Benning in Georgia while at Fort Rucker, Alabama — “the home of Army aviation” — the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts pertaining to UAVs.  Recently, Fort Benning also saw the early testing of true robotic drones – which fly without human guidance or a hand on any joystick.  This is considered, wrote the Washington Post, the next step toward a future in which drones will “hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.”

The Army has also carried out UAV training exercises at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and, earlier this year, the Navy launched its X-47B, a next-generation semi-autonomous stealth drone, on its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  That flying robot — designed to operate from the decks of aircraft carriers — has since been sent on to Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River for further testing.  At nearby Webster Field, the Navy worked out kinks in its Fire Scout pilotless helicopter, which has also been tested at Fort Rucker, Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, and Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station.  The latter base was also where the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial system was developed and is now, along with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State, based.

Foreign Jewels in the Crown

The Navy is actively looking for a suitable site in the Western Pacific for a BAMS base, and is currently in talks with several Persian Gulf states for one in that region, as well.  It already has Global Hawks perched at its base in Sigonella, Italy.

The Air Force is now negotiating with Turkey to relocate some of the Predator drones still operating in Iraq to the giant air base at Incirlik next year.  Many different UAVs have been based in Iraq since the American invasion of that country, including small tactical models likeRaven-B’s  that troops launched by hand from Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Shadow UAVs that flew from Forward Operating Base Normandy in Baqubah Province, Predators operating out of Balad Airbase, miniature Desert Hawk drones launched from Tallil Air Base, and Scan Eagles based at Al Asad Air Base.

Elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, according to Aviation Week, the military is launching Global Hawks from Al Dhafra Air Base in theUnited Arab Emirates, piloted by personnel stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, to track “shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Arabian Sea.”  There are unconfirmed reports that the CIA may be operating drones from that country as well.  In the past, at least, other UAVs have apparently been flown from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base and Al Jaber Air Base, as well as Seeb Air Base in Oman.

At Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the Air Force runs an air operations command and control facility, critical to the drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The new secret CIA base on the Arabian peninsula, used to assassinate Anwar al-Aulaqi, may or may not be an airstrip inSaudi Arabia whose existence a senior U.S. military official recently confirmed to FOX News.  In the past, the CIA has also operated UAVs out of Tuzel, Uzbekistan.

In neighboring Afghanistan, drones fly from many bases including Jalalabad Air Base, Kandahar Air Field, the air base at Bagram, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Edinburgh and FOB Delaram II, to name a few. Afghan bases are, however, more than just locations where drones take off and land.

It is a common misperception that U.S.-based operators are the only ones who “fly” America’s armed drones.  In fact, in and around America’s war zones, UAVs begin and end their flights under the control of local “pilots.”  Take Afghanistan’s massive Bagram Air Base. After performing preflight checks alongside a technician who focuses on the drone’s sensors, a local airman sits in front of a Dell computer tower and multiple monitors, two keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches and oversees the plane’s takeoff before handing it over to a stateside counterpart with a similar electronics set-up.  After the mission is complete, the controls are transferred back to the local operators for the landing.  Additionally, crews in Afghanistan perform general maintenance and repairs on the drones.

In the wake of a devastating suicide attack by an al-Qaeda double agent that killed CIA officers and contractors at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost in 2009, it came to light that the facility was heavily involved in target selection for drone strikes across the border in Pakistan.  The drones themselves, as the Washington Post noted at the time, were “flown from separate bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Both the Air Force and CIA have conducted operations in Pakistani air space, with some missions originating in Afghanistan and others from inside Pakistan.  In 2006, images of what appear to be Predator drones stationed at Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province were found on Google Earth and later published.  In 2009, the New York Times reported that operatives from Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, had taken over the task of arming Predator drones at the CIA’s “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Following the May Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, that country’s leaders reportedly ordered the United States to leave Shamsi.  The Obama administration evidently refused and word leaked out, according to the Washington Post, that the base was actually owned and sublet to the U.S. by the United Arab Emirates, which had built the airfield “as an arrival point for falconry and other hunting expeditions in Pakistan.”

The U.S. and Pakistani governments have since claimed that Shamsi is no longer being used for drone strikes.  True or not, the U.S. evidently also uses other drone bases in Pakistan, including possibly PAF Base Shahbaz, located near the city of Jacocobad, and another base located near Ghazi.

The New Scramble for Africa

Recently, the headline story, when it comes to the expansion of the empire of drone bases, has been Africa.  For the last decade, the U.S. military has been operating out of Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti.  Not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it became a base for Predator drones and has since been used to conduct missions over neighboring Somalia.

For some time, rumors have also been circulating about a secret American base in Ethiopia.  Recently, a U.S. official revealed to theWashington Post that discussions about a drone base there had been underway for up to four years, “but that plan was delayed because ‘the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.’” Now construction is evidently underway, if not complete.

Then, of course, there is that drone base on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  A small fleet of Navy and Air Force drones began operating openly there in 2009 to track pirates in the region’s waters.  Classified diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, however, reveal that those drones have also secretly been used to carry out missions in Somalia.  “Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport,” the Post reports, the base consists of three or four “Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.”

The U.S. has also recently sent four smaller tactical drones to the African nations of Uganda and Burundi for use by those countries’ own militaries.

New and Old Empires

Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.

During the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, as the U.S. was building up its drone fleets, the country launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in YemenPakistan, and Somalia, using drones in at least four of those countries.  In less than three years under President Obama, the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  It maintains that it has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation (or at least any nation in the global south).

According to a report by the Congressional Budget office published earlier this year, “the Department of Defense (DoD) plans to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” over the next decade.  In practical terms, this means more drones like the Reaper.

Military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Reaper “can fly 1,150 miles from base, conduct missions and return home… the time a drone can stay aloft depends on how heavily armed it is.”  According to a drone operator training document obtained by AlterNet, at maximum payload, meaning with 3,750 pounds worth of Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 or GBU-30 bombs on board, the Reaper can remain aloft for 16 to 20 hours.  Even a glance at a world map tells you that, if the U.S. is to carry out ever more drone strikes across the developing world, it will need more bases for its future UAVs.  As an unnamed senior military official pointed out to a Washington Postreporter, speaking of all those new drone bases clustered around the Somali and Yemeni war zones, “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

Earlier this year, an analysis by TomDispatch.com determined that there are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases scattered across the globe — a shadowy base-world that provides plenty of existing sites that can, and no doubt will, host drones.  But facilities selected for a pre-drone world may not always prove optimal locations for America’s current and future undeclared wars and assassination campaigns. So further expansion in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia is likely.

What are the Air Force’s plans in this regard?  Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes was typically circumspect.  “We are constantly evaluating potential operating locations based on evolving mission needs,” he said.  If the last decade is any indication, those “needs” will only continue to grow.

 

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook

This article marks another of Turse’s joint Alternet/TomDispatch investigative reports on U.S. national security policy and American empire.

 

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