McManus: Who reviews the
'kill list'? U.S.
There has been remarkably little public debate in the
U.S. about drone strikes, which have killed at least 1,300 people in alone since President Obama came to office. Pakistan
February 5, 2012
When it comes to national security, Michael V. Haydenis no shrinking violet. As CIA director, he ran the Bush administration's program of warrantless wiretaps against suspected terrorists.
But the retired air force general admits to being a little squeamish about the Obama administration's expanding use of pilotless drones to kill suspected terrorists around the world — including, occasionally, U.S. citizens.
"Right now, there isn't a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for
As an example of the problem, he cites the example of Anwar Awlaki, the New Mexico-born member of Al Qaeda who was killed by a
Hayden isn't the only one who has qualms about the "targeted killing" program. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has been pressing the administration to explain its rules for months.
In a written statement, Feinstein said she thinks Awlaki was "a lawful target" but added that she still thinks the administration should explain its reasoning more openly "to maintain public support of secret operations."
As Hayden puts it: "This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that's dangerous."
There has been remarkably little public debate about the drone strikes, which have killed at least 1,300 people in
It's odd that the Obama administration, which came into office promising to be more open and more attentive to civil liberties than the previous one, has been so reluctant to explain its policies in this area. Obama and his aides have refused to answer questions about drone strikes because they are part of a covert program, yet they have repeatedly taken credit for their victories in public. After months of negotiations, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. won approval from the White House to spell out some of the administration's legal thinking in the Awlaki case. But his statement, originally promised for last month, has been delayed by continued internal wrangling.
When it is issued, officials said, the statement is likely to add a few details to the bare-bones rationale the administration has offered in a handful of public statements and court proceedings. The administration has said that strikes against suspected terrorists are justified for two reasons: First, that Al Qaeda is at war with the
Holder may also shed light on an issue that has been less clear: Should a terrorist suspect who is a
In fact, officials say, Awlaki did get more due process than most Al Qaeda suspects on the list. They say the administration made a point of naming Awlaki publicly as an Al Qaeda leader — putting him on notice, in effect — before he was killed. And they say the Justice Department held that Awlaki could be killed only if it was not feasible to capture him. The administration has refused to release that legal opinion, in part because it's not sure it wants those standards to turn into a binding precedent for later cases.
But there are questions that go beyond the legal underpinning for targeted killing. Who puts names on the "kill list," and who reviews them? And is the process rigorous enough to withstand outside scrutiny?
In the case of a
There's also scrutiny from Congress. "There is no intelligence activity the [Senate] Intelligence Committee follows more closely, or conducts more oversight on, than CIA counter-terrorism operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border," Feinstein said, studiously avoiding the word "drone."
But congressional oversight comes after the fact, and it is divided between Congress' intelligence committees, which review CIA operations, and its armed forces committees, which review military operations.
That's one reason some former officials argue that the administration needs to set up a clearer, more rigorous system of internal review — for its own good. John B. Bellinger III, who served as the State Department's top lawyer during the Bush administration, believes a good solution would be to expand the jurisdiction of the judges who currently authorize wiretaps to cover targeted killing cases as well.
But most intelligence officials hate that idea. "Why on earth would you want to get a judge involved?" asked one. A better solution, he said, would be appointing a special review office made up of seasoned officials who can't be fired, to insulate them from bureaucratic pressure. But that would still invest life-or-death power in a secret corner of the intelligence community, without a clear constitutional foundation.
The biggest problem with this newly invented form of clandestine warfare is that its rules have been made on the fly. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has made crucial decisions with little outside review and virtually no public scrutiny.
The administration says it has the authority to kill
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs