Obama’s Lawless Drones have caused Yemen al-Qaeda to Triple (Young Turks)

Cenk Uygur on the scandal of the Obama administration’s admission that it had no clear criteria for drone strikes. According to the NYT, the Obama team scrambled to come up with formal procedures lest they bequeath an out-of-control program to the Republicans if Romney were to win.

What I don’t understand is why the Obama administration thought that Romney could not just issue new guidelines and ignore their new rules. If it is just a matter of administrative precedent, that can easily be overruled.

The US government should not be permitted to exercise violence abroad without a declaration of war and congressional approval and oversight. If it has to happen, it should be done by the Department of Defense, not the CIA or sub-contractors to the CIA, a civilian agency.

Cenk points out that ‘signature strikes,’ where the victims are unknown and the drone operators are just going by weapons going off, should be forbidden. (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. are places where celebratory fire is common).

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that US media consistently underestimate the number of non-combatant deaths that occur as a result of drone strikes.

With his usual erudition, Cenk cites the work of Gregory D. Johnsen on Yemen, who argues that al-Qaeda has tripled in size in the past few years there, in some large part because of US drone strikes.

18 Responses

  1. All U.S. presidents since the enactment of the War Powers Act of 1973 have disregarded that act as unconstitutional. Congressional approval and oversight is often ignored by the chief executive and precious little is done to place executive power in check.

    The Senate and House Intelligence Committees should be screaming about this but who wants to be viewed as sympathizing with Al-Qaeda?

    In Israel, targeted assassinations of Hamas or Islamic Jihad officials require approval of the Israeli attorney general. Immediate threats such as a Qassam rocket crew being spotted by the IDF about to fire a missile can be attacked immediately. There is a publicallydisclosed protocol for targeted killings of members of the Palestinian resistance.

    It seems in recent years there has been a proliferation of CIA “paramilitary forces”. Who is charge of these and how is their mission different than that of the U.S. Armed Forces? The CIA is not a constitutional entity but draws its authority from the National Security Act of 1947. The executive order of President Ford barring assassinations of foreign leaders, issued on the heels of lurid testimony of ex-Director Richard Helms and others before the Church Committee, has been mitigated in recent years so that extrajudicial assassination can occur.

    What surprises me by all this is Obama actually “signs off” on all killings. No prior U.S. president has ever previously admitted ordering the killing of any foreign citizen. A CIA-sponsored assassination program headed by the president is unprecedented. There is no solid proof that JFK or LBJ had direct knowledge of the existence of the CIA’s “Executive Action” program to kill world leaders, such as Fidel Castro.

    Since U.S. Congress or the GOP leadership in general is likely to want to be seen as as asserting the rights of Al-Qaeda, it may be the ACLU or some other human rights organizations that may have to bring action in the U.S. federal court system to test the legality of Obama’s actions in ordering extrajudicial assassinations.

    • The courts have cleverly sidestepped by claiming that only the victims have standing to sue. Yes.

    • The lawless murderousness of the US government can really only be controlled by a functioning Congress. At this point, this won’t happen short of a revolution.

      However, a revolution is much, much more likely than most people think; the level of dysfunction of the national government in the US is quite spectacular, well beyond the levels which have caused revolutions in other countries. Gross economic mismanagment which impoverishes the majority of citizens (for 40+ years now) removes the mainstay of governmental support. Failure to provide environmental protection or a safe food supply removes other reasons for support of the government. Debt slavery in the form of student loans creates a well-educated class who have strong reason to overthrow the government. Abandonment of the rule of law eliminates that reason for people to support the government. Abandonment of good government in favor of cronyism eliminates yet another reason for people to support the government. Finally, the revelation of the Iraq and Afghan wars — that the US military is basically incapable of winning wars — dulls the effect of threats of force.

      At this point the federal government in the US is mainly being propped up by force of habit. There is one remaining plank of legitimacy, which is honest elections. If they dare to steal another election (like the 2000 Presidential election was stolen), it will all be over very quickly. Even if they don’t, the combination of gerrymandering and the malapportionment of the US Senate and the Electoral College make the legitimacy given by elections less than complete.

      Unless there is proper reform, democratic reform, rule of law reform, or a full system to promote the general welfare (chicken in every pot), I give the US government less than 50 years.

    • The executive order of President Ford barring assassinations of foreign leaders, issued on the heels of lurid testimony of ex-Director Richard Helms and others before the Church Committee, has been mitigated in recent years so that extrajudicial assassination can occur.

      Neither that executive order, not the statutory ban on assassinations, encompasses shooting at military leaders in a war setting, such as shooting at al Qaeda commanders in the Congressionally-declared war against that organization.

      What surprises me by all this is Obama actually “signs off” on all killings. No prior U.S. president has ever previously admitted ordering the killing of any foreign citizen.

      Huh? Richard Nixon signed off on Operation Linebacker, which killed thousands of foreign citizens. FDR signed off on the Sicily and Normandy landings. Why does the selection of a much smaller target, resulting in many fewer casualties, represent something novel in your eyes?

      • Joe, there’s no “Congressionally-declared” war. The last declaration of war was in World War II. So all this “war setting” bullshit is just so much bull.

  2. The NYT article points out that Obama has not told the truth about who is targeted. For at least 2 years, the targets have not been people planning attacks on the US. In Pakistan, the targets have been mostly militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani government, or those who fight US troops in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban. In Yemen, we target seperatists.
    Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “we don’t say that we are the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, but we are.”

  3. I’d like to sidestep as well but for main different reason #1.
    Earth is dying and where people focus is what they think about
    Essentially weather, oops whether we say we are against drone strikes and targeted killing or not, by speaking up we fail #1
    issue discussion and focus on war, on armament and hard power.
    I’d like all drone and other ops involving violence to stop..
    But with a purpose to speak by our actions that focus says #1.
    It’s now evident Earth is in Abrupt Climate Change aka Runaway
    Arctic Methane Emergency Group says emissions reduction won’t stop Earth from continuing to heat up. It will take much more.
    As agent of change mankind must focus on stopping runaway now.

  4. Gregory D. Johnson claims, without any supporting evidence, that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has tripled in Yemen, in large part because of the U.S. drone program. He then undercuts his own argument by offering a much more plausible reason AQAP has tripled in Yemen, namely because the rugged geography and broken Yemeni government allow AQAP to operate with much more freedom and impunity.

    • Yeah, Bill, that seems so much more, ah, logical. And backed with such strong supporting evidence, too.

      Did you even follow the link, much less read his stuff?

      But you continue with the assumption that the same doctrine that’s bankrupting us, economically and morally, straining at gnats with Cat D-9s with guns and missiles mounted everywhere, the same “policies” that are asymmetrically making fools of our vaunted military that can’t seem to “win” anything or define even what “victory” might look like? I’m sure you are offended by all the apparently actually understated negative press about our Generals and their noted incompetence and dissimulations, but you haven’t bothered to define what “national security and U.S. interests” are at stake, in your view of the world, and how the present set of behaviors and expenditures and the grotesque bureaucratic “systems-based” overgrowth of the whole MIC/state security apparatus are even “making us all more secure.”

      • “Did you even follow the link, much less read his stuff?”

        Of course I did. Did you? I summarized exactly what he wrote regarding the tripling of the AQAP presence in Yemen. In fact, the Yemeni geography and broken government thesis, which he wrote about, is a more plausible reason AQAP has tripled in Yemen.

        • Thanks for your opinion on AQAP. One wonders if there is “A” cause that can be assigned as “THE likely cause” for the manifestation of “Unlawful Enemy Combatants” anywhere, though of course findings of causes often tend to reflect the preferences and biases of the analyst.

          Too bad that “al Quaeda,” and “terrorism” generally including our own home-grown and state-conducted versions that we define out of the category because we are, well, US, are so like cancer and HIV and bacterial infections, in seeming to be a disease that’s always with us, that reacts seemingly intelligently to the social/political equivalents of the body’s immune system and the various anti-infectives that get deployed. Over-use of which, or inappropriate application of which, just tends to make the patient sicker and susceptible to meaner versions of the bugs and tumors.

          Plain old police work, coupled with longer-view political policies, seems to be a whole lot more effective than the bloated bureaucracy bristling with invective and sexy weapons that’s the current prescription for the disease.

          Still waiting for a plain statement of “national security and US interests” that justifies or effectually deters (let alone stops) all that stuff that we are taught so carefully to fear. And to pour out cubic money to “defeat,” which never seems to happen in the GWOT any more than it does in the other idiot’s exercise and wealth transfer scam, the “War On Drugs.” Where, in both cases, the disease seems to keep getting more virulent and impossible to control, let alone extirpate. Maybe as a result of the nostrums being applied?

  5. I think it is thought to be de classe for a departing president to leave behind a mess a/k/a “gentleman’s agreement”. G.W.Bush negotiated the SOF agreement with Iraq before he left – although conservatives blame Obama for not re-writing it.

  6. It’s really easy now to see why Obama dismissed bringing war criminal charges against anyone in the Bush Administration.

    He really was looking forward to his own war crimes.

  7. You misrepresent Johnson’s conclusion about the growth of al Qaeda in Yemen.

    Also, you bury the lede:

    “One of the things that we’ve seen is that Osama bin Laden, contrary to much of what we were being told by security officials, … was actually in pretty close contact with a lot of different organizations, whether it was the branch in Yemen or other branches … whether or not he actually had control, I think, is a bit debatable, but he was certainly writing letters and certainly acting as though he was still the head. The difference, I think, in Yemen is that the individual who’s the head of this organization, he’s a really short, short guy, very low spoken, very soft voice, he has sort of facial hair that juts out from his face, almost like a billy goat, that this guy who spent so much time with bin Laden these four years as sort of his secretary, his aide-de-camp, he really knew what it was that bin Laden wanted or what he would want and, I think, he’s been able to implement that blueprint.”

    Can we now drop the pretense that the al Qaeda branch in Yemen is not a branch of al Qaeda?

    • Shortly after the bit you quote, Gregory Johnson says, “the Achilles’ heel for the US in Yemen is that too often it just doesn’t know what’s taking place on the ground. The CIA doesn’t know what’s taking place…it doesn’t know who is really a member of al -Queda.”

      • That’s a very different point. The section I quoted was about whether the al Qaeda organization in Yemen is an al Qaeda organization. The statement you quote is about the difficulty in determining who is a member of that al Qaeda organization and who is not.

  8. Also, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda on in September 2001. This is a legal reality under both American and international law, and will continue to be a legal reality, whether acknowledging it is convenient for a particular political agenda or not.

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