Pentagon: Americans must give up Liberties to fight “enemies” but we won’t say who they are (Currier)

Cora Currier writes at ProPublica

In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”

So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret.

At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.

The Pentagon responded – but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”

“Because elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”

It’s not an abstract question: U.S. drone strikes and other actions frequently target “associated forces,” as has been the case with dozens of strikes against an Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.

During the May hearing, Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said he was “not sure there is a list per se.” Describing terrorist groups as “murky” and “shifting,” he said, “it would be difficult for the Congress to get involved in trying to track the designation of which are the affiliate forces” of Al Qaeda.

Sheehan said that by the Pentagon’s standard, “sympathy is not enough…. it has to be an organized group and that group has to be in co-belligerent status with Al Qaeda operating against the United States.”

The White House tied Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and “elements” of Al Shabaab in Somalia to Al Qaeda in a recent report to Congress on military actions. But the report also included a classified annex.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law who served as a legal counsel during the Bush administration and has written on this question at length, told ProPublica that the Pentagon’s reasoning for keeping the affiliates secret seems weak. “If the organizations are ‘inflated’ enough to be targeted with military force, why cannot they be mentioned publicly?” Goldsmith said. He added that there is “a countervailing very important interest in the public knowing who the government is fighting against in its name.”

The law underpinning the U.S. war against Al Qaeda is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, and it was passed one week after the 9/11 attacks. It doesn’t actually include the words “associated forces,” though courts and Congress have endorsed the phrase.

As we explained earlier this year, the emergence of new or more loosely-aligned terrorist groups has legal scholars wondering how effectively the U.S. will be able to “shoehorn” them into the AUMF. During the May hearing, many lawmakers expressed concern about the Pentagon’s capacious reading of the law. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described it as a “carte blanche.”

Obama, in his May speech, said he looked forward “to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.” But he didn’t give a timeframe. On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced an amendment that would sunset the law at the end of 2014, to coincide with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was voted down the same day, 185 to 236.

The AUMF isn’t the only thing the government relies on to take military action. In speeches and interviews Obama administration officials also bring up the president’s constitutional power to defend the country, even without congressional authorization. 

Follow @coracurrier

12 Responses

  1. The United States Government is at war with any Muslim group or organization that pushes back against American hegemony.

    • Brian, although the muslim groups like to believe your assertion, the Snowden revelations show that the list is much more encompassin than that. Our government is building a Dragnet that is spying on everything on the planet. Not only for military reasons but for economic and socio-political ones as well. Our government is spying on our Allies for the love of god. Why do we need to spy on Brazil? Will they mount a “Carnival Surprise” and attack us with banana hammocks? :-)

      The people running these agencies are the embodiment of Dr. Strangelove and his ilk.

  2. The loss of liberty is what happens when you don’t take a hard line against Empire.

    Giving Empire a pass when it “does good” like like killing Gaddafi or ousting Assad or “promoting progressive values” in Egypt is enabling.

  3. I don’t think the Pentagon/White House even know who these ‘associated forces’ may be. But suspect: all of us. All of us who are Muslim, and/or ‘alien’, and/or disagree with military/security policies, and/or for human rights and civil liberties, and/or are ‘anti-war’, and/or whose neighbors and families have been killed by American drones, or who have reported on those drone attacks… the list is much, much longer (in fact there is no end to it just as there is no end to this ‘war’). It may even include Obama himself, depending on whose version of the list you are reading from.

  4. So we are not allowed to know who the enemies are. That also precludes us from knowing whether these forces are gaining or losing in strength. And that in turn means no one will ever know whether they continue in existence or not. The perfect setup for endless war. And as long as this war lasts, all of our rights are curtailed.

  5. Who are the ‘associated forces’ ? All of us. All of us who petition/protest for peace, or against war, all of us who are Muslim, defend or sympathize with Muslims, all who have relatives or neighbours who were killed by American drones, or who have reported on the victims of drones, all who are designated ‘aliens'(non-Americans), anti-Zionists, and even Obama himself may be on the list depending on whose version of it is used.

    • Indeed. “Associated forces” left undefined means this amorphous category could be expanded to include just about everyone on the planet, and the limitless snooping underscores that. We are supposed to be kept in a permanent state of being scared about “the terrorists”, so that totally unaccountable and secretive agencies can do anything and everything they choose to do.

  6. I’m reminded of a Western movie I saw some decades ago. A town was threatened by some bad guys so the good citizens hired a career gunfighter to defend them. He eventually became the town’s dictator. Now we have our own group of gunslingers who are taking away our liberties to protect them. Kind of like our military in Vietnam destroying villages to save them.

  7. The old but true adage about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely is probably at play here. We have a bunch of power seekers in the military-industrial-security complex who have attained enormous power but who are incapable of saying, “That’s enough” so they become more aggressive pursuing more power and becoming more corrupt. Too much is never enough. They already own the White House and most of Congress, and it will be the United States tomorrow and the world the day after that.

  8. The secrecy can also permit the use of our military violence to affect local politics in the secret target countries.

    The propagandized notion is that all of these known and unknown enemies have as their main objective to visit the US and blow something up, or down an airliner. This notion makes the enemies patently evil and fully deserving of being eliminated (along with anyone who happens to be within the killing circle of our bombs).

    But within our archipelago of security interests, aka any Muslim entity not lead by a compliant absolute monarch, there are many conflicts and power competitions that have nothing to do with inflicting damage on our Homeland. The secrecy makes it easy to interfere in these local activities using our massive bombing and bribing (B&B) capabilities. Of course, all in the name of our God blessed “National Interest”.

  9. The “enemies” are those this and all previous governments CREATE depending on the present and previous political climate. After WW II USA Empire began in FULL FORCE….before that period it was quite easy….now the Supreme Court, the Military Complex, the Corporate Media, the Congress of the USA (both Houses) agree the USA should become the 21st. Century Empire so it is EASIER !!

    The Wars continue ad infinitum and the money keeps o rolling but even though “the ship is leaking and the captain lies” FULL FORCE AHEAD !!

  10. I think what is absent from the conversation are the following: 1) Who gets to determine the targets of the Spying efforts, 2) what is the interest of these groups, corporations and individuals and 3) is the secrecy used because some elements of our population are considered enemies of the state. It’s pure folly to think that any modern country is represented by one monolithic block of people that represents the entire country’s self-interest.

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