Monday, April 15, 2013

A note from Coleen Rowley: the Senate Judiciary hearings on drones

Coleen Rowley was in an FBI unit in Minnesota which noted that Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the future bombers on September 11th, wanted to learn to fly planes but not to land (I am not quite clear on how he managed to draw attention to himself in this regard - he must have been quite a loudmouth - but he did...). She tried repeatedly to get information through to Washington, but was rebuffed by national security "advisors" (the FBI people in Minnesota joked bitterly later about somebody being "a Bin Laden mole." See here. She testified before the 9/11 commission.

In addition, she, with Ray McGovern, a former CIA official, formed Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. They fought the Iraq war; she ran for Congress with the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party (the Democrats), and joined Cindy Sheehan's protests against George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. She saw the right thing, clearly, and fought for it, when the government blocked doing it, and then with the madness of the Iraq aggression, has done her best to head off American mass murder, torture and degradation. With her activity against the drones, she continues this.


The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are tomorrow morning. They accept statements from experts and concerned citizens (I prefer the latter, that is, us...). Please send your testimony to:

More information below.


We need more Coleen Rowleys...


My friend Peter Minowitz has suggested that a reasonable person should find Obama's use of drones - mainly - acceptable. First, there is no question that Al-Qaida is an evil organization that wants mass murder of Jews, Christians and for that matter, other Muslims. Their aims oppose the defense of democracy and individual rights (though what the US does in the Middle East often defies these noble ideas).

Second, however, when the US kills some 3,000 people, including Awlaki's 16 year old son and many other innocents, with no due process or proclamation of charges and "evidence" and without even revealing the supposedly "legal" memo on which executive authority for these killings is claimed, how is this different in kind from the bombings on September 11th?.


Does one want to say that Moussaoui flew the planes and died but that John Brennan, in the White House, fingering carefully but on the basis of very weak information, those to kill, is as Yale constitutional lawyer and Obama appointee Howard Koh put it in the New York Times puff piece before the elections on the Tuesday afternoon meetings, "a priestly man"?


Are civilians or children worth less because they are not "American"? Is that the point of our "Christianity" as it used to be when the settler cavalry butchered indigenous people including children (see here, here and here)?


Doesn't Barack represent, to a great extent, the opposite? Wasn't he elected by those of us who hoped for the opposite?


Glenn Morris this past Saturday showed a photo of Donald Rumseld speaking at Fort Carson (named for the infamous Kit Carson, "indian killer") for aggression against Iraq. See here. He was surrounded by troops, some on horse back, with yellow bandanas, dressed as 1850s, 1860s cavalry. See here.


An amenesia about genocide against indigenous people - a Founding Amnesia - leads to amnesia about or apology for killing innocents by drone...


The United States is for human rights and peace except...when it isn't.


With careful planning, the Obama administration took out the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden. That was a just act (it would have been better to put him on trial, as Marta Soler rightly emphasized in letters to me - see here - but given American political realities (the rule of law hangs by a thread here, abridged massively in the Bush administration internationally and now by Obama, and nationally, with The New Jim Crow (see Michelle Alexander's book of that title) consigning generations of poor blacks and Chicanos (and whites) to prison and inability to get a job.


No drone was used to take out Bin Laden.


No civilian was killed.


The killing wasn't in Afghanistan where Obama "surged" under pressure from the generals, but has wisely now begun to draw down the forces.


The killing wasn't in Iraq...


There is no legal or even publicized process for picking who to murder with drones. The US took out Awlaki's son, another American teenager and 10 other innocents at a food stand in a small village in Yemen...


No semi-legal - prosecutorial - statement about drone executions of children and others has been issued by John Brennan, the administration spokesman, or Barack Obama, for whom in the Tuesday aelection meetings Brennan has been an advisor.


By an American count, with drones fired from far away, we have now killed about 3,000 people in aggressions in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen alone. These are all countries which the US has not "declared war on." (see the story by Scott Shane below).

Sometimes these drones take out people like Nek Mohammed, a Pakistani dissident, wanted by the Pakistan government. This was a matter of "convenience" for the CIA, to be given permission to hunt "targets" in Pakistan.


Is this a useful thing to do in the post-Cold War era? Does it make people around the world feel like the United States is a decent place, that the US government is a beacon of hope for human rights?


This morning, the Obama administration barred Russian officials who murdered Serge Magnitsky from entry into the United States. The Russians promptly barred John Yoo, David Addington and other big time war criminals whom the Obama administration is shielding (not even allowing hearings to repudiate their crimes).


Will this impress someone about the rule of law in the United States, its difference from Russia?


Moussaoui participated in the murder of 3,000 American civilians on September 11th. By America count, the US has now, by drone alone, reciprocated...


The drones come from far away.


The shadows are targeted on screens as if in a video game...


Will the Chinese or the Pakistanis or many others who are in the process of gaining drone technology (the American war complex, here and through its agents abroad, will dispense the relevant knowledge for sufficient cash and in any case, other powers have lots of scientists to work on it...) feel any moral compunction about killing innocents from afar to get at whomever they hope to get at?


Will the world stand up for the rule of law now that the Obama administration - and America - stand down?


Coleen writes:

"The little bit of good news is these huge recent news exposes by McClatchy and NY Times, which seem to be based on unauthorized leaks (either the result of tremendous journalistic reporting and/or a new Daniel Ellsberg or two must be at work as opposed to Scott Shane’s original “Kill List” story at NYT which seems to have been authorized to be leaked before the election to make Obama seem tough). These news developments do a lot to expose the factual lies that have thus far been used to bolster Obama Admin’s (illegal) “white paper” drone assassination policies.

We are working on a draft paper on behalf of our Minnesotan anti-drone and peace groups which we hope to circulate tomorrow in case groups in other states want to sign on. But also please consider submitting a statement to Sen Durbin’s Subcommittee---see highlighted part below. Coleen R."


I responded. Coleen replied:

"Great! And even if it’s only short, it would be good to e-mail a statement for the congressional record to this Stephanie Trifone at

Hopefully we’ll have one ready today from our MN group. If they get no input, the politicians like Durbin can easily say no one cares and they continue their unethical, illegal and horrendously stupid drone assassinations. Coleen"


I submitted the following, though speaking in ordinary English, not diplomatically:

"Dear Senate Judiciary Committee,

I am a John Evans Professor for career distinction in research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. I also campaigned vigorously for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and believe that both John McCain and Mitt Romney are war-mongers who would foolishly (and criminally) have aggressed against Iran and gotten the United States into a deeper morass in the Middle East, a larger Middle Eastern war, which would have endangered ordinary Israelis as well. I was also the main teacher of Condi Rice as a graduate student (she took 8 courses and wrote a thesis with me while pursuing a master's degree) and was horrified by Rice's role in both the war in Iraq (an aggression against a power which, however bad, had nothing to do with September 11th) and torture. So I write about President Obama's use of and secrecy about drones with great sadness. The issue with drones is that we murder a lot of innocent people (one of the crimes of war) and strengthen our enemies (consider if a great power were raining missiles down in Denver or Houston or Laramie, blowing up food stands and schools; we might dislike those who opposed them, but it might be hard not to support them in some way against the power - and even a local government which served it - or oppose oneself those who had fired the drones. Barack nobly took out Bin Laden with the joint special operations command troops, killing no civilians. No drone was necessary. That these policies are stupid and counterproductive as well as involving often the murder of innocents is plain.

Other powers will soon have drones. When they want to defend themselves against charges of murdering civilians or political opponents, at home or abroad, they will have but to point to the pioneer in their illegal and immoral use, the United States of America...

Yours truly,
Alan Gilbert
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
University of Denver

For my post on "A war criminal warns against war crimes: the allure of drones which I added to the statement (and later edited for the final version)," see below.


Coleen replied, with the grim detail that the Committee has refused testimony from Notre Dame Law Profssor Mary Ellen OConnell. She urges others to write in (the hearings begin tomorrow):

"Will do! Thanks so much for trying to send a statement for the record to Stephanie, along with your bona fides. I see their (rather odd) rule is that it can’t have been previously published but I think you could just rework your prior blog piece a bit---take out the Shane article and maybe just reference it. And that way, tell them your submitted statement has not been previously published. Another writer, Mike Madden, is still working on drafting our statement but as soon as it’s done, we’ll share. And I’ll share yours with our group here too. Thanks so much! Please let any other professors know. I’m worried that Durbin’s kind of setting this up as I just found out that Notre Dame International Law Prof Mary Ellen O’Connell has been rejected to testify---and she’s literally the top expert on the issue of what is a real 'armed conflict zone' as opposed to the 'white paper' theory of 'global battlefield'.

Coleen R."


Here is the announcement for the Senate Judiciary hearings:

"Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing

Hearing Before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights

Date: April 16, 2013
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 226 (room location is tentative; check Senate Judiciary Committee website to confirm –

Description: U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Assistant Majority Leader and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, will hold the first-ever Senate hearing on the use of drones in targeted killings. The hearing will address the legal and policy issues raised by drone strikes, including the constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings, the scope of the battlefield in the conflict with Al Qaeda and associated forces, and the international precedent set by U.S. drone policy. The hearing will also explore proposals to increase transparency regarding U.S. drone policy and establish a legal architecture to regulate drone strikes.

Hearing Attendance: This hearing is open to the public. Please encourage advocates and interested members of the community to attend. A large audience filling both the hearing room and overflow room is critical to showing interest in U.S. drone policy. For our planning purposes, please provide an estimate of the number of attendees from your organization by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, 2013 by filling out this form. If it is not feasible to estimate the number of attendees from your organization, please send the link to the form to members so that they may individually RSVP for the hearing.

Statements for the Record: Chairman Durbin invites advocates and stakeholders to offer their perspectives and experiences on the issue by submitting written testimony to be included in the hearing record. These statements help educate Committee members about the issue and are important to demonstrating community interest. Statements must be less than 10 pages, in PDF or Word Document form, and should be emailed to Stephanie Trifone at as early as possible, but no later than Monday, April 15, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. Please note that the Subcommittee cannot accept previously published information as a statement for the record.

Senator Dick Durbin is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over all constitutional issues, and all legislation and policy related to civil rights, civil liberties and human rights. The Ranking Member of the Subcommittee is Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).


Here is the post I included, in edited form, in my letter to the committee:

A war criminal warns against war crimes: the allure of drones


The war criminal is Barack Obama. The war crime is murdering some 3,000 mainly innocent people, all without a trial or any evidence even alleged against them - except of course elliptically by administration spokespersons like John Brennan.


Some, perhaps like the Coloradan Awlaki (only the father, not the son),may be guilty. But all the others?


These are murders of convenience. The US has drawn down but not shut Guantanamo; worse, the government has replaced it with murder defining the Obama era. Further, the leaders of Pakistan and Yemen, two countries the US has aggressed against but not declared war in, don't want US boots on the ground or to turn prisoners over to American authorities (who have often been torturers). More convenient to kill.


There is something awful about Scott Shane's discussion...


This sounds like Murder Inc., not the Obama administration or Times reporting.


In the Civil War, Lincoln executed 38 Dakota warriors, but carefully did not kill the recommended 303. He worried about sending innocent men to death and risked losing the 1864 election, even though he was, as part of the War of Empire, President over expansion into the West. See here.

The Union Pacific that Lincoln sponsored and would have profited from had he lived did not just "cross the continent with 7 league boots" as Marx once suggested, invoking its impact on uniting the country and expanding capitalism. More importantly, it was linked to, an instrument of the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of indigenous people. See here, here and here.


If the statistics in the article are right (Times articles often repeat government propaganda or have no sense of the relationship or pattern of numbers; in this case, the article alludes to really vague "sources that track drones...):

"There are signs that the Obama administration may itself have grown wary of the convenience of targeted killing — or may be running out of high-level targets. After a sharp rise in Mr. Obama’s first two years, the total number of drone strikes is now in sharp decline.

In Pakistan, strikes peaked in 2010 at 117; the number fell to 64 in 2011, 46 in 2012, with 11 so far this year, according to The Long War Journal, which covers the covert wars. In Yemen, while strikes shot up to 42 in 2012, no strikes have been reported since a flurry of drone hits in January, according to several organizations that track strikes."


Obama rightly warns of the allure of drones:

"In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Obama pledged more transparency for the drone program, and he and his aides have hinted that changes are coming. It remains unclear what the administration has in mind, but the president has spoken of the treacherous allure of the drone.

Decisions on targeted killing, he told CNN in September, are “something that you have to struggle with.”

'If you don’t, then it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not who we are as a country.'"


Has Obama learned from his hero, Lincoln, to at last begin to head off unnecessary killing?

But Lincoln presided over ethnic cleansing against indigenous people, and is largely an unattractive character in this context (just not a man for massacres like his friend and appointee John Evans).


But Iraq was named "Indian country" by American officers. See here. And every drone that takes off to eradicate nonwhite people, often women and children, in countries the US is not even at war with - twinning the war crimes of aggression and taking out innocents - is easier to make peace with if one has the illusion Barack is cultivating here.


"That is who the US is" toward blacks and indigenous people and Mexicans through much of its history. That is America's founding amnesia - Arapaho County with no actual Arapahos living in it, Mankato and no Dakotas...

That is who the other part of the US, the multiracial movement from below, needs to defeat and transform, to make a new start of a more serious democracy, one rooted in defending the rights of each person.


Some of the protest from below against drones is beginning to take hold here. Obama, though a killer (he is President of the Empire after all), is trying, if these statistics are to be believed, to do better.


Richard Falk, my friend and a valiant international lawyer who was locked up for a night in Israel as UN international reporter on the Palestinians, showing that the state of Israel is violently hostile toward Jews who oppose the oppression of Palestinians), sent me a powerful note on my post on Guantanamo here:

"Thanks, Alan, for these reflections, which when coupled with the treatment of Bradley Manning, Lynne Stewart (a lawyer shackled in a Texas prison while enduring terminal cancer, having been punished for representing 'the blind Sheik' who was apparently framed in relation to the 1993 Trade Center bombing), and the real meaning of the gun culture that continues to celebrate 'the right to bear arms,' can only make us wonder what has happened (is happening) to this country?

Warm greetings,


See his blog here.


Targeted Killing Comes to Define War on Terror
Published: April 7, 2013

WASHINGTON — When Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was taken into American custody at an airport stopover in Jordan last month, he joined one of the most select groups of the Obama era: high-level terrorist suspects who have been located by the American counterterrorism juggernaut, and who have not been killed.

[the program would not reproduce the photograph. See here.]
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden taken into American custody last month, awaits trial in New York.

Rise of the Predators

John O. Brennan, now C.I.A. director, said last year the preference was to use lethal force only when capture was not feasible.

Mr. Abu Ghaith’s case — he awaits a federal criminal trial in New York — is a rare illustration of what Obama administration officials have often said is their strong preference for capturing terrorists rather than killing them.

“I have heard it suggested that the Obama administration somehow prefers killing Al Qaeda members rather than capturing them,” said John O. Brennan, in a speech last year when he was the president’s counterterrorism adviser; he is now the C.I.A. director. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

In fact, he said, “Our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible.”

Despite Mr. Brennan’s protestations, an overwhelming reliance on killing terrorism suspects, which began in the administration of George W. Bush, has defined the Obama years. Since Mr. Obama took office, the C.I.A. and military have killed about 3,000 people in counterterrorist strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, mostly using drones. Only a handful have been caught and brought to this country; an unknown number have been imprisoned by other countries with intelligence and other support from the United States.

This policy on targeted killing, according to experts on counterterrorism inside and outside the government, is shaped by several factors: the availability of a weapon that does not risk American casualties; the resistance of the authorities in Pakistan and Yemen to even brief incursions by American troops; and the decreasing urgency of interrogation at a time when the terrorist threat has diminished and the United States has deep intelligence on its enemies.

Though no official will publicly acknowledge it, the bottom line is clear: killing is more convenient than capture for both the United States and the foreign countries where the strikes occur.

The drone strikes have become unpopular abroad; in a Pew Research Center poll last year, just 17 percent of Pakistanis supported them against leaders of extremist groups. And domestic critics have attacked from two different directions: Some Republicans in Congress accuse Mr. Obama of adopting a de facto kill preference because he shut down the C.I.A.’s overseas prisons and does not want to send more detainees to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Human rights advocates argue that some drone strikes have amounted to extrajudicial killings, the execution without trial of people suspected of being militants whose identities American officials often do not know and who sometimes pose little threat to the United States.

But with the American public, the strikes remain popular. Even as some senior former American security officials question whether the strikes are beginning to do more harm than good, 65 percent of Americans questioned in a Gallup poll last month approved of strikes to kill suspected foreign terrorists; only 28 percent were opposed.

Mr. Brennan’s criterion for capture — when it is “feasible” — is a very subjective judgment, said Matthew C. Waxman, a former Defense Department official who is now at Columbia Law School.

“Those simple statements about a preference to capture mask a much more complicated story,” Mr. Waxman said. “The U.S. military and intelligence community can do a great deal if they’re directed to do it. Sometimes where we say it’s infeasible, we mean it’s too risky.”

But he believes the hazards of a capture strategy are real. “I think in most cases we could not capture people without significant risk to our own forces or to diplomatic relations,” he said.

The uncertainties were evident nine months into Mr. Obama’s first term, when intelligence agencies tracked down Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a suspect in the attacks on two American embassies in East Africa in 1998.

The original plan had been to fire long-range missiles to hit Mr. Nabhan and others as they drove in a convoy from Mogadishu, Somalia, to the seaside town of Baraawe. But that plan was scrubbed at the last minute, and instead a Navy SEALs team helicoptered from a ship and strafed Mr. Nabhan’s convoy, killing him and three others. The SEALs landed to collect DNA samples to confirm the identities of the dead.

The episode raised uncomfortable questions for some at the Pentagon. If the United States took the risk to land troops in Somalia, they wondered, why did they not capture Mr. Nabhan instead of killing him?

Or consider the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who had joined the Qaeda branch in Yemen. In September 2011, when American intelligence located him, it might conceivably have been possible to organize a capture by Yemeni or American commandos. But a drone strike was politically far less complicated for both countries, said Gregory D. Johnsen, an expert on Yemen at Princeton.

If American forces captured him, their presence on Yemeni soil might have spurred unrest, Mr. Johnsen said. If the forces of the Yemeni president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, caught him, he said, “Does he turn him over to the Americans and risk a backlash? Does he hold him? It was easier for Saleh to let the Americans take a shot at Awlaki than to send his troops to catch him.”

The trade-offs have not changed under Yemen’s new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who lauded the precision of drone strikes in a 2012 speech in Washington. Two months later, an American strike killed Adnan al-Qadhi, a well-connected Qaeda supporter, even though he was in a town near the capital, Sana, where several high-level officials live. Neighbors told reporters that he could easily have been captured.

In Pakistan, where the SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden sent Pakistani-American relations into a tailspin, drone strikes — though deeply unpopular — are tolerated by the security establishment. “There’s an intangible notion that a drone flying over is less of an intrusion than troops on the ground,” said Ashley S. Deeks, a University of Virginia law professor and a former State Department lawyer.

Then there is the question of very real danger to Americans in capturing heavily armed terrorists. The SEALs sent to Abbottabad were instructed that if Bin Laden immediately surrendered, he should be detained, according to Matt Bissonnette, a member of the SEAL team who wrote a book on the raid. But if Americans died trying to catch a midlevel militant — when drones were available but went unused — there would be a huge public outcry, most officials believe.

Only in the drone era has killing terrorism suspects become routine. In the 1980s and 1990s, counterterrorism officers captured several suspects overseas and brought them back to the United States for trial.

Brad Garrett, a former F.B.I. agent, was on the teams that caught both Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, an organizer of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and Mir Aimal Kansi, who shot five C.I.A. employees, two of them fatally, outside the agency’s headquarters in Virginia the same year. Teams of American and Pakistani officers caught the men by kicking down doors at their guesthouses, and “no shots were fired in either case,” he said.

As an investigator, Mr. Garrett said, “I’ve spent my life talking to live people. That’s the downside of drones. There’s no one left to talk to.” But he said that catching a solo suspect in an urban setting, while risky, was far less hazardous than confronting a gang of heavily armed men in the hostile territory of Pakistan’s or Yemen’s tribal areas. “I don’t think you can really compare them,” he said.

When Mr. Obama closed the C.I.A. prisons and banned coercive interrogations, Republicans complained that there was nowhere left to hold and question terrorists, a charge that resonated with some military and C.I.A. officers. The president countered by creating a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, an elite group of analysts and interrogators that officials say has been sent about two dozen times to question detainees at home and abroad. That is a tiny number compared to the frequency of drone strikes, of course, but officials say the secretive group has been successful.

An even smaller number of those questioned by the interrogation group have been brought back to the United States to face criminal charges, including Mr. Abu Ghaith, the Bin Laden son-in-law, and Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali commander of the militant group Shabab.

By all accounts, Mr. Warsame’s handling is a powerful illustration of the value of capturing rather than killing a terrorism suspect. He first began providing information to American counterterrorism officials after being caught on a ship in April 2011. He has never stopped talking about both the Shabab and the Qaeda branch in Yemen, officials say, and he knows that his ultimate sentence will depend on his cooperation.

There are signs that the Obama administration may itself have grown wary of the convenience of targeted killing — or may be running out of high-level targets. After a sharp rise in Mr. Obama’s first two years, the total number of drone strikes is now in sharp decline.

In Pakistan, strikes peaked in 2010 at 117; the number fell to 64 in 2011, 46 in 2012, with 11 so far this year, according to The Long War Journal, which covers the covert wars. In Yemen, while strikes shot up to 42 in 2012, no strikes have been reported since a flurry of drone hits in January, according to several organizations that track strikes.

In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Obama pledged more transparency for the drone program, and he and his aides have hinted that changes are coming. It remains unclear what the administration has in mind, but the president has spoken of the treacherous allure of the drone.

Decisions on targeted killing, he told CNN in September, are “something that you have to struggle with.”

“If you don’t, then it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not who we are as a country.”

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.

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