William Freivogel's neo-conservative support for the Obama administration's use of drones in targeted killings of U.S. citizens requires unpacking.
The Justice Department papers released last week constituted “a well-reasoned, constitutionally sound defense of the president’s power as commander-in-chief to order a drone attack on an American citizen who has taken up with the enemy and is plotting to kill Americans,” Freivogel says.
In contrast, legal scholar Glenn Greenwald called the memo “chilling” due to its attempt to justify extrajudicial “kill list” procedures in which “the entire process [is] carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind,” with “zero transparency and zero accountability.”
Freivogel wonders “how many Americans would disagree with the conclusion that the president can use ‘lethal force in a foreign country outside the area of hostile activities against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaida’ when that leader is 'actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.’”
Greenwald, an American, disagrees.
“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,” he says.
The current administration continues to carry forth Bush II policies with added zeal. Freivogel disagrees.
He “was irritated by the press’ attitude that President Obama’s decision to kill any American citizens plotting attacks on the United States was comparable to President George W. Bush’s authorization of the torture of captured al-Qaida operatives.”
Freivogel has written “reams of editorials criticizing the Bush administration for its use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ – aka torture.”
John Brennan, the deputy executive director of the CIA and director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center under George W. Bush was a chief architect of the previous administration’s torture regime.
Brennan “was the cheerleader for some of these onerous policies, particularly renditions and extraordinary renditions,” Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst told Democracy Now!
Brennan is now Obama’s pick to head the CIA.
Freivogel might have forgotten about Brennan’s role in the Bush administration, but his mind is as sharp as ever.
On issues of remembering, Freivogel cautions, “Don't forget that Anwar al-Awlaki, the cleric killed in an American drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, had trained and motivated the 'underwear bomber' who came close to detonating a bomb on Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.”
In addition, journalist Jeremy Scahill tells us not to forget “the fact that the Obama administration authorized operations that killed three U.S. citizens in a two-week period in 2011, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy who was sitting and having dinner with his cousins in Yemen.”
Freivogel notes the white papers “points out that when an American citizen takes up arms with an enemy, due process of law does not save him from being targeted on the battlefield.”
In the case of Abdulrahman, “takes up arms … on the battlefield” must be taken to mean “eating dinner by an open fire along the side of a road” before being blown apart by an American drone, as Tom Junod documented in an article for Esquire.
Referring to the white papers again, Freivogel asserted, “Reporters and commentators made a big deal about the way the memo defined 'imminent threat.’”
Comedian Jon Stewart commented on that imminent threat (re-)definition: “By definition that would require clear evidence that a specific threat on U.S. persons and interests would take place in the immediate future.”
As Freivogel noted, the memo said the US did not have to have “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons or interests will take place in the immediate future.”
Retorted Stewart on his show: “Really, because if you did that it seems like you would almost have to create a different definition for the word, 'imminent,' which, it just so happens, is what has happened.”
The administration is deploying a broader concept of imminence.
But reporters failed, Freivogel contends, to recognize the “rationale for this argument” regarding what constitutes an “imminent threat.”
He states, “The memo pointed out that a requirement of clear evidence of a specific attack would have prevented the United States from acting in the period before 9/11 because U.S. officials had no such hard evidence then.”
Yes, there was that one Aug. 6, 2001, memo headlined rather matter-of-factly, “Bin Laden determined to strike U.S.,” in addition to myriad other alarming evidence, as New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald recounted.
Returning focus to the most recent memo, Freivogel writes, “courts have no business second-guessing the battlefield decisions of the commander-in-chief,” as that would “violate the separation of powers of the Constitution.”
Collapsing the separate executive and judicial branches into one also violates the Constitution, but neither I nor the courts (now) have the right to question this.
Again, lest we forget, broader concepts and redefinitions are the new normal. Encroachments on civil liberties occur regardless, but this is how they get normalized and expanded. White papers written in Newspeak are how they get codified.
Another codification of the new normal is Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by President Obama.
The law “permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who ‘substantially support’ — an undefined legal term — al-Qaida, the Taliban or ‘associated forces,’ again a term that is legally undefined,” former New York Times former correspondent Chris Hedges writes. “Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until 'the end of hostilities.' In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime.”
Citizens detained under the NDAA can be sent to foreign countries for interrogation.
The law legalizes extraordinary rendition of Americans potentially to repressive regimes, where they could be detained and tortured. Indefinitely.
Hedges filed suit against the Obama administration to get this piece of legislation ruled unlawful. Why?
“If we lose, the power of the military to detain citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military prisons will become a terrifying reality,” Hedges said.
Regardless of our political affiliations and sensibilities, it is crucial not to exhibit knee-jerk reactions to defend an administration's authority on matters of such import – as the press so often does – no matter our opinions about the President. We can all do better than that.