Posts Tagged ‘Director of National Intelligence’

New York Times makes ad hominem attack against Senator Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The New York Times, in an Editorial published on February 11, 2013, wrote the following:

Mr. (Lindsey) Graham is being even more petulant. With his eye clearly on his Republican primary next year, he said on Sunday that he would block the nomination of Mr. Hagel (and of John Brennan to run the C.I.A.) until he finds out whether Mr. Obama called the Libyan government last September during the takeover of the American consulate in Benghazi. This is a continuation of his party’s fantasy of a direct connection between the president and the deaths of four Americans. Most Republicans gave up on this nonsense after Mr. Obama’s re-election, when it was no longer useful to them, but Mr. Graham is proving to be the ultimate dead-ender.

This kind of posturing is exactly why holds and filibusters against nominees have to end. Any senator is free to cast a vote for or against a nominee but should not be able to prevent others from doing so.

“Editorial: For Two Senators, Petty Politics Comes First,” New York Times, February 11, 2013.

The New York Times is admittedly expressing an opinion. However, at a time in which the country desperately needs to move in the direction of a bi-partisan foreign policy, the Times serves this interest poorly in characterizing Senator Graham’s stated desire to ascertain the degree of President Obama’s involvement in decision-making the night of the Benghazi attacks as “petulant” and purely political in nature (“with his eyes on the Republican primary next year”). The Republican attempt to get to the bottom of President Obama’s involvement in the Benghazi affair is dismissed as “fantasy” and “nonsense”.

Finally, The Times closes with an ad hominem attack, calling Graham “the ultimate dead-ender”.

One may disagree witih Senator Graham, who has consistently been one of the few members of the Senate determined to get to the bottom of the Benghazi affair and the President’s involvement in the decisions that were made on the evening of September 11, 2012, without impugning the Senator’s patriotism or his motives.

This language is just the kind of “bulldozer” rhetoric we have been hearing from the Obama narrative management team. It is unfortunate enough to hear it from that quarter, but even more distressing to hear The Times express its opinion in such harshly partisan tones, calling a distinguished (and moderate) Republican Senator a “dead-ender”.

Moreover, these nominations to key foreign policy posts deserve to be carefully examined, particularly in view of President Obama’s large failures and lack of any signifiant foreign policy successes during his first term. Given the President’s manifest lack of interest in foreign policy–aside from drone strikes–the Hagel and Brennan nominations and potential confirmations may have a huge impact on the future foreign policy of the United States.

There should be room for a robust and healthy debate, and a deliberate process for approval of these nominees. With Democrats falling down rather spectacularly in the conduct of oversight over the foreign policy of the Obama administration, these nominations represent some of the few opportunities the Republicans have to be heard. Whether you agree or disagree with them, they should be heard.

The prospects for developing a bi-partisan foreign policy in the United States will be zero so long as the Democrats, and The Times, engage in this low form of debate. For the Times, it is simply shameful that their editorial page has stooped to this level.

The Trenchant Observer

Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

***

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Speech on the floor of the Senate, March 5, 2012. The full text of the speech is found here.

Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency of the U.S., called today in a forceful speech for U.S. bombing of Syria to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

“What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved. But time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.

“The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance – including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.

Noting that the U.S. and many other countries appear to be hedging their bets on Syria, unsure whether Al-Assad will prevail, McCain criticized the utter passivity and lack of contingency planning in NATO and other countries, in the folllowing terms:

“The rhetoric out of NATO has been much more self-defeating. Far from making it clear to Assad that all options are on the table, key alliance leaders are going out of their way to publicly take options off the table. Last week, the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Rasmussen, said that the alliance has not even discussed the possibility of NATO action in Syria – saying, quote, ‘I don’t envision such a role for the alliance.’ The following day, the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO has done no contingency planning – none – for potential military operations in Syria.

“That is not how NATO approached Bosnia. Or Kosovo. Or Libya. Is it now the policy of NATO – or the United States, for that matter – to tell the perpetrators of mass atrocities, in Syria or elsewhere, that they can go on killing innocent civilians by the hundreds or thousands, and the greatest alliance in history will not even bother to conduct any planning about how we might stop them? Is that NATO’s policy now? Is that our policy? Because that is the practical effect of this kind of rhetoric. It gives Assad and his foreign allies a green light for greater brutality.

“Not surprisingly, many countries, especially Syria’s neighbors, are also hedging their bets on the outcome in Syria. They think Assad will go, but they are not yet prepared to put all of their chips on that bet – even less so now that Assad’s forces have broken Homs and seem to be gaining momentum. There is only one nation that can alter this dynamic, and that is us. The President must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so (emphasis added).  It is only when we have clearly and completely committed ourselves that we can expect other countries to do the same. Only then would we see what is really possible in winning international support to stop the killing in Syria .”

Obama’s debacle in Syria has entered the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama appears vulnerable on foreign policy issues. His bet that he could keep Afghanistan out of the election is looking increasingly dubious, as more and more Afghan military and police turn their guns on their U.S. and ISAF partners, and kill them. The assumptions on which the Afghan strategy are based–that we can hand over the military battle with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the Afghan military and police, and that these will perform effectively and in a loyal manner under central government control–seems fatally flawed.

Obama, to some extent at least, has also left himself open to charges from the Republicans that through his inept diplomacy and failure to secure a status of forces agreement and other transitional arrangements with the government of Iraq, U.S. military forces were driven into a precipitous departure, leaving the future of Iraq very much in doubt, with the Shiite dominated government in Bagdad very much in danger of falling under the influence of the Shiite regime in Iran.

Meanwhile, Obama’s famous “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship has failed, spectacularly, as Moscow provides arms and ammunition, and most probably intelligence and other support, to al-Assad, enabling the continuing and wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes thoughout Syria.

Unforeseen events, such as an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, could trigger events that cause the Middle East to spin out of control. It is entirely conceivable that Obama could lose the presidency in significant part because of his foreign policy failures.

The Trenchant Observer

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International Law and the Use of Force: Drones and Real Anarchy Unleashed Upon the World

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Recently a number of articles have been published that are of particular interest with respect to the development and use of drones.

See

William Wan and Peter Finn, “Global race on to match U.S. drone capabilities, Washington Post, July 4, 2011

Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs,” New York Times, June 19, 2011

Peter Beaumont, “Campaigners seek arrest of former CIA legal chief over Pakistan drone attacks: UK human rights lawyer leads bid to have John Rizzo arrested over claims he approved attacks that killed hundreds of people,” The Guardian, July 15.2010

Michael Tennant, “U.S. Begins Drone Strikes in Somalia,” The New American, July 14, 2011

In previous articles, The Trenchant Observer has pointed to some of the troubling issues in international law raised by the use of unpiloted aircraft or drones in situations removed from the active battlefield in an on-going armed conflict.

Now, with other countries driving to develop comparable military capabilities in the form of drones, some as tiny as bugs, the short-sightedness of U.S. military policy regarding drones has come fully into view.

Moreover, as far as is publicly known, the United States has done nothing to develop in cooperation with other countries new international legal regimes and norms that might help to control what appears to be a headlong rush toward real anarchy among the nations of the world.

President Barack Obama rarely, if ever, speaks of international law. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he spoke not of international law and legal norms, but rather of international “rules” or “norms”. The words “international law” are absent from his discourse.

One consequence has been an approach to international law that can be summed up as “If I can get away with it I can do it,” a formulation that goes back to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous dictum about “the bad man theory of law”.

The system of international law is different from the domestic system in which a “bad man” might focus on the law only in terms of what he might be able to get away with. For the nations that are subject to international law are themselves the creators of the norms of international law. They are at once the legislature, the sheriff and the potential offender. This creates a dual responsibility on the part of nation states and their lawyers: They must not simply interpret international legal norms in a permissive way that allows them to do what they want, but also act to safeguard and strengthen the system of international law, and the way international legal norms wiil be interpreted by other countries. This is sometimes referred to by international lawyers as the “double-function” (or “dédoublement fonctionnel”) of international lawyers and states: in choosing a course of action they must not only seek to pursue their own short-term objectives, but also the critically-important longer-term objectives of building a viable international legal order that will contribute to their own security.

It is precisely in this area, of the obligation to build future international norms and regimes, while not weakening those that exist, that the United States has utterly failed with respect to drones. In past eras, legal regimes to prevent the use of space for military purposes, or the seabed, were developed in order to shape the future environment in which force might be employed. This the Obama administration has failed to do with respect to drones, both as a result of a very short-sighted pursuit of immediate military advantages through their use, and as a result of the fact that President Obama does not seem to understand very deeply the function of international law in safeguarding the nation’s security.

To facilitate reflection on these issues and the legality under international law of the use of drones, a review of the following articles previously published here might be useful.

See

UPDATE: Anwar al-Aulaqi: Targeted Killings, Self-Defense, and War Crimes, August 6, 2010

Targeted Killings: U.N. Special Rapporteur Alston Publishes Report to U.N. Human Rights Council, June 2, 2010

Targeted Killings by Drone Aircraft: A View From India, and Some Observations, May 20, 2010

Targeted Assassinations: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, International Law, and Strategic Implications, February 17, 2010

U.S. Targeted Assassinations Violate Citizen’s Right to Life and Due Process, Undercut International Law
February 3, 2010

As Thomas M. Frank (1931-2009), a distinguished international lawyer and professor of international law at New York University, and Edward Weisband once observed, we should be careful whether to observe and how to interpret international law, because “the law you make may be your own.”

See Thomas M. Franck and Edward Weisband, “The Johnson and Brezhnev Doctrines: The Law You Make May Be Your Own,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 22, pp. 979-1014 (1970).

The Trenchant Observer

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UPDATE: Anwar al-Aulaqi: Targeted Killings, Self-Defense, and War Crimes

Friday, August 6th, 2010

UPDATE

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed suit against the Treasury Department for rules that require them to obtain a license before they can challenge the inclusion of Anwar al-Aulaqi on the U.S. list of individiduals who may be targeted for extrajudicial execution.

Spencer S. Hsu, “Civil rights groups sue Treasury over targeting of terror suspects for killing, Washington Post, August 4, 2010

The targeting of Al-Aulaqi raises questions regarding the bases of the international law governing the use of force. Beyond the question of whether the U.S. is or is not violating the most basic norms of iternational law, the Al-Alauqi case raises fundamental questions relating to our international legal strategy and our vision of the future world we hope to shape. On April 7, 2010, we wrote the following:

The United States has gotten itself into a terrible jam, having adopted the legal justification of the Bush administration for targeted killings.

The Washington Post reports today that,

A Muslim cleric tied to the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner has become the first U.S. citizen added to a list of suspected terrorists the CIA is authorized to kill, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

Anwar al-Aulaqi, who resides in Yemen, was previously placed on a target list maintained by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command…

Because he is a U.S. citizen, adding Aulaqi to the CIA list required special approval from the White House, officials said. The move means that Aulaqi would be considered a legitimate target not only for a military strike carried out by U.S. and Yemeni forces, but also for lethal CIA operations.

“He’s in everybody’s sights,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity….

–Greg Miller, “Muslim cleric Aulaqi is 1st U.S. citizen on list of those CIA is allowed to kill,” Washington Post, April 7, 2010

If this death warrant is executed in circumstances that do not justify the use of force in self-defense, either at the international or at the domestic level with the permission of the territorial state, its execution may constitute a war crime.

Some lawyers have won the argument within the Obama administration that it is lawful to kill a member of a terrorist organization, particularly if he has been involved in past acts of terrorism, wherever he can be found.

This argument is based on provisions of humanitarian law or “the law of war” that distinguish between combatants who are lawful targets and non-combatants who are not.

It ignores, however, the fact that provisions of humanitarian law are themselves limited by key provisions of the United Nations Charter, particularly Article 2 paragraph 4 which prohibits the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, except in the case of self-defense against an armed attack as provided in Article 51.

It is universally recognized that Article 2 paragraph 4 is a norm of jus cogens, or mandatory law from which there can be no exception. Humanitarian law grants no right to act beyond the limitations of this prohibition.

The use of lethal force to punish past actions, moreover, constitutes an armed reprisal, which is universally recognized as prohibited by international law.

In other cases, where the territorial state grants its permission to a foreign state to carry out a targeted killing, such a killing is legal under international law only if it meets the requirements of international human rights law. For the territorial state can cede to another state no greater rights than it itself possesses, and indeed it is far from clear that it can do even this.

Both Article 2 paragraph 4 of the Charter and international human rights law allow for the use of lethal force as may be required for self-defense or for self-defense and the defense of others by the authorities of the territorial state.

In both cases the requirement is that force be used only as a last resort against an ongoing or imminent use of force by the target, or after judicial proceedings and due process of law.

This element is initially self-judging in character, opening the door to abuse. However, just as police allegations that they have acted in self-defense are subject to judicial review, the self-defense justification of a state conducting targeted killings, and of the individuals executing the state’s orders, are subject to review by the courts of other countries exercising universal jurisdiction and potentially, at least in the future, by the International Criminal Court. Actions taken by a state in exercise of the right of self-defense are, moreover, to be reported to the U.N. Security Council under Article 51 of the Charter.

The use of force against an individual who has laid down his arms or ceased and desisted from active participation in attacks (or, in the language of humanitarian law, has withdrawn from combat or placed himself hors de combat) is an extrajudicial killing or assassination, and would also constitute a war crime.

The problem here is that the U.S. government has become so accustomed to being prosecutor, judge and executioner that it has forgotten that international legal norms are involved, whose content and validity are necessarily determined by others, and that the ultimate validity of the legal justifications for targeted killings are likely one day to be determined by the judges of an international court or a national court exercising universal jurisdiction.

Just as individuals who participated in the “harsh interrogation techniques” program carried out under the Bush administration would be well advised to carefully choose the countries they travel to, now but also particularly in five or ten years, those individuals currently involved in the targeted killings program should also be very confident they are acting in lawful exercise of the right of self-defense when executing their orders.

For if their actions do not satisfy the requirements of self-defense, they constitute the commission of unlawful assassinations, and probably war crimes. As established at Nuremberg, the argument that such actions were carried out under the orders of superiors, or “due obdience”, is not a permissible defense. Nor is the argument that the defendant believed he was acting in accordance with international law likely to be given any weight as a defense.

The United States has now become an official hit squad, which will go out and kill anyone on its list of targetable individuals.

Yet it is hard to see how the United States can kill its way to peace, in Afghanistan or in the struggle against terrorists in different countries throughout the world.

Whatever the short-term gains from the current approach, and it is far from clear that it does not create more terrorists than it kills, President Obama and his international lawyers need to rethink their approach to targeted killings.

They need to reexamine the issue, both in order to avoid extrajudicial executions and assassinations, and to shape the standards which will also guide other states in the future in deciding whether or not to put someone on a hit list and then to go out and kill him.

It is time to back off from the Wild West, and to return to civilization and the task of building out a viable international legal order.

(end of April 7, 2010 article)

See also the following articles by the Observer:

Targeted Killings by Drone Aircraft: A View From India, and Some Observations, May 20, 2010

Other articles by the Observer on targeted killings may be found by entering “Targeted Killings” in the Search box on the lower right side of the home page.

The Trenchant Observer

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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited.

Targeted Killings: U.N. Special Rapporteur Alston Publishes Report to U.N. Human Rights Council

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010
Predator Drone Firing Hellfire Missile

Predator Drone Firing Hellfire Missile

Today, Philip Alston, a highly distinguished human rights expert and U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, published a report addressing international law issues raised by the policy of “targeted killings”.

See Philip Alston, “Study on Targeted Killings,” (Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, Addendum. (U.N. General Assembly Doc. A/HRC/14/24/Add.6)
May 28, 2010

See also the following:

Peter Finn, “U.N. official: U.S. should end CIA drone attacks in Pakistan,” The Washington Post, May 28,2010

Pankaj Mishra, “America’s exalted capacity for murder, “The Guardian (guardian.co.uk), May 21, 2010

Chase Madar, “How Liberal Law Professors Kill: Harold Koh Learns to Love Bomb Power,” Counterpunch, May 14-16, 2010.

For the most recent article on Targeted Killings (and links to earlier articles) by The Observer, see

“Targeted Killings by Drone Aircraft: A View From India, and Some Observations,”
May 20, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

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Comments are invited.

Targeted Killings by Drone Aircraft: A View From India, and Some Observations

Thursday, May 20th, 2010
Predator Drone Over Kandahar (Photo KirstTV Wigglesworth/AP)

Predator Drone Over Kandahar (Photo KirstTV Wigglesworth/AP)

…..

Quotation

“La guerre, c’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.”

“War is too serious a matter to just be handed over to some military men.”

–Georges Clemenceau.

…..

The following article from India highlights the explosive growth in the use of targeted killings in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theaters, and alludes to their use in other countries as well:

John Cherian, “Predatory strikes,” FRONTLINE: India’s National Magazine (from the publishers of THE HINDU), Vol.27, No. 11 (May 22-June 4, 2010).

Fundamental questions exist about the permissibility of such attacks in situations where they are not conducted in strict compliance with the requirements of immediacy, necessity and proportionality in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense, in accordance with Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

In particular, the legal justification based on the distinction under international humanitarian law between combatants and non-combatants, which is used to justify such attacks against anyone believed to be associated with the Taliban or other insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fails to take into account the fact that Article 2 (4) and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter are  norms of jus cogens, or mandatory norms from which there can be no derogation. In other words, these norms of jus cogens are superior to and limit any rights to use force that may be contained in international humanitarian law.

Consequently, targeted killings by drone aircraft are lawful only to the extent they meet the requirements for responding to an imminent or ongoing “armed attack” against “the territorial integrity or political independence” of Afghanistan or Pakistan, or if conducted with the consent of the territorial state they meet the requirements of international human rights law. International human rights law permits the use of force in self-defense or in defense of others by state authorities. It does not permit the widespread targeting and execution of criminals or terrorists without due process of law, when the requirements of self-defense are not met.

Three distinct bodies of law are relevant here: 1) the international law governing the use of force articulated in Article 2(4) and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which has become customary law and jus cogens; 2) international humanitarian law; and 3) international human rights law. It should be recalled that each of these bodies of law has as among its essential purposes the avoidance or reduction of the killing and injuring of individual human beings. The original purpose of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in international humanitarian law was to limit attacks on civilians and civilian targets in traditional battlefield settings.

It is noteworthy that, according to the article from India, a very large number of innocent civilians have been killed in targeted killings by U.S. drone aircraft.

See also earlier articles by The Observer on the subject of targeted killings:

Anwar al-Aulaqi: Targeted Killings, Self-Defense, and War Crimes
April 7, 2010

Targeted Assassinations: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, International Law, and Strategic Implications
February 17, 2010

U.S. Targeted Assassinations Violate Citizen’s Right to Life and Due Process, Undercut International Law
February 3rd, 2010

The lawfulness of targeted killings by drone aircraft under international law should be of great concern to the United States, for perceptions of legitimacy of its actions involving the use of force are likely to have a broad impact not only on populations in the Middle East and South Asia, but also on the populations and governments of its coalition allies in Afghanistan, as well as on other nations throughout the world.

European allies in a coalition conducting such attacks may be particularly attentive to whteher or not they are conducted in accordance with international law. Article 25 of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz) or Constitution, for example, establishes the following:

Article 25
The general rules of public international law constitute an integral part of federal law. They take precedence over statutes and directly create rights and duties for the inhabitants of the federal territory.

German participation in coalition actions involving targeted killings by drone aircraft in situations where such actions do not meet the requirements of the right of self-defense against armed attack, or self-defense in compliance with international human rights law (when the attacking state is acting with the consent of the territorial state), would appear to present serious legal issues for the German government. Article 25 of the Basic Law includes both customary international law and the special norms of customary international law which have achieved the status of jus cogens.

A further point of interest is that the United States is using non-military personnel to conduct these attacks, whether C.I.A. agents, “contractors” on the ground gathering targeting information and therefore participating in the attacks, or private “contractors” acting as “pilots” of the drones from facilities thousands of miles away.

If some of the actions in which they are participating are not legal under international law, and it is suggested above that many may not be, then these individuals could potentially face criminal liability in the future for the commission of war crimes. While the U.S. has taken vigorous action to prevent its citizens from from being tried either under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court or the universal jurisdiction that may be exercised by national courts of any country when their domestic law authorizes them to do so, the historical trend is in the other direction. It is quite conceivable, if not likely, that within 10 or 20 years these individuals could become subject to arrest and trial when traveling abroad.

In any event, these targeted killings do not seem to be stopping the Taliban, which in Afghanistan still appear to be very present in Marja, the location of a much-touted recent American offensive, as well as in Kandahar province where a huge offensive by the United States and its allies is imminent or perhaps already underway.

The Trenchant Observer

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U.S. Targeted Assassinations Violate Citizen’s Right to Life and Due Process, Undercut International Law

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

In an extraordinary statement, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly told a congressional committee that U.S. intelligence agencies may use lethal force against U.S. citizens abroad without judicial process. The Washington Post reports:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair acknowledged Wednesday that government agencies may kill U.S. citizens abroad who are involved in terrorist activities if they are “taking action that threatens Americans.”

Blair told members of the House intelligence committee that he was speaking publicly about the issue to reassure Americans that intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense “follow a set of defined policy and legal procedures that are very carefully observed” in the use of lethal force against U.S. citizens.

In response to questions from Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the panel’s ranking Republican, Blair said: “We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community. If that direct action, we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”

The director of national intelligence said the factors that “primarily” weigh on the decision to target an American include “whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans.”

Ellen Nakashima, “Intelligence chief acknowledges U.S. may target Americans involved in terrorism,” Washington Post, February 4, 2010.

Does anyone in Washington remember the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United Sates of America, which provides:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Does anyone in Washington remember the Right to Life protected by Article 6 of the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many other international human rights treaties? Under Article 4 of the Covenant, the right to life may not be suspended even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.”

The European Convention on Human Rights contains similar protections in Articles 2 and 6, which must be of great concern to our NATO allies as these provisions are directly binding on them as part of the constitutional law of every European country.

Under international law, the right to use force in self-defense is limited by Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter to cases of “armed attack”, as that term may be interpreted under the rules of interpretation of international law, which are set forth in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The contours of these restrictions were very clearly articulated by the World Court in its 1986 decision in Nicaragua vs. the United States.

Blair’s statement is like a lightning flash illuminating the continuation of policies undertaken in the Bush administration that authorize actions completely outside the framework of international law. These actions, if undertaken by others, would lead to targeted assassinations by other states against their opponents and those who “threaten” them or their citizens, anywhere. An opponent from one state of a regime in a second state could be assassinated in a third state–in Dubai, for example. Or London.

The Bush administration had little concern for international law. It is time to fundamentally rethink the policies involving the use of force that emerged from that cauldron of extraordinary unilateral excess, and to develop policies that are viewed as legitimate by other states–under international law.

President Barack Obama should immediately call for a full review by the Department of Justice and the Department of State as to the legality of targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens abroad, and a full review by the lawyers in the State Department of the policy of targeted assassinations generally and their legality under international law.

The Trenchant Observer

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Comments and debate are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation into English will be sufficient.