More Questions for Brennan

Mary Ellen O’Connell follows up her op-ed on CNN.com with an op-ed in the New York Times. Here’s a snippet:

When Hellfire missiles were first used in drone strikes to kill outside a combat zone — in Yemen, in 2002 — six men died, including an American. A United Nations special rapporteur declared the action unlawful, but C.I.A. drone attacks have increased substantially since then: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization in London, estimates the number of persons killed in drone attacks at 3,000 to 4,500, including well over 200 children.

Today, the United States is involved in a true armed conflict only in Afghanistan. Yet drone attacks have been carried out in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and may soon begin in Libya, Mali and Nigeria. None of these countries have attacked America, so no right of self-defense can be invoked under the United Nations Charter, as the white paper asserts.

The Bush administration memos that attempted to justify torture, indefinite detention and illegal wiretapping have been widely rejected. How, then, can Mr. Brennan and other advisers to Mr. Obama (a former lecturer on constitutional law) condone this spurious effort to justify targeted killings?

Terms like “armed conflict,” “combat” and “battlefield” are integral to the proper functioning of human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. Such definitions are well established and can no more be tampered with to suit the administration’s preferences than can the definition of torture. Sadly, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which under Mr. Bush drafted the notorious memo that narrowly construed torture as severe pain causing “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” has now, under Mr. Obama, drafted the targeted-killings document.

Whether you agree or not, I think she’s raising some important issues.

My own view is that, first and foremost, the Patriot Act should be repealed. We must have limits to what is done in the name of national security and two successive administrations have stretched the provisions of the Patriot Act far beyond what I believe it was intended to accomplish. I’d like to see Congress exercising more scrutiny but when even bipartisan calls for more openness on the part of the administration and enhanced scrutiny are met with claims of partisan or even racial bias, it’s hard to envision that taking place.

6 comments… add one

  • PD Shaw

    Again, it would be useful if she explained international law with respect to missile attacks against bin Laden before 9/11. All of this focus on the waterboarding seems to be an odd appeal to equivalency, a political argument of some sort I don’t understand. Harold Koh is a respected international lawyer, whom she mentions, but does not engage his arguments other than to point out he was opposed to waterboarding, so apparently he should be opposed to drone attacks. Why? Has he gone off the reservation?

  • jan

    The left wing Guardian paper has a story that should pique some concerns regarding the seemingly increasing collusion of media with the Obama administration in what news is deemed worth investigating and reporting. I strongly noted this in the Benghazi incident, which I still look at as a coverage failure (one of many, IMHO), in order to not rock Obama’s pre-election boat. Even the instapundit blog introduced the Guardian link with this comment:

    SEE, THIS IS WHY, IF YOU DON’T LIKE THAT SORT OF THING, YOU SHOULD WANT A REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT — THEY GET MORE MEDIA SCRUTINY.

    For instance, if Benghazi had been on a republican president’s watch, the MSM would have literally been digging through garbage to find out the real story behind the death of a diplomat, his aid and 2 Navy Seals. As it is, 5 months later, after a multitude of stalls, omissions, and errors we are having people like the departing SOS and now Panetta on the hot seat, having sufficient time to construct patented answers for whatever ‘grilling’ they were to receive on this continuing to be puzzling but faded terrorist incident.

    However, it is the Guardian who is calling into question major news organizations, like the NYT and WaPo, on their reporting practices, dealing with drone killings, only now splashing across the news pages:

    US news organisations are facing accusations of complicity after it emerged that they bowed to pressure from the Obama administration not to disclose the existence of a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia despite knowing about it for a year.

    Amid renewed scrutiny over the Obama administration’s secrecy over its targeted killing programme, media analysts and national security experts said the revelation that some newspapers had co-operated over the drone base had reopened the debate over the balance between freedom of information and national security.

  • PD Shaw

    BTW/ Here is a good summary of Harold Koh’s position on the legality of the drone strikes and response to objections, including O’Connell’s. My question to her would be whether she feels that her claims of legal authority require any consideration of domestic law? She seems to be particularly hostile to the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, which was passed with bi-partisan support in Congress, executed by Presidents of both parties, and approved at least indirectly by the Supreme Court in multiple cases concerning its application.

  • We must have limits to what is done in the name of national security and two successive administrations have stretched the provisions of the Patriot Act far beyond what I believe it was intended to accomplish

    But…Obama is a great guy! He gave us GM. Just ask Michael.

    Oh, sorry his mouth is full.

    I’d like to see Congress exercising more scrutiny but when even bipartisan calls for more openness on the part of the administration and enhanced scrutiny are met with claims of partisan or even racial bias, it’s hard to envision that taking place.

    I want a pony! And I think I’ll get one before you get the above Dave.

    But keep up that optimism!

  • Icepick

    Oh, sorry his mouth is full.

    Heheheh.

  • Andy

    Im Travelling with not much opportunity to comment. Ill just pass this along for discussion:

    http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/justice-department-memo-evidences-confusion

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