I would invite Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee to travel to Abyan province in Yemen, where I was a few months ago, and meet with the Bedouin villagers of al-Majalah, where more than 40 people were killed, several dozen of them women and children, their bodies shredded into meat with U.S. cluster bombs, and then come back and go on national television and talk about single digits. There were over 40 people killed in one strike alone. And you know what? That wasn’t even a drone strike. That was a cruise missile strike. Everyone is talking about drones these days and obsessed with drones. The U.S. uses AC-130 gunships, night raids, Tomahawk cruise missile strikes. Some of the most devastating strikes were not even drone attacks. So, you know, this Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight. … They allowed John Brennan to say repeatedly, ‘Well, I’m not a lawyer,’ while simultaneously saying, ‘Everything we’ve done is perfectly legal.’ And then they say, ‘Well, what about torture?’ And he goes, ‘Well, I’m not a lawyer, and that has legal implications.’ I mean, what kind of a show is this? I mean, what does this say about our society when this is the extent of the debate we can have when an administration in power has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens and foreigners alike around the world without trial? I mean, it’s devastating. It should be a very sobering moment for all of us.Jeremy Scahill: Assassinations of U.S. Citizens Largely Ignored at Brennan CIA Hearing
‘One of the problems is, once the drone program is so public, and one American is caught up, people don’t know much about this one “American citizen”—so called. … When people hear “American,” they think someone who’s upstanding. And this man was not upstanding by a long shot,’ said Senator Dianne Feinstein, in her questioning of John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for C.I.A. director, on Thursday. … ‘Proud,’ ‘upstanding,’ ‘so-called American’—is this the basis on which the Senate is judging fundamental questions of American rights and due process? Before the hearing, I wondered what picture of Americans we were supposed to have when we heard about the executive giving itself the power to kill them. Feinstein could hardly have given a less reassuring answer. When and on what basis will any of us get a ‘so-called’ in front of our nationality? That there may have been a good deal of evidence against al-Awlaki is why his case should have gone before a court, not why it shouldn’t have.
Amy Davidson, John Brennan’s C.I.A. Director Hearings and the So-Called Americans
The second, and in my view, more likely road to wimpdom is a showtrial with an innocent verdict. That is, Brennan will be hard-questioned and then confirmed. Note that the implication will then be that the Senate will have thus confirmed the policy while pretending to dislike it. Look for this outcome unless the Republicans rear their heads. (But don’t bet on Republican relief. We’re talking about blood here, kills, and Republicans love their manhoods just as much.)
[Dianne Feinstein’s] questions weren’t just slow-pitch softball; it was as if someone tweaked the settings on the pitching machine to “Half-Blind One-Armed Opponent Taking Their First Cuts Minutes After Learning of the Existence of Softball as a Game.”
Feinstein’s exercise omitted a central conceit of the rule of law: If convicting al-Awlaki was so easy, it presumably would have been just as easy before his assassination. The U.S. had roughly a year to conduct a show trial between the time they defined al-Awlaki as an existential threat and the time they killed him. The facile ease with which Feinstein promulgated this legalistic sleight-of-hand only highlighted the craven reasons for doing so. … Brennan also made a point that these targeted killings were legal only because they prevent imminent threats to the United States, as opposed to being retributive sentences carried out for existing crimes. This made the Awlaki klatsch with Feinstein even more of a Kafkaesque absurdity. After calmly engaging in the post facto conviction of a man they’d already killed, Brennan proudly stated that drone assassinations target what you might as well call Futurecrime—the proof of which he theoretically could show the committee, maybe. Brennan spends his off hours floating naked in water, in a bald cap, waiting for Tom Cruise to show up to hear him predict the transgressions of tomorrow. Unless his agent at 1600 Penn authorizes it, he’s only talking to Cruise.Mobutu Sese Seko
If you’re looking for a takeaway from White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, all you need is a line from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who wanted to assure Brennan that he would keep questions short.
“I noticed you’re on your fourth glass of water,” Burr said, “and I don’t want to be accused of waterboarding you.” Plenty of people on the august panel of senators laughed at that one, because war crimes are funny.
The Obama administration reacted to the outcry by agreeing to provide the committee with copies of their full legal justification for the drone program, from which the 16-page précis was drawn. By yesterday, though, those full papers still hadn’t arrived. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) both seemed upset. Other senators mentioned it, but it wasn’t pressing. This is Need-To-Know-Eventually stuff; after a couple years, why rush it?
The centerpiece of the afternoon’s pitiable exercise was a kangaroo court held between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Brennan. Her questions weren’t just slow-pitch softball; it was as if someone tweaked the settings on the pitching machine to “Half-Blind One-Armed Opponent Taking Their First Cuts Minutes After Learning of the Existence of Softball as a Game.”
Feinstein was downright plummy. Was it not true that Anwar al-Awlaki was a very bad man, Mr. Brennan? And Mr. Brennan said yes. Was it not true that you had proof of al-Awlaki’s involvement with many very bad things? And Mr. Brennan said yes. They both saw the necessity of what was done, and it was good. [READ]
In a NYT article about the Senate hearing on Brennan’s nomination to be C.I.A. Director, we are told:
Adding a new element to the roiling debate [about targeted killing by drone strikes — but good lord, what “roiling debate”??], the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said she would review proposals to create a court to oversee targeted killings. She gave no details but said such a court would be analogous to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees eavesdropping on American soil.
Mr. Brennan was noncommittal, noting that lethal operations are generally the sole responsibility of the executive branch. But he said the administration had “wrestled with” the concept of such a court and called the idea “certainly worthy of discussion.”
The FISA court is regarded by almost everyone as an admirable model for oversight of especially sensitive issues. This is because almost everyone is irredeemably stupid. You may sense a theme here, just as you may conclude that I have run out of patience on these points. You have no idea. Does anyone appreciate what the FISA court represents and what it actually does?
I must immediately interject that to discuss these issues [pertaining to liberty and privacy] with regard to FISA is ludicrous in a much deeper sense. As Jonathan Turley explains here, FISA itself is a secret court whose very purpose is to circumvent the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The FISA court is no protection against illegitimate government intrusion at all. But as Turley notes, that we are fighting over whether to grant the executive branch and FISA still more untrammeled authority to disregard constitutional rights is a measure of how far we have already marched toward tyranny. And look at this chart to see just how compliant the FISA court is.
Take a careful look at that chart, which now includes data up to and including 2011. Here’s the link again. In 2010, 1,579 FISA applications were presented; 1, 579 were approved. In 2011, 1,745 FISA applications were presented; 1,745 were approved.
The chart begins with 1979. In all the years from 1979 through 2011, applications were not immediately approved in only five years. Out of the many thousands of applications presented, a total of 11 were not approved. If you read the footnotes, you discover that even the “rejections” were usually not ultimate “denials of the requested authority”; the government would make minor modifications to the application in question, and it was then approved. In other words, the FISA court is a governmental rubber stamp of the first order. It represents no meaningful oversight in any manner whatsoever.
And this is regarded as a model of “oversight” — and this is the model touted as one to be utilized for applications to murder people on the basis of inconclusive, erroneous, or entirely non-existent information (non-existent with regard to particular individuals in the case of “signature strikes” — see this post for further discussion of these points). All of which is to say that, even if there were some court to “oversee” the administration’s Murder Program, it would represent only the most superficial procedural camouflage for what would remain a monstrous evil. [++]
I think it is important, especially for those of us who oppose the vile, barbaric practices of this abominable State, always to keep in mind just how pathetically dumb and inept these people are when considered individually. As I watch these ludicrous buffoons go through their paces — and the Brennan hearing is entirely typical of all such hearings, commissions, etc. — I often think that a strong, persistent gust of wind would simply sweep all of them away, and onto the stomach-churning dung heap where they fully deserve to spend the rest of their days. … But about the question of oversight, and the related pleas for ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’: keep in mind what the Murder Program is. The executive branch claims that it can murder anyone it chooses anywhere in the world, for any reason it wishes. Someone needs to explain to me how oversight, accountability and transparency will make such a program better. But they can’t explain that — because it cannot be done. A program that is evil in the manner the Murder Program is evil cannot be ‘improved,’ or ‘managed’ so as to make it decent and humane. The Murder Program is an abomination. You don’t ‘fix’ abominations of this kind. You end them. You end them this very moment.
… William Webster spent years trying to figure out whether FBI should have known [Fort Hood shooter Nidal] Hasan was planning an attack from the emails, which is a much closer call. But even after reading everything that might have transpired between the two, no one believes that Awlaki had anything more than an inspirational role.
And yet one of the only four people outside the Administration who has attested to the legality of the strike on Awlaki thinks this should be part of the case to justify a due process free execution.
It got worse from there. She went on to insist that [rough transcript] “Awlaki was not, by far, an American citizen of whom America would be proud.”
But like writing a bunch of First Amendment protected hateful propaganda, being “an American of whom America would not be proud” is not reason to be executed.
During [John Brennan’s confirmation] hearing, [Senator Dianne] Feinstein forcefully insisted that the CIA’s drone strikes kill only “single digits” of civilians annually, and even ran through a list of accusations against Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen and al-Qaida propagandist the U.S. killed in Yemen in 2011, to underscore her belief in the legitimacy of the killing. She suggested that media reports and nongovernmental organization studies claiming larger percentages of civilian deaths from the highly-classified program are ignorant. Feinstein emphasized that the CIA has hosted committee staff over 30 times to conduct oversight over the drone program.
“It’s our belief, based on that, that the intelligence used is very careful and very good,” she said. “It’s also our belief that the collateral damage spelled out in the papers is wrong. But the only way to correct it is to say what we believe is correct, and we are told we cannot do that.”
Yet Feinstein and several other senators during the hearing said the CIA materially misrepresented to Congress key facts about the quality of information it received from its post-9/11 torture and detentions program. That revelation came from the committee’s recently completed 6000-page report into those programs. But since the report is still classified, senators couldn’t say outright that the CIA lied to them. Brennan said that the misstatements made by CIA about torture called into question the basis for his public statements years ago that torture extracted valuable information for counterterrorist operations. “I have to determine what the truth is,” Brennan said.
But if the CIA misled Congress about torture, how can the committee be confident it’s not misleading Congress about civilian deaths from drones?
“That’s a good question, actually,” Feinstein said when Danger Room asked. “That’s a good question.” [++]