As is well known, American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone attack in Yemen on 30 September 2011. He was alleged by the government to have been a “senior talent recruiter” for al-Qaeda, primarily by creating “radicalising” YouTube videos. The administration never charged or indicted him of him with any crime, much less tried him before an impartial tribunal, so his killing should offend the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The Obama Administration doesn’t agree with that straightforward analysis, but was unwilling to reveal the legal basis for their assumption of the power to execute American citizens in secret with no charge, trial, or congressional or judicial oversight. Members of Congress begged the Administration for months following al-Awlaki’s killing for memos explaining the Administration’s position, and finally the Administration deigned earlier this month to yield a draft white paper dated fifteen months ago — not to Congress proper, mind you, but to two of its subcommittees.
That white paper has now been leaked publicly. While it is unclear whether it completely details the Administration’s thinking, the paper is sufficiently devastating that Democratic California Representative Barbara Lee said in an open letter to the Los Angeles Times that it “should shake the American people to the core.” But Obama’s a nice guy, right, so how bad can it really be?
After some serious delays and multiple requests, President Obama finally indicated last Wednesday that he would allow two Congressional committees to see copies of a certain secret memo. What they actually got was a white paper from the Office of Legal Counsel (the part of the Department of Justice which exists to advise the President about the legality of proposed policy) which detailed the Administration’s understanding of when and how it can legally assassinate suspected American terrorists abroad. The straw that broke the camel seems to have been the recent furor over John Brennan’s confirmation hearing to become CIA director, as he is widely understood to be the staunchest advocate of our secret drone war.
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power is frank analysis by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow of the recent rise in American militarism. Fans of her television show will immediately recognize her snarky voice and can-you-believe-this incredulity, which translate effectively to the page. Maddow’s stated goal is encouraging a genuine debate about the role of the military in American life and foreign policy, the usefulness of which is echoed by many of the journalistic elite whose reviews grace Drift‘s covers, including Ira Glass, Tom Brokaw, and even Roger Ailes. I seriously question whether she’s laid on the disdainful snark a bit too thickly for this purpose — skeptics might be turned off rather than engaged — but the book is well researched and smoothly written. At the last, Maddow is hopeful rather than dejected. This creeping militarism, she concludes, is not the result of a conspiracy, but rather the cumulative effect of boneheaded but generally well-meaning politicians and officials doing their inadequate best to try to protect us. And as a result, the damage is reversible. We just need to frankly discuss what has happened.
The third and final presidential debate of this election cycle was to be about foreign policy, just as the first (and the only other which wasn’t a Town Hall format) was to be about domestic policy. That didn’t really come to pass in earnest, and it also happened that this final debate was pretty flat. I think the main reason for that was the broad agreement that both candidates have on their approach to foreign policy: both love Israel, both fear and want to look tough on Iran, and both think America is the greatest thing to have recently happened to the world. This is obviously a bad position for Romney to find himself in as he attempts to convince us that we need a leadership change, which explains how much the debate pivoted back to the economy in variously clever and tired ways. A few interesting things happened, including a few zingers from Obama, but the tone after the tension of the second debate — and the last one before the election — was one of measured caution.
I hesitate to say anything at all about the one and only Vice-Presidential debate of 2012 which happened last Thursday. Full disclosure: I was sloppy drunk while watching it, and I missed some of it while moving among rooms for reasons I don’t need or care to elaborate. I took some notes of what I could hear while many of us were talking over it at an impromptu viewing party that changed venue twice, but they’re mostly illegible. So I’m about to phone this in and I recommend you just stop reading right now. Really. There’s a lot of porn on this internet thing, and if for some reason that isn’t your bag, there are pictures of cats too. So a lot to do. Then again, maybe Biden and Ryan will kiss?
ABC Newsreported on Wednesday that America’s rugged, heroic Olympic athletes will be decked out in some classy duds designed by Ralph Lauren this year for the opening ceremonies in London. The BBC offered the next day that “the classic navy blue blazers, white trousers and skirts, and red-accented ties and berets may have a distinctly American look” that will no doubt have every Real American biting their lips to hold back tears of nationalist joy. But there’s a catch: the uniforms, while designed in the United States, were made in China.
The New York Times dropped a bombshell expose earlier this week when it reported on many details of a ‘Secret Kill List’ that the President heads up. The existence of such a list within the administration isn’t news: the Los Angeles Timesreported more than two years ago about a CIA drone hit list when there was talk of putting US citizen Anwar al-Awalki on it. Of course, he was put on that list and was later executed by drone to much fanfare.
What is new information is the personal role that Obama himself takes in deciding who lives and who dies. According to Tuesday’s Times article, “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”
Wikileaks announced today that it will be publishing another massive dump of leaked documents that “date from between July 2004 and late December 2011” in the coming weeks. This time, it’s an archive of more than five million internal emails from the “global intelligence” firm Stratfor, founded during the Clinton administration and headquartered in Austin, Texas. Wikipedia says Stratfor is actually short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc, and the obnoxious smartness of the branding is, I think, an insight to the nature of the company. According to their website, Stratfor is a “subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis” whose goal is “to make the complexity of the world understandable to an intelligent readership, without ideology, agenda or national bias.” Their website main page looks a lot like that of a typical news and analysis organ, complete with a hierarchy of chronological stories and quick links (compare it with BBC News).
This is the same Stratfor that made news last Baby Jesus Day when Anonymous claimed it had hacked the intelligence service’s website and stolen unencrypted passwords and credit card information belonging to its subscribers. Anonymous then used that information to make donations to various charities, and it published the subscriber list, which was reported at the time to include Apple, the Miami Police Department, and the US Air Force. Wikileaks now adds to that partial list “Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency.” I find it comforting to know that the same intelligence group on which hugely influential organizations in both the public and private sectors rely didn’t encrypt sensitive information, but it does seem that they had managed to pull the full list from the web (look at this and this, or more accurately, don’t).
The establishment media have been cheerleading for military action against Iran for some time now. In October, the Justice Department announced it was charging two men in connection with a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Despite the clear absurdities of this charge — that a clumsy used-car salesman from Texas met with undercover DEA agents posing as members of narcotics cartel to try to hire Mexican hit men to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., all under the direction of the Iranian government through an illegally travelling member of its Quds security force — the scaremongering was off to the races. The day the DOJ announced the charge and arrest of the car salesman at JFK airport, the Wall Street Journal published this op-ed, calling the affair “a sobering wake-up call” and instructing us that this “appalling news needs to be placed in the broader context of Iran’s behavior.”