The Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. In a secret Justice Department memo, the administration claims it has legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the United States.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “If you look at the memo … there’s no geographic line,” says Jaffer. “The Obama administration is making, in some ways, a greater claim of authority [than President Bush]. They’re arguing that the authority to kill American citizens has no geographic limit.”
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield.
The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice.
In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.
UK deploys toy-sized spy drones in Afghanistan February 4, 2013
British troops in Afghanistan are now using 10-centimeter-long 16-gram spy helicopters to survey Taliban firing spots. The UK Defense Ministry plans to buy 160 of the drones under a contract worth more than $31 million.
The remote-controlled PD-100 PRS aircraft, dubbed the Black Hornet, is produced by Norwegian designer Prox Dynamics. The drone is a traditional single-rotor helicopter, scaled down to the size of a toy. British troops use the drones for reconnaissance missions, sending them ahead to inspect enemy positions.
Each drone is equipped with a tiny tillable camera, a GPS coordinate receiver and an onboard autopilot system complete with gyros, accelerometers and pressure sensors, which keeps it stable in flight against winds as strong as 10 knots, according to reviews. The tiny aircraft is agile enough to fly inside compounds, and is quiet enough not to attract unwanted attention. If detected, the drones are cheap enough to be considered expendable.
The auto-pilot either follows a preprogrammed flight plan or receives commands from a manual control station, which is about the size of a large smartphone. The drone’s camera can feed compressed video or still images to an operator up to a kilometer away, and its rechargeable battery provides power for about 30 minutes of flight.
In addition to the drone and the controller, each system comes with a ground base station, which houses the operating system, main electronics, internal batteries and chargers. It also protects the drone while being transported. The weight of the entire kit is about a kilogram, easily portable in the field.
Prox Dynamics started working on the nano-drone in 2008, and released a video of the first prototype in flight a year later. The manufacturer initially planned for it to be put to civilian use, to scout sites of natural or man-made disasters for survivors and provide intel to rescue teams. A marketable version of the Black Hornet was first presented at the Counter Terrorist Expo in London in April 2012.
The British Ministry of Defense announced last November that it was awarding Prox Dynamics a contract to supply the drones to its troops in Afghanistan. The initial contract is worth about $4 million, but will likely be expanded to more than $31 million.
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.” In a separate talk at the Northwestern University Law School in March, Attorney General Eric Holder specifically endorsed the constitutionality of targeted killings of Americans, saying they could be justified if government officials determine the target poses “an imminent threat of violent attack.”
But the confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches. It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.
Meanwhile, survivors of three Americans killed in 2011 by targeted drone attacks in Yemen, including survivors of al-Awlaki, have sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging they illegally killed the three, including a 16-year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the U.S. Constitution.
A new poll has found that the majority of Americans approve of the US government’s drone campaign, which targets extremist leaders in the Middle East while also killing 49 civilians for each terrorist.
Pew Research found that in 17 out of 20 countries surveyed, more than half disapprove of the strikes, while 62 percent of Americans support the targeted-killing initiative. — Published: 03 October, 2012 …http://rt.com/usa/news/drone-strikes-pew-cia-603/
With the US’s dramatic expansion of drone use for both surveillance and targeted bombings, a veritable arms race in unmanned aerial vehicles has begun, prompting concern from some in Washington worried about international rivals using drones like the US does.
“The number of countries that have acquired or developed drones expanded to more than 75, up from about 40 in 2005, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress,” USA Today reports.
Both China and Japan are working on sophisticated drone technology as their territorial disputes get more intense. Pakistan is also attempting to acquire armed drone systems, apparently with help from China. And Iran is known to have fielded their own drones.
Even the United Nations has expressed interest in acquiring their own drones, reportedly for use in peacekeeping missions.
The proliferation of drone technology is justifiably generating some concern in Washington. The prospect of other countries using drones in the same lawless, lethal, unaccountable way the US has is unnerving to Americans, who have long believed they should not be subject to the rules everybody else must follow.
But “when the first Iranian or Russian or Chinese missile-armed drones start knocking off their chosen sets of ‘terrorists,’ we won’t like it one bit,” Engelhardt warns. “Then let’s see what we think about the right of any nation to summarily execute its enemies—and anyone else in the vicinity—by drone.”