Thursday, July 18, 2013
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) earlier this week rejected hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees' suit for an injunction against the government to stop it from force-feeding them. The ruling in Aamer v. Obama is the second recent case coming out of the federal courts rejecting an anti-force-feeding claim. Here's our post on the first.
Judge Collyer, like Judge Kessler in the earlier case, ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2), which deprives courts of jurisdiction to hear an action related to "any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement" of an alien detainee at Guantanamo.
Judge Collyer went on to address the merits, too. She wrote that the government is "responsible for taking reasonable steps to guarantee the safety of inmates in their charge," that there is no right to suicide or assisted suicide, and that the government has a legitimate penological interest in preventing suicide. Moreover, she wrote that the government has put controls in place so that the procedure really isn't so bad, and that the government made adjustments to the force-feeding schedule for the Ramadan fast.
July 18, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Nasser al-Awlaki writes in the NYT today that "[t]he Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable" for the targeted killing of his grandson, Abdulrahman. Al-Awlaki is also the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, also targeted and killed in a drone strike.
Al-Awlaki writes just a day before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia will hear oral arguments on the government's motion to dismiss his case (on Friday). [UPDATE: The argument is tomorrow, Friday.] We previously posted on that case here; the Center for Constitutional Rights has its case resource page here. The government argues that the issue is a political question, that special factors counsel against a monetary damages remedy, and that officials enjoy qualified immunity.
Al-Awlaki's earlier suit, to stop the government from killing his son Anwar, was dismissed. That court ruled that al-Awlaki lacked standing and failed to allege a violation of the Alien Tort Statute, and that the case raised non-justiciable political questions.
Here's our post on the DOJ white paper, the administration's analysis (leaked) on why targeted killing of U.S. citizens is legal.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Judge Royce C. Lamberth (D.D.C.) ruled last week in In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litigation that Joint Detention Group, or JDG, restrictions on Guantanamo detainees' access to counsel violated the detainees' right to habeas proceedings in federal court. The ruling was the second last week that invoked an increasingly personal challenge to President Obama and his policies on detention at Guantanamo Bay. We posted on the other case, involving forced-feeding, here.
The court struck new and invasive search protocol for detainees before and after they meet with counsel; restrictions on the locations within the facility where certain detainees can meet with counsel; and even the new vans that guards use to transport detainees to meetings with counsel. (The new vans are designed such that detainees have to sit in stress positions while traveling to their meetings with their attorneys.) The court struck the restrictions under Turner v. Safley (1987), which set out factors to balance the interests in prison administration against the prisoners' fundamental rights. In short, the court held that the restrictions had no "valid, rational connection" to the legitimate government interest of security, and that the government could serve that interest in other ways without unduly affecting the prison.
The case is notable for its close oversight of the conditions at Guantanamo that interfere with the detainees' access to their attorneys, and thus their access to habeas. It's also notable for the courts increasingly personal appeals to, and critiques of, President Obama, his announced policies, and the way those policies play on the ground. Judge Lamberth started the opinion with this:
On May 23, 2013, President Obama promised, concerning detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, that "[w]here appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and our military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee." This matter concerns whether the President's insistence on judicial review may be squared with the actions of his commanders in charge of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Currently, it cannot.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) this week reluctantly denied a Guantanamo detainee's plea to stop his force-feeding. Detainee Jihad Dhiab requested expidited consideration because of the risk that force-feeding during the day will deprive him of the Ramadan fast, which started July 8.
Dhiab is an 11-year detainee at Guantanamo who has received no habeas or military commission proceeding to determine the merits of his case. He was cleared for release two years ago.
Judge Kessler wrote that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear Dhiab's petition, because 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2) deprives courts of jurisdiction to hear an action related to "any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement" of an alien detainee at Guantanamo. She wrote that "the Court feels just as constrained now, as it felt in 2009, to deny this Petitioner's Application for lack of jurisdiction."
Judge Kessler went on to address the merits, though, and to urge President Obama to stop the force-feeding:
The Court also feels constrained, however, to note that Petitioner has set out in great detail in his papers what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. . . .
Even tough this Court is obligated to dismiss the Application for lack of jurisdiction, and therefore lacks any authority to rule on Petitioner's request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue. . . .
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that "[t]he Preisdent shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . ." It would seem to follow, therefore, that the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority--and power--to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The White House responded at the daily press briefing yesterday that the President doesn't want these detainees to die, and that he maintains his position that Guantanamo should close.
July 10, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
The Senate Judiciary Committee today questioned James Comey, Jr., President Obama's pick to replace Robert Mueller as the head of the FBI. Comey was a deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush who gained fame after his 2004 confrontation with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card over that administration's secret surveillance program at the hospital bedside of former AG John Ashcroft. But, as Rick Perlstein argues at The Nation, and as Laura Murphy argues at the Guardian, Comey's record is a little more complicated.
As has been widely reported, Comey today told the Committee that he thought waterboarding was torture. The Atlantic Wire has a summary of his responses to other, similar issues. Here's the hearing on c-span.org.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, today asked the Supreme Court to vacate the order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, compelling the disclosure of domestic phone records by Verizon. We previously posted on the FISC order here.
EPIC filed a petition for a writ of mandamus directly with the Supreme Court, bypassing the usual route through the lower courts, because of the unique nature of the FISC order. EPIC claims that FISC Judge Roger Vinson ordered the disclosure of domestic phone records in violation of the FISC's statutory authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. But EPIC says that under the FISA, the only court that can reverse Judge Vinson's order is the Supreme Court. Moreover, the order creates exceptional circumstances relating to the invasion of privacy, privileged communications, and the First Amendment that warrant mandamus relief. Thus, the mandamus petition.
On the merits, EPIC argues that Judge Vinson exceeded his authority under FISA:
[T]he FISC issued an order requiring disclosure of records for all telephone communications "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." The Business Records provision does not enable this type of domestic programmatic surveillance.
Specifically, the statute requires that production orders be supported by "reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation. . . . ." 50 U.S.C. Sec. 1861(b)(2)(A). It is simply unreasonable to conclude that all telephone records for all Verizon customers in the United States could be relevant to an investigation. Thus, the FISC simply "ha[d] no judicial power to do what it purport[ed] to do."
Petition at 18.
EPIC also argues that the order violates the separation of powers, insofar as it compels the disclosure of phone records of the judicial and legislative branches to the executive branch.
July 8, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, June 21, 2013
The Newseum will host a special program NSA Surveillance Leaks: Facts and Fiction on Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at 4:00 p.m., at the Knight TV Studio in Washington, D.C. More information is here; the program will be streamed live online at newseum.org.
The program includes an introduction by ABA President Laurel Bellows and a panel of experts on national security law, free speech, and the press. Harvey Rishikof, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Law and the National Security Advisory Committee, will moderate. James Duff, president and CEO of the Freedom Forum and CEO of the Newseum, will deliver welcoming remarks.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
President Obama spoke out today on his administration's use of drone attacks and argued (again) for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in a speech that looked to wind down the war on terror. Politico reports here.
President Obama's speech came the same day as the administration released a "fact sheet" on U.S. policy standards and procedures for drone strikes and other hostile actions against terrorist suspects outside the United States and areas of active hostilities. According to the document, there's a preference for capture (and other reasonable alternatives) over killing, but still the document sets out standards for the use of lethal force:
First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force, whether it is against a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks.
Second, the United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.
Third, the following criteria must be met before lethal action may be taken:
1. Near certainty that the terrorist target is present;
2. Near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed;
3. An assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation;
4. An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons; and
5. An assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat to the U.S. person.
Finally, whenever the United States uses force in foreign territories, international legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally--and on the way in which the United States can use force. The United States respects national sovereignty and international law.
The "fact sheet" makes some changes in emphasis and language, but seems to basically leave in place the substance of the three-part test outlined earlier this year in the White Paper. The "fact sheet" emphasizes rule-of-law principles and broad government decisionmaking and oversight over hostilities, but it does not specifically address or define "imminence" or the process by which the administration will designate a person a target. (Recall that the White Paper looked specifically at the question when lethal force could be used against a U.S. citizen who is a senior leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force; the "fact sheet" sweeps in a broader class of potential targets. Recall, too, that the White Paper defined imminence rather broadly, and it counterbalanced a target's interest in life with the U.S. interest in forestalling attacks on other Americans, under Mathews v. Eldridge.) The upshot: only time will tell whether the Fact Sheet represents a real change in the way the administration actually executes drone attacks.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The ACLU and 19 other organizations sent a letter this week to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel opposing the military's force-feeding hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay. According to the ACLU, 29 detainees are currently being force-fed. We previously posted on a ruling by New York's high court upholding the practice of force-feeing in New York prisons.
The military's standard operating procedures (SOP) on fasting and force-feeding changed just recently (published on Al Jazeera), loosening protections against force-feeding. (The earlier SOP is here.) Most notably, the recent changes to the SOP charge the military commander of the base, not a medical doctor, with determining who is a hunger striker.
Here's the ACLU's legal case against force-feeding, from this week's coalition letter to Secretary Hagel:
Force-feeding as used in Guantanamo violates Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which bar cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. It also could violate the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibits the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of prisoners "regardless of nationality or physical location." Indeed, a 2006 joint report submitted by five independent human rights experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights) found that the method of force-feeding then used in Guantanamo, and which appears to remain in effect today, amounted to torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United States ratified in 1994. The report asserted that doctors and other health professionals authorizing and participating in force-feeding prisoners were violating the right to health and other human rights, including those guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States ratified in 1992. Those concerns were reiterated this month by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and three UN Special Rapporteurs.
While the letter focuses on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, there may be other problems with force-feeding, too. For example, force-feeding may infringe on hunger-striking detainees' free speech. But First Amendment claims by hunger-strikers in regular detention in the U.S. have not been successful; Guantanamo Bay detainees would almost certainly face even steeper First Amendment challenges in the courts. There's also the right to refuse medical treatment. As Michael Dorf (DorfonLaw.org) argues at jurist.org, "five Justices in [Cruzan v. Dir. Missouri Dep''t of Health] did say that they thought that competent adults have the right to refuse forced feeding, even if death will result." But that runs up against Washington v. Harper, holding that prison officials could override a prisoner's objection to forcibly being administered medication, assuming it's in the prisoner's medical interest.
Anyway, as Dorf points out, some Guantanamo detainees might have a hard time even bringing a case. Judge Kessler (D.D.C) dismissed a detainee force-feeding case in 2009, based on the jurisdiction-stripping provision in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That provision says,
Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 1005(e) of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
The difference here is that some of the hunger-strikers now have been cleared for release--the U.S. just can't find a place to send them. Those detainees are not "determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or [are] awaiting such determination," and are not barred by 2241(e)(2) from bringing suit.
May 15, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Medical Decisions, News, Speech, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 22, 2013
The Obama Administration has given us just a glimpse of its legal analysis authorizing its use of drone attacks on U.S. citizens in a foreign country outside the zone of active hostilities. And that mere glimpse contains a telling, and deeply troubling, reference to an earlier episode, Nixon's bombing of Cambodia, writes Professor Mary Dudziak (Emory), author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, in the NYT.
Dudziak points to a citation to a 1970 speech by Department of State Legal Adviser John R. Stevenson in the recently released "white paper" setting out the administration's legal justification for drone attacks. In that speech, Stevenson argued that the U.S. had authority to take military action in Cambodia in self-defense against North Vietnamese attacks from that country. Dudziak explains:
Since 1965, "the territory of Cambodia has been used by North Vietnam as a base of military operations," [Stevenson] told the New York City Bar Association. "It long ago reached a level that would have justified us in taking appropriate measures of self-defense on the territory of Cambodia. However, except for scattered instances of returning fire across the border, we refrained until April from taking such action in Cambodia."
But there was a problem:
In fact, Nixon had begun his secret bombing of Cambodia more than a year earlier. (It is not clear whether Mr. Stevenson knew this.) So the Obama administration's lawyers have cited a statement that was patently false.
Here's the full paragraph from page 4 of the white paper:
The Department has not found any authority for the proposition that when one of the parties to an armed conflict plans and executes operations from a base in a new nation, an operation to engage the enemy in that location cannot be part of the original armed conflict, and thus subject to the laws of war governing that conflict, unless the hostilities become sufficiently intense and protracted in the new location. That does not appear to be the rule of the historical practice, for example, even in a traditional international conflict [i.e., a conflict between nations]. See John R. Stevenson, Legal Adviser, Department of State, United States Military Action in Cambodia: Questions of International Law, Address before the Hammarskjold Forum of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (May 28, 1970), in 3 The Vietnam War and International Law: The Widening Context 23, 28-30 (Richard A. Falk, ed. 1972) (arguing that in an international armed conflict, if a neutral state has been unable for any reason to prevent violations of its neutrality by the troops of one belligerent using its territory as a base of operations, the other belligerent has historically been justified in attacking those enemy forces in that state). Particularly in a non-international armed conflict, where terrorist organizations may move their base of operations from one country to another, the determination of whether a particular operation would be part of an ongoing armed conflict would require consideration of the particular facts and circumstances in each case, including the fact that transnational non-state organizations such as al-Qa'ida have no single site serving as their base of operations. [Citation omitted.]
Dudziak argues that the citation to Nixon's bombing of Cambodia illustrates a problem, instead of providing a precedent:
The Cambodia bombing, far from providing a valuable precedent for today's counterterrorism campaign, illustrates the trouble with secrecy: It doesn't work. If Nixon had gone to Congress or announced the plan publicly, the historian Jeffrey P. Kimball has written, "there would have been an uproad." But disclosure was ultimately forced upon him when he decided to send ground troops into Cambodia. A new wave of giant antiwar protests erupted, and Nixon's ability to take further aggressive action became infeasible.
She writes that we expect more, and deserve more, of President Obama.
Friday, March 15, 2013
The D.C. Circuit today rejected the CIA's non-response to the ACLU's FOIA request for documents related to the government's drone program and allowed the case to move forward. Still, the ruling doesn't ensure that anyone will actually receive documents. That's a question for the district court on remand.
The case, ACLU v. CIA, involves the ACLU's FOIA request for "records pertaining to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles ('UAVs')--commonly referred to as 'drones' . . .--by the CIA and the Armed Forces for the purpose of killing targeted individuals." The CIA responded with a Glomar response--declining either to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive records. The CIA claimed that confirming the existence of documents would confirm that it is involved in, or interested in, drone strikes, while denying the existence would confirm the opposite. According to the CIA, its involvement or interest in drone strikes fell under exceptions to the FOIA.
The D.C. Circuit disagreed. It ruled that the government had already publicized the targeted-killing-by-drone program, and that even the CIA chief had revealed its existence and the Agency's interest in it. Because the reasons for withholding the documents wasn't really a reason, in light of these disclosures, the court said that the CIA can't hide behind a Glomar response.
Moreover, the CIA justified its Glomar response on the ground that it was necessary to keep secret whether the CIA itself was involved in, or interested in, drone strikes. But the ACLU's request swept more broadly--to any government drone strikes. And the CIA's Glomar response also swept more broadly--too broadly.
The court also noted that the government appears to have acknowledged that the CIA has some records that could be responsive to the FOIA request.
The court remanded the case to the district court to sort out what documents the CIA has, and which ones, if any, it might have to turn over. It's not clear that the CIA will ultimately have to turn over any documents. The court gave specific suggestions to the district court as to how it might evaluate CIA records and determine which ones it has to release.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
It turns out that the administration won't use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil after all, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney earlier today. This seems a very strange thing to be relieved about, but this is the level of discussion after AG Eric Holder earlier this week suggested in a letter to Senator Rand Paul that there might be extraordinary circumstances when the White House could order such a strike. Senator Paul then engaged in a 13-hour talking filibuster, holding up a vote on John Brennan to head the CIA, in protest.
In response to a question whether "the president has authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil," Carney simply said "No." "The president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil," according to Carney.
Josh Gerstein at Politico posted the story here.
[Picture: Air Force]
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Senator Rand Paul started a talking filibuster today on the Senate floor, holding up John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA. His problem? The administration's use of drones. In particular, a reply he received earlier this week from AG Holder in response to his question whether the government could use drones to target and kill U.S. citizens within the United States. Here's Holder's answer:
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.
Friday, March 1, 2013
While there is apparently no official copy of Bradley Manning's statement, The Guardian has published a copy of Manning's lengthy statement as transcribed by independent journalist Alexa O'Brien.
At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local news paper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if the Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public.
Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that the Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by senior editors.
I then decided to contact [missed word] the most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times.
Such revelations invite an obvious comparison between Bradley Manning's plight and that of Daniel Ellsburg, who revealed The Pentagon Papers and prompted the renowned First Amendment decision in New York Times v. United States (1971). Another comparison is to a Civil War prosecution, even as courts consider First Amendment claims resisting the government subpoenas of Twitter accounts.
But Bradley Manning's case is proving unique.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
While many continue talking about a drone court in the judicial branch, Neal Katyal wrote in the NYT in favor of a drone court in the executive branch. Katyal argues that an executive tribunal comprised of national security experts, with congressional oversight, is a better tailored way to ensure accountability in the administration's use of drone strikes for targeted killings. The proposal splits the difference--or takes the best of both approaches--between the administration's current policy (which, it says, includes an internal executive branch review by experts, but with no independent oversight) and a full-fledged drone court in the judicial branch.
According to supporters, the drone court would provide a check to the administration's use of drones for targeted killing of Americans overseas, in the spirit of the FISA court. But ideas so far locate the court in the judiciary. Katyal sees a problem with that:
There are many reasons a drone court composed of generalist federal judges will not work. They lack national security expertise, they are not accustomed to ruling on lightning-fast timetables, they are used to being in absolute control, their primary work is on domestic matters and they usually rule on matters after the fact, not beforehand.
But putting oversight authority in the executive branch, staffed by experts, would solve that problem. And Katyal says that an executive branch "court" could still be subject to a check--by Congress:
The adjudicator would be a panel of the president's most senior national security advisers, who would issue decisions in writing if at all possible. Those decisions would later be given to the Congressional intelligence committees for review. Crucially, the president would be able to overrule this court, and take whatever action he thought appropriate, but would have to explain himself afterward to Congress.
As to explaining to Congress--and shifting gears just slightly--it's now widely reported that the White House is refusing to disclose DOJ memos justifying its targeted killing program. Instead, to gain bi-partisan support for John Brennan to lead the CIA, the administration is negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the attacks in Benghazi in order to gain their support for Brennan.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
The idea to create a judicial check on the administration's use of targeted killings seems to be gaining some momentum, according to several sources, including WaPo and NYT. According to the reports, the idea is to create a secret court, like the FISA court, to provide a measure of process before the government kills a person by drone attack. There is some concern that a court could act quickly enough, however. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Senator Diane Feinstein said she and others may explore the idea of a special court.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
The Justice Department today released a series of legal memos outlining the case for the administration's use of drone attacks to the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to WaPo. But the memos are (inexplicably) not for public consumption.
The release came just days after the leak of a DOJ white paper outlining the legal case for drone attacks on Americans overseas, and just hours before John Brennan's confirmation hearing before the Committee to be CIA director. Brennan defended the attacks in his testimony.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
A Department of Justice white paper leaked to NBC gives the more detailed version of the administration's legal case for drone attacks against overseas Americans associated with al-Qa'ida. (Note that the white paper is unsigned and undated; it is not an OLC memo. It is titled simply "Department of Justice White Paper.") Michael Isikoff wrote on the white paper here. The leak is significant, because the administration has steadfastly refused to release a formal legal justification for the program. Just last month, the administration successfully defended against a FOIA claim in federal court seeking legal justification for the program.)
According to the white paper, the president has constitutional authority to order drone attacks and is not prohibited by due process. The paper says that the president has authority to respond to order strikes as part of his authority to defend the country against the imminent threat posed by al Qa'ida and associated forces, including U.S. citizens associated with al Qa'ida, under "the inherent right of the United States to national self defense under international law, Congress's authorization of the use of all necessary and appropriate military force against this enemy, and the existence of an armed conflict with al-Qa'ida under international law."
According to the paper, due process does not prohibit this:
Were the target of a lethal operation a U.S. citizen who may have rights under the Due Process Clasue and the Fourth Amendment, that individual's citizenship would not immunize him from a lethal operation. Under the traditional due process balancing analysis of Mathews v. Eldridge, we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life. But that interest must be balanced against the United States' interest in forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans that arise from an individual who is a senior operational leader of al-Q'aida or an associated of al-Q'aida and who is engaged in plotting against the United States.
Instead, the white paper sets out a three-part test for targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who is outside the United States and who is "an operational leader continually planning attacks against U.S. persons and interests":
(1) where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
(2) where a capture operation would be infeasible--and where those conducting the operation continue to monitor whether capture becomes infeasible; and
(3) where such an operation would be conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The paper says that "[i]n these circumstances, the 'realities' of the conflict and the weight of the government's interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent atack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. citizen before using lethal force."
The paper, however, goes on to define "imminent" quite broadly (and surprisingly): "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 paper also goes on at length as to why this isn't unlawful murder.
It mentions as part of the justification that "under the circumstances described in this paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations."
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The official announcement from the Pentagon should be forthcoming on Thursday.
In November, a complaint in Hegar v. Panetta was filed in the Northern District Court of California, arguing that the policy offended the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. More about the case is available from the ACLU.
ConLawProfs (and students) often encounter the gendered combat exclusion in discussions of Rotsker v. Goldberg (1981) in which the Justice Rehnquist's Court upheld male-only registration for the draft finding women were not "similarly situated" to men because women were not eligible for combat.
Friday, January 4, 2013
President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 this week and, just as he did on last year's NDAA, issued a signing statement objecting to several provisions on separation-of-powers grounds. In characteristic language, the President said that he will implement those provisions "to avoid a constitutional conflict." This means, largely, that the administration will ignore them. But it's unlikely that the administration will act contrary to all of them.
Perhaps the most notable provisions restrict the President's use of funds to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay--either to the U.S. for criminal trials in regular Article III courts, or to other countries--or to house detainees in the U.S. Last year's NDAA also contained similar restrictions. These provisions--Sections 1022, 1027, and 1028--are designed to prevent the President from closing Guantanamo and detaining suspected terrorists in the United States; they effectively foiled the President's plans last year to close Guantanamo.
But another provision, Section 1025, new this year, similarly restricts the President's use of funds to transfer detainees out of the detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan. The President wrote,
That facility is located within the territory of a foreign sovereign in the midst of an armed conflict. Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by Members of Congress. Section 1025 threatens to upend that tradition, and could interfere with my ability as Commander in Chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities.
The President also objected to provisions interfering with his authority to conduct foreign relations and supervise the executive branch. As to the latter, Sections 827 and 828 enhance whistleblower protection for executive branch contractors. The President wrote, "I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees' communications with Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential."
Section 1034 requires the President to "transmit to the congressional defense committees a report by the Commander of the United States Strategic Command, without change, detailing whether the recommended reduction would create a strategic imbalance or degrade deterrence and extended deterrence between the total number of nuclear weapons of the United States and the total number of nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation." President Obama wrote, "section 1034 would require a subordinate to submit materials directly to the Congress without change, and thereby obstructs the traditional chain of command."