Long Read: “60 Words And A War Without End”

60 words and a war without end

Gregory D. Johnsen, in Buzzfeed, on “The Untold Story Of The Most Dangerous Sentence In U.S. History”:

At the heart of the AUMF is a single 60-word sentence, which has formed the legal foundation for nearly every counterterrorism operation the U.S. has conducted since Sept. 11, from Guantanamo Bay and drone strikes to secret renditions and SEAL raids. Everything rests on those 60 words.

Unbound by time and unlimited by geography, the sentence has been stretched and expanded over the past decade, sprouting new meanings and interpretations as two successive administrations have each attempted to keep pace with an evolving threat while simultaneously maintaining the security of the homeland. In the process, what was initially thought to authorize force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has now been used to justify operations in several countries across multiple continents and, at least theoretically, could allow the president — any president — to strike anywhere at anytime. What was written in a few days of fear has now come to govern years of action.

Culled from interviews with former and current members of Congress, as well as staffers and attorneys who served in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, this is the story of how those 60 words came to be, the lone objector to their implementation, and their continuing power in the world today. The story, like most modern ones of America at war, begins in the shadow of 9/11 with a lawyer and Word document…

… Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?

When I contacted the Pentagon to get an answer, a spokeswoman emailed back: “The list is classified and not for public release.”…

163 replies
  1. 1
    Ruckus says:

    “The list is classified and not for public release.”…

    They couldn’t just say everyone, now could they?

  2. 2
    Cervantes says:

    Here are the 60 words again:

    That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

  3. 3
    Suffern ACE says:

    Yep. And we have a congress that would rather not debates the merits of the power they gave away.

  4. 4
    Corner Stone says:

    As long as they keep me safe, no issue from me.

  5. 5
    Corner Stone says:

    I’ve always hated ornate wedding celebrations. I’m glad this admin is finally doing something about it.

  6. 6
    Corner Stone says:

    I don’t have a deep knowledge of Rep Ellison, but I kind of like what he has to say.

  7. 7
    Corner Stone says:

    And, man, I can not tell you how angry I am when a local access road here is blocked by a 100 car funeral procession turning into a cemetary. A little help from our friendly drone brethren may be just what we need to stop that kind of BS from happening in the future.

  8. 8
    JGabriel says:

    Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?

    When I contacted the Pentagon to get an answer, a spokeswoman emailed back: “The list is classified and not for public release.”

    This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around …

    .

  9. 9
    Suffern ACE says:

    Would listing the enemies publicly help? I have the feeling some of them might be more other peoples enemies.

  10. 10
    max says:

    @Cervantes:

    That the President [Bush] is authorized [is authorized] to use all necessary and appropriate force [to attack] against those nations, organizations, or persons [anybody] he determines [he wants] planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, [to call a terrorist] or [or] harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism [he may preemptively attack] against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. [anybody else, he wants, too]

    Voila: [Bush] [is authorized] [to attack] [anybody] [he wants] [to call a terrorist] [or] [he may preemptively attack] [anybody else, he wants, too].

    Not to be forgotten: Congress was (as is) too chickenshit to call it a declaration of war. So we’re at Not War.

    max
    [‘Perpetual war for perpetual peace, and when we get back stateside, we’re going to resume fucking for virginity!’]

  11. 11
    James E. Powell says:

    What was written in a few days of fear has now come to govern years of action.

    I think it is more likely that it, or something pretty much like it, was written right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. If it was written in “days of fear” it was the days when the owners and operators of the military-industrial complex afraid that with the Cold War over and won, their game was over and done.

  12. 12
    Cermet says:

    The reason it is classified is because the war is being wagged on the middle class for the 0.01%

  13. 13
    cleek says:

    and when Obama signaled that he wanted to repeal it, back in May, how many people asked their rep to take him up on it? zero? one?

  14. 14
    Anoniminous says:

    Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?

    A not widely effective political tactic.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    @cleek:

    and when Obama signaled that he wanted to repeal it

    Wow. You’re saying President Obama has not made full use, or arguably over full use, of the executive powers derived from this?

  16. 16
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    …those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…

    How many of the people who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 are still around? Looks to me as though those words have been stretched beyond reason.

  17. 17
    Corner Stone says:

    I always find it funny when the same people make one argument that says essentially, “Just because the NSA could do something, does not mean they are doing something.”
    And at the same time state, “These authorities are open to President Obama as the executive. Do you think he should not make use of them until Congress acts?”

  18. 18
    Ruckus says:

    @cleek:
    And how many talk like he is the worst president because he didn’t give them exactly what they haven’t asked him for?

  19. 19
    Baud says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    The AUMF includes organizations. I would like to see the AUMF cut back or repealed, but I haven’t heard anyone make the argument that al-Qaeda isn’t still around.

  20. 20
    Corner Stone says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: You clearly have not learned The Lessons of 9/11 ™ .

  21. 21
    Corner Stone says:

    @Baud:

    but I haven’t heard anyone make the argument that al-Qaeda isn’t still around.

    There’s always an enemy, when you need to fund something.

  22. 22
    Baud says:

    @Corner Stone:

    No doubt. But I was responding to the statement that the words were “stretched beyond meaning.”

  23. 23
    kindness says:

    But we’ve always been at war with Oceana.

  24. 24
    Corner Stone says:

    @Baud: To me it’s kind of like declaring a war on Disco.
    Disco will never die.

  25. 25
    Baud says:

    @Corner Stone:

    That’s an unwinnable war I could get behind, however.

  26. 26
    gene108 says:

    I am not sure what people expect. Another big terrorist attack here and politicians, especially Democratic politicians, are going to get hammered for being soft on the National Security State.

    09/01/2001 and the subsequent politicization by Bush & Co caused a lot of Democrats to lose in 2002, because Bush, Jr. and the Republicans are tough on terrorists and the Democrats are not.

    Whatever “soft” on crime/communism/drug-use, etc. meme was developed in the 1960’s is still deeply embedded in the psyche of older Americans and completely lodged into the heads of the media*, where it does not seem to be able to be removed no matter how much Bush & Co fucked up and were enabled and cheered on with 100% Republican support.

    * Guys like Chuck Todd are probably about my age, late-30’s to early-40’s, and were not around when stuff like the 1968 Democratic National Convention occurred.

    EDIT: Change the way Americans are wired to see Republicans as the “tough, serious” Party and the Democrats as a haven for “goofy liberals”, with their “artsy-fartsy-touch-feely-let’s-not-hurt-each-other-and-talk-this-through” crap, very few Democratic politicians and no Republican politicians will be in a position to make a change. With the media seeming to have a vested interest in maintaining this status-quo view of the political parties, there’s no real way to get it into enough American’s heads to matter, that Democrats can be belligerent enough to keep us safe and what Republicans propose will make us less safe.

  27. 27
    Corner Stone says:

    @gene108: Why are we living in fear? Why do we just slough off the fact that politicians on “our” side of the aisle keep fear mongering as a rear guard action?
    These are bullshit justifications for crimes not committed.
    I somehow used to believe that the D party was one that championed govt, and was committed to effective governance. What kind of policies are we willing to just let slide because we say someone will be mean to us if something bad happens?
    Guess the fuck what? They’re going to do their absolute damnedest to blame the D’s anyway. How about we use effective and efficient policy and not let them yell Boo! at us all the damn time?

  28. 28
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Baud: @Baud:

    …but I haven’t heard anyone make the argument that al-Qaeda isn’t still around.

    American presidents will be relying on that AUMF long after AQ has become a minor political party with a chain of drive-through falafel stands.

  29. 29
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Cervantes:

    This is basically all you need to send the deserting coward and the Dark Lord to The Hague so they can be condemned to spend the rest of their miserable, worthless lives in a cell.

  30. 30
    MD Rackham says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    How many of the people who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 are still around?

    Last I checked, Saudi Arabia and their royal family were still very much around.

    Not only are the 60 words distorted to attack whomever we please, but they are equally distorted to give a free pass to whomever we please.

  31. 31
    Baud says:

    Towards the end of the piece, the author describes a May 16, 2013 hearing, in which he suggests that the Obama administration is trying to prevent Congress from cutting back on the AUMF. I was skeptical because the article suggests that one of the Senators seeking to cut it back was John McCain(!). From what I was able to find via the Google, the issue is more nuanced than the author makes it out to be.

  32. 32
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?

    Anyone who dares to look at us the wrong way.

  33. 33
    Corner Stone says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: “Don’t you side-eye me, motherfucker!!”
    ***whoosh*** ***whoosh***

  34. 34
    Stickler says:

    It started way before 9/11 or even 1968. When China fell to the Reds it gave the GOP Ammunition to hammer the Democrats as weak on defense for decades. Nobody in DC wanted to get hit by that accusation again. Thus, Vietnam, coups all over the place – and the national security state.

  35. 35
    Belafon says:

    Who’s the president in front of Obama’s left shoulder?

  36. 36
    Belafon says:

    @Baud: That picture isn’t nuance.

  37. 37
    Baud says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    Don’t fret. The courageous man of freedom Rand Paul and his fellow Congresscritters will save us.

    Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today introduced S.1919, which would repeal the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq and officially bring the Iraq war to a close. This bipartisan effort is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jon Tester (D- Mont.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

  38. 38
    Ken says:

    Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?

    “Who have you got?”

    It sounded better when Brando did it.

  39. 39
    Cacti says:

    @Baud:

    Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today introduced S.1919, which would repeal the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq and officially bring the Iraq war to a close. This bipartisan effort is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jon Tester (D- Mont.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

    How noble of them.

    ETA: And fuck Kirsten “AIPAC” Gillibrand, for attaching her name to this meaningless bill while simultaneously trying to scuttle diplomatic efforts with Iran.

  40. 40
    Baud says:

    @Belafon:

    There was no picture in the article.

  41. 41
    Yatsuno says:

    @Baud: The hair weasel got to him. Well if it gets rid of this deplorable clause I’m all for it, even if the true idea is to ultimately impeach THAT ONE on something or other.

    @Belafon: It’s Al-Libi. Not sure why they did that.

  42. 42
    Cervantes says:

    @Belafon: Franklin Pierce.

  43. 43
    Baud says:

    @Cacti:

    while simultaneously trying to scuttle diplomatic efforts with Iran.

    I’d agree 100% if that went anywhere. Looks like the Senate Dems put on their little show and now are backing off.

  44. 44
    gene108 says:

    @Corner Stone:

    What kind of policies are we willing to just let slide because we say someone will be mean to us if something bad happens?

    I am not saying someone will be mean to Democrats. I am saying voters will vote Democrats out of office and turn control of the government over to Republicans, because they are afraid.

    After Republicans screw things up badly enough, Democrats will be given a second chance in another 4-6 six years or however long it takes for the public to acknowledge the Republicans screwed up.

    I remember in 2004, there were ads run against John Kerry for his BRAC votes, as far back at the 1990’s, when Sec Defense Cheney, in the early 1990’s, and other Republicans were talking about scaling back the Cold War era military and the media was talking about a “Peace Dividend” now that we didn’t have to fucking worry about the USSR sending tank columns through West Germany.

    Yet the Democrats paid the price for “gutting the military” in the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s, when everyone was hoping for a “Peace Dividend” from having a smaller standing military.

    Democrats cannot do much to change anything, if they are not holding elected office.

    The Republicans used the retired battleship, anchored in Camden, NJ, the USS New Jersey, as part of the Republican National Convention, in 2000 about how Bush, Jr. would restore the military because the effeminate-girly-man-regime of Clinton and Gore had reduced its size, since the end of the Cold War. In short, in the midst of the longest era of peace and prosperity the U.S. has experienced in a generation or two, the Republicans decided to make how the Democrats had hurt our National Security State a theme of their Presidential campaign and were applauded for this.

    Until the minds of voters change about what will keep us safe and what will not, we are locked into the current security state.

    And given how right-wing our media is, I do not see people’s minds changing anytime soon.

  45. 45
    different-church-lady says:

    @Baud: Now wait just a second here… are you saying someone might be using these here internets for the purposes of propaganda?!?

  46. 46
    Patrick says:

    @Cacti:

    And fuck Kirsten “AIPAC” Gillibrand, for attaching her name to this meaningless bill while simultaneously trying to scuttle diplomatic efforts with Iran.

    Has anyone in the media asked her what her motivation is behind tougher sanctions? Iran is already at the table…Is she that beholden to AIPAC, dumb wars and higher taxes to pay for the dumb wars?

  47. 47
    Baud says:

    @different-church-lady:

    It’s why I’m here. ;-)

  48. 48
    Cacti says:

    @Patrick:

    Has anyone in the media asked her what her motivation is behind tougher sanctions? Iran is already at the table…Is she that beholden to AIPAC, dumb wars and higher taxes to pay for the dumb wars?

    During floor debate, Dianne Feinstein of all people said “We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war”.

    If DiFi’s not on board, then you know it goes too far.

  49. 49
    Yatsuno says:

    @Patrick: AIPAC does what Bibi tells them to. Bibi wants to get his war on but knows that he can’t unless the US joins him. Gillenbrand knows who helped her get into office even though most of the Jewish vote isn’t aligned with APIAC. But a lot of Jewish money is.

  50. 50
    max says:

    @Yatsuno: Gillenbrand knows who helped her get into office even though most of the Jewish vote isn’t aligned with APIAC.

    The thinking seemed to be that voting against this will count against them in the future if they run for President or whatever.

    max
    [‘It did not seem to occur to them that voting for it could also count against them in the future. But the New Republic covered that.’]

  51. 51
    Patrick says:

    @Yatsuno:

    I realize they probably have a majority, but hopefully not enough to override Obama’s veto. I don’t know want another stupid, unnecessary war just because some senators seem to think that they report to Israel.

  52. 52
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @Patrick: I think a lot the Dem supporters of that moronic bill got a lot of pushback they weren’t expecting. At least I fuckin’ hope they did.

  53. 53
    Corner Stone says:

    Holly Robinson Peete is still throwing pure fucking gas. Damn she is an absolutely beautiful woman.

  54. 54
    MomSense says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Wow. You’re saying President Obama has not made full use, or arguably over full use, of the executive powers derived from this?

    That is not what he was saying. He was saying that the President talked about repeal of the AUMF and asking if the people who say they want the AUMF repealed seized that opportunity to pressure their Senators and Representatives to make it happen.

  55. 55
    Corner Stone says:

    @MomSense: cleek is a full grown man, and can answer for himself. Thanks for your opinion.

  56. 56
    p.a. says:

    @Patrick: < I don’t know want another stupid, unnecessary war just because some senators seem to think that they report to Israel .

    Fixt

  57. 57
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: Cleek seemed pretty clear to me. Maybe read it again?

    The Obama Administration did it again recently (Jan 14):

    ForeignPolicy:

    “The Administration supports the repeal of the Iraq AUMF since it is no longer used for any U.S. Government activities,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “We understand that some in Congress are considering legislation related to the Iraq AUMF, and we will certainly examine these proposals as they come forward.”

    An administration official made clear that repealing the Iraq AUMF was not a priority for the White House because the effect would be largely symbolic. But the statement may provide cover for other Democrats who voted against Paul’s attempt to repeal the Iraq AUMF in 2011 due to concerns that it would hamstring the administration. (At the time, Paul’s repeal effort failed by a landslide 30-67 vote).

    HTH!

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  58. 58
    Keith G says:

    I knew there was a White House statement of administration support for repeal, but I was going to ask when President Obama was going to personally call for its repeal by date certain. Then I read this:

    An administration official made clear that repealing the Iraq AUMF was not a priority for the White House….

    So this is like the carbon tax…a swell idea, but they are not going to break a sweat over it.

    JFK:

    I support the idea that we go to the moon. And someday we will get there.

    Kinda loses something.

  59. 59
    Cervantes says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Your various interlocutors here may not know what precisely you mean by this:

    Wow. You’re saying President Obama has not made full use, or arguably over full use, of the executive powers derived from this?

    Meanwhile, Ms. Hayden says “The Administration supports the repeal of the Iraq AUMF since it is no longer used for any U.S. Government activities.”

    You can see how people might be confused.

  60. 60
    RSR says:

    Seems like as good a thread as any to mention the Oscar nominated documentary “Dirty Wars”

    http://dirtywars.org/

  61. 61
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Keith G:

    So this is like the carbon tax…a swell idea, but they are not going to break a sweat over it.

    Kinda, sorta, but not exactly.

    Things that Obama supports and pushes for have a habit of dying on the Hill, you know. He’s happy to let the Congress take the lead on this – as well they should. He’s telling Democrats that they can repeal the Iraq AUMF without hamstringing him.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul or the Republicans try to put a poison pill in it though…

    FWIW.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  62. 62
    Cervantes says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    This is basically all you need to send the deserting coward and the Dark Lord to The Hague so they can be condemned to spend the rest of their miserable, worthless lives in a cell.

    One would think so, yes.

    Three days after 9/11 when they passed this thing, our legislators (1) were out of their minds or (2) already had their eyes on the main chance or (3) all of the above.

    Not one of our country’s finer moments.

  63. 63
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Cervantes: Regarding the larger issue, I don’t see a problem with the notion that a person will tend to keep the perks and privileges he’s been given, even if he doesn’t believe he ought to have them, when taking them away is something that’s up to someone else. (How he uses them, or if he uses them at all, is still critical of course.)

    But I also wanted to call attention to a bit of slipperiness that’s also related: the “60 words” are the War on Terror AUMF, i.e. Afghanistan, not the Iraq AUMF. As I recall Obama has said there should be a repeal of the Afghanistan/War on Terror AUMF, but those statements quoted above are about Iraq, and none of terror-fighting special executive superpowers stem from the Iraq one. So that’s a pretty easy repeal to support. It’s the War on Terror one that’s much more meaningful.

  64. 64
    Keith G says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet:
    That’s a sweet position to be in.

    Happy to take credit for ideas that one never has to bother to fight for.

    Cool.

  65. 65
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Yes, it is good to note that Paul’s bill is about the Iraq AUMF. Cleek mentioned Obama’s May 23, 2013 speech at National Defense University:

    Now, all these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact — in sometimes unintended ways — the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.

    The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

    So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

    If Paul wants to broaden his bill to include the 2001 AUMF, I’m sure Obama will be happy to look at it, too. With the AF troops leaving by December (or sooner if Karzai doesn’t sign the treaty), full repeal may come before the end of the year.

    FWIW.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  66. 66
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Like cleek, I thought that speech was rather significant, and the civil libertarians who enjoy hounding Obama on that set of issues could have tried harder thereafter to take “yes” for an answer. I don’t remember any effort being made to follow up legislatively. I’d be glad to be proven wrong on that…

  67. 67
    Cervantes says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Regarding the larger issue, I don’t see a problem with the notion that a person will tend to keep the perks and privileges he’s been given, even if he doesn’t believe he ought to have them, when taking them away is something that’s up to someone else.

    By “keep” here do you mean “reserve” or “use”? I’m certain you distinguish between the two in this context. Also in this context, presidential power has only been expanding, for decades. At the moment, and this rarely happens, we have a constitutional scholar in the White House. Yes, the branches of government compete, and yes, bureaucratic wars are inevitable — but would it not be salutary to see actual constitutional principles discussed and applied? As you suggest, this may be too much to ask at the moment — but if not now, when?

    But I also wanted to call attention to a bit of slipperiness that’s also related: the “60 words” are the War on Terror AUMF, i.e. Afghanistan, not the Iraq AUMF. As I recall Obama has said there should be a repeal of the Afghanistan/War on Terror AUMF, but those statements quoted above are about Iraq, and none of terror-fighting special executive superpowers stem from the Iraq one. So that’s a pretty easy repeal to support. It’s the War on Terror one that’s much more meaningful.

    Yes, this ambiguity is part of what I was referring to.

  68. 68
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Keith G:

    Happy to take credit for ideas that one never has to bother to fight for.

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet said.

    Both of the AUMFs are legislation passed by Congress. Obama has said that Congress may as well repeal the Iraq one since it is moot. He has also said that he wants to work with Congress to roll back and eventually repeal the other one. Looks a lot to me like an invitation to Congress to take some action. Isn’t that a good thing?

  69. 69
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Cervantes: yes, by “keep” I meant something more like “reserve.” Good clarification. IMHO it’s much more effective to criticize Obama for making ill use of the powers he reserves than for his failure to eliminate them entirely.

  70. 70
    Cervantes says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    IMHO it’s much more effective to criticize Obama for making ill use of the powers he reserves than for his failure to eliminate them entirely.

    Why “much more effective”?

  71. 71
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes:

    At the moment, and this rarely happens, we have a constitutional scholar in the White House. Yes, the branches of government compete, and yes, bureaucratic wars are inevitable — but would it not be salutary to see actual constitutional principles discussed and applied? As you suggest, this may be too much to ask at the moment — but if not now, when?

    The fact that Obama has indicated his amenability to Congress reasserting its role means that now probably is the time. Obama is more likely to sign legislation clawing back presidential powers than many others would be. He does need the legislation to be introduced a passed in order for it to land on his desk to be signed. Could he have draft legislation sent over to Congress to start the process? Sure, but isn’t that just a part of the problem? That everything must start in the White House?

  72. 72
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Obama has put forward lots of great ideas from the beginning – e.g. his 2009 Prague Speech, which included many things including a planned trajectory to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

    The country, and the world, would have been much better off if he hadn’t been thwarted in nearly every turn in trying to implement his agenda. But when 45+% of voters seem to think he’s the Antichrist, and something like 50% of people registered don’t bother to turn out (for whatever reason), getting sensible people on the Hill for him to work with is a task worthy of Sisyphus…

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  73. 73
    Cervantes says:

    @RSR:

    http://dirtywars.org/

    Yes, Scahill’s work is excellent. Thanks.

  74. 74
    Corner Stone says:

    Hilarious. Obama only uses those powers because they exist. Neutral judgement on what they actually entail. Just waiting for some future Congress to take them away.
    It’s almost like no one has ever heard of agency.

  75. 75
    Corner Stone says:

    {passive voice}

  76. 76
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Sure, I think you’re right.

    On the other hand, one could argue that he no longer needs to worry about what voters think. (Am I suggesting that our legislative branch is populated by pusillanimous popinjays? Perish the thought.)

  77. 77
    Corner Stone says:

    @Cervantes: Interlocutor suggests active voice in a discussion. Sorry, but we don’t do that here.

  78. 78
    Cervantes says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Hilarious. Obama only uses those powers because they exist. Neutral judgement on what they actually entail.

    I agree, this level of scrutiny is more than justified — it’s needed.

    But you knew that.

  79. 79
    Cervantes says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet:

    I agree in general but as for this:

    getting sensible people on the Hill for him to work with is a task worthy of Sisyphus

    May not be the best metaphor to use. Sisyphus was condemned to roll that boulder up the hill because he kept lying and cheating and thought he was too clever to be caught and punished.

  80. 80
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes: Camus suggests that Sisyphus is happy in his task. Yet another reason the comparison may be inapt.

  81. 81
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Cervantes: Whoops!

    Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  82. 82
    Corner Stone says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Are you fucking serious?

  83. 83
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Cervantes: well, if you’re going to criticize him, it seems like the criticisms he deserves stem from what he _does_ with the powers he has, no? I don’t think he’s using powers he doesn’t legitimately have, he’s just using powers he does legitimately have in often counterproductive and/or sloppy ways.

    At any rate, I don’t have a problem with a political argument that takes the form “Only I have the power to do X, but I don’t think it’s right to do X, so I’m going to put my X-doing power on a high shelf where no one else can use it.” If you don’t want to see X being done, I don’t think you have to take steps to make X entirely disappear to prove the strength of your conviction that X is wrong.

    And of course, when it comes to drones, surveillance, etc., the issue is not just that he claims to have these powers, it’s that he uses them. So the claim of powers is beside the point anyway. The use is the whole point. Consequently, ding him for the use, and drop the attempted gotchas about the claim. YMMV.

  84. 84
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: You know nothing of my work!
    /Sisyphus

  85. 85
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    I don’t think he’s using powers he doesn’t legitimately have, he’s just using powers he does legitimately have in often counterproductive and/or sloppy ways.

    I’m going to stop laughing uncontrollably and read the rest of this comment shortly.

  86. 86
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Double Whoops!

    Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Scott.
    (Who loved “No Exit”.)

  87. 87
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone: I don’t understand why that’s particularly funny, but whatever floats the proverbial boat.

  88. 88
    Corner Stone says:

    Camus can do, but Sartre is smartre.
    /Simpsons

  89. 89
    Keith G says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Looks a lot to me like an invitation to Congress to take some action. Isn’t that a good thing?

    The last sentences is a cute rhetorical device, but let’s set that aside.

    All presidents invite Congress to take action, yes? In fact, we could papier mâché the Washington Monument with such invitations from presidents to Congress. What is the plan? What is the follow up? What is this President doing to convince the reluctant that Al qaeda et. al. can be successfully confronted post AUMF? He has talked the talk (sort of). Let’s see the walking begin.

    He has a speech in 10 days. Will he bump this up to a priority, or will it just be just one of several dozen other applause lines to be monotoned out and left to the pundits to consider and a bit later shuffled to the bottom of the deck?

  90. 90
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig: It has something to do with the engagement of the actual powers themselves, in whatever sloppy forms we care to acknowledge.
    In the aggregate, our ConLaw Prof president has used this kludgy framework in ways no one who actually desires Congress to take them away would or could.

  91. 91
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone: I’d practically agree with that, actually. The minor distinction that I’d make is that I would bet Obama would say something like “I will happily use all powers I’ve been granted by applying my best judgment, but if Congress revokes those powers, I will just as happily cease to use them, and won’t miss them either.” If I’m right, then the attitude wouldn’t be, “Oh, I’m guilt-wracked and so reluctant, why must I do these things”–speaking of existential angst–but rather “I do what they license me to do until and unless they take that license away.”

  92. 92
    FlyingToaster says:

    Bitter and fugly truth:
    The President is not king. The President is not God. The President, despite his obvious blackness, is only the warm body at the top of the Executive Branch, and the Executive Branch is peopled by professional bureaucrats.

    Congress could get off its collective hind end tomorrow (Sunday!) and repeal the AUMF and funding for the NSA data mining operations and on Monday, not a damn thing would have changed. Except the “account billable” for certain operations.

    When the revolution comes, I’m not lining lawyers up against the wall, oh, not, but every fucking GS-13 I can find.

    FlyingToaster +2

  93. 93
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @FlipYrWhig: That is basically my take on it.

  94. 94
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @FlyingToaster:

    When the revolution comes, I’m not lining lawyers up against the wall, oh, not, but every fucking GS-13 I can find.

    Even the GS-13 lawyers?

  95. 95
    Baud says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    There are some attorneys at the Department of Agriculture that don’t know what’s about to hit them.

  96. 96
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I should have incorporated Cervantes’s use/reserve distinction: “I reserve these powers and use them at my discretion, but in the event these powers were no longer reserved to me, I would not fight to keep them nor regret my inability to use them.”

  97. 97
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @FlyingToaster: You don’t seem to understand what civil servants do. You might want to review 5 CFR I before the revolution comes.

    Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  98. 98
    Corner Stone says:

    I am tired of the argument that Obama is pushing Congress to limit executive power. He doesn’t really want these powers, this power, this authority. Why won’t they do the right thing and limit him?
    It seems very limiting in the actual granting of a voice and agency to the most powerful man in the world.

  99. 99
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: He isn’t pushing them to limit his authority. He is using the authority they gave him and saying that Congress can take it back any time it chooses to do so.

  100. 100
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: That flies in the face of everything ever said here. He’s only doing “X” to force Congress to act. He’s only doing “Y” because he has to, so that Congress will act.
    He doesn’t want to, he has to.
    You’ve lost the plot here.

  101. 101
    Amir Khalid says:

    Twelve years after 9/11, who exactly is the U.S. at war with?

    When I contacted the Pentagon to get an answer, a spokeswoman emailed back: “The list is classified and not for public release.”

    Could the writer have asked, whom is the US not at war with, or is that list classified too?

  102. 102
    Corner Stone says:

    I’m actually getting angry at the overly stupid duplicitous apologia going on in this thread.
    Either he is a ConLaw Genius who has acted because he has to so that Congress will act to limit the Executive Branch, he’s a fully grown man making decisions to facilitate morally indefensibly heinous actions because he believes those actions are best for our nation, or he’s a fucking monster using available authority and power because he can.

  103. 103
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: Really? Are you sure? I’d link to my comment agreeing with this, but it would be overlinking and mod-city.

  104. 104
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @Corner Stone: +12?

  105. 105
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: Yeah, those are the only options.

  106. 106
    Corner Stone says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: I am glad you agree with my comment so vociferously. Thank you.

  107. 107
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: How many more are there? He’s constrained by some mix of them? Something else? Aliens?
    Why do you keep denying him agency? Is he a child? Powerless?

  108. 108
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: How the fuck am I denying him agency?

  109. 109
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Ok, fine. Why are we (the US) killing unknown people in wedding ceremonies? Funeral processions? Hoovering up everything technologically possible?
    Those are specific arenas where the executive has great flexibility/autonomy.

  110. 110
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: Because the operations were either explicitly or implicitly okayed. If not by Obama himself, then by people within his administration.

    How I am denying him agency?

  111. 111
    AxelFoley says:

    @Ruckus:

    @cleek:
    And how many talk like he is the worst president because he didn’t give them exactly what they haven’t asked him for?

    *points at Corner Stone’s posts in this thread as Exhibit A*

  112. 112
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: It’s right there in your answer. Either Obama makes decisions for reasons I have enumerated (or some other mix no one has bothered to speechify) or others have things happen. If Obama makes decisions that result in outcomes then we have to admit he is active in those outcomes. No one seems to want to do that. It always seems to be as a passive voice response to external pressures.

  113. 113
    AxelFoley says:

    @Corner Stone:

    And he’s still bitching in this thread I see.

  114. 114
    Corner Stone says:

    @AxelFoley: go fuck yourself
    How’s that for active voice?

  115. 115
    Corner Stone says:

    @AxelFoley: Derpie derp! GFY
    Thought you could sneak into a dead thread again and drop some smelly nuggets.
    Fuck you.

  116. 116
    Corner Stone says:

    @AxelFoley: All you ever do is show up late and one line other people’s comments. How about you say something original for once? Something all on your own for once in your pathetic life.

  117. 117
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: NBC:

    U.S. officials acknowledge the seriousness of the claims and say the strike is being investigated by administration officials — one of the few times the U.S. government has confirmed an internal review of a drone strike and the first time since President Barack Obama pledged to tighten rules for the strikes in a major speech in May.

    “Given that there are claims of civilian casualties, we are reviewing it,” said one U.S. official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity.

    FWIW.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  118. 118
    Corner Stone says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Weddings! Amirite?

  119. 119
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: Read the story. Don’t ask me.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  120. 120
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: Fine. These things have happened because Obama either okayed them, implicitly or explicity, or because Obama picked the people who okayed the actions.

    I would buy this explanation:

    he’s a fully grown man making decisions to facilitate morally indefensibly ambiguous heinous actions because he believes those actions are best necessary for our nation.

    Utilitarian arguments are moral arguments. Note: I don’t think drone strikes are good policy. I don’t think the NSA grabbing domestic info without a warrant.

  121. 121
    Cervantes says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    “I do what they license me to do until and unless they take that license away.”

    And just supposing that grant of license is unconstitutional?

  122. 122
    Corner Stone says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: I did read it. You realize this wedding drone strike was after Obama pledged signature strikes would only be used in situations where there was no opportunity for innocents to be harmed?
    Then we fired off missiles into a convoy of cars and people headed to a wedding. Ostensibly to get one guy. That was the after excuse.
    We destroyed cars and lives of people we had no hope of identifying in the effort to maybe, possibly, get one guy who may or may not have been there.
    And since we actually didn’t kill that guy, by some accounts, then what was that?

  123. 123
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes: From a purely legal standpoint, duly passed legislation is presumed constitutional until such time as a court rules otherwise.

  124. 124
    Cervantes says:

    @Amir Khalid: Possibly Andorra.

    They have neither a navy nor a standing army. But the minute we sell them the arms to outfit an army, they’re (paradoxically, it might appear) back on that other list.

  125. 125
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Sure — but “supposing” has a relevant meaning.

  126. 126
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes: Again, from a legal standpoint, one would be in the clear for actions taken during the period the actions were presumed constitutional but not for those taken after the courts resolved the question.

  127. 127
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone: Who ever said that he wasn’t making decisions? You’re raising questions about how he uses the powers he’s been granted. That’s the right question to raise. Asking why he hasn’t stripped himself of those powers is beside the point. IOW, your gripes are about use/not use, while Keith G was more invested in have/not have. From my perspective, if he had them and didn’t use them, fine by me. If he has them and does use them, that’s on him, so, bring on the critiques.

  128. 128
    Corner Stone says:

    Don’t put your life in someone’s hands
    They’re bound to steal it away
    Don’t hide your mistakes
    ‘Cause they’ll find you, burn you

  129. 129
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: I’m not sure where this “pledge” from Obama was made – I don’t see that word in his NDU speech in May. “Pledge” seems to be doing a lot of heavy lifting in your comment.

    Obama did say:

    Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. And even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists; our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose; our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty.

    America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.

    Now, this last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes — both here at home and abroad — understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war. And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred throughout conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties — not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold. Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes. So doing nothing is not an option.

    You’re not expecting Obama, his staff, and the US military to be perfect, are you?

    Do you think Obama was lying in his speech at NDU?

    Or are you referring to some other Obama speech on drones?

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  130. 130
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Lots of people here sublimely make the passive voice argument for executive power. Over and over.
    Not “stripping” himself of those powers, but actively using them in an effort to force action by a co-equal branch has been an argument made here so many times I could cry. That denies the actual, real reason for why these powers are being enacted. There’s a reason. And lots of people here elide what/why/how that comes to be the actual, real case.
    It’s a ridiculous version of the 11-D chess sneaky political argument, except with life and death consequences.

  131. 131
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Cervantes: I think I see your point — if Congress grants the president a power that is obviously unconstitutional, what should he do with it, use it or refuse it? Ethically speaking, I’d say he should refuse it. So, yes, by extension, using it means he thinks it’s not unconstitutional, wicked, evil, or whatnot. But I would still say that the sum of his statements suggests that if he had not been granted this kind of authority, he would not have innovated a way to claim it, whereas I think Dick Cheney would.

    So Obama uses, and not terribly reluctantly, drones and all the rest. And anyone who likes can and should criticize him for it. I don’t think it’s somehow happening against his will. But I don’t think he has some kind of affirmative view about the plenary powers of the president and how they shall never be denied him in all his magnificence.

  132. 132
    Corner Stone says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: What the fuck is wrong with you? We (the USG) fired into a wedding party. And this is his “pledge”. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with the word:

    And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.

    Now, this last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes — both here at home and abroad — understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties.

  133. 133
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Corner Stone: “Obama only uses drones so that Congress will see how awful they are and make him stop” doesn’t sound familiar, even to a card-carrying O-bot.

  134. 134
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Sorry, my original comment was too cryptic. Someone wrote (on behalf of Hypothetical President Obama):

    “I do what they license me to do until and unless they take that license away.”

    So I asked (Hypothetical President Obama):

    And just supposing that grant of license is unconstitutional?

    Given that he is a constitutional scholar, I was interested in his answer.

    Of course, you are perfectly correct to point out that, ultimately, SCOTUS decides what’s constitutional. But in this hypothetical, I’m not waiting for SCOTUS to decide. I’m wondering if (we think) Hypothetical President Obama would — or should — or does — use powers granted to him that he thinks were granted unconstitutionally.

  135. 135
    Cervantes says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Yes, you do see my point, for what it’s worth.

  136. 136
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Cervantes: Answered to some degree above.

  137. 137
    Cervantes says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Yes, I saw that, thanks.

  138. 138
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes:

    I’m wondering if (we think) Hypothetical President Obama would — or should — or does — use powers granted to him that he thinks were granted unconstitutionally.

    If he thinks he should do something, he would rely on the presumption of constitutionality. I thinks he shouldn’t act, he would rely on his doubts.*

    *There is a reason people hate lawyers.

  139. 139
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    *There is a reason people hate lawyers.

    Sure, and there is also a reason that some people hate reason itself — but so what?

    Tautologies aside, do you think — is it your personal assessment that — Real President Obama is using powers granted to him that he thinks were granted unconstitutionally? (It goes without saying that most of us have no way of actually knowing.)

  140. 140
    Corner Stone says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Ehrmagawd. I am absolutely going to break the googleschmirtz machine if I have to ask it to produce how many comments just here at BJ told us that “Obama didn’t really want these powers! He totes did unt! But he had to! Because that was the only way to get Congress to limit executive power. Which, to date, they TOTALLY HAVE.”
    This is not even remotely debatable. Any time there has been a whiff of “should the executive?” it has been foretold that yes, yes the executive has to. He has to!

  141. 141
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I happen to love lawyers. In fact, I have boned more than one of them so far.

  142. 142
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes: I would guess that he has chosen to rely on the technical legality of his powers and has chosen to avoid deeper reflection. I would also guess that is one of the things that has aged him in office.

    FWIW when I was an Army officer, I knew not to obey illegal orders; I also knew that if I were to disobey an order, I had better be damned sure that it was illegal. Doubts didn’t cover it. Fire on the that hospital like building? I don’t know that it is simply a hospital. Shoot the children? No way. Luckily for me, I never had to deal with any serious dilemmas like that during my service.

  143. 143
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: Desiring certain powers and being willing to use them are different things. So your google breaking would be in vain.

  144. 144
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Camus suggests that Sisyphus is happy in his task.

    It’s been an infinity since I read that essay but what I think he says is that we have to imagine that Sisyphus is happy. He inverts Socrates (“the unexamined life is not worth living”) to suggest instead that, if we truly examine (the absurd fact of) our lives, our lives will cease to be meaningless and become worth living.

    Do I buy it? Maybe. Meaning is sometimes elusive; I’ll take it wherever I can get it.

  145. 145
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    So your google breaking would be in vain.

    Almost Sisyphean, neh?
    But still. The struggle continues.

  146. 146
    Corner Stone says:

    @Cervantes: Sisyphus is not happy in his task. He is blessedly dutiful.
    Resignation/acknowledgement to the unending is the lesson. It neither starts nor stops with us.

  147. 147
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes:

    we have to imagine that Sisyphus is happy.

    Yes. I believe, without going to the bookshelves, that you are right.

    If it is not an imposition, I was wondering what you professional background is? You are the most detail oriented commenter here who is not trollishly OCD. No offense taken if you prefer not to answer.

  148. 148
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Corner Stone: It is the closing line of the Camus’s essay on Sisyphus, and, absent pulling the book off my shelves, I believe that Cerventes is almost word perfect in his/her quotation.

  149. 149
    Cervantes says:

    @Corner Stone:

    He is blessedly dutiful.
    Resignation/acknowledgement to the unending is the lesson. It neither starts nor stops with us.

    Yes, that’s a fine way of putting it — goodness knows there’s plenty we must resign ourselves to — but, if my memory and translation serve, there was also that bit in the original about “the struggle itself” being “enough to fill a man’s heart” …

  150. 150
    Corner Stone says:

    “One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

  151. 151
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: @Corner Stone: You know the essay. Ignore my explanation then.

  152. 152
    Corner Stone says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: The struggle continues.

  153. 153
    Corner Stone says:

    I guess commenter IDon’tKnowWhatI’mTalkingAboutYet decided he wasn’t sure, after all, why we killed all those people in the wedding convoy.
    Bygones.

  154. 154
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: @Corner Stone: You do lots of guessing. You might try more reading and thinking instead.

    HTH!

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  155. 155
    Corner Stone says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Then you do, in fact, know why we killed all those people going to a wedding?

  156. 156
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: Your apparent refusal to understand what has been written is not the way to enlightenment, grasshopper.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  157. 157
    Corner Stone says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Your evident refusal to answer the question helps.

    TYSVM!

  158. 158
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Corner Stone: Conversations are two way, grasshopper. Did you answer my questions?

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  159. 159
    Cervantes says:

    @Corner Stone:

    It’s Christmas, 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American involved with Al Qaeda in Yemen, has just been assassinated. His case is not a simple one, and Yemen is a complicated place — but you know the story.

    Now it’s Christmas, 2012. You know this story, too (Letta Taylor, Foreign Policy, December 26, 2012):

    The villagers who rushed to the road, cutting through rocky fields in central Yemen, found the dead strewn around a burning sport utility vehicle. The bodies were dusted with white powder — flour and sugar, the witnesses said — that the victims were bringing home from market when the aircraft attacked. A torched woman clutched her daughter in a lifeless embrace. Four severed heads littered the pavement.

    “The bodies were charred like coal. I could not recognize the faces,” said Ahmed al-Sabooli, 22, a farmer whose parents and 10-year-old sister were among the dead. “Then I recognized my mother because she was still holding my sister in her lap. That is when I cried.”

    Quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, local and international media initially described the victims of the Sept. 2 airstrike in al-Bayda governorate as al Qaeda militants. After relatives of the victims threatened to bring the charred bodies to the president, Yemen’s official news agency issued a brief statement admitting the awful truth: The strike was an “accident” that killed 12 civilians. Three were children.

    Nearly four months later, that terse admission remains the only official word on the botched attack. A Washington Post article, published on Dec. 24 [2012], reports that “U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing airplane, that fired” on the vehicle. But the people of al-Bayda still have received no official word as to who was responsible for the deaths — the United States, which in the past year has accelerated its covert targeted-killing program against Yemeni-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; or the Yemeni government, whose new president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, was installed with Washington’s help.

    We don’t know — or, at least, we can’t say — who did it: our right hand or our left hand? It’s a puzzlement, we’re not sure what happened, we say (anonymously “because of the sensitivity of the matter”).

    Now fade-in a year later, Christmas, 2013 (Michael Isikoff, NBC News, January 7, 2014):

    The Obama administration has launched an internal investigation into a Dec. 12 [2013] drone strike in Yemen that targeted an al Qaeda militant but which local villagers say ended up hitting a wedding party, killing 12 and injuring 14 others, U.S. officials tell NBC News. […]

    NBC News has obtained exclusive videos and photos taken in the aftermath of the strike. The graphic images show the scorched bodies of young men who villagers say were part of a convoy on their way to the wedding celebration when they were killed in their pickups by two Hellfire missiles fired by a U.S. drone.

    The video and photographs were shot by Nasser Al-Sane, a local Yemeni journalist, and given to NBC News by Reprieve, a human rights group critical of U.S. drone policy. NBC News showed the video to White House and Pentagon officials who declined comment on it. […]

    “You cannot imagine how angry people are (about the strike). They turned a wedding into a funeral,” Al-Sane, who lives near the town of Radda, where the drone strike took place, told NBC News.
    U.S. officials acknowledge the seriousness of the claims and say the strike is being investigated by administration officials — one of the few times the U.S. government has confirmed an internal review of a drone strike and the first time since President Barack Obama pledged to tighten rules for the strikes in a major speech in May.

    “Given that there are claims of civilian casualties, we are reviewing it,” said one U.S. official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity. Asked about the Dec. 12 incident, White House National Security Staff spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said she could only respond “generally” about U.S. policy. “Before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set,” she said. “And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly.” […]

    [O]ne Yemeni official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that initial reports that civilians in a wedding party were killed also prompted the Yemeni government to authorize the local governor of the province to offer compensation — the equivalent of about $110,000 in cash as well as 101 Kalashnikov rifles — to tribal leaders in the village. […]

    “We heard a loud explosion coming from down in the valley,” [Ahmed Mohammed Al Shafe’ee, a 70-year-old shepherd] said, according to Shiban’s report. “I arrived to the site and there were bodies scattered all over the place. The people told me that my son Aref had died.” When he returned to the village, Al Shafe-ee was quoted as saying, “I saw the women of the village gathered crying and screaming.” Another villager, Sheikh Salah Al-Taisy, is quoted as saying that there was no place to take cover. “There was no way to run. It is a very remote area,” he said. “… We live in fear day and night. Our children and women cannot sleep.”

    If, indeed, we “cannot imagine how angry people are,” that’s OK because we’re probably reading their e-mail messages and listening in on their phone calls. And, anyway, imagination is hardly necessary. It’s trivially easy to understand why ordinary Yemenis are as angry with us as they are with Al Qaeda.

    It’s also trivially easy to understand how, with our foolishness and our cowardice, we keep turning these people into “terrorists” so that we have to keep killing them (or, at any rate, someone). In your words, this Sisyphean task “neither starts nor stops with us” — but for us — as individuals, as a nation — to do nothing about it, or to keep doing so little about it, is to ignore our own humanity as well as that of the victims. (Alas, as demonstrated here recently, John Donne’s thoughts on the matter are not universally accepted, or understood.)

    And yes, I’m using “Sisyphean” here in the strict sense: it describes our “national security” establishment rather well.

    The question remains: Where is Real President Obama in all this, now? What is he up to, now?

    Adam Jacobson writes (“Investigation Isn’t Enough: More Drone Transparency Needed,” Human Rights First, January 10, 2014):

    The administration has promised more transparency, released some justification for targeting American citizens […] and others, and released a fact sheet based on the Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) on the United States use of force outside areas of active hostilities. But the full Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos, and full PPG that justify killing both non-Americans and Americans in far-flung places around the world remain secret.

    So there’s that.

  160. 160
    Keith G says:

    @Cervantes: I have marked this and will point to this in future discussions. It is as important a piece of writing as has been typed by any front pager here.

  161. 161
    Cervantes says:

    @Keith G: Glad you found it useful and thanks for letting me know.

  162. 162
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    For historical reference, David Remnick’s new piece in the New Yorker has some relevant comments that fans of Sisyphus may find interesting:

    Obama said that, if terrorists can be captured and prosecuted, “that’s always my preference. If we can’t, I cannot stand by and do nothing. They operate in places where oftentimes we cannot reach them, or the countries are either unwilling or unable to capture them in partnership with us. And that then narrows my options: we can simply be on defense and try to harden our defense. But in this day and age that’s of limited—well, that’s insufficient. We can say to those countries, as my predecessor did, if you are harboring terrorists, we will hold you accountable—in which case, we could be fighting a lot of wars around the world. And, statistically, it is indisputable that the costs in terms of not only our men and women in uniform but also innocent civilians would be much higher. Or, where possible, we can take targeted strikes, understanding that anytime you take a military strike there are risks involved. What I’ve tried to do is to tighten the process so much and limit the risks of civilian casualties so much that we have the least fallout from those actions. But it’s not perfect.”

    It is far from that. In December, an American drone flying above Al Bayda province, in Yemen, fired on what U.S. intelligence believed was a column of Al Qaeda fighters. The “column” was in fact a wedding party; twelve people were killed, and fifteen were seriously injured. Some of the victims, if not all, were civilians. This was no aberration. In Yemen and Pakistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, American drones have killed between some four hundred and a thousand civilians—a civilian-to-combatant ratio that could be as high as one to three. Obama has never made it clear how the vast populations outraged and perhaps radicalized by such remote-control mayhem might figure into his calculations about American security.

    “Look, you wrestle with it,” Obama said. “And those who have questioned our drone policy are doing exactly what should be done in a democracy—asking some tough questions. The only time I get frustrated is when folks act like it’s not complicated and there aren’t some real tough decisions, and are sanctimonious, as if somehow these aren’t complicated questions. Listen, as I have often said to my national-security team, I didn’t run for office so that I could go around blowing things up.”

    Obama told me that in all three of his main initiatives in the region—with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria—the odds of completing final treaties are less than fifty-fifty. “On the other hand,” he said, “in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn’t roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics. And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, What’s next?”

    FWIW.

    (The whole article is a good read.)

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  163. 163
    mclaren says:

    Cue the usual toadies and lickspittles to rush out of the shower and justify the AUMF, the phony War on Terror, and the standard disaster capitalism scam that used 9/11 as a giant Hurricane Katrina to privatize military-police-prison-surveillance-torture profits and socialize public losses in the form of mutilated G.I.s, a gutted constitution, lawyers like burnspbesq turning themselves into corporate whores deep-throating the military-police-prison-surveillance-torture complex, and elected wardheelers who bloat up like weenies on a grill with fake patriotism…the better to fund their re-election campaigns.

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