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Obama Administration

The White House on Tuesday defended targeted assassinations of Americans thought to consort overseas with terrorists as “necessary,” “ethical” and “wise,” as the Obama administration faced fresh questions about its sharply expanded drone war.

“We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats—to stop plots, prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise.”

Carney’s comments came after NBC News published a Justice Department memo that lays out a broad rationale for targeting individual Americans anywhere outside the U.S. for assassination—without oversight from Congress or the courts, and even if the U.S. citizen in question is not actively plotting a specific terrorist attack.

The 16-page document, obtained by NBC News, emerged days before John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and the foremost architect of America’s hugely controversial unmanned aerial vehicle war, goes before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a Thursday hearing on his confirmation as CIA director.

Obama campaigned in 2008 as a fierce critic of George W. Bush’s national security policies, notably interrogation practices widely seen as torture. He also left little doubt that he would order unilateral strikes inside another country if he deemed them necessary. In office, he has apparently learned to stop worrying and love executive power—the literal power of life and death over fellow U.S. citizens overseas when he suspects they are consorting with extremists groups that may be targeting America. So, under what circumstances does he have the right to act?

The memo says “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” must decide that the target is a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaida or “associated forces”; “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”; and that an attempt to capture that individual is “infeasible.”

“Targeting a member of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack to the United States is not unlawful. It is a lawful act of self-defense,” the document asserts.

“Imminent threat”? That seems reasonable and is a traditional standard for military action. Except, as NBC investigative reporter Michael Isikoff notes, the memo adds that “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.”

Instead, that previously mentioned “high-level official” can determine that the potential target was “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of an attack and that “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.”

Isikoff notes the memo does not define “activities” or “recently,” leaving that up to the administration to determine on a case-by-case basis.

A reporter asked Carney about the case of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the teenage son of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida supporter killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen. The boy, 16, was killed in another drone strike about two weeks after his father. Was the son a “senior operational leader” of a terrorist group, a reporter asked. That seemed to stump Carney. “I’m not going to talk about individual operations that may or may not have occurred.”

But Obama wages this 21st-century war in a manner “consistent with the Constitution and our laws,” while aides review the difficult legal and ethical questions “with great care and deliberation,” Carney said.

The memo notes that the president can order a strike against al-Qaida far beyond the battlefield of Afghanistan, and it makes clear that he will not be constrained by national sovereignty. Either a country will give the green light to drone strikes on its territory, or America will strike if that country is “unable or willing” to do so.

This is no surprise. Obama famously said in the 2008 campaign that he would order an attack inside Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden, whether or not Islamabad signed off. He made good on that promise, ordering the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, 2011, which killed the terrorist leader.

The memo is sure to trigger another round of questions from Congress about the drone war, which has been shrouded in secrecy. And it comes at a time when that campaign is powerfully unpopular overseas, according to a June 2012 Pew Research poll. While 62 percent of Americans approve of the approach, 44 percent of respondents in staunch ally Britain do. And the numbers plummet in countries with large Muslim populations: 6 percent in Egypt, for instance, and 9 percent in NATO ally Turkey.

That’s in part the reflection of anger over civilian casualties from such attacks. Obama has grappled with that problem ever since the very first drone strike on his watch, a Jan. 23, 2009, attack that reportedly claimed the life of “an innocent tribal elder” in Pakistan. A May 2012 New York Times report said the administration minimizes civilian casualties by counting “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

The memo drew a withering response from the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This is a profoundly disturbing document, and it’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority—the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact.”

Read original here: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/obama-memo-justifies-drone-war-killing-americans-164123578–politics.html

When he visits Israel next month, US President Barack Obama will tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a “window of opportunity” for a military strike on Iran will open in June, according to an Israeli TV report Monday evening.

Obama will come bearing the message that if diplomatic efforts and sanctions don’t bear fruit, Israel should “sit tight” and let Washington take the stage, even if that means remaining on the sidelines during a US military operation, Channel 10 reported. Netanyahu will be asked to refrain from any military action and keep a low profile, avoiding even the mention of a strike, the report said, citing unnamed officials.

In London Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said an Iran with nuclear weapons was “simply unacceptable” and warned the time limit for a diplomatic solution was running out.

“As we have repeatedly made clear, the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot remain open forever,” said Kerry, on his first international tour as America’s top diplomat. “But it is open today. It is open now and there is still time, but there is only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and to negotiate in good faith.

“We are prepared to negotiate in good faith, in mutual respect, in an effort to avoid whatever terrible consequences could follow failure, and so the choice really is in the hands of the Iranians. And we hope they will make the right choice,” Kerry added.

A fresh round of high-level diplomatic talks were set to begin Tuesday in Kazakhstan — the first since last June’s meeting in Moscow failed to convince Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level close to that used for nuclear warheads.

Two weeks ago, Netanyahu said he was looking forward to Obama’s visit and insisted that he enjoyed a positive relationship with the American president, despite reports to the contrary.

“We worked together closely, closer than how it may look. We worked together on security, diplomacy and intelligence,” he said, warning that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “continues unabated” and that “they’ll soon have enough material to produce a nuclear bomb.”

Netanyahu said earlier this month that he and Obama had agreed on three key areas of consultation during the presidential visit — thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive, grappling with the instability in Syria and the risks of WMD there falling into rogue hands, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read original here: http://www.timesofisrael.com/obama-to-tell-netanyahu-us-gearing-up-for-strike/?

Obamacare will increase the long-term federal deficit by $6.2 trillion, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), who requested the report, revealed the findings this morning at a Senate Budget Committee hearing. The report, he said, “confirms everything critics and Republicans were saying about the faults of this bill,” and “dramatically proves that the promises made assuring the nation that the largest new entitlement program in history would not add one dime to the deficit were false.”

President Obama and other Democrats attempted to win support for the health-care bill by touting it as a fiscally responsible enterprise. “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future,” Obama told a joint-session of Congress in September 2009. “I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period.”

The new report exposes the “lack of honesty” surrounding such claims, Sessions argued. “The big-government crowd in Washington manipulated the numbers in order to get the financial score they wanted, in order to get their bill passed and to increase power and influence,” he said. “The goal was not truth or financial responsibility, but to pass the bill. This is how a country goes broke.”

The GAO report is essentially the first attempt to isolate and calculate Obamacare’s impact on the deficit beyond the traditional ten-year budget window. GAO ran two simulations “based on broad sets of assumptions about health care spending and other components of federal spending and revenue” over a 75-year period. First, a baseline-extended simulation, which “illustrates the long-term outlook assuming federal laws (applicable at the time the simulation was run) remain unchanged,” and second, an alternative simulation, which “illustrates the long-term fiscal outlook assuming historical trends and policy preferences continue.”

The baseline scenario is far more optimistic, largely because it does not take into account the concerns — expressed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Trustees, and Medicare’s chief actuary — about “whether certain cost-containment mechanisms included in PPACA can be sustained over the long term.”

However, the GAO report concluded that even under these “more optimistic assumptions,” Obamacare’s cost-control provisions “were not sufficient to prevent an unsustainable increase in debt held by the public.”

The alternative scenario, which incorporates the more realistic “alternative projections” suggested by CBO, the CMS trustees, and the chief Medicare actuary, is even more dire. Under this scenario, the “primary deficit” increases by 0.7 percent of GDP over the 75-year period. The GAO does not put a dollar value on that figure, but Senate Budget Committee staff has calculated, and GAO has confirmed, that it would amount to a $6.2 trillion increase in the federal deficit.

Read original here: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/341589/gao-report-obamacare-adds-62-trillion-long-term-deficit-andrew-stiles

(CNSNews.com) – Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said before he became spokesman for the Obama administration he was told to “not even acknowledge the drone program…you’re not even to discuss that it exists.”

The administration’s drone program has come under scrutiny since a confidential Justice Department memo — leaked earlier this month — detailed the basis for drone strikes against alleged al-Qaeda operatives, including U.S. citizens.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” on Sunday, Gibbs was asked if he believes the White House has been “sufficiently forthcoming” about its drone-strike program.

“Well, I think you’ve seen recently the president discuss the need and desire to be more forthcoming,” Gibbs said.  “I certainly think there are aspects of that program that are and will remain highly sensitive and very secret.”

“But let me give you an example here Chris,” Gibbs said. “When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the things, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.’”

“So I would get a question like that—literally I couldn’t tell you what Major [Garrett] asked, because once I figured out it was about the drone program I realized I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Gibbs said.

“But here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition,” he added.  “You’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists.  So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program—pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Gibbs said denying the drone program, as he was told to do, “undermines people’s confidence” in government.

“I think in many ways, and I think what the president has seen–and I have not talked to him about this, so I want to be careful, this is my opinion,” he said.  “But I think what the President has seen is, is our denial of the existence of the program when it’s obviously happening, undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes.”

The Justice Department memo, released by NBC News on Feb. 4, reveals that American citizens can be the target of a drone strike if an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government determines they have “recently” been involved in “activities” posing a threat of violent attack, though the terms remain undefined.

Read original here: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/administration-told-gibbs-drone-program-you-re-not-even-discuss-it-exists

Rep Steve Stockman (R-TX) made accusations against Barack Obama on Monday over his gun control campaign claiming that is it fraud based with fake messages over Twitter. Stockman claims that Obama is seeking to give the appearance of support greater than what he has for gun control legislation by flooding Twitter with messages from people that don’t exist.

“Obama’s anti-gun campaign is a fraud,” Stockman said. “Obama’s supporters are panicking and willing to do anything to create the appearance of popular support, even if it means trying to defraud Congress,” he added. “I call upon the president to denounce this phony spam campaign.”

When Obama called for people to tweet their congressmen in support of more gun control legislation, Stockman said he received a mere 16 tweets. However, he notes that upon closer examination, only six of the tweets were from six actual people and that the messages were all identical.

“The other 10 are fake, computer-generated spambots,” his office said.

Then, in a press release issued by Stockman, he writes, “The other 10 are fake, computer-generated spambots.”

• They all use the default “egg” avatar.
• They have account names resembling names automatically suggested by Twitter.
• They have engaged in no human interaction.
• They have tweeted almost nothing promotional, sponsored messages pushing real estates websites and other liberal “grassroots” campaigns.
• They follow mostly MSNBC anchors or media outlets, not actual people.

His press release went on to point out, “Reporter Robert Stacy McCain’s investigation of the fraudulent Obama campaign, available at www.theothermccain.com, finds the majority of the Obama-supporting accounts were created in less than 48 hours before contacting members of Congress.”

“Even more interesting, Stockman staff find two accounts happened to tweet Stockman back-to-back,” the press release continued. “Both have only one follower, former Obama digital strategist Brad Schenck. Schenck somehow found and followed them before they ever tweeted anything, followed anyone or followed any real people. Of the six real people who contacted Stockman only one can be verified as a constituent. One lives outside the district and the remaining four do not list where they live.”

“If you are a real person who contacted us about your support for the President’s anti-gun campaign, we are listening. We do not agree with you, but we appreciate your sincere opinions and encourage you to continue to contact us,” said Stockman. “But the vast majority of the President’s supporters have no feelings because they fake profiles from spammers.”

“The White House has some explaining to do. My own staff, and others looking into Obama’s Twitter campaign, find the vast majority of messages are coming from fraudulent accounts. Some of these accounts are linked directly to a former Obama staffer. To what extent is the White House involved in this attempt to defraud Congress,” said Stockman.

Stockman ultimately said that the Obama anti-gun campaign was “using the same scam techniques that sell male enhancement pills.”

The Justice Department “white paper” purporting to authorize Obama’s power to extrajudicially execute US citizens was leaked three weeks ago. Since then, the administration – including the president himself and his nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan – has been repeatedly asked whether this authority extends to US soil, i.e., whether the president has the right to execute US citizens on US soil without charges. In each instance, they have refused to answer.

Brennan has been asked the question several times as part of his confirmation process. Each time, he simply pretends that the question has not been asked, opting instead to address a completely different issue. Here’s the latest example from the written exchange he had with Senators after his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee; after referencing the DOJ “white paper”, the Committee raised the question with Brennan in the most straightforward way possible:

brennan q-and-aObviously, that the US has not and does not intend to engage in such acts is entirely non-responsive to the question that was asked: whether they believe they have the authority to do so. To the extent any answer was provided, it came in Brennan’s next answer. He was asked:

Could you describe the geographical limits on the Administration’s conduct drone strikes?”

Brennan’s answer was that, in essence, there are no geographic limits to this power: “we do not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida and associated forces as being limited to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan.” He then quoted Attorney General Eric Holder as saying: “neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force to the current conflict in Afghanistan” (see Brennan’s full answer here).

Revealingly, this same question was posed to Obama not by a journalist or a progressive but by a conservative activist, who asked if drone strikes could be used on US soil and “what will you do to create a legal framework to make American citizens within the United States believe know that drone strikes cannot be used against American citizens?” Obama replied that there “has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil” – which, obviously, doesn’t remotely answer the question of whether he believes he has the legal power to do so. He added that “the rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States”, but these “rules” are simply political choices the administration has made which can be changed at any time, not legal constraints. The question – do you as president believe you have the legal authority to execute US citizens on US soil on the grounds of suspicions of Terrorism if you choose to do so? – was one that Obama, like Brennan, simply did not answer.

As always, it’s really worth pausing to remind ourselves of how truly radical and just plainly unbelievable this all is. What’s more extraordinary: that the US Senate is repeatedly asking the Obama White House whether the president has the power to secretly order US citizens on US soil executed without charges or due process, or whether the president and his administration refuse to answer? That this is the “controversy” surrounding the confirmation of the CIA director – and it’s a very muted controversy at that – shows just how extreme the degradation of US political culture is.

As a result of all of this, GOP Senator Rand Paul on Thursday sent a letter to Brennan vowing to filibuster his confirmation unless and until the White House answers this question. Noting the numerous times this question was previously posed to Brennan and Obama without getting an answer, Paul again wrote:

Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial?”

After adding that “I believe the only acceptable answer to this is no”, Paul wrote: “Until you directly and clearly answer, I plan to use every procedural option at my disposal to delay your confirmation and bring added scrutiny to this issue.”

Yesterday, in response to my asking specifically about Paul’s letter, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said that while he is not yet ready to threaten a filibuster, he “shares those concerns”. He added: “Congress needs a better understanding of how the Executive Branch interprets the limits of its authorities.”

Indeed it does. In fact, it is repellent to think that any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – which claims to conduct oversight over the intelligence community – would vote to confirm Obama’s CIA director while both the president and the nominee simply ignore their most basic question about what the president believes his own powers to be when it comes to targeting US citizens for assassination on US soil.

Udall also pointed to this New York Times article from yesterday detailing the growing anger on the part of several Democratic senators, including him, over the lack of transparency regarding the multiple legal opinions that purport to authorize the president’s assassination power. Not only does the Obama administration refuse to make these legal memoranda public – senators have been repeatedly demanding for more than full year to see them – but they only two weeks ago permitted members to look at two of those memos, but “were available to be viewed only for a limited time and only by senators themselves, not their lawyers and experts.” Said Udall in response to my questions yesterday: “Congress needs to fulfill its oversight function. This can’t happen when members only have a short time to review complicated legal documents — as I did two weeks ago — and without any expert staff assistance or access to delve more deeply into the details.”

Critically, the documents that are being concealed by the Obama administration are not operational plans or sensitive secrets. They are legal documents that, like the leaked white paper, simply purport to set forth the president’s legal powers of execution and assassination. As Democratic lawyers relentlessly pointed out when the Bush administration also concealed legal memos authorizing presidential powers, keeping such documents secret is literally tantamount to maintaining “secret law”. These are legal principles governing what the president can and cannot do – purported law – and US citizens are being barred from knowing what those legal claims are.

There is zero excuse for concealing these documents from the public (if there is any specific operational information, it can simply be redacted), and enormous harm that comes from doing so. As Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s first choice to lead the OLC, put it during the Bush years: use of “‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.” No matter your views on drones and War on Terror assassinations, what possible justification is there for concealing the legal rationale that authorizes these policies and defines the limits on the president’s powers, if any?

You know who once claimed to understand the grave dangers from maintaining secret law? Barack Obama. On 16 April 2009, it was reported that Obama would announce whether he would declassify and release the Bush-era OLC memos that authorized torture. On that date, I wrote: “today is the most significant test yet determining the sincerity of Barack Obama’s commitment to restore the Constitution, transparency and the rule of law.” When it was announced that Obama would release those memos over the vehement objections of the CIA, I lavished him with praise for that, writing that “the significance of Obama’s decision to release those memos – and the political courage it took – shouldn’t be minimized”. The same lofty reasoning Obama invoked to release those Bush torture memos clearly applies to his own assassination memos, yet his vaunted belief in transparency when it comes to “secret law” obviously applies only to George Bush and not himself.

The reason this matters so much has nothing to do with whether you think Obama is preparing to start assassinating US citizens on US soil. That’s completely irrelevant to the question here. The reason this matters so much is because whatever presidential powers Obama establishes for himself become a permanent part of how the US government functions, and endures not only for the rest of his presidency but for subsequent ones as well.

What is vital to realize is that the DOJ “white paper” absolutely does not answer the question of whether the assassination power it justified extends to US soil. That memo addressed the question of whether the president has the legal authority to target US citizens for assassination where “capture is infeasible” and concluded that he does, but that does not mean that it would be illegal to do so where capture is feasible. Contrary to the claims of some commentators, such as Steve Vladeck, it is impossible to argue reasonably that the memo imposed a requirement of “infeasibility of capture” on Obama’s assassination power.

This could not be clearer: the DOJ memo expressly said that it was only addressing the issue of whether assassinations would be legal under the circumstances it was asked about, but that it was not opining on whether it would be legal in the absence of those circumstances. Just read its clear language in this regard: “This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful.” Again: the memo is not imposing “minimum requirements” on the president’s assassination powers, such as the requirement that capture be infeasible. For those who did not process the first time, the memo – in its very last paragraph – emphasizes this again:

doj white paperThat’s as conclusive as it gets: the DOJ white paper does not – does not – answer the question of whether the president’s assassination power extends to US soil. It does not impose the requirement that capture first be infeasible before the president can target someone for execution. It expressly says it is imposing no such requirements. To the contrary, it leaves open the question of whether the president has this power where capture is feasible – including on US soil. That’s precisely why these senators are demanding an answer to this question: because it’s not answered in this memo. And that’s precisely why the White House refuses to answer: because it does not want to foreclose powers that it believes it possesses, even if it has no current “intent” to exercise those powers.

The crux of this issue goes to the heart of almost every civil liberties assault under the War on Terror since it began. Once you accept that the US is fighting a “war” against The Terrorists, and that the “battlefield” in this “war” has no geographical limitations, then you are necessarily vesting the president with unlimited powers. You’re making him the functional equivalent of a monarch. That’s because it is almost impossible to impose meaningful limitations on a president’s war powers on a “battlefield”.

If you posit that the entire world is a “battlefield”, then you’re authorizing him to do anywhere in the world what he can do on a battlefield: kill, imprison, eavesdrop, detain – all without limits or oversight or accountability. That’s why “the-world-is-a-battlefield” theory was so radical and alarming (not to mention controversial) when David Addington, John Yoo and friends propagated it, and it’s no less menacing now that it’s become Democratic Party dogma as well.

Once you accept the premises of that DOJ white paper, there is no cogent limiting legal principle that would confine Obama’s assassination powers to foreign soil. If “the whole world is a battlefield”, then that necessarily includes US soil. The idea that assassinations will be used only where capture is “infeasible” is a political choice, not a legal principle. If the president has the power to kill anyone he claims is an “enemy combatant” in this “war”, including a US citizen, then there is no way to limit this power to situations where capture is infeasible.

This was always the question I repeatedly asked of Bush supporters who embraced this same War on Terror theory to justify all of his claimed powers: how can any cognizable limits be placed on that power, including as applied to US citizens on US soil (and indeed, the Bush administration did apply that theory to those circumstances, as when it arrested US citizen Jose Padilla in Chicago and then imprisoned him for several years in a military brig in South Carolina: all without charges). They did so on the same ground used by Obama now: the whole world is a battlefield, so the president’s power to detain people as “enemy combatants” is not geographically confined nor limited to foreign nationals.

Out of the good grace of his heart, or due to political expedience, Obama may decide to exercise this power only where he claims capture is infeasible, but there is no coherent legal reason that this power would be confined that way. The “global war” paradigm that has been normalized under two successive administrations all but compels that, as a legal matter, this power extend everywhere and to everyone. The only possible limitations are international law and the “due process” clause of the Constitution – and, in my view, that clearly bars presidential executions of US citizens no matter where they are as well as foreign nationals on US soil. But otherwise, once you accept the “global-battlefield” framework, then the scope of this presidential assassination power is limitless (this is to say nothing of how vague the standards in the DOJ “white paper” are when it comes to things like “imminence” and “feasibility of capture”, as the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson pointed out this week when suggesting that the DOJ white paper may authorize a president to kill US journalists who are preparing to write about leaks of national security secrets).

That this is even an issue – that this question even has to be asked and the president can so easily get away with refusing to answer – is a potent indicator of how quickly and easily even the most tyrannical powers become normalized. About all of this, Esquire’s Charles Pierce yesterday put it perfectly:

“This is why the argument many liberals are making – that the drone program is acceptable both morally and as a matter of practical politics because of the faith you have in the guy who happens to be presiding over it at the moment — is criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future. The powers we have allowed to leach away from their constitutional points of origin into that office have created in the presidency a foul strain of outlawry that (worse) is now seen as the proper order of things.

“If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior. Every four years, we elect a new criminal because that’s become the precise job description.”

That language may sound extreme. But it’s actually mild when set next to the powers that the current president not only claims but has used. The fact that he does it all in secret – insists that even the “law” that authorizes him to do it cannot be seen by the public – is precisely why Pierce is so right when he says that “the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior”. To allow a political leader to claim those kinds of of powers, and to exercise them in secret, guarantee chronic criminality.

Targeting US citizens v. foreign nationals

Whenever this issue is raised, people quite reasonably ask why there should be any difference in the reaction to targeting US citizens as opposed to foreign nationals. As a moral and ethical matter, and as a matter of international law, there is no difference whatsoever. I am every bit as opposed to targeting foreign nationals for due-process-free assassinations as I am US citizens, which is why I have devoted so much time and energy to opposing that policy. I also agree entirely with what Desmond Tutu recently said in response to calls for a special secret “court” to be created to review the targeting of US citizens for assassinations:

“Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the 19th century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.

“I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.”

But the explanation for why the targeting of US citizens receives distinct attention is two-fold: both political and legal. Politically, it is simply easier to induce one’s fellow citizens to care about an abusive power if you can persuade them that it will affect them and not merely those Foreign Others. It shouldn’t be that way, but the reality of human nature is that it is (recall how civil liberties and privacy concerns catapulted to the top of the news when US citizens generally – not just Muslims – were subjected to new invasive airport searches). So emphasizing that the assassination power extends to US citizens as well as foreign nationals can be an important instrument in battling indifference.

But there’s also a legal difference. As the Supreme Court has interpreted it, the US Constitution applies, roughly speaking, to two groups: (1) US citizens no matter where they are in the world, and (2) foreign nationals on US soil or US-controlled land (that’s why foreign Guantanamo detainees had to argue that the US had sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay in order to invoke the US Constitution’s habeas corpus guarantee against the US government). While international law certainly constraints what the US government may do to foreign nationals outside of land over which the US exercises sovereignty, the US Constitution, at least as the Supreme Court has interpreted it, does not. Moreover – not just for the US but for every nation – there is a unique danger that comes from a government acting repressively against its own citizens: that’s what shields those in power from challenge and renders the citizenry pacified and afraid.

The US policy of killing or imprisoning anyone it wants, anywhere in the world, is immoral and wrong in equal measure when applied to US citizens and foreign nationals, on US soil or in Yemen and Pakistan. But application of the power to US citizens on US soil does raise distinct constitutional problems, creates the opportunity to mobilize the citizenry against it, and poses specific political dangers. That’s why it is sometimes discussed separately.

Read original here: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/02/22-3

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd criticized Monday the new fundraising efforts of President Obama’s dark money group, Organizing for Action, calling a scheme for high donors to meet regularly with Obama “the definition of selling access.”

Todd was describing the quarterly meetings that will be enjoyed by OFA’s $500,000 donors, the New York Times reported over the weekend:

But those contributions will also translate into access, according to donors courted by the president’s aides. Next month, Organizing for Action will hold a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, where donors paying $50,000 each will mingle with Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Mr. Carson, who previously led the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.

“This just looks bad–it looks like the White House is selling access,” Todd said Monday. “It’s the definition of selling access. If you believe money has a strangle hold over the entire political system this is ceding the moral high ground.”

The perk was first reported by the Los Angeles Times earlier in February after a meeting between OFA leadership and top Los Angeles and Bay Area fundraisers for Obama’s reelection campaign.

OFA is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) and therefore not required to disclose the identities of its donors, nor the amounts they give. In addition to major campaign donors, the organization’s leadership has been courting corporate donors.

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, struggled Monday to create a distinction between OFA and Obama before finally hurrying away from the podium during a press conference (a difficult point to make when one considers OFA’s website can be found at www.barackobama.com, Obama’s recycled campaign website).

Read original here: http://freebeacon.com/chuck-todd-on-ofa-fundraising-this-just-looks-bad/

Read about today’s press conference here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/carney-unable-defend-ofa-arragnment-hurries-away-podium_703230.html

Referring to the administration’s ongoing targeted assassination program in his State of the Union address recently, President Obama said—despite the statement’s glaring inaccuracy—that his executive branch, throughout the development and execution of the “kill list” program, had “kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.”

New reporting by the New York Times on Thursday, however, reveals the effort now underway to keep Congress—not to mention the public—permanently uninformed about the nature and content of several still secret memos used by the president to justify the targeted killing of foreign and US citizens it suspects of terrorist activities.

Leading up to the confirmation hearings for the president’s nominee to lead the CIA John Brennan—the chief architect of the ‘kill list’ and Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser—members of Congress, most notably Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), demanded more detailed information about the legal framework used to appropriate such extreme executive authority.

Subsequently, after the controversy mounted during dramatic protests during Brennan’s testimony, members of the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee put a hold on the confirmation, demanding more information on the killing program and requesting access to the undisclosed legal memos.

But now, the Times reports:

Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.

The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos.

Despite ongoign concerns from Sen. Wyden and others, reporting by the Times found broad consensus that Brennan would ultimately be confirmed.  Whether that’s a political inevitability at this point or not, human rights groups and advocates of international law were not so easily swayed.

“We have this drone war, and the American public has no idea what the rules are, and Congress doesn’t know much more,” said Virginia E. Sloan, president of the Constitution Project told the Times.  Obama’s assurances in televised speeches or privately given to Congress, she added, “are absolutely no substitute for having the actual memos in hand.”

Read original here: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/02/21

On Wednesday a few hundred activists crowded into the courtroom of the Second Circuit, the spillover room with its faulty audio feed and dearth of chairs, and Foley Square outside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan where many huddled in the cold. The fate of the nation, we understood, could be decided by the three judges who will rule on our lawsuit against President Barack Obama for signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The section permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who “substantially support”—an undefined legal term—al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces,” again a term that is legally undefined. Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until “the end of hostilities.” In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime. Anyone detained under the NDAA can be sent, according to Section (c)(4), to any “foreign country or entity.” This is, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens. It empowers the government to ship detainees to the jails of some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

Section 1021(b)(2) was declared invalid in September after our first trial, in the Southern District Court of New York. The Obama administration appealed the Southern District Court ruling. The appeal was heard Wednesday in the Second Circuit Court with Judges Raymond J. Lohier, Lewis A. Kaplan and Amalya L. Kearse presiding. The judges might not make a decision until the spring when the Supreme Court rules in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, another case in which I am a plaintiff. The Supreme Court case challenges the government’s use of electronic surveillance. If we are successful in the Clapper case, it will strengthen all the plaintiffs’ standing in Hedges v. Obama. The Supreme Court, if it rules against the government, will affirm that we as plaintiffs have a reasonable fear of being detained.

If we lose in Hedges v. Obama—and it seems certain that no matter the outcome of the appeal this case will reach the Supreme Court—electoral politics and our rights as citizens will be as empty as those of Nero’s Rome. If we lose, the power of the military to detain citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military prisons will become a terrifying reality. Democrat or Republican. Occupy activist or libertarian. Socialist or tea party stalwart. It does not matter. This is not a partisan fight. Once the state seizes this unchecked power, it will inevitably create a secret, lawless world of indiscriminate violence, terror and gulags. I lived under several military dictatorships during the two decades I was a foreign correspondent. I know the beast.

“The stakes are very high,” said attorney Carl Mayer, who with attorney Bruce Afran brought our case to trial, in addressing a Culture Project audience in Manhattan on Wednesday after the hearing. “What our case comes down to is: Are we going to have a civil justice system in the United States or a military justice system? The civil justice system is something that is ingrained in the Constitution. It was always very important in combating tyranny and building a democratic society. What the NDAA is trying to impose is a system of military justice that allows the military to police the streets of America to detain U.S. citizens, to detain residents in the United States in military prisons. Probably the most frightening aspect of the NDAA is that it allows for detention until ‘the end of hostilities.’ ” [To see videos of Mayer, Afran, Hedges and others participating in the Culture Project panel discussion, click here.]

Five thousand years of human civilization has left behind innumerable ruins to remind us that the grand structures and complex societies we build, and foolishly venerate as immortal, crumble into dust. It is the descent that matters now. If the corporate state is handed the tools, as under Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA, to use deadly force and military power to criminalize dissent, then our decline will be one of repression, blood and suffering. No one, not least our corporate overlords, believes that our material conditions will improve with the impending collapse of globalization, the steady deterioration of the global economy, the decline of natural resources and the looming catastrophes of climate change.

But the global corporatists—who have created a new species of totalitarianism—demand, during our decay, total power to extract the last vestiges of profit from a degraded ecosystem and disempowered citizenry. The looming dystopia is visible in the skies of blighted postindustrial cities such as Flint, Mich., where drones circle like mechanical vultures. And in an era where the executive branch can draw up secret kill lists that include U.S. citizens, it would be naive to believe these domestic drones will remain unarmed.

Robert M. Loeb, the lead attorney for the government in Wednesday’s proceedings, took a tack very different from that of the government in the Southern District Court of New York before Judge Katherine B. Forrest. Forrest repeatedly asked the government attorneys if they could guarantee that the other plaintiffs and I would not be subject to detention under Section 1021(b)(2). The government attorneys in the first trial granted no such immunity. The government also claimed in the first trial that under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act (AUMF), it already had the power to detain U.S. citizens. Section 1021(b)(2), the attorneys said, did not constitute a significant change in government power. Judge Forrest in September rejected the government’s arguments and ruled Section 1021(b)(2) invalid.

The government, however, argued Wednesday that as “independent journalists” we were exempt from the law and had no cause for concern. Loeb stated that if journalists used journalism as a cover to aid the enemy, they would be seized and treated as enemy combatants. But he assured the court that I would be untouched by the new law as long as “Mr. Hedges did not start driving black vans for people we don’t like.”

Loeb did not explain to the court who defines an “independent journalist.” I have interviewed members of al-Qaida as well as 16 other individuals or members of groups on the State Department’s terrorism list. When I convey these viewpoints, deeply hostile to the United States, am I considered by the government to be “independent”? Could I be seen by the security and surveillance state, because I challenge the official narrative, as a collaborator with the enemy? And although I do not drive black vans for people Loeb does not like, I have spent days, part of the time in vehicles, with armed units that are hostile to the United States. These include Hamas in Gaza and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey.

I traveled frequently with armed members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El Salvador and the Sandinista army in Nicaragua during the five years I spent in Central America. Senior officials in the Reagan administration regularly denounced many of us in the press as fifth columnists and collaborators with terrorists. These officials did not view us as “independent.” They viewed us as propagandists for the enemy. Section 1021(b)(2) turns this linguistic condemnation into legal condemnation.

Alexa O’Brien, another plaintiff and a co-founder of the US Day of Rage, learned after WikiLeaks released 5 million emails from Stratfor, a private security firm that does work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Marine Corps and the Defense Intelligence Agency, that Stratfor operatives were trying to link her and her organization to Islamic radicals, including al-Qaida, and sympathetic websites as well as jihadist ideology. If that link were made, she and those in her organization would not be immune from detention.

Afran said at the Culture Project discussion that he once gave a donation at a fundraising dinner to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic organization. A few months later, to his surprise, he received a note of thanks from Sinn Féin. “I didn’t expect to be giving money to a group that maintains a paramilitary terrorist organization, as some people say,” Afran said. “This is the danger. You can easily find yourself in a setting that the government deems worthy of incarceration. This is why people cease to speak out.”

The government attempted in court last week to smear Sami Al-Hajj, a journalist for the Al-Jazeera news network who was picked up by the U.S. military and imprisoned for nearly seven years in Guantanamo. This, for me, was one of the most chilling moments in the hearing.

“Just calling yourself a journalist doesn’t make you a journalist, like Al-Hajj,” Loeb told the court. “He used journalism as a cover. He was a member of al-Qaida and provided Stinger missiles to al-Qaida.”

Al-Hajj, despite Loeb’s assertions, was never charged with any crimes. And the slander by Loeb only highlighted the potential for misuse of this provision of the NDAA if it is not struck down.

The second central argument by the government was even more specious. Loeb claimed that Subsection 1021(e) of the NDAA exempts citizens from detention. Section 1021(e) states: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

Afran countered Loeb by saying that Subsection 1021(e) illustrated that the NDAA assumed that U.S. citizens would be detained by the military, overturning two centuries of domestic law that forbids the military to carry out domestic policing. And military detention of citizens, Afran noted, is not permitted under the Constitution.

Afran quoted the NDAA bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said on the floor of the Senate: “In the case where somebody is worried about being picked up by a rogue executive branch because they went to the wrong political rally, they don’t have to worry very long, because our federal courts have the right and the obligation to make sure the government proves their case that you are a member of al-Qaida and didn’t [just] go to a political rally.”

Afran told the court that Graham’s statement implicitly acknowledged that U.S. citizens could be detained by the military under 1021(b)(2). “There is no reason for the sponsor to make that statement if he does not realize that the statute causes that chilling fear,” Afran told the judges.

After the hearing Afran explained: “If the senator who sponsored and managed the bill believed people would be afraid of the law, then the plaintiffs obviously have a reasonably objective basis to fear the statute.”

In speaking to the court Afran said of 1021(e): “It says it is applied to people in the United States. It presumes that they are going to be detained under some law. The only law we know of is this law. What other laws, before this one, allowed the military to detain people in this country?”

This was a question Judge Lohier, at Afran’s urging, asked Loeb during the argument. Loeb concurred that the NDAA was the only law he knew of that permitted the military to detain and hold U.S. citizens.

Read original here: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_ndaa_and_the_death_of_the_democratic_state_20130211/

Something strange is going on. Federal non-military agencies have bought two billion rounds of ammunition in the last 10 months. The Obama Administration says that federal law enforcement agents need the ammunition for “mandatory quarterly firearms qualifications and other training sessions.”

Radio show host Mark Levin is suspicious. He commented:

To provide some perspective, experts estimate that at the peak of the Iraq war American troops were firing around 5.5 million rounds per month. At that rate, the [Department of Homeland Security] is armed now for a 24-year Iraq war. A 24-year Iraq war! I’m going to tell you what I think is going on. I don’t think domestic insurrection. Law enforcement and national security agencies, they play out multiple scenarios. … I’ll tell you what I think they’re simulating: the collapse of our financial system, the collapse of our society and the potential for widespread violence, looting, killing in the streets, because that’s what happens when an economy collapses. I suspect that just in case our fiscal situation, our monetary situation, collapses, and following it the civil society collapses, that is the rule of law, they want to be prepared. I know why the government’s arming up: It’s not because there’s going to be an insurrection; it’s because our society is unraveling.

Even though the National Rifle Association says that the amount of ammunition bought isn’t excessive, considering the number of federal agents and the fact that the ammunition is used over a five-year period, there are others who question why the need for so many federal agents. Among them is Jeff Knox, director of The Firearms Coalition, who said:

It’s not the number of bullets we need to worry about but the number of feds with guns it takes to use those bullets. There are currently more than 70 different federal law enforcement agencies employing over 120,000 officers with arrest and firearms authority . . . That’s an increase of nearly 30 percent between 2004 and 2008. If the trends have continued upward at a relatively steady rate, that would put the total number of federal law enforcement officers at somewhere between 135,000 and 145,000. That’s a pretty staggering number, especially when you consider that there are only an estimated 765,000 state and local law enforcement officers. That means that about one in seven law enforcement officers in the country works directly for the federal government, not a local jurisdiction.

Read original here: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/02/17/Feds-Buy-2-Billion-Rounds-Of-Ammunition




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