27 April 2012
Building Opposition to the Obama Administration’s Expanded Use of Drones
By Kevin Gosztola

The Dissenter


CODEPINK press conference at National Press Club on Drone Summit

The United States Constitution and international law make it illegal to kill someone without due process except in armed conflict or where they pose an imminent threat and there is no other option available, staff attorney Maria Lahood of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explains. The reality is the Obama Administration, in expanding the use of drones, have flouted the rule of law and escalated the use of state-sanctioned killings off of the battlefield.

Just days after President Barack Obama granted the CIA expanded authority to launch drone attacks against “militants” in Yemen who might be believed to have some connection to al Qaeda, activists, lawyers, journalists, activists, human rights advocates and robotics technology experts are coming together for an international Drone Summit in Washington, DC.

The peace group, CODEPINK, and two legal advocacy organizations, CCR and Reprieve, which is based in the UK, will be hosting this summit that aims to bring communities that have been working on issues created by drones.

LaHood will be speaking at the summit about her work on the case of Al-Aulaqi v. Obama to stop the US government from killing US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. CCR lost in court. District Court Judge John Bates dismissed the case after deciding Nasser Al-Awlaki, Anwar’s father, had no “standing to bring a case on behalf of his son.” He also decided that Anwar “could have accessed the court himself, even though if he came out of hiding he was going to be killed.” Furthermore, Lahood adds, “The court decided that whether a president can decide to kill a citizen in hiding overseas who is determined an operational member of AQAP” is up to the president, the Executive Branch. The Judiciary Branch “does not have a role in reviewing that decision.”

Less than a year later, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed. So, too, was another US citizen, Samir Khan. Then, two weeks later, sixteen year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar’s son, was killed in a US drone attack.

The US government has refused to acknowledge that they murdered a US teenager in Yemen.

“It’s obviously outrageous,” says Lahood. “These are US citizens killed by their own government, by our government.” Adding “insult to injury,” the government leaked false information about how Abdulrahman was a twenty-one year-old militant who had been killed. His family had to release his birth certificate showing he was a sixteen year-old US citizen to clear his name.

The CCR and American Civil Liberties Union have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the al-Majalah attack in Yemen in 2009, one of the deadliest attacks that killed a number of innocent civilians. They want to know the “factual legal basis,” what the US has done to conceal responsibility, etc. They demand more details on something WikiLeaks unveiled—how Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government in Yemen pledged to say US bombs were theirs and not from America. However, the government is arguing it does not have to release this information because it would reveal “state secrets.”

“The government still claims it can’t reveal this information,” Lahood explains. “There’s a legal memo evidently citing justification for killing Al-Awlaki but the Justice Department won’t release it. Yet, Attorney General Eric Holder talks about it at Northwestern Law School.”

“Because of the secrecy, it’s hard. You can’t assess properly what they’re doing. There are certain things we know are illegal because what we know about them. There needs to be transparency no matter what.”

LaHood understands the key issue, which is that drones are merely a piece of technology being used to justify the expansion of “the war paradigm.” They are tools of warfare being utilized to expand unchecked executive power.

Drones are basically weapons of dehumanization and intimidation, and, “whether it would be by drones or by another method, it’s still illegal to kill off the battlefield when there is no imminent threat and when there is no due process.

Yesterday, The Dissenter covered CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin’s decision to organize a summit. There was also a mention of the fact that Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who sued the US government on behalf of drone victims, was recently granted a visa by the State Department after fourteen months spent waiting for a response to his application.

Both appeared on Democracy Now! this morning. Akbar described why he found it important to come to the United States:

"… [T]he main purpose of visiting U.S. after I started a drone litigation in Pakistan, that I, on behalf of the victims in Pakistan, wanted to reach out to Americans so that they can make an informed judgment on drones. Their opinion matter, and it’s going to matter in next elections, as well. So they need to know what drones are doing to humans in Pakistan, many of them who are civilians. And it has been said by independent groups and journalists, as well, a bigger—higher number of civilian victims. And that has to be reported to the American public so they can make an informed judgment on drones, that if American government should let be killing people overseas in their names."

Akbar also outlined how the CIA is covering up the carnage that occurs as a result of drone strikes by cordoning off areas in Waziristan so that the world is unable to get information on victims.

"…[E]very time we have brought names and identities of victims from North Waziristan, the civilian victims, we haven’t been contradicted publicly by the CIA if that is right information or wrong, because what we have found from our investigation is that even those people who are being taken out, they have been taking out—they have been taking out these people as signature strikes, basing on their behavior or conduct. So, even CIA doesn’t know the identity of most of the people they’re killing in Waziristan…"

Akbar later says President Obama is either ”lying to the nation, or he is too naive, to believe in the reports which CIA is presenting” to him.

Watch the Democracy Now! interview with Akbar and Benjamin here:


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