Evening Blues Preview 4-21-15
This evening's music features songwriter, guitarist and harmonica player TV Slim.
Here are some stories from tonight's post:
A Texas-born man suspected of being an operative for Al Qaeda stood before a federal judge in Brooklyn this month. Two years earlier, his government debated whether he should be killed by a drone strike in Pakistan.
The denouement in the hunt for the man, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who was arrested last year in Pakistan based on intelligence provided by the United States, came after a yearslong debate inside the government about whether to kill an American citizen overseas without trial — an extraordinary step taken only once before, when the Central Intelligence Agency killed the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. ...
The Obama administration’s discussions about the fate of Mr. Farekh, who used the nom de guerre Abdullah al-Shami, began in earnest in 2012, and in the months that followed the C.I.A. and the Pentagon ramped up surveillance of his movements around Pakistani tribal areas.
Drones spotted him several times in the early months of 2013, and spy agencies used a warrant issued by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor his communications. The Pentagon nominated Mr. Farekh to be placed on a so-called kill list for terrorism suspects; C.I.A. officials also pushed for the White House to authorize his killing.
But the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was skeptical of the intelligence dossier on Mr. Farekh, questioning whether he posed an imminent threat to the United States and whether he was as significant a player in Al Qaeda as the Pentagon and the C.I.A. described. ... The debate over what to do about Mr. Farekh stalled, infuriating members of Congress. During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed. ...
Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the secret meetings about whether to kill an American citizen “chilling.” Mr. Jaffer, who has sued the Obama administration to make public the legal arguments underpinning its targeted killing program, said it was “telling” that parts of the government advocated for the killing of Mr. Farekh even though capture turned out to be possible
Some of the most powerful people in the U.S. government wanted to kill Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh. The military, the CIA, and an influential Republican member of Congress all argued that a drone should be sent to kill the American.
Now he is in custody. And if convicted of all charges that he faces, he'll get a maximum of 15 years in prison.
How can a person narrowly escape extrajudicial assassination, get extradited to the United States, appear inside our judicial system, and face just 15 years in prison? Powerful people were prepared to end his life, but the extent of what they're willing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt wouldn't even draw a life sentence.
The New York Times notes "a years long debate inside the government" about whether to kill him. That timeframe alone hints at the nonsensical definition of imminence used by the White House–if a violent attack didn't occur during the course of a years-long debate, calling the hypothetical attack imminent has no meaning. In this case, no attack ever materialized, so it seems clear that the "imminence" threshold wasn't met. And it is equally clear that capturing Al Farekh was possible.
In providing a glimpse of the administration’s internal debate about a possible targeted killing of a US citizen, the Al Farekh case points to the many questions about the program that remain unanswered. Here are some:
- Where do members of Congress get authority to advocate for the killing of American citizens? Mike Rogers didn’t get his way, but why should he even have a say in the execution of an American citizen?
- Why did both the CIA and the Pentagon believe that Al Farekh could not be captured, when events proved that in fact he could? Does the availability of military technology that allows us to kill remotely affect how “feasible” we deem a capture? After all, before the advent of drones, when the alternatives to capture were to send troops into a foreign country or to drop a bomb, with inevitable collateral damage, the threshold for authorizing force was presumably quite high. When one can use a pinpoint strike with a drone, executed with plausible deniability and covert consent from Pakistan, does that cause the intelligence and defense agencies to redefine “feasible,” allowing for a lighter trigger for the decision to kill? As a legal matter, it shouldn’t. As a pragmatic matter, it very likely does.
- How urgent could the threat posed by Al Farekh to the United States have really been if two years later, we were able to capture him and arraign him in an ordinary federal court in Brooklyn? The concept of “continuing and imminent threat” has always seemed an oxymoron. For a threat to be imminent, it should be immediate; the purpose of this requirement is to ensure that lethal force is truly a last resort. But Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011, was reportedly on the kill list for more than a year before he was actually killed. And there is no evidence that Al Farekh engaged in any attacks against the US in the two years between the time officials requested kill authorization and his capture in Pakistan. The administration argues that when terrorists hide among the civilian population and threaten to attack without warning, the requirement of “imminence” needs to be relaxed. But if the threat “continues” for years, can it really be said to be “imminent?”
[More excellent questions at link. -js]
Your tax dollars at work:
Last week, the Pentagon joined in the naval blockade of Yemen slightly, with a US ship boarding a Panamanian cargo ship they accused of having Iranian weapons on board. They didn’t find any.
Now, the US is doubling down, adding the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier, along with several support ships, nominally to stop the weapons shipments that neither they, nor any of their allies, have been able to prove are happening.
Mammoth deal an even greater boon to corporate power than previously known, warn analysts
A freshly-leaked chapter from the highly secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, currently under negotiation between the United States and European Union, reveals that the so-called "free trade" deal poses an even greater threat to environmental and human rights protections—and democracy itself—than previously known, civil society organizations warn. ...
The European Commission's latest proposed chapter (pdf) on "regulatory cooperation" was first leaked to Friends of the Earth and dates to the month of March. It follows previous leaks of the chapter, and experts say the most recent iteration is even worse.
"The Commission proposal introduces a system that puts every new environmental, health, and labor standard at European and member state level at risk. It creates a labyrinth of red tape for regulators, to be paid by the tax payer, that undermines their appetite to adopt legislation in the public interest," said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe in a press statement released Monday.
Regulatory cooperation refers to the "harmonization of regulatory frameworks between the E.U. and the U.S. once the TTIP negotiations are done," ostensibly to ensure such regulations do not pose barriers to trade, the Corporate Europe Observatory explained earlier this month.
The chapter includes a "regulatory exchange" proposal, which will "force laws drafted by democratically-elected politicians through an extensive screening process," according to an analysis from CIEL.
"Laws will be evaluated on whether or not they are compatible with the economic interests of major companies," the organization explains. "Responsibility for this screening will lie with the 'Regulatory cooperation body,' a permanent, undemocratic, and unaccountable conclave of European and American technocrats."
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from relatives of thousands of victims of conflict in Colombia aiming to sue Chiquita Brand International.
In its decision, the court referred to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling which limited attempts by foreigners to use U.S. courts to seek retribution for human rights abuses abroad under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
"By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court has created yet another obstacle in the path of victims seeking remedies for abusive corporate actions abroad, and allows a U.S. corporation to get away with financing terrorism without accountability to its victims in U.S. courts," said EarthRights International (ERI), an environmental and human rights legal nonprofit.
From 1997-2004, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC), used Chiquita’s financial support to spread fear in the banana-growing region of Urabá, Colombia. The AUC tortured and killed thousands of villagers, labor leaders, and community organizers who were suspected of favoring leftist guerrillas or making trouble for the plantation owners.
"For human rights advocates around the world, this decision is particularly baffling considering Chiquita admitted to paying the paramilitaries in response to a U.S. government investigation," ERI stated.
As noted in the petition (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court, Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007 to "Engaging in Transactions with a Specially-Designated Global Terrorist."
Also of interest: