February 2013 News
The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on John Brennan’s confirmation to be the next Director of the C.I.A. will begin at 2:30 p.m. eastern time. We’ll be live tweeting so be sure to follow us @defenddissent
Sue and Andrew
In this month's news:
Drones: Here, There, Everywhere
Over the course of two years, members of the intelligence committees of the House and Senate have asked the President 14 times to release the Office of Legal Council memos that lay out the legal rationale for extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens. The President has refused, until last night, when he agreed to allow both Intelligence Committees to view the memo. The rest of us will have to be satisfied with a Department of Justice White Paper on the subject that was leaked earlier this week. It is the clearest picture we have on the Administration’s thinking, and it is not a nice picture. The paper asserts that the President has the authority to kill Americans abroad, even if they are not on any battlefield, are not engaged in an active plot against the U.S., and it would be possible to capture them instead. Under the administration’s rationale, due process is desecrated because "there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations." Instead, the power of judge, jury, and executioner is largely in the hands of any “informed, high level official” that claims that the American target is a “senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or its associated forces.” The paper does not define “high level official,” “informed,” or “associated”. This process is, of course, shrouded under a veil of complete secrecy.
The reliance on the word of a “informed, high level official” on whether an individual can be targeted for death makes the possibility of wider abuses staggering. As legal rationales continue to become more and more stretched around the desired outcomes of those in power, there is no telling where the extent of this policy will lay.
The release of the paper prompted some members of Congress who are not usually so outspoken on peace and civil liberties issues to raise concerns. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the second-ranking Democrat in the House, spoke out the day after the white paper surfaced; "it deserves a serious look at how we make the decisions in government to take out, kill, eliminate, whatever word you want to use, not just American citizens but other citizens as well. We ought to carefully review our policies as a country." And according to the AP, “[t]he Senate Foreign Relations Committee likely will hold hearings on U.S. drone policy, an aide said Tuesday, and Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, both have quietly expressed concerns about the deadly operations.”
35 members of Congress, as members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, will have received the memo in time for John Brennan’s confirmation hearing to be CIA director this afternoon before members of the Senate Committee. But that is not nearly good enough. The President who declared in 2009 that he would have “the most transparent administration in history” is fighting The New York Times and the ACLU, who have sued for public release of the memo. It is also suspected that more than one memo exists. The Obama Administration is still hiding too much from the American people.
John Brennan, a staunch defender of the drone program, will likely encounter some pointed questions later today during his confirmation hearing. Senator Wyden and others who signed the above-mentioned letter are on that committee. You can follow the hearing live on Twitter as we will be tweeting about it as it happens. Be sure to follow us (@defenddissent).
Spying on Us at Home
Drones are already operating in U.S. airspace, and thousands more are on their way. Last year Congress passed a law directing the Federal Aviation Administration to figure out how to safely integrate drones into our national airspace by September of 2015, but they included no privacy or transparency provisions. Two stand alone bills were later introduced to address some concerns: Senator Paul’s (R-KY) bill required a warrant before law enforcement can use a drone for surveillance and Rep. Markey’s (D-MA) bill put limits on the government’s use of info it collects using drones. Neither bill got a vote, but they may be reintroduced this year. Senator Leahy has mentioned domestic drone surveillance as a priority for the Judiciary committee in 2013. It is an issue Defending Dissent Foundation will be working on. The current action on domestic drones is in the states and at the local level. Nine states have introduced legislation to limit or even outlaw the use of drones. The city of Charlottesville, VA passed a resolution on Feb. 4 that "calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court," and "pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones."
You can find more information about the state initiatives to curb drones here
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) has been on the books since 1984. It is outdated and needs serious revision, mostly because it makes felonies of actions that do little or no harm. As more and more of our social, commercial and political life takes place on the web, activists have been creative in finding new ways to dissent online, and the government has used the CFAA to crack down with disproportionate punishment for acts of civil disobedience.
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