Obama’s drone leaks: new imminence, old tactics

Noura Erakat writes: The Senate Armed Services Committee did not mention drones a single time during Senator Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings last week. That oversight, however, says a lot more about the politics surrounding the hearings than it does about the enduring salience of drone technology to U.S. national security policy. The Department of Justice’s “white paper” obtained by NBC on Monday affirms that.

The paper, drafted for some members of Congress and a less detailed analysis than the official, still unreleased, legal memo, provides the most robust legal analysis of the Obama administration’s targeted killing policy to date. Although it makes no mention of any particular target, the white paper is clearly responsive toAnwar Al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born Muslim cleric killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The 16-paged document explores the lawfulness of killing of a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al-Qaeda or an Associated force on foreign soil in an area outside of active hostilities, who poses an imminent threat, and whose capture is not feasible.

The memo is woefully insufficient as a legal analysis. Even its title, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or an Associated Force,” makes assumptions that merit thorough examination. Who, for example, qualifies as a Senior Operational Leader? Al-Awlaki never commanded any attacks but was a propagandist who arguably inspired them. Is an associated force a group that shares Al Qaeda’s ideology or must it be a part of a central command structure? Al-Awlaki’s Yemen-based non-state group, Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was developed independently in the south of Yemen and has national goals distinct from the aims of the transnational Al Qaeda network. [Continue reading…]

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