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Top White House official comes clean about covert drone strikes

In recent weeks, controversy has been boiling over the targeted killings of American citizens with drones.  While most would agree that Americans who join hostile overseas terrorist groups like al Qaeda may be difficult to capture and may necessitate strikes with deadly force, most also take issue with the way the administration handled the information.

At a time when drones are deployed over U.S. airspace to "monitor the homeland" and discussions of arming such drones are ongoing, the issue is a sensitive one for Americans who fear what could happen under a system with such a lack of transparency.

I. Down the Rabbit Hole

Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary who recently joined MSNBC -- a network owned by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) and General Electric Comp. (GE) -- gave an exclusive interview with his new employer on the politics talk segment "Up".

In the interview clips are played in which he and the new press secretary -- Jay Carney -- are shown dodging questions about targeted drone killings.  In the interview, he confirms, "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.'"


When reporters started asking questions about drones, Mr. Gibbs recalls, "I realized I'm not supposed to talk about it."

The case is drawing fictional comparisons, such as "The Wizard of Oz" (in which a normal man hides behind an animated curtain to hide his lack of magic powers) or "Alice in Wonderland" (due to questions of how many layers of obfuscation are wrapping the reality of the covert actions -- i.e. how far down the rabbit hole, we must go to find the truth).

Reaper drones
Reaper drones are currently being used over U.S. airspace. [Image Source: The Real Revo]

Mr. Gibbs used The Wizard of Oz analogy in his own interview.  The former official, who says he never talked to President Obama about the issue, complains that "when [drone strikes on Americans are] obviously happening, undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes."

II. Drone Medal Awarded, Brennan Nomination Jeopardized

The White House has finally agreed to release some documents to the Senate and House, but much about the reportedly highly codified death strikes program is unknown.  Reportedly the only people with fully details are the Obama administration and high ranking military and intelligence officials.

President Obama
President Obama says sometimes U.S. citizens must be killed, although it may be too sensitive to say when that time is. [Image Source: AFP/Getty Images]

U.S. use of drones overseas has exploded in recent years.  The autonomous surveillance-cum-killing machines offer a way to project U.S. hegemony without risking the lives of servicemen.  Reportedly one in three U.S. warplanes is today a drone.

The Pentagon recently announced a new medal of honor -- the Distinguished Warfare Medal -- for drone operators and cyberwarfare experts.  The medal ranks above the prestigious Purple Heart (which is awarded to servicemen wounded or killed in battle), raising criticism.  Critics dub the award "the Geek's Cross".

The controversy over drone killings of American citizens and the secrecy surrounding the administrations' rules on the topic has impacted the nomination of John Brennan to become director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

John Brennan
John Brennan helped mastermind the drone killings. [Image Source: Reuters]

John Brennan has also been criticized for supporting "enhanced interrogation" (torture), warrantless wiretaps, and the Iraq invasion/war.  Much of these policies were his work during his time with the previous Bush Administration.  Salon has a nice piece on these issues.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.) says the strikes raise serious Constitutional issues, due to the administration's secrecy and ambiguous language.  He says unless he gets answers he plans to do "whatever it takes" to block Mr. Brennan's nomination.  


That in turn, could create chaos in U.S. intelligence ranks and compromise America's ability to monitor enemies and defend itself overseas.

Source: MSNBC News



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RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By ppardee on 2/25/2013 2:53:42 PM , Rating: 5
While I respect your opinion, the Constitution, last I read, doesn't hold the same view.

Is this wrong? Yes. It is very wrong. It's not an emotional reaction. It is extremely logical, rational and forward thinking. If we give the President the power to kill citizens without trial or oversight and in secret, we have given the President the power to kill any opposition to his party. I don't believe Obama will do this, but you could see a religious zealot using this power to attack abortion clinics because they are killing Americans or a socialist extremist to kill people he sees as a threat to stability (i.e. people who aren't willing to give everything to the government).

It is wrong and it is dangerous. If anyone in power tells you differently, they are fools or liars.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By wyrmslair on 2/25/2013 3:37:51 PM , Rating: 1
I see your point but you seem to miss one of mine. Joining an anti-American terrorist group is, in my understanding, a renunciation of their status as an American citizen. At that point, they are no different than any other "high value" target in the opposition. Calling them "American Citizens" facilitates your argument but, by my understanding of the intent of our doctrine, it is a falsehood.

Drone attacks on our home soil against our own citizenry (those who are not actively seeking to destroy our government and our people) would be a different matter entirely. Declaring yourself an enemy of the state leaves you a fair target for being treated as one.

That said, I do agree with your concern if your example was more apropos.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By JasonMick (blog) on 2/25/2013 4:10:49 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
I see your point but you seem to miss one of mine. Joining an anti-American terrorist group is, in my understanding, a renunciation of their status as an American citizen. At that point, they are no different than any other "high value" target in the opposition. Calling them "American Citizens" facilitates your argument but, by my understanding of the intent of our doctrine, it is a falsehood.

Drone attacks on our home soil against our own citizenry (those who are not actively seeking to destroy our government and our people) would be a different matter entirely. Declaring yourself an enemy of the state leaves you a fair target for being treated as one.

That said, I do agree with your concern if your example was more apropos.
Then formally codify that and make it public.

The biggest problem here is the administration hiding behind smoke and mirrors and saying "what drone strike documents?" when we all know what is happening. In this case the lack of transparency is what really gives an impression of dishonesty.

Put the facts out and let them speak for themselves.

Otherwise it's pointless to speculate on the policy, as we don't know when and where the President considers it legal to killing U.S. citizens, just that in some cases he is killing U.S. citizens.

Even if those killings follow some pattern you're comfortable with, the fact that killings are occurring with no formal acknowledgement of the policy should frighten you and any other American.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By Reclaimer77 on 2/25/2013 9:56:37 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Put the facts out and let them speak for themselves.


When has this Administration ever done that on ANYTHING?


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By TSS on 2/26/2013 3:23:23 AM , Rating: 2
I'd say the administration is doing something far more insidious, using the communication error that just occured between you 2 to further their plans.

I'd think most Americans would agree that, once a american declares himself an enemy combatant which can simply be done by joining up with a group at war with the US, they lose their right to protection. Why on earth would you let somebody intent on causing harm back into the country?

The problem is how the administration words it, by using "american citizenship". As others pointed out you have to go through a prodcedure to renounce your citizenship, one which terrorists obviously won't go through as US citizenship would be very convenient for their plans.

At this point, it's simply dicatorship. How hard would it be for the government to produce documents "from the CIA" showing whoever they want to be part of whoever they want. There are terrorists in the real world as we've seen with multiple bombings in the past, and they are quite obsecure before they actually strike.

It makes it hard to find the real targets, but at the same time, it makes it real hard for people who are false targets to prove that they aren't. Dead men don't prove their innocence. Incase they don't die right away, with torture, you can make people say anything.

The fact that obama has, against his own campaign promises, not only not-closed but made it more difficult to close guantanamo bay, should tell you enough at this point.

If you want to talk facts, there are 2 very simple ones: 1. The US is broke beyond all repair. 2. The people will riot and overthrow the government as soon as it becomes public knowledge AKA no sane person can deny it anymore.

This would break the power of the foreign banks in control via the federal reserve, who don't want that. Thus a framework for supression needs to be in place before that moment comes. The past 2 years has seen the actual building of that framework, from FEMA camps, to new NSA datacenters, to drones, guantanamo, the high prison population, federal economic policies designed to destroy rather then create etc etc ad infinitum, all designed to either stop a public revolt or to condition the behaviour of the population into thinking it's normal, rather then suspect.

If any of you plan on revolting, you've got less then 2 years. Hyperinflation will start hitting somewhere in 2014, after which the currency controls come, the public riots because people can't get their money and then the plan of supression will be put into effect. Otherwise, get out of the US.

The 5 largest US banks have a derivatives exposure of +$212 trillion . You don't want to be anywhere near when that goes off.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By vortmax2 on 2/26/2013 12:07:26 PM , Rating: 2
As much as this sounds like a crazy conspiricy theory, it's probably much closer to reality than we'd want to believe. Scary.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By vortmax2 on 2/26/2013 12:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
*conspiracy*


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By ppardee on 2/25/2013 4:11:52 PM , Rating: 5
OK, so if we know these people are enemy combatants and we believe them to be a threat to national security (which is not required according to the DoJ), why can't we get a judge involved and actually have some oversight? It is a unilateral decision. The Executive Branch makes the decision with absolutely no checks and balances.

While I believe state-sanctioned killing is murder, I understand that is not the current law and is not the popular view of the country. I'm not going to say we shouldn't execute people. But this would be akin to the governor of a state sending the police out to shoot someone who is a member of a gang but has not been connected to any crime himself. The person has admitted to being an enemy of the state (no gang in the history of the world has ever been all about charity) so the governor has the right to kill him.

Clearly, this is wrong. The view that members of terrorist organizations are different is the problem. Until you can prove that this person has the intent to commit a crime or has committed a crime (and have proven it in court, or at least had some judicial oversight of ANY kind), it is unconstitutional to execute them.

The conversation now is "They could have been a threat to national security. I took them out."

It should be
"They are an eminent threat to national security."
"Prove it."
"Here's my evidence."
"Yeah, I agree. Take them out."

Until that judicial oversight happens, any killing of an American citizen by the military is murder.

And as far as renunciation of citizenship:
"A person wishing to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer, or in a foreign country (normally at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate); and sign an oath of renunciation"

You can't do it verbally or even by mail. It has to be done in court and voluntarily. Simply joining an international gang doesn't do it.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By Scrogneugneu on 2/25/2013 10:31:59 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Until that judicial oversight happens, any killing of an American citizen by the military is murder.


Because killing anybody that is NOT an American citizen is absolutely NOT murder.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By espaghetti on 2/26/2013 8:57:36 AM , Rating: 2
It bares the name "war", sometimes.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By ppardee on 2/26/2013 3:37:07 PM , Rating: 2
I know it seems like a double standard. I would like to say that the government shouldn't kill anyone at any time, but that's not really realistic. When there is an eminent threat of danger, lethal force is necessary.

If someone points a gun at you, you shoot them before they can shoot you. I believe that each person has the right to defend themselves. I believe that the country has a right to defend itself, but in either case, you have to prove that the person killed was an immediate threat. Obama can't do that with the drone strikes (on Americans or otherwise).


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By MrBlastman on 2/25/2013 4:23:59 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Joining an anti-American terrorist group is, in my understanding, a renunciation of their status as an American citizen. At that point, they are no different than any other "high value" target in the opposition. Calling them "American Citizens" facilitates your argument but, by my understanding of the intent of our doctrine, it is a falsehood.


Well just throw out the entire rule of law then if you want to think like that. Doctrine and the Constitution are two different things.

They did not have all their facts straight prior to the drone strike. They also did not as I understand it imminent need to strike the citizen and his relatives to prevent mass casualties of American citizens. Only weeks or months afterwards did they have legitimate evidence to indict the individual.

That is scary. That is very scary. That is also NOT how the rule of law works. You have to first gather sufficient evidence for a Judge to not only issue a warrant for an individual's arrest but also enough for a Judge / Grand Jury to issue a formal indictment of an individual.

Due process was /not/ followed here. This is the problem. It is a horrifying problem when you start to imagine just how far our Government can go with it.

quote:
Declaring yourself an enemy of the state leaves you a fair target for being treated as one.


The problem is, as the administration in Washington sees it, is that you don't even have to declare yourself an enemy of the state formally. The state (sorry, Federal Thugs) only have to consider you an enemy of the state to take action.

This, this is a huge issue! Assassination is illegal but in their eyes, they've found a way to circumvent it against our own citizens?

Oh, you might argue... don't do anything and you have nothing to worry about. Well, the problem with that is just what is "something" that you have to do wrong to cross the line. The line is blurred. In fact, it dissolves when you throw out the rule of law. When that line is not finite and is only what "the powers that be" deem as crossing it, then you have a serious violation of our Constitution and the jeopardy of all of our well beings at stake.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By Reclaimer77 on 2/26/2013 10:07:08 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Joining an anti-American terrorist group is, in my understanding, a renunciation of their status as an American citizen.


And since the Government is who gets to decide what is and isn't a "terrorist group", surely you can see the problem with this.

I'm sure Obama and members of his radical Administration would just love to say the Tea Party, for example, is a "right wing terrorist" organization.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By vortmax2 on 2/26/2013 12:12:29 PM , Rating: 2
Good point.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By flatrock on 2/26/2013 10:14:13 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Joining an anti-American terrorist group is, in my understanding, a renunciation of their status as an American citizen. At that point, they are no different than any other "high value" target in the opposition. Calling them "American Citizens" facilitates your argument but, by my understanding of the intent of our doctrine, it is a falsehood.


Who determines that they have joined an anti-American terrorist group? Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If you have the executive branch determining which Americans are enemies, what constitutes a threat to America, and carrying out the targeted attack there is no accountability and not even lip service to the protections guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution.


RE: Gibbs always pissed me off.
By kfonda on 2/27/2013 1:05:36 AM , Rating: 2
and what happens when a president decides to declare "the Tea Party" or the "Occupy Movement" an anti-American terrorist group?


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