Brennan nod exposes drone strategy
WASHINGTON — President Obama's plan to install his counterterrorism adviser as director of the CIA has opened the administration to new scrutiny over the targeted-killing policies it has fought to keep hidden from the public.
The administration's refusal to provide details about one of the most controversial aspects of its drone campaign — strikes on U.S. citizens abroad — has emerged as a potential source of opposition to CIA nominee John Brennan, who faces a Senate confirmation hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The secrecy surrounding that policy was punctured on Monday with the disclosure of a Justice Department “white paper” that spells out the administration's case for killing Americans accused of being al-Qaida operatives.
The white paper, which was first reported by NBC News, concludes that the United States can lawfully kill one of its own citizens overseas if it determines that the person is a “senior, operational leader” of al-Qaida or one of its affiliates and poses an imminent threat.
But the 16-page document allows for an elastic interpretation of those concepts and does not require that the target be involved in a specific plot, because al-Qaida is “continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.”
The timing of the leak appeared aimed at intensifying pressure on the White House to disclose more-detailed legal memos that the paper summarizes — and at putting Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, on the defensive for his appearance on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the intelligence committee, said Brennan's level of influence and the timing of his nomination have given lawmakers leverage that they lacked in previous efforts to seek details from the White House.
Brennan “is the architect of the administration's counterterrorism policy,” Wyden said. “If the Congress doesn't get answers to these questions now, it's going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get them in the future.”
The paper does not spell out who might qualify as an “informed, high-level official” able to determine whether an American overseas is a legitimate target. It avoids specifics on a range of issues.
The document's emphasis on “senior, operational,” which appear together 16 times, helps to explain the careful phrasing the administration employed in the single case in which it intentionally killed an American citizen in a counterterrorism strike.
Within hours after Anwar al-Awlaki's death in September 2011, White House officials described the U.S.-born cleric as “chief of external operations” for al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen.
The white paper, which was distributed confidentially to certain lawmakers last summer, doesn't indicate when the underlying Justice Department memos on targeted killings of Americans were completed.
As a result, it is unclear whether the memos were in place before the first apparent attempt to kill Awlaki in 2009.
Civil liberties groups challenged the white paper. “The parallels to the Bush administration torture memos are chilling,” said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fetal parts in Planned Parenthood lab shown in 4th video
- Protesters ousted in bid to block Shell icebreaker on Portland river
- Feds eye use of federal dollars for ads for for-profit colleges
- Minn. dentist laying low in slaying of lion
- Highway bill on Obama’s desk extends funding 3 months
- VA whistle-blowers aghast
- Piece of plant found on island on way to France for analysis
- Only 1 co-op health program, of 23, made money in 2014, report says
- Geological gem The Wave on Arizona-Utah border draws worldwide visitors
- McClatchy: Emails on Clinton’s private server contain Benghazi information
- OSU band song mocked Holocaust victims