Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Shy Assassins

The killers who maintain and act upon the White House Kill List are afraid that they might be killed if their identities ever become known. Therefore, lawyers for the Obama administration have requested that the individuals associated with drone strikes against Muslims be outfitted with the legal equivalent of a KKK hood for their own protection.

Of course, they don't flaunt their depraved cowardice in quite that way. They've magnanimously dropped their previous claim of "attorney-client privilege," for instance. I suppose that granting Obama and other government officials "client" status was a bit much, even for them. At the very least, it implied a little bit of guilty knowledge. And in this new age of populist outrage, the last word they want applied to themselves is privilege.

But far from checking their privilege, they're doubling down on it and calling it National Security.

The administration had been fighting a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which demanded that it release to the public details about its secretive Predator and Reaper drone attacks. But seeing the writing on the wall -- a federal judge was about to issue a decision directing the White House to comply -- Obama's lawyers are now offering a redacted version of his drone playbook.

Yes, they actually do call his hit list a "playbook."  Obama must fiddle with his Kill List the same way he fiddles with his March Madness basketball brackets. (Actually, he uses baseball cards for his Terror Tuesday sessions, but let's not quibble: it's almost college hoops season.) He and his wonkish bookies pretend that their drone targets are just like expendable athletes. When human beings can be reduced to numbers and statistics and charts and odds, killing them doesn't feel odd at all. It's all just an intellectual game.

Oops! Better Redact That Name, Mister Prez

As Politico's Josh Gerstein explains:
Last month, Manhattan based U.S. District Court Judge Colleen MacMahon issued an order requiring the Justice Department to produce the PPG document (sometimes called the Playbook), as well as two others, for in-camera review by her.
In a letter to the judge Friday, government lawyers said officials had long been debating making an edited version of the policy public and they have now decided to do so.
"Before receiving the Court’s February 25, 2016 Order, the Government was engaged in extensive discussions regarding the possibility of discretionarily releasing portions of the PPG. Lengthy, high-level,inter-agency coordination was necessary to ensure that the sensitive national security classification equities contained in that document remain protected. Following those deliberations, the Government has determined to waive privilege," Justice Department attorneys wrote.
Translation: They've never had any intention of sharing details of their assassinations with the public, but they must pretend to have been agonizing over the issue for months and years. They are worried about their own security and perpetual billions of dollars in profits for military contractors. For bullshit purposes only, greed and death are always euphemised as "national security."
The government has dropped its claims of attorney-client privilege and deliberative process privilege with respect to the drone-related memo — claims MacMahon signaled in her order that she was inclined to reject. Instead, the administration is claiming protection for portions of the memo under an exemption for classified information and another for intelligence sources and methods.
Translation: the redacted memo will probably resemble the 2010 memo which the government was forced to release when the ACLU brought suit over the Anwar al-Awlaki assassination. The attempted justification for the murder of a U.S. citizen by a politician (Obama) was written  by White House lawyer David Barron before his convenient and swift confirmation as a U.S. District Court judge. Barron is now said to be on Obama's short list to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

In the latest court case, an anonymous White House official too shy to be named told Politico that important lives would be directly at risk if all the details in Obama's Playbook ever came to light. "The Government is committed to protecting properly classified national security information, as well as law enforcement information, where disclosure could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual," he huffed.

Apparently, the lives and physical safety of the stateless human beings residing in "tribal areas" are not to be reasonably protected, let alone given even the slightest passing thought.

The Politico article concludes:
ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said Friday he hoped the decision to release the so-called playbook on drones indicated a new willingness to allow more public scrutiny of the program.
"The release of the Presidential Policy Guidance is long overdue, and we are gratified that the administration has agreed with us that much of it should finally be made public" Jaffer said. "We hope that the administration’s decision to release this critical document reflects a broader commitment to make the lethal drone program more transparent. In that spirit, the administration should also release the legal memos that are the foundation for the program, basic information about those killed in past drone strikes, and detailed investigative files relating to strikes that killed bystanders.”
All credit to the ACLU where due, of course. But why prematurely praise the administration for the transparency it has historically lacked? I suggest that we just skip the aspirational accolades for now. Moreover, there is no demand from the ACLU that the "lethal drone program" actually be stopped entirely, given all the blowback from victims' friends and families that Obama's White House now seems to acknowledge.  

As Glenn Greenwald noted in an Intercept piece this week, all the media outrage centered on Donald Trump's vow to keep torturing people, and hunting down and killing the relatives of suspected terrorists is a pretty sick joke:
Here we see the elite class agreeing to pretend that Trump is advocating views that are inherently disqualifying when — thanks to those doing the denouncing — those views are actually quite mainstream, even popular, among both the American political class and its population. Torture was the official American policy for years. It went way beyond waterboarding. One Republican president ordered it and his Democratic successor immunized it from all forms of accountability, ensuring that not a single official would be prosecuted for authorizing even the most extreme techniques, ones that killed people — or even allowed to be sued by their victims.
If Donald Trump becomes president, official opacity will go right out the window. He won't be able to resist boasting about every single person whom he orders killed or tortured. Every drone strike will become the occasion for a chest-thumping press conference.

It's not Trump's agenda than has the Establishment quivering. It's his lack of a filter. When former CIA Chief Michael Hayden promised that the military would never follow an "illegal" order from a President Trump, he was only kidding. What he really meant is that the military would never allow Trump to expose the criminality that has been an operating principle of the deep state ever since its inception more than 200 years ago. 

Trump would be well advised to bring his own private goon squad to the White House to protect him against the Special Ops and the craven cowards who are currently scrambling to get their own names and deeds redacted from the Presidential Playlist.


Meredith NYC said...

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker is being interviewed for 3 hours on cspan's In Depth series, re her book Dark Money and the Rise of the Right. (re the Kochs, etc) 12 noon and repeated 12 midnight.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Reviewing Obama's consistent record at disregarding the tablets brought down by Moses about matters like murder and considering Hillary's performance and prospects along the same fault lines, do you ever entertain a fleeting suspicion that what is deemed the greater of two evils today might turn out to be the lesser of two evils in history, at least in foreign policy where dangerous games are being played?

Trump shows no respect whatsoever for the Republican establishment. He's splitting further away from them with every passing week. In his sorry way he is at least acknowledging the anger building up among voters in the crumbling Republic. Tell me you don't like that. In some ways Trump is already counted as an alternate way forward, in other words, the Third Party we may not have been looking for but, hell, if it quacks like a Third Party…etc., etc...well, maybe it's a third party.

Please stop throwing things at me. There's more daydreaming along these lines among the good blogs.

Not that I am worthy to lace up his jackboots, mind you, but here's Benito Mussolini, the most brilliant, droll and ironic commenter over at The Intercept.

Benito Mussolini
Mar. 5 2016, 1:23 p.m.
An interesting article in the Guardian, with Trump supporters giving insight into their twisted souls. Many of those eager for the system to burn feel that Trump is the best choice to light the match.

While they may not be representative of Trump supporters overall, it suggests the worst mistake that Trump could make would be to reconcile with Republican Party leaders at the convention. He should keep running against them, since that appears to be his clearest avenue to broad electoral support. Can he find a way for Mitt Romney to keep attacking him, all the way through to November?

Suppose in the general election he declares that wars in the Middle East are not in America’s best interests, promises to bring home all the troops, and declares the best way to prevent terrorist attacks is to stop giving visas to terrorists. To some people, it would make more sense than the current fight them over there, so they won’t fight us here doctrine. At least it’s a new approach.

Then suppose he promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Wall St. fraud. Suddenly the election would line up with Trump on one side, and Clinton, the Neocons, the Republican Establishment, the Democratic Establishment, the military industrial complex and the bankers on the other side. That would have the makings of a populist revolt.

It probably won’t happen. However, the fact that it could is due to some changes which will continue even after this election cycle. First, the media is becoming more difficult to control. If they collectively tried to freeze Trump out of the news coverage, they would fail. His speeches and social media announcements create controversy, and the media can’t maintain the discipline necessary to ignore them. Once they break ranks, it becomes a free for all, allowing him to dominate the news cycle. The second is that the party machines and their voter lists are less critical than they used to be. Social media allows people to set up their own communications networks, and private companies now allow you to target tailored messages to groups of voters.

This is a challenge to the political parties, who will have to make some significant changes to prevent their nomination process from again being hijacked by the voters. The Democratic Party has succeeded this time, due to stronger control by party apparatchiks, wise provision for large numbers of non-elected super-delegates and use of clientelism to extract greater loyalty from some of its key voting blocks. But they may not be so lucky next time. Managing a democracy is harder work than it appears.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

That was enlightening, JayOttawa. Benito is quite astute. And for me, his message is quite optimistic. Although I will cast my vote for Jill Stein if Bernie loses the nomination, which he is sure to do, between Hillary and Trump, I hope Trump wins. Yes, the guy is a fascist. But so much of what Obama has done is fascism, just sugar coated and hidden Hillary will be the same. At least Trump will fight to get us out of foreign wars and so called free trade agreements.

I actually GET his popularity. Conservatives who have played by the rules and worked hard all their lives are seeing their financial security and opportunities for their kids to have a decent life disappearing under the oligarchical control of our government. They may not be college educated but these people have a sense of fair play and get that the current system is rigged against them. They know it is wrong for the bankers to get a bailout, and more offensively, flaunt their new hijacking of the system when their own kids can't find meaningful employment or their small businesses can't compete with cheap foreign imports. I may cringe every time Trump opens his mouth, but I get his appeal.

We on the left are also angry at the lack of fairness and the acknowledgement that the system is rigged against us. Strangely, I find I have more in common with Trump supporters, minus the racism, than I do with Hillary supporters.

I hope Benito is right and there is a revolution on the way. I hope, as weary as so many of us are, that we can pull ourselves together enough to continue to fight the good fight.