Freedom for Sgt. Bergdahl, At a Price

In an opinion piece published in today’s edition of The New York Times, the newspaper’s editorial board explored the foreign policy concerns raised by the Bergdahl prisoner swap, “starting with President Obama’s decision to ignore a law that required him to notify Congress in advance about the bargain that secured the soldier’s freedom, and about how trading five high-value Taliban prisoners from the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, could affect America’s antiterrorism policy.”

The article raises an interesting debate that the Transparent Policy team will continue to explore in upcoming posts; we encourage you to read the article in its entirety here.

Targeted Killing of U.S. Citizens at Odds with the Constitution

In a recent post on the blog TomDispatch.com, Peter Van Buren published a piece condemning the United States’ drone policy, particularly in regards to the recent news that the U.S. is considering the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen abroad. In the piece, “Drone Killing the Fifth Amendment: How to Build a Post-Constitutional America One Death at a Time,” Van Buren explores the constitutionality of the U.S.’s drone policy, and argues that “They’ve thought about it [targeted killing]. They’ve set up the legal manipulations necessary to justify it.”

It is no great secret that both the legality and the morality of targeted killing has been a hot topic in recent months, Van Buren argues that the practice is at odds with the values our country is based on, as the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen denies him the due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Essentially, Van Buren’s point is that we are in a post-Constitutional America, and have strayed dramatically from the values of our Founding Fathers.

As someone who tends to agree with the loose constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, I side with Van Buren on this. Broadly, I believe that a document written over 200 years ago was never intended to be followed to the letter. Try as they might, our Founding Fathers had no way of predicting what our country would look like and the problems we would face in 2014. What Van Buren is saying, however, is that we have strayed too far from the values our country was built upon. While one would be hard-pressed to find the phrase “targeted killing” or “drone strikes” anywhere within the four corners of the Constitution, we still need to abide by the guiding principles outlined in the document. We are allegedly a country that values freedom, liberty, and due process. If we kill our own citizens in drone strikes, is that truly constitutional?

Kelly Ann Taddonio
Senior Research Fellow

February 18, 2014

 

FBI Re-Emphasizes Law Enforcement Role

Earlier this month, Foreign Policy reported that the FBI had made a controversial decision to drop the term “law enforcement” from its official fact sheet in favor of “national security.” The terms were in reference to the primary functions of the FBI. After facing swift backlash, the FBI has once again revised the fact sheet to include both terms. Continue reading

Secret Periodic Review Board Hearings Limit Transparency at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

This week, the Pentagon began notifying would-be observers of the first Guantanamo Periodic Review Board hearing, scheduled for November 20th, that the hearing (and all subsequent hearings) will be held in secret. The announcement highlights the challenges government officials face as they try to balance their commitment to transparency with the perceived national security risks associated with public hearings. Given the amount of classified information addressed in these hearings, it is impossible for the government to ever achieve true transparency throughout this process, leaving the public to question whether our country’s purported commitment to justice is being upheld at Guantanamo. Continue reading

Libyan Terror Suspect al-Liby Transferred to United States: Medical Reasons, or PR Damage Control?

The United States announced yesterday that Libyan terror suspect Abu Anas al-Liby (also known as Nazih al-Ragye) has been transferred to the United States after being held and interrogated aboard a U.S. Navy ship since his capture in Tripoli on October 5th. He is being held as a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 civilians. A criminal indictment was filed against him in 2001 for his suspected involvement in the embassy bombings, but he has evaded capture for over a decade. Continue reading

Alleged al Qaeda Member Extradited to the United States

The FBI issued a press release Thursday morning announcing that Nizar Trabelsi, a 43 year-old Tunisian and alleged member of al Qaeda, has been extradited to the United States from Belgium. After twelve years in custody, Trabelsi faces charges stemming from a plot to bomb an overseas NATO base and has been held in Washington D.C. since his arrival in the country.

Continue reading

Conflicting Views on Government Shutdown’s Effect on National Security

In the wake of the current government shutdown, one of the most pressing concerns of the public is whether the shutdown will have any effect on national security. Put simply, at this point, we have no way of truly knowing what the effects of the lapse in federal funding will truly be.

Continue reading

New Reports: U.S. Spied on Foreign Embassies

And the plot thickens.  It now looks like Edward Snowden’s release of NSA and CIA information will have ramifications outside the borders of the United States.  If you’ll recall, Snowden not only released secrets on the NSA’s PRISM program that involved collecting the phone and Internet records of millions of Americans, but also released information on American and British surveillance programs that targeted foreign diplomats at international summits.  Now members of the European Union, which includes some of America’s strongest allies, are speaking out against the programs.

The scandal seems to go deeper than we originally thought.  The initial accusations included claims that the British government had set up fake Internet cafes during the G20 summit and monitored diplomatic communications among foreign representatives.  We are now learning that this may have also gone on within U.S. borders.  New documents suggest that American intelligence agencies were monitoring up to 38 foreign embassies, including those belonging to Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, Japan, India, and countless others.  The NSA reportedly hacked into encrypted fax machines and was able to read communications that these diplomats were sending back to their home countries.

This new information has caused the European Union to question the integrity of the American government.  EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding voiced her concerns about how trade negotiations could continue with this knowledge.  In addition, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “this is unacceptable, it can’t be tolerated.  We’re no longer in the Cold War.”

I tend to agree with Commissioner Reding Chancellor Merkel.  I don’t think anyone would be surprised or outraged if we were spying on North Korea or Iran.  After all, both of those countries have made serious threats against the United States and/or its allies.  One could make a strong argument that it would be necessary to spy on those countries to protect our interests.  But the countries we are not accused of spying on do not exactly fit into the same category.  Just look at the list.  Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and India are all included in the top 15 trade partners of the United States, and there are surely other important trade partners on the list of 38.  They’re all countries that we more or less have friendly relations with.  And they’re all countries that we have invited onto our own soil, supposedly in an effort to improve those relations.  And now the American government has caused its own citizens and foreign governments to question its motives.

The most important question here is simply, why?  Why jeopardize our relationships with our most important allies?  And what are we even looking for?  Back in 2008 General Keith B. Alexander, head of the NSA, asked during a visit to a British intelligence station why we couldn’t collect all the information we can as often as we can?  That suggests to me that we might not even be looking for anything in particular.  It looks to me like we’re spying just for the sake of spying.  And that’s probably the most troubling part of this whole ordeal.  We’re breaking the trust of countries that we depend on for what amounts to nothing.

If you’ve read any of my other blogs on the NSA scandal, you’ll probably see that I’m a little more willing than some to give the government a pass when it comes to surveillance as long as they aren’t using the information to censor us or hamper our freedoms.  But this is a whole different animal.  We are by no means a self-sufficient country.  We depend on foreign trade and if you look at the largest foreign owners of U.S. debt you’ll see quite a few EU and Asian countries on that list.  We’re playing a dangerous game here.  We’re no longer talking about collecting data to stop terrorism.  That at least has some merit.  Now we’re talking about spying on our allies, allies who have to be able to trust us to conduct business or any other sort of diplomatic relations.  Well, kiss that trust goodbye.  We just keep digging ourselves deeper and deeper into what’s beginning to look like a bottomless pit.

The United States government:  Breaking the trust of American citizens and foreign governments since (CLASSIFIED).

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Pakistani Taliban will not attend peace talks, citing drone strike

After the recent drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region,  the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik e  Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) initially refuted claims that their number two commander and chief military strategist, Wali ur-Rehman, had been killed. The TTP have since admitted that Rehman was indeed killed in the strike, and cite that strike as the reason for refusing to attend the scheduled peace talks with the Pakistani government.

The Taliban’s spokesman blamed Pakistan’s civilian government for failing to put a stop to the CIA-run strikes:

“We announce an end to our peace overtures because we believe that the Pakistani government is equally involved in the drone attack,”

It has always been reasonably clear that the talks were not going to lead to much anyway, and it is likely that this simply presented the Taliban an excuse to pull out while appearing to take the high road. However, reports indicate that if anyone in the Pakistani Taliban was open to serious peace talks, it was probably Rehman.

Some here at home have also criticized the strike, since they see it as a breach of President Obama’s newly announced changes in our drone policy, first because it was run by the CIA rather than the DoD, and second because there is no indication that Rehman posed an imminent threat of the type Obama’s new policy would require for targeted killing. However, according to Foreign Policy’s Situation Report, the adoption of the new rules is not a simple matter of flipping a switch somewhere in the Oval Office:

“there is no timeline when it comes to migrating drone operations to the DOD. ‘You don’t move it overnight,” said the former senior official.’ “

Paul W. Taylor, Senior Fellow
Center for Policy & Research

David Rothkopf on American responses to terrorism: Not All Terror is Created Equal

Shortly after the Boston bombings, Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf posted a very insightful article on CNN.com, which is very well worth reading. In it he compares recent terror events, such as the Boston bombings and the ricin letters sent to the President and others, with the non-terrorist events like gun violence.

“Terror and terrorists are real and their stories are compelling, but we ought to remember that by far the biggest threats we face come from elsewhere—from what might be corporate negligence or greed; from natural disasters or the heedless abuse of the environment; from people who find it far too easy to get their hands on guns or from leaders who twist their interpretation of the Constitution to overreact to one threat even while ignoring and exacerbating another.”

“In short,” he asks,  “how much damage are we doing to ourselves in our efforts to stay safe or pursue justice?”

Paul W. Taylor, Senior Fellow
Center for Policy & Research