Bradley Manning Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy

Yesterday, Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the Bradley Manning case at Fort Meade, acquitted Manning of the charge of aiding the enemy.  The charge was the most serious that Manning faced, and almost certainly would have led to life in a military prison.  For those of you unfamiliar with Bradley Manning, he is the Private First Class who was on trial for releasing the data published by Julian Assange on Wikileaks.  Because of that, the case has received a great deal of attention from both the media and human rights groups who are attempting to find a balance between government secrecy, transparency, and civil liberties.

Bradley Manning’s acquittal on this charge is not exactly surprising given that it was unprecedented for the government to bring such a charge in a leak case.  But still, the government’s argument made some sense if you look at the letter of the law.  Luckily, common sense seems to have prevailed.  I don’t believe (and I certainly don’t think the government could prove) that he intended to aid the enemy, and a vast majority of the information he leaked probably did not aid al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups in any way.  On top of that, there seems to be a lot of questions regarding whether or not most of the information should have been classified in the first place.

That’s not to say that Bradley Manning’s actions weren’t worthy of punishment.  Any way you look at it, it’s probably not a good policy to allow military personnel with security clearance to release classified information.  But that’s where the other charges come into play.  Manning is by no means off the hook.  Yes, he beat the most serious and highly publicized charge against him, but he was still convicted of a myriad of other charges.  Manning was still convicted of six violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, as well as most of the other 22 charges lodged against him (10 of which he has already plead guilty to).  He faces a maximum of 136 years in prison, although he probably won’t receive the maximum sentence due to the plea bargain I mentioned.  Regardless, it’ll probably be pretty hefty.

A statement put out by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), both members of the House Intelligence Committee, was cautiously optimistic but also a little confusing to me.  Here it is:

“Justice has been served today. PFC Manning harmed our national security, violated the public’s trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes. There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security. The House Intelligence Committee continues to work with the Intelligence Community to improve the security of classified information and to put in place better mechanisms to detect individuals who abuse their access to sensitive information.”

My confusion here comes from their claim that they are working hard toward securing classified information and our national security.  It seems to me like their plan is to bring the hammer down on anyone like Bradley Manning who leaks information to deter others from doing the same.  I know that leaking classified information is different than murder in that it’s usually a planned, calculated act.  The leaker usually knows there’s a good chance he might get caught, so I can see the logic behind a deterrence theory argument.  But I highly doubt anyone planning to pull a Bradley Manning-esque stunt doesn’t already know that the crime carries a serious penalty.

Maybe instead of throwing the book at Bradley Manning, who seems to have had serious concerns about the military’s policies, we should take a look at overhauling our classification systems.  And maybe we shouldn’t be handing out security clearances like candy.  Politicians should absolutely go after people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.  Leaking government secrets should be punished.  But the politicians should at least own up to the fact that this is partially their fault.  If we start paying attention to what we classify and who we give security clearance to, we won’t find ourselves in these situations.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Bradley Manning’s Top Charge to Remain

Earlier today, a military court judge dismissed a motion by Bradley Manning’s defense team to drop “aiding the enemy” from the list of charges against him.  Manning, who is now definitely facing life in military prison without the possibility of parole, is the U.S. Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking the information that eventually ended up on Wikileaks.  He was arrested in 2010 in Iraq and charged with 22 separate counts related to the release of over 700,000 documents to Wikileaks.  Though he plead guilty to 10 of the 22 counts back in February, Manning’s trial did not start until early last month.

The decision was left up to Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding over the case at Fort Meade in Maryland.  She rejected the motion based on the “accused’s training and experience and preparation,” as well as Manning’s knowledge that terrorist organizations would have access to the leaked documents on the Internet.  The defense’s motion claimed that the government had failed to show that Manning possessed “actual knowledge” that he was providing information to the enemy, and could only show that he unintentionally or accidentally gave terrorist organizations access to the documents.

I think it’s worth noting that there’s a pretty sharp difference between “knowingly” and “intentionally” aiding the enemy, a difference that the defense seems to have overlooked.  I agree that Manning’s intent probably wasn’t to provide al-Qaeda with sensitive government documents. The way he went about releasing the information wouldn’t make any sense if that scenario were true.  But at the end of the day, his intent isn’t what matters if you read Article 104, the charge which Manning’s defense appealed:

Any person who—
(1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or
(2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to, or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly;
shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct. This section does not apply to a military commission established under chapter 47A of this title.

What matters in regard to this charge is that Manning knowingly released classified government documents that he knew could indirectly reach terrorist organizations.  You can argue all day about whether or not Manning actually deserves to be charged under Section 104.  But if we’re going by the book, Judge Lind made the right call.

Putting aside the technical aspects of the case, journalists are all in a tizzy about what this means for investigative journalism.  Many are claiming that the Obama administration is trying to make an example of Manning by bringing the hammer down on a highly visible whistleblower.  They are concerned that the threat of life in prison without the possibility of parole will prevent others like Manning to come forward when they believe the government is doing something unethical or shady.  These are valid concerns.  There is a reason why freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy.  If we aren’t aware of what our representatives are doing, how can we vote them out of office if we disagree with their policies?

Still, I think the government has a legitimate concern as well.  Sure, we over-classify and give security clearances to far too many people, but that doesn’t mean it should be a free-for-all.  There is plenty of classified information that I’m sure I wouldn’t want to go public, and the government has a right to protect that information in the name of national security..  But the solution isn’t to throw Manning into prison for the rest of his life; it’s to fix the system.  Because of the aforementioned over-classification, the government has created a climate in which someone almost HAS to leak classified information to get to the bottom of any real stories.  Since we seemingly classify everything nowadays, what should be public and what should be classified gets lumped together and we see exactly what happened in Manning’s case.  And when we have an estimated 4 million people with top-secret security clearance, let’s not act too surprised when that happens.

Did Bradley Manning do something stupid?  I think he did.  Did terrorist organizations gain access to classified government documents because of his actions?  Undoubtedly.  But the government needs to realize that the guilt doesn’t lie solely with Manning.  If we’re really worried about protecting classified information, we need to start being selective in regard to what we classify and who we give clearance to.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Snowden in Possession of “NSA Blueprints”

On top of all the other damning information he has already released about the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden now claims that he also has access to “literally thousands” of documents that essentially amount to a blueprint of how the NSA operates.  Anyone who acquires this information would then presumably be able to drop under the NSA’s radar and avoid surveillance altogether. Snowden has apparently insisted that this batch of  documents not be made public.  Speaking through journalist Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian employee who first reported on the leaks, Snowden claims that he took the documents to prove his credibility after releasing the information that started this tidal wave.  What’s strange is that despite Snowden’s insistence that the new documents not be released, Greenwald (who is supposedly close to Snowden at this point) seems to think that their release wouldn’t harm our national security interests.

Just to backtrack for one minute, there have been reports that al-Qaeda has already changed their communications networks specifically because of information Snowden released at the beginning of this saga.  The government has made claims that the programs do work and helped to foil a pretty significant number of attacks, both foreign and domestic.  And even the staunchest supporters of government transparency would have to admit that there needs to be at least some level of secrecy for the NSA to properly function.  Even Snowden seems to agree with that, and he had no problem with publicizing classified information and jetting off to China to avoid the consequences.  But Glenn Greenwald, who might be the only person besides Snowden outside of the government with access to these documents, thinks that making the inner workings of the NSA available to EVERYONE (including terrorists), won’t have any negative consequences?  You have got to be kidding me.  Luckily, it doesn’t matter what Greenwald thinks at the moment since the documents have been encrypted.

Snowden shared this with Greenwald at a Moscow airport, where he continues to hide out while awaiting decisions on his requests for asylum in South America.  Greenwald told the AP:

“I haven’t sensed an iota of remorse or regret or anxiety over the situation that he’s in. He’s of course tense and focused on his security and his short-term well-being to the best extent that he can, but he’s very resigned to the fact that things might go terribly wrong and he’s at peace with that.”

Of course he’s at peace.  He still has everybody’s attention.  He has reporters from all over the world camping out at a Russian airport with bated breath, hanging on his every word.  On top of that, he has heads of state offering him asylum.  Getting the world to guess what’s in documents that only he has access to sounds like it’s right in his wheelhouse.

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m getting a little tired of Snowden’s whole charade.  He’s still clinging to his original story that he did this for the American people.  This would be a lot more believable if he didn’t have a “dead man’s pact,” meaning any unreleased information he holds will be released if he dies, meaning the government can’t make an attempt on his life without some serious repercussions.  He has acknowledged that such a pact exists, but claims that it’s much more nuanced than that.  Either way, he’s threatening to release information that he has admitted will be harmful to national security if he is killed by the government.  See guys?!  He loves us so much that he’s putting his own safety over the safety of millions of American citizens!

I can understand his instinct for self-preservation, but the jig is up.  As the great Jim Young once said (yes, I’m quoting Boiler Room), “Tell me you don’t like my firm, tell me you don’t like my idea, tell me you don’t like my neck tie.  But don’t tell me you care about my Constitutional rights when you’re willing to throw me under the bus to ensure your own safety.”  Eh, close enough.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Court of Appeals upholds denial of FOIA request seeking Bin Laden photos

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yesterday decided to uphold a district court ruling that the US did not have to release photos of taken during and after the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The photos were sought by a conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, under a Freedom of Information Act request. The court found, however, that since the photos were used to conduct facial recognition to verify the body as Bin Laden, releasing the photos could endanger intelligence methods.

While I do not dispute that ruling, I am happy about the outcome on another ground altogether. John Bennett, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, described the photos in a declaration to the court as “quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse.” And according to the Appeals Court,

“As the district court rightly concluded, however, the CIA’s declarations give reason to believe that releasing images of American military personnel burying the founder and leader of al-Qaida could cause exceptionally grave harm.”

To my mind, this decision validates an important reason for the Freedom of Information Act: informational transparency. Congress did not pass it to give the media free access to salacious material to boost their ratings.

As citizens of an open democracy, Americans have a right to information about their government and its activities. But where the government has a legitimate reason for withholding a document, even if it is on grounds such as diplomatic “embarrassment,” as happened in the Bradley Manning Wikileaks case, a FOIA request should as a matter of policy only be granted if there is a legitimate informational purpose. Judicial Watch could identify no cognizable information contained in the pictures that was not already publicly known. Thus, releasing the photos would not serve FOIA’s purpose of informational transparency, only the media’s purpose of generating buzz.

A vastly undervalued aspect of protecting our rights as citizens of an open society is to avoid abusing those rights. One example of the dangers that fear of unwarranted disclosure can cause can be found in the case of the CIA interrogation tapes. Fearing that these tapes may at some point become public, the CIA destroyed them. The courts yesterday thus did us a favor in protecting the government from unnecessary disclosure of gruesome photos, helping to ensuring that the government can do its job without fear that anything and everything will wind up on Fox, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera.

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

 

Drone Courts and Transparency

On March 31, Greg McNeal, a national security law professor at Pepperdine, spoke with NPR’s Weekend Edition about targeted killing accountability and transparency, including the possibility of a drone court. A short clip is available at Lawfare, where McNeal has been blogging on drones and targeted killing for a couple of months. I haven’t followed his work at Lawfare (though I will assign my self the task of catching up), but I am heartened to hear that he appears to agree with the stance I have taken in previous posts on this site (here, and here, and here), and for many of the same reasons. He goes on, however, to very insightfully explain the dynamics that cause Congress to be, heretofore, unwilling to draw red lines on drones and targeting killing abroad.

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow
Center for Policy & Research

Gates Supports Drone Court

English: Official portrait of United States Se...

Official portrait of United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number of high-profile officials and former officials who have voiced support for a court to review lethal drone operations is multiplying.

On Monday, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Bob Gates told CNN that while he has long advocated the use of drones to monitor and target suspected terrorists, he also supports greater oversight.

Gates’ opinion will carry weight. As a career public servant who has served both Democratic and Republican administrations, he is perceived as a trustworthy source of non-partisan analysis. And because in the last two administrations he held high-level positions bearing directly on drone operations, he can be considered to have intimate knowledge of their uses, and their risks.

“I’m a big advocate of drones,” said Gates. While  he admits that innocent people are sometimes killed by drones, he says “the numbers, I believe are extremely small”. Given the limited options to confront the terrorists and insurgents in places like Pakistan, Gates still thinks that drones are the best option, explaining “You do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapons system that you have.”

But despite their efficacy, Gates agrees with the recent calls for some form of oversight panel or court:

“Whether it’s a panel of three judges or one judge or something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to launch an attack against an American citizen – I think just as an independent confirmation or affirmation, if you will – is something worth giving serious consideration to”

Currently, the Senate Intelligence Committee is reviewing proposals for creating such a tribunal. However, no legislation has yet been started.

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research

A FISC for Drones?

With the confirmation hearings of John Brennan as Director of Central Intelligence, news related to the U.S. drone program is coming fast. This time it was made by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Both during the hearing and in comments to the press afterward, Sen. Feinstein suggested that she and other Democrats would be working to create a new court that would review the administration’s decisions on who may be targeted in lethal counter-terrorism operations. (I assume at that such a court would be given jurisdiction over all targeted killings, not just those conducted by drones, despite the common conflation of the two.)

The concept of a court or tribunal of some sort to review or provide oversight for targeted killing decisions, whether restricted to those targeting U.S. citizens or with a broader mandate, is not new (see, e.g., our previous post). However, this is the highest profile such suggestion that has yet been made.

In Sen. Feinstein’s conception, the court would be modeled after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), with the aim of increasing transparency and to correct public misconceptions about civilian casualties.

Such a court could also help to alleviate concerns that the administration is overly-permissive in its decisions to use targeted killing instead of other alternatives. For example, the editorial board of the New York Times writes, “Mr. Brennan’s assertions that the government only resorts to lethal force when ‘there is no other alternative’ is at odds with reports of vastly increased drone strikes.” An independent body which reviews such determinations would go a long way in ensuring that such concerns are addressed.

As an interesting aside, it seems that not everyone is concerned that President Obama is sliding into a Bush Doctrine approach. John Yoo wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “[t]he real story revealed by the [white paper released Monday] is that the Obama administration is trying to dilute the normal practice of war with law-enforcement methods.” However, this appears to be a minority view.

Ex Ante or Ex Post?

If the FISC forms the model for this targeted killing court, then the assumption would be that it would that the court would review the targeting decisions ex ante. That is, before the administration could act, it would have to produce for the court the evidence or intelligence gathered to support the targeting decision. The court would then review the evidence for some level of sufficiency before allowing the operation to move forward.

However, many of the suggestions for a tribunal to review these killings call instead for ex post review. This is the model required in Israel. The basic idea of this is generally that waiting until the operation is complete keeps the court out of the way of military or para-military operations, but still maintains some oversight.

Robert Chesney of Lawfare provided some very interesting points to consider about such a court, including whether the review should be ex ante or ex post. He falls on the side of ex ante, but some of his commentary actually seems to point in the other direction. First, he points out the all of the serious propositions would subject the nomination process to judicial review, not the “trigger pull.”  This temporally removes the judicial authorization from the final decision to kill, and in Chesney’s view eliminates the concern that the process will interfere with the execution of the operation.

I’m not sure that it does. Names may be placed on the list at any time, conceivably as the result of a time sensitive push within the intelligence community. While I am not an expert in the process of targeting decisions, I think that the executive may need to be able to act quickly on new information that indicates that a subject is targetable. Ex ante review would place an additional hurdle between the decisive intelligence and the operation. Chesney seems to realize this by admitting the need for an “exigent circumstances exemption.” But this exception would itself mean defaulting back to an ex post review.

Additionally, Chesney notes that “Some judges want absolutely nothing to do with this … due to hostility to the idea of judicial involvement in death warrants.  (And that’s without considering the possibility of warrant-issuing judges finding themselves the object of suit or prosecution abroad.)”

Judges would likely be much more comfortable with ex post review. Ex post review would free them from any implication that they are issuing a “death warrant” and would place them in a position that they are much more comfortable with: reviewing executive uses of force after the fact. While there are clearly parallels that could be drawn between the ex ante review proposed here and the search and seizure warrants that judges routinely deal with, there are also important differences. First and foremost is that this implicates not the executive’s law enforcement responsibility but its war-making and foreign relations responsibilities, with which courts are loath to interfere, but are sometimes willing to review for abuse.

Additionally, in search and seizure warranting, there an ex post review will eventually be available. That will likely not be the case in drone strikes and other targeted killings unless such a process is specifically created. There are simply too many hurdles to judicial review (including state secrets, political questions, discovery problems, etc) for the courts to create such an opportunity without congressional action.

Chesney also noted that executive officials involved in the nomination process would prefer an ex ante review to shield them from unexpected civil liability by the victims or their families. I’m sure that it is true that administration officials would like to have “certainty ex ante that they would not face a lawsuit.” However, this is not a guarantee that the courts can provide to the executive. As noted above, as with search and seizure  warrants, there are issues to consider after the approval of the executive action. Ex ante review does not allow for inquiry into important ancillary issues, such as the balancing of risk to civilian bystanders. Also, it provides no assurances that new, exculpatory intelligence forces a reassessment of the targeting decision. Only ex post review would achieve this.

There is also the problem that typified the FISC: permissiveness. Of the tens of thousands of FISA warrant requests, only a handful have been rejected. When allowing for modification of the requests, it is not clear whether any have been finally rejected. There is little reason to believe that the proposed “drone court” will be much different. It is far too likely that a court will hesitate to impede an operation that the executive believes is required to protect out national security. Once the operation is complete, however, the court will not be inclined to hold back its criticism on all manner of aspects of the operation, from the initial targeting decision to the final execution.

Lastly, as Chesney himself points out:

Of course, there is also the question whether creating any such system is constitutional in the first place, especially if the system is framed to encompass more than just US persons…

This may true for ex ante review, but one of the courts’ fundamental mandates reviewing the executive’s activities for abuse of its power. This is even true in cases involving military or foreign affairs, where the executive is given the widest latitude and enjoys the greatest autonomy.

I do share Chesney’s suspicion that a tort-based process in which victims seek damages is not the appropriate means of reviewing targeted killing decisions. However, I am certain that regardless of whether an ex ante review is used, some ex post review must be available. There are simply too many variables between the initial nomination and the final execution of the mission that should be subject to some independent review. Indeed, as a veteran, I know the value of lessons learned in after action reviews, but I also know how often these reviews are shortchanged or skipped altogether. An ex post judicial review will ensure that this does not happen here.

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research

UN Drone Investigator Endorses Brennan for DCI

In a previous post, I suggested that the UN was beginning what was likely a highly biassed investigation of drone strikes by the U.S. and its allies. But I may have spoken too soon.

The British lawyer heading up the investigation, Ben Emmerson now appears to have endorsed John Brennan’s role in the U.S.’s drone program, as well as his nomination for Director of Central Intelligence.

In an interview with Danger Room, Emmerson said that

“By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA’s policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control. It’s right to view this as a recognition of the repository of trust that Obama places in Brennan to put him in control of the organization that poses the greatest threat to international legal consensus and recognition of the lawfulness of the drone program.”

Emmerson is convinced that Brennan has tried to ensure that the program properly balances the interests of the law, counterterrorism, and the agencies implementing it. He also claims that Brennan has upset some CIA hawks by holding them back and enforcing presidential authority over the agency.

Emmerson also believes that Brennan brings consistency and intelligibility to the program’s decision-making:

“Brennan has been the driving force for the imposition of a single consistent and coherent analysis, both legal and operational, as to the way the administration will pursue this program,” he explains. “I’m not suggesting that I agree with that analysis. That’s not a matter for me, it’s a matter for states, and there’s a very considerable disagreement about that. But what I am saying is that what he will impose is restraint over the wilder ambitions of the agency’s hawks to treat this program in a manner that is ultimately unaccountable and secret.”

“The decision to put Brennan as director of the CIA is a decision to stamp presidential authority over the agency, and to bring it firmly under control.”

Mr. Emmerson’s focus on the internal processes and institutions related to the drone program is very promising, since it means that his investigation will less likely turn into a litany of mistakes made in individual strikes or dubious statistics on civilian deaths. It may even suggest that Mr. Emmerson’s findings could include useful advice on procedural protections against such dangers as mistaken targeting, bad decisions regarding proportionality, and lack of accountability for abuses.

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research

Update to Targeted Killing Story

Yesterday, President Obama yielded to congressional demands that he release the OLC memo detailing his administration’s legal justification for the targeted killing of US citizens who they suspect are senior terrorists. This was document provided the legal basis on which the administration in 2011 targeted and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an alleged senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, currently the most  dangerous of the various al Qaeda franchises.

While his administration had previously not been willing to even admit that such a memo existed, he has agreed to share the memo with the House and Senate intelligence committees. This was likely a move to temper opposition to the confirmation of John Brennan as Director of Central Intelligence.

Brennan has been a central figure in the Obama administration’s drone program, from being the first official to publicly acknowledge its existence to direct involvement in its administration. While a strong supporter of the drone program, he has also stated that he “would not be the director of a CIA that carries out missions that should be carried out by the U.S. military.”

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research

DOJ Targeted Killing White Paper

On Monday, NBC obtained an unsigned Justice Department white paper outlining the Obama administration’s legal position on circumstances under which the United States could lawfully kill a U.S. citizen in a counter-terror operation.  Unfortunately, the 16-page document is not the full OLC memo that has been requested by several members of Congress, but an abbreviated version of it that was provided last summer to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

The white paper expressly limits its scope to those citizens who are a senior al-Qaeda member or an “associated force” in a foreign country, outside an area of active hostilities. In brief, it asserts it would be legal to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen in such cases if three conditions are met:

1) an informed, high-level government official has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat to the U.S.;

2) capture is infeasible; and

3) the operation complied with applicable laws of war.

The while this white paper is as yet the most detailed public account of the Obama administration’s legal justification for the targeted killing of Americans, it is unfortunately short on details of the decision-making process. As pointed out by Steve Vladeck at Lawfare, most Americans understand that there may be occasions in which U.S. citizens who engage in terrorist activities must be targeted in the same way that foreign terrorists are. What matters is the process for coming to that decision. We have due process protections because we are concerned no only about government overreach, but also to adequately protect us from erroneous determinations and unnecessary reliance on force. This helps ensure that, for example, they really are an active member of al Qaeda, that they cannot they be arrested, and that we cannot simply wait until capture is feasible.

The criteria listed above clearly attempt to ensure that these issues are addressed, but this is not nearly enough. A constitutional lawyer like President Obama should not need reminding that unchecked executive power is very dangerous to liberty. And there is nothing in this white paper to suggest that any outside check or review has been placed on the Executive’s ability to conduct these lethal operations against its own citizens.

In fact, it suggests that judicial review is inappropriate. Its reasoning for this is that it would require ex ante review of targeting decisions, which are inherently predictive and not amenable to judicial determination. This would be quite astute, were it true. However, most critics who have called for judicial involvement in targeted killing decisions, myself included, have clearly stipulated that the courts review the governments actions ex post, and at least partly ex parte.

Additionally, as Steve points out, the white paper’s suggestion that targeted killing decisions are non-justiciable political questions is absurd. These determinations are in many ways no different than those made in law enforcement situations, as when a sniper shoots a hostage-taker. Such cases are often reviewed (ex post) by the courts. Even in those ways in which they are different, the courts have already been involved, as with the spate of recent habeas litigation.

It is because of these issues that the white paper does nothing to satisfy the concerns over executive power. Many have claimed that this document displays the Obama administration’s backslid into something resembling the “Bush Doctrine.” But rather than the nitpicking over the legal conclusions of the white paper as many analysts have (Mary Ellen O’Connell is still ranting about “zones” of conflict—see my analysis), it is this refusal to allow any review of the decision-making process that raises the most severe concerns over President Obama’s targeted killing program.

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research