The Obama Administration Assures You That Its Drone-Kill List Is In Good Hands

  moral conundra

This is inaccurate, he does not smile at any point during the processGood morning, liberals! Did you spend yesterday carefully poring over the extremely long The New York Times article about the list of people the administration carefully compiles, personally selected by the President (except in those cases when they’re not!) to be killed by missiles from flying death robots? Probably you didn’t, because it’s obviously one of the most depressing things you could possibly read, being as it is about your Hopey solemnly deciding who should live and who should die. But you really should, to face the world as it is and do your duty as a citizen. The reality, of course, is that being the President is a job that, structurally, comes with the duty of making up a list of who you want dead, which is why every president ends his four or eight years in power looking about 20 years older than when he started. But even if you have accepted in your heart that, yes, explosive-tipped missiles are an acceptable means of forwarding foreign policy, maybe there are some things in this article will make you mad! Or drink yourself into a stupor, either one.

Here is a thing to know about this article, before you decide what to think about it: It contains a note in paragraph eight that it based on sourcing from “three dozen of [Obama's] current and former advisers,” most of whom go unnamed. You don’t get that kind of acknowledged cooperation from White House underlings unless the White House is really pretty OK with the article as it stands, either in the sense that they pitched it to the Times or that they heard the Times was working on it and decided to get out in front of it. So it represents more or less the Administration’s idea of what they think the serious-minded liberals who read the Times want to hear.

That having been said, though: are you a pacifist? Then there is no way to sugar-coat the fact that your tax dollars continue, under President Obama, to be used to kill people with missiles in foreign countries. Sorry! But if you think that sometimes you need to perpetrate violence for the greater good — even in a politicized Obama only when necessary kind of way — then you’ll probably be satisfied, queasy-satisfied, or talk-yourself-into-it-satisfied, at the general description of how the Secret ‘Kill List’ is compiled, with Obama signing off on the drone strikes done by the military and most of the strikes done by the CIA (which is in charge of the Pakistani strikes for the usual byzantine reasons). Everyone tries really hard to make sure that only double-confirmed terrorists who are actually working on killing USA Americans and who aren’t hanging with civilians are vaporized by flying death robots.

And even when the wrong people are killed (AND OF COURSE THE WRONG PEOPLE GET KILLED SOMETIMES), less of them get killed than were killed constantly in the wars Obama ended/is ending, OK? Because if there’s one thing that kills more people than flying death robots firing missiles at camps and villages a couple times a week, it’s full-on wars with armies and soldiers invading your country for years and years. There’s a kind of horrifying moment at the beginning when they mention that one of the “nominees” (like at the Oscars!) is a 17-year-old girl, and Obama says “If they are starting to use children we are moving into a whole different phase,” and it made us think of the fact that at the end of World War II the Nazis were throwing teenagers into uniforms and then throwing them at the Allies and lots of them were machine-gunned, possibly by your grandfather, go ask him about it, he won’t tell you anything. “Machine-gunning 17-year-olds in ill-fitting Nazi uniforms in the chaos of battle” might seem less troubling than “deciding in a secure wood-paneled office whether to blow up a 17-year-old with a missile fired from a robot,” but there are probably a lot fewer dead 17-year-olds at the end of the process.

That having been said, there’s plenty to be disturbed by, here in this article that has been fairly clearly approved by the administration, much of which is not actually about the secret kill list itself! Let’s start with the fact that on Day One of the Obama Administration, when he signed the executive order banning the CIA’s horrifying rendition program, where our spies kidnapped foreigners off the streets of foreign countries and then tortured them in secret CIA “black sites,” the CIA freaked out and said “Wait, wait, does this stop us from using our safehouses to imprison the foreigners we kidnap for a few days before we hand over to foreign intelligence services to torture?” and the Justice Department was all like “Nah, mang, don’t worry about it, that’s cool.” Or the part about how Obama just sort of thought he’d shut down Guantanamo and didn’t have much of a plan for it and when Congress got shirty about the whole thing he basically said “Fine, this is not worth arguing about” and now it’s still open. On the other hand, the Administration has stopped sending new people to Guantanamo, but other hand, it is implied by several people that half the reason the kill-drone program is all about killing is so that the Administration doesn’t end up with any high-profile terror suspects it might feel obliged to store somewhere.

Then there’s this paragraph, explaining how the Administration decided that it was OK to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with a missile from space, without a trial:

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Ha ha, no, see, we’re just going to go ahead and say “no” to that. Internal deliberations in the executive branch do not constitute “due process” by any stretch of the imagination, sorry, try again.

And even if you’re all like, “Whatever, I trust Eric Holder to do the right thing in this situation,” someday Eric Holder is going to quit and go back to his first love (the New Black Panthers). Here is a very true statement from that article: “This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable. I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret OLC memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a DOJ safe.”

Guess who said that! Go on, guess! Give up? It is Michael Hayden, Bush’s last CIA director! Ha ha, guess he feels kind of mad about what the Dumb-o-crats are doing with all the precious terrorist-killing powers he and his buddies so carefully put together between 2001 and 2008. Just like you’ll be pissed when Romney uses all of Obama’s totally legit flying deathbot policies for evil, rather than good. Don’t worry about that Secret Kill List, though, Romney doesn’t believe in government bureaucrats compiling Secret Kill Lists. That can be done more efficiently by the private sector. [NYfuckingdepressingT]

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About the author

Josh was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, leaving him with a love of chicken wings and a tendency to say “pop”. He taught ancient Greek and Roman history to undergraduates before fleeing from academia in terror; worked for a failed San Francisco dot-com that neglected to supply him with stock options or an Aeron chair; lived in Berlin, where he mostly ate Indian and Ethiopian food; finished in third place on his sole Jeopardy! appearance (the correct answer was “Golda Meir”); and was named 2007 Blogger of the Year by The Week, for obvious reasons. Josh is the creator/editor of COMICS CURMUDGEON (which you should read) and does geeky editing and writing about geeky things such as "the Java programming industry for JavaWorld." He lives in Baltimore with his wife Amber and his cat Hoagie.

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91 comments

  1. Barb

    The New Black Panthers won't be a threat until they start to outnumber the Osmonds. So far, they have black and angry Donny and Marie. Meh.

  2. Chow Yun Flat

    The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step

    John Woo and Jay Bybee, formerly of the OLC, also prepared a length memo justifying an extraordinary step–torture. Must not be that difficult to get a political appointee to condone just about anything a President wants to do.

    1. sewollef

      And Johnny boy sanctioning torture, that got some Japanese prisoners-of-war either executed or serving long prison terms during war crimes trials, has become de facto immune from prosecution.

      I seriously thought we'd got past that and following the rule of law was going to be the order of the day in our new presidency. I was wrong then?

    1. sewollef

      Or as uncle Josef Stalin once said, "The death of one person is a tragedy, the death of thousands a statistic". He was referring to either the massive number of WWII Russian dead or the gulags, I don't remember which.

      The US has gone beyond the thousands marker in this particular war on terror though.

  3. OkieDokieDog

    Oh-bummer just can't win – killing Muslins over there while persecuting the Xtians over here. At least Mittens would give the browns the option to convert to his Mormon cult – before he has them machine gunned down by Blackwater or whatever name they're going by these days.

    Ugh.

    1. Wile E. Quixote

      And after he had them gunned down he'd necro-baptize their dead relatives.

  4. Goonemeritus

    Is it not better to leave this kind of thing in the hands of someone you elect rather than in God’s hands after all I never got to vote for God.

  5. chascates

    On the plus side when a family is killed at a wedding it's done by a drone rather than a squad of our soldiers. Progress.

    1. actor212

      We could be neater. For instance, I've long campaigned that habitual DWI perps be drafted into military service to act as assassins. Who'd evere suspect the drunk dude in the old Buick of being a spy after he wipes out a family on a picnic?

  6. memzilla

    I'd be a lot more disturbed by this if I could figure out another way to implement it.

    I'd be more comfortable with, say, a judicial review of the Secret Hit Parade, except that I think SCOTUS would be adding names to the list.

    1. biblioteq_tress

      Bingo.
      Full disclosure: I spent nearly 10 years in a job that required that working intensively with Cold War era White House records. Sorry to say that my first response when I read this article yesterday was, "That's a very responsible, sensitive way of handling this sort of decision compared to, hmm, others."

      1. memzilla

        I'm a certified libtard in most ways, but I can't let my wish-the-world-was-nicer impulse get in the way of "Some people really would do massive harm to us if they could."

        I'd sure hate to be a bloody lump of collateral damage in a war like this, of course. But at least we're not mounting the kind of "dehousing" campaign that Bomber Harris did in WWII, when we were lucky to get one bomb in 20 within 5 miles of the target.

  7. Mumbletypeg

    Was gonna thank you Josh for reading all this so I didn't have to.
    As it turns out though — and something about the tone in this post impels me to nudge free of my comfy zone — my work load at the office today is looking pretty light, so I am feeling obligated to go read it like an Xtreme sport, i.e. sans protective gear happy pills.

  8. cheetojeebus

    go read that? I can't even read all of this. Just tell me, at the end, does he get the whale or does the whale get him?

      1. Doktor StrangeZoom

        And we find out that "Rosebud" is Luke's father, a replicant, and was actually a chick. He was dead all along.

        1. Chichikovovich

          That's just in the original theatrical release. In the director's cut, much of Moscow burns to the ground, which makes more sense.

        1. thatsitfortheother1

          That is pretty funny.

          Love your av. Did you hear that Benjy grew up to be a regular on the wingnut talk circuit?

      1. Doktor StrangeZoom

        Years ago, I passed a car on the freeway towing a small, homemade cargo trailer. It was made of wood, painted black, and on the back was painted "Queequeg's Coffin"

  9. EatsBabyDingos

    "CIA drones" sounds so negative. Why not call them "Princess Sparkle Going to Hell Pony Express"?

  10. weejee

    Wait, wait, does this stop us from using our safehouses to imprison the foreigners we kidnap for a few days

    Don't be silly Josh, they wouldn't keep them in their safehouse, 'cause then their house wouldn't be safe. They keep the pre-renditioned in car trunks along with a big block of Limburger and a couple of dead fish.

    Besides the real question today is if Mittens is really a unicorn. Long form birther certificate AND DNA test or GTFO Mittoni the Pony.

  11. Weenus299

    Of course everybody loves the Drones, until they move into your neighborhood or blow up an Academy Awards celebration because all the Oscars are Al-Qaeda planted IEDs.

  12. Ruhe

    Could we just give the terrorists some of their own drones and then our drones could fight their drones? It would come down to a contest of skill between their VR gamers versus our VR gamers and naturally we'd win that (our supply of Mountain Dew and Hot Pockets being much more reliable). Both sides would agree in advance that the winner of the Drone Wars would get to declare the other side's God to be dead and then the loser would submit, to Sharia if we lose or to getting a Democracy Pony if they lose.

  13. Chichikovovich

    I'm troubled by many aspects of the drone program and these secret legal justifications, for sure. But even so, I must say that the remark from Bush's CIA guy is incredibly bizarre and self-serving:

    This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable.

    Huh? The secret memos, drone killings and so on are OK, so long as the president is "personally legitimate"? And since Mr. Hayden didn't resign when he came face to face with what he was doing, I guess this means that in his opinion Bush was "personally legitimate" but Obama isn't. Is this just a fancy way of saying "Eventually a Democrat will be elected"?

  14. prommie

    Am I a pacifist? Josh, dude, man, you cannot browbeat your audience into getting as upset about this as you are. Its all coming off like the "the internets is coming to sex up your children" hysteria of the oughts. Drone, regular old air strike, same diff. Why the new tech somehow justifies new hysteria? Take away all the technology and we'd just go back to hitting each other with sticks, till someone makes the great leap to a board with a nail in it.

    1. thatsitfortheother1

      "Drone, regular old air strike, same diff. Why the new tech somehow justifies new hysteria?"

      Exactly right. Somebody still takes off, flies to the target, hits the pickle button, comes back and lands. They just do it from miles away and with considerably less risk to their homeostasis.

      1. VicariousMe

        Remember, how in Avatar, the humans used armed man vehicles and not drones so the natives Na'vi could win with some well-aimed arrows? It helped level the field so that everyone had a chance at winning. This "new hysteria" serves the same purpose. It helps satisfy some ingrained sense of justice.

  15. BaldarTFlagass

    It'd be really funny if my name got on one of those "kill with remote missile" lists, and they sent the drone out during working hours to get me, and then they blew up their own Air Force Base!!! How ironic!!!

  16. actor212

    Y'know, there's a far easier way to excuse the Alwaki assassination:

    "Oops!"

    Intellectually dishonest, yes, but at least it has the charm of maintaining the facade that we're the good guys, even if we ain't

    1. Bezoar

      I agree, it is essential to maintain the fictions of civility. Our children need something to aspire to, and it's not to be found much in the truth.

  17. prommie

    I mean hey look, we have these ideas in our head, and they are all so clean and orderly, so we have the idea of "war,"which is declared by Congress, and in which all combatants identify themselves with uniforms and they reserve time on the local battlefield and they march towards each other in two big lines, and only soldiers get shot, and then afterwards there is a big victory celebration, whooppee! All very neat and orderly, this fantasy idea of what we would like war to be. And then there is something different, which is crime, which is 'fought" by agents of the executive branch, the "police," against secretive shadowy types who do not identify themselves or confine their activities to the delineated war zone or battlefield, and the police actions are supposed to be supervised by the judiciary what with having to get a warrant, and punishment also is in the judicial, not the executive, hands. All very neat and orderly, this fantasy world, too.

    And then we have the real world, which so rarely conforms to our fantasies of it. And this causes us much angst.

  18. ifthethunderdontgetya

    And even when the wrong people are killed (AND OF COURSE THE WRONG PEOPLE GET KILLED SOMETIMES), less of them get killed than were killed constantly in the wars Obama ended/is ending, OK? Because if there’s one thing that kills more people than flying death robots firing missiles at camps and villages a couple times a week, it’s full-on wars with armies and soldiers invading your country for years and years.

    And why are these two things our only alternatives?

    This is nonsense. We're not going to drone-strike our way to peace. Quite the opposite.

    And even if you’re all like, “Whatever, I trust Eric Holder to do the right thing in this situation,” someday Eric Holder is going to quit and go back to his first love (the New Black Panthers).

    More likely he's going back to his first and ongoing love, Wall Street.
    ~

  19. glamourdammerung

    It seems like our only feasible options are to either do the current policy of using drones and trying to minimize innocents being harmed/killed, completely disengage from any hostilities towards any terror groups, or figure out a way to annex China and India so we have enough population to possibly be able to adequately pacify the areas we are in while being fine with taking large causalities on our side. Did I miss any?

      1. glamourdammerung

        We could stop blowing kids up for corporate profits.

        Yes, we could. However, that does not have a thing to do with the current issues with dealing with al Qaeda, so I am perplexed by your response.

  20. prommie

    Hey, maybe I don't give a big fuck over the details of how a "war" is being conducted because there is fuck-all difference between a legal war and an illegal war, all war is just murder, plain and simple, and having the right pieces of paper with the right seals and ribbons doesn't change it.

    And they mighta started it, but our interventions and petro-colonialism and kneejerk support of Israel's militant racist shit has been a stick poking them in the eye for forever.

    So, fuck, fuck drones, this tires me, pay no attention to these trees, there is a forest to be cut down first.

  21. MosesInvests

    Hey, let's just parachute in some overweight, snuff-dippin' constable's deputies from some rural Texas county to deliver arrest warrants to Al Qaeda. Problem solved!

  22. prommie

    You can tell whether you have a truly functioning democracy or not by whether you engage in war at all, ever. A truly functioning deomcracy would not, or rarely. But when the corporations hijack a country's army and use it as a profit center, your democracy is broken. The fix is political.

    1. doloras

      Actually, in ancient Greece the democratic cities were the warmongers, because the hoi polloi wanted some sweet, sweet war booty and slaves.

  23. alteredimages

    See, it's perfectly okay that Obama ran as not-Bush, claiming to want to restore the Constitution and transparency and stop the spying and warrantless murder, because those are just the sort of things you say to get elected, you goddamn professional progressive complainers, and once you get elected, then Etch-a-Sketch, bitches. Time to continue the foreverterror war and the Wall Street cockgobbling.What, you gonna vote Mittens? Boo! He's scary!

    Eh, fuck you too, DNC. I give up.

  24. didgen

    It used to be so easy to know that war should never happen, that when my parents generation were gone racism would end. Now I have grandchildren, and I don't even remember how many countries have engaged in genocide while we watched shamefaced and did nothing. Racism seems even more acceptable, and I'm just not so sure what is right anymore.

    1. biblioteq_tress

      There is a lot of truth in that. However, nowadays we Americans are also much more aware of the genocides and mass killings that occur. The Circassian genocide in Russia, the wiping out of indigenous populations in Argentina and Chile from1700-1800, hell, even the Ottoman assaults on Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians in the early 20th century- none of these were broadly known outside of the diaspora of the populations effected and the urban areas that had daily newspapers and an okay level of literacy.
      Now we do know, at least we often know, and we do try to make the leaders answerable. The problem is, that is full time work. I don't think it happens more, we just know more. We should always hold their feet to the fire.

      1. didgen

        I totally agree, I was trying to say that my views have changed. It was so much simpler then, when I thought we were the good guys, just waiting to take over and the whole world would change. Now I just hope the grandkids can make a change, I still have hope that we can have a world that is ruled by respect, I've just come to realize it's not such a clear path. I don't think we learn from our mistakes. It seems to be easy to decide who should die, the problem comes in knowing who deserves to live, and in what fashion.

        1. biblioteq_tress

          I'm with you. On the optimistic side, say what we will about youth being shallow etc, the generations born since 1980 have grown up with much more information than us olduns had, and are more sophisticated about what is real vs. what is spin than I cerrtainly was when I was in my twenties. Your grandkids are particularly lucky to also have you, someone who loves them who wants them to make positive changes in the world, rather than to just get an MBA (nothing inherently wrong w/ MBAs, but you know what I mean.)

  25. didgen

    But of course,they will all become Mormons after Mitt becomes president and drones on and on and on.

  26. barto

    First they flew remote controlled judge-jury-executioner bots into other countries…

  27. Joey_Blau

    I am sure that at least some of these people are bad nasty men that other people would really really like dead.. but I don't think we know which ones.

    I guess its like advertising.. 50% of it is wasted.. you just don't know which half..

    We are not at war in Yemen. We are not even at war in AfPac. We cannot be at war with a concept. so none of these people killed are killed in acts of war. They are all killed in extra-judicial murder. murder. by drone with the sanction of the state. This is not good for us. we are creating more people who hate us and laughing about it.

    I hated W Bush's plan for Iraq. The NeoCons knew that there were no anti-US terrorists in Iraq, or any AL-Q there. but he knew that if we attacked there it would be like a magnet to them and all the young assholes and idealistic English-educated and madrassh trash do-gooders would come out of the woodwork with some old Mujadeen friends and then we would get to kill them all! and throw in lots of Iraquis for free.

    well now we just fly around looking for 'a pattern of behavior" that we don't like.

  28. ttommyunger

    So, a lawyer on your payroll writes a legal opinion which justifies something you want to do? And water is still wet, I hear.

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