Holder tells Senate that justification for drone strikes will remain secret

Attorney General Eric Holder is more likable if you refer to him as Crime Dog Eric Holder.

Attorney General Eric Holder is more likable if you refer to him as Crime Dog Eric Holder.

Yesterday, Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there is an airtight legal justification for using drone strikes to kill American citizens abroad, but it’s secret. Also, the Obama administration might use drones domestically. Holder was understandably reticent about when that second scenario might happen, prompting Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to pose two hypotheticals. Suspected terrorist “sitting in a cafe?” No, Holder believes that in that situation, a domestic drone strike would be unconstitutional. Suspected terrorist “pointing a bazooka at the Pentagon?” Yeah, Holder would light that dude up. It is fun that Ted Cruz maybe thinks of the Pentagon as the seat of US government. Otherwise, this exchange was dispiriting in the extreme.

First of all, can we stop using “suspected terrorist” as a synonym for “known terrorist” in all our hypotheticals? That kind of misses the point when we’re talking about the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Second, and more importantly, the federal government is not allowed to have secret explanations proving that what the federal government does is legal. Everybody has secret explanations for their own behavior; those are called motives. The difference between a motive and a justification, particularly in government, comes when other people see your explanation and agree.

To be fair, the constitutional argument for the use of drones in targeted killings of US citizens is not entirely secret. The Obama administration recently showed it to the Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of its efforts to get John Brennan confirmed as head of the CIA. If the explanation were just a doodle of a turbaned man bursting into flames while a girl in a bikini clings to Holder’s leg, we probably would have heard about it. As it stands, there is an explanation for why the executive branch can incinerate American citizens with flying robots, but it’s too important for us to actually read.

I don’t like it, but I can think of a plausible reason why the federal government would not publish its legal justification for killing foreign nationals with drones. If Ayman Al-Zawahiri knew under exactly which circumstances we would and would not send a robot to murder him, he might adjust his behavior accordingly. I personally think we should extend foreign nationals that courtesy, but I accept that it might be constitutional not to. It probably requires treating the war on terror as an actual war and other premises that I don’t agree with, but I am willing to consider the possibility that the explanation holds water and needs to remain secret.

I categorically reject that possibility when it comes to American citizens, though. American citizens, including the ones who plan to point bazookas at the Pentagon, should know exactly when they are and are not eligible for drone strikes. If that allows thousands of domestic supporters of Al-Qaeda to game the system, adjusting their behavior so they are just barely not vulnerable to aerially targeted killings, then great.

Regardless of their views, we want American citizens to be able to confidently skirt the edge of what would permit the US government to kill them. To worry that they will use their knowledge of federal jurisprudence to avoid punishment is to start from the presumption that some Americans are the American government’s enemies. That assumption is antithetical to this country’s basic principles.

The rule of law is meaningless when those ruled don’t know what the law is. The Obama administration’s insistence that we trust a legal explanation we’re not allowed to read is tantamount to saying that it is above the law. If there is a compelling national security reason for hiding this explanation from the public, I would like to hear it. Until then, I suspect the reason is that the explanation is not very convincing, and now is not a good time for people to criticize the President.

It’s always a good time to criticize the President. Considering that our tax dollars recently cooked an American citizen and his teenaged son on said President’s orders, I would say that now is a particularly auspicious moment for criticism. Eric Holder runs the Department of Justice, and to claim justice without justification is simply to claim authority. The executive branch does not have such authority, and we should not accept its insistence that it does.

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  1. Hrrrmmmm… Seems like a whole lot of lightweight dancing around the vile fact that dictator Barack Hussein is leveling more death-threats onto the proletarians.

    Me thinks the Pentagon (pentagram) is obviously the seat of government, otherwise an executive official would be put on trial for slaughtering his own citizens and stating he “can” do it again. It doesn’t fucking matter if its done with Zyklon B, firing squads, or a remote controlled bomb dispenser.

    You voted for him. Probably are unwilling to admit you’re wrong.

  2. Hi again, blogtards. Whichever one of you super-loyal “Combat!” bloggers is sending me emails, you can go ahead and STOP. Please. Thank you.

    I will have to concede that it appears Dan has achieved exactly what he set out to do by dragging me into his venting outpost (“blog”) by…

    a) Intentionally pissing me off in response to being (unintentionally) inconvenienced.
    b) Denigrating me with personal comments online.
    c) Sicking his Democrat tard-herd on me, which has now come to the point that they are hate-mailing me and bringing this absurd imbroglio up to me at café’s – as if they fucking know anything.

    So good job and congratulations! This (obviously) brings many cowardly people joy.

    Fascinating that this entire exchange has taken place awhile Dan and I are probably sitting 5 feet apart in the same tiny building. I have probably exchanged 12 words with you during all the months I’ve lived here, until I was graced with the displeasure of responding here. – Very odd experience.

    I’d like to remind you all that the Internet IS real life and does not exist in an alternate universe. Your insults and overall behavior, even when “anonymous” says quite a bit. I’d also suggest being a bit more careful, considering several of you appear to have careers or personal lives you may like to protect. There are numerous irritating/insulting blurbs up right now where the author either used their real name, or I know who it is. The damage one pissed off dude with an Internet connection can do goes way, way beyond sarcastic blog posts. Try using your imagination.

    You can all now return to agreeing with each other’s asinine comments. And again, STOP sending me creepy emails whoever you are, and I will stop voicing my opinion on this shit-spread. I want absolutely nothing to do with Dan’s shitty apartment or this waste-of-bandwidth blog, so stop.

    Have a nice herd-think life, you all.

  3. Reed, I am sorry you have had this negative experience.

    While I understand that you may not believe me, I sincerely, deeply believe that Dan did not intend to drag you into this blog or visit ill on you in any fashion. My read of the situation is that he mentioned you in one post out of frustration. Since that time—and I do not mean this as an insult but rather as an attempt to clarify—I have seen you bring the aggression (and your full name) into this place repeatedly. Dan’s subsequent posts have not been about you. I understand that you perceive some of them to be, but I believe you are mistaken.

    I know you may not see it this way, but I hope you hear me when I say, in all sincerity, that nobody here—particularly and especially Dan—wishes you harm. All is well and all will be well. Good things are around the corner. Just keep moving along.

    And I encourage you, in all earnestness, not to threaten people as your comment here appears to do. It will not help anything and is unnecessary. Again, I regret if you feel put upon, but the way forward is to move along, stay positive, and let this all fade.

    Also, whoever is emailing Reed, please stop. Consider the situation, what the actual best outcome is, and behave judiciously. De-escalation is in order.

  4. I tried on several rationalizations and nothing fits. If the government can identify and target a citizen with such precision, then they could also apprehend them and bring them to trial, at which point a guilty verdict will lead to execution. Why skip steps? Who are these Americans that are so evil they must be killed post-haste … but so wily they can only be killed with flying robots unburdened by consitutional paperwork? Has a drone been promoted General or something?

    It reminds me of the warrentless wiretapping debate from 2006. As with killing traitors/criminals/foreign enemies, we already had a very generous and flexible legal system (FISA) for wiretapping. So again, who were these Americans we needed to spy on without any papertrail? Obama dodged that issue when he was up for the job in 2008. I remember it well because I remember my existing outrage for the Bush era excesses. And, yes, those of us who supported Obama then and in 2012 must reconcile this not just politically (“He’s better than Romney!”) but morally, too.

    I have an awful feeling this is going to end with goofy-eyeball decals on the drones to make them more likeable or something. Drones are the planes you can’t hijack. That’s why they’re such a satisfying weapon in the war on terror, second only to torture for the ability to psychologically mangle people. Our robots mirror the murderous zombies of religious fundamentalism — modernity reasserts itself after its buildings and planes were turned against it by holy automatons. We’ll match our flying robots against their suicidal supplicants anyday, right?

    FDR told us we had nothing to fear; Bush told us how much to fear each morning. Obama was right to abandon the phrase “war on terror,” but he hasn’t replaced it with anything but a top-secret, deadly, and slightly less buggy killer app. What now?

  5. Lovely comments Mr. Miller.

    I think this is incorrect though.
    “If the government can identify and target a citizen with such precision, then they could also apprehend them and bring them to trial, at which point a guilty verdict will lead to execution.”

    According to the white paper (summary leaked a couple weeks ago, they kill Americans without trial only when they can’t feasibly capture them. I don’t suppose that quells all your fears, but it’s an important point. I don’t think there’s any evidence that it’s open season on enemies of any stripe.

    According to that white paper (since I didn’t do today’s reading), to kill an American citizen abroad he or she most pose an “imminent threat” to the United States as determined by a “informed, high ranking official.” “Imminent” means 1)anyone from a terrorist group, because 2)that group is always planning something. So it would seem all it takes is a high-level official to designate a group terrorist to justify lethal force, and that’s pretty alarming.

    The memo does specify two other criteria: 1)the necessity of capture or the ongoing monitoring for capture, as well as accordance with 2)law of war principles. But it’s easy to imagine scenarios where these flimsy buttresses are undermined.

    As one of those high level officials and/or the President, it’s a shitty position to be in. Your first and foremost duty is clearly the protection of American citizens. If you choose not to act on some opportunity because of legal ambiguity you become very culpable for the consequences. And if you overact in an area of legal ambiguity, you risk violating your duty to the law and help carry us down that 1984 path that we’re all so wary of walking.

    What would you do?

  6. Good morning.

    Okay, bitch emailing me is now resolved. I thought this whole other thing would also go away, but the post is still there, so we’re going to have to take a ride down this road…

    Now… “Mike B” lets assume that I don’t like you, or something about you bothers me, or inconveniences me, – and because I lack the balls, the creativity, or means to do anything about it, – I bring it onto the Internet.

    I happen to know for a fact that you are Daniel’s brother (Michael Brooks). That took about 9 seconds. An additional 2 minutes yielded your schools, your employers, old Meetup groups, political associations, several charities, your past and present associates, what appears to be a girlfriend (I think), your address, and old addresses (in Iowa, New Haven, DC, etc.) How the fuck would you like it if I went to the websites I hang out on and started bitching about you, posting bullshit (real or not), doxxing personal information, and publishing (and publicly criticizing) your shit – all because you bother me? Would you think that is motherfucking appropriate? Would you? The answer is fucking NO. And you would probably either be retaliating, in a panic, or on the phone with a lawyer seeking a restraining order.

    So no, Michael, I will not “stay positive and let this all fade.” I am not a fucking amateur. And I am extremely pissed off that Dan over here has completely fucking crossed the line.

    Now, I’m not going to dig any deeper into the cornucopia of information about you that is right at my goddamn fingertips because I have boundaries, I have principles, and I have reason. And plus, I don’t fuck with someone’s LIFE unless I am several steps ahead of them and completely prepared to handle the blowback, which apparently, is something that never dawned on Dan.

    This is when I point out the fact that you, Dan, CROSSED THE LINE by intentionally and maliciously doxxing me with the explicit and stated purpose (on the fucking post, – you didn’t even try to camo it) of leaving information on the Internet that people who searched me would discover on your shit-blog, – all with the intention of FUCKING WITH ME.

    Now… Maybe, Dan, just maybe, you should do the right thing, – do me a kindness, – and take your fucking asshole, petty, inaccurate post about me off your pathetic little website here? You can include your tweet-twatters or whatever the fuck as well. If you had a bit more man in you, you would probably go so far as admitting it was a mistake, and an inappropriate thing to do to your NEIGHBOR. Especially considering how petty and fucking juvenile your problem with me is (was). Are you capable of doing that, – or the first part of that?

    I mean what the fuck are you thinking, man? You don’t expect me to find this nonsense? You don’t expect to see me around even though I’m YOUR NEIGHBOR? WTF!!!? Bad call, dude.

    Unless you are a HACK0R , or unless you want to invite some very pissed off people right into your world, you would consider such behavior INAPPROPRIATE and you wouldn’t do it. It is a game you are not ready to play.

    Now read this very carefully…

    NOBODY, – nobody – who wants a job, an apartment, a girlfriend, or whatever, wants to be doxxed by some jackass. Maybe you can figure the fuck out why. So maybe people should think before they say shit on their little mediocre blog because, as I said before, the Internet IS real life, and if you are fucking with someone online, you are fucking with their LIFE “irl.” And doing such bullshit online is actually worse than in any other medium because a) it will more or less remain there even if erased, and b) it impacts my business, my relationships, and other shit that has absofuckinglutely nothing to do with you and your dead-end lifestyle. I am not some public figure you can shit-ramble about, Dan, I am a private individual, – not to mention your neighbor!

    Every single fucking person that posts on a blog has leaked quite a bit about themselves, their location, their computer, etc via their IP code, the stupid shit they say, and so-on. Anyone can be a victim of hacking nowadays, and perhaps the easiest and most cowardly trick of them all is to doxx. But I am not a fucking amateur, dude.

    Get it yet, you goddamn immature delusional Democrat overgrown children? Now turn the Rachel Maddow back up, brainwashy time, kids! Time to blither on about some inconsequential political dogshit, – that is – in-between the times you decide to weaponize your little “Combat!” fiddle-dickery and attack someone who happens to inconvenience you.

    You started it Dan, now you can end it with the click of a button, dude.

    PS: I already found out who the wench is that was emailing me, – and you, girl, – are going to have a very interesting year if I do not receive an apology immediately. But, it’s the Year of the Black Water Snake, which is, as you astrology fans know, a very unpredictable star-period.

  7. Hey, Reed. I tried to talk to you last night, but I missed you. I removed your name from last Monday’s post, as well as from the post referring to that post the following Monday.

    Midway through the week, I thought you were just having fun disagreeing with people on the blog. After reading your comment this morning, though, I feel like you are acting weird. “This thing” that you keep saying I should stop has been you posting thousands of words of comments to my blog. You’re welcome to write whatever you want about the content of the posts, but please refrain from threatening my brother. I love him very much, and he is not related to Eric Holder’s position on drone strikes or my position on whether you are inconsiderate. Thanks for reading.


  8. Attempt #1,

    Thanks for the specifics. I think that about covers it — imminence, extenuating circumstances, etc. So what remains secret? Why is there a justification that remains secret if all the pertinent variables (evidence of danger, imminence, difficulty of peaceful capture) have already been taken care of above-board? Is the Justice Department claiming it doesn’t need to prevent evidence or what goes for probable cause these days?

  9. I’m not going to doxx anything on your brother, Dan. I was making the point that doing that is inappropriate because it takes things to a personal level.

    And, thank you, for removing it.

  10. And yes. I wanted to add that my mood significantly changed about this when I found myself being personally insulted in emails and having this be what popped up when certain people were searching me. It was no longer amusing and I got very pissed.

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