Print - The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama - Esquire
Ottway Ducard stashed this in Leadership
And although in the months leading up to 9/11 the CIA's Counterterrorism Center urged director George Tenet to arm the Predator drone with Hellfire missiles, Tenet was reluctant to do so because he didn't want to get the CIA back in the business of killing — he was, according to the 9/11 report, "appalled" by the suggestion and thought the CIA "had no authority" to "pull the trigger."
Of course, the attacks of 9/11 overcame Tenet's reluctance and everyone else's. But even then a lawyer who worked in the Bush administration's Justice Department and was present in the White House Situation Room in the days after the attacks remembers that "the question of whether you can target one guy was one of the first debates. The intelligence agencies were very specific. They had a list of people to be generally targeted" — what would become known as a kill list — "and they wanted assurance that they would not be prosecuted. We advised them that we will not go after you if you meet these conditions."
What were the representatives of the intelligence agencies afraid of being prosecuted for? "Murder," says the lawyer. But a year after the intelligence agencies received the Justice Department's assurances that killing an individual identified as an enemy combatant in wartime was not the same as simply killing an individual, a Predator drone flown by the CIA launched a Hellfire missile at a car driving in an isolated area of Yemen. The missile hit its target and killed six people, including an American citizen, Kamal Darwish. The American was identified as one of a group of Americans accused of having terrorist connections, but he was not on any kill list. Two milestones, however, had been reached simultaneously: the first U. S. drone strike and the first U. S. citizen killed by drone.
I've never seen this put so well:
You are a historic figure, Mr. President. You are not only the first African-American president; you are the first who has made use of your power to target and kill individuals identified as a threat to the United States throughout your entire term. You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy. You have authorized kill teams comprised of both soldiers from Special Forces and civilians from the CIA, and you have coordinated their efforts through the Departments of Justice and State. You have gradually withdrawn from the nation building required by "counterinsurgency" and poured resources into the covert operations that form the basis of "counter-terrorism." More than any other president you have made the killing rather than the capture of individuals the option of first resort, and have killed them both from the sky, with drones, and on the ground, with "nighttime" raids not dissimilar to the one that killed Osama bin Laden. You have killed individuals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and are making provisions to expand the presence of American Special Forces in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Pakistan and other places where the United States has not committed troops, you are estimated to have killed at least two thousand by drone. You have formalized what is known as "the program," and at the height of its activity it was reported to be launching drone strikes in Pakistan every three days. Your lethality is expansive in both practice and principle; you are fighting terrorism with a policy of preemptive execution, and claiming not just the legal right to do so but the legal right to do so in secret. The American people, for the most part, have no idea who has been killed, and why; the American people — and for that matter, most of their representatives in Congress — have no idea what crimes those killed in their name are supposed to have committed, and have been told that they are not entitled to know.
This is a bad precedent to set:
You are not the first president with the power to kill individuals. You are, however, the first president to exercise it on a mass scale. You inherited the power from George W. Bush as one of several responses to terrorism. You will pass it on to your successor as the only response, as well as an exemplar of principle. Your administration has devoted far more time and energy to telling the story of targeted killing than it has to telling the story of any of your domestic policies, including health care. It is as though you realize that more than any of your policies, the Lethal Presidency will be your legacy.
This part really stuck with me:
You were proud that you were able to kill Anwar al-Awlaki. You were proud because his death marked "another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates"; because by killing him you almost certainly saved American lives; and because you obeyed the law.
This is the consuming irony of the Lethal Presidency. You have become the Lethal President because you are also the Rule-of-Law President. You have been able to kill our enemies because you have forsworn waterboarding them. You have become the first president to execute without trial an American citizen because you hired David Barron and Martin Lederman — the constitutional lawyers renowned for their blistering attacks on the legal memos that justified the Bush administration's use of torture — to write the legal memos that justified the execution without trial of an American citizen.
"President Bush would never have been able to scale this up the way President Obama has because he wouldn't have had the trust of the public and the Congress and the international community," says the former administration official familiar with the targeting process. "That trust has been enabling."
There have been thousands killed as the result of direct orders of the Lethal Presidency. How can each death be said to be the end product of rigorous review when there are so many of them? And most importantly, how can the care given to the inclusion of individual terrorists on CIA and DOD kill lists be extended to those who are killed without the administration ever knowing their names — those who are killed in "signature strikes," based on data, rather than "personality strikes," based on human intelligence?
The simple answer: It can't, especially when, in the words of a former senior CIA official, "the increase in signature strikes is what accounts for most of the increased activity." The Lethal Presidency is using intelligence to put people to death, but when the official familiar with targeting is asked about the quality of the information, there is a long pause before the answer.
A chilling conclusion:
"Ask the administration if the president himself is targetable." But here's something simpler, and more human. You have made sure that you will not be the only Lethal President. You have made sure that your successor in the White House will also be a Lethal President, as well as someone somewhere else in the world.
What if the next Lethal President is not as good and as honorable as you? What if he is actually cruel or bloodthirsty?
What if he turns out to be — like you, Mr. President — just a man?