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Senate Hearing on ‘Drone Wars’—Live Updates

UPDATE – 6:25 PM EST Drone hearing – first ever by Senate – adjourned.

UPDATE – 6:24 PM EST Sen. Mike Lee is the first to ask about the concerns that people have if Congress establishes a court modeled off the secret FISA court to provide oversight to “targeted killings.”

UPDATE – 6:10 PM EST Still going: Rosa Brooks cited Chilean assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier & US colleague Ronni Moffitt. She argues that, were the dictatorship in Chile today, it would argue to the US government that there was nothing wrong with them assassinating their own enemies of state on US soil because of authority the US government is claiming.

UPDATE – 5:50 PM EST Needless to say, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s testimony is pure crazy buffoonery. Flatly rejects notion that US can have governments arrest targets or enemies instead of assassinating them. Then, he says we are fighting an ideology. He also goes on about how we must not forget we are fighting a war.

UPDATE – 5:35 PM EST Col. Martha McSally supports asymmetric warfare to meet any and all American objectives. “Don’t have to risk American lives” when using lethal force. All for drone warfare except for few caveats related to transparency and ensuring rules followed for targeting.

UPDATE – 5:21 PM EST Farea Muslimi finally gets question from Sen. Al Franken, who asks if there is difference between blowback from drones and blowback from manned air strikes. He says yes because it feeds into AQAP’s agenda.

UPDATE – 5:11 PM EST Rosa Brooks, in answering Sen. Cruz’s questions, states that every human has rights, even if they are not US citizens.

UPDATE – 4:58 PM EST Durbin asks, is Authorization for the Use of Military Force adequate to task of “protecting America” when we are “still menaced & terrorized” by those who would do evil? Rosa Brooks endorses repeal of 2001 AUMF.

UPDATE – 4:56 PM EST Durbin calls Al-Muslimi’s testimony a “chilling example” of how drone policies are sowing widespread discontent.

UPDATE – 4:47 PM EST For details from Farea Al-Muslimi’s powerful testimony on the human cost of drone strikes or targeted assassinations in Yemen, here’s a detailed post.

UPDATE – 4:40 PM EST Retired Colonel Martha McSally begins testimony by suggesting those in human rights organizations that use “drone” instead of “remotely piloted aircraft” are fueling an al Qaeda propaganda campaign.

UPDATE – 4:28 PM EST Rosa Brooks testifies. She examines the rule of law issues. “Do we want to live in world where US govt’s justification for killing is so infinitely malleable?” she concludes.

She calls attention to the numerous questions surrounding the “targeted killing” program. Says, “Nobody outside a small group in Executive Branch know how to answer who’s an enemy combatant.” Emphasizes the secrecy.

UPDATE – 4:20 PM EST Gen. Cartwright testifies and notes that the US has “employed bombers, attack aircraft, cruise missiles and various special operations forces.” There has been a “significant improvement in the ability to find, fix and target.”

“No other capability more suited” for counterterrorism than drones. Mentions his worry that America may have ceded the moral high ground and so a framework for oversight does need to be addressed developed, but Cartwright unequivocally supports drones as a tool.

UPDATE – 4:16 PM EST Sen. Ted Cruz talks up the success of Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster in captivating Americans’ attention. He says Americans were “fixated by C-SPAN.” The Obama administration gave Paul the answer he deserved to his question about targeting US citizens with drones on US soil the day after. The filibuster occurred during John Brennan’s confirmation hearing to the position of CIA director.

UPDATE – 4:12 PM EST Sen. Dick Durbin & Sen. Ted Cruz condemn the Obama administration for not sending a witness. The hearing was postponed so it could and they refused.

UPDATE – 4:10 PM EST Sen. Dick Durbin gives opening statement. He poses the following questions, “What due process protections extend to US citizen overseas? What are legal limits on the battlefield? And is it legal to use drones not just in legal war zones but also war zones where US is not involved in combat?…Who qualifies as associated force?…What moral or legal responsibility does US have to acknowledge role in targeted killings and acknowledge loss of life when innocent people are killed?”

He notes that torture was once rationalized as appropriate by a prior administration. “Targeted killings” are now being rationalized by this administration.

UPDATE – 4:00 PM EST Sen. Dick Durbin gavels hearing into session. “This is the first ever public hearing on drones” by the Senate. Long overdue.

Original Post

A long-awaited Senate hearing on the US government’s use of drone warfare and “targeted killing” policies is taking place this afternoon. The Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, is hosting the hearing.

Witnesses scheduled to testify include: General James Cartwright, United States Marine Corp (Ret.); Farea Al-Muslimi of Sana’a, Yemen; Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation (NAF); Rosa Brooks, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center; Colonel Martha McSally, United States Air Force (Ret.) and Ilya Somin, law professor at George Mason University School of Law.

[Watch the hearing here.]

The Senate subcommittee tried to get a witness from the Obama Justice Department. The hearing was postponed to today to give the Department time to send a witness. But, as McClatchy‘s Jonathan Landay reported on April 17, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden wrote in an email, “We do not currently plan to send a witness to this hearing and have remained in close contact with the committee about how we can best provide them the information they require.”

Landay noted that Hayden had said the White House would continue to work with lawmakers “to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and the world.” Pure gobbledygook.

Al-Muslimi should be an exceptional witness and it is good to see he was invited. Days ago, a village where he has lived, Wessab, was hit by a US drone.

Brooks will likely be sharing her support for the establishment of a targeted killing court similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The National Security Network (NSN), ahead of the hearing, sent out an email with her recommendation for “judicial review.”

Congress should consider creating a judicial mechanism, perhaps similar to the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to authorize and review the legality of targeted killings outside of traditional battlefields. While the administration argues that such targeting decisions present a non-justiciable political question because of the president’s commander-in-chief authority, the use of military force outside of traditional battlefields and against geographically dispersed non-state actors straddles the lines between war and law enforcement. While the president must clearly be granted substantial discretion in the context of armed conflicts, the applicability of the law of armed conflict to a particular situation requires that the law be interpreted and applied to a particular factual situation, and this is squarely the type of inquiry the judiciary is bested suited to making.”

This is not supported by American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, NYU School of Law, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Center for Constitutional Rights, Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law, Human Rights First, Human Rights Institute, Columbia Law School, Human Rights Watch and Open Society Foundations.

The above organizations recently challenged President Obama’s claimed targeted killing authority in a letter and wrote:

We do not believe that accountability and transparency will be improved by recent proposals to establish a FISA-like court to sanction lethal targeting operations. On the contrary, a special targeted killing court would give a veneer of judicial review to decisions to launch lethal strikes without offering a meaningful check on executive power. Instead, we urge the administration to cease making broad claims of non-justiciability or political question, to prevent cases alleging human rights or constitutional violations from being heard on their merits.” In other words, stop utilizing “political question and immunity doctrines, Bivens special factors, and the state secrets privilege to obstruct litigation.”

I will be tweeting the hearing with the following account: @kgosztola. There also will be updates added to the top periodically throughout the hearing.

You can watch the hearing by going here.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."