White Papers, Targets, and U.S. Citizens: What’s All the Fuss?

Revised 6:59 am.

The last few days, the mainstreamish media and Congress have professed shock and outrage over the Office of Legal Counsel white paper and its ambiguous rationale on President Obama’s targeted killing program. But, really, there’s very little new about it, save some ostensible rationale that will facilitate a long-standing politics of execution.

But, much news media and Congress (except for DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz) have known about targeted killings for years. As Tara Kelvey and Josh Begley have noted, the New York Times has covered drones for years, even when they have ostentatiously skirted around the reasons for those killings. Similarly, the Brennan hearings were a perfect place for Congress to engage in, as Jeremy Scahill called it on Up with Chris this morning, “Kabuki oversight”—namely, the spectacle of watching senators like Dianne Feinstein and others to act as if they were overwhelmingly outraged by the non-responsiveness of the CIA, OLC, and WH to their repeated requests for an answer to the question of the rationale for targeted killing without oversight.

Why then are they suddenly exercised over it now? I’m puzzled by the fuss, given the way the sudden controversy is framed is shock and horror that a U.S. citizen might be fingered for death if they are suspected to be an “imminent” threat to America. So, suddenly—what—everyone cares that U.S. citizens Anwar and Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki , Samir Khan, and Kamal Derwish were killed?

Why weren’t our esteemed media and Congress that exercised about the provisions in NDAA 2012 that authorized POTUS to arrest and detain U.S. citizens (um…and foreign nationals) anywhere for posing an imminent threat?

After all, many more U.S. citizens are likely to be intercepted and indefinitely detained by the following NDAA 2012 provision (the one that Obama insisted be included on threat of veto. Remember?):

Subtitle D–Detainee Matters
    (a) In General- Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
    (b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
    (1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
    (2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

The rest of the clause is just as interesting.

After the November elections, Sen. DiFi tried an interesting re-do in NDAA 2013 with an amendment that limited indefinite detention to non-citizens—but you’ll remember that it ‘mysteriously disappeared.’  If anything, U.S. citizens are much more vulnerable to the arrest and indefinite detention provisions from these bills than drones strikes. Right?

Mind you, it is heartening that even ‘forward leaners’ like Kristal Ball are so worked up over the undue authority that the WH/DoJ/OLC is taking to dilute the grounds by which they justify the targeting of U.S. citizens.

But the issue with drones is not just that they target U.S. citizens. But that they miss. And kill thousands of non-US citizens. And thousands of innocent civilians. And hundreds of children. On other sovereign lands. And turn peaceful foreign nationals into hostile, understandably vengeful, potential allies of organizations that the US has deemed to be our enemies.

There are compelling reasons to review the underlying rationales and “logic” of an Administration that wants to maintain a thick shell of secrecy around policies and authoritarian practices as heinous as killing U.S. citizens. The urge to dissect these policies is especially important as we consider future elections in relation to the executive authority that has been expanded for future presidents to exploit.

While the white paper is in the news, it’s worth taking advantage of the timeliness to explore other, older, facets of the Bush and Obama Administrations’ expansion of power.  In the short run, U.S. citizens stand to be much more vulnerable to the provisions of NDAA 2012 than the targeted killing rationale of the white paper.  This is especially true of Muslim-American men, who have been vulnerable to Sec. 1032 of NDAA 2012 since the endless, borderless, War on Terror was declared. And have been vulnerable to much, much, much, muchmuch, more than that.

Drones are being used for tracking here in the U.S, but not yet as lethal weapons. On the other hand, the (ex post?) rationale of Sec. 1032 in NDAA 2012 stands to round many more up in conjunction with anxieties about their acquaintances, associations, and communications in relation to the monstrous fear of Al-Qaeda and the all things “terrorist.” But we know that those ‘more’ will less likely be young white men from the burbs of Mill Valley (to date, we’ve only seen one like that–and he got a trial), than young brown and black men from the “terrorist-laden” terrain of Queens, the Bronx, or the less-than-affluent suburbs of Boston and Portland, OR.

And in so saying, perhaps I’ve answered my own question: maybe we care more about the OLC white paper because it obfuscates the obvious: these aren’t policies intended towards non-Muslims. We can scrutinize the rationale of the white memo as a way to distract most Americans from focusing on the fact that policies like indefinite detention, pre-emptive policing, and—yes—targeted killings—haven’t been and won’t likely be directed towards innocent (non-Muslim) Americans. Rather, such policies will continue to be aimed many more Muslim-Americans (and non-Americans) who won’t–can’t–possibly expect the U.S. to respect their innocence unless there are clear and evident reasons to suspect otherwise.

Author: Falguni A. Sheth

I'm a philosopher and political analyst who writes about all kinds of things, from national security, US politics, race, terrorism, miscegenation, feminism, philosophy, and whatever else captivates my attention. My views are idiosyncratic. I'd like to believe they're carefully considered, and I'm not particularly interested in following crowds.

7 thoughts on “White Papers, Targets, and U.S. Citizens: What’s All the Fuss?”

  1. Excellent post. I’m not sure I would say our massive despotic infrastructure will be solely aimed at muslims of all varieties and those who merely look like them. But that’s where these things get started, just as anti-Semitism was at the core of Nazi atrocities.

    Rather, such policies will continue to be aimed many more Muslim-Americans (and non-Americans) who won’t–can’t–possibly expect the U.S. to respect their innocence unless there are clear and evident reasons to suspect otherwise.

    Yes. It was precisely the same for Jews in Nazi Germany, just as it was for “communists” in Latin America and lots of other places. But just because one group is picked on above all others doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy the same fate. We’re currently spending $70 Billion per annum on “domestic security,” much of which seems to be more intended to make Americans feel less safe than more. So since 9/11, we’ve already spent close to a Trillion Dollareenies on infrastructure geared towards routing out all manner of “undesirables.”

    So Muslims have much to be fearful of. But there’s no telling how far this is going to go. I just found this little ditty from a couple years ago that I didn’t know about, yet seems apropos of the kind of policy-making we’re seeing from this administration and its Chamber Of People’s Deputies in congress:


    Note the way he phrases his responses. Quite telling, really.

    1. Ugh. I meant to close with a remark that despots rarely see any constraints when they attain that kind of power over people and institutions. When such people can commit murder all in the sanctity of their precious little star chambers, words like “innocence” matter little. Innocence matters to people who care about justice and justice is the one thing they despise most.

      The only thing that is left is to institutionalize all this in ways that gives heinous acts legitimacy. That’s why DiFi wants to have a bogus, Kafkaesque “court” to secretly hand out death warrants. It’s a “court,” so it’s legit, right?

      Even Stalin had people tried in his courts prior to their executions.

      1. Certainly, I don’t think it will continually be aimed solely at Muslims, but rather at those who are more vulnerable–politically, socially, economically–and hence, legally. I ended this column there, because the next obvious piece is to expand on my previous sentence. I think we can continually draw a distinction between those who are on the receiving end of targeting and those who are not (either b/c they are doing the targeting or because they are not the focus of the political/cultural/state hostility).

        Mind you, I am not attributing cause one way or another (here), but rather noting that the expansion of populations who will be targeted can be ‘racial’ (qua Muslims), but in fact corresponds to political/social stigma & vulnerability. (so it can include the poor, homeless, chemically-dependent, increasingly criminalized political dissenters/whistleblowers, etc).

        But for the moment, NDAA 2012 is still going to target Muslims (and non-Americans or ‘political’ foreigners) more than anyone else. See for example: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-cycle/50773948

        1. Sadly, yes. The continued ramping up of conflict with the Muslim world will guarantee the continued justification for those policies. It’s a feature, not a bug.

          You are doing great work. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts, terrible though the subjects often are.

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