The Danger of Precedents

The second installment of the Washington Post‘s investigation into the Obama administration’s drone war is as important as the first, Greg Miller’s piece which revealed the “disposition matrix,” and which I discussed here. But this article, written by Karen DeYoung, descends into a character piece on John Brennan, Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser who spearheads the targeting process of the drone wars. Brennan is presented towards the end as deeply concerned with transparency and the ethical and legal implications of the drone wars:

One official said that “for a guy whose reputation is focused on how tough he is on counterterrorism,” Brennan is “more focused than anybody in the government on the legal, ethical and transparency questions associated with all this.” By drawing so much decision-making directly into his own office, said another, he has “forced a much better process at the CIA and the Defense Department.”

Clearly there are some problems with this interpretation, and we know what they are. But DeYoung sets readers up for a powerful concluding thought:

Even if Obama is reelected, Brennan may not stay for another term. That means someone else is likely to be interpreting his playbook.

“Do I want this system to last forever?” a senior official said. “No. Do I think it’s the best system for now? Yes.”

“What is scary,” he concluded, “is the apparatus set up without John to run it.”

So leaving aside the characterization of team Brennan-Obama as ethically-minded warriors inclined towards transparency, it is quite easy to envision a future administration which is far less ethical, far less transparent, and far more brutal in their execution of the drone war apparatus that they set up. This has been a common question from the beginning: what kind of precedent has the Obama administration set, and how will a future Luca Brasi in a future presidential administration use these powers to kill?

  • TooTrue

    My guess is that Mitt Romney hasn't ruled out Jose Rodriguez to replace John Brennan.

  • liberal

    I read the piece in the dead tree edition of the WaPo this afternoon. Wow—what a tongue job!

  • Doug_in_Indiana

    The armed robber caught by police was especially concerned with the ethical and legal implications of the bank operation. Particularly, since a guard and a teller were dead, he was especially interested in the criminal penalties that could be exacted by a vicious, unpredictable legal system. And since he might not be in charge of the gang for a while, he was concerned that his friend who now runs the operation would make similar errors, endangering the survival of his organization.

  • jrs

    "So leaving aside the characterization of team Brennan-Obama as ethically-minded warriors inclined towards transparency"

    It's unreal, instead of rule of law we are sold how ethical and educated these guys are. But they read great philosophers, and are deeply familiar with religious traditions and … they are like college professors combined with monks.

    AS IF …. AS IF … the cumulation of the western tradition, as flawed as it is, was benign (or not so benign) dictatorship and philosopher kings, rather than the rule of law and protection of individual rights. They drop more great works names than a Great Books Club and more references to morals than Bill Bennet. Fricken Philosopher Kings. Murdering philsospher dictators.

  • MvGuy

    I wonder how long before a drone comes to visit THEM…..!!!!! Sent by ……………??????????? Clues
    here……………?????

    "(The Mother of All Updates 7/22 – Holy Toledo! Thanks to intrepid readers I have been provided an Al-Jazeera op-ed story that says that Omar Suleiman died in Cleveland, Ohio on July 19, 2012 and goes farther in describing the Al-Libi case, to wit:

    Starting quote:

    Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi (Ali Mohammed al-Fakheri) is the second most infamous case under Suleiman. He was a Libyan citizen reportedly captured and interrogated by the CIA, the EGIA, and other security services. The George W Bush administration cited the false information al-Libi gave under torture by Egyptian authorities as evidence of the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in the months preceding the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

    When the information was proven to be false, it was a source of great personal embarrassment to Suleiman. Not only had he allegedly tortured an Arab citizen to extract information for the CIA, but he also inadvertently provided justification to the Bush administration for the invasion of Iraq. This is an addition to the apparent incompetence in assessing the information extracted under torture. al-Libi was handed over to the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which Suleiman visited in May 2009. By the time Suleiman’s plane left Libya, al-Libi had allegedly “committed suicide”, the Gaddafi regime announced.

    “”This is the bloody joke,” a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who was imprisoned with al-Libi in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison, told me in an interview. “Al-Libi is a religious man. He would never do that. He was killed by the Libyan Internal Security Services as a favour to Suleiman.&rdquo ;http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/07/2012720132344865981.html"

    http://www.saltlaw.org/blog/2012/07/19/targeted-k

  • Jessica

    They basically ask the public to trust their words – “transparency, ethical, priest-like, with moral rectitude” – and not judge their actions – pathological secrecy, indiscriminate killers, narcissistic god complex. Even more astounding, people buy it. They buy it because the defer to the authority.

  • SteveM

    Re: "So leaving aside the characterization of team Brennan-Obama as ethically-minded warriors inclined towards transparency"

    So who makes the determination that Brennan and Obama are ethically-minded and inclined towards transparency? Brennan and Obama?

    Miller and DeYoung only know what they tell them…

  • ·Who started the Second World War, which killed over 60 million, which was over 2.5% of the world population?Muslims?

  • MoT

    The danger of precedents or presidents? I take it the later setting and abusing the former is accurate.

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  • Clearly there are some problems with this interpretation, and we know what they are. But DeYoung sets readers up for a powerful concluding thought:Discount Stores

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  • Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi (Ali Mohammed al-Fakheri) is the second most infamous case under Suleiman. He was a Libyan citizen reportedly captured and interrogated by the CIA, the EGIA, and other security services. The George W Bush administration cited the false information al-Libi gave under torture by Egyptian authorities as evidence of the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in the months preceding the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. sewage cleanup

  • The armed robber caught by police was especially concerned with the ethical and legal implications of the bank operation. Particularly, since a guard and a teller were dead, he was especially interested in the criminal penalties that could be exacted by a vicious, unpredictable legal system. And since he might not be in charge of the gang for a while, he was concerned that his friend who now runs the operation would make similar errors, endangering the survival of his organization.

  • My guess is that Mitt Romney hasn't ruled out Jose Rodriguez to replace John Brennan.
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