Executive power

  • February 6, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The increasingly disturbing use of Reaper and Predator drones to kill suspected terrorists, and too often civilians alongside them, was apparently given the green light by some DOJ lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). But that’s not for certain since the Obama administration rarely talks about the drone war.

    But a leaked white paper apparently crafted by lawyers in the OLC may be a summary of a more expansive document – the ACLU is suing to find out. The paper, however, as The New York Times and others have quickly noted advances convoluted and radical arguments for an outrageous expansion of executive power.

    Constitutional law scholar and Georgetown University law school professor David Cole, in a piece for NYR blog explores, “how we made killing easy.” And Cole notes by the way that the Obama administration is battling “tooth and nail” the ACLU’s effort to force the release of the entire  legal document.

    The white paper argues that an informed, high-ranking government official can order the killing of a U.S. citizen integral to or associated with Al-Qaeda abroad if the person poses an “imminent threat of violent attack” against the country, the person is unlikely to be captured and that the killing operation would be conducted in accordance with laws governing war.

    The brief paper tosses aside due process in a strained effort to justify executive branch power, with essentially no oversight, to order the killing of terrorist suspects, even U.S. citizens.

     

  • February 5, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The DOJ white paper advancing broad and opaque arguments for the executive branch to kill U.S. citizens thought to be connected with Al Qaeda is a “radical jurisprudential notion,” Salon’s David Sirota writes. He calls the jurisprudential notion “Too Big to Curtail.

    That moniker, he continues, “is the most accurate label to describe the machinery of the government’s ever-expanding drone war.”

    The DOJ’s white paper concludes three conditions must be met for the federal government to kill a U.S. citizen who is integral to Al Qaeda or “an associated force of” of the terrorist group without violating the Constitution. They require a high-ranking federal official who says the person targeted for killing is an “imminent threat to the country,” capturing the person is “infeasible,” and the lethal operation doesn’t violate laws governing use of force during war time.

    Sirota says the “most harrowing takeaway” from the DOJ document is that the killing of a U.S. citizen abroad can be made by a high-ranking government official even if there is no “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

    Essentially, Sirota continues, the white paper maintains that the “president doesn’t actually need evidence to order someone’s death.” 

    The Dish in a post dubbed, “The Executive As Executioner,” includes comment from an array of folks, including the ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer.

     

  • February 5, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Federal courts have avoided legal challenges against President George W. Bush’s construction of counterterrorism policies that included extraordinary rendition where terrorism suspects were secretly shipped to countries well-known for employing torture. The Bush and Obama administrations urged the federal courts to dismiss legal challenges to extraordinary rendition and secret detention sites arguing that they would expose “state secrets.”

    But an exhaustive report from the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative reveals the policies marketed as a way to protect Americans from terrorism, trampled human rights and produced fatally flawed information. Rendition, in particular, “stripped people of their most basic rights, facilitated gruesome forms of torture, at time captured the wrong people, and debased the United States’ human rights reputation world-wide,” write OSF’s Jonathan Horowitz and Stacy Cammarano  about the report.

    The federal government has refused to acknowledge participation in rendition and according to Horowitz and Cammarano more than 50 other governments were also involved though have refused to admit it. The initiative’s report details the brutality and senselessness of secret prisons and rendition.

    In "Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition," Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer of OSF’s Justice Initiative, states that “more than a decade after September 11, there is no doubt that high-ranking administration officials bear responsibility for authorizing human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern.”

    But because the government has used the so-called state-secrets privilege to scuttle lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of its counterterrorism work, it has until now been difficult to discern the scope of rendition, its number of victims and other government involvement.

    In the report’s executive summary, it is noted that “based on credible public sources and information provided by reputable human rights organizations, this report is the most comprehensive catalogue of the treatment of 136 individuals reportedly subjected to these operations. There may be many more such individuals, but the total number will remain unknown until the United States and its partners make the information publicly available.”

     

  • February 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Shortly after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced so-called filibuster reform, TPM reported that the chamber’s chief ringleader of obstruction, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) “bragged” about killing the serious reforms that would have undermined obstructionists’ ability to so effectively wield the tool.

    In this post not long before the “filibuster reform,” was announced I noted that it appeared Reid was prepared to suffer even more obstructionism. (TPM had reported that Reid was ready to forgo a simple-majority vote to make real changes to the filibuster that would require senators to actually mount and sustain a filibuster, instead of relying on an easy and stealthy manner of deploying the filibuster.)

    Then late last week, as reported by TPM’s Brian Beutler, McConnell and 40 of his Republican colleagues promised try again to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray to permanently head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “unless Democrats agree to pass legislation dramatically weakening the agency.”

    President Obama overcame the first Republican blockade of his choice to the head the CFPB via a recess appointment that will leave him on the job until the end of the year. A recent, though widely attacked, opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, found that Obama’s recess appointment of Cordray and three nominees to fill vacant seats on the five-member National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has signaled it will appeal the opinion, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney calling it “novel and unprecedented.”

     

  • January 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senate Republicans devoted to protecting big business interests and undermining workers’ rights vigorously fought President Obama’s efforts during his first term to keep the National Labor Relations Board functioning and appoint a leader for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    Republicans in the Senate have long sought to ensure that Obama could not alter the makeup of the NLRB, in order to keep it pro-business or inoperative. Moreover, Senate Republicans were opposed to the creation of the CFPB, intended to crack down on some of the shady business practices that helped lead to the Great Recession; and after its creation they were bent on making it as ineffective as possible.

    Earlier today, the Republican agenda of hobbling the NLRB, which exists to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, was advanced by a ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. According to the court, Obama’s appointments to the NLRB in early January 2012 during a 20-day recess of Congress were unconstitutional.

    The appeals court opinion is at odds with other rulings from appeals court circuits and the fact that for a century, presidents, citing Article II of the Constitution, have used recess appointments to fill executive branch vacancies.

    As The New York Times notes, the appeals court decision “also raises doubts about the legitimacy of Mr. Obama’s recess appointment” of Richard Cordray to the CFPB. Obama appointed Cordray the same time he selected the three members of the labor board. At the time Obama noted that he was forced to make the recess appointments because of the Senate’s refusal to move on his nominations to the board and the bureau. “The American people deserve to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day – whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans. We can’t wait to act to strengthen the economy and restore security for our middle class and those trying to get in it, and that’s why I am proud to appoint these fine individuals to get to work for the American people.”  

    The opinion by the appeals court panel – all three judges are Republican appointees – is radical and sweeping. Adam Serwer, in a piece for Mother Jones, notes that if the appeals court decision were to be upheld – the Obama administration is likely to appeal it – it would invalidate NLRB decisions made since last January and also impact actions taken by the CFPB.

    The CFPB, Serwer writes “has done what liberals hoped and Republicans feared: Prevented companies from gouging consumers with the kind of unscrupulous business practices that caused a nationwide economic meltdown four years ago. Although Cordray’s appointment is being challenged separately, Friday’s ruling gives companies impacted by CFPG’s decisions an opening to argue that some of the CFPB’s actions should be invalidated.”

    But constitutional law experts argued at the time Obama made the recess appointments that he was on solid legal ground. In a Jan. 2012 piece for The Times, Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe said the president’s recess appointments “ought to be a slam dunk” and that the Constitution is clear on “reserving the authority the president needs to carry out his basic duties ….”