The Questionable Past of the Man Who Decides Who U.S. Drones Will Kill

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Tue May 29 05:55:56 PDT 2012

The Atlantic Home

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Conor Friedersdorf	- Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The
Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in
Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a
newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

The Questionable Past of the Man Who Decides Who U.S. Drones Will Kill

By Conor Friedersdorf

May 23 2012, 11:56 AM ET

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, who is taking on new
authority over strikes, once backed "enhanced-interrogation techniques."

john brennan reuters.jpg

As I figure it, there are two death panels in the United States. One is
within the C.I.A., where high-ranking intelligence professionals decide, via
some opaque protocol, who they want to kill with armed drones. I used to
assume that they put all the names on a list. But it was subsequently
reported that sometimes the C.I.A. kills people whose identities it doesn't
even know.

Then there's the other death panel. It determines whose death will be sought
by drones that the Department of Defense controls. These human targets used
to be determined in a meeting that involved the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, various unnamed national security officials, and Obama
Administration counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. They'd talk things over
and debate names.

Now the protocol is changing for both programs.

"White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing
which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a
new procedure for both military and CIA targets," Kimberly Dozier of the
Associated Press reports. "The effort concentrates power over the use of
lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House
... Under the new plan, Brennan's staff compiles the potential target list
and runs the names past agencies such as the State Department at a weekly
White House meeting."

So who is the man with this extraordinarily powerful influence over who lives
and dies in the due-process-free world of international assassinations? An
experienced intelligence officer with 25 years experience, fluent Arabic
skills ... and a more controversial recent history in government.

Glenn Greenwald summarizes:

    In November, 2008, media reports strongly suggested that President Obama
intended to name John Brennan as CIA Director. But controversy over Brennan's
recent history -- he was a Bush-era CIA official who expressly advocated
"enhanced interrogation techniques" and rendition -- forced him to "withdraw"
from consideration, as he publicly issued a letter citing "strong criticism
in some quarters" of his CIA advocacy.

So to sum up, Barack Obama insists while campaigning that
"enhanced-interrogation techniques" are a euphemism for illegal, immoral
torture that makes us less rather than more safe from terrorism, and insists
that the Bush Administration was imprudent for using those tactics.

After being elected, Obama forbids those tactics from being used.

And he names as a top counterterrorism adviser someone who advocated the
tactics he regards as imprudent and immoral -- ultimately entrusting him with
more power than anyone else to decide whether various figures should be
assassinated by our classified flying robot army.

What an unlikely series of actions.

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list