No Comment — March 13, 2012, 9:48 am

The Drone Secrecy Farce

Following Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech at Northwestern, publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times responded with renewed demands for the release of the Department of Justice memorandum (or “OLC Memo”), written by Martin Lederman and David Barron, that provides the legal framework for targeted killings. The Obama Administration came to power promising to end secret Justice Department memos like the ones that approved torture and warrantless surveillance. It also published most of the controversial Bush-era memos, which makes it look particularly disingenuous when withholding its own controversial legal opinions.

Why is it doing so? When pressed, government figures cite the same reason, always off-the-record: drone operations on and over Yemeni territory depend to some degree on the approval of Yemen’s dictator, who has insisted that they be kept secret. Indeed, according to an understanding the United States has reached with Yemen, the latter’s government will generally claim internally that U.S. drone strikes were carried out by Yemen’s own air force.

This past week, however, Reuters and the Associated Press reported on a series of strikes in Yemen that killed at least thirty persons allegedly linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The stories included both claims from Yemeni officials of air-force involvement and acknowledgements from other Yemeni officials that the attack was really conducted by the United States, as “the Yemeni military does not have the capacity to carry out nighttime air strikes and had no orders to do so.” The charade has gotten so tiresome that Sanaa isn’t even bothering to keep it up.

Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Al Jazeera on Friday that the Obama Administration’s cover has long been blown on the “secret” arrangement with Yemen. A classified WikiLeaks cable from the American Embassy in Sanaa spelled out the situation in some detail. In the communication, the American ambassador, Stephen Seche, reported on a conversation he had with Yemeni deputy prime minister Rashad al-Alimi, in which the two rehearsed the false statements they would make in an effort to camouflage U.S. operations:

[The Yemeni regime] “must maintain the status quo” with regard to the official denial of U.S. involvement in order to ensure additional “positive operations” against AQAP. Alimi seemed more concerned with the political opposition and Southern Movement’s use of the Abyan operation as an example of the government’s heavy-handed response to groups the [Yemeni regime] deems a threat. The Ambassador cautioned Alimi that the [Yemeni regime] may need to nuance its position regarding U.S. involvement in the event more evidence surfaces, complicating its ability to adhere to the official line that [Yemeni] forces conducted the operations independently. Alimi appeared confident that any evidence of greater U.S. involvement—such as U.S. munitions found at the sites—could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S. However, Alimi informed the Ambassador that senior [Yemeni] officials continue to the discuss media strategy and the public posture of the [Yemeni regime].

The cable goes on to question whether the tactic of claiming that drone strikes are in fact Yemeni air-force attacks would hold up under the scrutiny of international press observation. Indeed, it hasn’t. Not only has the deal with Yemen become the subject of broad commentary, a detailed discussion of the agreement between the Yemeni dictator and General David Petraeus has been published. The agreement has also been routinely confirmed by Yemeni officials, who are increasingly stressed at having to spin unconvincing lies to cover the CIA’s tracks, and who cannot be bothered to keep up the facade.

This brings us to a fundamental question: Why would the domestic political concerns of a malicious dictator be allowed to chill America’s internal democratic process? I don’t for a second believe that the memo is being kept secret in order to maintain the stability of the regime in Sanaa. The Yemeni government is unstable for many reasons, and would not be affected by the disclosure of an American legal memo. Besides, everyone in Yemen knows that the CIA is running a drone war on Yemeni soil. The real party behind the Obama Administration’s dodge is the CIA, which can only maintain its control of the drone program if it is classified as covert action, and which is prepared to engage in bizarre, sustained contortions to do so. The Obama White House needs to end this farce and publish the OLC Memo.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2016

Save Our Public Universities

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Rogue Agency

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mad Magazines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Killer Bunny in the Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bird in a Cage

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hidden Rivers of Brooklyn

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Save Our Public Universities·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whether and how we educate people is still a direct reflection of the degree of freedom we expect them to have, or want them to have.”
Photograph (crop) by Thomas Allen
Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.

Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:

60,000

The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today