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:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

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

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Post
Inside the July Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Post
Europe’s Hamilton Moment·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:

1,146

Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.

A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today