What’s coming out of the Obama administration on its intentions re targeted killing v indefinite detention of suspects is getting more complicated. Obama, in a stirring defense of empire disguised as something else, told the world two weeks ago at the United Nations:
The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.
Obama’s May 23 speech, the one he was forced to delay because of the Guantanamo prison hunger strike, Obama set out broader parameters for those who could be targeted — as he argued, legally — for killing. Obama defended broad executive authority to kill targets, perhaps even more widely than he has previously. His speech amounted to an argument for, and announcement of a permanent infrastructure for assassination. As the McClatchy newspaper put it,
“In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed ‘senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces’ plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.
“But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from ‘those who want to kill us’ and ‘terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat’ to ‘all potential terrorist targets.’”
Saturday U.S. forces grabbed one of the FBI’s most-wanted suspects in Libya, abu Anas al-Libi. The Libyan government, which the U.S. installed through its 2011 “humanitarian intervention” may or may not have been involved, but is now raising protests that the rights of tge prisoner are not being respected, because he’s being interrogated on a U.S. ship away from the reach of Libyan, or international, law.
The Associated Press asks, Did Obama swap ‘black’ detention sites for ships? saying, “Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end.” Further
“It appears to be an attempt to use assertion of law of war powers to avoid constraint and safeguards in the criminal justice system,” said Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of the civil rights organization’s national security project. “I am very troubled if this is the pattern that the administration is setting for itself.”
John Bellinger in Lawfare notes
Because Article 22 of the Third Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war “may be interned only in premises located on land,” Obama Administration lawyers must have concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Warsame and al-Libi, or that they are not POWs, or that they are not being interned.
Whatever the mix of targeted killing, indefinite detention, or rendition-like interrogations in international waters, the course set by the Obama administration of using “all elements of our power” remains one running counter to international law and due judicial process.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the New York Public Defender’s Office is demanded that, after 3 days, al-Libi, who has already been indicted on charges, get counsel and be brought immediately before a judge, as the law provides. But,
The first round of interrogations, expected to last several weeks according to US newspapers, will be to extract intelligence. Only after that will he be offered a lawyer and questioned in connection with the case for which he has already been charged.
The process here, of targeted killing, indefinite detention, now mixed with a variant of rendition where the subject is hidden from the legal system while the FBI has a go — is no better, but perhaps more sophisticated, than what the Bush regime practiced.
Note: on October 14, BBC reports that al-Libi is in New York City, to be formally charged in federal court.
Debra Sweet is the director of World Can’t Wait and blogs at debra.worldcantwait.net.