Thanks again to National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, the public knows more details about the NSA's involvement in the Executive Branch assassination by drone program. The Washington Post reported on the program, focusing on the case of alleged Al Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul.
While it is in the public interest - though not terribly surprising - that NSA is involved in the assassinations, WaPo's report strikes the wrong tone, giving far too much ink to the government's "We Got Ghul!" cheerleading. WaPo reports that the documents "confirm his demise in October 2012." "His demise" is WaPo speak for his assassination at the hands of the U.S. government in a program that has taken the lives of thousands of innocent foreign civilians and several of our own citizens, including 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
WaPo admits it sanitized the story at the request of the U.S. government:
The Post is withholding many details about those missions, at the request of U.S. intelligence officials who cited potential damage to ongoing operations and national security.This story sorely needs the investigative reporting of Marcy Wheeler (@emptywheel) and Jeremy Scahill (@jeremyscahill).
There are so many obvious and significant questions WAPO does not address.
WaPo reports that ". . . the attack was aimed at “an individual believed to be” the correct target. . ." Under what authority did the U.S. launch a drone attack without being sure of the target? Was this a signature strike?
NSA claims an e-mail from Ghul's wife revealed Ghul's location.
What happened to his wife and family in the drone strike? Were they collateral damage?
What about all the stupid decisions prior to Ghul's assassination? First the U.S. government captured Ghul. Then, after he gave the U.S. intelligence that helped the U.S. find Osama Bin Laden, the U.S. tortured him and held him in a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) black site (a.k.a. torture chamber). After two years, the U.S. released him to norther Pakistan, apparently expecting him to hold no ill will toward the U.S. after being tortured and held at a black site. Why was he tortured and held? Why was he released only to be assassinated?
The public is left to speculate on the answers to these questions, when any investigative journalist covering the story should have been asking them and finding answers.
There is a pattern to the reporting based on Snowden's whistleblowing disclosures. The first reporting reveals illegal, unconstitutional and/or immoral government conduct. Government officials obfuscate, misdirect or outright lie about their actions, usually in an attempt to cover-up wrongdoing. Additional disclosures reveal that the government has yet again misled the public.
The pattern is on full display in today's New York Times, which reveals that the Justice Department's National Security Division concealed from Solicitor General that it had a policy of not disclosing to criminal defendants when information gathered under the FISA Amendments Act was to be used against them. The Solicitor General, who later argued internally that there is no legal basis for such a policy, then misled the Supreme Court in a case attempting to challenge the FISA Amendments Act when he argued that a criminal defendant would have standing to challenge the FISA Amendments Act.
Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued in the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs challenging the 2008 law, said that someone in the Justice Department should have flagged the issue earlier and that the department must do more than change its practice going forward.The Obama administration has fought at every turn to prevent the courts from reviewing the NSA's massive domestic spying operation using every possible legal argument, no matter how far a stretch. The silver lining of the latest reports that the Solicitor General made an inaccurate claim before the Supreme Court is that a legal challenge to the FISA Amendments Act might finally be possible, as it should have been all along.
“The government has an obligation to tell the Supreme Court, in some formal way, that a claim it made repeatedly, and that the court relied on in its decision, was simply not true,” he said. “And it has an obligation to notify the criminal defendants whose communications were monitored under the statute that their communications were monitored.”
If the government deliberately omits information that could make the success of a motion to suppress evidence possible, that is a violation of a person’s due process rights. Defendants also have a right, under the Fourth Amendment, to challenge any unconstitutional surveillance.
Beyond the rights of defendants, there is a larger issue that is highlighted: keeping the role of these surveillance programs secret in cases prevents a court from being able to review the practices.