Framing the Torture-Drone Debate

The neocons have lost ground within the Executive Branch, but continue to wield great influence in Congress and Washington opinion circles. That sway is revealed in the framing of debates on President George W. Bush’s power to torture and President Obama’s use of lethal drones, notes ex-FBI agent Coleen Rowley.

By Coleen Rowley

Sen. Rand Paul is not the only one with serious questions about the nomination of John Brennan for CIA Director. Many people are rightly concerned that the CIA nominee failed to provide a clear answer to Paul’s question: “Do you believe that the president has the authority to order lethal force, such as a drone strike, against aU.S. citizen onU.S. soil, and without a trial?”

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Drones and the War On Terror: When Can the U.S. Target Alleged American Terrorists Overseas?” Unfortunately, besides being framed in a completely leading way, the only witnesses who will testify — all four — were drawn from the same Lawfare blog. Lawfare co-founder Benjamin Wittes (who doesn’t even possess a law degree himself) gloatsabout it.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who is currently President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA.

Have you ever heard of a congressional hearing that calls all of its “experts” from one certain pro-war agenda-driven blog?!

(Note how the Lawfare blog byline, “Hard National Security Choices.” masks how these blogging lawyers tend to always come up with the very easy answer that the law of force is the answer instead of the rule of law. Clearly the aim of this “Judiciary Hearing” should be questioned as it does not appear it is to fairly consider the range of views about the illegality of drone assassination without judicial process.)

Additionally, we in Minnesotahave initiated meetings and letters signed now by over 200 members of different peace groups asking our Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, given their important Judiciary Committee assignments, to use their influence to seek answers. We’ve asked several other serious questions about Brennan’s background with CIA torture black sites as well as his role in drone assassinations (in this latest full letter to Sen. Klobuchar.)

Finally, our Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) group sent a memo to Sen. Dianne Feinstein warning her about endorsing Brennan, who cooperated with former CIA Director George Tenet as he helped fix the Bush administration’s case for war onIraq.

It would be her next-to-worst mistake of her tenure on the Senate Intelligence Committee, we told her. The worst – we hope she now concedes – was voting to authorize the Iraq War. Read the letter in full here.

Let me also mention something else that seems to be going on in the “legal” debate that is now distracting people as it devolves into party partisanship. A number of law professors and legal commentators, from both the Right and the Left (even most recently Georgetown Law Professor David Cole who wrote: “Laying Down the Law – Why Obama’s targeted killing is better than Bush’s torture“) have turned what should be a much wider real debate based on facts and law into the narrow, more partisan-driven question of “What’s worse? (Bush’s) Torture or (Obama’s) Drone Bombing?”

Some like Cole, at least have the decency to preface their comments with “well they are both wrong, but…..” while John B. Bellinger III and others of his Lawfare ilk post their challenges on the other side of the partisan “divide,” that in fact killing is worse than torture, using such common sense arguments that it’s better to be alive with your fingernails torn out than to be dead.

Isn’t this partisan “divide” as to whether to prefer torture or assassination as the lesser evil a bit like counting how many demons can dance on the head of a pin?! It’s certainly confusing to those of us who think torture AND drone assassination are both wrong.

The unfortunate result, however – and perhaps the goal of the two party kabuki theater – is that the entire red herring “debate” distracts the partisans of both parties, making both Republicans and Democrats more complacent about both torture and drone assassination. This is how so many people come to ignore the right and wrong of it all and turn it into a mere political difference of opinion.

Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former chief division counsel in Minneapolis. She’s now a dedicated peace and justice activist and board member of the Women Against Military Madness. [A version of this article was originally posted at Huffington Post.]

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6 comments on “Framing the Torture-Drone Debate

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    The discourse on this topic has been a successful ruse to deflect attention from the crime and focus it on the plot. It’s like arguing about whether the perpetrator used an axe or a hatchet, and pretending that it makes all the difference in the world. The evil inherent in either choice no longer figures in the debate. Whether the victim was murdered or merely maimed is secondary to the perpetrator’s intent, and the resultant legal ambiguity makes it impossible to reach a verdict. Either way, the victim is barred from testifying, and any presumption of his innocence is regarded as slander against the perpetrator. The Orwellian reality of all this was best summed up by Ari Fleischer’s comment at a press briefing in 2003: “I think the burden is on those people who think he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are.” In other words, lack of evidence is proof of guilt. Or, “Two wrongs makes a right”. Failure to disclose legal rationalizations and hiding behind secrecy amounts to obstruction of justice. Killing people without due process is murder. The Constitution is quite clear on these issues: perpetrators of high crimes and misdemeanors “shall be removed from office”. Any other discourse is just tap-dancing. And you know what? I ain’t seen this much tap-dancing since Sammy Davis Jr. died.

  2. rosemerry on said:

    Brennan should NOT be appointed. Neither should Jacob Lew (check his checkered history in Pam Martens’ article in “Wall Street on Parade”, her website).
    I really think that as well as his other faults, Obama has absolutely no sense of judgment of character.

  3. Otto Schiff on said:

    Murder and Torture are really not subjects for debate.
    We have this big firearms discussion now. The prevailing
    philosophy is “when the government does it it,IS ok.
    It is really very simple. When presidents promote that, they are criminals.
    Let us put them on trial.

  4. Coleen Rowley on said:

    Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare continues to gloat that all four witnesses called by the House Judiciary Committee are his bloggers. What could Conyers have been thinking?! What a horrible joke: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/house-hearing-fails-to-address-major-concerns-with-targeted-killing-program-20130227

  5. fulldisclosure on said:

    The following filthy pigs at AFRL were involved in the psychological aspects of one of the most sadistic illegal experimentation/torture programs in U.S. History: Chet Maciag, Colonel Lamar Parker, Lt. Col Bill Gregory. Air Force, crimes against humanity, treason, setups, illegal use of surveillance: http://usgovt-atrocities.com

  6. fulldisclosure on said:

    The following filthy pigs at AFRL were involved in the psychological aspects of one of the most sadistic illegal experimentation/torture programs in U.S. History: Chet Maciag, Colonel Lamar Parker, Lt. Col Bill Gregory. Air Force, crimes against humanity, treason, setups, illegal use of surveillance: usgovt-atrocities dot com