Targeted Killing

Rolling Stone Doesn't Like Lawfare's Day on the Hill

By Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 9:03 PM

Over at Rolling Stone, John Knefel pans the House Judiciary Committee hearing today for being too Lawfare-heavy:

The House Judiciary Committee held a full member hearing today on when it is acceptable for the government to designate a U.S. citizen for targeted killing – the first hearing to focus specifically on this hot-button issue. Despite the session's serious shortcomings, it was a small step towards some modicum of Congressional oversight of a program that remains shrouded in secrecy. The hearing included four expert witnesses, all of whom contribute to the right-leaning website Lawfare. The Department of Justice, meanwhile, was invited to attend but declined to show up, much to the frustration of many committee members.

The session was remarkable for the near-constant agreement between three of the four witnesses---lawyers John Bellinger and Robert Chesney and Brookings Institution scholar Benjamin Wittes---regarding issues such as the constitutionality of killing Yemeni cleric and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike, as well as the reasoning behind the recently leaked DOJ white paper summarizing the secret Office of Legal Counsel opinions that authorize lethal strikes against American citizens. Little was gained by having these three similar viewpoints on the panel, especially at the exclusion of human rights experts or those actually affected by U.S. drone strikes.

"Where were the victims, where were representatives of civil society in the affected countries?" asks Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel and advocate with Human Rights Watch, in an email. She suggests that Congress could have invited family members of Anwar al-Awlaki to testify, but "instead, the only congressional hearing to date on the preeminent legal and political issue of our time consisted of four American men who are participants in the same legal blogging project." (That blogging project once somewhat notoriously posted a user-submitted photo of a tasteless "drone cake," with an accompanying joke referencing their site's motto.)

I didn't know that drone strike cake has become notorious.

Just for the record, we at Lawfare did not invite ourselves to this hearing, nor did any of us know that the panel was going to be all-Lawfare until after it had been assembled. I take it as a credit to the site that we host the work of the people that both majority and minority on the committee wanted to hear from on this subject. And while I never argue with people who want to characterize my---or in this case our---politics and thus won't quibble about whether or not Lawfare is "right-leaning," I will point out that the Right at this hearing was very skeptical of drone strikes, just as skeptical as was the Left on the committee. Clearly, the sensibility of Lawfare writers at today's hearing was leaning in a direction of its own.