Counterterrorism

Senate Lets Patriot Act Provisions, Including Bulk Data Collection, Expire

Image via Blablo101/shutterstock.com
Image via Blablo101/shutterstock.com

The Senate debate period on the Patriot Act ran past midnight Sunday night, effectively allowing three provisions of the controversial act to expire. Despite warnings of national security risks, "it is clear that the lapse will not come close to debilitating counterterrorism efforts," according to CNN.

The NSA's bulk data collection program was one of the provisions to expire, officially shutting down by 8 p.m. Sunday night. 

The Senate is expected to restore some form of these provisions by midweek. 

What's Wrong with Drones?

SOME CHRISTIANS seeking moral guidance about drone warfare find enough clear teaching in Jesus’ command to love our enemies and respond to conflict with principled, active nonviolence. Other Christian traditions, seeking to restrict and limit warfare, have developed principles of “just war,” which deem certain acts of war immoral and illegitimate. Targeted killings by drones, which have become key elements of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy, fail the test of morality on a number of grounds:

1. Targeted assassinations outside of legally declared wars violate international law, which prohibits a country from carrying out military attacks in or against the territory of countries with which it is not at war. Drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia violate this prohibition.

2. They violate the sovereignty of other countries. The government of Pakistan has repeatedly objected to drone strikes on its territory, calling them a “clear violation of our sovereignty and a violation of international law,” but its concerns have been repeatedly ignored.

3. There is little transparency or accountability. CIA drones are remotely controlled, primarily from Air Force bases in the United States, with no clear accountability, and with the targeting sometimes based on dubious intelligence.

4. They set a dangerous precedent. More than 70 countries now possess drone aircraft. While most of these drones are not armed, that is clearly the next step. The covert use of combat drones by the U.S. and the rapid expansion of the U.S. armed drone program represent escalations into a new kind of arms race.

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A Just Peace President: How We Can End the War on Terror

President Obama spoke on US counterterrorism strategies at the National Defense University this month. Photo via StockPhotosLV

In his remarks at the National Defense University two weeks ago, President Obama stopped just one sentence short of declaring an end to the so-called “war on terror.” This is and always was a misnomer. It is a category error. A “war on terror” cannot be fought with armies and weapons of warfare. Terror is a response. Terrorism is a tactic. A terrorist is a criminal who ought to be apprehended, tried, and if convicted punished through the criminal justice system.

The Obama administration has been careful about using this term, speaking more about a war against al-Qaeda than an overall war on terror that is nothing but a declaration of perpetual war. President Obama said: “Our systemic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

He did not go so far as to declare the war on terror over.

The Permanent War

This week, the Washington Post published a major three-part series, written by three veteran correspondents, titled “The Permanent War.” The series is an in-depth look at U.S. counterterrorism policies, particularly targeted killings.

In part one, Greg Miller focuses on the “kill lists” for drone strikes and other covert operations, and how they have evolved.

Over the past two years, the administration has worked on a “next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix,’  which is a“single, continually evolving database in which biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations are all catalogued. So are strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols.”

Miller concludes that “Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul. … For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.

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