Project Censored KPFA Special: Killing the Rule of Law

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GitmoFlickrArtMakesMeSmileMEDIA ROOTS — Project Censored has become a centrepiece at KPFA, free speech radio, the flagship motherstation of the national Pacifica Radio network.  During this season’s fund drive, on Friday, February 17, 2012, Project Censored broadcast a two-point-five-hour special programme entitled ‘Brought to Justice? The Indefinite Detention and Targeted Killing of the Rule of Law’ with music by David Rovics.  Abby Martin and Mickey Huff speak with Center for Constitutional Rights attorney, Pardiss Kabriaei.  Also, author and investigative journalist Andy Worthington and organiser Stephanie Tang of World Can’t Wait join the dialogue, raise public class-consciousness, and encourage support for KPFA free speech radio.



PROJECT CENSORED“Welcome to a KPFA Fund Drive Special with Project Censored.  I’m Mickey Huff, in studio with Dr. Peter Phillips and, Associate Director of Project Censored, Andy Roth.  We’ll also be joined for the next two and a half hours by Abby Martin of Media Roots

“Today’s special programme is:  ‘Brought to Justice? The Indefinite Detention and Targeted Killing of the Rule of Law.’  Again, welcome.  This is a special broadcast by Project Censored on Pacifica Radio.  Joining us, each half-hour segment, we’ll have a special guest. 

“We’ll begin with investigative journalist Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files and Co-Director of the film, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.’

“At 1:30pm, we’ll be joined by Pardiss Kabriaei, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented a number of the men detained at Guantánamo and is also counsel in al-Awlaki vs. Obama.  That will be a pre-recorded interview that we did with Pardes last week.  [See transcript below.] 

“We will also have music and commentary from one of the most notable and political folk musicians of our time, that would be the one and only David Rovics.  You just heard David Rovics’ music; that was [his song] “Guantánamo Bay” [you heard opening this broadcast].  We’ll be playing David Rovics’ music today; and it will be available for a premium.  We’ll also be interviewing him later on this afternoon. 

“We’ll also hear from Dr. Almerindo Ojeda, professor of linguistics and Director of the Guantánamo Testimonials Project [of the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas] at the University of California, Davis. 

“And we will round out today’s special with Stephanie Tang, of World Can’t Wait, talking about indefinite detention and targeted killings.  And when we wrap up today, we’re going to be focusing on who is working on trying to stop these types of things.  What can be done about it?

“So, today’s programme is not simply to bemoan the evisceration of the rule of law.  It’s also to be looking at positive ways that we can be confronting these types of measures.”


Mickey Huff (c. 32:46):  “That’s the music of David Rovics.  You can get his new CD, ‘Red Sessions’ with a $50 pledge [to KPFA].  You can get [the] Andy Worthington [film] ‘Outside the Law’ on Guantánamo; you just heard from Andy Worthington in the first segment of today’s special fundraiser here at KPFA.  We’re talking about, essentially, the evisceration of the rule of law and the rise of targeted killings stemming from the rise of torture.  You can call and pledge your support to free speech radio anytime this afternoon; but we have a lot of content.

“This show originally sprang from a programme we did about a month ago with many of the guests you’re hearing today.  But there was so much to cover that we expanded this into a two and a half hour fundraising special because you’re not gonna hear this information on any other media outlet.  You’re gonna hear it here on KPFA. 

“Again, I’m Mickey Huff, joined by Peter Phillips of Project Censored, Andy Roth and Abby Martin, again, of Media Roots.  Please call in 510.848-5732, 800.439-5732.  You can pledge online at  And here’s Abby Martin to tell you about the interview we did with Pardiss Kabriaei, of the Center for Constitutional Rights.”

Abby Martin (c. 33:55):  “This is Abby Martin with Project Censored.  Pardiss Kabriaei is an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, specialising in the Center’s Global Justice Initiative.  She’s represented men from Yemen, Syria, Algeria, and Afghanistan who have been detained at Guantánamo Bay working on their habeas corpus challenges.  Her work includes seeking accountability for torture and arbitrary detention at Guantánamo, including representing the families of two men who died there in June 2006.  We spoke with her last week about the targeted killings in light of Obama’s expansive global drone killing apparatus.  And here’s the interview with Pardiss Kabriaei.”

Mickey Huff (c. 34:30):  “Welcome to the show Pardiss Kabriaei, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.  We’re very happy that you could join us again today on our two and a half hour special covering issues from torture to the evisceration of the rule of law in the United States.  Could you please remind our audience a little bit about our discussion we had a few weeks ago, stemming from the Guantánamo programme we did?”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 35:00):  “Sure.  And thank you for having me back.  We were talking before, around the time right before the tenth, unfortunate, anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the day in January of 2002 when the first men were flown to the prison camp, and the fact that 171 people still remain, despite President Obama’s promises to close the prison.  It is alive and well and will remain open for the foreseeable future.  So, we were discussing the issues around Guantánamo and the unjust detentions of the people still there and some of the challenges to closure that the [Obama] Administration has put out that we actually feel are not difficult.  That’s the problem of closure; it’s actually a simple one, but it’s become a political issue.  That’s why it remains open.”

“I’ve worked on Guantánamo at CCR since I’ve been here, since 2007, and have represented a number of men there and have gone to the base and met with them.  Some of them, thankfully, have been released.  And, as an extension of that work, challenging unjust detention policy by the United States, in this context of terrorism, have, from that work, started looking at other manifestations of abusive Executive [or Presidential] policy in this context.  And, specifically, have been looking at the policy of targeted killing by the [Obama] Administration.”

Mickey Huff (c. 36:26):  “And the website, by the way, for listeners, is  And if you go to that site, the Center for Constitutional Rights, there is a  fact sheet, Government Kill Lists Target U.S. Citizens Far From Any Armed Conflict.  And we actually covered this at Project Censored in the 2012 book when we talked about the Executive Branch claiming the right to assassinate U.S. citizens abroad and the complete evisceration of the rule of law, again, and due process.

“Could you talk a little bit about what are the government kill lists?  And why would you say this is illegal.  I mean, it seems obvious; but you could explain that for us.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 37:07):  “Sure.  The basic policy we’re talking about in our concerns within it are, you know, if we were all worried about a policy of global detention, indefinitely, without review, of hundreds of people held at Guantánamo and elsewhere that the [U.S.] government said were all the worst of the worst and that we know now, after judicial review, we’re not, in fact, terrorists or whose detentions were not founded, we’re talking now about a, effectively, a global assassination policy of killing people who are only suspected of being involved in terrorism.  Our concern is that many of them were actually not involved in any fighting, even if it were lawful to kill individuals wherever they may be found who are engaged in terrorism.  Our concern, in part, is that many of them are actually not even involved in terrorism. 

“We have questioned the standards the government is using to determine who is and who is not targetable.  But the policy we are now talking about, and this is a policy that existed under Bush, but that has very much escalated and expanded under President Obama.  And it is, effectively, killing individuals wherever they may be found who are unilaterally deemed to be dangerous to the United States, unilaterally deemed without any outside meaningful check on what criteria are being used, what evidence supports those targeting decisions.  And these are targeting decisions and targeting practices that are happening outside of recognised war zones.  So, we’re not talking about the use of drones or airstrikes against individuals fighting in Afghanistan or, previously, in Iraq.  We’re talking about people who are being killed far from those battlefields in places like Yemen; Somalia, there was a reported strike in the Philippines, reportedly, that was assisted or led by the United States.  There are many concerns we have about the policy.

“Our particular focus, and the focus of the al-Awlaki case, was targeted killings that are occurring outside of ‘war’ zones and questions and concerns we have about what criteria are being used, where these targeted killings are being carried out.  What was not at issue in the al-Awlaki case, but we’re very much worried about is the issue of civilian casualties resulting from these strikes.  So, there are many issues we could talk about.”

Abby Martin (c. 39:34):  “Pardiss, this is Abby Martin.  You were talking about the unfounded claims behind the global assassination campaign and the indefinite detention; a recent poll that just came out in a Washington Post/ABC News talks about how 70% of respondents approve of Obama’s decision to keep Gitmo open and 83% approve of the U.S. drone policy that he’s expanded.  I wonder if you could speak to those [statistics] and the rebranding effort and the danger of the conditioning.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 40:00):  “M-hm.  I guess I have to believe that those poll numbers are what they are because people still don’t know.  I have to hope that that’s the reason why we’re not authorising or sanctioning the [U.S.] government to go after people who are innocent and should not be killed.  Despite what I think is fair, and in fact there is plenty of evidence to show, at least in Guantánamo, that of the almost 800 people that were held there most of them have been released by the Bush Administration or the Obama Administration, the government themselves.  And others, one there was an opportunity to have their detentions reviewed by courts, courts have found most of their cases, the majority of those cases found that the detentions were unjustified.  But I have to hope that people still believe, as the government has, as the Obama Administration has, either been perpetuating this myth of ‘dangerous’ people still being held at Guantánamo or just failing to educate the public about the truth and reality of who’s still there.  But that they believe the 171 people still there must actually have been involved in fighting and need to be there.  And that Guantánamo is necessary for the national security of the United States. 

“But, again, in fact, if you break down the number of the 171 people only about 30 of them were, according to the [U.S.] government itself, only about 30 of them, according to the government itself will ever actually be charged with anything.  89 of them have been cleared by the Administration, by every government agency with a stake in the matter has been cleared.  So, I have to believe that people don’t know that and we just have to continue educating.”

Mickey Huff (c. 4134):  “This is a Kafkaesque black hole to be sure.  And you’re really on to something.  There’s been a relentless and endless propaganda campaign under the Orwellian guise of the nebulous war on ‘terror.’  And people really, sort of, throw their own projected beliefs and ideas, sort of a motivated reasoning:  ‘There must be a reason that they’re there.’  And, again, that’s among the people that are aware of it, as you pointed out.  There’s many people that really don’t know what goes on and what’s going on here.

“And, going back to the Bush years, George W. Bush, in a rare joint press conference with then-Prime Minister, at the time, Tony Blair of Great Britain, when asked by a seemingly intrepid reporter about how they knew these were the most dangerous people, right?  Because as you said, there’s this endless rhetoric about how:  ‘These are the most dangerous people. These people are gonna get us. We have to lock ‘em up. And they’re so especially dangerous that they absolutely need to be put in Guantánamo. Never mind about what we did after World War II in Nuremberg and put the Nazis on trial. These people are in a special class all of their own, outside of any real judicial system or oversight.’

“And Bush was asked, well, how do you know they’re dangerous?  And this is after he just got done saying that the most dangerous people in the world are in Guantánamo.  And the answer to that question was:  ‘Well because they are at Guantánamo Bay.’  It’s that circular kind of reasoning that comes from the top down and reverberates throughout our culture. 

“Just to be more specific with our listeners—again, we’re talking to Pardiss Kabriaei, of the Center for Constitutional Rights,—what laws are the [U.S.] government actually violating in these procedures, in these policies?”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 43:17)“For talking about the issue of targeting, our legal position is that when you are in recognised war zones, we are talking about Afghanistan.  A situation of war triggers a different set of rules, it triggers the laws of war within that context. 

“Factually, and within that legal framework, there is greater leeway in terms of detaining people and even killing them.  It doesn’t mean that every detention is lawful, every killing is lawful, but the rules are different.  And that’s because in situations of immediate fighting the exigencies of war time ordinary Constitutional provisions just don’t apply the same way.  They can’t apply the same way. 

“But what we’re talking about is, for example in the al-Awlaki case, a targeting that occurred in Yemen and, despite conflict in Yemen and a certain level of violence, certainly, there’s a high bar to call something a war and an armed conflict.  And the United States is not at war’ in Yemen.  It is not ‘at war’ with Yemen or within it.  There may be a presence of Al Qaeda, but, again, there are legally defined criteria that need to be satisfied to call something an armed conflict to trigger those different set of rules.

“So our position in the case, and the position that we continue to take is that outside of immediate battlefields and zones of active hostilities, the law that should apply is the Constitution and international human rights law.  And under that framework you can only kill someone, and what we were talking about in the al-Awlaki case is a U.S. citizen with respect to whom, clearly, the Constitution applies.  And on that point the majority of the people who are bearing the brunt of these policies are not actually U.S. citizens.  They are non-citizens, foreign citizens. 

“So, the government could make arguments; and they would try to in court about the fact that the Constitution does not apply, maybe, to non-citizens.  But it is, at least, clear that vis a vis U.S. targeting and killing by the U.S. government of its own citizens, that due process and the Constitution applies.  According to that standard, the government can only kill someone if they’ve been afforded process, there’s been a conviction for a capital crime, and there’s been a sentence of death.  Outside of that process, you can only kill in self-defence.  And that means that there has to be an imminent threat, an immediate threat, of deadly harm.  And lethal force has to be a last resort

“And what happened in the al-Awlaki case was that this person, despite what the government was saying about him, was on a kill list of some kind, maintained by the CIA and secret military forces.  But, reportedly, these lists maintain these people’s names for months at a time; they are reviewed periodically every few months, reportedly.  And this is what ‘credible’ news sources, like the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, have reported.  Just that very fact of keeping people on lists that are reviewed months at a time undermines this idea of immediacy.

“And what we know in the actual killing that took place against al-Awlaki in September of last year, September 30, 2011, was when the U.S. actually carried out the strike, is that they had been surveilling him for weeks, potentially before he was actually killed.  That also undermines this idea of an imminent, immediate, threat.  And that the killing was, based on facts that have been reported, in cooperation and in coordination with Yemeni officials, which undermines the idea that there couldn’t have been, potentially, other measures taken, non-lethal measures taken.

“I think what’s important for people to remember is even if you think, and if you believe the government’s story about who this person was and that he presented a threat, killing, again, really has to be a last resort.  And when we don’t accept that, and that’s another standard we’re putting forward.  It’s a Constitutional standard.  When we don’t accept that it leads to a very slippery, very scary slope of what is possible.  And that’s our concern looking forward; and when there are reports of the CIA’s drone programme expanding, what they are doing in Pakistan expanding to places like Yemen, and hearing reports of potential U.S. involvement in strikes in the Philippines and definitely in Somalia and who know where else, there’s a real concern about the escalation and the expansion of war and violence led by the United States in the name of national security.”

Abby Martin (c. 47:51)“Pardiss, exactly.  And I wanted to touch upon Pakistan.  I just read, you know, it seems like every time I read about the drone strikes under Obama it’s just getting more expansive more far-reaching.  I was wondering if you could speak upon these signature strikes and the indiscriminate group targeted assassinations that are happening in Pakistan.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 48:14)“Yeah, the signature strikes, I think part of the problem with this programme is the secrecy and the lack of transparency.  And just to be clear about some factual things, the strikes, the drone strikes and strikes carried out in other ways that we’re talking about outside of situations of wars—so, outside of Afghanistan, for example—are mostly carried out by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, which is a secret unit of the military. 

“In Afghanistan, because our military forces carry out these strikes, the rules by which we operate are known.  There can be, and there often is after the fact of a killing, an investigation and some kind of accounting and, in some cases, compensation, even. 

“What we are talking about in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and wherever else is an entirely, well, bizarre situation where we know the drone strikes are occurring—we see the deaths; we see drone pieces—we certainly have independent researchers documenting, or trying their best to document what’s happening, we still have an [Obama] Administration that officially refuses to acknowledge that this programme even exists, let alone disclose any meaningful information about the criteria they use, or the rules that govern the procedures, or where it operates, who’s being killed, how many are being killed.

“So, just going back to the signature strikes, there’s very little known exactly about the criteria that are used or how the strikes are governed and what procedures are used.  My understanding of the signature strikes is that they are strikes carried out based on observing patterns of behaviour and patterns of life.  And they are not necessarily people who are on kill lists.  They are just individuals who, based on unknown criteria, are deemed to be engaging in threatening behaviour or conduct and that are killed.”

Mickey Huff (c. 50:08):  “Well, you mentioned, Pardiss Kabriaei, you mentioned that ‘scary slippery slope.’  And here we are sliding further into it.  And this was reported in Wired magazine.  There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal, even.  Again, these are pretty mainstream, even corporate, media sources here.  One article, ‘CIA Drones Kill Large Groups Without Knowing Who They Are.’  This is a quote from the Wall Street Journal:  ‘Men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.’ 

“So, the CIA is killing people without even knowing who they are on suspicion, suspicion of associationwith terrorist groups.’  I mean how many degrees away from certainty are we here?”  

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 51:00)“Right.  Many degrees.  And just in terms of context, too, on these signature strikes, when you consider just family relationships and the context in Pakistan where sometimes you’ve got 30, 40 people in one home, family members living together, or entire communities living under one roof, if you’ve got one individual the government has been tracking and deems to be a threat, when they are in that home and a missile strikes everyone dies.  And that is how we’ve got, then, the numbers that have been reported.  And according to, sort of, moderate estimates, for example the New America Foundation that is, I think, even by the [Obama] Administration, perceived to be a non-partisan, non-biased, group that has been documenting these strikes there have been hundreds of civilian deaths in Pakistan alone just over a period of years that were strikes that have actually been documented.  If you talk to the government, though, amazingly, a U.S. official said there were zero civilian casualties in Pakistan for the year of 2011.

“I mean there is something wrong between how the United States is defining civilian or militant and how the rest of the world and people who actually are on the ground documenting this stuff, what they are seeing.”

Mickey Huff (c. 52:19):  “It’s simply propaganda and deception.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 52:22)“I agree with you.  But I think wherever you stand I think there is growing consensus, at least on the need for some transparency.  And the [U.S.] government says, well, we’ve given transparency.  Well, how can there be transparency when you still have an [Obama] Administration that still doesn’t officially acknowledge that this programme exists?”

Abby Martin (c. 52:37)“Right.  It seems like whatever the [U.S.] government says, this is an insurgent—that must be true; anyone we just killed with a drone must be an insurgent without any sort of due process or evidence against him.  Can you expand upon now the Congressional approval of the domestic use of drones in the United States and the surveillance that we are going to be seeing in a couple of years?  What do you think about that?”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 53:03)“Well, I know that the drone technology is another piece of this.  The legal issues with drones to the extent that there may not be legal issues—the [U.S.] government’s talking about how ‘they are more precise’ and ‘actually as a method of killing they are not problematic, legally’—there are certainly ethical issues, at least.

“These Drone operators sit in rooms thousands of miles away, for example in Nevada, watching targets and people on video screens and with the press of a button kill, make decisions to kill people.  And then drive home to their families, pick up their kids from soccer practice and have dinner.  There is something very scary and concerning about how the use of drones is further dehumanising the act of killing and war.  I think that’s something people should be thinking about, separate from the legal issues, just the ethical and moral issues with that and how much easier it makes killing and warfare.”

Abby Martin (c. 53:58):  “Yeah.  Just the chilling effect, just curbing political activism, knowing that there are these drones surveilling the country.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 54:06)“Absolutely.”

Abby Martin (c. 53:58):  “And there’s certainly a privacy issue.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 54:08)“Yeah.  And then there are billions of dollars being poured into research and drone technology and advancements for drones.  And the way we’re seeing them being used in the United States so far is, as far as what’s been reported, they’ve been used and are being used for surveillance along borders.  There’s talk of them being used by law enforcement, by police departments for surveillance purposes.  I mean the capacity for drones is really limitless.  And we know that there’s a lot of money that’s being poured into research and technology to further advance the technologies.  So, what’s possible and what may come in the United States is unknown.  So far they are being used for surveillance by law enforcement, for border patrol.

I know that there are some groups in the United States that have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get more information on exactly how these things are being used and the basis for authorising them in the United States.  But, certainly, they are present here.  They are in the skies in the United States.  And it’s really a question and a concern about what may come here to the extent that people are not concerned about what the United States is doing abroad.”

Mickey Huff (c. 55:20):  “That’s right.  Pardiss Kabriaei, you were also talking about priorities.  And when we hear these cries of austerity coming from on high, they ring pretty hollow when one sees so much is being sunk into these incredibly dubious and problematic policies of targeted killing, of surveillance, not just abroad, but here at home [in the U.S.], potentially. 

“We have one minute left, Pardiss.  Could you tell us, what are you trying to accomplish, then, through the courts?  Why is this important?  Why should people get active?  And where can they get more information?”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 54:06)“M-hm.  What we were trying to do with the courts in our last case was just to impose a process of review over these decisions and to force some level of transparency.  And we will continue those efforts in the courts and take them as far as we can.

“What I would say is, with Guantánamo and the poll numbers, what they are in the United States, there are still a lot of people, I think, who are outraged by Guantánamo because it was so known.  And I think we still talk very much about the detentions there.  I think what people need to do is educate themselves about this killing policy as well.   And we need the same level of outcry and the same demand for transparency and information.  People should know, at a minimum, what the United States government is doing in their name and with their money.

“I think that, for more information, please go to our website  We have information about the prior case we fought on behalf of al-Awlaki.  And we’ll be putting out more information.  And I think, at this point, just the basic minimum is educate yourself about what the United States is doing in your name.”

Mickey Huff (c. 56:56):  “That’s the voice of Pardiss Kabriaei from the Center for Constitutional Rights.  And that’s certainly what we’re trying to do here at [KPFA] free speech radio.  We are trying to get the word out and get people to really understand what’s going on and understand what’s at stake.

Pardiss, thanks so much for your time and for taking time out of your very busy schedule and your important work.  Thank you, again.”

Abby Martin (c. 57:15)“Thanks, Pardiss.”

Pardiss Kabriaei (c. 57:16)“Thank you so much.  Bye-bye.”

Transcript by Felipe Messina

Photo by Flickr user Art Makes Me Smile 


Fund Drive Special – Guantanamo and the Gulag with Project Censored – February 17, 2012 at 1:00pm

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