Warrants for Government Eavesdropping, Targeted Killings and Torture


By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair


We live in a scary world! No doubt about that. We have street crime, gang crimes, hate crimes and terrorist violence, military violence, insurgent violence, police violence, and, less we forget, domestic violence. Clearly, there is more than enough crime and violence to go around in the world—violence that protects government-sponsored famine, political oppression, military suppression, and government spying.


In its March 19, 2012 e-edition, Newsmax Magazine carried reports about two well-known American personalities and how they feel our government should approach the “threat” of violence against our country. David Petraeus, CIA Director and former military commander, prefers utilizing “technological advances” to spy on every facets of American daily life to gather information as means of identifying and preventing potential violence.


Newsmax cited Wired magazine’s “Danger Zone” national security blog as the source for Director Patraeus’ comments at a recent summit for In-Q-Tel (now that’s a scary name by itself). The nation’s spy chief said an “Internet of things”—everything from phone applications used to control home lighting to car navigation systems—“can now be tapped by the CIA or other intelligence agencies and used to monitor the activities of persons of interest,” Newsmax reported.


What that means is that when a “person of interest” turns on or off the lights in his/her bedroom, CIA snoops could be there listening and, yes, watching. That takes voyeurism to whole other level. Director Patraeus made sure to point out at this summit of information gatherers that the subject to the electronic surveillance would, of course, have no “knowledge” of the surveillance.


“’Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies, particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft,” Patraeus reportedly told the summit. “Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters—all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.”


Larry the Cable Guy might say, “now that there’s funny” but we say it is unbelievably scary. Patraeus lays out a brutal technological rape of the constitutional right of privacy in such casual terms as “connected to the next-generation Internet” that is scary as hell. That’s the CIA chief talking, folks!


But, to his credit, the Information-Gathering Chief Patraeus did tell the summit attendees that these new “household spy devices” would probably change “our notions of identity and secrecy.” Really! What was his first clue? Perhaps it was when he told the summit he was interested “in creating new online identities for undercover agents and being able to erase any digital record of their existence,” reported Newsmax.


And what does the other well-known American personality, best-selling author and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, want to do to protect our country from the potential threat of violence? Remember, he believes in the torture and targeted killing of suspected American terrorists in extreme cases and circumstances. Of course, the famous “civil rights advocate” believes these patently clear abuses of human rights, both of which have been condemned by the responsible international community, should be legalized and immunized by a warrant issued by a judge. In other words, get the “order to kill”—or as Patraeus would say, “terminate with prejudice”—from a judge.


“I don’t care who is the president,” Dershowitz told Newsmax TV in West Palm Beach, Florida, “every single president would authorize whatever it took to stop that bomb from going off.”


Ever since the 9/11 terror attacks, Dershowitz has been a staunch defender of torture as a legitimate national security defense tool. “If we are going to do it,” he informed Newsmax, “let’s have a torture warrant.”


In other words, formalize the torture/targeted killing of any suspected American terrorist, whether on American or foreign soil, with judicial approval. The Harvard law professor pointed out that The New York Timeshas expressed a “similar suggestion” when it came to the “targeted killings of Americans on foreign soil.” Oh, well, guess an endorsement from the bastion of liberal media makes it okay.


Newsmax reported that our intelligence and military agencies adopted “targeted killing” as “an essential tactic” to hold those responsible for the 9/11 attacks accountable during the Bush administration. President Obama has demonstrated a particular fondness for targeted killings, especially using unmanned drones to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan. While the Obama has not signed on to Derwhowitz’s call for torture, the President has also exhibited a predilection for using U.S. “special forces” to carry out capture/kill operations as they did with Osama bin Laden in Pakistan while using unmanned drones to take suspected terrorists, like the American-born cleric and terrorism advocate, Anwar al-Awlaki.


Dershowitz told Newsmax TV: “Let’s have a warrant, let’s require a judge to pass on the need, so the decision is not made just by a local CIA agent on the ground or even by the president of the United States. It has to go through a judicial process, there has to be affidavits indicating what the information is and how we know the information.”


Dershowitz added: “When we authorize the targeted killing of an American citizen – which I think is justified if the American citizen has become an enemy of the United States and is involved in ongoing terrorism – I would agree with The New York Times that we should have a judicial process. “The judge would then have to consider the case on its merits, deciding if the evidence is strong enough, why there is an immediate threat and the reason he cannot be arrested and tried.”


“I would apply the same analysis to targeted killing as to torture,” Dershowitz continued. “Targeted killing is much better than untargeted killing. It’s better than dropping bombs all over the place and just killing everybody in the area. It should be used only against ongoing terrorists who are in the course of preparing for terrorist attacks, when it’s impossible to arrest them and when we can do it without having too much collateral damage – that is, too many uninvolved people killed in the process. Those are the three rules.”


Without “too much collateral damage!” Now that’s an interesting constitutional notion—it’s okay to kill suspected terrorists on foreign soil so long as you don’t kill “too many uninvolved people.” With Dershowitz’s logic, let’s suppose Mexican security intelligence had information that a “narco-terrorist,” who was planning to assassinate the Mexican president, was staying on an American ranch just outside of El Paso with several dozen American and foreign associates—most of whom are not involved in the assassination plot.


Now what would our Government do if the Mexican military launch an unmanned drone strike at the narco-terrorist or send in one of its “special forces” teams to kill the terrorist? Would the State of Texas and the United States of America consider that “murder?” You better believe they would. This past January Gelareh Bagherzadeh, an Iranian women’s rights activist, was killed inside her vehicle just outside her townhome here in Houston.


Speculation immediately developed that the Iranian woman was murdered by operatives working for Iran’s intelligence service, not only to silence her but send a message to other Iranians living in America not to oppose Iranian government policies. Put simply, Bagherzadeh may have been considered a “national security threat” by Iranian intelligence who secured “warrant” approval from Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to assassinate her.


Point is: the United States would not tolerate any foreign country launching a drone strike or a special forces operation to kill/capture/torture a suspected terrorist living in America. All three actions are crimes in every state in this country: murder, kidnapping, and torture. Any foreign operative apprehended engaging in such criminal actions would be tried, convicted, and perhaps executed, especially in Texas.


At the very least, targeted killings and torture are human rights violations, and it is hypocritical for our President, or anyone else, to defend the U.S. Justice Department’s approved targeted killings while simultaneously condemning the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists (probably by Mossad) or classifying killings carried out by Iranian agents on foreign soil as “state-sponsored” terrorism. Iranian government officials certainly considered the Saudi ambassador they plotted to assassinate in Washington, D.C. several months ago as a “threat” to Iran’s “national security interests” just like Israel’s Mossad considered those assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists as threats to its national security.


Patraeus and Professor Dershowitz are dangerous to the democratic foundation upon which this nation was built. They both advocate actions, albeit legal ones, that are crimes against human rights, individual decency, and community integrity. We don’t subscribe to Dershowitz theory that by securing a “warrant” from a judge authorizing torture and targeted killings, this somehow formalizes the actions to the extent that it legitimizes them. Keep the judiciary out of it. Don’t stain the courts with human rights violations. If this nation is going to engage in the evil practices of torture and targeted killings, it should follow Israel’s example: do it in secret, don’t admit to anything, and preserve deniability. Keep it seedy, hidden, like the CIA did with its international network of “secret prisons” where the agency tortured scores of innocent people.


Securing warrant approval from the courts, as Dershowitz suggests, makes us all unindicted co-conspirators to these crimes against humanity. We want no truck with that.


By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
John Floyd is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization