Who watches Wyden? Zeke Johnson.
Johnson is the director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Campaign. That means he’s one of the nation’s loudest voices questioning the Obama administration’s use of armed drones to attack suspected terrorists—including U.S. citizens—with targeted strikes in foreign countries.
He applauds Wyden as a lonely voice demanding to know what legal advice Obama is using to justify those killings. But he says Wyden —and other members of Oregon’s congressional delegation-—should be doing more.
Johnson is in Portland this week to meet with Amnesty International’s Portland chapter. He spoke with WW about drone warfare, the excruciatingly slow closure of Guantánamo Bay, and what Wyden should do.
WW: Can Ron Wyden save the U.S. from committing a grave ethical sin with these drones?
Zeke Johnson: He certainly can help. There are key things that Sen. Wyden should do today.
He should demand more information from the administration about who it’s killing and why. Reject the Obama administration’s radical redefinition of the term “imminent,” because the imminence standard is one of the keys to reforming U.S. policy on drone strikes.
Wyden should lead the effort to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the key law that’s enabling this idea of a global battlefield. He and others in Congress should ensure that the Obama administration sets up independent investigations into drone strikes and ensure that any strikes that are found to be unlawful, that there’s justice for them, that there’s remedy for victims and accountability for lawful killings.
So Wyden shouldn’t be patting himself on the back just yet?
That’s right. There’s still deep concerns about what the Obama administration is doing, not only with drones but, obviously, also at Guantánamo and the complete lack of accountability for torture. And Sen. Wyden has been one of the leaders in the Senate to make some progress toward human rights. But that’s all the more reason to encourage him to do more.
Was this “global battlefield” strategy Obama’s idea?
It came from President [George W.] Bush initially, but it’s been carried over by the Obama administration with a few tweaks. The basic idea is that the world is a battlefield to which only the law of armed conflict applies to the exclusion of human rights. And that’s a huge problem.
If I’m a U.S. citizen plotting to work with Al Qaeda, don’t I deserve what I get?
All people have rights. The government can’t take them away in the name of national security or countering terrorism.
Did the Boston Marathon bombings add to the Obama administration’s political will for greater surveillance and response?
President Obama used the federal justice system to prosecute the suspect—exactly what should be happening in the fight against terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Guantánamo prison has developed a life of its own.
There’s actually a simple solution to the Guantánamo crisis—take each detainee and give them a fair trial in federal court or release them. That’s the standard that we would expect to apply to ourselves and to anyone else.
Instead of justice for 9/11, Guantánamo’s given us over a decade of torture, indefinite detention and unfair trials. There’s a better way to ensure security and justice: fair trials in federal court.
Oregon has a long history of taking a pacifist stance when the U.S. charged into war. Could Sens. Jeff Merkley and Wyden fill the shoes of Sens. Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield?
They absolutely should, and the really concrete way of doing that is for them to take a leadership role in repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. That’s really the heart of the problem with drones and Guantánamo, and we need to see that and the “global war” paradigm go the way of the dodo bird.
GO: Zeke Johnson will meet with members of Amnesty International’s Portland chapter at Peets Coffee & Tea, 508 SW Broadway, at 10 am Wednesday, May 15. The meeting is open to the public.