By: Jenna DeLeonardis, Pace International Law Review, Senior Associate
Just recently a CIA program developed by the Bush Administration shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks was revealed. At this point the substance of the program has not been divulged, although some speculate that the program was intended to find and kill terrorists. Moreover, up until last month when CIA director Leon E. Panetta terminated the program completely, the program had not launched. Apparently much less than $50 million dollars was spent on the program. At first glance one might wonder why Congress is fuming.
There are several reasons why Congress may be upset. First, some members of Congress feel that the program may be illegal if its goal was to assassinate Al-Qaeda operatives in friendly countries without informing their governments of the assassination plans. Some former counter-terrorism officials say that the secret CIA program mirrored the secret operations of Israel, which resulted in the targeted killings of Al-Qaeda activists.
Second, the mere fact that the CIA kept the program a secret from Congress, is of major concern to Congress. Some members of Congress have expressed that not only do they believe that the executive branch should not create programs and keep them secret from Congress, but that concealing such programs from Congress is inappropriate and perhaps illegal as well. Consequently, a house panel opened an investigation into whether the Bush administration illegally concealed information about classified programs from Congress.
Third, blatant assassinations may be a violation of the ban on assassinations, which was established in the 1970s as a result of the failed assassination of Fidel Castro. However, supporters of the secret CIA program urge that the assassinations would have been legal since the United States is at war with al-Qaeda and technically such terrorists have been termed enemy war combatants.
Likewise, both critics who oppose the program and its secrecy and critics who oppose the Congress state that their anger is misplaced. In fact, one senior intelligence official hinted that Congress might be upset for other reasons as well. Particularly, Congress may be upset that the CIA operation may have involved the covert surveillance of American citizens, which may be a violation of federal law. Nevertheless, investigations into the program and the reason it was not revealed to Congress have begun.