In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”
So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret.
At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.
The Pentagon responded – but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”
A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”
“Because elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”
It’s not an abstract question: U.S. drone strikes and other actions frequently target “associated forces,” as has been the case with dozens of strikes against an Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.
During the May hearing, Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said he was “not sure there is a list per se.” Describing terrorist groups as “murky” and “shifting,” he said, “it would be difficult for the Congress to get involved in trying to track the designation of which are the affiliate forces” of Al Qaeda.
Sheehan said that by the Pentagon’s standard, “sympathy is not enough…. it has to be an organized group and that group has to be in co-belligerent status with Al Qaeda operating against the United States.”
The White House tied Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and “elements” of Al Shabaab in Somalia to Al Qaeda in a recent report to Congress on military actions. But the report also included a classified annex.
Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law who served as a legal counsel during the Bush administration and has written on this question at length, told ProPublica that the Pentagon’s reasoning for keeping the affiliates secret seems weak. “If the organizations are ‘inflated’ enough to be targeted with military force, why cannot they be mentioned publicly?” Goldsmith said. He added that there is “a countervailing very important interest in the public knowing who the government is fighting against in its name."
The law underpinning the U.S. war against Al Qaeda is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, and it was passed one week after the 9/11 attacks. It doesn’t actually include the words “associated forces,” though courts and Congresshave endorsed the phrase.
As we explained earlier this year, the emergence of new or more loosely-aligned terrorist groups has legal scholars wondering how effectively the U.S. will be able to “shoehorn” them into the AUMF. During the May hearing, many lawmakersexpressed concern about the Pentagon’s capacious reading of the law. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described it as a “carte blanche.”
Obama, in his May speech, said he looked forward “to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.” But he didn’t give a timeframe. On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced an amendment that would sunset the law at the end of 2014, to coincide with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was voted down the same day, 185 to 236.
The AUMF isn’t the only thing the government relies on to take military action. In speeches and interviews Obama administration officials also bring up the president’s constitutional power to defend the country, even without congressional authorization.
A Taylor, MI man was resting at a Best Western motel in Arlington, Va., today after riding his motorized wheelchair about 600 miles from his home to the White House.
Curtis Kile, 52, who has had cerebral palsy since birth, said he made the trip — on sidewalks and road shoulders, through small towns and big cities — to raise awareness about the importance of medical marijuana for those with serious health problems.
After arriving at the White House gates about 8 p.m. Wednesday, “I just sat there for about 20 minutes — I was really amazed that we made it,” he said. Kile was accompanied by his son, Curtis Kile Jr., 17, who drove the family’s 2006 Econoline van equipped with a wheelchair lift.
The elder Kile returned to the White House on Thursday, spoke to a crowd gathered for a human rights rally and hoped to speak to President Barack Obama about how medical marijuana has helped him. But he said he had no appointment with the president or anyone else in the White House, and “I didn’t get a phone call or nothing from them.”
Still, he said, he was glad he made the journey, during which — short on money — the father and son often camped outdoors, with Kile sleeping in his wheelchair.
“I don’t think the trip was a waste. We were able to draw attention to the issue,” Kile said today. He said a Free Press article on his trip, published Monday, helped “double or maybe triple” donations to his effort. The duo plan to spend their return trip in motels because of that.
Kile’s pilgrimage drew attention “across the country,” said Rick Thompson, publisher of the Flint-based Cannabis Chronicles website. Those who support “legal and safe access” to medical marijuana have been disappointed in the Obama administration’s continued use of federal agents and drug laws to prosecute users of medical marijuana, even in states that have state laws that allow medical use, including Michigan, Thompson said.
It is the first week of Spring, and for Michelle Obama, this means it is time to start planning the White House organic garden. While the garden will again contain a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as a few ornamental flowers, a new addition is sure to create the most controversy ever.
The White House organic garden will include several varieties of medical marijuana. The District of Columbia, like many states, has enacted medical marijuana laws allowing the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes. A special gardener with a marijuana growing license has been appointed to oversee this particular plot of the garden.
Tommy Chong, no relation to Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame, is a Japanese gardener who is well versed in the various types of cannabis and their medicinal properties. Marijuana will comprise only a small part of the “medicinal herb” portion of the White House garden this year, which will also include various sage plants, lemon verbena, St. Johnswort, Valerian, Feverfew, Eyebright, and others.
A spokesperson for the garden project claims that this will be a first for the White House. “Marijuana has gotten a bad rap for decades,” said Mary Bridges, no relation to Jeff Bridges, notorious for his vocal backing of the legalization of marijuana. “Cultivating medical marijuana in the White House garden will send a clear message to America that this administration will do whatever it takes, including growing Maui Waui, (a particularly potent Hawaiian variety of the plant) to assure better health for our citizens.”
Asked if this means that the medical marijuana grown in the White House garden will be distributed and sold to local dispensaries in the area, Ms. Bridges replied “Oh heavens no. While growing medical marijuana is allowed, we have not yet approved the opening of any dispensaries in our area.
Anticipating the next question, Ms. Bridges explained “No, the Obamas are in excellent health and will not be using the marijuana themselves for any health issues.”