Remember when President Obama proclaimed that Al Qaeda was “on the run”, “decimated”, and “on the path to defeat”, much to the chagrin of the national security and intelligence communities as a whole? We may now know from whom the President received these talking points, verbiage he has used dozens of times since the tragic attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Jeh C. Johnson (pronounced “Jay”) is set to become Janet Napolitano’s successor as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Johnson’s government service career started as General Counsel to the Air Force under former President Bill Clinton. In 2009, he was appointed by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the Defense Department. When the legality of drone strikes on foreign soil became a heated issue, with plenty of dissidents in both right and left wing circles, the Obama administration relied heavily on Johnson to build a case suggesting there was legal precedent to continue the overseas operations.
Johnson would ultimately resign from DOD in December of 2012, stepping out of the public light to take a job with a top law firm in New York City. Only 10 months later, the President has recalled Johnson, nominating him to serve at the Department of Homeland Securities’ top post.
While lauded as a “hero” on the left for helping to repeal former President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Johnson’s tenure as General Counsel for the Defense Department was flurried with controversy. While speaking at the Oxford Union in November of 2012, Johnson told the audience “the core of Al Qaeda is today degraded, disorganized and on the run. Osama Bin Laden is dead.” Johnson suggested that Al Qaeda was on the brink of collapse, declaring that there would soon come a time when “Al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.”
Since Johnson’s speech, over 125 Americans have lost their lives fighting Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan alone.
Johnson made the case on behalf of the Obama Administration for the lawful use of targeting a U.S. citizen overseas without having to give the citizen his or her due process under the law. At the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, Johnson specifically mentioned 4 methods of criteria that were “set forth in the Attorney General’s (Eric Holder) speech a year ago” that would enable the US government to terminate one of their own:
- The target is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans.
- The individual poses an imminent threat to the United States
- Capture is not feasible
- The operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles
Seemingly all in favor of “pulling the trigger” via drone strike, Johnson conversely fervently opposes any “enhanced interrogation” methods. While asserting the righteousness for the Obama administrations reversal of former President Bush’s interrogation policy, he exclaimed, “We banned ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ consistent with the calls of many in our country, including our own military, that great nations simply do not treat other human beings that way.” Critics of the “kill, don’t capture” protocol have argued that terminating potential threats as opposed to bringing them in for questioning, along with the inability of exposing them to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” may leave the United States intelligence community at a major disadvantage.
Largely aware of his six-figure donations to Democratic campaigns, Republican lawmakers have excoriated the President for appointing Johnson to such a prominent position. Senator John Cornyn pointedly mentioned, “We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars.” Senator Jeff Sessions posited his own speculation, “It would appear that the president plans to nominate a loyalist and fundraiser to this post.”