Has Iran Violated the NPT? And More from CRS

Has Iran violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?  The answer is “unclear,” says the Congressional Research Service in a newly updated report.  “The treaty does not contain a mechanism for determining that a state-party has violated its obligations.  Moreover, there does not appear to be a formal procedure for determining such violations.”

The CRS report reviews the specific allegations that Iran’s nuclear activities are in violation of its obligations under the NPT, and examines the legal framework for evaluating such allegations.  See Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, September 18, 2012.

Some other new CRS reports that Congress has not made available to the public include the following.

Unauthorized Aliens’ Access to Federal Benefits: Policy and Issues, September 17, 2012

Unemployment Insurance: Programs and Benefits, September 19, 2012

Medical Loss Ratio Requirements Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): Issues for Congress, September 18, 2012

Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress, September 11, 2012

Poverty in the United States, and More from CRS

“In 2011, 46.2 million people were counted as poor in the United States, the same number as in 2010 and the largest number of persons counted as poor in the measure’s 53-year recorded history,” according to a timely new report from the Congressional Research Service.  See Poverty in the United States: 2011, September 13, 2012.

Other new and newly updated CRS reports that have not been made publicly available include the following.

Intelligence Authorization Legislation: Status and Challenges, updated September 18, 2012

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections, updated September 17, 2012

Carbon Tax: Deficit Reduction and Other Considerations, September 17, 2012

Energy Tax Incentives: Measuring Value Across Different Types of Energy Resources, updated September 18, 2012

Congressional Responses to Selected Work Stoppages in Professional Sports, updated September 17, 2012

Length of Time from Nomination to Confirmation for “Uncontroversial” U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees: Detailed Analysis, September 18, 2012

Whistleblower Protections Under Federal Law, and More from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made available to the public include the following.

Whistleblower Protections Under Federal Law: An Overview, September 13, 2012

Post-Employment, “Revolving Door,” Laws for Federal Personnel, September 13, 2012

The Corporate Income Tax System: Overview and Options for Reform, September 13, 2012

Iran Sanctions, updated September 13, 2012

Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, updated September 13, 2012

Drones in the National Airspace System, and More from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made available to the public include the following.

Pilotless Drones: Background and Considerations for Congress Regarding Unmanned Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System, September 10, 2012

Global Access to Clean Drinking Water and Sanitation: U.S. and International Programs, September 10, 2012

Automobile and Truck Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas Standards, September 11, 2012

Overview of the Federal Procurement Process and Resources, September 11, 2012

Presidential Review of Independent Regulatory Commission Rulemaking: Legal Issues, September 10, 2012

Terrorism Risk Insurance: Issue Analysis and Overview of Current Program, September 10, 2012

Arizona v. United States: A Limited Role for States in Immigration Enforcement, September 10, 2012

Authority of State and Local Police to Enforce Federal Immigration Law, updated September 10, 2012

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Acquisition: Issues for Congress, updated September 10, 2012

The latter report on ISR acquisition was co-authored by veteran CRS specialist Richard F. Grimmett.  On Monday, Sen. Richard Lugar paid tribute on the Senate floor to Mr. Grimmett, who is retiring at the end of the month.

Legality of Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists Reviewed by CRS

The legality of targeted killing of suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, was examined in a memorandum prepared for members of Congress by the Congressional Research Service.

The U.S. practice of targeted killing raises complex legal issues because it cuts across several overlapping legal domains.  To the extent that the U.S. is actually at war with the targeted persons, the “law of armed conflict” would provide the appropriate legal framework, though the relevance of this framework far from a “hot battlefield” is disputed.  Outside of armed conflict, the U.S. could be acting under the related but distinct laws of “self-defense.”  The use of lethal force in law enforcement operations offers another way of conceiving of and evaluating anti-terrorist strikes.  In all cases, the sovereignty of the nation where the strike occurs adds a further layer of legal complexity.  With respect to targets who are U.S. citizens, the applicability of the U.S. Constitution is yet another urgent issue.

Obama Administration officials have discussed targeted killing in several public speeches since 2010, but have evaded detailed public questioning on the subject.  The Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel has prepared a memorandum on the targeting of suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens, as reported by the New York Times, but it has refused to release the OLC memorandum or even to publicly acknowledge that it exists.  Meanwhile, Congress has been largely silent and acquiescent.

The CRS memorandum, entitled “Legal Issues Related to the Lethal Targeting of U.S. Citizens Suspected of Terrorist Activities,” was prepared in May 2012 by legislative attorney Jennifer K. Elsea.  It presents an overview of the pertinent legal context, and then carefully parses official Administration statements in an attempt to infer a detailed legal rationale for lethal targeting.  A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

“This memorandum is an effort to clarify the debate by providing legal background, setting forth what is known about the Administration’s position and identifying possible points of contention among legal experts and other observers,” the memo states.

In the end, CRS concludes that none of the established legal frameworks is a perfect fit for the Administration’s lethal targeting operations because the current U.S. practice of lethal targeting involves features that are improvised, inconsistent or otherwise questionable.

For example, CRS says the Administration appears to have redefined the meaning of “imminence,” one of the required elements for justifying the use of force in self-defense on the territory of another country.  The standard definition of imminence refers to an overwhelming threat that allows “no moment for deliberation.”  But the Administration uses imminence idiosyncratically “to refer to the window of opportunity for striking rather than the perceived immediacy of the threat of an armed attack.”  This novel usage “may pose some challenge to the international law regarding the use of force,” CRS said.

The CRS memo notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled — in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld — that when a U.S. citizen is detained as a suspected enemy combatant he must be given notice of the factual basis for his detention and an opportunity to rebut it.  Yet, in contrast, when a citizen-suspect is to be killed rather than detained the Administration’s position is that no such notice or opportunity is required.

This embrace of unchecked executive authority may prove difficult to reconcile with the majority holding in Hamdi, the memo suggests.

In fact, CRS says, the Administration’s position “seems to conform more with Justice Thomas’s dissenting opinion in Hamdi, in which Justice Thomas argued that in the context of wartime detention for non-punitive purposes, ‘due process requires nothing more than a good-faith executive determination’.”

By withholding its own Office of Legal Counsel opinion on the legality of lethal targeting of suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens, the Obama Administration seems intent not on protecting sensitive operational details but on suppressing public awareness and debate.  The CRS memo is not a substitute for the OLC opinion, but it nonetheless can serve to advance public understanding of the underlying issues.

The Purple Heart, and More from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made publicly available include the following.

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, September 7, 2012

The National Labor Relations Act: Background and Selected Topics, September 7, 2012

Federal Public Transportation Program: An Overview, September 6, 2012

Unemployment Compensation (UC): Eligibility for Students Under State and Federal Laws, September 7, 2012

The Senior Executive Service: Background and Options for Reform, updated September 6, 2012

Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations, and More from CRS

“The prospect of drone use inside the United States raises far-reaching issues concerning the extent of government surveillance authority, the value of privacy in the digital age, and the role of Congress in reconciling these issues,” says a new report on the subject from the Congressional Research Service.

“This report assesses the use of drones under the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. A reviewing court’s determination of the reasonableness of drone surveillance would likely be informed by location of the search, the sophistication of the technology used, and society’s conception of privacy in an age of rapid technological advancement.”

“While individuals can expect substantial protections against warrantless government intrusions into their homes, the Fourth Amendment offers less robust restrictions upon government surveillance occurring in public places and perhaps even less in areas immediately outside the home, such as in driveways or backyards. Concomitantly, as technology advances, the contours of what is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment may adjust as people’s expectations of privacy evolve.”

The new report reviews the relevant Fourth Amendment landscape, the current status of drone technology and applications, and pending legislation on the subject. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses, September 6, 2012.

Other noteworthy new CRS reports that Congress has declined to make publicly available include the following.

The “Fiscal Cliff”: Macroeconomic Consequences of Tax Increases and Spending Cuts, September 5, 2012

The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty-Eight Years, September 5, 2012

Stafford Act Declarations 1953-2011: Trends and Analyses, and Implications for Congress, August 31, 2012

NFIB v. Sebelius: Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate, September 3, 2012

Search and Seizure Cases in the October 2012 Term of the Supreme Court, September 4, 2012

Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has chosen not to make available to the public include the following.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress, September 5, 2012

Weather-Related Power Outages and Electric System Resiliency, August 28, 2012

SBA Veterans Assistance Programs: An Analysis of Contemporary Issues, September 4, 2012

Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, September 4, 2012

Immigration Detainers: Legal Issues, August 31, 2012

Tajikistan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests, updated August 31, 2012

Defense: FY2013 Authorization and Appropriations, updated September 5, 2012

Promoting Global Internet Freedom, and More from CRS

Newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made publicly available include the following.

Promoting Global Internet Freedom: Policy and Technology, updated August 30, 2012

Vulnerable Youth: Background and Policies, updated August 29, 2012

Researching Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Resources for Congressional Staff, updated August 31, 2012

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV): Background and Issues for Congress, updated August 27, 2012

War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance, updated August 30, 2012

Venezuela: Issues for Congress, updated August 30, 2012


Internet Firearm Sales, and More from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has declined to make publicly available include the following.

Internet Firearm and Ammunition Sales, August 28, 2012

Political Ads: Issue Advocacy or Campaign Activity Under the Tax Code?, August 29, 2012

U.S. Foreign-Trade Zones: Background and Issues for Congress, August 28, 2012

Critical Infrastructure Resilience: The Evolution of Policy and Programs and Issues for Congress, August 23, 2012

Stealing Trade Secrets and Economic Espionage: An Overview of U.S.C. 1831 and 1832, August 28, 2012