Brian Ouellette was born on February 12, 1967, in Brighton, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on February 7, 1990, and completed basic training at NTC Orlando, Florida, in April 1990. Ouellette attended Aircrew Survival Equipmentman (Parachute Rigger) A School at NATTC Lakehurst, New Jersey, from April to July 1990, and then attended Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training at NAB Coronado, California, from July 1990 to March 1991. He next attended Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in April and May 1991, followed by service with SEAL Team FOUR at NAB Little Creek, Virginia, from June 1991 to July 1995. During this time he deployed with Naval Special Warfare Unit EIGHT to the Panama Canal from January to June 1995. Petty Officer Ouellette attended language training at the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, California, from July 1995 to February 1996, and then served with SEAL Team FOUR at NAB Little Creek from February 1996 to February 2003. His final assignment was with Naval Special Warfare Group TWO at NAB Little Creek from February 2003 until he was killed in action after his vehicle hit a land mine in Afghanistan on May 29, 2004. Brian Ouellette was buried at Saint Patricks Cemetery in Watertown, Massachusetts.
His Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal Citation reads:
For meritorious service while serving as Special Activities Leading Petty Officer at Naval Special Warfare Group TWO from February 2003 to May 2004. Petty Officer Ouellette displayed exceptional leadership and tactical expertise in support of operational preparation of the Battlespace Activities. He provided highly valuable and time-sensitive intelligence while serving as a Special Operations Forces resident expert, coordinator and facilitator of Joint and Interagency Operations for the United States Ambassador of a critical country in the Global War on Terrorism. Petty Officer Ouellette’s professionalism and devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
The Obama Administration has fought for years to hide its legal rationale for killing an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, after putting him on a secret kill list. Citizens have an interest in knowing whether the White House follows the law, especially when the stakes are as high as ending a life without due process. President Obama has fought to ensure his legal reasoning would never be revealed, a precedent that would help future presidents to kill without accountability.
His shortsightedness is breathtaking.
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon expressed frustration that, according to her legal analysis, the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t force a disclosure. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws,” she wrote, “while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret.”
The ongoing debate about the national-security state’s conduct drills down, for many participants, to this question: How much do you trust the people in charge? Do you believe they’ll reliably uphold the laws and norms of a free society? Or do you think that, permitted enough secrecy, they’ll break U.S. laws and violate rights?
For me, it isn’t a close call.
The United States needs protection from the people protecting it, always has, and always will. The character of the president isn’t the issue. Neither are the individuals running the FBI, CIA, NSA, JSOC, or the Department of Homeland Security. It wouldn’t matter if the national-security state was staffed from top to bottom with people I could hand select based on my esteem for their character.
Letting them operate in secret would still be dangerous.
That conclusion isn’t something I’ve derived in the abstract from political philosophy. The best reason to mistrust the national-security state is its track record. Abuses at the FBI, CIA, and NSA go back a long way, as any student of the J. Edgar Hoover era or the Church Committee report can attest in shocking detail. There’s no reason to think that generation was more prone to misbehave than ours. But one needn’t look to past generations to find good reasons for mistrust.
On Thursday, October 25, 2012, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney crisscrossed America in a final mad scramble along the campaign trail, three officers from Yemen’s elite Republican Guard were holding an unusual meeting half a world away, on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. That day was Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, which in the Islamic tradition commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Eid al-Adha is one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar, but the men had likely forgone the traditional meal with their families to join the meeting that evening.
Standing in front of them was the reason for their clandestine gathering: an 8-year-old boy. Shy, frail, a little grimy, and in need of a haircut, he looked as vulnerable as he would several months later while describing this meeting on video.
At the time of the meeting, the boy didn’t know that the United States had decided to kill a man named Adnan al-Qadhi, and had turned to its allies in Yemen for assistance. Now the Yemeni government needed the child’s help. The Republican Guard officers told him what they wanted him to do: plant tiny electronic chips on the man he had come to think of as a surrogate father. The boy knew and trusted the officers; they were his biological father’s friends. He told them he would try. He would be their spy.
By the time President Obama gave the order to attack Adnan al-Qadhi, the U.S. had been killing al-Qaeda fighters for years, in places ranging from the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the deserts of Yemen and Somalia. The strikes had taken a toll on the terrorist organization. More than a decade after September 11, Osama bin Laden and many of the most obvious targets were already dead.
Qadhi, a burly Yemeni military officer, was a less obvious target. But as the U.S. entered the second decade of its war against al-Qaeda, it increasingly found itself going after men like Qadhi, who were targeted not so much for what they had done as for what they might do.