Recently, a White House memo revealed the role the Obama Administration has played in expanding covert drone strikes against high-level al-Qaida operatives. Among those targeted and killed are American citizens living abroad.
To put it bluntly, President Barack Obama believes he has the authority to execute Americans overseas without due process.
To date, there have been many suspected terrorists who have been executed by American military drone strikes. However, the most notable were three American citizens never charged with a crime who were killed in the fall of 2011: Samir Khan, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Anwar’s 16-year-old Denver-born son, Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman’s grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki insists the boy was innocent and had no ties to terrorism.
Apparently, the administration believes that the only basis needed for Obama to target a US citizen for execution is if he feels they are linked with al-Qaida and “pose an imminent threat of violent attack” against US interests here or abroad. Naureen Shah, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at the school’s Human Rights Institute, interprets the vague criteria as Obama assuming the role of “judge, jury and executioner.”
Constitutional stickler, Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on allowing drug cartels to walk thousands of weapons from the US across the border into Mexico, two of which killed two American border agents, maintains that the directed killing of Americans is legal as long as the powers-that-be conclude that the individual poses “an imminent threat of violent attack.”
However, contrary to Holder’s contention, an additional document also recently made public revealed the administration has a broader definition of “imminent.” That memo said that for the government to order an American citizen assassinated, “clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future” is not a requirement.
Translation: Substantiation of guilt is not a prerequisite to being selected for a slot on Obama’s kill list.
Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ response to the 2011 execution of 16-year-old Abdulrahman is an example of what that “broader definition” includes. When asked by a reporter to justify killing the teen, Gibbs replied:
I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if … concerned about the well-being of [your] children. I don’t think becoming an al-Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
Well there it is. If your father is an imam known for fiery jihadist rhetoric, don’t linger in parking lots too long because Pop’s preaching could cost you your life.
Nonetheless, the newly released memorandum does describe a three-part lawful killing assessment that includes the suspect being deemed an imminent threat; capturing the target as unfeasible; and the kill being conducted according to the “law of war principles.” All of which certainly explain why a teenage boy was slain in a drone strike while eating in an open-air café.
Asked about the memo, White House press lackey, Jay Carney, said that while the “Constitution is something to consider, being a US citizen does not make a leader of an enemy force immune from being targeted.”
Notre Dame Law professor and use-of-force expert Mary Ellen O’Connell expressed apprehension over the contents of the white paper, saying, “Anyone should be concerned when the president and his lawyers make up their own interpretation of the law or own rules.” Ms. O’Connell warned that “This is a very, very dangerous thing that the president has done.”
Meanwhile, just prior to the start of confirmation hearings for Barack Obama’s second-term nominee to head the CIA, counterterrorism adviser/drone campaign architect John Brennan, a few US senators requested that all the memos on the president’s ‘mark and murder’ activities be immediately released. In lieu of a Republican-controlled Congress addressing Barack Obama doing “very, very dangerous” things, it took Ron Wyden (D-OR) and 10 other senators to raise the question as to whether the president snuffing out US citizens is “subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards.”
In the British newspaper, The Guardian, constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald wrote an article entitled “Chilling legal memo from Obama DOJ justifies assassination of US citizens.” In it Greenwald pointed out that if you’re a person who believes the president has “the radical and dangerous power… to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.”
An unnerved Greenwald described for readers a weekly scenario where “[t]he president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of whom they feel should be executed.” Then, on “Terror Tuesday,” a “secret panel” convenes to watch Obama select those destined for death from a pile of “baseball cards.”
Leaving aside macabre baseball cards, the whole issue should raise the question of how this policy might impact concerns surrounding the troubling 2009 Department of Homeland Security report: “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”
For instance, does the perceived leader of an “enemy force” have to be residing in Yemen for Barack Obama to order an assassination, or could the “disposition matrix” database spit out the name of a perceived “right-wing extremist” living in Youngstown, Ohio?
After all, the unclassified report did warn of potential violence being perpetrated by “right-wing extremists” distressed over things like high unemployment, illegal immigration, and the loss of Second Amendment rights. The report also singled out war veterans, pro-life advocates, and gun owners, all of whom Barack Obama may view as more menacing than a 16-year-old eating lunch in a Yemeni café.
Regardless of the answer, it’s clear the President of the United States has granted himself a heady level of authority that would be perilous for the leader of any nation to possess. Barack Obama is cleverly using national security as an excuse to bestow upon himself the power to order an armed drone to target and kill US citizens – perhaps even if it is only he alone that feels they pose a threat.