Obama administration asserts right to assassinate Americans
(WSWS.org) -- by Patrick Martin --
The Obama administration drafted a secret legal memorandum last year claiming that the president had the power to order the killing of an American citizen without a trial, a power that was exercised ten days ago with the drone missile murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic radical cleric born in the United States of Yemeni parents.
Awlaki and three other men—one of them also an American citizen, Samir Khan—were blown to pieces by a missile fired from a CIA-operated drone in northern Yemen. The Obama administration claimed, without providing any evidence, that Awlaki was a high-level “operational leader” of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and justified the killing as a preemptive military action, using almost the same language as the Bush administration before it.
The details of the legal memorandum were reported on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, in what appears to be an effort at damage control by the Obama administration. The existence of the document was reported October 1 by the Washington Post, which described it as “an attempt to resolve, at least internally, a legal debate over whether a president can order the killing of US citizens overseas as a counterterrorism measure.”
While Times reporter Charlie Savage was not allowed to see the memo himself, several officials described it as a 50-page document drafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. This is the same government agency that drafted the notorious “torture memos” during the Bush administration, justifying waterboarding and other abuses of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other US military and CIA-run prisons.
According to the Times account: “The legal analysis, in essence, concluded that Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not feasible to capture him, because intelligence agencies said he was taking part in the war between the United States and Al Qaeda and posed a significant threat to Americans, as well as because Yemeni authorities were unable or unwilling to stop him.”
The sweeping character of the assertion of presidential power is demonstrated in the sheer number of prohibitions against killing that had to be overturned. The Times wrote, “The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war …”
The Times article then sums up one after another, completely uncritically, the various legal sophistries provided by the Justice Department lawyers to support the right of the president to ignore all these longstanding legal protections against state killing, such as the right to due process under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. (See: “The legal implications of the Awlaki assassination”).
Perhaps the most important sentence in the article, and the one that encapsulates the role of the New York Times as the mouthpiece for the US military/intelligence apparatus, comes in the third paragraph, where the following claim is made: “The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki’s case and did not establish a broad new legal doctrine to permit the targeted killing of any Americans believed to pose a terrorist threat.”
The purpose of this assertion is to rebut criticisms from civil liberties and Muslim groups, and scattered objections in the press, concerning the White House assertion of an unreviewable presidential power to order an American citizen killed.
The media, in general, has tacitly supported the state assassination of a US citizen. At Obama’s first White House press conference since the killing of Awlaki, held last Thursday, not a single reporter asked a question about the killing.
The implications of the legal memorandum and the ensuing CIA assassination are truly chilling, since there are effectively no limits to the assertion of executive power to kill. It is not only not subject to legal challenge or judicial scrutiny, but it is completely secret. Both the selection of the target and its eventual destruction are arbitrary and unreviewable actions...MORE...LINK