A leaked Department of Justice white paper outlines the administration’s policy on the targeted killing of American citizens; in it, the Obama administration claims incredibly broad power to kill Americans with ill-defined limits on when this power can be exercised.
Granted, this white paper is not the actual legal memos the administration is basing it’s authority on, but it is allegedly representative of what those memos contain. The white paper allows for the killing of a citizen if “an informed, high-level official” determines that the citizen (who has to be an operational leader of al-Qaeda in this white paper) poses an “imminent threat of violent attack” also, capture of the target must be “infeasible” and the strike must be carried out according to law-of-war principles.
The administration applies an incredibly broad concept of imminence for the targeted killing of citizens. From NBC:
The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.
Instead, it says, an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”
So just to restate, ONE, lone, unidentified “high-level” official in the government decides whether or not the American has been “recently” been involved in “activities” that pose a threat, with absolutely no test for determining what is recent or what exactly those activities might be. It also does not define what exactly the evidence is supposed to be presented to suggest that the citizen has renounced or abandoned the “activities”.
Also, “infeasible” does not mean impossible. The administration argues that the capture would be infeasible if the operation to capture would pose an “undue risk” (again undefined) to U.S. personnel.
So in essence, if you were an American citizen that made it onto the Obama administration’s kill list, instead of the government having to go through due process to prove that it had probable cause to capture you, and then prove its case against you in a court of law; you now have to prove to a lone official, the government won’t name, that you weren’t engaged in activities it won’t define.
That flips the due process rights of Americans on their heads.
I have no problem with turning some jihadi in the Swat Valley into pink mist with a missile from a Reaper, that’s not what I’m upset about here. Anwar al-Awlaki was also easier to swallow because while he was a citizen, he had openly engaged in the plotting and execution of terrorist acts, and encouraged others to do the same.
What I am upset about is the Executive determining that it has the power to extrajudicially execute American citizens at the determination of one government official based on an indeterminate standard that could be easily manipulated. There is a reason for the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
I wonder if those who decried the Imperial Presidency of the Bushitler over the Patriot Act, and screamed their heads off over the government seeing what books you checked out at the library without a warrant, will bat an eyelash when their darling President Obama vaporizes an American citizen without any judicial hearing at all.