MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Obama's Choice: Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?
For months, the White House has been leaking how President Obama "carefully" reviews a kill list (assassination) of alleged terrorists (and who knows what other troublemakers end up on the potential target list?). Off-the-record comments (and some on the record) are meant to reassure Americans that the president doesn't take the authorization of kills (with the attendant "collateral damage" of civilians and children if a drone strike) lightly, but seriously contemplates who ends up dead as a sanctioned hit.
As has been repeatedly noted by commentators not dazzled by the assumption of extra-judicial death warrants, it is perplexing and dismaying that a Harvard Law School grad who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago is showing such a lethal disregard for the nation's fundamental legal document.
Deciding who shall live and who shall die is generally a power attributed to Gods in most religions; or one can go back to history before the birth of states founded on democracy, when tyrants and monarchs held absolute powers.
The authority Obama has assumed without any legislative or court permission goes well beyond the Bush/Cheney torture protocol; this is a kill list, not just a rendition order. The condemning of a person to death without due legal process, without habeas corpus, violates the Constitution in the most fundamental way. In doing so, Obama is undercutting and eroding the most basic guarantee in our legal system, at a time when the tide, ironically, is turning against capital punishment in the US.
A Washington Post article today that reveals a hither-too classified document that adds a chilling corroboration of what has until now only been the subject of strategic leaks (for which we might add, no one has been prosecuted because these classified leaks are meant to enhance President Obama's image as a tough guy):
The United States can lawfully kill a US citizen overseas if it determines the target is a â€śsenior, operational leaderâ€ť of al-Qaeda or an associated group and poses an imminent threat to the United States, according to a Justice Department document published late Monday by NBC News.
The document defines â€śimminent threatâ€ť expansively, saying it does not have to be based on intelligence about a specific attack since such actions are being â€ścontinuallyâ€ť planned by al-Qaeda. â€śIn this context,â€ť it says, â€śimminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunityâ€ť as well as possible collateral damage to civilians.
It says that such determinations can be made by an â€śinformed, high-level official of the U.S. government.â€ť
NBC said the document was provided by the Obama administration last summer to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees as a summary of a classified memo on targeted killings of U.S. citizens prepared by the Justice Departmentâ€™s Office of Legal Counsel.
According to the Post,
The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday night called the document a â€śprofoundly disturbingâ€ť summary of â€śa stunning overreach of executive authority â€” the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact.â€ť
Disturbing is a word that is an understatement to this now established and acted upon executive act that provides plenty of leeway for whoever is president to decide what is an associated group, and designate the "informed, high-level official[s] of the US government" who recommend people to be taken out by drones, bombs, snipers or assassins. (According to the Post, "The memo was written months prior to a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim cleric accused of helping al-Qaedaâ€™s Yemeni affiliate plan attacks against the United States. Three other Americans, including Awlakiâ€™s 16-year-old son, have also been killed in U.S. strikes in Yemen.)
The United States has not only lost its moral high ground, which has been eroding for years, but it is now nation where a handfulof people decide who shall live and who shall die.
It has now been more than a decade after 9/11, and the cudgel of terrorism is further and further shredding the document that binds the US together as a nation: the Constitution.
Reassurance from the executive branch that President Obama picks his victims "thoughtfully" is, in itself, a reminder of just how far we, as a country, have let fear untether us from our legal and moral code of justice.