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Secret US Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen October 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: I would like to make a couple of points here.  The infamous Office of Legal Counsel (to the president) is already discredited for its justifications of the Bush/Cheney torture regime.  One is reminded that all the Nazi crimes were committed under the color of law (Hitler had his own “Office of Legal Counsel”).  With respect to the substance of the argument presented in the article below that justifies legally the killing of an American citizen by executive order, it depends entirely on the fact that Bush and Obama have defined the entire globe as the “battlefield” in the so-called War on Terror.  Individual acts of terrorism have rightly and traditionally been a matter for policing, not all out warfare (which results in massive “collateral damage,” that is, the killing of innocent civilian bystanders). 

(Ironically and tragically, the non-individual and massive acts of terror that could be described as war-like, are those being undertaken by the United States government with its invasions of foreign countries and its murderous drone missile strikes that have killed thousands of innocent bystanders.)

The memo in effect asserts that if the president decides that any person anywhere in the world, is a threat to the United States, US citizen or no,  he or she can be murdered on nothing more than his say-so.  That is enough “due process.”

Sunday 9 October 2011
by: Charlie Savage, The New York Times News Service         | Report

Washington – The Obama administration’s secret legal memorandum that opened the door to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen, found that it would be lawful only if it were not feasible to take him alive, according to people who have read the document.

The memo, written last year, followed months of extensive interagency deliberations and offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to one of the most significant decisions made byPresident Obama — to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without a trial.

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, according to people familiar with the analysis. 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 Obama administration has refused to acknowledge or discuss its role in the drone strike that killed Mr. Awlaki last month and that technically remains a covert operation. The government has also resisted growing calls that it provide a detailed public explanation of why officials deemed it lawful to kill an American citizen, setting a precedent that scholars, rights activists and others say has raised concerns about the rule of law and civil liberties.

But the document that laid out the administration’s justification — a roughly 50-page memorandum by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, completed around June 2010 — was described on the condition of anonymity by people who have read it.

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 memorandum, which was written more than a year before Mr. Awlaki was killed, does not independently analyze the quality of the evidence against him.

The administration did not respond to requests for comment on this article.

The deliberations to craft the memo included meetings in the White House Situation Room involving top lawyers for the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and intelligence agencies.

It was principally drafted by David Barron and Martin Lederman, who were both lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel at the time, and was signed by Mr. Barron. The office may have given oral approval for an attack on Mr. Awlaki before completing its detailed memorandum. Several news reports before June 2010 quoted anonymous counterterrorism officials as saying that Mr. Awlaki had been placed on a kill-or-capture list around the time of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009. Mr. Awlaki was accused of helping to recruit the attacker for that operation.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was also accused of playing a role in a failed plot to bomb two cargo planes last year, part of a pattern of activities that counterterrorism officials have said showed that he had evolved from merely being a propagandist — in sermons justifying violence by Muslims against the United States — to playing an operational role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s continuing efforts to carry out terrorist attacks.

Other assertions about Mr. Awlaki included that he was a leader of the group, which had become a “cobelligerent” with Al Qaeda, and he was pushing it to focus on trying to attack the United States again. The lawyers were also told that capturing him alive among hostile armed allies might not be feasible if and when he were located.

Based on those premises, the Justice Department concluded that Mr. Awlaki was covered by the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda that Congress enacted shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — meaning that he was a lawful target in the armed conflict unless some other legal prohibition trumped that authority.

It then considered possible obstacles and rejected each in turn.

Among them was an executive order that bans assassinations. That order, the lawyers found, blocked unlawful killings of political leaders outside of war, but not the killing of a lawful target in an armed conflict.

A federal statute that prohibits Americans from murdering other Americans abroad, the lawyers wrote, did not apply either, because it is not “murder” to kill a wartime enemy in compliance with the laws of war.

But that raised another pressing question: would it comply with the laws of war if the drone operator who fired the missile was a Central Intelligence Agency official, who, unlike a soldier, wore no uniform? The memorandum concluded that such a case would not be a war crime, although the operator might be in theoretical jeopardy of being prosecuted in a Yemeni court for violating Yemen’s domestic laws against murder, a highly unlikely possibility.

Then there was the Bill of Rights: the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that a “person” cannot be seized by the government unreasonably, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that the government may not deprive a person of life “without due process of law.”

The memo concluded that what was reasonable, and the process that was due, was different for Mr. Awlaki than for an ordinary criminal. It cited court cases allowing American citizens who had joined an enemy’s forces to be detained orprosecuted in a military court just like noncitizen enemies.

It also cited several other Supreme Court precedents, like a 2007 case involving a high-speed chase and a 1985 case involving the shooting of a fleeing suspect, finding that it was constitutional for the police to take actions that put a suspect in serious risk of death in order to curtail an imminent risk to innocent people.

The document’s authors argued that “imminent” risks could include those by an enemy leader who is in the business of attacking the United States whenever possible, even if he is not in the midst of launching an attack at the precise moment he is located.

There remained, however, the question of whether — when the target is known to be a citizen — it was permissible to kill him if capturing him instead were a feasible way of suppressing the threat.

Killed in the strike alongside Mr. Awlaki was another American citizen, Samir Khan, who had produced a magazine for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsulapromoting terrorism. He was apparently not on the targeting list, making his death collateral damage. His family has issued a statement citing the Fifth Amendment and asking whether it was necessary for the government to have “assassinated two of its citizens.”

“Was this style of execution the only solution?” the Khan family asked in its statement. “Why couldn’t there have been a capture and trial?”

Last month, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, delivered a speech in which he strongly denied the accusation that the administration had sometimes chosen to kill militants when capturing them was possible, saying the policy preference is to interrogate them for intelligence.

The memorandum is said to declare that in the case of a citizen, it is legally required to capture the militant if feasible — raising a question: was capturing Mr. Awlaki in fact feasible?

It is possible that officials decided last month that it was not feasible to attempt to capture him because of factors like the risk it could pose to American commandos and the diplomatic problems that could arise from putting ground forces on Yemeni soil. Still, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan demonstrates that officials have deemed such operations feasible at times.

Last year, Yemeni commandos surrounded a village in which Mr. Awlaki was believed to be hiding, but he managed to slip away.

The administration had already expressed in public some of the arguments about issues of international law addressed by the memo, in a speech delivered in March 2010 by Harold Hongju Koh, the top State Department lawyer.

As to whether it would violate Yemen’s sovereignty to fire a missile at someone on Yemeni soil, Yemen’s president secretly granted the United States that permission, as secret diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks have revealed.

The memorandum did assert that other limitations on the use of force under the laws of war — like avoiding the use of disproportionate force that would increase the possibility of civilian deaths — would constrain any operation against Mr. Awlaki.

That apparently constrained the attack when it finally came. Details about Mr. Awlaki’s location surfaced about a month ago, American officials have said, but his hunters delayed the strike until he left a village and was on a road away from populated areas.

© 2011 The New York Times Company
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Cheney Praises Strike, But Seeks Apology October 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: Yes, politics indeed  makes strange bedfellows.  You probably couldn’t think of two more polar opposites than Cheney and Obama with respect to background and personality.  But when you choose to take leadership in the American Empire, regardless of who or what you are, you are obliged to follow the dictates of the military, the CIA and the corporate Behemoth: what Eisenhower in his farewell address famously referred to as the military-industrial complex.  The is little or no wiggle room, only nuances.  Obama tortures less (remember, Bagram is still in business) but kills more civilians than Bush/Cheney did with the drones.  And now Obama is executing American citizens with no due process, a fact that, as we can see, gives aid and comfort (and justification) to the architect of the American torture regime.

Published on Sunday, October 2, 2011 by Politico.com

Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised the Obama administration Sunday for ordering the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, calling it “a very good strike” and “justified.”

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney. (CNN) But Cheney and his daughter Liz, who appeared together on CNN’s “State of the Union” said President Barack Obama owes the Bush administration an apology.

They said the killing of an American citizen without due process calls into question the president’s past criticisms of the Bush administration for using enhanced interrogation techniques.

“The thing I am waiting for is for the administration to go back and correct something they said two years ago, when they criticized us for quote overreacting to the events of 9/11,” Dick Cheney said. “They in effect said we had walked away from our ideals, taking policy contrary to our ideals when we had enhanced interrogation techniques. They have clearly moved in the direction of taking robust action when they feel it is justified. In this case, it was. They need to go back and reconsider what the president said in Cairo.”

“He said in his Cairo speech (in 2009) for example that he banned torture,” Dick Cheney said. “We were never torturing anyone in the first place. He said We walked away from our basic fundamental ideals. That simply wasn’t the case. What he said then was inaccurate especially now in light of what they are doing with policy.”

Liz Cheney added: “He slandered the nation, and I think he owes an apology to the American people. those are the policies that kept us safe”

But Dick Cheney said Obama was justified in ordering such an attack, even when it involves an American citizen.

“The president has all the authority he needs to order this kind of strike,” Cheney said. “It’s the difference between a law enforcement action and a war. We’re in a war.”

Liz Cheney also praised the administration, but leveled similar criticism of the president’s Cairo speech.

“What concerns me is the damage this president has done,” Liz Cheney said. “The extent to which when the president of the United States goes on on foreign soil saying the United States has abandoned American values … when he does that, he does real damage to our standing in the world.”

© 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki’s Extrajudicial Murder October 1, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War.
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Roger’s note: notice that this article was published in the UK.  Apparently, the US corporate media have no problem with the notion that if the president says someone is a terrorist, then it is all right to kill her.  Period.  No process.  No judicial review.  No safeguards.  I am reminded of Nixon’s infamous: “if the president does it, it is legal.”  I was brought up and taught to respect the rule of law; and that no one, no matter who, was above the law.  I guess I must be old fashioned.
Published on Saturday, October 1, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

The law on the use of lethal force by executive order is specific. This assassination broke it – that creates a terrifying precedent

Is this the world we want? Where the president of the United States can place an American citizen, or anyone else for that matter, living outside a war zone on a targeted assassination list, and then have him murdered by drone strike.

This was the very result we at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU feared when we brought a case in US federal court on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki’s father, hoping to prevent this targeted killing. We lost the case on procedural grounds, but the judge considered the implications of the practice as raising “serious questions”, asking:

“Can the executive order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organisation?”

Yes, Anwar al-Awlaki was a radical Muslim cleric. Yes, his language and speeches were incendiary. He may even have engaged in plots against the United States – but we do not know that because he was never indicted for a crime.

This profile should not have made him a target for a killing without due process and without any effort to capture, arrest and try him. The US government knew his location for purposes of a drone strike, so why was no effort made to arrest him in Yemen, a country that apparently was allied in the US efforts to track him down?

There are – or were – laws about the circumstances in which deadly force can be used, including against those who are bent on causing harm to the United States. Outside of a war zone, as Awlaki was, lethal force can only be employed in the narrowest and most extraordinary circumstances: when there is a concrete, specific and imminent threat of an attack; and even then, deadly force must be a last resort.

The claim, after the fact, by President Obama that Awlaki “operationally directed efforts” to attack the United States was never presented to a court before he was placed on the “kill” list and is untested. Even if President Obama’s claim has some validity, unless Awlaki’s alleged terrorists actions were imminent and unless deadly force employed as a last resort, this killing constitutes murder.

We know the government makes mistakes, lots of them, in giving people a “terrorist” label. Hundreds of men were wrongfully detained at Guantánamo. Should this same government, or any government, be allowed to order people’s killing without due process?

The dire implications of this killing should not be lost on any of us. There appears to be no limit to the president’s power to kill anywhere in the world, even if it involves killing a citizen of his own country. Today, it’s in Yemen; tomorrow, it could be in the UK or even in the United States.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited

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Michael Ratner

Michael Ratner is the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is co-author with Margaret Ratner Kunstler of “Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century

The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality September 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Friday, Sep 30, 2011 06:31 ET

AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group, File
In this Nov. 8, 2010 file image taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites.

(updated below)

It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-awlaki .  No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him).  Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt.  When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts.  He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner.  When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”

After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the U.S. succeeded today (and it was the U.S.).  It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the U.S. murder its.  The U.S. thus transformed someone who was, at best, a marginal figure into a martyr, and again showed its true face to the world.  The government and media search for The Next bin Laden has undoubtedly already commenced.

What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.  Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture.  It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process).  It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

* * * * *

UPDATE: What amazes me most whenever I write about this topic is recalling how terribly upset so many Democrats pretended to be when Bush claimed the power merely to detain or even just eavesdrop on American citizens without due process.  Remember all that?  Yet now, here’s Obama claiming the power not to detain or eavesdrop on citizens without due process, but to kill them; marvel at how the hardest-core White House loyalists now celebrate this and uncritically accept the same justifying rationale used by Bush/Cheney (this is war! the President says he was a Terrorist!) without even a moment of acknowledgment of the profound inconsistency or the deeply troubling implications of having a President — even Barack Obama — vested with the power to target U.S. citizens for murder with no due process.

Also, during the Bush years, civil libertarians who tried to convince conservatives to oppose that administration’s radical excesses would often ask things like this: would you be comfortable having Hillary Clinton wield the power to spy on your calls or imprison you with no judicial reivew or oversight?  So for you good progressives out there justifying this, I would ask this:  how would the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process look to you in the hands of, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?

The transformation of Anwar al-Awlaki July 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, War on Terror.
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Terrorism

Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011 09:28 ET

 

The Washington Post today has the latest leak-based boasting about how the U.S. is on the verge of “defeating” Al Qaeda, yet — lest you think this can allow a reduction of the National Security State and posture of Endless War on which it feeds — the article warns that “al­-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen is now seen as a greater counterterrorism challenge than the organization’s traditional base” and that this new threat, as Sen. Saxby Chambliss puts it, “is nowhere near defeat.”  Predictably, the Post‘s warnings about the danger from Yemen feature the U.S. Government’s due-process-free attempts to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, widely believed to be in Yemen and now routinely (and absurdly) depicted as The New Osama bin Laden.

The Post says Awlaki is “known for his fiery sermons” (undoubtedly the prime — and blatantly unconstitutional — motive for his being targeted for killing).  But what is so bizarre about Awlaki’s now being cast in this role is that, for years, he was deemed by the very same U.S. Government to be the face of moderate Islam.  Indeed, shortly after 9/11, the Pentagon invited Awlaki to a “luncheon [] meant to ease tensions with Muslim-Americans.” But even more striking was something I accidentally found today while searching for something else.  In November, 2001, the very same Washington Post hosted one of those benign, non-controversial online chats about religion that it likes to organize; this one was intended to discuss “the meaning of Ramadan”. It was hosted by none other than . . . “Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki.”

More extraordinary than the fact that the Post hosted The New Osama bin Laden in such a banal role a mere ten years ago was what Imam Awlaki said during the Q-and-A exchange with readers.  He repudiated the 9/11 attackers.  He denounced the Taliban for putting women in burqas, explaining that the practice has no precedent in Islam and that “education is mandatory on every Muslim male and female.”  He chatted about the “inter-faith services held in our mosque and around the greater DC area and in all over the country” and proclaimed: “We definitely need more mutual understanding.” While explaining his opposition to the war in Afghanistan, he proudly invoked what he thought (mistakenly, as it turns out) was his right of free speech as an American:  “Even though this is a dissenting view nowadays[,] as an American I do have the right to have a contrary opinion.”  And he announced that “the greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul.”

Does that sound like the New Osama bin Laden to you?  One could call him the opposite of bin Laden.  And yet, a mere nine years later, there was Awlaki, in an Al Jazeera interview, pronouncing his opinion that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a civilian jet over Detroit was justified (while saying “it would have been better if the plane was a military one or if it was a US military target”), and urging “revenge for all Muslims across the globe” against the U.S.  What changed over the last decade that caused such a profound transformation in Awlaki? Does that question even need to be asked?  Awlaki unwittingly provided the answer ten years ago when explaining his opposition to the war in Afghanistan in his 2001 Post chat:

Also our government could have dealt with the terrorist attacks as a crime against America rather than a war against America. So the guilty would be tried and only them would be punished rather than bombing an already destroyed country. I do not restrict myself to US media. I check out Aljazeerah and European media such as the BBC. I am seeing something that you are not seeing because of the one-sidedness of the US media. I see the carnage of Afghanistan. I see the innocent civilian deaths. That is why my opinion is different.

Keep in mind that I have no sympathy for whoever committed the crimes of Sep 11th. But that doesn’t mean that I would approve the killing of my Muslim brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.

 

And in his Al Jazeera interview nine years later, he explained why he now endorses violence against Americans, especially American military targets:

I support what Umar Farouk has done after I have been seeing my brothers being killed in Palestine for more than 60 years, and others being killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And in my tribe too, US missiles have killed 17 women and 23 children, so do not ask me if al-Qaeda has killed or blown up a US civil jet after all this. The 300 Americans are nothing comparing to the thousands of Muslims who have been killed.

 

A full decade of literally constant (and still-escalating) American killing of civilians in multiple Muslim countries has radically transformed Awlaki — and countless other Muslims — from a voice of pro-American moderation into supporters of violence against the U.S. and, in Awlaki’s case, the prime pretext for the continuation of the War on Terror.  As this blogger put it in response to my noting the 2001 Awlaki chat: “it’s interesting to think about how many other people followed that same path, that we don’t know about it.”  In other words, the very U.S. policies justified in name of combating Terrorism have done more to spawn — and continue to spawn — anti-American Terrorism than anything bin Laden could have ever conceived.  The transformation of Awlaki, and many others like him, provides vivid insight into how that occurs.

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It’s equally instructive to note that if the Post were to give Awlaki a venue to express his opinions now — or if the Pentagon were to invite him to a luncheon — those institutions would likely be guilty of the felony of providing material support to Terrorism as applied by the Obama DOJ and upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Targeted Assassination of Osama Bin Laden May 10, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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                                                                                        NUREMBERG WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
 
 
Published on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

When he announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a Navy Seal team in Pakistan, President Barack Obama said, “Justice has been done.” Mr. Obama misused the word, “justice” when he made that statement. He should have said, “Retaliation has been accomplished.” A former professor of constitutional law should know the difference between those two concepts. The word “justice” implies an act of applying or upholding the law.

Targeted assassinations violate well-established principles of international law. Also called political assassinations, they are extrajudicial executions. These are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework.

Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict. In a 1998 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions noted that “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.” The U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Commission, as well as Amnesty International, have all condemned extrajudicial executions.

In spite of its illegality, the Obama administration frequently uses targeted assassinations to accomplish its goals. Five days after executing Osama bin Laden, Mr. Obama tried to bring “justice” to U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who has not been charged with any crime in the United States. The unmanned drone attack in Yemen missed al-Awlaki and killed two people “believed to be al Qaeda militants,” according to a CBS/AP bulletin.

Two days before the Yemen attack, U.S. drones killed 15 people in Pakistan and wounded four. Since the March 17 drone attack that killed 44 people, also in Pakistan, there have been four drone strikes. In 2010, American drones carried out 111 strikes. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 957 civilians were killed in 2010.

The United States disavowed the use of extrajudicial killings under President Gerald Ford. After the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed in 1975 that the CIA had been involved in several murders or attempted murders of foreign leaders, President Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. Every succeeding president until George W. Bush renewed that order. However, the Clinton administration targeted Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, but narrowly missed him.

In July 2001, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel denounced Israel’s policy of targeted killings, or “preemptive operations.” He said “the United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”

Yet after September 11, 2001, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer invited the killing of Saddam Hussein: “The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less” than the cost of war. Shortly thereafter, Bush issued a secret directive, which authorized the CIA to target suspected terrorists for assassination when it would be impractical to capture them and when large-scale civilian casualties could be avoided.

In November 2002, Bush reportedly authorized the CIA to assassinate a suspected Al Qaeda leader in Yemen. He and five traveling companions were killed in the hit, which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz described as a “very successful tactical operation.”

After the Holocaust, Winston Churchill wanted to execute the Nazi leaders without trials. But the U.S. government opposed the extrajudicial executions of Nazi officials who had committed genocide against millions of people. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, told President Harry Truman: “We could execute or otherwise punish [the Nazi leaders] without a hearing. But undiscriminating executions or punishments without definite findings of guilt, fairly arrived at, would … not set easily on the American conscience or be remembered by children with pride.”

Osama bin Laden and the “suspected militants” targeted in drone attacks should have been arrested and tried in U.S. courts or an international tribunal. Obama cannot serve as judge, jury and executioner. These assassinations are not only illegal; they create a dangerous precedent, which could be used to justify the targeted killings of U.S. leaders.

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Marjorie Cohn

Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of LGang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd).  Her anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, is now available. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.comaw and past President of the National Lawyers Guild, is the deputy secretary general for external communications of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists..  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush

U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki May 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011 08:22 ET

 

By Glenn Greenwald
 
www.salon.com, May 7, 2011

That Barack Obama has continued the essence of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism architecture was once a provocative proposition but is now so self-evident that few dispute it (watch here as arch-neoconservative David Frum — Richard Perle’s co-author for the supreme 2004 neocon treatise — waxes admiringly about Obama’s Terrorism and foreign policies in the Muslim world and specifically its “continuity” with Bush/Cheney).  But one policy where Obama has gone further than Bush/Cheney in terms of unfettered executive authority and radical war powers is the attempt to target American citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process.  As The New York Times put it last April:

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.  A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president. . . .

 That Obama was compiling a hit list of American citizens was first revealed in January of last year when The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest mentioned in passing at the end of a long article that at least four American citizens had been approved for assassinations; several months later, the Obama administration anonymously confirmed to both the NYT and the Post that American-born, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was one of the Americans on the hit list. 

Yesterday, riding a wave of adulation and military-reverence, the Obama administration tried to end the life of this American citizen — never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime — with a drone strike in Yemen, but missed and killed two other people instead:

A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.

The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. 

 

The other people killed “may have” been Al Qaeda operatives.  Or they “may not have” been.  Who cares?  They’re mere collateral damage on the glorious road to ending the life of this American citizen without due process (and pointing out that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” — and provides no exception for war — is the sort of tedious legalism that shouldn’t interfere with the excitement of drone strikes).

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance.  But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process — far from any battlefield, not during combat — is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it’s hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself — all because the President declares it to be so?  “I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die.  Why?  Because the President decreed that, and that’s good enough for me.  Trials are so pre-9/11.”  If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.

And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield — if someone believes that the President has that power:  the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner — what possible limits would they ever impose on the President’s power?  There cannot be any.  Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a “traitor” and demand they be treated as such — even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call “a trial” with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason — how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?

What’s most striking about this is how it relates to the controversies during the Bush years.  One of the most strident attacks from the Democrats on Bush was that he wanted to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.  One of the first signs of Bush/Cheney radicalism was what they did to Jose Padilla:  assert the power to imprison this American citizen without charges.  Yet here you have Barack Obama asserting the power not to eavesdrop on Americans or detain them without charges — but to target them for killing without charges — and that, to many of his followers, is perfectly acceptable.  It’s a “horrific shredding of the Constitution” and an act of grave lawlessness for Bush to eavesdrop on or detain Americans without any due process; but it’s an act of great nobility when Barack Obama ends their lives without any due process.

Not even Antonin Scalia was willing to approve of George Bush’s mere attempt to detain (let alone kill) an American citizen accused of Terrorism without a trial.  In a dissenting opinion joined by the court’s most liberal member, John Paul Stevens, Scalia explained that not even the War on Terror allows the due process clause to be ignored when the President acts against those he claims have joined the Enemy — and this was for a citizen found on an actual active battlefield in a war zone (Afghanistan) (emphasis added):

The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.  Blackstone stated this principle clearly:  “Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty:  for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest, magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper … there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. … To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom.” . . . .

Subjects accused of levying war against the King were routinely prosecuted for treason. . . . The Founders inherited the understanding that a citizen’s levying war against the Government was to be punished criminally. The Constitution provides: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”; and establishes a heightened proof requirement (two witnesses) in order to “convic[t]” of that offense. Art. III, §3, cl. 1. 

 

There simply is no more basic liberty than the right to be free from Presidential executions without being charged with — and then convicted of — a crime:  whether it be treason, Terrorism, or anything else.  How can someone who objected to Bush’s attempt to eavesdrop on or detain citizens without judicial oversight cheer for Obama’s attempt to kill them without judicial oversight? Can someone please reconcile those positions?

One cannot be certain that this attempted killing of Awlaki relates to the bin Laden killing, but it certainly seems likely, and in any event, highlights the dangers I wrote about this week.  From the start, it was inconceivable to me that — as some predicted — the bin Laden killing would bring about a ratcheting down of America’s war posture.  The opposite seemed far more likely to me for the reason I wrote on Monday:  

Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. . . . We’re feeling good and strong about ourselves again — and righteous — and that’s often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.

 

The killing of bin Laden got the testosterone pumping, the righteousness pulsating, and faith in the American military and its Commander-in-Chief skyrocketing to all-time highs.  It made America feel good about itself in a way that no other event has since at least Obama’s inauguration; we got to forget about rampant unemployment, home foreclosures by the millions, a decade’s worth of militaristic futility and slaughter, and ever-growing Third-World levels of wealth inequality.  This was a week for flag-waving, fist-pumping, and nationalistic chanting:  even — especially — among liberals, who were able to take the lead and show the world (and themselves) that they are no wilting, delicate wimps; it’s not merely swaggering right-wing Texans, but they, too, who can put bullets in people’s heads and dump corpses into the ocean and then joke and cheer about it afterwards.  It’s inconceivable that this wave of collective pride, boosted self-esteem, vicarious strength, and renewed purpose won’t produce a desire to replicate itself.  Four days after bin Laden is killed, a missile rains down from the sky to try to execute Awlaki without due process, and that’ll be far from the last such episode (indeed, also yesterday, the U.S. launched a drone attack in Pakistan, ending the lives of 15 more people:  yawn).

Last night, in a post entitled “Reigniting the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism]“ — Digby wrote about why the reaction to the killing of bin Laden is almost certain to spur greater aggression in the “War on Terror,” and specifically observed:  “They’re breathlessly going on about Al Qaeda in Yemen ‘targeting the homeland’ right now on CNN. Looks like we’re back in business.”  The killing of bin Laden isn’t going to result in a reduction of America’s military adventurism because that’s not how the country works: when we eradicate one Enemy, we just quickly and seamlessly find a new one to replace him with — look over there:  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the True Threat!!!! — and the blood-spilling continues unabated (without my endorsing it all, read this excellent Chris Floyd post for the non-euphemistic reality of what we’ve really been doing in the world over the last couple years under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner).

A civil liberties lawyer observed by email to me last night that now that Obama has massive political capital and invulnerable Tough-on-Terror credentials firmly in place, there are no more political excuses for what he does (i.e., he didn’t really want to do that, but he had to in order not to be vulnerable to GOP political attacks that he’s Weak).  In the wake of the bin Laden killing, he’s able to do whatever he wants now — ratchet down the aggression or accelerate it — and his real face will be revealed by his choices (for those with doubts about what that real face is).  Yesterday’s attempt to exterminate an American citizen who has long been on his hit list — far from any battlefield, not during combat, and without even a pretense of due process — is likely to be but a first step in that direction.

Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory

I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. I am the author of two New York Times Bestselling books: “How Would a Patriot Act?” (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, and “A Tragic Legacy” (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy. My most recent book, “Great American Hypocrites”, examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press, and was released in April, 2008, by Random House/Crown.

Twitter: @ggreenwald
E-mail: GGreenwald@salon.com

The ‘Obama Doctrine': Kill, Don’t Detain April 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
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(Roger’s Note: Bush and Obama define the entire world as a battlefield in the “war on terror.”  Since the rules of war say that the enemy has no rights (Bush said adios to the Geneva Conventions and Obama, the law professor, has dittoed it), you shoot to kill and ask questions later.  Hence, unmanned drone missiles, and watch out if you’re throwing a big wedding party in rural Pakistan.  Hence, if the president/CIA believes that an American citizen has gone over to the enemy, the latter has sacrificed any rights he might have had.  Individual terrorists used to be hunted down using police methods.  Now, terrorism is viewed as an organized global army and the rules of war apply.  

 

The obvious solution to the geometric growth of terrorists would be to address the root cause: US imperial military and commercial expansion (and, to a large extent, uncritical support of the Israeli government).  But, since the president and Congress are for all intents and purposes owned by the military-industrial complex, this sane option is effectively off the table.

 

What we are left with is permanent war (the more we attack terrorism militarily, the more it grows, the more it needs to be attacked, and on and on).  Conclusion: militarized corporate America, with the government, media and education system becoming more integrated with this Behemoth on a daily basis, is the deeper root.  This is what needs to be addressed.)

by Asim Qureshi

George Bush left a big problem in the shape of Guantánamo. The solution? Don’t capture bad guys, assassinate by drone

 

In 2001, Charles Krauthammer first coined the phrase “Bush Doctrine”, which would later become associated most significantly with the legal anomaly known as pre-emptive strike. Understanding the doctrine with hindsight could lead to a further understanding of the legacy that the former administration left – the choice to place concerns of national security over even the most entrenched norms of due process and the rule of law. It is, indeed, this doctrine that united people across the world in their condemnation of Guantánamo Bay.

[Some CIA officials want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include tribal areas in Pakistan. (Photograph: James Lee Harper Jr./AFP/Getty Images)]Some CIA officials want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include tribal areas in Pakistan. (Photograph: James Lee Harper Jr./AFP/Getty Images)

The ambitious desire to close Guantánamo hailed the coming of a new era, a feeling implicitly recognised by the Nobel peace prize that President Obama received. Unfortunately, what we witnessed was a false dawn. The lawyers for the Guantánamo detainees with whom I am in touch in the US speak of their dismay as they prepare for Obama to do the one thing they never expected – to send the detainees back to the military commissions – a decision that will lose Obama all support he once had within the human rights community. 

Worse still, a completely new trend has emerged that, in many ways, is more dangerous than the trends under Bush. Extrajudicial killings and targeted assassinations will soon become the main point of contention that Obama’s administration will need to justify. Although Bush was known for his support for such policies, the extensive use of drones under Obama have taken the death count well beyond anything that has been seen before.

Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the US state department, explained the justifications behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when addressing the American Society of International Law’s annual meeting on 25 March 2010:

“[I]t is the considered view of this administration … that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … As recent events have shown, al-Qaida has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks … [T]his administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles … “[S]ome have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meeting. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.”

The legal justifications put forward by Koh are reminiscent of the arguments that were used by John Yoo and others in their bid to lend legitimacy to unlawful practices such as rendition, arbitrary detention and torture. The main cause for concern from Koh’s statements is the implication that protective jurisdiction to which the US feels it is entitled in order to carry out operations anywhere in the world still continues under Obama. The laws of war do not allow for the targeting of individuals outside of the conflict zone, and yet we now find that extrajudicial killings are taking place in countries as far apart as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Pakistan. From a legal and moral perspective, the rationale provided by the State Department is bankrupt and only reinforces the stereotype that the US has very little concern for its own principles.

Despite the legalities of what is being conducted, the actuality of extrajudicial killings, especially through UAVs is frightening. The recent revelations by WikiLeaks on the killing of civilians by US Apache helicopters in Iraq has strongly highlighted the opportunities for misuse surrounding targeting from the air. In the Iraq case, there were soldiers who were supposed to be using the equipment to identify so-called combatants, and yet they still managed to catastrophically target the wrong people. This situation is made even worse in the case of UAVs, where the operators are far removed from the reality of the conflict and rely on digital images to see what is taking place on the ground.

Conservative estimates from thinktanks such as the New American Foundation claim that civilian causalities from drone attacks are around one in three, although this figure is disputed by the Pakistani authorities. According to Pakistani official statistics, every month an average of 58 civilians were killed during 2009. Of the 44 Predator drone attacks that year, only five targets were correctly identified; the result was over 700 civilian casualties.

Regardless of the figures used, the case that extrajudicial killings are justified is extremely weak, and the number of civilian casualties is far too high to justify their continued use.

A further twist to the Obama Doctrine is the breaking of a taboo that the Bush administration balked at – the concept of treating US citizens outside of the US constitutional process. During the Bush era, the treatment of detainees such as John Walker Lindh, Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla showed reluctance by officials to treat their own nationals in the way it had all those of other nationalities (by, for instance, sending them to Guantánamo Bay and other secret prisons). The policy of discrimination reserved for US citizens showed that there was a line the US was not willing to cross.

At least, today, we can strike discrimination off the list of grievances against the current president. The National Security Council of the US has now given specific permission to the CIA to target certain US citizens as part of counter-terrorism operations. Specifically, Anwar al-Awlaki has been singled out for such treatment, as it has been claimed that he was directly involved in the planning of the Major Hasan Nidal killings and the Christmas Day bomber attacks. Indeed, it is claims such as this that bring the entire concept of targeted assassinations into question. The US would like us to believe that we should simply trust that they have the relevant evidence and information to justify such a killing, without bringing the individual to account before a court.

The assumption that trust should be extended to a government that has involved itself in innumerable unlawful and unconscionable practices since the start of the war on terror is too much to ask. Whatever goodwill the US government had after 9/11 was destroyed by the way in which it prosecuted its wars. Further, the hope that came with the election of Barack Obama has faded as his policies have indicated nothing more than a reconfiguration of the basic tenet of the Bush Doctrine – that the US’s national security interests supersede any consideration of due process or the rule of law. The only difference – witness the rising civilian body count from drone attacks – being that Obama’s doctrine is even more deadly.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

The lynch-mob mentality February 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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By Glenn Greenwald
www.salon.com, February 5, 2010 
 

(updated below)

If I had the power to have one statement of fact be universally recognized in our political discussions, it would be this one:

The fact that the Government labels Person X a “Terrorist” is not proof that Person X is, in fact, a Terrorist.

 

That proposition should be intrinsically understood by any American who completed sixth grade civics and was thus taught that a central prong of our political system is that government officials often abuse their power and/or err and therefore must prove accusations to be true (with tested evidence) before they’re assumed to be true and the person punished accordingly.  In particular, the fact that the U.S. Government, over and over, has falsely accused numerous people of being Terrorists — only for it to turn out that they did nothing wrong — by itself should compel a recognition of this truth.  But it doesn’t.  

All throughout the Bush years, no matter what one objected to — illegal eavesdropping, torture, rendition, indefinite detention, denial of civilian trials — the response from Bush followers was the same:  “But these are Terrorists, and Terrorists have no rights, so who cares what is done to them?”  What they actually meant was:  “the Government has claimed they are Terrorists,” but in their minds, that was the same thing as:  “they are Terrorists.”  They recognized no distinction between “a government accusation” and “unchallengeable truth”; in the authoritarian’s mind, by definition, those are synonymous.  The whole point of the Bush-era controversies was that — away from an actual battlefield and where the Constitution applies (on U.S. soil and/or towards American citizens wherever they are) — the Government should have to demonstrate someone’s guilt before it’s assumed (e.g., they should have to show probable cause to a court and obtain warrants before eavesdropping; they should have to offer evidence that a person engaged in Terrorism before locking them in a cage, etc.).  But to someone who equates unproven government accusations with proof, those processes are entirely unnecessary.  Even in the absence of those processes, they already know that these persons are Terrorists.  How do they know that?  Because the Government said so.  Even when it comes to their fellow citizens, that’s all the “proof” that is needed.

That authoritarian mentality is stronger than ever now.  Why?  Because unlike during the Bush years, when it was primarily Republicans willing to blindly trust Government accusations, many Democrats are now willing to do so as well.  Just look at the reaction to the Government’s recent attempts to assassinate the U.S.-born American citizen and Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.  Up until last November, virtually no Americans had ever even heard of al-Awlaki.  But in the past few months, beginning with the Fort Hood shootings, government officials have repeatedly claimed that he’s a Terrorist:  usually anonymously, with virtually no evidence, and in the face of al-Awlaki’s vehement denials but without any opportunity for him to defend himself (because he’s in hiding out of fear of being killed by his own Government).  The Government can literally just flash someone’s face on the TV screen with the word Terrorist over it (as was done with al-Awlaki), and provided the face is nefarious and Muslim-looking enough (basically the same thing), nothing else need be offered.

That’s enough for many people — including many Democrats — to march forward overnight and mindlessly proclaim that al-Awlaki is “a declared enemy of the United States working to kill Americans” (if you can stomach it, read some of these comments — from Obama defenders at a liberal blog — with several sounding exactly like Dick Cheney, screeching:  “Of course al-Awlaki should be killed without charges; he’s a Terrorist who is trying to kill Americans!!!”).  Even now, beyond government assertions about his associations, the public knows virtually nothing about al-Awlaki other than the fact that he’s a Muslim cleric with a Muslim name dressed in Muslim garb, sitting in a Bad Arab Country expressing anger towards the actions of the U.S. and Israel.  But no matter.  That’s more than enough.  They’re willing not only to mindlessly embrace the Government’s unproven accusation that their fellow citizen is a TERRORIST (“a declared enemy of the United States working to kill Americans”), but even beyond that, to cheer for his due-process-free execution like drunken fans at a football game.  And the same people declare:  no civilian trials are necessary for Terrorists (meaning:  people accused by the Government of being Terrorists).  Even more amazingly, the identities of the other Americans on the hit list aren’t even known, but that’s OK:  they’re Terrorists, because the Government said so.

A very long time ago, I would be baffled when I’d read about things like the Salem witch hunts.  How could so many people be collectively worked up into that level of irrational frenzy, where they cheered for people’s torturous death as “witches” without any real due process or meaningful evidence?  But all one has to do is look at our current Terrorism debates and it’s easy to see how things like that happen.  It’s just pure mob mentality:  an authority figure appears and affixes a demonizing Other label to someone’s forehead, and the adoring crowd — frothing-at-the-mouth and feeding on each other’s hatred, fears and desire to be lead — demands “justice.”  I imagine that if one could travel back in time to the Salem era in order to speak with some of those gathered outside an accused witch’s home, screaming for her to be killed, the conversation would go something like this:

Mob Participant:  Hang the Witch!!!  Kill her!!!

Far Left Civil Liberties Extremist-Purist (“FLCLE-P”):  How do you know she’s a witch?

Mob Participant:  Didn’t you just hear the government official say so?

FLCLE-P:  But don’t you want to see real evidence before you assume that’s true and call for her death?

Mob Participant:  You just heard the evidence!  The magistrate said she’s a witch!

FLCLE-P:  But shouldn’t there be a real trial first, with tangible evidence and due process protections, to see if the accusation is actually true?

Mob Participant:  A “real” trial?  She’s a witch!  She’s trying to curse us and kill us all.  She got more than what she deserved.  Witches don’t have rights!!!

 

Return to Question 1.

 

That’s essentially how I hear our debates over Terrorism, and how I’ve heard them for quite some time.  And it’s how I hear them more loudly now than ever before.  And with those deeply confused premises now locked into place on a bipartisan basis (“no trials are needed to determine if someone is a Terrorist because Terrorists don’t have rights”), imagine how much louder that will get if there is another successful terrorist attack in the U.S.  But in fairness to the 17th Century Puritans, at least the Salem witches received pretenses of due process and even trials (albeit with coerced confessions and speculative hearsay).  Even when it comes to our fellow citizens, we don’t even bother with those.  For us, the mere accusation by our leaders is sufficient:  Kill that American Terrorist with a drone!

UPDATE:  A long-time, regular commenter here, Jestaplero, is a state prosecutor in New York, and he explains — in this comment — how the mentality discussed here can and does easily expand beyond the realm of Terrorism.

Interestingly, even Allahpundit at Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air recognizes the serious dangers in allowing the Government to decree even U.S. citizens to be “Terrorists” and then treat them accordingly, with no due process.  But note how his right-wing commenters are almost exclusively of the “just-kill-him” school of thought, and how identical they sound to that minority of Daily Kos commenters I linked above who, in their blind loyalty to Obama, also insist that there’s nothing wrong with simply snuffing out the lives of their fellow citizens who are “Terrorists” (meaning:  anyone their Leader claims is a Terrorist) with no due process or oversight whatsoever.  Ultimately, authoritarians are authoritarians, regardless of whether they situate themselves on the left or right.

 

Presidential Assassinations of US Citizens January 27, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, War, War on Terror.
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Published on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest today reports that “U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people.”  That’s no surprise, of course, as Yemen is now another predominantly Muslim country (along with Somalia and Pakistan) in which our military is secretly involved to some unknown degree in combat operations without any declaration of war, without any public debate, and arguably (though not clearly) without any Congressional authorization.  The exact role played by the U.S. in the late-December missile attacks in Yemen, which killed numerous civilians, is still unknown.

But buried in Priest’s article is her revelation that American citizens are now being placed on a secret “hit list” of people whom the President has personally authorized to be killed:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. . . .

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”

Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture.  The JSOC list includes three Americans, including [New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar] Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.  

Indeed, Aulaqi was clearly one of the prime targets of the late-December missile strikes in Yemen, as anonymous officials excitedly announced — falsely, as it turns out — that he was killed in one of those strikes.

Just think about this for a minute.  Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests.”  They’re entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations.  Amazingly, the Bush administration’s policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges — based solely on the President’s claim that they were Terrorists — produced intense controversy for years.  That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution.  Shouldn’t Obama’s policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind — not imprisoned, but killed — produce at least as much controversy?

Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens.  That’s just the essence of war.  That’s why it’s permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war zone but not, say, torture them once they’re captured and helplessly detained.  But combat is not what we’re talking about here.  The people on this “hit list” are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities.  More critically still, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — defines the “battlefield” as the entire world.  So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks.  That’s quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.

As we well know from the last eight years, the authoritarians among us in both parties will, by definition, reflexively justify this conduct by insisting that the assassination targets are Terrorists and therefore deserve death.  What they actually mean, however, is that the U.S. Government has accused them of being Terrorists, which (except in the mind of an authoritarian) is not the same thing as being a Terrorist.  Numerous Guantanamo detainees accused by the U.S. Government of being Terrorists have turned out to be completely innocent, and the vast majority of federal judges who provided habeas review to detainees have found an almost complete lack of evidence to justify the accusations against them, and thus ordered them released.  That includes scores of detainees held while the U.S. Government insisted that only the “Worst of the Worst” remained at the camp.

No evidence should be required for rational people to avoid assuming that Government accusations are inherently true, but for those do need it, there is a mountain of evidence proving that.  And in this case, Anwar Aulaqi — who, despite his name and religion, is every bit as much of an American citizen as Scott Brown and his daughters are — has a family who vigorously denies that he is a Terrorist and is “pleading” with the U.S. Government not to murder their American son:

His anguish apparent, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki told CNN that his son is not a member of al Qaeda and is not hiding out with terrorists in southern Yemen.

“I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he’s not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he’s not,” said Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. . . .

“I will do my best to convince my son to do this (surrender), to come back but they are not giving me time, they want to kill my son.  How can the American government kill one of their own citizens?  This is a legal issue that needs to be answered,” he said.

“If they give me time I can have some contact with my son but the problem is they are not giving me time,” he said.

Who knows what the truth is here?  That’s why we have what are called “trials” — or at least some process — before we assume that government accusations are true and then mete out punishment accordingly.  As Marcy Wheeler notes, the U.S. Government has not only repeatedly made false accusations of Terrorism against foreign nationals in the past, but against U.S. citizens as well.  She observes:  “I guess the tenuousness of those ties don’t really matter, when the President can dial up the assassination of an American citizen.”  

A 1981 Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”  Before the Geneva Conventions were first enacted, Abraham Lincoln — in the middle of the Civil War — directed Francis Lieber to articulate rules of conduct for war, and those were then incorporated into General Order 100, signed by Lincoln in April, 1863.  Here is part of what it provided, in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:

The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

Can anyone remotely reconcile that righteous proclamation what the Obama administraiton is doing?  And more generally, what legal basis exists for the President to unilaterally compile hit lists of American citizens he wants to be killed?

What’s most striking of all is that it was recently revealed that, in Afghanistan, the U.S. had compiled a “hit list” of Afghan citizens it suspects of being drug traffickers or somehow associated with the Taliban, in order to target them for assassination.  When that hit list was revealed, Afghan officials “fiercely” objected on the ground that it violates due process and undermines the rule of law to murder people without trials:

Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts, praised U.S. and British special forces for their help recently in destroying drug labs and stashes of opium. But he said he worried that foreign troops would now act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial.

“They should respect our law, our constitution and our legal codes,” Daud said. “We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own” . . . .

Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, said that he had long urged the Pentagon and its NATO allies to crack down on drug smugglers and suppliers, and that he was glad that the military alliance had finally agreed to provide operational support for Afghan counternarcotics agents. But he said foreign troops needed to avoid the temptation to hunt down and kill traffickers on their own.

“There is a constitutional problem here. A person is innocent unless proven guilty,” he said. “If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?” . . .

So we’re in Afghanistan to teach them about democracy, the rule of law, and basic precepts of Western justice.  Meanwhile, Afghan officials vehemently object to the lawless, due-process-free assassination “hit list” of their citizens based on the unchecked say-so of the U.S. Government, and have to lecture us on the rule of law and Constitutional constraints.  By stark contrast, our own Government, our media and our citizenry appear to find nothing wrong whatsoever with lawless assassinations aimed at our own citizens.  And the most glaring question for those who critized Bush/Cheney detention policies but want to defend this:  how could anyone possibly object to imprisoning foreign nationals without charges or due process at Guantanamo while approving of the assassination of U.S. citizens without any charges or due process? 

© 2010 Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

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