Thursday, February 04, 2010

Presidential Hit List

Although [Adm. Dennis] Blair emphasized that it requires "special permission" before an American citizen can be placed on the assassination list, consider from whom that "permission" is obtained: the Preisdent, or someone else under his authority within the Executive Branch. There are no outside checks or limits at all on how these "factors" are weighed. In last week's post, I wrote about all the reasons why it's so dangerous -- as well as both legally and Consitutionally dubious -- to allow the President to kill American citizens not on an active battlefield during combat, but while they are sleeping, sitting with their families in their home, walking on the street, etc. That's basically giving the President the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial. Who could possibly support that?

  Glenn Greenwald

The President

The lion’s share of Congress

Tea Partiers

Fundamentalist Christians

Corporate CEOs


Remember when many Democrats were horrified (or at least when they purported to be) at the idea that Bush was merely eavesdropping on Americans citizens without judicial approval? Shouldn't we be at least as concerned about the President's being able to assassinate Americans without judicial oversight?


That would basically mean that courts would issue "assassination warrants" or "murder warrants" -- a repugnant idea given that they're tantamount to imposing the death sentence without a trial -- but isn't that minimal safeguard preferable to allowing the President unchecked authority to do it on his own, the very power he has now claimed for himself?

Well, it would be if we had an honorable court.

And if the Fifth Amendment's explicit guarantee -- that one shall not be deprived of life without due process -- does not prohibit the U.S. Government from assassinating you without any process, what exactly does it prohibit?


The current controversy has been triggered by the Obama administration's attempt to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. But al-Awalki has not been accused (let alone convicted) of trying to attack Americans. Instead, he's accused of being a so-called "radical cleric" who supports Al Qeada and now provides "encouragement" to others to engage in attacks -- a charge al-Awalki's family vehemently denies (al-Awalki himself is in hiding due to fear that his own Government will assassinate him).


From all appearances, al-Awalki seems to believe that violence by Muslims against the U.S. is justified in retaliation for the violence the U.S. has long brought (and continues to bring) to the Muslim world. But as an American citizen, he has the absolute Constitutional right to express those views and not be punished for them (let alone killed) no matter where he is in the world; it's far from clear that he has transgressed the advocacy line into violent action.


Indeed, in light of episodes like the Timothy McVeigh bombing and the various attacks on abortion clinics, shouldn't those who want the President to be able to assassinate American "radical clerics" without a trial also support the President's targeting Americans who advocate extremism or violence from a far right or extremist Christian perspective? What's the principle that allows one but not the other?

Oh, I think you know, Glen. I think you know.

As [Al] Gore asked of less severe policies in 2006, if the President can do that [i.e. warrantless wiretapping, imprisonment without charge, and torture], "then what can't he do?" As long as we stay petrified of the Terrorists and wholly submissive whenever the word "war" is uttered, the answer will continue to be: "nothing." We'll have Presidents now and then who are marginally more restrained than others -- as the current President is marginally more restrained than the prior one -- but what [Dahlia] Lithwick calls our "willingness to suspend basic protections and become more contemptuous of American traditions and institutions" will continue unabated.

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