Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths
When The Washington Post's Dana Priest first revealed (in passing) back in
January that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of
American citizens targeted for assassination, she wrote that "as of
several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens." In
April, both the Post
and the NYT confirmed that the administration had
specifically authorized the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Today, The
Washington Times' Eli Lake has an interview with Obama's top
Terrorism adviser John Brennan in which Brennan strongly suggests that
the number of U.S. citizens targeted for assassination could actually be
Dozens of Americans have joined terrorist groups and are posing a threat to the United States and its interests abroad, the president's most senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security said
Thursday. . . . "There are, in my mind, dozens of U.S. persons
who are in different parts of the world, and they are very
concerning to us," said John O. Brennan, deputy White House national
security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism. . . .
"If a person is a U.S. citizen, and he is on the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq trying to attack our troops, he will face the full brunt of the U.S. military response," Mr. Brennan said. "If an American
person or citizen is in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or
another place, and they are trying to carry out attacks
against U.S. interests, they also will face the full brunt of a
U.S. response. And it can take many forms."
Nobody -- or at least not me -- disputes the right of the U.S. or any other country to kill someone on an actual battlefield
during war without due process. That's just obvious, but
that's not remotely what Brennan is talking about, and it's not remotely
what this assassination program is about. Indeed, Brennan explicitly
identified two indistinguishable groups of American citizens who "will
face the full brunt of a U.S. response": (1) those "on
the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq"; and (2) those
"in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or another place."
In other words, the entire world is a "battlefield" -- countries where
there is a war and countries where there isn't -- and the President's
"battlefield" powers, which are unlimited, extend everywhere. That
theory -- the whole world is a battlefield, even the U.S. --
core premise that spawned 8 years of Bush/Cheney radicalism, and it
has been adopted in full by the Obama administration (indeed, it was
that "whole-world-is-a-battlefield" theory which Elena
Kagan explicitly endorsed during her confirmation hearing for...).
Anyone who doubts that the Obama administration has adopted the core Terrorism policies of Bush/Cheney should listen to the concession -- or boast -- which Brennan himself made in his interview with Lake:
Mr. Brennan toward the end of the interview acknowledged that, despite some differences, there is considerable continuity between the counterterrorism policies of President Bush and President
"There has been a lot of continuity of effort here from the previous administration to this one," he said. "There are some important distinctions, but sometimes there is too much
made of those distinctions. We are building upon some of the good
foundational work that has been done."
I would really like never to hear again the complaint that comparing Bush and Obama's Terrorism and civil liberties policies is
unfair, invalid or hyperbolic given that Obama's top Terrorism
adviser himself touts that comparison. And that's anything but
a surprise, given that Brennan was a Bush-era CIA official who defended
many of the most controversial Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies.
I've written at length about the
reasons why targeting American citizens for assassination who are
far away from a "battlefield" is so odious
and tyrannical, and I won't repeat those arguments here. Suffice
to say -- and I'm asking this literally -- if you're someone who
believes, or are at least willing to acquiesce to the claim, that
the U.S. President has the power to target your fellow citizens for
assassination without a whiff of due process, what unchecked
presidential powers wouldn't you support or acquiesce to? I'd really
like to hear an answer to that. That's the question Al Gore asked about
George Bush in a 2006
speech condemning Bush's claimed powers merely to eavesdrop
on and imprison American citizens without charges, let alone
assassinate them: "If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which
these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their
face be prohibited? . . . If the president has th[is] inherent
authority. . . . then what can't he do?" Can anyone
defending this Obama policy answer that question?
One other thing that is truly amazing: the U.S. tried to import this same due-process-free policy to Afghanistan. There, the U.S. last
year compiled a "hit list" of 50 Afghan citizens whose assassination it
authorized on the alleged ground (never charged or convicted) that they
were drug "kingpins" or funding the Talbian. You know what happened? This:
A U.S. military hit list of about 50 suspected drug kingpins is drawing fierce opposition from Afghan officials, who say it could undermine their fragile justice system and trigger a backlash against
foreign troops. . . .
Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts . . . 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 . "We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own" . . . .
The U.S. military and NATO officials have authorized their forces to kill or capture individuals on the list, which was drafted within the past year as part of NATO's new strategy to combat drug operations
that finance the Taliban.. . . . "There is a constitutional
problem here. A person is innocent unless proven guilty," [Ali Ahmad
Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister] said. "If you go off to kill
or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms
of legal process?"
In other words, Afghans -- the people we're occupying in order to teach about Freedom and Democracy -- are far more protective of due
process and the rule of law for their own citizens than Americans are
who meekly submit to Obama's identical policy of assassination for their
fellow citizens. It might make more sense for Afghanistan to invade
and occupy the U.S. in order to spread the rule of law and
constitutional values here.
What makes all this most remarkable is the level of screeching protests Democrats engaged in when Bush merely wanted to eavesdrop on
and detain Americans without any judicial oversight or due
process. Remember all that? Click here
for a quick refresher. Yet here is Barack Obama doing far worse to
them than that without any due process or judicial oversight -- he's
targeting them for assassination -- and there is barely a peep of
protest from the same Party that spent years depicting "mere"
warrantless eavesdropping and due-process-free detention to be the acts
of a savage, lawless tyrant. And, of course, Obama himself back then
joined in those orgies of condemnation, as reflected by this December,
he gave to Charlie Savage, then of The Boston Globe,
regarding his views of executive power:
5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?
[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration's claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.
So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges; indeed, when asked if "the
Constitution permit[s]" that, he responded: "no." Yet now, as
President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges.
Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a
straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documented
in April, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed
the power Obama is claiming here. Given Brennan's strong suggestion
that there are not merely three but "dozens" of Americans who are being
targeted or at least could be ("they also will face the full brunt of a
U.S. response") -- and given the
huge number of times the Government has falsely accused individ... and its demonstrated willingness
to imprison knowingly innocent detainees -- is it time yet to have a
debate about whether we think the President should be able to exercise a
power like this?