Kingly Presidential Powers to Murder Anyone Are None of Your Business

Listen up, and get this straight. President Obama doesn’t answer to you or me or any American citizen or to the press, and if he doesn’t feel like explaining to you how he utilizes his kingly powers of executing anyone, anywhere on his immediate command, he won’t. And you just have to deal with it. Got that!?

Noah Shachtman at Danger Room points to a recent CNN interview with President Obama on his use of targeted killing by drone. Obama does two things only: (1) completely dodges the questions and (2) what he does actually say, are lies. Shachtman says it’s “baloney.”

Regarding the alleged criteria for targeted killings – the target has to be “authorized by our laws” for a threat that’s “not speculative,” etc. – Shachtman writes:

In both Yemen and Pakistan, the CIA is allowed to launch a strike based on the target’s “signature” — that is, whether he appears to look and act like a terrorist. As senior U.S. officials have repeatedly confirmed, intelligence analysts don’t even have to know the target’s name, let alone whether he’s planning to attack the U.S. In some cases, merely being a military-aged male at the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to justify your death.

“What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States,’ That is simply not true,” emails the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.”

Zenko later describes Obama’s supposed inability to speak on such classified matters as “total BS.” According to law, the President can declassify anything. And anyways, it could not be any clearer that Obama avoids answering these questions, not because it would harm “national security,” but because it would harm his own political career if he simply admitted that he took it upon himself to kill anyone, even Americans, on the mere suspicion of wrongdoing, without charges or trial by jury.

Not only are we not allowed to know who Obama is targeting for assassination by drone, we can’t even know who they’ve killed after the fact. As the Washington Post reported late last year, “the identities” of almost all drone victims “remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself.” And, “Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.”

If Obama doesn’t have to tell us who he kills, he doesn’t have to face public scrutiny for how many were innocent. “When you have warfare with no political costs at all, it becomes much too easy to resort to violence,” as Clive Stafford Smith put it. An ignorant public is absolutely essential to the functioning of Obama’s foreign policy. The normalization of covert war, gratuitous secrecy, and tyrannical executive authority is blithely accepted by most of the public, which is the final ingredient that will prevent this president and any of his administration from ever facing legal scrutiny for their actions.

  • Jessica

    Great post, John. Very important. Marcy Wheeler, over at EmptyWheel, has emphasized the blatant misdirection in regards to signature strikes. She has several good posts in her usual detailed fashion – browsing the posts tagged ‘John Brennan’ will bring them up. She makes a very persuasive case about the timing of the WH talking ‘openly’ about the strikes (around the time those two in depth ‘kill list’ articles came out) and the beginning of ‘signature’ strikes and how the former was a means of saying ‘look, we have lists and check them twice. It’s not willy-nilly

  • Jessica

    (damn it, I hit ‘publish’ accidentally)

    As I was saying ‘it’s not willy-nilly.” all the while, starting a program that was indeed quite willy-nilly.

  • JLS

    So basically we have only their word to take for it. Just as the founding fathers envisioned.

  • Jeremy Scahill said a while back, "One of my fave parts of the Constitution is where founders wrote: A guy named John Brennan decides who the US assassinates."

    Reporters need to start putting their careers on the line. Call this MF out on his lies and BS. ON CAMERA. Jessica Yellin ain't the lady for the job.

    Check out Ben Swann, however:

  • Personanongrata

    The president is a tyrant.

  • Pitchfork

    The lie that the Droner keeps repeating — "it's classified" — needs to be called out. Any relevant information could and should have been de-classified already so that he COULD answer any questions about the American-killing drones without worrying about whether it's "classified." Only someone who's hiding something would keep a program classified when he know people want to ask questions about it.

  • jasonditz

    I think in particular the "classifed" names of the victims is just code for "we don't know." It's not like these drone strikes happened in a vacuum, and even the Pakistani/Yemeni press can't figure out who the vast majority of these people are, apart from officials calling them "suspects" purely by virtue of them getting hit by a missile.

    They have no trouble coming up with a name and hyping it to the media on the off chance they actually hit someone they've heard of (or think they have, as in the many deaths of Hakimullah Mehsud).

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  • Mark

    There's gotta be a pony around here somewhere with all that stuff on the floor. Notice how he picks up on Bush's "number one job of commander-in-chief is to protect Americans". He calls himself a Constitutional "scholar"? OK, then I'm the Queen of England.

  • liberranter

    Regarding the alleged criteria for targeted killings – the target has to be “authorized by our laws” for a threat that’s “not speculative,” etc.

    "Authorized by 'our laws'?" What "laws" are those? Most certainly not any that conform to the dictates set forth in that "goddamned piece of paper."

  • WashingtonDC Goddamn

    His "sacred duty"? He morphs into George Warmonger Bush at that point.

  • mojo

    The boogyman is always there to scare you with your life, in the other hand lets just think about it for a moment, if US and EU as of tomorrow stopped all their wars and surprised the world with such action, do you think that Al Queda or any other terrorists groups out there fighting along side the US and Eu governments in Syria for example, will stoop fighting and come to US retaliate for US and EU stopping wars….? My guess is that that my comment here doesn't make any sense, nor the argument regarding the drone attacks and security that presented by president.

  • theo baumann

    Mama mia, you sure have charming Emperors over there!

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  • American citizen or to the press, and if he doesn’t feel like explaining to you how he utilizes his kingly powers of executing anyone, anywhere on his immediate command, he won’t. And you just have to deal with it. Got that!?

  • comme quoi ils nous ont bien eu. Comme toujours un très bon billet!