On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder finally explained why it’s legal for him to annihilate you on a hunch. The nation’s liberals arose as one to condemn this brazen attack on American principles of…
Hehe, just kidding. The nation’s liberals were all listening to Rush Limbaugh during Holder’s speech, but a few of them skimmed it later. And, boy, were they ever pretty much OK with it. Mother Jones‘s Kevin Drum, who has raised being “pretty much OK” with things to the status of serious analysis, sighed and shrugged a little more vigorously than usual:
I’m glad Holder gave this speech. I’m glad that he expanded (a bit) on the three circumstances that govern the Obama administration’s decisions to kill U.S. citizens abroad. I’m glad he agrees that these decisions are “extraordinarily weighty” and “among the gravest that government leaders can face.”
Nonetheless, even more than a thousand words of throat clearing can’t hide the fact that Holder simply provided no evidence that the rigor of the executive branch’s due process procedures matches his rhetoric; no evidence that these procedures are consistently followed; and negative evidence that there’s any reasonable oversight of the process. Merely informing Congress is the farthest thing imaginable from rigorous, independent oversight.
Holder’s job, of course, was an impossible one. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has made a deliberate decision that actions like this are authorized by a combination of the 2001 AUMF and the president’s inherent commander-in-chief powers.
Now you need to know that this Bush comparison isn’t meant to be as damning as it sounds; Drum was pretty much OK with Bush killing whomever he wanted (see the first link above). But process is somewhat kind of semi-significant to liberals, so Drum appended this postscript:
This post wasn’t about my own position on this topic, but here it is. I agree that we’re at war. [Drink! – Ed.] Like it or not, the AUMF is an extremely broad grant of authority. I agree that stateless terrorists pose unique challenges. I agree that targeting them for killing is sometimes necessary, even if they’re U.S. citizens. I agree that Holder’s three principles form a good starting point for deciding when a targeted killing is justified.
But it’s simply not tolerable to take the view that the entire world is now a battlefield, and therefore battlefield rules of engagement apply everywhere. If you want to kill a U.S. citizen outside of a traditional hot battlefield, there needs to be independent oversight. The FISA court performs this function for surveillance, and we know from experience that it rarely gets in the government’s way. But at least it’s technically independent and forces the executive branch to follow its own rules. It’s the absolute minimum that we should require for targeted killings too.
And here we have the American liberal’s ideal form of government oversight: the kind that generates a lot of paperwork (and civil service man-hours) but “rarely gets in the government’s way.” It’s the absolute minimum we should require — if by “absolute minimum” you mean “absolute maximum” and if by “require” you mean “quickly suggest then never mention again.” Only crackpots really give a damn about this stuff.