An important story from the Associated Press today explains how the Obama administration is considering whether to extra-judicially assassinate another American citizen in contravention of the suspect’s constitutional rights to due process.
The suspect, the AP reports, is an American citizen and member of al-Qaeda, “and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year.”
Under unprecedented pressure and public scrutiny for his unchecked secret drone war, President Obama recently narrowed the scope of the targeting policy. And now, apparently, there are bureaucratic protocols (not, mind you, the Fifth Amendment) getting in the way of killing the suspect.
Those new bureaucratic protocols, however, are as dispensable as the Constitutional mandates constraining government power over the individual. AP:
The senior administration official confirmed that the Justice Department was working to build a case for the president to review and decide the man’s fate. The official said, however, the legal procedure being followed is the same as when the U.S. killed militant cleric and former Virginia resident Anwar al-Awlaki by drone in Yemen in 2011, long before the new targeted killing policy took effect.
The legal procedure followed in the government’s assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki was revealed in a Justice Department memo leaked one year ago. The memo decrees the president can order the assassination of an American citizen – without submitting evidence to a court, without any oversight from Congress, and without even making its legal reasoning available to the public – so long as at least one “informed, high-level” U.S. official declares them to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force.” Continued:
The official said the president could make an exception to his policy and authorize the CIA to strike on a onetime basis or authorize the Pentagon to act despite the possible objections of the country in question.
So while Obama supposedly imposed procedural limits on drone-killing U.S. citizens without due process, those are not rules he has to follow. They are not binding, just as the Fifth Amendment’s mandate that “no person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” is not binding. The president can do what he wants. There are no legal restraints on his actions.
What does this say about the presidency in 2014, then? Is Obama a president or a king? In a 1775 critique, John Adams described an emperor as “a despot, bound by no law or limitation but his own will; it is a stretch of tyranny beyond absolute monarchy.”
I honestly don’t know how else to describe the office of the presidency if it openly admits it is bound by no law.
Update: Statement from Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project:
“The government’s killing program has gone far beyond what the law permits, and it is based on secret evidence and legal interpretations. The targeted killing of an American being considered right now shows the inherent danger of a killing program based on vague and shifting legal standards, which has made it disturbingly easy for the government to operate outside the law. The fact that the government is relying so heavily on limited and apparently unreliable intelligence only heightens our concerns about a disastrous program in which people have been wrongly killed and injured. Today’s revelations come as the administration continues to fight against even basic transparency about the thousands of people who have died in this lethal program, let alone accountability for the wrongful killings of U.S. citizens.”