Obama Admin Justifies Killing US Citizens in Leaked Legal Memo

February 5th, 2013

In the panic following 9/11, politicians rushed to dismantle America’s trademark civil liberties. Meanwhile, the US entered into a state of “war” with one of its former CIA contractors, namely al-Qaeda. Since al-Qaeda is not a nation and doesn’t exist in a specific location, War on Terror legislation has been used to expand US military authority to any location worldwide.

Shockingly, the Obama administration has been using this authority to justify killing American citizens. First, US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was slain by a drone in Yemen without a trial. Next, his son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was targeted at a family barbecue. He was only 16 years old. When concerned citizens and reporters began to ask questions about these extra-judicial assassinations, administration officials dodged them. Now, a legal memo has leaked which demonstrates the extraordinarily vague circumstances under which the President believes he can assassinate an American citizen.

Imminent Danger: Not Just for the Battlefield Anymore

This terrifying legal memo, recently leaked, demonstrates the Department of Justice’s rationale for assassinating American citizens. It begins with an alarming quote, “This white paper sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which the US government could use lethal force in a country outside the area of active hostilities against a US citizen…” Right off the bat, the memo admits that the individuals being targeted are not found in a battlefield, are not engaging in active hostilities, and are, by nature, nowhere near any Americans. This makes it very difficult to prove that they are in some way a threat to America. Unless the individual in question is developing an intercontinental ballistic missile or has plane tickets and a manuscript describing a hijacking plot, then it would seem unlikely that anyone covered in this memo would be a genuine threat to soldiers on the battlefield or US citizens at home.

For example, Anwar al-Awlaki was allegedly “in contact” with the non-serious underwear bomber that attempted a failed attack on Christmas Day in 2009, and this was the justification for his assassination. Given that the underwear bomber did not have any useful training or technology and failed to seriously injure a single American, it seems unlikely that al-Awlaki put serious time and effort into the plot. Meanwhile, the underwear bomber himself, who we know did carry out a plot against the United States, was captured, given a trial, and sentenced to life in prison. Sending emails to him, however, apparently carries a death sentence with no trial. This does not make a lot of sense.

The Three Rules for Killing Americans, According to the Obama Admin

In the above-linked memo, the Department of Justice outlines three vague, easily-met conditions that allegedly justify the killing of Americans without a trial. First, an “informed, high level official of the US government” must determine that the individual poses an imminent threat. The memo doesn’t specify what counts as high level. Let’s hope this won’t be interpreted to mean that the head of the Department of Agriculture could order drone strikes. Second, capture of the individual must be infeasible at the time of the strike. Infeasible doesn’t mean impossible; it just means inconvenient. Third, the strike must be carried out according to applicable law of war principles. When the person in question is a US citizen away from any conceivable battlefield, the “law of war” is hardly a protective legal framework of any kind.

These were the benchmarks used when the Obama administration decided to kill Abdulrahman al-Alwaki. He was a 16-year-old American from Denver. He was at a family barbecue. The “informed” high level officials listed him as a 21-year-old militant. They made a mistake. It was a tragic, lethal mistake that resulted in the death of an American child.

Will there be more mistakes? Will the program expand? How rapidly are names being added to this kill list? Is there a legal process for having someone removed from the list? What will future presidents do with this power?

There is a reason why the extra-judicial assassination of American citizens is illegal. The Obama administration needs to pick up a basic history book and get acquainted with the atrocities throughout history that led to the recognition of the right to due process. This “kill list” program is taking us back to the Dark Ages and the policies of Bad King John.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.