In all three of these government assassinations of U.S. citizens, there were no charges, no evidence, no trial, no right to counsel or to confront the evidence against them. In fact, the whole process—from placing their names on a hit list to killing them—was done in secret.
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.
Columnist Glenn Greenwald,
Guardian UK, February 5, 2013
A White Paper for Shredding Due Process
On February 4, NBC News released a Department of Justice “White Paper” that reportedly summarizes the Obama administration’s “legal” justification for such killings. The whitewash is titled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force.”
It should be titled “Shredding the Constitution to Justify the President Assassinating Anyone Anywhere for Any Reason without Due Process.”
In March 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech to defend and justify the Obama administration’s “kill list”—a list of people who are targeted for assassination by drone simply by presidential decree. The heart of Holder’s speech was his claim that “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.”
But without judicial review (review by a court), due process is meaningless. The Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution says that “No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and the Sixth Amendment states that “... the accused ... shall be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” These supposed rights are essential elements of what is called “due process.”
On a most basic level, the right to due process has always been a sham—over the 200-plus years of this country’s existence, countless people, especially people of the oppressed nationalities, have been railroaded to prison on the flimsiest of unproven charges; countless people have been gunned down by murdering police acting as judge, jury, and executioner. And due process has never been applied to the people slaughtered by the United States military in Vietnam, El Salvador, Haiti, and the many other countries it has invaded.
But the Obama administration’s repudiation of due process (in the form of claiming it does not involve judicial review) is a dramatic escalation in what the rulers of the U.S. claim to be their “right” to kill anyone who opposes them, without any restraint.
What is the “due process” that Holder and Obama claim still exists? Leon Panetta, Obama’s (outgoing) Secretary of Defense, summed it up this way: “[T]he President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go.” And there’s your “due process.”
An “Imminent Threat” Is Whatever the President Says It Is
A key justification in the White Paper is that the president needs to act without judicial review to deal with what is supposed to be a specific “imminent threat” to the U.S. by a “senior operational leader” of Al Qaeda, or an “associated force” (emphasis added).
The White Paper defines an “imminent threat” this way: “First, the condition that an operational leader presents an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”
In other words, an “imminent threat” need not be either imminent, or even a threat!
Shortly after U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated, Obama justified the killing in media statements (not in a trial, of course—that has never happened). How? In part by saying, “[al-Awlaki] repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.”
There was no specific charge that the victim of this assassination carried out any crime, that he was a “senior operational leader” of Al Qaeda, that he killed anyone or ordered the killing of anyone. And through statements like this (echoed and repeated endlessly in the ruling class media), people are conditioned to accept that such assertions by the president legitimize the assassination of U.S. citizens.
In short, an “imminent threat” that supposedly justifies unconstitutional, illegitimate, illegal assassination without trial of American citizens is whatever the president says it is.
The Ominous Targeting of “Associated Forces”
In light of how disingenuously and deceptively an “imminent threat” is defined in this White Paper, it is particularly ominous that the White Paper insists these assassinations can be carried out against not just Al Qaeda but anyone the government considers to be an “associated force.”
Again, if the government can target any U.S. citizen for assassination by claiming their activity—whatever it is—constitutes an “imminent threat,” then imagine who might be considered an “associated force” of “the terrorists.”
If They Can Do This to U.S. Citizens...
For their own reasons, forces within the U.S. ruling class and in Congress have raised concerns about this White Paper and the president’s “kill list.” The “debate” seems to mainly revolve around continuing to assassinate anyone, anywhere, but dressing that up in something that has some pretense of judicial review.
But none of those complaints even claim to start from the interests of humanity. Instead, they start from the premise that any crime is OK as long as the victim is not a U.S. citizen.
Here’s what is really at stake in the fact that U.S. citizens are being openly targeted for illegal assassination without trial: If the U.S. government can do this to U.S. citizens, the people who these policies are supposed to “protect,” that clears the ground for far greater crimes against the people of the world.
It is from that perspective that the whitewash in the White Paper must be exposed and protested.
This article originally appeared in Revolution Newspaper in the February 17, 2013 issue.