Sunday, May 30, 2010

NYT: Government Approves Assassinations of US Citizens

I managed to miss this article in the New York Times, which reports that the Obama administration has added Anwar al-Awlaki to its assassination-by-drone list. Awlaki is a radical muslim cleric who is apparently hiding in Yemen and is charismatic enough to have inspired a number of terrorist plots, including the attempted Times Square bombing. He's also a U.S. citizen. Actually, let me fix that. He's also a U.S. citizen who has now been targeted for assassination without any due process of law.

In Latin American history circles we have a name for this form of extrajudicial killing-- state terror. And, of course, political killings by the CIA and its contract agents on behalf of the U.S. government have been illegal since Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11905 in 1975 in the wake of the Church Committee hearings. Jimmy Carter (EO 12306) and Ronald Reagan (EO 12333) strengthened and extended the ban on political assassinations. Of course, those proscriptions regulate CIA activity against foreign nationals. It's a given, at least to most sane people, that actual citizens of the United States are governed by constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

The Bush administration routinely ignored U.S. law by claiming executive or special authority to circumvent treaty, statute, and constitutional guarantees. This very program of targeted assassination was justified by Bush attorneys on congressional authorizations following Sept. 11. The September 18, 2001 authorization included this language:
use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
The wiggle room comes, I guess, with the word "aided". But, still, none of that matters relative to the rights to due process granted U.S. citizens. It is, of course, possible to lose one's citizenship for committing acts of treason-- but even that requires a conviction (ie, a legal process).

Add targeting U.S. citizens for assassination to the list of disappointments I have with the Obama administration.