A recently unearthed 16-page Justice Department memo describes the procedure by which President Obama has assumed the literal power of life and death over fellow U.S. citizens. An “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” must decide that the target is a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or “associated forces,” who poses an “imminent threat of violent atttack against the United States,” and that an attempt to capture that individual is “unfeasible.” The memo goes on to say that targeting “a member of a enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack to the United States is not unlawful. It is a lawful act of self-defense.”
The imminent threat is rendered questionable because the informed, high-level official can determine that the potential target was “recently involved in activities posing a threat that hasn’t changed.” In other words, someone who may have been involved in al-Qaeda or associated forces activities in the past but may have severed any connection, could be targeted, because he/she can’t prove his/her change of mind.
The memo is devoid of definitions: not defined are al-Qaeda, “associated forces,” “informed, high-level official,” and “imminent threat.” There is also no requirement in the memo that the U.S. needs to have clear evidence of the threat posed.
The Justice Department memo has stunned the media and high political figures; however, this kind of myopia is itself stunning, because some time ago, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in which he outlined how the president’s “kill list” was developed. Moreover, letters were reportedly sent to lawmakers this past summer, setting forth the president’s killing authority.
The focus is now on revealing all documents supporting the president’s authority to order the deaths of U.S. citizens; however, the response should be outrage at President Obama’s violation of basic legal rights provided by the Constitution.
Ambiguous language in the National Defense Authorization Act has been interpretated as giving the president the power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens; the Military Commissions Act of 2006 authorizes the president to permit the CIA to torture on claimed national security grounds; and a broad interpretation of the authorization to use force resolution adopted before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, have all upped the ante to the ordered killing of U.S. citizens.
The most fearsome legacy of Barack Obama might be the awesome power he has embedded in the nation’s chief executive.
ADDENDUM: The drone has become the principal instrument of death in the undeclared war the U.S. is waging in several countries of the world, yet the only country in which the drone has become popular is the self-identified Christian nation of the United States. A June 2012 Pew Research poll showed that 62 percent of Americans approved of the drone wars, versus 44 percent approval in closely allied Great Britain. Only 9 percent approved in less closely allied Turkey and 6 percent in Egypt.