Sunday, May 15, 2011

Presidential hit lists for American citizens

Glenn Greenwald weighs in on the Obama Administration failed assassination attempt on the American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki Salon 05/07/2011. Such a power was always implicit in Dick Cheney's Unitary Executive theory of Presidential power. But it was the Obama Administration, so far as we know, that first made it operational for the President to decide to execute American citizens without a trial or formal legal charges. As Greenwald says, "one policy where Obama has gone further than Bush/Cheney in terms of unfettered executive authority and radical war powers is the attempt to target American citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process." A Presidential hit list of four American citizens was first reported by the Washington Post in 2010.

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance. But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process -- far from any battlefield, not during combat -- is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it's hard to convey in words or treat with civility. ...

And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield -- if someone believes that the President has that power: the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner -- what possible limits would they ever impose on the President's power? There cannot be any. Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a "traitor" and demand they be treated as such -- even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call "a trial" with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason -- how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither? [emphasis in original]
This is one of the biggest reasons to be skeptical on the prospect of Obama taking the opportunity of Bin Laden's death to withdraw from Afghanistan and otherwise dial back the War On Terror. Glenn Greenwald is also extremely skeptical on that point:

A civil liberties lawyer observed by email to me last night that now that Obama has massive political capital and invulnerable Tough-on-Terror credentials firmly in place, there are no more political excuses for what he does (i.e., he didn't really want to do that, but he had to in order not to be vulnerable to GOP political attacks that he's Weak). In the wake of the bin Laden killing, he's able to do whatever he wants now -- ratchet down the aggression or accelerate it -- and his real face will be revealed by his choices (for those with doubts about what that real face is). Yesterday's attempt to exterminate an American citizen who has long been on his hit list -- far from any battlefield, not during combat, and without even a pretense of due process -- is likely to be but a first step in that direction. [emphasis in original]
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