Thanks to NBC News, a lot of (now-former) drone supporters are confronted with a confidential Justice Department white paper justifying presidential killing of American citizens abroad, seemingly on the basis of thin air.
The document, 16 pages of Bushian doublespeak, declares “Here the Justice Department concludes only that where the following three conditions are met, a U.S. operation using lethal force in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force would be lawful.”
Those conditions? “[A]n informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”
In other words, we’ll obliterate you because of reasons, and you’re now a terrorist because we said so.
Anwar al-Awlaki, to whom the Justice Department refers when it writes, “a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida,” was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011; his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, died in another drone strike weeks later. Their deaths, not to mention numerous other killings in Yemen, were well-documented by reporters, including Jeremy Scahill. Yet the government has continued to refuse to publicly acknowledge that it assassinated two American citizens.
From page two of the DOJ white paper:
“Were the target of a lethal operation a U.S. citizen who may have rights under the Due Process Clause and the Fourth Amendment, that individual’s citizenship would not immunize him from a lethal operation. Under the traditional due process balancing analysis of Mathews v. Eldridge, we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person’s interest in his life. But that interest must be balanced against the United States’ interest in forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans that arises from an individual who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida and/or an associated force of al-Qa’ida and who is engaged in plotting against the United States.”
This paragraph, in particular, seems to rustle the jimmies of more than just your average ACLU lawyer, Glenn Greenwald or libertarians of all stripes. According to the Associated Press, several Democratic senators, including Maryland’s Steny Hoyer and Delaware’s Chris Coons, are leading an increasingly loud congressional outcry against the administration’s drone program. Panels have been scheduled, investigations convened, etc., in the name of bringing the drone program under congressional control.
While it’s definitely a good thing that even Democrats are finally concerned about the utter wrongness of drone assassinations, “congressional control” is exactly the opposite of what we want. The military drone program, among other things, needs to be completely dismantled, not “regulated.”
For the record, it should be pointed out that this white paper isn’t exactly revelatory. It confirms the claims of drone critics offered over the last five years — that this program grants the executive branch massive power, more power than any one person can stand up to. And it proves that the critics weren’t just spinning their wheels.
When al-Awlaki and son (who hadn’t been linked to any sort of terrorist organization to begin with) were killed, when Samir Khan was killed, people tried to call out the Obama administration for engaging in the worst kind of authoritarianism. They were shouted down by supporters who thought the only goal of criticizing the administration on this issue was to cost Obama re-election.
Think about that for a second: People protesting the assassination of American citizens were scorned for raising a “petty, divisive” wedge issue in electoral politics. The absurdity of this scenario threatens to implode the universe.
Now that it isn’t “just a wedge issue,” this statement maybe won’t be so derided: The drone program is murderous and must be stopped. We need a ground-up anti-war movement to ensure that it is stopped, along with every other act of imperialism perpetrated by this government.
You’ve got all the evidence you could possibly need. The ball is in your court.