Assassination nation: Are there any limits on President Obama’s license to kill?

James Bovard writes:

How much evidence should the US government be obliged to show before it kills an American citizen?

None, according to the Obama administration.

And how much evidence should the government be obliged to possess of an American’s wrongdoing before officially targeting them for killing?

That’s a secret, according to the Obama team.

As part of its war against violent extremism, the Obama administration now claims a right to kill Americans without a trial, without notice, and without any chance for targets to legally object. On May 6, the US government launched a drone attack to try to kill a US citizen in Yemen. The Obama administration alleges that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born Muslim cleric, helped spark killings at Fort Hood, Texas, and an attempt to blow up a jetliner in 2009. Mr. Awlaki might be a four-star bad guy, but government press releases and background briefings have not previously been sufficient to justify capital punishment. The drone attack failed to terminate Awlaki, though two other people were killed.

The US government has admitted that it has added the names of other Americans to a list for targeted killing. The American Civil Liberties Union sued last year to compel the government “to disclose the legal standard it uses to place US citizens on government kill lists,” but was thwarted when the Obama administration claimed the entire program was a “state secret.” Last December, federal Judge John Bates dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit because “there are circumstances in which the Executive’s unilateral decision to kill a US citizen overseas” is “judicially unreviewable.”

Assuming that Obama doesn’t lose his appetite for extrajudicial killing, it seems likely that missiles fired from drones will remain his weapon of choice. Old-fashioned death squads leave open the inconvenient possibility that the assassination target might attempt to surrender.

Did Osama bin Laden have his empty hands held high just before he was shot in the head? We can only be sure that any awkward record of such a fact would remain sealed in a vault for many decades.

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