White House clarifies when it’s OK for Obama to kill Americans

A week after the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki — “a great day for America,” as one senior Obama administration official put it — and then a flurry of headlines about Obama killing US citizens, the White House clearly sees the need to change the narrative. Although it had already been stated that the president was exerting powers in accordance with legal advice, the administration wants to assure everyone that this was sound advice — the kind that would require the thoroughness of a 50-page memo drafted by a team of lawyers.

In other words, to those who are concerned about the suspension of the rule of law, the consolation is rule by procedure. It’s not due process, but it involved meetings, legal opinions, documentation, signatures — all the essential ingredients to ensure that those involved can later point to the ways in which they diligently followed procedures and ultimately no one can be held responsible. The buck stops nowhere.

Even so, since this is a presidency where secrecy often appears to be cherished more than anything else, we don’t get to actually read the Justice Department’s memorandum describing the circumstances in which Obama has the discretion to suspend the constitution. Instead, the contents of the memo get selectively revealed to a reporter.

It’s not exactly a leak — more like a drip.

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration’s secret legal memorandum that opened the door to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen, found that it would be lawful only if it were not feasible to take him alive, according to people who have read the document.

The memo, written last year, followed months of extensive interagency deliberations and offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to one of the most significant decisions made by President Obama — to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without a trial.

The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis. The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki’s case and did not establish a broad new legal doctrine to permit the targeted killing of any Americans believed to pose a terrorist threat.

The Obama administration has refused to acknowledge or discuss its role in the drone strike that killed Mr. Awlaki last month and that technically remains a covert operation. The government has also resisted growing calls that it provide a detailed public explanation of why officials deemed it lawful to kill an American citizen, setting a precedent that scholars, rights activists and others say has raised concerns about the rule of law and civil liberties.

But the document that laid out the administration’s justification — a roughly 50-page memorandum by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, completed around June 2010 — was described on the condition of anonymity by people who have read it.

The legal analysis, in essence, concluded that Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not feasible to capture him, because intelligence agencies said he was taking part in the war between the United States and Al Qaeda and posed a significant threat to Americans, as well as because Yemeni authorities were unable or unwilling to stop him.

The memorandum, which was written more than a year before Mr. Awlaki was killed, does not independently analyze the quality of the evidence against him.

The administration did not respond to requests for comment on this article.

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4 thoughts on “White House clarifies when it’s OK for Obama to kill Americans

  1. Christopher Hoare

    What total hypocrisy! We were allowed to kill him without due process and trial because we couldn’t catch him. This is merely the Bonnie and Clyde excuse. It remains nothing more than an excuse until it has been the subject of trial, preferably in the world’s international criminal court at the Hague.

  2. Desmond Travers

    How tragic. Another indication of what one historian calls ” the age of stupidity” or what I am inclined to describe as ‘technology as substitute for reason’. This evolution and evolution it is, stems from the bottom up and seems to be related to the idea previously mooted about villages having to be destroyed in order to save them. And we know where that got us to……

  3. Ian Arbuckle

    What evidence do you have of anything?

    A few years ago a journalist Ron Suskind’s quote from “a senior adviser to Bush, reportedly Karl Rove:
    “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

    The secrecy, the intrigue, lies, and duplicity has not diminished with the Obama administration, if anything the duplicity has become the standard.

    People whoever they are create their own and our reality. Was this Anwar al-Awlaki a real person or a created identity? Did he really exist? Does the father suing the state for a stay do it for a sincere motive? According to most Arabs, Yemenis, and significant clerics in the region, he was irrelevant and of no consequence to any local radical movement. The “plots” that he was allegedly related too and said to hatch, seem so stupid as if they were designed to fail, that it is difficult for me to believe that the CIA could expect a nation of thinking people to take them seriously.

    So are we going to investigate the relationship of Anwar al-Awlaki to the plots? No! Are we going to establish culpability and method? No. We don’t have to…. He’s dead. Did the president order the death of a real person or a phantom?

    Is he really dead? How do you know? Because the same people who tell you he was a firebrand cleric, a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whatever…. tell you he was killed by their drone, and their corroboration is a military dictatorship they support financially to the extent of hundreds of millions of dollars…… and the information comes to you via that highly reliable and doggedly investigative corporate MSM…

    The guy could just as well have been a CIA agent, trained by Mossad and now as the story wears too thin especially with a civil war in progress in the country, he was extracted with his apparent death to be reported as another splendid success for the war on terror.

    Osama Bin Laden, same thing more or less. Just another CIA agent extracted because his position becomes a liability as the relations with Pakistan go south.
    How many phantoms do they create and kill? What is the penalty for killing a phantom? Perhaps that is a national secret! How many 9-11 hi-jackers turned up alive and well?

    Oh ya, conspiracies of course they cannot exist because someone is always going to spill the beans. Well, so few knows the whole story to spill but sooner or later people put some pieces together from the fragments. Or do we accept that Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald all by his lonesome? Personally I have no doubt about the piles of manure that have been shovelled high spread since 9-11.

    Which lie is closer to the truth? Only the one that it is most convenient to believe. And so they go on weaving Hollywoodesc fables for the masses to absorb, while supporting the myths and fears of bogeymen. Americans have been conditioned now for two generations to accept any bad guy – good guy scenario they are fed. As to the subtleties of conspiracy, con artists, and crime, they are just like babies, yet hundred of billions of dollars of their taxes go to maintain people in the business supporting their delusion, so they believe that Americans are being defended against evil Muslim “terrorists”…….

    Of course the enemy cannot be an “American”.
    Pathetic. No, sad!

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