Tom Junod writes: You are a historic figure, Mr. President. You are not only the first African-American president; you are the first who has made use of your power to target and kill individuals identified as a threat to the United States throughout your entire term. You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy. You have authorized kill teams comprised of both soldiers from Special Forces and civilians from the CIA, and you have coordinated their efforts through the Departments of Justice and State. You have gradually withdrawn from the nation building required by “counterinsurgency” and poured resources into the covert operations that form the basis of “counter-terrorism.” More than any other president you have made the killing rather than the capture of individuals the option of first resort, and have killed them both from the sky, with drones, and on the ground, with “nighttime” raids not dissimilar to the one that killed Osama bin Laden. You have killed individuals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and are making provisions to expand the presence of American Special Forces in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Pakistan and other places where the United States has not committed troops, you are estimated to have killed at least two thousand by drone. You have formalized what is known as “the program,” and at the height of its activity it was reported to be launching drone strikes in Pakistan every three days. Your lethality is expansive in both practice and principle; you are fighting terrorism with a policy of preemptive execution, and claiming not just the legal right to do so but the legal right to do so in secret. The American people, for the most part, have no idea who has been killed, and why; the American people — and for that matter, most of their representatives in Congress — have no idea what crimes those killed in their name are supposed to have committed, and have been told that they are not entitled to know.
This is not to say that the American people don’t know about the Lethal Presidency, and that they don’t support its aims. They do. They know about the killing because you have celebrated — with appropriate sobriety — the most notable kills, specifically those of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki; they support it because you have asked for their trust as a good and honorable man surrounded by good and honorable men and women and they have given it to you. In so doing, you have changed a technological capability into a moral imperative and have convinced your countrymen to see the necessity without seeing the downside. Politically, there is no downside. Historically, there is only the irony of the upside — that you, of all presidents, have become the lethal one; that you, of all people, have turned out to be a man of proven integrity whose foreign and domestic policies are less popular than your proven willingness to kill, in defense of your country, even your own countrymen … indeed, to kill even a sixteen-year-old American boy accused of no crime at all. [Continue reading…]