Obama allowed to keep his murder memos secret

Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, a sixteen-year-old American citizen killed by a U.S. military strike in Yemen, October 14, 2011.

A federal court judge has ruled that President Obama does not need to reveal the legal grounds on which he claims he can make a unilateral and unreviewable decision to kill an American citizen.

Last year Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. contrived the notion that a citizen’s constitutional right to due process can be protected even in the absence of any judicial process.

In essence, the Obama adminstration’s answer to those who question its application of the law is: trust us, we abide by the law.

Yet if so much trust could be invested in a president’s legal authority, why bother with written laws? Why not simply say what in effect we are being told: the president’s word is law.

Conor Friedersdorf writes: To be clear, the legal fight isn’t about whether Obama can kill American citizens in secret without presenting any charges or evidence of guilt or conducting a trial. At issue is whether Americans are entitled to know what he regards as the legal justification for that power.

So far, President Obama has refused to release that legal reasoning, as prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel. He is effectively denying us the ability to know what laws we live under, and stifling an informed debate about whether the powers he is exercising are in fact proper.

Judge McMahon seems to think it is technically legal for Obama to keep mum. She nevertheless delivered a scathing rebuke. Characterizing his national security policy as an “ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise,” she began by explaining that in this case he hasn’t actually run afoul of freedom of information laws, and thus cannot be compelled to explain why his controversial actions are permitted by the Constitution and do not violate the law.

But as Friedersdorf further notes, the judge’s own decision is wrapped in secrecy.

McMahon offers a stark reminder of how ruinous government secrets are to the normal functioning of the legal system. “This opinion will deal only with matters that have been disclosed on the public record,” she notes. “The Government has submitted material to the Court ex parte for an in camera review. Certain issues requiring discussion in order to make this opinion complete relate to this classified material. That discussion is the subject of a separate, classified appendix to this opinion, which is being filed under seal and is not available to Plaintiff’s counsel.” There’s a secret opinion explaining why the government’s secret argument for being able to keep secret the argument for why it can kill in secret is valid! This during the tenure of a man who pledged his administration would be the most transparent ever.

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2 thoughts on “Obama allowed to keep his murder memos secret

  1. hquain

    Although this must seem odd at best to civilized folk in general, no one raised in the US could even imagine that it could happen here. It’s just not on the scale of possibilities for the kind of government you learn about in school.

    Obama’s long-term legacy may well be defined by his dull-minded, inertial ratification of the rightist policies of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush era.

  2. Norman

    “O” actually doesn’t pull the trigger, someone else does. That said, what is to prevent the establishment of a government “Murder Inc.” or some other named entity? The rhetoric that the U.S. is a nation of laws, yet there are secrete laws like this, flies in the face of who the “O” really is. Trust him that he will do right, I think he has already shown the country/the world what kind of man he is.

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