Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's okay because I said it's okay

First forget about all the niceties we've come to appreciate. I'm talking about the Due Process Clause, the right to trial by jury and the Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill."). Because under President Barack Obama, they aren't worth the paper (or stone tablet) they're printed on. At least not when it comes to killing US citizens abroad.

NBC News got their hands on the white paper issued by the Department of Justice that serves to rationalize the "targeted" killing of US citizens abroad in our ongoing War on Everything Terrorism.

According to the white paper (apologies for NBC feeling the need to plaster its watermark all over the paper rendering parts of it illegible), there are three factors that must be considered when determining whether it's okay for our government to kill one of its citizens abroad. The killing will be considered legal if (1) a government official decides that the targeted individual poses "an imminent threat of violent attack" against the US; (2) a government official decides that it isn't feasible to capture the targeted individual; and (3) the killing follows generally accepted wartime practices.

In other words, the US government can order the killing of a US citizen abroad it the government damn well feels like it. What else could it mean? Government officials get to decide if the target is an imminent threat and if it would be too much work to try to capture him alive.

Anyone else see the problem there?

According to the paper there's no due process implications involved because the nine in robes have proclaimed that ones due process rights are subject to a balancing test. And, as anyone who has ever reviewed balancing tests knows, they are nothing more than a justification for the government to infringe upon the rights of an individual.

One either has due process rights or one doesn't. Ones due process rights either are enforced or they aren't. Either the government is sanctioned for violating them or it isn't. A balancing tests makes black letter law all murky, mushy and grey.

And, lest someone bring up the ban on government-sponsored political assassinations, just forget about it right now. You see, the author(s) of the paper have declared that the targeted killing of a US citizen allegedly working for the enemy isn't the same as an assassination. There's that whole war thing going on.

But, not exactly.

Those pesky little al-Qaeda boys aren't exactly a nation. There has never been a formal declaration of war against al-Qaeda - mainly because there's no nation to declare war against. So, if there is no declared war against al-Qaeda, then the targeted killing of a US citizen working with, or for, al-Qaeda isn't an act of war. It is, instead, the killing of a person for political purposes. Oops. That sounds a lot like an assassination to me.

I suppose one could argue that killing a US citizen who has taken up arms on the side of the Iraqis would be different, as would the same scenario taking place in Afghanistan. But that's not where the US government has targeted its own citizens for killing. Those strikes took place in Yemen - and the last time I checked, Congress never declared war on Yemen.

Of course that argument will never do. So, the paper argues that our government's fight with al-Qaeda is analogous to war. It's not our fault, after all, that they aren't a nation-state, is it? Thus the Obama Administration argues that it is justified in killing US citizens anywhere they may be abroad - even if there is no armed conflict going on in that nation.

Our government gets away with this because we allow it to happen. We have stood by and watched as state and federal governments have whittled away at our once sacrosanct Constitutional rights. They weren't taking away our rights, we told ourselves - they were just taking away the rights of those criminals. Now President Obama has decided that he has the right to suspend the Constitution when it comes to killing US citizens abroad. But we're talking about terrorists, you say.

Maybe, but the rights that protect him are the same rights that protect the rest of us. The Constitution divided the powers of government among three branches. It's not the job of the executive to determine whether a US citizen is guilty of treason - that's the role of the courts. In usurping the powers of the judicial branch to suit his political aims, President Obama has violated his oath of office.

Will anyone tell the emperor he has no clothes?

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