If there is any truth to the idea that America’s war on terror is “endless,” it lies in the immeasurable consequences of our decision to compromise our liberties and relinquish our constitutional rights for that war’s sake.
In that spirit, President Obama’s Justice Department has released a white paper that gives him authorization to bypass any hint of due process and kill American citizens suspected of posing an imminent threat to America. The intrinsic threat of this fact is that the powers and rights we relinquish for one reason will be exploited by Obama’s successors, for other purposes, and we will have surrendered our authority to object when these powers become used in unjustifiable ways. America’s compromising of due process needs to end, clearly and immediately, before it is too late.
It is impossible to imagine a more radical and dangerous power for Americans than their President possessing the ability to target and execute citizens without charge, due process, or oversight. So far, the Obama Administration has ordered three Americans to be killed: Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (age 16). Ironically, three is the exact number of people waterboarded under President Bush; a technique condemned and discontinued by the President on the basis that it is torture and contrary to American ideals – instead, Barack Obama is employing and expanding his “kill list” to include Americans.
With the leak of the Justice Department’s white paper, which outlines the President’s power, Americans can see if they satisfy the three requirements to becoming a target.
It’s not a very rigorous means test – Americans can get their name on the list without ever committing a violent crime, let alone being convicted of one. The conditions that need to be met are:
- An informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined an individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
- A capture operation would be infeasible; and
- Any mission to kill an American citizen would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The released document says that it “does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful” but does state the required level of substantiation needed to determine whether you are an “imminent threat”. For example, “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Which begs this unanswered question: If clear evidence is not needed to condemn Americans to death, then what is?
Another concern is how irresponsible their definition of “imminent” is. The Department of Justice believes that due to the nature of al-Qaida and its plots, “a broader concept of imminence” is needed — but the actual definition of “imminence” suggests otherwise and the American people must demand different. Having such loose definitions and requirements allows government the ability to justify adding any American to the list.
Sadly, despite the gross ambiguity and potential for unthinkable state power, many citizens will oblige Obama’s decision to forgo constitutional due process. According to a recent poll, less than half of all Americans believe it is illegal to target American citizens via drone attacks. This statistic illustrates how successful a government can be in persuading citizens to forfeit their fundamental rights. The citizens just have to believe that doing so will keep them safe and will only be imposed on the most marginalized, atypical members of society. As U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham precisely points out, “I think the middle of America understands why you would want a drone program to go after a person like Anwar al-Awlaki.”
Senator Graham’s comment precisely captures what is fundamentally wicked with this policy now and moving forward – it constructs two types of people: the first is the sort unworthy of due process, who should be executed with haste; the second sort befit themselves worthy of determining who will qualify as the former type. And both types, Mr. President, are contrary to American ideals.
The elasticity of interpretation and use of this policy will surely inch America closer towards the authoritarian government our founding fathers warned of. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we purge this and any other movements in our government to treat U.S. citizens as potential combatants.