And so I was very annoyed when I read this at The Atlantic:
President Obama insists that he has the authority to order the assassination of American citizens who haven't been convicted of any crime or afforded due process so long as he first declares -- in a secret process the details of which we're not allowed to know -- that the target is a terrorist.And I'd say he had a point, assuming I had a very superficial understanding of what happened because I can't comprehend ideas that aren't binary. Some people just look for black/white events, and refuse to listen when you keep telling them about all the grays they're missing.
In this case, has Obama insisted that he has the authority to order assassinations against anyone he declares to be a terrorist? In a word: No. That's not what happened at all.
First off, he wasn't the one who declared Awlaki to be a terrorist. And secondly, the justification for assassination was extremely limited. Specifically, that it can only be done to a citizen who was working on attacks against us and can't reasonably be captured.
And Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic might have known this, had he read a little known newspaper called The New York Times and its piece: Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen.
As the memo explains:
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.And had he read it, Mr. Friedersdorf would have realized this wasn't just some arbitrary decision made by Obama, but rather...
The deliberations to craft the memo included meetings in the White House Situation Room involving top lawyers for the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and intelligence agencies.And this article from Reuters explains how you end up on the hit list to begin with:
They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC "principals," meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval.And this was all known in early October. Yet here we are in November, and some expert at The Atlantic's perpetuating myths about Obama's supposed arbitrary decision to kill an American citizen, while a no-name blogger like me knows all about what happened.
Not All Secret Memos the Same
And I happen to agree with their analysis. This isn't a precedent to set missile drones lose in our cities. It's a common sense.
And yeah, sure, it's a bit iffy that this is all secret. After all, Bush had secret memos too, and they turned out to be bunkum. But does that mean that all secret memos are bunkum? Because this one makes sense. And no one's presented any evidence to suggest that Awlaki wasn't trying to commit terrorist attacks. So why wouldn't a secret panel within the NSC have authorized this?
And this makes all the difference in the world. Bush's pro-torture memos were a joke. Bush/Cheney knew what they were looking for and went for whoever could give them the justification for it. And you don't need to be a legal scholar to know it was bunkum. It wasn't the secretive nature of the memo that made it dumb. It was dumb all on its own.
But the Obama assassination memo makes sense. I mean, Yemen wasn't going to hand the guy over to us, and he couldn't easily be captured (which would involve an infringement of Yemen's sovereignty in any case), and he was a danger to us. So in these limited circumstances of a citizen who's known to be helping attacks against us and can't reasonably be captured, we can kill him.
Seriously, are we really to imagine we have to put up with this otherwise. What, are we kindergarteners? Grow up. The world's a scary place and bad things happen. But just because there's a legal justification to kill this guy doesn't expand it beyond this limited circumstance. That's why he's the only American who's been put on the hit list.
And again, we need to get beyond the superficials here and deal with the real issues. Not all secret memos are the same, not all secret panels are evil. And I know it's a lot more fun to self-righteously grab the high ground, but that doesn't give us the right to throw facts to the wind and pretend things happened when they didn't. And if nothing else, even if the secret memo and the secret panel are bogus, we don't get to pretend that Obama says his authorization stemmed entirely from himself; as that's obviously not the case.
Do I think a president should single-handedly be given the authority to assassinate American citizens? No, and I'm glad that Obama doesn't either.