Here are the Department of Justice’s legal arguments granting permission to the president to assassinate Americans if they are connected with al Qaeda, essentially destroying rights guaranteed citizens since the Magna Carta— right to life, right to a trial, right to due process.
This will be one of the documents historians study years from now while chronicling the end of the American experiment in democracy. Those historians will conclude that no foreign power defeated us; we ate ourselves.
Torture as American Policy
The release of these legal arguments comes on the same day that the Open Society Foundation detailed the CIA’s effort to outsource torture since 9/11 in excruciating detail. Known as “extraordinary rendition,” the practice concerns taking detainees to and from U.S. custody without a legal process — think of it like an off-the-books extradition — and often entailed handing detainees over to countries that practiced torture. The Open Society Foundation found that 136 people went through the post-9/11 extraordinary rendition, and 54 countries were complicit in it. The U.S. worked with Iran to take new prisoners, and sent others into Assad’s Syria for torture.
Justification to Ignore the Constitution
According to MSNBC, the undated DOJ memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly. The white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress or release those more detailed memos publicly, or even to overtly confirm they existence.
In the DOJ white paper, it is determined that in order for the United States of America to kill one of its own citizens, all that is needed is that “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. Government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” and that capture is not feasible and of course that the laws of war are followed. For those tracking the amount of blood on the president’s hands, note that no review takes place, no due process, no jury, no anything, just death because the president (or, technically, any anonymous informed high-level official) says kill that man, woman or child. This is considered by the Department of Justice to be “a lawful act of national self-defense.”
DOJ specifically states that if the targeted individual had rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause, such rights would not “immunize him from a lethal operation.”
The Fourth Amendment is a now-quaint part of the U.S. Constitution that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. The Due Process Clause is contained in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It once acted as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government. The clear intent of Due Process, appearing twice in the Constitution, is to assure Americans that the government cannot act against them outside of a judicial process, a set of laws to protect against the government having too much power.
The Department of Justice also concludes that the murder of an American Citizen under such circumstances “would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S. nationals outside the United States; nor would it constitute the commission of a war crime or an assassination prohibited by Executive Order.”
It was found that “the realities of the conflict and the weight of the government’s interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent attack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. Citizen before using lethal force.”
The document notes that “the condition that the 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.” Instead, DOJ asserts a “broader definition of imminence.”
Neatly, to conclude their argument, the Department of Justice states that due to the unique circumstances of the conflict with terror, “there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations.”
The End of the Experiment
One is left literally gasping for air, pale with anger, wondering what we have become in America. Have we stooped to the level of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, which in precise legalese justified the Holocaust? Have we reached the point where we believe we must destroy our beautiful Constitution in order to save it?
Of what value anymore is the oath all Federal employees take, the same oath Obama took on the steps of the Capitol last month, promising to defend and uphold the Constitution? What value is that oath when with a memo he deems that that Constitution does not apply when there is killing to be done abroad. What type of nation declares war on its own citizens?
Those questions are left rhetorical for now, but this much is now true: the president of the United States has granted himself legal justification to ignore the most basic tenet of freedom– the right to live– and empowered himself to kill his own citizens without any form of due process or judicial procedure. It is an easy way for a writer to grab headlines, claiming such-and-such is the end of our rights, such as the limits imposed on habeas corpus, online spying, no-fly lists, restrictions on free speech, etc. But now we have truly approached the edge, because when you are dead, killed extra judicially by your own government, well, no other theoretical rights really matter anymore.
Abu Graid, Guantanamo, the CIA secret prisons, imprisonment without trial of Bradley Manning, those are not aberrations or exceptions– they were practice. These are indeed the darkest of days for our democratic experiment.
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