Thanks to a few highly placed government officials we now know how the Obama administration came to the conclusion that the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki was permissible. Through Glenn Greenwald’s always excellent column at Salon I found a Reuters article about the secret committee in the bowels of our (?) government that decides who lives and who dies.
From the Reuters article, quoting the anonymous government officials:
“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. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.”
Great. A bunch of faceless suits halfway down the hierarchy at the NSC and the intelligence agencies are making a hit list.
“Several officials said that when Awlaki became the first American put on the target list, Obama was not required personally to approve the targeting of a person. But one official said Obama would be notified of the principals' decision. If he objected, the decision would be nullified, the official said.
A former official said one of the reasons for making senior officials principally responsible for nominating Americans for the target list was to "protect" the president.”
If the arbitrary killing of U.S. citizens is such a wonderful, justifiable thing, why does the President need protecting? Because those involved know that they are violating every basic principle of our Constitution and are doing it anyway. They are doing it for political gain and just because they can get away with it.
Of course, if there is a secret committee, there must be a secret memo. The New York Times reports on a 50-page memo, written last year, that laboriously justifies the zero-due-process killing of a U.S. citizen.
“The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis. The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki’s case and did not establish a broad new legal doctrine to permit the targeted killing of any Americans believed to pose a terrorist threat.”
No broad new legal doctrine for arbitrarily killing us? Right. Read the first sentence of that excerpt again. The murder of Anwar al-Awlaki wasn’t a one-off. What we are witnessing is a new direction for the military/security-industrial complex. The dirty work, or “wet work,” as the practitioners so elegantly call it, is being brought out in the open. Justification is easier and more effective than concealment.
I have written before about the fact that torture is a technique of terrorism. When a government uses torture, the practice is never supposed to be completely secret. A partial disclosure of the horror works to chill opposition. In this case, the arbitrary assassination of a U.S. citizen (and its justification) serves the same purpose. It rallies the bigots and proto-fascists and makes everyone else look over their shoulders.
It’s a grim joke to have to ask the President to live up to his oath of office and uphold the Constitution. It’s another grim joke to see the right wingers discomfited by a Democrat who is willing to outflank them to the right on both militarism and disregard for constitutional law. Obama has tasted the power of the imperial presidency handed over by Bush, and he’s finding it useful.
The question of this administration’s respect for rule of law has been answered in the negative. It is merely a continuation of previous practices under a new headliner. We should not expect the President to change course or suddenly have a change of heart. That is, unless the political realities of the situation change dramatically.
I don’t have any clear or easy answer as to how we change the political reality. Looking at history, such changes have always been a messy struggle. Those involved generally have a well defined goal, but the path and the ultimate destination only reveal themselves in hindsight. It takes longer than expected, and the movement never quite gets there. Liberty is always unfinished business.
In light of these painful, shameful, and frightening developments I can only say, do something. Do what you think is right to reverse this trend. Keep doing it. Either you are doing something against it, or in your silence and passivity you are cooperating with it.