An official Justice Department “White Paper” has been released to the media detailing (or failing to detail) the White House’s justification for drone strikes on American citizens. While this is not an official legal memo, the actual memos remain classified, it represents the official logic used by our government in hunting down American citizens and killing them without trial, after concluding they are senior Al-Qaeda leaders.
It is about time.
Years have now passed since the U.S.’s drone attack on natural born American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, which left him dead without due process of law. That act, which this site has long viewed as the single most important act of the Obama presidency, is without a doubt an impeachable offense, assuming Obama’s actual discretion could be clearly linked to the assassination.
The memo also lays out the long discussed three-part test used to justify American assassinations.
1.) The American citizen must present an imminent threat;
2.) Capture of the American citizen must be infeasible, and
3.) The attack must be achieved using “law or war principles.”
If you think that is arbitrary, it gets worse.
The memo states in part:
“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 . . . “
That’s right. Imminent doesn’t mean, “likely to occur at any moment” or “impending” in the dictionary sense. It means the American has “recently” been involved in “activities” posing a threat of violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.”
As the NBC.com points out, the memo neglects to define “recently” or “activities.” Nor is a clear criteria and justification used for replacing a jury trial as demanded by the U.S. Constitution with bureaucratic research in order to convict citizens.
The AG opinion also provides officials with discretion to consider whether an attempted capture of a citizen would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel. An undue risk could present the opportunity for the government to order an assassination rather than a capture.
Holder recently stated in a speech at Northwestern University earlier this year, that “[t]he Constitution does not require the President to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning, when the precise time, place and manner of an attack become clear.”
This policy of the Obama Administration goes far beyond any extrajudicial justice our first 43 presidents pursued. Arbitrary, vague and capricious, this policy sets a precedent that is dangerous not only to the Fourth Amendment that guarantees Due Process of law, but to our entire cache of rights embodied in the Constitution.
I am proud of both Democrats and Republicans bucking the party line in order to pursue more answers from the Obama Administration and specifically, their request to release the entire series of memos. This is a line in the sand kind of issue.