Brigitte L. Nacos
Two years ago, Dana Priest reported in the Washington Post that first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration gave the CIA and the U.S. military green light to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas if there was “strong evidence” of their involvement in terrorist activities. Priest wrote,
“Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called "High Value Targets" and "High Value Individuals," whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi's name has now been added.”
In a correction, the Post noted that the CIA had called Priest’s report on the agency’s “incorrect.” But the Post confirmed, the “Joint Special Operations Command maintains a target list that includes several Americans.”
Neither Dana Priest’s report nor the assassination of three U.S. citizens in the fall of 2011caused an uproar in Washington’s political class and the media.
After all, the Americans killed in Yemen by pilotless aircraft were terrorists. In the first of these missile strikes, Anwar al-Awlaki and his side-kick Samir Khan were killed. Awlaki was widely considered “the bin Laden of the Internet.” His sermons indoctrinated young Muslims and some of them acted on his appeal to kill Americans in their homeland and overseas. He had personal contacts with the would-be Christmas Day underwear bomber and virtual contacts with the Fort Hood shooter. Samir Khan edited the Al Qaeda magazine “Inspire” that carried al-Awlaki’s calls for the killing of Americans.
When another drone strike killed Awliki’s 16-year old son Abdulrahman two weeks after his father’s assassination, again, there were no outcries in the Congress or elsewhere.
In light of this, it is surprising that the leaked Justice Department’s justifications for the assassination of U.S. citizens involved in terrorist activities abroad and the President's agreement to release the DOJ memo to congressional intelligence committees have received massive media attention in the last several days.
I suppose, nobody cries for al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.
But the targeting and neutralizing of these two adult citizens as well as the killing of an American teenager raises serious questions that transcend the fact that the senior Awlaki and Khan were evil-doing terrorists.
The three Americans were not indicted. They were deprived of their constitutional due process right that is stated in the U.S. Constitution’s fifth Amendment according to which no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law.”
Even killers are presumed to be innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
The White Paper mentions the President’s authority of acting in the face of “imminent danger.” But what is “imminent danger" in this context? Awlaki and Khan were promoting anti-American terrorism and recruited terrorists from their Yemeni site for quite a long time. There was certainly time to consult with the courts and with congressional intelligence committees, seek indictments, and consider the deployment of a commando of the Special Operations Forces to capture these guys and bring them to justice.
President Reagan signed an executive order that prohibited anyone acting on behalf of the US government to engage in assassinations. None of the following presidents issued an executive order repealing this ban.
No president and no national security council should have the unilateral power to order the killing of U.S. citizens overseas.
It is now the responsibility of congressional intelligence committees to uphold our civil liberties—even in the face of threats to our security.