NBC News released today a leaked copy it had obtained of the memo that the Obama administration has created that it claims justifies its murdering of anyone whom it considers its enemies, including its own citizens, anywhere in the world . According to the BBC:
US officials can authorise the killing of Americans abroad if they are leaders of al-Qaeda or its allies, according to the document obtained by NBC News.
Lethal force is lawful if they are judged to pose an “imminent threat” and their capture is not feasible, it adds.
It says sovereignty is not deemed to have been violated if the host nation gives its consent, or is unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.
It also sets out a “legal framework” for the use of lethal force against US citizens in foreign countries.
It concludes that such killings do not violate the US Constitution as long as:
- An informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US
- Capture is infeasible and the US continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible
- The operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles
The paper adopts a broad definition of “imminent threat”, saying it is not necessary to produce evidence that a specific attack is being planned if the target is generally engaged in plotting against the US.
It also asserts that courts should not play a role in reviewing or controlling such decisions.
Basically, this legal memo simply says what we suspected all along, that the US government kills whom it wants to and nobody has the right to question its actions, even the courts. As long as the administration says it is legal, it is legal, a truly stunning innovation in legal thinking. As The Guardian reports:
Speaking to the New York Times, Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, denounced the memorandum as “a profoundly disturbing document”, adding: “It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances. It summarises in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority: the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them, far from a recognised battlefield and without any judicial involvement.”
By this reasoning Cuba would have been justified sending in a hit squad to the US to murder the notorious Luis Posada Carriles while he lived comfortably in the US. Oh, but I keep forgetting, these contorted arguments only apply to what the US government can do in other countries, not to what other countries can do in the US.
Why? Because we are special, that’s why.
Update: Glenn Greenwald gives his reaction to the news.