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Feb 05 2013

Memo authorizing murders by US government leaked

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.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Worldtraveller

    I wonder how much Obama is directly involved with, or has direct knowledge of these memos before they get released? It may be that the CIA/NSA/ARMY/whatever have been operating this way all along, and just got a blanket memo from the new administration. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, to learn that Obama had direct knowledge, but since this was the status quo, he just approved it.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    I think fastlane@#1 is probably right. From the sound of it, a lot of stuff gets shoved past The President as fait accompli, or is tied to something else (“If we lose the drones, we’ll have to pull out of Afghanistan and there goes your presidency!”) I’ve been pretty amazed by the histories I’ve been reading of Vietnam and some other US silliness: the military sound like a “rogue state” that has grown up inside the US government like some weird teratoma that has a sort of a mind of its own.

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    addendum to last:
    …. and now the intelligence community is doing the same thing.

    The US has never had a real intelligence community. It has a “department of dirty tricks” – which explains why it thinks and acts more like a covert army than an agent of statecraft.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    This stuff used to be done by the CIA so Washington could pretend it wasn’t involved in mass murders. Apparently, that wasn’t efficient enough for some people, or maybe Philip Agee made it impossible to cover up the involvement. This is, of course, the same base of government which overthrows democracies in the name of “US interests”.

    Posada Carriles isn’t the only terrorist the US protected for decades. Orlando Bosch – employee of the CIA – murdered dozens of Cubans by blowing up an airplane with a bomb. He was allowed to live freely in the US for 30 years.

  5. 5
    Steve LaBonne

    I’m just becoming numbed by the fact that so many of my fellow citizens are A-OK with an unaccountable government that murders as it sees fit.. I wish I knew how to even start changing that, since openly airing material like this seems to make no impression at all on most people.

  6. 6
    baal

    We* used to make fun of the bush the lesser’s administration (john yoo anyone?) for pretty much the same type of anti-law and society crap. Glen’s # 3 is the argument killer for me. “Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield”. Yes exactly. Terror is everywhere so the ‘rules of war’ apply everywhere and that means we have the priviledge of killing anyone anywhere. I hold that this argument is patently bullshit on its face.

    *I’m using the royal we but I wasn’t alone in my condemnation.

  7. 7
    Acolyte of Sagan

    What surprises me is that anybody’s surprised by this. ‘National security’ has been the catch-all excuse for state sanctioned murder since the year dot.

  8. 8
    js

    keep making excuses for a president far more dangerous than bush ever aspired to being

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