The presidential right to murder

Attorney general Anthony Holder finally came out yesterday with a speech that ‘justified’ the Obama administration’s claim that it can summarily murder American citizens. And, no surprise, it reveals an administration that has nothing but contempt for the rule of law and fundamental constitutional protections of life and liberty, provided for by the right to due process.

The ACLU has condemned the speech. Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said:

Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact. Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.

Jonathan Turley has a good summary of what Holder said and why it is an abomination. He says:

Obama has replaced the constitutional protections afforded to citizens with a “trust me” pledge.

[Holder] was more clear in establishing that due process itself is now defined differently than it has been defined by courts since the start of this Republic. He declared that “a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process.'” Of course, from any objective standpoint, that statement is absurd and Orwellian. It is basically saying that “we will give the process that we consider due to a target.”

If George W. Bush’s attorney general Anthony Gonzalez had said what Holder said, liberals and Democrats would have been outraged at such an extraordinary assertion of power, tantamount to the divine right of kings. Glenn Greenwald is of course all over this story, documenting the total reversal and utter hypocrisy of Barack Obama and Eric Holder on this issue. All those Democrats who chortle over Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping are overlooking the proverbial beam in their own eye.

Turley points out the one bright side: “The good news is that Holder promised not to hunt citizens for sport.”


  1. says

    I think that this is a more complicated issue than you are making it. If a US citizen joins Al Qeada are they somehow more immune to attack from US forces than non-citizens?

    We are really in a different situation where an organization rather than a country has declared war on us.

    Countries have done assassinations against military leaders before (e. g. the US on Admiral Yamamoto.)

    Your points are still relevant though; I don’t know what I think here (and would say the same if President Bush was still in office).

  2. Jared A says

    People should stop focusing on the known application of this doctrine (the assassination of Awlaki) because it is clearly a distraction--an intentional one I believe. The question is whether the doctrine itself is just. Finding reasons for justifying the assassination is not what is being discussed here.

    The way they have framed this doctrine is implying that the executive branch has the legal power to summarily execute anyone for any cause.

    How do you feel about that specific policy?

  3. Mano Singham says

    I think that non-citizens should also not be summarily murdered. To kill someone when he/she is resisting arrest or capture is one thing. To simply blast people out of the sky when they are eating, sleeping, driving, and doing the normal stuff of life is simply wrong.

    This idea that we are at war with the whole world and hence can kill anyone anytime anywhere using drones or other means is crazy. If we can kill people with impunity around the world, why can’t the security forces of other countries do the same and claim the same justification? By that logic the alleged plot by the Iranians to kill the Saudi ambassador in the US should be perfectly fine, as long as some Iranian authority said that they had the right (and assuming that the charge is true to begin with).

    Glenn Greenwald deals with the Yamamoto and similar arguments in the link I gave.

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