What started out as a Caddyshack joke at the expense of the Department of Health and Human Services has grown more and more unsettling until today, when we have really reached the point of no return. NBC News obtained a 16-page Justice Department memo that lays out the Obama Administration’s attempt at legally justifying its practice of targeting and killing anyone – including American citizens – because they want to. You don’t need to be an authority on international law and the use of force to see the far-reaching/horrifying ramifications of this, but – just for the hell of it – let’s check in with one:
“Anyone should be concerned when the president and his lawyers make up their own interpretation of the law or their own rules,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and an authority on international law and the use of force.
“This is a very, very dangerous thing that the president has done,” she added
That really doesn’t do it justice, I feel. Glenn Greenwald does it justice in a piece that is quite long, but a must read, because this memo is, in writing, the Administration crossing the Rubicon. Here are some of the most pointed parts:
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice
That’s right on the head, no? We’ve broken down the barrier that separates us from fascists and Soviets, from third world despots and from fundamentalist totalitarians. Debating where we are on the spectrum is something we can do after we determine what constitutes being a little bit pregnant. Moving on (bold is Greenwald’s):
the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.
This is key. Setting aside the fact that it would be hard to prove who is “officially” in Al Qaeda without them being apprehended (it’s not like they have a company outing every summer – sorry to let you down, Toure), it wouldn’t even matter because nobody has to prove anything.
Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.
Round and round we go, right? Want to know what you can do to avoid being sky-murdered? Sorry, can’t tell you – just know that if you do get sky-murdered, you definitely deserved it. Mobute surely cannot be the only one who had Catch-22 spring to mind (be sure to read that one as he peels back the layers of technocrat-speech that would make Lenin proud).
It’s high time to reiterate a lesson that nearly all Americans seem hellbent on forgetting every time the White House (or really, any office) changes hands…a lesson we covered back during the Chick-Fil-A shenanigans: you should only grant government as much power as you’d be comfortable granting your ideological enemies. Because unless something changes, there will be another President that wields this power. Somebody who won’t do a hollow AMA on Reddit or – gasp – maybe someone you didn’t even vote for. And beyond that, if this stands as an acceptable use of executive power, what would ever be denied? If the President can secretly decide to kill you without anyone checking his power, why can’t he tell you who you can or can’t marry? Or if you can get an abortion? Or if you can practice your religion? There’s a reason judicial oversight has been an essential part of governance since the goddam Middle Ages, and that’s because without it, what is the rest worth? Greenwald, again (this time the bold is mine):
we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed – and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.