Back in the early days of the Obama presidency, it was all, “let’s close Guantanamo Bay!” and “we’re going to totally stop this rendition thing and torture and whatever,” and then he was four years into his presidency and we’ve completely given up on closing Guantanamo Bay, because where else would capture Al Qaeda militants get their Harry Potter books, and to avoid all the messy paperwork associated with secret CIA prisons and waterboarding and whatnot, we just kill people with drones. And yes, that probably includes a couple of Americans, but really, the Bill of Rights and that pesky guarantee of due process of law before being deprived of life, liberty or property are like, two hundred years old and we’re not brutish colonials now, are we?
Plus, war on terror, people. War. On. Terror.
At least, back when Barack Obama was concerned he might lose the Presidency to Mitt Romney, he forced a flurry of activity, attempting to define the boundaries of drone operation in the event the program fell into the hands of the Republican nominee. Weirdly, he gave up the effort when he won the election, but it seems, at least according to an exclusive find by NBC News, that the Obama Administration was well informed on how and when it could “legally” continue to unilaterally kill Americans it identified as “threats” abroad, and their legal definition pretty much includes “because we feel like it.”
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
Initially, the Obama Administration, and specifically, everyone’s favorite DOJ head, Eric Holder, maintained that such extraordinary measures as killing someone from the air were in place only to handle people who were imminent threats to US security, but that’s not exactly what this memo says. This memo says that “imminent” is kind of a subjective term, which basically means anything that anyone thinks it means given the time of day and possibly what they had for lunch, and as a bonus doesn’t even require the decision-maker on that particular point to have any evidence to back up their claims.
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”
So, exactly how does the government then determine what is an imminent threat if it doesn’t need intelligence, evidence or even an actual imminent threat? Well, according to the memo, that determination is left up to any informed, high-ranking government official, whose assessment of the target reveals the target may have had recent involvement with antagonistic activities that might threaten American security. And in case you were wondering, no, the memo doesn’t define “recent,” “involvement” or “activities,” so you can probably just assume that you’re on their list and they just haven’t gotten to you yet. In fact, the paper basically says they (1) don’t need anyone’s permission to enter into their airspace to kill you, (2) don’t need to try to capture you first, just determine that an operation to do so probably wouldn’t work, and, oh yeah, (3) they don’t yet know what the minimum requirement is for you to get zapped by a drone.
The good news is that the Administration isn’t so much denying the content of the memo, or questioning their own right to exact revenge for stealing their lunch money in elementary school as per the guidelines contained within the memo, as they are pointing to a bunch of speeches by high-ranking DOJ officials – including but not limited to John Brennan, who is in line to take over the CIA – and noting that you basically already knew all this sh*t, so get over it.
Fortunately for America, the author of this memo is not an underling in a Republican administration, so the public will be spared the trouble of hearing about it, at least until they wear the wrong government-issued underwear on the wrong day and hear a strange noise over their house.