But don't worry, they'll be super-duper responsible about it.
DOJ memo: U.S. drones can attack U.S. citizens abroad pretty much whenever
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Remember when Democrats were concerned about violations of civil liberties? You know, when George W. Bush was in the White House and it was politically useful for them to carp about it. Now? Ha ha ha ha ha! You thought they were serious?
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.
The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.” In a separate talk at the Northwestern University Law School in March, Attorney General Eric Holder specifically endorsed the constitutionality of targeted killings of Americans, saying they could be justified if government officials determine the target poses “an imminent threat of violent attack.”
But the confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches. It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.
“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,” the memo states.
Look, these are not easy issues, and I have some sympathy for the White House in their effort to sort out the balancing of national security with the protection of the constitutional rights of individual citizens. This sounds like it goes a little far in that they don’t even think they need evidence that an attack is in the offing, but I have to acknowledge that when Bush and Cheney were in the White House, I favored pretty wide latitude for the administration to use its judgment about when action was necessary to protect national security interests. I’d be a hypocrite if opposed it now just because the other party is in power.
But speaking of hypocrites: If this is the way the Obama crew is going to play it, then can they at least acknowledge (or is it too much to hope that the media would point out) the complete insincerity of all the complaints they lodged when Bush was in office? From drone attacks to wire-tapping to Guantanamo, they’ve talked a lot and changed nothing. I suppose that’s because you face a whole different set of pressures when the burden of national security is on you. But maybe they would have served the country better if they had recognized and respected that fact when they were in the opposition, instead of putting politics ahead of national security - which is exactly what they did.