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Top Five Objections to the White House's Drone Killing Memo

US Politics & Gov't  (tags: memo, drone strikes, targeted killing, constitution )

- 1959 days ago -
Here are five objections to the vision of the memo, which it seems to me is directly contrary to the spirit and the letter of the US constitution. It is contrary in profound ways to the ideals of the founding generation.

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Angelika R (143)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 3:42 pm
NBC’s Michael Isikoff has revealed the text of a white paper composed for Congress by the Department of Justice that sheds light on the legal arguments made by Eric Holder in justifying the killing by drone strike of Americans abroad, who are suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda. That the memo did not even require that the US know of a specific and imminent plot against the US, of which the al-Qaeda member was guilty, for it to kill him from the skies, alarmed all the country’s civil libertarians.

Here are five objections to the vision of the memo, which it seems to me is directly contrary to the spirit and the letter of the US constitution. It is contrary in profound ways to the ideals of the founding generation.

1. In the Western tradition of law, there can be no punishment without the commission of a specific crime defined by statute. The memo does not require that a specific crime have been committed, or that a planned criminal act be a clear and present danger, for an American citizen to be targeted for execution by drone.

2. To any extent that the president’s powers under the memo are alleged to derive from the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force, i.e. from the legislature, they are a form of bill of attainder (the History Learning Site explains what that is here):


3. The memo’s vision violates the principle of the separation of powers. It makes the president judge, jury and executioner. Everything is done within the executive branch, with no judicial oversight whatsoever. The powers the memo grants the president are the same enjoyed by the absolute monarchs of the early modern period, against whom Montesquieu penned his Spirit of the Laws, which inspired most subsequent democracies, including the American. Montesquieu said:

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4. The memo resurrects the medieval notion of “outlawry”– that an individual can be put outside the protection of the law by the sovereign for vague crimes such as “rebellion,” and merely by royal decree. A person declared an outlaw by the king was deprived of all rights and legal protections, and anyone could do anything to him that they wished, with no repercussions. (The slang use of “outlaw” to mean simply “habitual criminal” is an echo of this ancient practice, which was abolished in the UK and the US).

I wrote on another occasion that the problem with branding someone an “outlaw” by virtue of being a traitor or a terrorist is that this whole idea was abolished by the US constitution. Its framers insisted that you couldn’t just hang someone out to dry by decree. Rather, a person who was alleged to have committed a crime such as treason or terrorism had to be captured, brought to court, tried, and sentenced in accordance with a specific statute, and then punished by the state. If someone is arrested, they have the right to demand to be produced in court before a judge, a right known as habeas corpus (“bringing the body,” i.e. bringing the physical person in front of a judge).

The relevant text is the Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights:

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5. The memo asks us to trust the executive to establish beyond the shadow of a doubt the guilt of an individual in a distant land, to whom access is so limited that the US cannot hope to capture him or have local authorities capture him. But Andy Worthington has established that very large numbers of the prisoners the US sent to Guantanamo were innocent of the charges against them. If the executive arm of the government can imprison people mistakenly, it can blow them away by drone mistakenly. A US government official once told me the story of an Iraqi Shiite who had fled persecution under Saddam through Iran all the way to Afghanistan. In 2001, locals eager to make a buck turned him in as “Taliban” to the US military, which apparently did not realize that Iraqi Shiites would never ever support a hyper-Sunni movement like that. So the Iraqi Shiite was sent to Guantanamo and it could even be that Taliban themselves were paid by the US for turning him in. The official may have been speaking of Jowad Jabar. These American officials are way too ignorant to be given the power to simply execute human beings from the sky on the basis of their so-called ‘intelligence.’

Then there is the whole premise of the memo, quite apart from its substance. The memo, as Glenn Greenwald points out, ratifies the Bush/Cheney theory that the whole world is a battlefield on which the US is continually at war. Treating the few hundred al-Qaeda, spread around the world in 60 small cells, as an enemy army, making them analogous to German troops in WW II, is insane on the face of it. Our current secretary of state, John Kerry, largely rejected the notion. Al-Qaeda consists of criminals, not soldiers, and they pose a police counter-terrorism problem, not a battlefield problem.
The notion that the whole world is a battlefield violates basic legal conceptions of international law such as national sovereignty.

please visit site for ALL links and detailed explanations and interpretations.

. (0)
Wednesday February 6, 2013, 3:50 pm
Let's bring this down to one question that has more than disturbed me- why were drone strike necessary in Pakistan? And if they were, did they meet their target? Who was the Us after? Are they going to resume?
It's difficult dealing with a President who plays by his own rules.

Jaime Alves (52)
Friday February 8, 2013, 2:14 pm

Scott haakon (4)
Friday February 8, 2013, 3:25 pm
Actually the administration is correct. Dealing with terrorist who have stated that they aim to kill American citizens is cause. It is a declaration of war for all intents. Terrorists usually stay in small groups until they have the strength to move to conventional warfare.

Allen: Al-Qaeda has training camps in Pakistan,Bin Laden's hideout was there too.
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