We have previously discussed the President’s “kill list” policy under which Obama claims the right to be able to kill any American based on his sole judgment and discretion. A confidential Justice Department memo now sheds more light on that policy and states a broader basis for such killings than previously suggested by the Administration. It is also not clear why this memo was kept secret by the Administration since it deals only with legal interpretations — not classified operational information.
Last March, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at the Northwestern University Law School to present the new policy, claiming that the President did not need any conviction or even a charge to kill an American citizen. While he stressed that this was based on a rationale that the citizen posed “an imminent threat of violent attack,” I noted at the time that any such limitation was purely discretionary under the theory of executive power being advanced by the Obama Administration.
It now appears that the Administration lawyers reached the same conclusion. The memo notes that there does not need to be an imminent attack in terms of an unfolding plan or operation: “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.”
In plain language, that means that the President considers the citizens to be a threat in the future. Moreover, the memo allows killings when an attempt to capture the person would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel. That undue risk is left undefined.
The memo, entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force,” is a tour de force of an imperial presidency. It was provided previously to both Democratic and Republican members of Congress on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees. However, those members did nothing to stop such an extreme assertion of unilateral presidential power or to alert the public that the president was claiming far greater latitude in ordering the killings of citizens.
In an Orwellian twist, the memo insists “A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination.” It is more like a very pointed expression of presidential displeasure.
Here is the memo: 020413_DOJ_White_Paper