The Hit List: The Public Applauds As President Obama Kills Two Citizens As A Presidential Prerogative

Below is today’s column in USA Today (to run in paper form on Wednesday) on President Barack Obama’s claim to the right to kill citizens as dangers to the nation. Ironically, the day after I wrote the Los Angeles Times column on Obama’s disastrous impact on the civil liberties movement in the United States (including his assertion of the right to kill citizens on his own authority), the U.S. killed two citizens in Yemen. Notably, Ron Paul (who has emerged as the only candidate discussing these issues from a civil libertarian perspective) suggested an impeachment inquiry based on the killing of the two citizens. Below is the column in USA Today.

Last week, Americans saw a curious sight for a free nation: their president ordered the killing of two U.S. citizens without a trial or even a formal charge and the public applauded. President Obama never denied that he told the military to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on his sole discretion a year ago. They did so last week in Yemen – and killed U.S.-born cleric Samir Khan for good measure. Two U.S. citizens killed because a president unilaterally declared them to be part of a terrorist organization.

Before the killing, Obama successfully fought efforts by al-Awlaki’s family to have a court review the legality for the planned assassination of their kin. Due to reported prior associations of the U.S. government with al-Awlaki, it was a hearing that the intelligence agencies likely did not want to occur. At the time, the Justice Department argued that if al-Awlaki wanted judicial review, he should file with the clerk’s office himself – despite an order for him to be shot on sight. The Obama administration succeeded in arguing that the planned killing of a citizen on this hit list was a “political question,” not a legal question.

While few people mourn the passing of a figure like al-Awlaki who was accused being a leader in al Qaeda, they should mourn the passing of basic constitutional protections afforded to all citizens. So a president can now kill a citizen without publicly naming him as a target, stating the basis for his killing, or even acknowledge his killing once it has been carried out. Even if one assumes citizens would only be killed outside the country, it would mean that a your life becomes dispensable the minute you step a foot over one of our borders.

At the same time, the government has expanded the definition of terrorism and material support for terrorism, which in turn further expands the scope of possible targets. When confronted on the lack of knowledge of who is on this list and the basis for their killing, the Obama administration simply says that citizens must trust their president. It is the very definition of authoritarian power – and Americans appear to have developed a taste for it.

Obama’s hit list is a continuation of a policy defended by George W. Bush, who ordered an attack that killed U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, in Yemen in 2002. While Bush wanted Yemeni Abu Ali al-Harithi (the alleged mastermind behind the 2000 bombing of the U.S. Cole) dead, Derwish was riding in the car with him (as well as four other individuals). Derwish was not even on a hit list, but U.S. intelligence officials said it did not matter because they were authorized to kill Americans in such operations.

The sight of free people applauding the president’s discretionary killing of citizens would have horrified the framers of our Constitution. In conflict with a system based on checks and balances, Obama controls not just who will die but whether a court can review his decisions. Even if the family of these men were to try to sue for wrongful death, the Obama administration insists that they have the discretion to block such cases under the “military and state secrets privilege.” Thus, even if a president arbitrarily were to order the killing of a citizen, neither the victim nor his family could challenge the matter before an independent court (assuming they even knew about the order).

Notably, in the face of this extrajudicial killing of two citizens, Democrats who claim to be civil libertarians like Dianne Feinstein have cheered the president – creating a record for the next president to expand on these acquiesced powers.

No republic can long stand if a president retains the unilateral authority to kill citizens who he deems a danger to the country. What is left is a magnificent edifice of laws and values that, to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

141 thoughts on “The Hit List: The Public Applauds As President Obama Kills Two Citizens As A Presidential Prerogative”

  1. Elaine,

    To add to your article, when I heard Harold Koh speak on the issue of the president’s “right” to ordain and kill anyone he declares a terrorist, I believe one of the most chilling aspects of that speech was his statement that he had looked over all the files at the president’s request and he could vouch for the fact that they were all bad guys.

    What struck me about this statement, was: 1. that Koh thought his actions had anything to do with Constitutional law and 2. that he seemed utterly convinced of both his right to make the determination and 3. that his determinations were absolutely, unquestionably correct.

    Apparently, unlike even the Bush administration, there has been no dissent in giving the executive and his minions this new “right”. Evidently, Obama didn’t even have to shop around for his own John Yoo. His people all thought it was a fabulous idea.

    The public has yet to see any “legal” memos justifying these actions because they are declared, “state secrets”. Thus, as JT pointed out, these decisions have effectively written out judicial review of executive actions.

    There is no part of this that is in our Constitution. In fact, our Constitution was designed precisely to prevent such things from occurring. I find it all terrifying, especially because too many in our population do not question what is going on. Left and right, many behave as authoritarian good Germans. Support for this illegal and immoral action must end.

  2. A new bill before the Senate is attempting to deal with the incredible fact that employers are instructing their agents not to hire anyone who has been unemployed … employers refusing to hire the unemployed – simply because they are unemployed.

    ” … U.S. employers of all sizes, staffing agencies and online job posting firms are using recruitment and hiring policies that expressly deny employment to the unemployed—simply because they are not currently working. In other words, at a time when the competition for jobs is extraordinarily intense—with more than nearly five unemployed jobseekers for each new job opening—some businesses and recruitment firms are telling would-be job seekers that they can’t get
    a job unless they already have a job. ”

    “More than 14 million Americans are counted as officially unemployed (a number that excludes those who have given up looking for work), and more than six million of those have been jobless for longer than six months”

    Email your representative … help to fix the mess the young people Occupying Wall Street are addressing.

  3. TPM News
    Secret Panel Can Put Americans On ‘Kill List’
    Mark Hosenball
    Reuters US Online Report Top News

    Oct 05, 2011 19:59 EDT

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

    There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

    The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.

    The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.

  4. Based on the book by Naomi Wolf, “The End of America” is a 2008 documentary by filmmakers Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern.

  5. Woosty

    One of the demands is the forgiveness of all debt in a global sense. Even if you agree with it that will never happen. So yea blah blah blah. The only exception would be the open borders policy which I have been for. However even that one ids supposed to be to fill all the job openings that will occur when they pay everyone 20 dollars an hour whether not they are employed or not. These people have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

    As for it being a “war in homesoil” why not carry it out in the same fashion. Shock and awe and Fuck counting the bodies after as long as the natives know your in charge. Would you afford them the same lack of accountabilty that lead to the very wars they chose to ignore as a substantial source of human suffering.

  6. ekeyra1, October 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I also noticed that nowhere in the list of demands made by occupy wall street, did they even mention the wars being waged… Seems a very large oversight for a group claiming to want justice and equality and blah blah blah.

    this is a home soil war Ekeyra. The fact that they are there disproves everything you just said in this post. There is no spin.

    and dear….the blah blah blah says it all……

  7. Sure she’s running, SwMom. Just not for an office she knows she has zero chance of winning. Palin is running after that 15 minutes of fame that she feels pulling away from her though. You betcha.

  8. I also noticed that nowhere in the list of demands made by occupy wall street, did they even mention the wars being waged… Seems a very large oversight for a group claiming to want justice and equality and blah blah blah.
    Wall street has nothing to fear from these protests. Why would they when the very authority the protesters are seeking to redress their greivances, is the same authority that looted them and middle class to bail out the firms they are protesting! No matter who wins, we all lose. Dont you get that yet? If these protests had any chance of changing anything, they would have been infiltrated long ago and had acts of violence attributed to them to discredit them. The fact that they havent is testament that the powers that be in wall street and washington dont care enough to disrupt their message.

    1. I was at ‘occupy Philadelphia’ yesterday. Unfortunately the news does not care that this is spreading from city to city. It is a hodge podge, for sure, and does in fact include anti war protestors _ you just aren;t seeing it.
      To me the point isn’t the ‘list’ that is a non starter, it is the fact that what is happening primarily, it appears and to my interpretation of it, to have been a seedling with the Citizens United ruling and goes to the fact that no jobs or jobs bill seems to be forthcoming, the congress prefering to be in a partisan gridlock (which amazingly Scalia thinks is a good think and what the framers wanted). Vietnam protests were because each of us was impacted, we all had brothers, sons, nephews, good friends who were, would be, or could be drafted. Finally this has come to the streets as people realize it is affecting each and every oone of the 99%. Protest is a good thing (when there are legit issues, which there are whether you agree with them or not, (someone yesterday told me the protests were merely the ‘tools of the unions’.) and what democracy looks like.

  9. Swarthmore mom1, October 5, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I like this article….! I feel the air turning…..fresh!

  10. David1, October 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Wootsy, the problem I’m pointing out is that when we identify exclusively with one party, we tend to overlook the traits our candidate exhibits and and only see them in the other parties’ candidate.
    there is no doubt that there is projection at play…..some are blinded by it and some are blinded to it….but not all are blind.

    I do see te sense in what you are saying in the rest of your post….but the biggest problem IMHO is the inequality of the enforcement…there always seems to be some powerless slob that gets thrown to the wolves in these arenas, I have been one, I think the behavior has been outed…now what?

    in short, games over, play fair isn’t viable….

  11. “Hopefully, we as a nation and as two separate movements, can look past labels and see the principles that this country was built on and which are rapidly fading away.” -David

    My solemn hope…

  12. Wootsy, the problem I’m pointing out is that when we identify exclusively with one party, we tend to overlook the traits our candidate exhibits and and only see them in the other parties’ candidate. Think of all the Democrats who were shocked at Bush’s policies but think they’re fine in Obama’s hands. Or picture all those Tea Partiers who cried out for the expansion of governmental power after 9/11 but were shocked when Obama exercised the same power they so willingly surrendered to Bush.

    My point isn’t “I know you are but what am I” (although I am a big PeeWee fan) but that both parties (and human nature) seems to think this way as we often clearly see the speck in the person in the other parties’ eye but fail to notice the beam in our own candidate’s eye, to paraphrase Matthew 7:3.

    Also, I know Cheney wasn’t President. My point is that he knew how to manipulate the man who was, hence the Secret Service nicknamed him “Edgar” and called Bush “Charlie,” obviously pointing out that while Cheney wasn’t President he knew how to use the POTUS the way a ventriloquist speaks through a dummy.

    I’m not being partisan here and wonder if Obama isn’t similarly influenced by a giant many-handed ventriloquist named Goldman Sachs. He’s the perfect Goldman President as he mollifies the masses while enriching the banksters, campaigning on change and governing the same old way. Even the masses see through this act now though and I feel like a dummy for ever falling for it. I won’t get fooled again though and I think a lot in the Occupy movement feel the same way, not caring which party it comes from but demanding an end to the corporate control of our democracy, no matter which party is in power.

    Strangely, in this way this group seems to have something in common with the Tea Party, or at least elements of it, which might lead to some real change. Hopefully, we as a nation and as two separate movements, can look past labels and see the principles that this country was built on and which are rapidly fading away.

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