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. We lost the battle in Texas, Blouise. The only hope is the Justice Dept but right now they are just looking at redistricting.

  2. AY, the purpose of the photo ID is to show who you are, not where you live. And last I heard, Texas is one of the states that honors CC permits from other states.

    The poll tax was set up to disenfranchise minorities, mostly black, from voting. That was struck down as unconstitutional. The state issued voter ID law was set up for exactly the same purpose by the Republican power brokers. Most vote fraud is not voter registration activity, but caging, which is an official/unofficial policy of the Republican party.

  3. SwM,

    We fought that battle here in Ohio … and won, for now, but the suppress the vote republicans are still trying. One can use a provisional ballot (all info is checked before vote is counted) if one doesn’t have an I D.

    In Ohio one has to have resided at the address 30 days before the election and a college student may vote using his or her Ohio school residence address. However, the student may not also vote an absentee ballot where he or she last lived (e.g., with one or more parent or guardian). When a college student votes from his or her school address, the school residence is considered to be the place to which the student’s habitation is fixed and to which, whenever the student is absent, the student intends to return, and is considered by the student to be his or her permanent residence at the time of voting.

  4. I don’t agree…when I moved to Austin I had not changed my Voter registration…I had my student ID and Texas Drivers licenses. I was working for the Majority Leader and did not get a mail in ballot….I was not allowed to vote in any of the local elections but could vote state wide and national. I voted democratic that year. I wonder really how much this has changed….

  5. I can see the rationale,too, as more students vote for democrats and more hand gun owners vote republican.

  6. A hand gun permits suggest that you are legally eligible to vote, why? Because its only issued to citizens of that state. A Student ID suggests that you are a student at that particular institution. I think I can see the rational for that and most other folks can as well.

  7. I will be goiing again today. The chant is (one of them) “This is what democracy looks like.) The first amendment makes this the most American of activity. Freedom of speech, right of assembly, right to petition gov’t re our grievances. The gov has not listened despite phone calls, emails, snail mails, talking directly to senators and reps, individually and in groups. They force us to petition in the streets.
    The tea party started because they were not being heard. Why are we “Un American” and mob (re Hatch, Cantor, et al,) while the tea party was applauded?

  8. And who will help to restore our republic this time around? (I think that we may be seeing some movement in the right direction… but we have miles to go…)

  9. SwM,

    Love it or leave it … lord, yes … I also remember the Smothers Brothers numerous comedy sketches on the love it or leave it folk.

    Nixon shut the brothers down, then deep throat shut Nixon down … good times 😉

  10. Blouise , Do you remember the “love it or leave it” folks? They are the same people that are in the tea party.

  11. Déjà vu … same rhetoric I encountered during my Civil Rights and Nam days …

    What I find most interesting is all the failed attempts to assign faces and names to the leadership thus failing to find individuals to vilify.

    Some very smart people ……. 😉

  12. The Moral Imperative of ‘Activism’
    October 6, 2011

    “On Sept. 18, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern gave a talk about “activism” to a conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, focused on the need to confront the military industrial complex. Now, as the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington gets underway, his words take on a special resonance.”

    by Ray McGovern

    http://consortiumnews.com/2011/10/06/the-moral-imperative-of-activism/

    (Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army officer and a CIA analyst and now is happy to be described as an “activist.”)

  13. Blouise,I wish more people wouold call their reps and pres (numbers at congress.org) Re: jobs the idea of a tax on millionaires to pay for the jobs bill makes sense, after all the repubs rationalization to keep it was the rish create jobs. They have not. This way they pay for the jobs bill and are creating the jobs the repubs said they would be.

  14. Jill,

    Too many in our population look at issues like this simplistically. “We got the bad guys–good for us!” Too many don’t stop to think how dangerous it is that a president of this country thinks he has the right to–as you said–ordain the killing of an individual whom he determines–with the help a secret panel–is a terrorist/threat to our country.

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