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Media has double standard on drone attacks against Americans

Opinion column

An unsigned and undated Justice Department white paper, obtained by NBC News, reports The New York Times, “... is the most detailed analysis yet to come into public view regarding the Obama legal team’s views about the lawfulness of killing, without a trial, an American citizen who executive branch officials decide is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies.”

The proviso is they must pose “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” If “an informed, high-level official” of the government decides they are a threat, the paper says, and if capture is not feasible, they may be killed.

There hasn’t been a huge outcry from those on the left who attacked President Bush for his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists. Recall, too, the vitriol directed at Vice President Dick Cheney for defending “enhanced interrogation” techniques on suspected terrorists in order to obtain information that might prevent new attacks against Americans.

The unclassified paper comes from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which according to the Times, provided justification for killing the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, born in New Mexico, was killed in an American drone strike in September 2011.

The white paper cites a national right to self-defense in wartime, but goes a step further. As summarized by The New York Times: “(It) emphasizes that the decision to kill a citizen in certain circumstances is not one in which courts should play any role, asserting that judges should not restrain the executive branch in making tactical judgments about when to use force against a senior al Qaeda leader.”

Weren’t some conservatives who made the same argument during the Bush administration criticized in certain newspaper editorials, and by liberal commentators and the Hollywood elite?

The white paper says that if a target poses an imminent threat to the U.S., and cannot be captured, the strike “would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.” It goes on to read, “A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination. In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat ... would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has been consistent with both the Bush and Obama administrations. It strongly — and wrongly in my view — criticized President Bush for his anti-terrorism policies. Reacting to the publication of the white paper, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, called it “a profoundly disturbing document.” “It’s hard to believe,” she added, “that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances.” She characterized it as “... a stunning overreach of executive authority.”

She may have a point. One that should be debated in Congress. Appropriate committees should invite or, if necessary, subpoena the person, or persons, who wrote the document. U.S. citizens should know what kind of action constitutes “imminent threat.” At present, the government’s definition is a little cryptic.

Given the way some criminal lawyers have “gamed” the U.S. court system to free hardened criminals, the president might be justified in this approach, but the larger question of how much authority he should be allowed to have in these circumstances and whether U.S. citizenship alone should be enough to guarantee due process when there is substantial evidence someone is involved in plots to kill other Americans, is a subject worthy of congressional consideration.

Email Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.

Comments

FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

Mr. President if you discover and conclusively determine someone, including an American citizen, planning imminent terroristic attack on the United States and they cannot be arrested please protect us. It is your constitutional duty and I expect you to excercise it fully. If you need a drone with a laser bomb, send it. If you need to put a jet in the air, please do so. Let's discuss our navel sometime when we have no life threatening issue at hand. We want no more Osama Bin Ladens, Lockerbies, USS Coles, Lebanon Marine barricks bombings, or Ambassador assassinations. Smoke'm. It is one of the few things you are doing right.

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USTPC 1 year, 2 months ago

I have to ask...were you as supportive of Bush and his war on terrorist? Also, an attack on a US citizen without due process, regardless of reason, is unconstitutional.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

When Mr. Bush went after terrorists, hell yes. When he was starting wars to settle the score on Sodomy Hussein's death threat against his pappy, hell no. That was something other than fighting terrorism. That is the complaint with Bush. After 9-11 the rascal went hay-wire.

TP said " Also, an attack on a US citizen without due process, regardless of reason, is unconstitutional." It is also unconstitutional to attack the United States as a combatant in alliance with a foreign enemy. The president is bound by oath of office to protect the people of the United States of America, to do otherwise is treason. Another perspective is - if someone attacks you with a deadly weapon attempting to kill you are you going to read him his rights before you defend yourself? Keep in mind it was the Bush administration that promulgated the doctrine of pre-emptive strike as national defense policy.

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USTPC 1 year, 2 months ago

But we are not talking about defending ourselves from anyone who is attacking us. What they are doing is stating that if they happen to "believe" that someone poses a threat then they have the freedom to kill them without providing any proof to anyone that they actually posed a threat. Do you not see the problem with this reasoning? What is to stop any president and/or his administration from taking out key opposition simply by someone in his administration saying they "believe" that person or persons is a threat to the US?

As Sister Ruby says, this is a very slippery slope we are going down. Giving unchecked freedom to our government to kill US citizens they deem a threat without due process is a road we should not be going down.

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USTPC 1 year, 2 months ago

Believes or decides....those words are interchangeable if you have no checks and balances and no due process. If they "decide" you are an imminent threat and cannot be captured and they kill you what proof do they have to provide to support their decision and to whom do they have to provide that proof? In the case of Obama if he "decides" that Joe Schmuck is an imminent threat and cannot be captured who does he ultimate answer to in order to justify the decision? The Department Of Justice? The Senate? The House? All three? If it is only the DOJ we already know that Holder will do everything he can include breaking the law to protect Obama. All I am saying is that there should be some due process involved. At the very least there should be a consensus from a bipartisan panel of 6 or 8 Senators and/or house members made up of an equal amount of Democrats and Republicans before an American citizen can be killed.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

USTPC: "Believes or decides....those words are interchangeable . . ." No they are not. One is subjective personalized while the other is rational objective. The Constitution of the US assigns the authority of commander in chief to the POTUS. Furthermore, it requires him to defend the republic. About that there is no reasonable dissent. Many presidents have used the CAC powers. Ronald Reagan did when he defended the US from the great threat of Granada. He also wisely used it when he bombed hell out of Libya when he decided that Gadaffi's occupation of uranium rich Chad was for the purpose of advancing Libya's goal of nuclear power which would propel Gadaffi into a major leadership position among the Arab world. Reagan feared and quite justifiably that Gadaffi would use his new found prestige to develop a formal league of Israel-hating states further de-stabilizing the mideast. So Reagan sited a couple of provocations and then hit Libya and told Gadaffi he would come back if the message wasn't clear enough. W, Turd Blossom, Condy, Wolfie, Rummy, Dickie and Colin added the cosmetics using the term Doctrine of Pre-emptive Defense. Took a lot of lipstick for the pig but they did it. I personally think Obama's been a failure as POTUS but this is one of the few things I believe he got right.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

USTPC, you are supplying the term "believe." What is available says nothing of the sort. The terms are active and affirmative not hypothetical or suppositional conjecture as you state. Read what Thomas wrote: "The white paper says that if a target poses an imminent threat to the U.S., and cannot be captured, the strike “would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.” It goes on to read, “A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination. In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat ... would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban.” "

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 2 months ago

Why not do it on U.S. soil, too? In fact, why not start a Pre-Crime division of the FBI?

Talk about the proverbial "slippery slope......" WOW!!!!!!!!

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

See above. Remember the United States has historically supported Israel's pre-emptive self-defense policy

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 2 months ago

Makes me think I need to start investing in my own personal Drone Defense System.

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