Leaked Obama Memo Shows Assassination of U.S. Citizens “Has No Geographic Limit” (Democracy Now!)

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” reports on the leaked drone memo authorizing killing of American citizens abroad at the president’s order:

The blurb for the show:

“The Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. In a secret Justice Department memo, the administration claims it has legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the United States. We’re joined by Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “If you look at the memo … there’s no geographic line,” says Jaffer. “The Obama administration is making, in some ways, a greater claim of authority [than President Bush]. They’re arguing that the authority to kill American citizens has no geographic limit.” [includes rush transcript]

Guest: Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU.

The Transcript of the interview is here.

13 Responses

  1. The transcript of the interview has Jameel Jaffer saying, “It sets out, or professes to set out, the power that the government has to carry out the targeted killing of American citizens who are located far away from any battlefield, even when they have not been charged with a crime, even when they do not present any imminent threat in any ordinary meaning of that word.”

    Let’s parse this statement.

    A. The White Paper states that the US can lawfully kill one of its own citizens if it determines that the person is a “senior, operational leader” of Al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates. The emphasis is on “senior, operational leader” of Al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates. That the person in question is a US citizen grants him no more immunity from attack than if a member of the German army waging war against Americans in World War II happened to also be a US citizen. This is war, not criminal activity.

    B. Jaffer’s comment about US citizens located “far away from any battlefield” illustrates his naive view of the war being waged. He seems to think this is a war within certain geographic boundaries. It is not. The battlefield in this case encompasses the area in which the terrorists operate as well as the area in which their target is located. There is no designated geographic “battlefield” as he apparently defines the term.

    C. As for being charged for a crime, this is a war in which Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are attacking the US. This is not a group of thugs knocking of a Seven-Eleven convenience store or committing murder while attempting armed robbery. The US criminal justice system does not apply here.

    D. The term “imminent threat” is applicable because, as the White Paper states, Al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations are “continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.”

    • I don’t think we even need to invoke the novel nature of this war to do away with the “far from any battlefield” objection.

      Think about the bombing of enemy air fields, which are commonly located hundreds of miles behind enemy lines.

  2. “The US criminal justice system does not apply here.”

    Why did the Justice Department obtain a grand jury indictment against Osama Bin Laden arising out of the al-Qaeda embassy bombings in Africa?

    Either it applies or it doesn’t.

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his Gulag Archipelago trilogy, spoke of the “RevTribunals” a special court in the Soviet Union to address counter-revolutionary conduct. The RevTribunals had a judge but there was no legal standards to apply in the proceeding and the only punishment authorized was death. It was observed that the criminal courts of the Soviet Union had legal strictures and a range of punishments including imprisonment for a number of years; it was much preferred to be charged in a criminal tribunal than a RevTribunal.

    The extrajudicial assassination program described here smacks of a similar situation to the RevTribunals – no real protections against arbitrary and capricious impositions of decisions to execute. Likewise, the U.S.criminal justice system is a clearly preferable alternative to this CIA-sponsored program for its constitutional protections.

    • “Why did the Justice Department obtain a grand jury indictment against Osama Bin Laden arising out of the al-Qaeda embassy bombings in Africa? Either it applies or it doesn’t.”

      Any judicial action taken against Osama bin Laden prior to his September 11 attacks against the United States (which were acts of war) were superseded by his status as an Unlawful Enemy Combatant after attacking the US. The Law of War then took precedence.

    • Either it applies or it doesn’t.

      This is false. One can be both a legitimate military target and a criminal subject to arrest and criminal charges. Think about all of the uniformed German officers tried at Nuremberg. Prior to capture, any of them could have been shot at, just like every other soldier in the army.

      To claim that one cannot be both a soldier and a criminal is to argue that nothing done in the prosecution of a war can be illegal.

      • “To claim that one cannot be both a soldier and a criminal is to argue that nothing done in the prosecution of a war can be illegal.”

        I guess I am missing something that I am sure will be pointed out, but it sure seems like you and Bill argue, very plainly, albeit behind a screen of “legalisms,” that indeed pretty much nothing “we” do in the prosecution of a war can be illegal. Indeed, that “necessity” dictates that EVERYthing any more is a WAR and therefore open season.

        Does that mean that generals who run prisons like Abu Ghraib, and generals and colonels and captains who operate(ed) killing machines like the ones that it finally appears were running in Vietnam and other places nominally as “wars,” self-declared “wars,” with no possible good end, no strategic successes (except in apologists’ screeds), no advancement of US interests, can be held as criminals? Or did your predecessors in polemics carry the day in figuring out little corner-shot “legal arguments” for why our former and (as the arguments you contend for) present “actors” are in the “legal” right in the operation of the current killing machines, thus immunizing them from consequences?

        (Re good ends, I see the Kabulists are lobbying for a huge bunch of high-dollar, high-prestige weapon systems, F-16s for crissake, to be gifted to them by “the UN.” U.S., Afghanistan At Odds Over Weapons Wish List, link to npr.org To “control their borders.” Which extend exactly where? Since they don’t seem interested in figuring out how to “control” their nominal subjects, and like their predecessors seem to be setting up to try to hold on to just the personally richest bits for as long as they can.At least the Afghanistan “war” sort of looked like a “war.” AUMF and all. If congress happened to withdraw the AUMF, the linchpin of your whole argument, could we all go home? and let the cops go back to work?)

        Another question I just have to ask: What is so important about blogs like this that folks like you have to keep trying to pound down any little pseudopod of a notion that maybe what “we” are doing is neither “legal,” nor right, nor just, nor wise (then and now and once again — see, e.g. the Phoenix Program, the official version and the extended reality like link to tomdispatch.com)

        You guys are getting to the point of self-parody.

        (Wait for it… wait for it… here comes the withering riposte…)

  3. In a secret Justice Department memo, the administration claims it has legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the United States.

    No, but it does require that there is intelligence indicating that they belong to an organization against which Congress has declared war (the always-inconvenient September 20, 2001 AUMF).

    Anyone belonging to the military of a power against whom Congress has declared was has always been considered a legitimate target, even if that individual is not, at the moment of attack, engaged in hostilities, or poses an imminent threat. How many airplane mechanics and mail clerks do you think have been killed by air strikes?

    • No, it doesn’t require that. It requires that the Executive Branch *claim* that such intelligence exists.

      The executive branch has a long record of lying about such things.

      If it required that the executive branch present such intelligence to an impartial court, that would be *an entirely different situation*.

  4. Remember the international ourage in September of 1976 when a young American aide to a former Chilean diplomat was killed in a car bombing in Embassy Row in Washington D.C.?

    25-year old Ronni Moffitt and Orlando Letelier, both trying to promote democracy in Chile, died in an attempt by DINA, the Chilean secret police;her boyfriend was wounded but survived. CIA contract agent Michael Townley and anti-Castro Cubans linked to the CIA were involved with the operation. Subsequent research by an investigative reporter has shown that CIA leadership knew of the plot at least two months before it was carried out. As late as September of 2012, the Chilean government was still trying to prosecute those linked to the case and the #1 NY Times Best-Seller “By Way of Deception” claimed that Mossad training of DINA in special operations in exchange for delivery of Exocet missiles from Chile to Israel helped DINA acquire the expertise to successfully carry out the killing.

    The relevance of the Moffitt case is that it shows that CIA-linked assassination programs has the potential to lead to innocent Americans being killed. We may have to wait until the day an American or some European is again accidentally killed as “collateral damage” before the public outrage is again ignited over how these “special operations” programs are run.

    • I served in Santiago, Chile during Pinochet’s rule and am well-aware of the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington, DC. Your attempt to link that crime with the US Counter-Terrorism drone program directed against those who declared war on the US is an exercise in pure sophistry. It does not even begin to have credibility.

      • “The relevance of the Moffitt case is that it shows that CIA-linked assassination programs has the potential to lead to innocent Americans being killed.”

        Further to my post above, your attempt to “link” the CIA to the assassination of Letelier and Moffitt is just as disingenuous and lacking in credibility as your attempt to link the the drone program to it. It simply does not wash to anyone aware of the facts.

        • @Bill:

          John Dinges, in the book he co-authored “Assassination on Embassy Row”, published in 1999, stated that the CIA leadership knew of the plot to kill Letelier at least two months before it occurred. DINA was trained and supplied by the CIA under Operation Condor, directed by Ted Shackley, who would later become Associate Deputy Director of Operations of the CIA before his retirement.

        • Dinges, as well as others during that time, made all sorts of allegations. Much of it was based on ideolgogical predisposition. There is no evidence that the CIA was linked to the assassination of Letelier and Moffitt. That the CIA and DINA trained together is no evidence that the CIA was involved with DINA’s actions. To suggest otherwise is to engage in the same old “conspiracy” theories that have always surrounded events in Chile during that time.

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