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Obama, drone strikes and extrajudicial assassinations

By Scott Tibbs, February 14, 2013

Last week, a white paper was leaked to NBC News regarding the President's alleged legal authority to order drone strikes to assassinate American citizens. Reason.com published an excellent follow-up analysis of why the justification is scary and should worry everyone who values our civil liberties.

While I have been very critical of Barack Obama on this drone strike policy, and while it is true that Obama has dramatically expanded the use of drone strikes over what the Bush Administration had done between 2001 and 2008, Republicans are just as bad on this issue as Obama has been. After all, when Obama ordered the extrajudicial assassination of an American citizen in the fall of 2011, the Republicans running for President practically shoved each other out of the way to run to the microphone and endorse this extrajudicial assassination - with the notable exception of Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

But even with the Republicans' compliance and support, Obama is the President and therefore deserves the most criticism. This is his policy and he is the one who has made the decision to expand the drone strikes, including killing American citizens who have not even been charged with a crime, much less convicted. Say what you will about George W. Bush and indefinite detention of alleged terrorists captured by American forces, at least those people have the opportunity to get due process at some point. Once someone is killed, they have no chance to prove their innocence or petition for release.

Obama justifies his extrajudicial assassination by arguing that he has the authority to exterminate someone who represents an "imminent threat" and capturing the alleged terrorist is not practical. But Obama's definition of "imminent threat" is very elastic, because an American citizen can be targeted for assassination without any evidence that a terror attack is being planned at all, much less is actually imminent. Furthermore, if Anwar al-Awlaki was indeed enough of a threat that he needed to be killed, why was he not even charged with a crime?

What of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki who was assassinated while he was eating in an outdoor restaurant? Was the teenager a terrorist? Was there any evidence he presented an "imminent" threat to our national security? What was the justification for killing him, other than his father's status as an enemy of the state? Have we sunk so low that we are now killing the children of suspected terrorists to intimidate them - even when those children are American citizens, born in the United States?

It is good news that Obama has agreed to share his legal reasoning for why the drone strikes are "legal" with Congress, but that's not enough. This document needs to be public. While it is understandable and necessary for some actions of our government to be secret in the interest of national security, we must not be a nation of secret laws. We need a full and robust debate about the use of drones, especially when used to kill American citizens.

If Barack Obama is serious about protecting civil liberties and following his oath to uphold and protect the Constitution, he will welcome a much more open debate about the use of drones, and he will be honest with the American people about why he feels it is appropriate to assassinate American citizens without bothering with that little thing called "due process." Meanwhile, I have a very simple question for all of the Democrats who were furious with George W. Bush for his record on civil liberties and were convinced Obama would be better:

How's that hope & change workin' out for ya?