The White House claims that killing Americans without due process is “legal,” “necessary,” “ethical,” and “wise.”
In commenting on a white paper released by the Justice Department and obtained by NBC News, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney used these words to describe the targeted assassination of American citizens overseas. Those marked for death by drone are those believed by the president to be collaborating (in a notably undefined manner) with “al-Qaeda and its associated forces.”
In a footnote, the Justice Department explains that the “laws of war” will be used to determine whether a group is a “co-belligerent” with al-Qaeda. That is the sum of the guidance and notice given to those Americans residing overseas who might unknowingly be targets for the next Hellfire missile.
The timing of the release of the 16-page memo is curious given that on Thursday hearings will begin on the confirmation of President Obama’s choice for CIA director, former counterterrorism czar John Brennan.
The presidential presumption of guilt by association followed by the autocratic order of a lethal drone strike rightly worries constitutionalists and friends of liberty. In fact, many questions prompted by the president’s drone program remain unanswered. For instance, why can’t these alleged “terrorists” be tried in our federal court system? For decades those accused of terroristic crimes have been formally charged with those crimes, had those charges heard before an impartial federal judge, and been permitted to mount a defense to those crimes.
In fact, a survey of such trials conducted by Human Rights Watch reported, “Federal civilian criminal courts have convicted nearly 500 individuals on terrorism-related charges since 9/11.”
Add to this the story of Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in June 2011 for the Oklahoma City bombing, the worst terrorist act on American soil until 9/11. Extending the full panoply of due-process rights — including a trial in federal court — did not allow McVeigh or other convicted terrorists to evade justice. Furthermore, the purpose of protecting and providing civil liberties to those accused of crimes is not to set the guilty free, but to avoid punishing the innocent who are wrongly accused of crimes.
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