In April, a federal appeals court in New York ordered the Obama administration to release at least part of a Department of Justice memo that sets out the president’s purported legal justification for his order to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen.
Awlaki was targeted by the president and later assassinated by a drone strike in 2011 while he lived in Yemen.
The New York Times reported that the three-judge panel “unanimously” reversed a lower court decision, insisting that the federal government forfeited its secrecy defense by making “numerous public statements” explaining why it is legal for the president to order Americans be killed.
“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had, has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the D.O.J. White Paper,” Judge Jon O. Newman wrote for the panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as quoted in the Times article.
With the publication Monday morning of the Justice Department memo, one would imagine that the world would finally appreciate the Obama administration’s justification for killing Americans by remote control. The reality, however, is that, as one commentator wrote, “the short version can be boiled down to four letters: AUMF.”
The Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) was passed immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and represents perhaps the largest single de facto repeal of rights protected by the Constitution since that document was ratified in 1789.
Techdirt accurately summed up the immeasurable effect on liberty:
This [the AUMF] kicked off America's "War on Terror," a slippery slope "battlefield" that has been used to justify everything from domestic surveillance by the NSA to the purchase of cell phone tower spoofers and discarded military vehicles by local police departments.
Additional rationale for the usurpation of the authority to kill Americans without the slightest, even perfunctory nod toward civil liberties was published in a Justice Department “White Paper” released last year.
In commenting on the White Paper, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney used those words to describe the targeted assassination of American citizens overseas. In other words, 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"; they have no rights and can be killed at will.
In a footnote, the Justice Department explained 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.
Click here to read the entire article.
Image: screenshot of cover page from DOJ memo