License to Kill
Last September, Al-Qaeda leader and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by an unmanned drone in Yemen. Yesterday, Attorney General Holder laid out the legal grounds for the President to order such an assassination . He argues that, in facing an imminent threat of a terrorist attack by a U.S. citizen, the government may kill that person under the following circumstances:
an operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
All of the determinations to which he alludes in this passage are to be made by the executive branch, without judicial input. He is saying that the Constitution’s guarantee that one may not be deprived of life without due process does not imply judicial process. Deliberations within the executive branch suffice.
Although it seems clear from what we have been told that Awlaki did indeed consider himself at war with the United States, it is still distressing that a president who came to office as a bitter critic of abuses of presidential authority by his predecessor now takes essentially the same position as George W. Bush. Power that is unchecked and operates in secret is always dangerous to democracy.
We are one more step along the road that I foresaw back in 2006, when the following essay appeared on this site:
A Death Foretold
Guantánamo Bay, September 11, 2026. Defeated Republican presidential candidate Bjorn Looser was sentenced to death today after a secret trial, on charges that were not specified. According to the current interpretation of a law passed twenty years ago, in 2006, the government did not have to specify charges, did not have to show evidence, and did not have to allow Looser to have a lawyer.
The heroic and patriotic President of the United States, Clint McClane, pointed out that, as President, he was simply exercising the powers granted to him by the 2006 law. “The President has the power to decide whom to detain, what rights the detainee is to have, whether the detainee will be convicted, and what the penalty will be,” said the spokesman. “When the opposition persists in criticizing the President and demanding that he step down, even though the people have voted for his reelection four times,” he continued, “they are clearly a threat to our national security and should have no rights.”
The Republican Party is a shadow of its former self. In the first years of this century the party dominated the national scene under the leadership of President George W. Bush. Impelled by the threat of terrorism after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and by persistent opposition to his plans by the courts, Bush successfully pushed for the presidential powers embodied in the 2006 detainee law.
Although many Democrats opposed the law, once they captured the presidency they saw its virtues. As President Bush said many times, the War on Terror would go on indefinitely, until terrorism is defeated. As Rank Toady, the President’s press secretary said, “a strong President is vital to our national security, and this heroic and patriotic President especially needs the power to control the domestic opposition to prevent dissent from undermining national security by destroying national unity.”
In other developments, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hack Player, declared all 100 seats held by Republicans vacant after they failed to appear for sessions last week. Inquiries by the news media found no one who knew where the missing members were. However, it should be noted that the Republicans had voted against the Homeland Security budget, which, they alleged, was being used for repression of dissent.
“I don’t know where they are,” the Speaker said. “But we’ll be better off without a bunch of subversives obstructing and criticizing our work. People have to understand we’re in a war here! To vote against Homeland Security is to threaten our very security as a nation.”
The well-known Republican mouthpiece, The Washington Times, was closed today by executive order of the President, after it published an editorial accusing the Administration of detaining the missing lawmakers. Explaining the closing, Secretary of Information Rosemary Beebe said, “Our democracy has a free press, but that doesn’t entitle anyone to make wild accusations that insult our heroic and patriotic President and weaken our country by endangering national unity.”
This dispatch has received the approval of the National Office of Information (NOINFO) as safe for all audiences. Long live our democracy under the distinguished leadership of our heroic and patriotic President, Clint McClane.