When can the federal government murder an American citizen? Pretty much whenever. At least, that’s the case according to a new memo obtained by NBC that describes the protocol for drone strikes on American citizens who are believed to be working with our enemies. On the surface, the protocol seems reasonable:
..an “informed, high-level official” within the government must determine that: 1) the individual in question poses “an imminent threat of violence attack against the United States”; 2) capture of the individual is “infeasible”; and 3) the attack is “conducted in a manner consistent with” the laws of war.
But as is the case with so many things the government does, the devil is in the details.
From The Week:
Upon even a cursory examination, however, these constraints are virtually meaningless. The government is not required to “have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.” Furthermore, the feasibility of capture can be determined by several factors, including if it would simply be too risky for U.S. personnel to conduct a capture operation, or if a capture operation would imperil a “relevant window of opportunity.” There are miles of space to maneuver within the so-called constraints.
The suspect could also be a member of “an associated force of al Qaeda,” which presumably includes a wide spectrum of terrorist groups operating in Yemen, North Africa, Syria, and elsewhere.
…Critics say it is far too much power to invest in the office of the president. “This is a profoundly disturbing document, and it’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances,” said the ACLU in a statement. “It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact.”
So what does all this mean? The
king president can have an American citizen killed with no “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.”
Look, I’m not going to cry myself to sleep if an American citizen, who defected and began working with our enemies, is killed by a drone. But the slippery slope argument is obvious here. If it becomes common place (or even possible) for the President to issue executive orders to kill American citizens who are not involved in combat, where does it stop? That is a question that should be taken seriously by both the left and the right.
Even Joe Scarborough called the memo “frightening” and said that “If George Bush had done this, it would have been stopped.” And he’s right. But alas, we live in a partisan world where it’s okay for the guy that I support to ignore the Constitution but it’s not okay for the guy that you support to ignore it.