Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Opinion

Assassination nation: Are there any limits on President Obama's license to kill?

As part of its war against violent extremism, the Obama administration now claims a right to kill Americans without a trial, without notice, and without any chance for targets to legally object.

By James Bovard / May 17, 2011



Rockville, Md.

How much evidence should the US government be obliged to show before it kills an American citizen?

Skip to next paragraph

None, according to the Obama administration.

And how much evidence should the government be obliged to possess of an American’s wrongdoing before officially targeting them for killing?

That’s a secret, according to the Obama team.

As part of its war against violent extremism, the Obama administration now claims a right to kill Americans without a trial, without notice, and without any chance for targets to legally object. On May 6, the US government launched a drone attack to try to kill a US citizen in Yemen. The Obama administration alleges that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born Muslim cleric, helped spark killings at Fort Hood, Texas, and an attempt to blow up a jetliner in 2009. Mr. Awlaki might be a four-star bad guy, but government press releases and background briefings have not previously been sufficient to justify capital punishment. The drone attack failed to terminate Awlaki, though two other people were killed.

The US government has admitted that it has added the names of other Americans to a list for targeted killing. The American Civil Liberties Union sued last year to compel the government “to disclose the legal standard it uses to place US citizens on government kill lists,” but was thwarted when the Obama administration claimed the entire program was a “state secret.” Last December, federal Judge John Bates dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit because “there are circumstances in which the Executive’s unilateral decision to kill a US citizen overseas” is “judicially unreviewable.”

Presidential power grabs

Unfortunately, the current assassination program is merely an extension of presidential power grabs going back into the last century. In 1998, President Clinton launched a missile strike against a Sudan pill producer after US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. After the US government failed to offer any evidence linking its target in Sudan to the terrorist attacks, the owners of Sudan’s largest pharmaceutical factory sued for compensation for damage. In 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decreed: “President Clinton, in his capacity as commander in chief, fired missiles at a target of his choosing to pursue a military objective he had determined was in the national interest. Under the Constitution, this decision is immune from judicial review.”

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story