NBC news has produced a chilling, confidential Department of Justice (DOJ) white paper outlining the supposed legality of extrajudicial drone strikes on U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism even without intelligence to show involvement in a plot to attack America.
While admitting that U.S. citizens are still afforded constitutional protections such as due process when they travel abroad, the 16-page report claims, “The U.S. citizenship of a leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces, however, does not give that person constitutional immunity from attack” [emphasis added]. Continuing, “The Due Process Clause would not prohibit a lethal operation of the sort contemplated here.”
As it has with thousands of men, women, and children in the Middle East, our federal government apparently thinks its somehow allowed to use drones to openly murder Americans outside the law of our land.
The memo also claims, “This conclusion is reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a U.S. citizen.” Regardless of its extraordinary nature, such lethal drone operations would be “justified as an act of national self-defense.”
According to the DOJ, a lethal strike against an American citizen is okay if he or she is a suspected al-Qa’ida leader on foreign soil and the following three conditions are met:
1) an informed, high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
2) capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and
3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
The paper does not discuss considerations of drone strikes on Americans suspected of high-level terrorism on domestic soil.
Although this is the first time this deadly assertion has been spelled out in black and white, the U.S. government has already killed multiple U.S. citizens with drone strikes. Born in Denver, Colorado, Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was an American citizen when he was murdered in a strike in Yemen. According to family member accounts, the teenager was not even involved in the suspected terrorist activities for which his father (also a U.S. citizen) was killed in another U.S. drone strike a week earlier.
Neither al-Awlaki nor his son were afforded due process before they were killed.
Even the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the indefinite detainment of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism without a guaranteed trial, at least pretends to consider the Authorization for Use of Military Force’s inability to deny an American their constitutional rights.
The New York Times reported on Obama’s “secret kill list” at length last spring, noting the list included several U.S. citizens and two teens, “including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.” The article outlines how the president deems himself judge, jury, and executioner of those on the list.
Despite multiple Freedom of Information Act requests placed by the ACLU and others, the government has yet to release any information on its extrajudicial drone killings, what requirements must be met to be added to the list, or how the president goes about choosing the next suspect to die by drone.
Even as it amps up the drone war in Yemen, reports have come out just this month that the U.S. is now mulling over expanding drone strikes to Mali, a region that admittedly houses secret U.S. drone bases. Former Rand Corporation head Bruce Hoffman felt most Americans would not consider this action to be controversial because it isn’t “boots on the ground,” a position illustrating just how much unmanned aerial vehicles have further dehumanized American wars.
It’s time more Americans admitted these unconstitutional drone strikes are more than just controversial; they are murder. How can the DOJ “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans” as its mission statement claims it must when it is calling for the outright extrajudicial slaying of American citizens?
The American system of criminal justice is supposedly based on the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty. Now, not only are we guilty until proven innocent, but apparently, proof is no longer required.