Due process and death warrants

I never thought I would live to see the day when the President of the United States would claim the right to sign death warrants on his own sole authority.  Even less did I think that a Democratic President who called himself a liberal would claim such a right.

President Obama claims the right to order “targeted killings” of terrorists on his own authority.  “Targeted killing” is Orwellian language.  According to the New York Times, Barack Obama defines a terrorist as any military-age male in a kill zone, unless there is intelligence demonstrating he is not.  That’s not what I would call targeting.  The President has justified the killing of unidentified people based on suspicious behavior, or based on proximity to such people, because “they are probably up to no good.”  Drone strikes have been ordered on funeral services of people who’ve been killed by previous drone strikes.

Many of us Americans are all right with that because we assume that the only people who are going to be targeted for death are brown-skinned men with Muslim names.  I think that is a naive assumption—aside from the consideration that brown-skinned men with Muslim names have as much right to live on this planet as white-skinned men with Anglo-Saxon names.  It is also naive to think that killing tribal people in places like Yemen or Pakistan’s Waziristan region will make the United States safer, rather than merely more hated.

Do you think I’m exaggerating?  This is from an article in England’s The Observer newspaper.

Amos Guiora knows all about the pitfalls of targeted assassinations, both in terms of legal process and the risk of killing the wrong people or causing civilian casualties.  The University of Utah law professor spent many years in the Israel Defence Forces, including time as a legal adviser in the Gaza Strip where such killing strikes are common.  He knows what it feels like when people weigh life-and-death decisions.

Yet Guiora – no dove on such matters – confessed he was “deeply concerned” about President Barack Obama’s own “kill list” of terrorists and the way they are eliminated by missiles fired from robot drones around the world.  He believes US policy has not tightly defined how people get on the list, leaving it open to legal and moral problems when the order to kill leaves Obama’s desk.  “He is making a decision largely devoid of external review,” Guiroa told the Observer, saying the US’s apparent methodology for deciding who is a terrorist is “loosey goosey”.

Indeed, newspaper revelations last week about the “kill list” showed the Obama administration defines a militant as any military-age male in the strike zone when its drone attacks.  That has raised the hackles of many who saw Obama as somehow more sophisticated on terrorism issues than his predecessor, George W Bush. But Guiora does not view it that way.  He sees Obama as the same as Bush, just much more enthusiastic when it comes to waging drone war.  “If Bush did what Obama has been doing, then journalists would have been all over it,” he said.

via The Observer.

 Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes a web log for The Atlantic, pointed out the problem with this.

Has there ever been a point since America’s inception when someone, somewhere, wasn’t plotting our downfall?  I have great difficulty perceiving a time when this won’t be true.  And so drone strategy comes to self-replicate.  We bomb your village.  You declare war on us for the bombing.  We deem you a terrorist and bomb again.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The Obama administration considers any military-age male in the vicinity of a bombing to be a combatant.  That is an amazing standard that shares an ugly synergy with the sort of broad-swath logic that we see employed in Stop and Frisk, with NYPD national spy network, with the killer of Trayvon Martin.

Policy is informed by the morality of a country. I think the repercussions of this unending era of death by silver bird will be profound.

via Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Strangely, many American leaders are unable to grasp this truth.

So Gallup has discovered that majorities or pluralities in every Arab country they polled (Algeria, Comoros, Palestine, Mauritania, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia and Morocco) opposed the NATO intervention in Libya.

It’s not groundbreaking to discover that Arabs don’t love it when Arabs are bombed. But here’s the funny part: according to a long article by Michael Hastings, a big point in favor of attacking the Gaddafi government for the Obama administration was that it would make the Arab world finally like them.

It goes to show the U.S. political class is, psychologically, an even more dangerous version of Wall Street. Like Wall Street, they jaunt around the world obliterating millions of people’s lives, and then they’re shocked, wounded and infuriated when those people fail to be properly grateful for everything they’ve done for them. At that point, like Wall Street, they decide: We’ve got to make everyone love us again! By doing more of what’s made them hate us!

via A Tiny Revolution.

Barack Obama has not reversed the polities of George W. Bush.  He has doubled down on them.

Having come to office on a powerful message of breaking with Bush, Obama has in fact built on his predecessor’s national security tactics.

Obama has presided over a massive expansion of secret surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency.  He has launched a ferocious and unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers.  He has made more government documents classified than any previous president.  He has broken his promise to close down the controversial Guantánamo Bay prison and pressed on with prosecutions via secretive military tribunals, rather than civilian courts.  He has preserved CIA renditions.  He has tried to grab broad new powers on what defines a terrorist or a terrorist supporter and what can be done with them, often without recourse to legal process.

The sheer scope and breadth of Obama’s national security policy has stunned even fervent Bush supporters and members of the Washington DC establishment.

via The Observer.

From the very first days of his presidency, Mr. Obama’s training as a lawyer was put to use not in abolishing the worst practices of the Bush era, but in giving himself the wriggle room to preserve and in some cases expand them. Thus the three major policies of the Bush war on terror – rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention – continue to this day.  But Mr. Obama has also presided over a massive expansion of secret surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency.  There is a ferocious crackdown on whistleblowers.  He has made more government documents classified than any previous president.  And he has become a true believer in drones.

via The Guardian.

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One Response to “Due process and death warrants”

  1. Atticus Finch Says:

    “I never thought I would live to see the day when the President of the United States would claim the right to sign death warrants on his own sole authority. Even less did I think that a Democratic President who called himself a liberal would claim such a right.”

    You said it best. This is a disaster. What presidence is this establishing?

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