Presidential death warrants and U.S. citizens

The White House has so far refused to give a straight answer to the question of whether the President claims to have authority to kill Americans on American soil based on his sole determination.

The police and the military have not only a right but a duty to use lethal force to protect human life.  Police have the right to use lethal force to take someone into custody who is charged with committing a crime or of whom there is probable cause to believe committed a crime.  If Americans wage war against their government, as in the Civil War, the government has the right to use lethal force to defeat them.

usassassinBut in all these examples, the use of lethal force is limited to the specific situation.  The question is whether the President has an open-ended right to issue a death warrant against someone not engaging in an act of terrorism, not charged with a crime, not resisting arrest, not bearing arms against U.S. forces, but whom the President has determined is a threat to national security.

As it happens, I don’t think the President should have unlimited authority to order the killing of foreigners or people living in foreign countries, either.  But Obama administration’s response to the question about Americans on American soil shows how foolish it is to imagine that it is possible to grant a ruler absolute power and think it always will be used against somebody else.

So far as I can tell, the Obama administration has never acknowledged any legal restriction on the President’s power whatsoever.   I think this is a greater long-range threat to American freedom than anything our foreign enemies are doing.  You can be sure that whatever power is claimed by President Obama will be claimed by his successors, on whichever party.

I think Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky deserves great credit for pressing this question.   It is an example of how some Republicans libertarians, conservatives and even Tea Partiers are more principled defenders of liberty than many of us liberals.

[Update 3/7/13]  Attorney General Eric Holder sent Rand Paul a letter saying that the President does not have authority to use weaponized drones against American citizens not engaged in combat on American soil.  Click on Eric Holder answers Ron Paul (sort of) for my follow-up post.

Click on the following links for more.

Can the President Target American Citizens on American Soil? by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones.

Killing American Citizens on American Soil, Take 2 by Kevin Drum.

Killing Americans on U.S. Soil: Eric Holder’s Evasive, Manipulative Letter by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic.

Rand Paul Filibusters Brennan CIA Appointment, an eight-minute C-SPAN segment [Added 3/7/13]

Eric Holder Answers Rand Paul’s Question [3/7/13]

Why It Matters Than Rand Paul Got His Answer [3/8/13]

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Presidential death warrants and U.S. citizens”

  1. Atticus Says:

    It seems like the Obama Administration has found great power in their simple refusal to define terms. For example, who exactly qualifies as a terrorist, what actions does one have to perform to be labelled a terrorist threat? Apparently “leaking” information about our Government (even when their actions are evil) qualify. What about writing criticizing articles of Government actions on the internet?

    I think the administration is leaving these terms undefined and intentionally ambiguous as a genius political move. They have plausible deniability whether they decide to murder a US citizen or not.


  2. Jeff Nguyen Says:

    How can they exceed the limits of Presidential power when there are no limits? And where I stand, no answer is an answer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: