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Default When the President Orders a Killing - 05-31-2012, 09:59 PM

When the President Orders a Killing

Published: May 31, 2012

To the Editor:

For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.

Re “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” (front page, May 29):
If President Obama is allowed to execute American citizens without judicial review and outside the theater of war, that astonishing power will forever reside in the hands of future presidents.
No president should be given that breathtaking level of power — essentially serving as judge, jury and executioner without any check or balance. This abuse of power must be curtailed, not merely because of the possibility of current abuses but because of the certainty of future abuses.
The American Civil Liberties Union has brought — and will continue to bring — litigation on the targeted killing program and the need for greater transparency. Time and again, the Obama administration seeks to dismiss those suits on state secrets grounds, arguing that to allow judicial review of such policies would harm national security. It has also permitted the Central Intelligence Agency to tell courts implausibly that the public does not even know the program exists.
If numerous administration officials can defend the targeted killing program to Times reporters, then surely our federal courts and the American public should be granted that same level of respect. The administration shouldn’t hide its actions in court and then trumpet its achievements in the press. America’s moral standing depends on it.
Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union
New York, May 29, 2012

To the Editor:
I was among the “phalanx of retired generals and admirals” who stood with President Obama as he signed executive orders to ban torture, close the C.I.A.’s secret prisons and set a timetable for closing Guantánamo. President Obama did not break faith with us, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that he fulfills his promises.
President Obama has already eliminated torture and closed C.I.A. secret sites, but he must not stop there. He should bring the number of Guantánamo detainees down to zero and prosecute accused terrorists in federal courts rather than creaky military commissions. He has a responsibility to work beyond the politics and restore America’s reputation as a beacon for the rule of law.
Our group of retired military leaders knew that progress would take time. We also knew that it would be worth the wait.
St. Augustine, Fla., May 30, 2012
The writer is a retired rear admiral and former Navy judge advocate general.

To the Editor:
Re “Too Much Power for a President” (editorial, May 31):
Assassination cannot somehow be made right with court review or delegating the task to nonpoliticians, despite what you suggest. The deeper problem is that President Obama is pursuing the Bush administration’s “war on terror” with lethal absurdity.
A nonterritorial war, which cannot be won with the capture of a hill or a city, is an open license to murder. If we recognize terrorism as a crime, then suspects need to be captured and tried on the basis of evidence, with due process.
From expediency and a desire to look tough, Mr. Obama has adopted a policy that has turned into Buy One, Get Two Free: Kill One, Make Two New Ones. Drone strikes create intense hostility in Pakistan and Yemen, breeding new terrorists.
The United States is setting a precedent for Russia, China and, in time, terrorist organizations to use drones. Like Harry S. Truman with nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama is opening a Pandora’s box.
Bloomington, Ind., May 31, 2012

To the Editor:
Especially for liberals, the very idea of a sanctioned assassination list is troubling. But your editorial’s objections to it are untenable on several counts.
One sympathizes with the desire for oversight, but targeted assassination cannot be the official policy of our court system or of our military hierarchy, and military action against implacable enemies cannot be hostage to the vagaries and complexity of legal briefs. The courts are responsible to the Constitution; the military is bound by the rules of war. Only the president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has both the civilian and military authority necessary to make such decisions.
One also sympathizes with the desire for such decisions to be nonpolitical, but the fact that the president, unlike generals or most judges, is elected by the people means both that the people are responsible for the president’s actions, and that the president will be held accountable to the people.
For better, as in the Obama administration, or worse, as during the Bush years, we, the people, are the assassins, which is as it should be. The buck stops here.
New York, May 31, 2012
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Default 05-31-2012, 10:06 PM

Obama's 'kill list': commentary and analysis from around the web

An ongoing collection of commentary and analysis on the president's role in US counterterrorism efforts

According to the New York Times, President Barack Obama has stepped to the helm of the administration's secret efforts in selecting terrorists for its 'kill list.' The story describes Obama leading weekly meetings in which administration officials review suspected terrorists' bios on what an official described as the equivalent of "baseball cards". Since Obama took office, he has escalated the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected al-Qaida terrorists abroad in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The president has also continued the Bush administration's policies on rendition, military commissions and indefinite detentions, angering those who expected the president to honor his early ambitions to close Gitmo.
We are collecting commentary from those weighing in on the commander-in-chief's unprecedented role in the United States' counterterrorism efforts – from reporters, readers, and experts. Tweet your recommendation using #smarttakes, or add your analysis in the comments below. The Guardian's reporting on the United States' use of unmanned drones can be found here.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
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.
Amy Davidson, The New Yorker
Brennan and other officials interviewed by the Times and Newsweek said that Obama had enormous faith in himself. It would be more responsible, though, if he had less – if he thought that he was no better than any other President we've had or ever will. The point isn't just the task, or burden, he takes on, but the machine he has built for his successors to use.
Editorial, the New York Times
It is too easy to say that this is a natural power of a commander in chief. The United States cannot be in a perpetual war on terror that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat. That power is too great, and too easily abused, as those who lived through the George W. Bush administration will remember.
Micah Zenko and Emma Welch, Foreign Policy
But Obama's policy of killing by remote control is by no means new. Over the last decade, America's overseas use of drones has expanded exponentially in scope, location, and frequency. Beyond their use across the battlefields of Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq, US drones have been used to target suspected militants and terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as to conduct surveillance missions over Colombia, Haiti, Iran, Mexico, North Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, and beyond.
William Saletan, Slate
It's [New York Times's 'Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will'] a flattering portrait. But at its margins, you can spot hints at what the official narrative leaves out. Obama has been using two enormous loopholes to evade the program's rules for selecting targets and sparing civilians.
Charles Pierce, Esquire
Let's get the easiest stuff out of the way first. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that allows the president to make private war on individuals. Any historical precedent you can cite is rooted not in that document, but in the steady historical draining of the war powers from the Congress, where the Founders anchored them, to the Executive branch, all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates, when Jefferson circumvented the requirements by sending a fleet off to Africa and not telling Congress until it was too late to recall it.
Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Once something is repeated enough by government officials, we become numb to its extremism. Even in the immediate wake of 9/11 – when national fear and hysteria were intense – things like the Patriot Act, military commissions, and indefinite detention were viewed as radical departures from American political tradition; now, they just endure and are constantly renewed without notice, because they've just become normalized fixtures of American political life. Here we have the Obama administration asserting what I genuinely believe, without hyperbole, is the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I've heard in my lifetime – that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee that the State cannot deprive you of your life without "due process of law" is fulfilled by completely secret, oversight-free "internal deliberations by the executive branch" – and it's now barely something anyone (including me) even notices when The New York Times reports it
Michael Crowley, Time Swampland
The story provoked dismay from some usual suspects on the left, but little outrage overall. That's worth contemplating. Not only is Barack Obama asserting extraordinary executive power in ways that would have made Bush-era Democrats howl, fueling a dozen interminable Keith Olbermann "special comments," but he is also overseeing a very strange transformation of his office. While Presidents have always made grand life-and-death decisions about war and peace – the commander-in-chief role – the job has recently evolved. Now we have something like an executioner-in-chief.
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