The 9/11 attacks, and the desperate efforts to prevent a repeat, have forced the U.S. into a series of moral choices it didn’t want to make.
Nonetheless, as a matter of official and unofficial policy, we embraced the concept of pre-emptive wars.
Vital constitutional protections were selectively suspended. Traditional safeguards of privacy were overruled by the Patriot Act. Targeted assassinations and “enhanced interrogation techniques” amounting to torture became part of our anti-terrorism arsenal.
Candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric led many supporters to believe he would abandon or soften the policies. However, with a few exceptions, he not only embraced Bush-era surveillance and anti-terrorism policies, he expanded on them.
One has just come to light: an internal Justice Department memo saying it is legal for the administration to kill U.S. citizens abroad if an American is a senior member of al-Qaida or an allied terrorist organization and is believed to pose an “imminent” threat of violent attacks against other Americans.
We are a nation of rights and laws, and this memo is distressingly broad about the process of selecting Americans to assassinate.
It says that an “imminent threat” need not be based on any specific information and that certain al-Qaida leaders are acceptable targets, on the grounds that they are continually plotting against the U.S.
News accounts are vague about who exactly can order a strike, referring to “an informed, high-level government official” or simply a “decision-maker.”
And the memo says these projected assassinations should not be subject to judicial review; thus, making it the prerogative of somebody in the executive branch.
Eleven senators who will weigh in on President Obama’s nominees to the Pentagon and CIA have demanded to see the secret legal memos supporting the conclusions in the Justice memo that became public.
There remain many, many questions to be answered before targeted killings, basically on one person’s say-so, become official U.S. policy.