Then the white paper appeared. It claims that if an American is likely to trigger the use of force 10,000 miles from here, and he can’t easily be arrested, he can be murdered with impunity. This notwithstanding state and federal laws that expressly prohibit non-judicial killing, an executive order signed by every president from Gerald Ford to Obama prohibiting American officials from participating in assassinations, the absence of a declaration of war against Yemen, treaties expressly prohibiting this type of killing, and the language of the Declaration, which guarantees the right to live, and the Constitution, which requires a jury trial before the government can deny that right.
The president cannot lawfully order the killing of anyone, except according to the Constitution and federal law. Under the Constitution, he can only order killing using the military when the U.S. has been attacked or when an attack is so imminent that delay would cost innocent lives. He can also order killing using the military in pursuit of a declaration of war enacted by Congress.
Unless Obama knows that an attack from Yemen on our shores is imminent, he’d be hard-pressed to argue that a guy in a car in the desert 10,000 miles from here—no matter his intentions—poses a threat so imminent to the U.S. that he needs to be killed on the spot in order to save the lives of Americans who would surely die during the time it would take to declare war on the country that harbors him, or during the time it would take to arrest him. Under no lawful circumstances may he use CIA agents for killing. Surely, CIA agents can use deadly force defensively to protect themselves and their assets, but they may not use it offensively. Federal laws against murder apply to the president and to all federal agents and personnel in their official capacities, wherever they go on the planet.
Obama has argued that he can kill Americans whose deaths he believes will keep us all safer, without any due process whatsoever. No law authorizes that. His attorney general has argued that the president’s careful consideration of each target and the narrow use of deadly force are an adequate and constitutional substitute for due process. No court has ever approved that. And his national security adviser has argued that the use of drones is humane since they are “surgical” and only kill their targets. We know that is incorrect, as the folks who monitor all this say that 11 percent to 17 percent of the 2,300 drone-caused deaths have been those of innocent bystanders.
Did you consent to a government that can kill whom it wishes? How about one that plays tricks on federal judges? How long will it be before the presidential killing comes home?
Daily updates with TM’s latest