The US government can order the killing of American citizens even when there is no active intelligence accusing them of carrying out a specific terrorist attack, according to a confidential Justice Department legal memo obtained by NBC News.
The memo, or “white paper,” concludes that assassinations of American citizens are legal if the US government says they are “senior operational leaders” or al-Qaeda or “an associated force.” The Executive Branch can keep this information secret though, and no checks or balances from other branches of government are necessary.
The memo addresses long-standing questions about the Obama administration’s drone war that have been increasingly pronounced ever since a US drone strike in September 2011 killed US citizens and alleged al-Qaeda members Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, and weeks later Awlaki’s 16-year old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
Without submitting the evidence to a court, without any oversight from Congress, and without even making it’s legal reasoning available to the public, the President can ignore the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which says that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Standard rules of international law demand that an imminent threat of an immediate attack is required in order to legally initiate the use of force in self-defense. But the Obama administration has greatly expanded the meaning of the word “imminence” to allow for his drone war, taking place mainly in Pakistan and Yemen.
The memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, like actual intelligence an ongoing plot against the US.
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states, contradicting conventional international law.
~ from Leaked Justice Department Memo Reveals Legal Case for Targeted Killings of US Citizens by John Glaser ~
As George Orwell observed, governments have a way of mangling language. They can turn peace into war, choice into limits and freedom into tyranny. In the present case, the Obama administration has turned the word, imminent, -- which means impending or about to occur -- into "it might possibly happen sometime in the next millennium."
What this basically boils down to is highfaluting legalese that says if you look like a "terrorist," that's close enough for us. Since this broad definition isn't open to judicial review or Congressional oversight, it can mean that anyone at anytime can "look" like a terrorist and there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it!
If the United States was an authoritarian dictatorship, such a revelation would be met with a yawn because dictators write their own rules. The problem, of course, is that the US ostensibly is not supposed to be one of these. We supposedly have checks-and-balances plus we are guided by the rule of law.