Now that we’ve had a day to digest the ‘leaked’ Justice Dept. memo concerning using lethal force on U.S. citizens, supporters and detractors have fallen in line pretty much as expected. This much we know for sure. There was nothing new in the memo. It contained many references to case law and other legal precedent for authorization. The bottom line is that if you’ve been a Bush doctrine supporter, you’ll agree that Obama is acting within his authority.
What makes many people upset is the hypocrisy involved. Obama as a state senator railed against the Bush doctrine and made his infamous proclamation about closing Gitmo within a year. He also pushed for due process rights and civil trials for foreign enemy combatants. Now he supports killing U.S. citizens without due process. Just an ideologue at work or a POTUS who had reality change his tune? Debatable to be sure. It really isn’t debatable that Obama is just continuing in lockstep with the Bush policies.
Then you have the hypocrisy of the hawks and other backers of the military-industrial complex. They support the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, yet did not support the Obama case for indefinite detention of Americans under the N.D.A.A., and now must support the policy memo just released. Which is it? Can’t have it both ways.
Constitutionality is a quagmire. Article Two, Section Two, Clause One gives the President the authority to act as Commander-in-Chief. Article One, Section Eight, Clause Two empowers only Congress with the authority to declare war. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 put further limitations on the POTUS to engage in war without the consent of Congress and every President since has declared it unconstitutional. The Authorization for use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 essentially ceded the authority of the legislative branch to the executive branch. It authorized the President to use force against nations, organizations or individuals in the war on terror.
Presidents violate their authority with impunity. Most recently, Obama displayed this in Libya yet there are no practical checks and balances any longer as the other branches refuse to act.
As always, we reflect back and realize that the founders could never have imagined all of the eventualities concerning war. War in the 1700’s was nation against nation. Would they have supported centralizing authority to one branch relating to an indefinite, global war against terror? Not at all likely after just fighting a war a decade prior to escape from under a tyrant.
The argument isn’t against Anwar al-Awlaki. His track record against the U.S. is long and verifiable. He was clearly an enemy of the state. BTW- this isn’t about drones either as the media has portrayed it. The memo clearly states that the policy is regarding “U.S. operations” utilizing lethal force which could include virtually any method. It also isn’t abroad or internationally or overseas or in a foreign country or any other way you wish to characterize it as being somewhere other than on U.S. soil. The memo also clearly explains that its authority extends globally without any geographical limitations. Furthermore, the memo details that “imminence”, as in an impending attack, doesn’t carry the meaning one might think.
Detractors of the Bush doctrine, the N.D.A.A., the AUMF, etc., are concerned with any concentrated, unchecked power. Due process rights are suspended even to U.S. citizens during wartime, always have been. The war on terror has extended the battlefield potentially to all places at all times and even to individuals without a traditional weapon (i.e. cyber terror). Are you comfortable with the idea that a mistake wouldn’t be made? Intelligence can easily be flawed (WMD’s in Iraq?). Mis-identifications occur with regularity (Sen. Kennedy routinely showing up on the no-fly list?). Innocent men and women spend time in prison and have been executed (pre-DNA technology?).
At the end of the day, Obama is acting within precedent and within the authority Congress has extended the executive branch by proxy. It’s unconstitutional in my book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t policy. If the people don’t demand that the judicial or legislative branches check this power back to what was set in the Constitution, nothing will change. Can we effectively combat the war on terror under a conventional national defense structure? Another topic for another day.