Bad: Memo Details Obama's Weak Justification for Killing People. Worse: It's Not Even the Classified Version.

As if the memo detailing President Obama's weak framework for killing suspected terrorists (including American citizens) isn't troubling enough on its own, Adam Powell of USC's Center on Public Diplomacy points toward an even more horrifying reality: It's not even the full story.

Obama is still keeping his "threat matrix" or whatever you want to call his decisionmaking process for offing people a secret from Congress. The memo released by NBC News is what Obama grudgingly sent to nosy senators last year. It's an unclassified document and its lack of details made the Senate pissed off enough to demand actual details.

From the AP via the Wash Post:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee likely will hold hearings on U.S. drone policy, an aide said Tuesday, and Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker, both have quietly expressed concerns about the deadly operations. And earlier this week, a group of 11 Democratic and Republican senators urged President Barack Obama to release a classified Justice Department legal opinion justifying when U.S. counterterror missions, including drone strikes, can be used to kill American citizens abroad.

Without those documents, it’s impossible for Congress and the public to decide “whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the president’s power to deliberately kill Americans is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards,” the senators wrote.

It was a repeated request after receiving last June an unclassified Justice Department memo, which fell short of giving the senators all the information they requested.

First detailed publicly by NBC News late Monday, the memo for the first time outlines the Obama administration’s decision to kill al-Qaida terror suspects without any evidence that specific and imminent plots are being planned against the United States.

“The threat posed by al-Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat,” concluded the document.

So Obama is not simply refusing to tell the general public how his team decides who gets killed and why. He's refusing to tell the U.S. Senate. All in the name of what, national security? This is deeply revolting spectacle, one that is acid to any and all principles not simply of the open government that Obama supposedly cherishes but to America's standing in the brotherhood of nations.

What is it that Marx said about history? That it repeats itself, "first as tragedy, and then as farce." For those who remember Bush administration justifications of "enhanced interrogation" methods and all the squirrely philosophizing by the likes of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales to justify an anything-goes approach to the War on Terror, the second coming of an unrestrained executive branch doesn't present itself as farce. It's simply a doubling down on tragedy.

In assessing "Obama's dicey license to kill," Reuters' Jack Shafer argues that the unclassified memo could have been leaked either by people who want to sink John Brennan's nomination for CIA director or by friends seeking to give "drone-architect Brennan a little breathing room by blunting the demands for the classified documents." Whoever leaked it, the Senate will be doing a disservice not simply to the United States but to the world if it refuses to confront Brennan - and Obama - over their assertions that, as Shafer puts it, that "U.S. citizens can be whacked based on hunches, suspicions, belief and patchy fragments of intelligence by unnamed, high-level officials."

In a supposed age of hyper-partisan polarization, here's hoping that senators of both parties can put aside differences to put a stop to a government that is destroying its legitimacy through evasion and secrecy.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Obama is still keeping his "threat matrix" or whatever you want to call his decisionmaking process for offing people a secret from Congress.

    He respects Congress and the American people too much to hurriedly throw together an actual document for what is now simply whim.

  • Killazontherun||

    A threat matrix is a modern, scientific concept created by an enlightened ruler selected through egalitarian principles. The idea of due process, on the other hand, was created by uneducated barbarians living under a monarchy.

  • Rich||

    "Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is."

  • John||

    I am sure the people who drafted this memo are going to be same kind of public shaming that John Yoo was subjected to, right?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Is Jon Stewart talking about it every night? Then no.

  • waaminn||

    Those guys totally seem to know what is going on over there.

  • John||

    I blame Congress for this. Congress has all of the power. If they want to let the President tell them to go fuck themselves, that is their fault.

  • kinnath||

    Congress turning its back on the situation makes in complicit in the crimes. But POTUS is making the decisions and is ultimately responsible for those decisions.

  • John||

    Obama is a dirt bag. But we have a separation of powers and all of the real power vested in the Congress for a reason.

  • Raven Nation||

    What would be the mechanics/logistics of stopping him? Could it only be done by de-funding the military? Or is there another way?

  • Sevo||

    I've considered the same question. Just guessing, but impeachment might have enough moral ground to force him to stop.
    Other than that, the guy's ego isn't going to let much else get in the way.

  • John||

    It is very easy. You put a rider on the next appropriations bill setting up a process to restrain this. Then when he ignores it, that is a high crime and misdemeanor. You set up a process to make him accountable to Congress and if he doesn't agree to it, you impeach him.

  • Raven Nation||

    Although, the likelihood of anywhere near a majority of reps voting to impeach is about zero. Because, if you impeach Obama for the illegal execution of Americans you are clearly a racist.

  • John||

    I shouldn't have said "easy". I should have said "it is very simple". They would never impeach the first black President. And that is what makes Obama so damned dangerous. We are basically at his mercy. There is nothing he could do that would cause him to lose face let alone be impeached.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Making him accountable to congress makes congress accountable which is the last thing they want. It's much safer to let him take the blame when he fails and ride his coattails when he succeeds. Whichever is more convenient and depending on what company they are keeping at the time. That sir, is why we now elect a king.

  • AlmightyJB||

    They did the same thing under Bush. They stood behind him when he was riding high, and stood on top of him when he fell.

  • John||

    All true JB. The very same people who were voting for the Patriot Act and the Iraq war when it was popular were sure they were the worst things in all of history when they were not.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Some conservatives are loving it. Dom Giordano, a Phila. talk show host and tea party rooter, was pontificating yesterday that this is the first time he's agreed with Obama. "These people", meaning U.S, Citizens who have thrown their lot in with Al Quaeda, "have renounced their citizenship and don't need to be treated with due process." He also thought it absurd that domestic police departments would ever stooop to using manned drones, and he attacked Ron Paul (as he did throughout the campaign)as a lunatic over tweets regarding the murder of the Seal sniper. Giordano apparently has no qualms about a president being able to pick and choose his targets of assassination with no oversight by courts or Congress. Wonder who the next "these people" are to be targeted?

  • John||

    If you really love executive power, you should always vote D in the Presidential election. The Republicans are consistent and will generally back up a President of either party and the Democrats and media will sign off on anything so long as one their guys is doing it.

  • wareagle||

    I'd say most conservatives love it, and for the same reason they say nothing about the droning. They still have the war boner from the previous administration and, unlike Dems, the media would call out the Repubs for hypocrisy if their tune changed.

    Still wanted: the anti-war left, missing since 1/9/09.

  • John||

    The anti-war left is done. And they are probably irrevocably damaged by this. This is worse than Vietnam for the left. At least in Vietnam some of them turned against Johnson. They will never turn against Obama and thus will never be anything but laughing stocks.

  • NoVAHockey||

    they're busy picketing gun shows now.

  • AlmightyJB||

    But Vietnam was Nixons war remember? Next republican elected president will get all of the blame.

  • kinnath||

    POTUS ordered the unlawful execution of an American citizen living abroad. POTUS is a murderer.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    X hundred corpses later, Americans are shocked to discover their President is a murderer. Dude, who needs assault rifles when you've got killer drones?

  • John||

    The threat posed by al-Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat,

    And there is not a single piece of evidence I have ever seen that Al Alwalaki was engaged in such planning. From what I have seen he was more of a Tokyo Rose type propagandist. He was never a planner. And there is even less evidence that his son was even that.

    More importantly, the White House has yet to make any case that capture of either of them was impossible. Yemen is a friendly country. We have an MLAT with them. Indeed, several years ago they were holding enough Al Quada members in jail that there was a major jail break there. I see no reason why the Yemenis wouldn't have just picked both of them up or at the very least let a special OPs team in the country to pick them up.

    The Alwalacki killing was illegal by the terms of the White House's own legal memo.

  • kinnath||

    Al-Awlaki was killed to silence him regarding Ft Hood.

  • kinnath||

    Now they just need to shoot Hasan during an escape attempt and we can put that little incident behind us.

  • John||

    Hasan is in a wheel chair. So an escape attempt seems pretty unlikely.

  • kinnath||

    I can envision a scene in a movie where a corrupt sheriff is standing over the body of a guy who fell out of a wheelchair after being shot -- "He was trying to escape".

    And then I see Obama delivering the line.

  • John||

    How so? Everyone knew the guy at Fort Hood was a nut Islamist. What would Al-Awlaki have said?

    I think he was killed because he was an embarrassment. They didn't have the evidence to convict him in federal court and were too big of cowards to have a military tribunal. So instead of capturing him they just killed him.

    The real rule is not "when capture would be impossible" it is "when capture would be politically embarrassing".

  • kinnath||

    did I forget the sarcasm tag?

  • John||

    Sorry. I totally missed the sarcasm. My fault.

  • kinnath||

    The sad truth of the situation is that Obama ordering the execution of Al-Awlaki as a pure vendetta against a propagandist is easier to rationalize that the reasons offered to the public to date.

  • John||

    This is the administration that leaked the STUXNET caper. If they had any evidence at all that Al-Awlaki was actually planning a terror attack at the time he was killed, they would have long since leaked it. But they don't. All they had was him shooting his mouth off.

  • R C Dean||

    John's snarkometer has been in the shop for maintenance for awhile now.

  • John||

    When you live in insane times, it is pretty hard to tell satire from reality.

  • Sevo||

    "whatever you want to call his decisionmaking process for offing people"

    How about "illegal"?

  • R C Dean||

    Don't forget "immoral" and "unwise".

  • kinnath||



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