Challenging Obama's License to Kill


In today's Washington Post, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, explain why their groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's policy of "targeted killing" for suspected terrorists. Romero and Warren say targeted killing can be justified 1) on the battlefield as part of an armed conflict (in Afghanistan, for example) or 2) outside of an armed conflict "as a last resort and in the face of a truly imminent threat to life." But Obama's policy, based on the view (also espoused by his predecessor) that the entire world is a battlefield in the War on Terror/War on Al Qaeda, gives the executive branch carte blanche to kill people it unilaterally identifies as members or supporters of Al Qaeda, including U.S. citizens, wherever they may be found and regardless of whether they pose an imminent threat:

We simply cannot accept the proposition that the government should have unchecked authority to carry out extrajudicial killings…far from any actual battlefield. Nor can we accept the contention that the entire world is a battlefield….

The danger of dispensing with due process is obvious. Without it, we cannot be assured that the people the government kills are individuals who presented a threat to the country. Indeed, over the past decade, our government has repeatedly labeled men terrorists only to find out later—or to be told by a federal judge—that the evidence was overstated, wrong or nonexistent. If we invest the government with unchecked authority to impose death sentences on people who have never been convicted of or even charged with a crime, it is inevitable that innocent people will be executed.

Romero and Vincent also note that the U.S. government is setting an example it assuredly does not want others to imitate:

The conduct of our government heavily influences the practices of other countries. The United States would in all likelihood not endorse the authority it claims for targeted killings if it were asserted by other countries. Americans would surely be appalled if another country claimed the right to send a drone after a declared enemy in Wyoming.

In a column a few months ago, I noted how Obama's license to kill blurs the line between warfare and summary execution. More on the ACLU/CCR lawsuit here.