I Could Kill You, But Then I'd Have to Keep It a Secret


On Friday the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are challenging President Obama's claim that he can order the killing of anyone he unilaterally identifies as an enemy of the United States, responded to the Justice Department's arguments for dismissing the lawsuit. The government argues that Obama's policy of "targeted killings" is a "political question" unsuited for judicial review and that allowing the case to proceed would risk revealing "state secrets." Hence Obama is not only claiming a license to kill; he is asserting that the license can never be revoked, suspended, or even examined by the courts. ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer sums up the situation:

If the government's arguments were accepted, the current administration and every future administration would have unreviewable authority to carry out targeted killings of Americans deemed to be enemies of the state. While that power would be limited to contexts of armed conflict, the government has argued that the armed conflict against al Qaeda extends everywhere, indefinitely. This is an extraordinary and unprecedented claim, and one that we urge the courts to reject unequivocally. The courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the government's counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald notes that even David Rivkin, a Bush I administration lawyer who routinely defends executive power in the service of the War on Terror, thinks Obama is going too far by claiming his summary executions must remain secret. "I'm a huge fan of executive power," Rivkin told The New York Times last month, "but if someone came up to you and said the government wants to target you and you can't even talk about it in court to try to stop it, that's too harsh even for me."

The government's motion to dismiss is here (PDF). The CCR/ACLU reply brief is here (PDF). Last week David Harsanyi criticized Obama's use of the state secrets privilege to bar litigation over targeted killings. Last month I discussed Obama's use of the privilege to block lawsuits by torture victims.