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.