Obama's Executive Death Warrants

Obama's drone strikes are an affront to the entire Anglo-American constitutional order.


Don't Americans have "the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them"? As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), put it last week, you'd think that's "not too much to ask."

For three years now, thanks to Obama administration leaks, we've known that the president claims the right to summarily execute American citizens far from any battlefield. He even joked about it at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2010, telling the Jonas Brothers to stay away from his daughters: "Two words for you: 'predator drones.' You will never see it coming." (Oh, Barack—you slay me.)

In September 2011, the administration launched Hellfire missiles from a Predator drone over northeastern Yemen, eliminating U.S. citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. A drone strike two weeks later killed al-Awlaki's teenage son.

Khan and Awlaki senior probably weren't any great loss to humanity, but there's an important matter of principle here: Can a president really serve as judge, jury and executioner over any American he deems a security threat?

The Obama administration has hidden the legal memoranda addressing that question behind a veil of state secrecy. In 2011, a New York Times reporter got a stark response to his Freedom of Information Act request: "The very fact of the existence or nonexistence of such documents is itself classified."

But last week, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff released a leaked Justice Department memo summarizing the administration's reasoning. Reading it, one suspects that, instead of protecting sources and methods, the secrecy has mainly served to cover up an appalling set of arguments.

Any citizen the administration believes to be a "senior operational leader" of al Qaeda or an "associated force" can be killed if a "high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States" and deems his capture "infeasible."

But the memo also makes clear that the administration alone will decide whether it has met those criteria—and how to define the terms. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "imminent" as "about to occur; impending"; DOJ insists that "imminent" doesn't necessarily mean in the "immediate future."

Regardless, the author(s) insist that these aren't the "minimum requirements" for citizen assassination: "a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen [could be] lawful in other circumstances."

Legal scholar Ryan Alford observes that the 13th century marks "the last time when the executive branch of any country governed by the common law had asserted that it was legal to kill a citizen on the basis of an executive order." Obama's "executive death warrant" is more than a breach of the Fifth Amendment's due process guarantee, he argues, it's an affront to the entire Anglo-American constitutional order.

Some leading conservative legal scholars disagree. In The Wall Street Journal, torture architect John Yoo argues—confusingly—that "deaths from the sky violate personal liberty" more than waterboarding ever did, but Obama is still a legalistic pantywaist with "a weaker law-enforcement approach to combating terrorism."

National Review's Andrew McCarthy, who seems to think the Obama team is full of Muslim Brotherhood agents, defended its need for the occasional robot kill shot against citizens.

National Review itself laid down the party line in a Feb. 8 editorial. "Due process is not generally required in battlefield situations" (which this wasn't), and embracing the constitutional objections to citizen assassination "would paralyze our ability to fight war."

It's a strange Constitution they've constructed: It seems it's perfectly legal for the president to deem you a terrorist and vaporize you with a drone. But there's one thing that he can never do: penalize you for failure to purchase health insurance. That would be tyrannical, you see.

This article originally appeared at The Washington Examiner.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

21 responses to “Obama's Executive Death Warrants

  1. The qunitessential American question: If I were President, who would I have killed?

  2. ….an affront to the entire Anglo-American constitutional order.


  3. Cheney approves and yet the lefties still aren’t concerned.
    All those who were calling for war crime charges for Bush and Cheney; where’d they go?

    1. You have to remember that it is always okay when there guy does it.

      1. In all fairness, there are a lot of leftists who decry these warrantless killings. The problem is that that’s all they do. They say, “oh, how terrible!” and then they keep right on voting for Obama and supporting him in general, and if you point this out to them, they get sniffy and say, “You don’t have the luxury of choosing politicians based on just one issue, you know” – which in practice means, “I’m OK with the president having a kill list as long as we get (my pet issue).” This is how dictators come to power.

    2. Cheney approves of tax cuts too. None of these things have anything to do with starting a war based on lies. Obama promised to violate pakistan’s sovereignty to kill al Qaeda in 2007.

  4. “an affront to the entire Anglo-American constitutional order.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  5. I’m guessing that an unintentional inference is that other systems, presumably non Anglo American constitutional orders, are okay with this?

    1. The ones Obama wants to emulate are OK with this.

  6. til I saw the paycheck which was of $9582, I have faith …that…my mom in-law woz like they say actualy making money in there spare time from there pretty old laptop.. there best friend has been doing this 4 less than fourteen months and resantly cleared the loans on there house and bourt a great Car. we looked here, http://www.FLY38.COM

  7. Nicest chat and chat Iraqi entertaining Adject all over the world

  8. Title 18, Chapter 13, Section 242 of the U.S. Code states:

    “Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”

    What does it say about Democrats in this country that two Democrat presidents in a row have committed crimes that are impeachment offenses?

  9. thank you assisted me a lot thanks again

  10. i think this is a real great article lovely just what i was searching for very energetic blog

  11. it helped me very much wonderful post keep functioning remarkable job

  12. really enjoyed studying major thanks for the article post thanks very interesting

  13. major thanks for the article post just what i was searching for very good submit

  14. you made some clear points there some great article so many people will be thankful with your talking

  15. impressing post you are a very smart person this text is worth everyone’s attention

  16. really enjoyed studying iam happy linked to this place some wonderful entropy

  17. muchos gracias for your blog thanks again perfectly quality content

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.