by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
February 14, 2013
TIME TO BREAK THE SILENCE ON OBAMA'S DRONES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Ten years ago this month, Americans were lied to by their government about the need to invade Iraq.
The few who pointed this out were at best marginalized and ignored or, at worst, vilified as traitors.
Many of those who failed to challenge the Bush Administration's lies, and were wrong about every aspect of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, still have jobs and are in positions of authority.
The few whose warnings were proven right - that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would be the biggest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history - are still marginalized and ignored.
Ten years later, we have a different President, but we're seeing the same mendacity when it comes to concealing acts of government deceit and illegality in the name of "national security."
Simply put, the Obama Administration's indiscriminate use of drone strikes to target alleged terrorists is no different from the Bush Administration's lies to stampede a nation into going along with an unnecessary war.
We recently learned that numerous U.S. news outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, sat on information they had known for about two years: that the Obama Administration has set up a secret U.S. base in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi base has been used to launch drone strikes to kill numerous people in Yemen, including the September 2011 killings of U.S. citizens Anwar Awlaki, and his 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman - both of whom were never indicted by the U.S. government, nor charged with any crimes.
The Obama Administration was concerned that revealing the base would undermine its operations in Yemen, where an al-Qaida affiliate is based, and potentially damage future collaboration with Saudi Arabia on counterterrorism operations. So, at the request of the CIA, the press that knew about the base kept quiet.
Those are weak excuses, especially when you balance them against the fact that the U.S. continues to cooperate with a Saudi regime that is as despotic as any in the world. Or that the Obama Administration's justifications for killing Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, without the courtesy of legal proceedings represents a clear violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. Or, worst of all, that the President reserves the right to kill whomever he wants if that person is deemed to be a "imminent threat" to national security.
The last sentence is the biggest problem. As we've learned from Michael Isikoff of NBC News (the man who discovered the Monica Lewinsky story and was not allowed by Newsweek to publish it) last week, a Department of Justice white paper that outlined the justifications for targeted killings of alleged terrorists failed to address the important point that, according to the Constitution, if you are an American citizen, you may not be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Period.
Yet the Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration just before it, believes it can make extrajudicial decisions without independent oversight from Congress or the courts - including the extrajudicial decision to kill American citizens.
"A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination," the white paper reads. "In the Department's view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban. Similarly, the use of lethal force, consistent with the laws of war, against an individual who is a legitimate military target would be lawful and would not violate the assassination ban."
So, in the view of the Justice Department, this is not a war crime or a violation of executive power. This is merely "forestalling the threat of violence."
Is this what we've come to? That the President can run a secret assassination program that targets Americans abroad and kill them without any judicial review?
This is the Pandora's box that was opened when the Bush Administration claimed unlimited powers for itself in what it dubbed "the global war on terror." Guantanamo. Indefinite detentions. "Enhanced interrogation techniques," otherwise known as torture. Warrantless spying on Americans. A national security state that's grown out of control. And now, extrajudicial killings.
President Obama has embraced all of this. Congress won't do anything, nor will the courts. And the news media, for the most part, just yawns.
Liberals don't believe it is possible to support President Obama on other issues while also calling him out on drone warfare and the continuation of Bush-era terrorism policies. They are afraid that criticizing the President helps Republicans.
But this is no political game. This cuts to the heart of who we are as a nation. Do we allow our President to have in his hands the literal power of life and death over his fellow citizens? Or are we a nation of laws, not men, so not even the President has the power to flout legal norms in the name of national security?
The silence about this is as deafening as the silence a decade ago when few wanted to risk their precious reputations to oppose invading Iraq.
It's time to break that silence.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.