31 October 2013

An Enemy of the State

Redefining 'Imminent Threat'

In early 2013, a Department of Justice white paper surfaced that laid out the Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen.

The government lawyers who wrote the 16-page document asserted that the government need not possess specific intelligence indicating that an American citizen is actively engaged in a particular or active terror plot in order to be cleared for targeted killing.

Instead, the paper argued that a determination from a 'well-informed high level administration official' that a target represents an 'imminent threat' to the United States is a sufficient basis to order the killing of an American citizen. But the Justice Department’s lawyers sought to alter the definition of 'imminent,' advocating what they called a 'broader concept of imminence.'

They wrote, 'The condition that an operational leader present an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.'

The government lawyers argued that waiting for a targeted killing of a suspect 'until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.' They asserted that such an operation constitutes 'a lawful killing in self-defense' and is 'not an assassination.'

Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU called the white paper a 'chilling document,' saying that 'it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.'

Jaffer added, 'This power is going to be available to the next administration and the one after that, and it’s going to be available in every future conflict, not just the conflict against al-Qaeda.

And according to the [Obama] administration, the power is available all over the world, not just on geographically cabined battlefields. So it really is a sweeping proposition...'

Today, decisions on who should live or die in the name of protecting America’s national security are made in secret, laws are interpreted by the president and his advisers behind closed doors, and no target is off-limits, including U.S. citizens. But the decisions made in Washington have implications far beyond their impact on the democratic system of checks and balances in the United States.

Jeremy Scahill, Perpetual War