When Can the President Target Americans?
Imagine that the president of the United States could legally order the preemptive killing of any American citizen he deemed a potential threat to the country. A Justice Department white paper that was recently obtained by NBC News comes close to making that claim, if not in quite those words.
The white paper—which reportedly summarizes a secret memo containing the department’s official position—lays out rules governing when the United States can kill American members of al-Qa’ida away from the battlefield. The paper’s key claim is that an American citizen who is a “senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida” can be killed if “an informed, high-level official has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” On its face, this language is fairly uncontroversial. Most legal scholars agree that the president can use force to thwart foreign threats that are so pressing that neither Congress nor the courts have time to consider a course of action.
If the language is uncontroversial, the way the white paper uses that language is not. In international law, the “imminent threat” criterion derives from Secretary of State Daniel Webster’s argument in the 19th century Caroline Case that countries can act preemptively in their own defense where a threat is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” But the white paper argues that the threat posed by al-Qa’ida requires what it calls “a broader concept of imminence.” Because the government can’t be certain that there won’t be an attack, a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida can pose an “imminent threat” even if the United States has no “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” In other words, the United States doesn’t have to know there is any actual imminent threat to the country.
CIA drones targeted and killed at least one American outside a war zone since President Obama first took office: al-Qa’ida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico. Al-Awlaki was on a secret list of “High Value Targets”—along with several other Americans—for more than a year before he was killed. Experts outside the administration differ on al-Awlaki’s importance as an operational leader of al-Qa’ida. There is some evidence he was involved in “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a plane bound for Detroit in 2009. But what isn’t in dispute is that al-Awlaki was an American citizen and had not been convicted of any crime.
Few Americans will have much sympathy for Anwar al-Awlaki. A recent CBS poll found that 49% of Americans support using drones against American citizens suspected of terrorism. But Americans should be concerned about the precedent al-Awlaki’s killing sets. Although the Justice Department white paper considers only whether the president can order the killing of al-Qa’ida leaders, there’s no clear legal reason why the same expansive logic that justified the killing of al-Awlaki—that he might at some point attack the United States—could not be applied to anyone the president deems a threat. And if the president has the power to order the death of one American without any judicial due process, he has the power to do the same to any of us.
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.
- It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
- Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Our attention is more than just a resource. It is an experience.
'We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.' Those were the words of the American biologist E O Wilson at the turn of the century. Fastforward to the smartphone era, and it's easy to believe that our mental lives are now more fragmentary and scattered than ever. The 'attention economy' is a phrase that's often used to make sense of what's going on: it puts our attention as a limited resource at the centre of the informational ecosystem, with our various alerts and notifications locked in a constant battle to capture it.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.