Eric Holder defends the assassination of U.S. citizens

Eric Holder makes the Obama Administration's case that assassinating Americans abroad is better than waterboarding terrorists. All they ask is that we trust them. Photo: Associated Press

ITHACA, NY, March 12, 2012 — Last week, President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech on national security at Northwestern University Law School in which he explained—rather, attempted to explain—the administration’s approach toward the targeted killing of U.S. citizens.

The man who as recently as 2008 railed against the Bush administration’s supposed excesses — in a much-touted speech to the American Constitution Society he deplored “the disastrous course” it had set and argued that its “needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the War on Terror” had diminished America’s global standing — sealed the debate on whether the Obama administration has followed through on its high sense of morality.

The answer, of course, is no.  

According to Holder’s address at Northwestern, “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” As Holder would have you believe, contrary to the inaccurate belief of so many, belief is the key word here, the President is not required by law to acquire permission from a federal court before targeting an American citizen abroad.

If the President believes that an American on foreign soil poses an imminent danger to the United States, concludes that his arrest is impractical, and gives the order to kill, that individual will promptly perish.  

But, of course, there are certain restrictions to which the administration must adhere:

  1.  The target must be a top al-Qaeda operative or a member of affiliate forces, and he must actively be planning to kill Americans;
  2. The U.S. government must conclude after a thorough and careful review that the target poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;
  3. Capture of the target is not practical;
  4. The killing of the target must be conducted in a manner consistent with the relevant law of war principles.

All of these guidelines, as they often are in matters of national security, rely on the judgment of the administration. Who is a “top al-Qaeda operative?” Who in his right mind would trust the executive branch with carrying out “a thorough and careful review?” And who would take as satisfactory the White House’s word that an American—someone whom the president has accused behind closed doors of being a terrorist without providing material evidence to a court to prove it—can legally be targeted and killed?

The answer should be: no one.  

Due process, as Holder claims, is satisfied by the administration’s careful adherence to the rule of law. What rule of law? That ship has sailed. As in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born al-Qaeda cleric, his 16-year old son, and a family friend, all of whom were killed last year in Yemen by a CIA drone strike, the administration has proven that it will defy the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when it deems such action necessary.   

The Obama administration has quite simply taken Americans for fools. But to be fair, many are playing along with this charade. We must ask “To which distant planet suddenly vanished the deep sense of lawfulness and morality liberals displayed during the Bush administration’s tenure?”

They persistently condemned it for failing to live up to the Constitution, diminishing global opinion of America, detaining suspected terrorists in Guantanamo, and most stridently, waterboarding.  

Today, however, the left remains shockingly silent. Legions of those, from habitually apathetic college students to card-carrying members of the counterculture, who marched so vigorously against the previous President and his War on Terror policies are nowhere to be found.

Even Michael Moore, Code Pink, and Fellow Rabble-rousers and Co. have taken a seat. Legal scholars have nary taken a step down from their ivory tower to challenge Eric Holder, and the steady stream of fiery editorials and op-eds from major media outlets lambasting the nature of national security policy has but been replaced by a blatant double-standard.   

There is absolutely nothing controversial in making the claim that the Obama administration has gone above and beyond anything President Bush pursued in the War on Terror.

Quite simply, this President can, in the end, choose to order the assassination of an American abroad suspected of being a terrorist. How is that not worse—in every possible sense of the word—than waterboarding?

Especially startling about Obama and his advisors is the sheer space between their grand pronouncements just a few years back and reality today. The same individuals who once led the charge against the expansion of executive authority now defend the right of the president to order assassinations. They vowed to go to great lengths to restore American ideals, directly and explicitly rejecting on the campaign trail many of the previous administration’s national security policies; and they expressed their deepest concerns for the violation of civil liberties.

All this, upon review, seems to be a monumental farce.  

The entirety of the refutation above is merely an exercise in fairness, a word Obama and his advisors seemingly cannot utter a sentence without mentioning on other pressing matters of the day. If the Bush administration was treated in one manner, it is only fair that Obama’s be treated with the same courtesy.

This leads to a few judgments, certainly not limited to the following: If Bush was criticized for waterboarding, then Obama should rightly be vilified for assassination—“targeting killing,” though, is apparently the terminology in vogue. If liberals and Democrats repeatedly called for Bush and his advisors to be tried in court for war crimes, then they should be embarrassed at their cowardly silence today. A grumbling look down at the ground will only cement their collective legacy as protesters of convenience. And if “Bushitler” was the left’s epithet of choice for Bush, then what shall be their designation for Obama?

Surely, this cannot be the administration over which presides a Nobel Peace Prize winner? The honor was bestowed upon Obama for his dedication to “democracy and human rights” and his incarnation of “values and attitudes shared by the majority of the world’s population.” The committee did not, and could not, stop there: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention.”

Yes, Obama has certainly grabbed the world’s attention—but by openly leading and presiding over the unconstitutional killing of U.S. citizens. One must wonder what those Norwegians are thinking now.


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Raj Kannappan

Raj Kannappan is a junior at Cornell University pursuing a B.A. in Government and Asian Studies. Currently, he is Chairman of the Cornell University College Republicans and a regular opinion columnist for the Cornell Review, recently voted by peers as the top conservative campus newspaper in the country, and TheCollegeConservative, a national online publication that includes conservative commentary from college students. 

He has interned at the Hudson Institute, providing research assistance for Senior Fellow Tevi Troy, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush, and Senior Fellow Richard Weitz, an expert on regional security issues and WMD nonproliferation policies. He has also conducted health economics and international security research at Cornell, studying the effects of tobacco tax differences on inter-state purchasing and the implications of cost-benefit analyses in democratic military interventions.

Having been born in India and having lived in India, Singapore, Thailand, and now, America, Raj has come to recognize the importance of American leadership, small government, personal responsibility, and most importantly, family. His interests include politics, international affairs, military history, and cricket. 

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