In one of the most disturbing news stories I’ve seen, Reuters reporter Mark Hosenball explains that a secret panel of advisers can place American citizens on the U.S. government’s “kill list.”
Hosenball’s article, appearing on Yahoo! News, begins by stating that “American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.”
The killing of American terror suspects Awlaki and Samir Khan has been discussed at length, predominantly in light of the kind of precedent it sets for future actions. If the government can order the killing of such men (though Khan was claimed to simply be “collateral damage” and not an intended target) without charge, arrest, or trial, then what is next?
If the rule of law is ignored, then anything can happen.
Apparently, such logic flows from far more than conspiracy theory, as some have charged. Some have claimed that the killing of Awlaki and Khan was justified because, after all, they were suspected terrorists. Americans certainly have nothing to fear from their own government unless they plan on becoming terrorists. Right?
But we must remember that no evidence against these men was ever presented. Even when pressed to produce it, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acted as if the request was beyond the right of the press (or, at the very least, he was surprised that anyone expected such evidence).
Hosenball goes on:
“The White House is portraying the killing of Awlaki as a demonstration of President Barack Obama’s toughness toward militants who threaten the United States. But the process that led to Awlaki’s killing has drawn fierce criticism from both the political left and right.
In an ironic turn, Obama, who ran for president denouncing predecessor George W. Bush’s expansive use of executive power in his ‘war on terrorism,’ is being attacked in some quarters for using similar tactics. They include secret legal justifications and undisclosed intelligence assessments.”
While it is claimed that Awlaki was the only American added to the government’s “kill list,” two very specific questions remain essentially unanswered: What criteria is used to define someone as deserving of assassination? What will the government do with this precedent now that it is established?
If the criteria is simply that someone is designated as a “terrorist,” then who has the final determination of that? After all, it was not so long ago that the “t” word was being used to describe Tea Party activists. Wouldn’t the Occupy Wall Street protesters be next, particularly given the number of arrests and physical police response thus far?
Because the Obama administration has begun to define their authority and level justice outside the bounds of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, no one knows how these precedents could be used in the future. And, if my alarm over these things proves unfounded, I will breathe a sigh of relief with the rest of the nation. But, until then, the wise course of action is to be aware and be very leery.