We’re sure that President Obama’s rationale for targeting American citizens for drone strikes is different than President George W. Bush’s justification for waterboarding and indefinitely detaining foreign nationals.
As soon as we figure out why, we’ll let you know.
In a 2009 speech, President Obama criticized his predecessor, saying:
“We are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable — a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass. …
“I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. … I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America.”
Contrast that stand with the administration’s argument for assassinating Americans abroad who are suspected of having ties to al-Qaida.
A 16-page “white paper” from the Department of Justice obtained by NBC News asserts that an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and whose capture is “infeasible.”
What’s missing is any semblance of due process and transparency.
In short, the president may secretly authorize the killing of a U.S. citizen without any check on that power or any requirement that he justify it, other than that he believes the target is an “imminent” threat to the nation (yet another vague term). The country is at war, the memo says, thus the commander in chief has broad powers not subject to congressional or judicial review.
That sounds very much like the arguments the Bush administration made to justify its clandestine anti-terror policies - the same policies and logic that President Obama publicly rejected.
The Obama drone policy differs from the Bush administration in a key way: It targets Americans, not foreign combatants, for execution. Surely this administration would not argue that its policy is somehow less deserving of scrutiny than non-lethal interrogation techniques and detention.
The drone policy ultimately may be essential to prosecuting the war on terror and protecting national security. But it also requires the kinds of constitutional checks and balances on government power that apply to all American citizens. President Obama should hold himself to the same standards he held his predecessor.
—From the New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal