By Matthew Rothschild on February 06, 2013

New light, and not a flattering light, has been shed on the Obama Administration's sweeping claim that it can assassinate U.S. citizens abroad.

Michael Isikoff of NBC News got hold of a 16-page Justice Department memo justifying the policy.

It's an amazingly disturbing memo, and it reads as if John Yoo from Bush's Justice Department or David Addington from Cheney's office wrote it, replete with euphemisms, such as when it asserts that the fact that someone is a U.S. citizen "would not immunize him from a lethal operation" or prevent him from being "subjected to lethal targeting" -- meaning, the President can still kill him, under certain circumstances, if he's a "senior operational leader" of Al Qaeda or "an associated force."

It should be noted, at the start, that even the Justice Department's own rationale does not cover the drone killing of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar Al-Awlaki. While the Obama Administration has long claimed that Anwar Al-Awlaki was a "senior operational leader," it hasn't -- and can't -- make the credible claim that his 16-year-old son was such a leader. The Obama Administration nevertheless rubbed out the teenager, a U.S. citizen, two weeks after it killed his father.

The memo says that the executive branch can go ahead and bump off a U.S. citizen if a "high-level official of the U.S. government" -- not even, necessarily, the President of the United States -- determines that this person is an "imminent threat" and that it is "infeasible" to capture the person and that the attack is "consistent with" the principles of the laws of war.

It then defines "imminent" in a way that stretches the word to ludicrous limits. "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 and interest will take place in the immediate future," it says. That's Orwellian double speak if ever I heard it. Basically, it argues that Al Qaeda leaders are "continually planning attacks" so whenever there is a good opportunity to kill them, the U.S. should take it. That's an argument. But it's not an argument in defense of "imminence."

It give short shrift to "feasibility of capture," dispatching that criterion in a mere three sentences. "Capture would not be feasible if it could not be physically effectuated during the relevant window of opportunity or if the relevant country were to decline to consent to a capture operation," it says. And it also cites "undue risk to U.S. personnel."

When it gets to the laws of war, it does other gymnastics. Noting that the Hague Convention says "it is especially forbidden to kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army," it then whisks this prohibition away.

In another sleight of hand, it says that these hits would not be assassinations because they're done in self-defense.

It also argues that killing a U.S. citizen does not violate that citizen's Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights.

And then, on top of it all, it asserts that the Executive Branch, and the Executive Branch alone, has the right to say whether these actions are kosher or not.

Says the memo: "There exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations."

Talk about being above the law!

These are the same arguments that Richard Nixon made and George W. Bush made.

There is something in the air in the Oval Office that tends to turn the occupant into Richard Nixon.

It's happening now to Barack Obama.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Obama's So-So Speech on Immigration."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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