By Max KnoblauchSpecial to the Chronicle
The Obama administration is sweating this month, after Justice Department memos detailing justifications for the targeted drone killings of Americans overseas were leaked to the press. The memos are drawing comparisons to President Bush’s infamous torture memos- which Obama released to the public in 2009- and are yet another tally in the growing similarities between the two administrations’ counterterrorism policies.
The leaked drone memo argues that killing an American citizen who is a “senior operational leader in al-Qaeda or an associated force” is lawful if: A knowledgeable, high-level official of the government determines that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
The problem with this justification of course, aside from the whole “bypassing the constitutional right of due process” tidbit, is the language. The memo does not detail what constitutes an official of the government being high level. It also goes on to later state that an “imminent threat of violent attack... does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” So by “imminent threat”, they really mean “maybe a threat or something at some point but hey who knows for sure, right?”
The argument for this kind of behavior is that the targeted citizens are not outstanding members of society. They don’t volunteer at any animal shelters, and they don’t help your grandmother cross the street. They commit violent crimes, and belong to a terrorist organization (or “an associated force”). But the same can probably be said about many violent criminals, like those on death row. The right to due process still stands.
The Obama and Bush administrations’ similarities don’t stop there. Obama signed an extension of the wiretapping provisions in the Patriot Act until 2015, and Congress, while in the middle of fiscal cliff talks, renewed the law allowing American intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on our calls and emails.
If these measures are necessary to protect the American public from dangers foreign and abroad, why does the process of creating them have to be so veiled in secrecy? Why has the American public been shut out of so many decisions regarding our privacy and information? Simply put, why were we so opposed to these measures under the Bush administration, yet remain so apathetically unopposed to them under the Obama administration?