'Targeted Assassinations' Threaten Very Foundation of Our Republic...
By Ernest A. Canning on 8/6/2010, 8:06am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

"There's no difference between one's killing and making decisions that will send others to kill. It's exactly the same thing, or even worse." - Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir

In a March 25, 2009 article, "Prosecute or Perish," in which I urged that "the survival of our Constitutional Democracy may hinge on factually justified criminal prosecutions of the Bush/Cheney cabal," and again in "Fixing the Facts and Legal Opinions Around the Torture Policy," I took dead aim at the sophistry employed by President Barack Obama to evade his constitutionally mandated obligation to see that the laws are faithfully executed. The same Harvard Law School-educated President who said that, in torture, America had lost its "moral bearings," suggested we must only look forward --- an "illogical formulation [that] was incompatible with the very essence of the rule of law."

I was naive. I thought the President was merely evading his constitutional obligation out of political expediency; that he actually intended to restore the rule of law and salvage what was left of our nation's honor.

A growing body of evidence, including confirmation contained in the recently exposed Afghan "Pentagon Papers," suggests the President did not look back at his predecessor's war crimes because he saw, in the failure to prosecute, the ground work for his own round of "Unitary Executive" lawlessness --- an expanded, illegal and increasingly covert "war on terror" in which hundreds, perhaps thousands of paramilitary assassins, operating in secret and beyond the rule of law, carry out targeted killings of "suspected" terrorists on a global scale --- a program that has already produced massive collateral casualties amongst innocent civilians who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Worse, as revealed by a newly filed lawsuit, the Obama administration has moved beyond the Bush/Cheney cabal's assertion of unchecked Executive lawlessness in the form of extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention and torture. The Obama administration has now not only asserted a right to assassinate anyone that the Executive branch labels a terrorist, including U.S. citizens, but has gone so far as to place lawyers in legal jeopardy should they seek a court order to block an extrajudicial execution unless the executive branch grants the lawyer permission to do so...

Slippery Slope Leading to Total Obliteration of Our Founding Principles

"Every civilization finds its necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." --- Golda Meir as portrayed by Lynn Cohen in Steven Spielberg's Academy nominated "Best Picture" Munich. (See trailer below)

Although it was based on an actual event --- Operation Wrath of God in which the Israeli Mossad engaged in targeting killings of suspected members of Black September as a means to avenge the murder of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics, eventually killing an innocent waiter in Norway --- Munich was a work of historical fiction. Thus, it is not entirely clear that Meir actually said that it is necessary to compromise a civilization's values.

But, over the course of a film in which the protagonist, Mossad assassin Avner Kaufman (played by Eric Bana) undergoes a moral transformation as doubts as to the guilt of his targets lead to depression, self-loathing and remorse, what becomes clear is that a civilized society is based on certain core principles. Those principles cannot be the subject of "negotiated compromise" because to compromise those core principles is to shred the very fabric upon which a civilized society is based.

In our little Republic, those principles were enunciated in the Declaration of Independence [emphasis added]:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...

They were again embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution [emphasis added]:

No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

After a bloody Civil War those principles were reiterated yet again in the Fourteenth Amendment [emphasis added] --- "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

ACLU/CCR Lawsuit Reveals How Far Down the Rabbit Hole We've Traveled

As reported by Vince Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in a public email:

In early July, CCR and the ACLU were retained by Nasser Al-Aulaqi to bring a lawsuit in connection with the government's decision to authorize the killing of his son, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi, whom the government is actively targeting in Yemen, where he is currently in hiding. Shortly after, the Secretary of the Treasury labeled Anwar Al-Aulaqi a "specially designated global terrorist," making it a crime for lawyers to provide representation for his benefit without first seeking a license from the government.

The suit was filed after the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) failed to act on an ACLU/CCR request.

OFAC's Director, Adam Szubin, responded to the lawsuit by promising that OFAC "will work with the ACLU to ensure that the legal services can be delivered."

The ACLU and CCR then issued a joint reply:

OFAC has neither issued a license nor stated that we don’t need one. It suggests that it might eventually grant us a license for our work, but our application has already gone unanswered for eleven days. OFAC is well aware that the case relates to the government’s decision to add a U.S. citizen to its ‘targeted killing’ list. To say that the matter is urgent is a dramatic understatement. Instead of issuing press releases, OFAC should simply issue us a license.

In his public email, Warren not only addressed the First and Fifth Amendment grounds for the lawsuit, but powerfully added:

It is our strong belief that regardless of the government's allegations against Al-Aulaqi or any U.S. citizen suspected of wrongdoing, authorizing the death of individuals on secret allegations alone, outside of any legal process, and then denying such individuals legal representation to challenge that very conduct, not only violates the Constitution and our laws, but seriously undermines our collective safety. If the government suspects Al-Aulaqi of criminal activity, it should charge him, arrest him, and try him in a court of law. The executive branch cannot claim the extraordinary power to unilaterally deem people terrorists and authorize their killing, off the battlefield in countries around the world, without any fair process or oversight.

Extrajudicial executions do more than simply undermine our collective security.

If the Executive branch can target any individual, declare on the basis of secret (and perhaps erroneous) evidence that he or she is a terrorist and then summarily execute them without due process, ours is no longer the nation that was founded on the immutable principle of self-evident and unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We are no longer who we were.

UPDATE 08/07/2010: Wars a Crime.Org reported that, in the wake of the ACLU/CCR lawsuit, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) “introduced H.R. 6010, which prohibits targeted killings of U.S. citizens.”

H.R. 6010 falls well short of what I’ve come to expect from the Ohio Congressman whose past presidential campaigns were models of speaking truth to power.

First, the Fifth Amendment provides [emphasis added]:

No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Extrajudicial executions, whether carried out by teams of assassins or in the form of predator drone strikes, are, according to U.N. investigator Phillip Alston, war crimes.

In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated.

So why does Kucinich limit H.R. 6010's prohibition on targeted killings to U.S. citizens?

Second, Kucinich was the only member of Congress who bore the courage to read aloud on the floor of Congress articles calling for the impeachment of Richard B. Cheney. Unless and until he does the same thing with respect to Barack H. Obama, a fellow Democrat, his reaction to executive murder will smack of hypocrisy.

Kudos to “Mick” for calling H.R. 6010 to my attention.

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Munich trailer follows...


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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).