February 23rd, 2012
Going public with long time secret unconstitutional operations
(SteveWatson) – A high ranking Pentagon lawyer argued Wednesday that US citizens accused of having ties to terror groups can legitimately be targeted for assassination.
In a speech at Yale Law School, Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, also said that US courts do not have the right to review such cases, or pass judgment on decisions taken by the Executive branch on such matters.
“Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives,” said Johnson.
According to a report in The New York Times, while not discussing detail of last year’s killing of US born Islamist radical Anwar Al-Awlaki, “Johnson invoked a lawsuit filed by Mr. Awlaki’s father before the killing that had sought an injunction against targeting his son, citing with approval a district judge’s decision to dismiss the case and saying that targeting decisions are not suited to court review because they must be made quickly and based on fast-evolving intelligence.”
“Within the executive branch the views and opinions of the lawyers on the president’s national security team are debated and heavily scrutinized, and a legal review of the application of lethal force is the weightiest judgment a lawyer can make,” Johnson said. “And, when these judgments start to become easy, it is time for me to return to private law practice.”
The US government has long operated a policy of targeted killing against so called enemies of the state. However, it is one thing to be carrying out such targeted killings in secret, it is quite another to publicly proclaim such actions as legitimate.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta acknowledged that the U.S. has assumed the authority to conduct targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens on the recommendations of the CIA Director and the Secretary of Defense and pursuant to the President’s authorization:
President Obama followed up those sentiments by publicly defending the US government’s secret killing program:
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the CIA, demanding the release of information pertaining to the secret program, and in particular the deaths of accused Al Qaeda leaders Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn, as well as Awlaki’s 16 year old son, in 2011. All three were US citizens.
“Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate,” Nathan Freed Wessler of the ACLU wrote in a statement.
“Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.” Wessler added.
The ACLU is specifically seeking to uncover a Department of Justice memo that is said by government officials to have provided the legal justification for the killing of a U.S. citizen without due process.
Also in question is a CIA “kill list” that Awlaki is said to have been added to more than a year before he was killed. The ACLU is demanding information on the process by which Americans have been added to the secret list. A previous Freedom of Information Act request for the material was ignored by the government.
“The public has a right to know the evidence and legal basis for the deliberate targeted killing of U.S. citizens,” the ACLU’s Wessler said. “So chilling a power must be opened to public scrutiny and debate.”