CIA Targeted Killings: Constitutional Concerns and the Need For Oversight
Crossposted on Tikkun Daily
by Chisda Magid
On September 30, 2011 a U.S. drone in Yemen assassinated Anwar Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen accused of participation in terrorist activities against the United States. While there is a legitimate debate to be had about the justification and legality of targeted killings as a matter of policy, President Obama should not be permitted to assume this authority unchallenged.
Al-Awlaki's killing is the first instance of a U.S. administration openly targeting an American citizen for assassination and comes amid a rapid increase in the use of targeted killings abroad. This issue was last raised in 2002 when Kamal Derwish, also a U.S. citizen, was killed in a similar operation. The Bush administration denied that he was an intended targeted, thereby avoiding the constitutional question, but Condoleezza Rice argued that targeting Derwish would have been "well within the balance of...[Bush's] constitutional authority." In early 2009 Admiral Dennis Blair reaffirmed that the president has the right to assassinate an American citizen that is believed to be " working with terrorists." The Bush administration avoided a constitutional confrontation while creating the legal framework for a 2010 Obama memorandum that justified the targeted killing of Al-Awlaki.
Like Bush, Obama has tried to circumvent judicial (or congressional) oversight. The aforementioned memorandum does not establish the authority to target U.S. citizens generally, but only one specific U.S. citizen, Al-Awlaki. While that may seem like a narrow claim, it actually assumes that the presidential has the authority to target citizens in national security cases and without outside authorization. When Nasser Al-Awlaki, Anwar's father, sued the government to prevent the addition of his son's name to a CIA "kill-or-capture" list, the U.S. District Judge ruled that Nasser lacked standing. Only Anwar could sue to prevent the CIA from targeting him, and only then could the courts even review the constitutionality of this policy. The Obama administration has confidently asserted the right to target any "terrorists," including U.S. citizens, but has rejected any attempts to scrutinize this power.
Soon after Anwar's Al-Alaki's death, his son Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was killed in a similar strike. Like the Derwish case, the current administration claimed that Abdulrahman was an Al-Qaeda militant (making him a legitimate target) but denied that he was the intended target. The administration also initially claimed that he was twenty-one, but Abdulrahman's family published his birth certificate - he was sixteen years old.
Until there is transparency and oversight, the policy of executive authorization of CIA targeted killings should not be tolerated.