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Will Liberals Rise Up and Strongly Attack the Obama Targeted Assassination Program?

You would think that the left would draw the line somewhere on the President's policies.
 
 
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Last year Brown University’s Michael Tesler released a fascinating study showing that Americans inclined to racially blinkered views wound up opposing policies they would otherwise support, once they learned those policies were endorsed by President Obama. Their prejudice extended to the breed of the president’s dog, Bo: They were much more likely to say they liked Portuguese water dogs when told Ted Kennedy owned one than when they learned Obama did.

But Tesler found that the Obama effect worked the opposite way, too: African-Americans and white liberals who supported Obama became more likely to support policies once they learned the president did.

More than once I’ve worried that might carry over to bad policies that Obama has flirted with embracing, that liberals have traditionally opposed: raising the age for Medicare and Social Security or cutting those programs’ benefits. Or hawkish national security policies that liberals shrieked about when carried out by President Bush, from rendition to warrantless spying. Or even worse, policies that Bush stopped short of, like targeted assassination of U.S. citizens loyal to al-Qaida (or “affiliates”) who were (broadly) deemed (likely) to threaten the U.S. with (possible) violence (some day).

Those ugly parentheses are made necessary by  Michael Isikoff’s exclusive report on the Obama administration “white paper” that justifies its unprecedented claim to the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process on foreign soil. The New York Times and the ACLU had sued to get the administration to release the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion in the case of the targeted assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki by drone strike in Yemen last year. The administration fought that effort, but Isikoff was leaked a summary, “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It lays out a legal rationale far beyond anything the administration has claimed before.

Specifically, where Attorney General Eric Holder insisted such attacks would only be used to deter “imminent threat of violent attack,” similar to the rights police officers have to kill a suspect in a hostage situation or impending terror attack, the white paper clarifies what that means – or rather obfuscates – in chilling language:

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 interests will take place in the immediate future.

So: the president doesn’t need “clear evidence” of a “specific attack” planned for “the immediate future.” How about little or no evidence of some vaguely debated attack at some point some day?

And while joining up with al-Qaida might be evidence that an American means his or her country grave harm, what about hooking up with “associated force”? The memo doesn’t define it. And it doesn’t restrict the power to make these judgments to the commander in chief either; it’s enough that an “informed, high-level official” deem the suspect an “operational leader” who presents the danger of an unspecified “imminent threat” – some day.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, the paper itself makes clear it’s establishing a kind of ceiling, not a floor – it allows that targeted assassination may also be allowed under conditions not outlined in the paper. “This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful,” it states; rather, “it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation.” And it reflects a continuation of the Bush-Cheney doctrine of “global battlefield,” justifying such operations anywhere al-Qaida may be operating.

 
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