The Mix

2. 4. 6. 8. Who can we assassinate?

It's not just spying on U.S. citizens without a warrant; the President actually thinks he has the authority to order assassinations.
Can President Bush order a killing on U.S. soil?

No, it's not the American-Israeli conspiracy theorists asking the question, it's Newsweek.

Apparently, at the closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to investigate President Bush's warrantless spying program, Steven Bradbury, acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, repsonded to a similar question posed by a Senator by essentially saying, "Sure."

Now even those Americans who have said they're alright with a little snooping into their private conversations as long as it prevents a terrorist attack might think twice about approving of contract killers. And it's not clear who, exactly, would do the killing. Green Berets? Dick Cheney?

When Newsweek followed up with a question to the Justice Department, there was some serious backtracking:
"Mr. Bradbury's meeting was an informal, off-the-record briefing about the legal analysis behind the president's terrorist-surveillance program. He was not presenting the legal views of the Justice Department on hypothetical scenarios outside of the terrorist-surveillance program."

But, as The Council on Foreign Relations points out, recently both the Clinton and Bush administrations have already, very realistically, considered assassinations. And then there are those assassinations and assassination attempts we've covertly ordered or supported, including the democratically elected Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and the Dominican Republic's Rafael Trujillo, to name a few.

Ronald Reagan's Executive Order 12333, states, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."

Assassinations are a hallmark of the Sadaam-era Iraqi government and the current Israeli government, among others, and are generally considered to be the sign of a dictatorship or, at the very least, a democracy very much in decline. So maybe it's not too much of a leap to think of our government going from spying on people in the U.S. without warrants or Congressional consent, to assassinating people in the U.S., without so much as evidence or a fair trial.

We're on a slope so slippery, and someone's going to get hurt. We don't expect any answers from today's questioning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but Senators should at least repeat the question out in the open that was answered in such a disturbing way, off-the-record and behind closed doors, less than a week ago.
Rachel Neumann is Rights & Liberties Editor at AlterNet.
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