Sometimes President Obama has to kill American citizens with robots. But despite what you've seen in pseudo-historically accurate films like Zero Dark Thirty and Expendables 2, there is a lengthy, sterile, heavily footnoted process to murdering a human who is protected by the Constitution, and today we know what that is. NBC News has obtained a memo written by the Justice Department to members of Congress that states that the president can order the killing of an American citizen if they are suspected to be "senior operational leaders" of Al Qaeda or "an associated force," even if there is no information that they may be plotting an attack on the U.S.
The document that outlines how "an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government" can commit murder, which at 16 pages [PDF] is shorter than a term paper you wrote about The Wasteland, was originally distributed to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees last summer.
Much of what is in the document was stated by Attorney General Eric Holder during a speech to Northwestern University law students: "targeted individuals" must pose "an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States," capture must be "infeasible," and "the operation is conducted in a manner consistent with the four fundamental principles of the laws of war governing the use of force."
But the document, which is merely a "white paper" summary, not an official Justice Department legal memorandum, also fires a hellfire missile into Merriam Webster's word-bunker. According to ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer, the opinion “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.” But who's to say whether "imminence" means "about to happen" or "ready to take place" or "when Mr. President shoots a clay pigeon with the face of a "targeted individual" painted on it?"
And don't worry, these killings aren't legally-prohibited assassinations either. Sure, they may sound like the president is "injuring or destroying unexpectedly and treacherously," but it's self-defense.
“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” the white paper reads. “In the Department’s view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban.
Besides, this document isn't even the real legal opinion of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel—surely those documents are less "chilling" to the Constitution.
Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment to NBC about the document.
The spokeswoman...instead pointed to public speeches by what she called a “parade” of administration officials, including [John] Brennan, Holder, former State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and former Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson that she said outlined the “legal framework” for such operations.
Brennan, who was complicit with the torture conducted at CIA black sites during the Bush administration and is President Obama's current nomination for CIA Director, is about to enter his Senate confirmation hearings. Jeh Johnson just left his post as the Defense Department's general counsel, during which he told us that Martin Luther King, Jr. would support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wonder if a murdered American citizen would support the legal reasoning behind the government murdering American citizens?