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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

February 6, 2010

CIVIL LIBERTIES LAWYERS STRIKE BACK AT OBAMA'S CLAIMED RIGHT TO KILL AMERICANS ABROAD

Antiwar - Civil liberties advocates and legal authorities struck back at what they describe as the "deliberate targeted killing of U.S. citizens far away from any active hostilities, as long as the executive branch determines unilaterally that they meet a secret definition of who the enemy is."

In an admission that took the intelligence community and its critics by surprise, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a congressional hearing that the U.S. may, with executive approval, deliberately target and kill U.S. citizens who are suspected of being involved in terrorism.

Attorney George Brent Mickum, who has defended a number of Guantanamo Bay detainees, told IPS, "I guess my sense is that it's just more fear mongering. They kill somebody and don't need to offer any justification."

Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois Law School, told IPS that "this extrajudicial execution of human beings" violates both international human rights law and the fifth amendment of the U.S. constitution.

"The U.S. government has now established a 'death list' for U.S. citizens abroad akin to those established by Latin American dictatorships during their so-called dirty wars," he said.

The human rights advocacy community was equally forceful in its pushback. Daphne Eviatar, an attorney with Human Rights First, told IPS, "The short answer is that combatants can be targeted and civilians cannot under international law. Their citizenship isn't relevant. But just being a 'suspected terrorist' doesn't necessarily mean they're a combatant."

She added, "The key question, and where there may be serious disagreement, is whether the person targeted is 'directly participating in hostilities'. If not, and they're targeted, it's a war crime."

Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, told IPS, "As with its embrace of the [George W.] Bush approach to indefinite detention, the Obama administration's even greater reliance on targeted extra-judicial killing - including of U.S. citizens - is a tragic legal, moral, and practical mistake."

"Even for those who accept the legitimacy of the death penalty, this further undermines the rule of law that is our best weapon in the fight against true terrorists, while completely subverting due process and constitutional rights of U.S. citizens," he said.

Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said, "It is alarming to hear that the Obama administration is asserting that the president can authorize the assassination of Americans abroad, even if they are far from any battlefield and may have never taken up arms against the U.S., but have only been deemed to constitute an unspecified 'threat.'"


1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

..."The severe dangers of vesting assassination powers in the President are so glaring that even GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra is able to see them (at least he is now that there's a Democratic President). At yesterday's hearing, Hoekstra asked Adm. Blair about the threat that the President might order Americans killed due to their Constitutionally protected political speech rather than because they were actually engaged in Terrorism. This concern is not an abstract one. The current controversy has been triggered by the Obama administration's attempt to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. But al-Awlaki has not been accused (let alone convicted) of trying to attack Americans. Instead, he's accused of being a so-called "radical cleric" who supports Al Qaeda and now provides "encouragement" to others to engage in attacks -- a charge al-Awlaki's family vehemently denies (al-Awlaki himself is in hiding due to fear that his own Government will assassinate him).

The question of where First Amendment-protected radical advocacy ends and criminality begins is exactly the sort of question with which courts have long grappled. In the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed a criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who -- surrounded by hooded indivduals holding weapons -- gave a speech threatening "revengeance" against any government official who "continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race." The Court held that the First Amendment protects advocacy of violence and revolution, and that the State is barred from punishing citizens for the expression of such views. The Brandenburg Court pointed to a long history of precedent protecting the First Amendment rights of Communists to call for revolution -- even violent revolution -- inside the U.S., and explained that the Government can punish someone for violent actions but not for speech that merely advocates or justifies violence (emphasis added):



As we [395 U.S. 444, 448] said in Noto v. United States, 367 U.S. 290, 297 -298 (1961), "the mere abstract teaching . . . of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence, is not the same as preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action." See also Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242, 259 -261 (1937); Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116, 134 (1966). A statute which fails to draw this distinction impermissibly intrudes upon the freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It sweeps within its condemnation speech which our Constitution has immunized from governmental control.

From all appearances, al-Awlaki seems to believe that violence by Muslims against the U.S. is justified in retaliation for the violence the U.S. has long brought (and continues to bring) to the Muslim world. But as an American citizen, he has the absolute Constitutional right to express those views and not be punished for them (let alone killed) no matter where he is in the world; it's far from clear that he has transgressed the advocacy line into violent action. "...
Glen Greenwald in salon

February 7, 2010 5:04 PM  

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