The big news in civil liberties circles today is the leak of a white paper laying out some of the legal reasoning behind the administration’s drone strike program. It’s not the actual memo itself, but it does appear to track the reasoning as it was described to Charlie Savage. Glenn Greenwald lays out all the legal implications in detail here, something I won’t bother to reproduce. I’d just like to focus on this already-infamous section on an “imminent threat:”
Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, 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 will take place in the immediate future.
Here we have it, ladies and gentlemen, the reason why the actual drone memo is secret. Not (entirely) because of knee jerk secrecy instinct, and definitely not because it would harm national security, which is and always was preposterous. No, the reason is the only justification they can cook up is so flagrantly ridiculous, so abusive of the plain meaning of words, so stuffed with Orwellian up-is-downism that a bright 5th grader could tell this is bullshit sophistry. If legal words can be bent this far then they mean nothing. When it comes to President Obama and assassination, there is no such thing as law, there is only power.
This memo is telling us one thing: the executive has arrogated unto itself the power to assassinate anyone, anywhere, at any time, without any justification, oversight, or due process whatsoever.