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Monday, October 10, 2011
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The United States Really Does Have a Secret Death Panel

The United States government has a panel of people who can decide to kill you, but we don't know who those people are. There is a panel who can decide to kill you, but we don't know how they make that decision. You can't appeal their verdict. You can't defend yourself. You can't see the evidence against you. Sarah Palin warned of death panels because of Obama Care... but it is our War on Terrorism that has lead the United States government to decide that it can kill you whenever it wants.

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House's National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

Lord knows that al-Awlaki is not a sympathetic character. But he is an American citizen, and the evidence that he actually participated in terrorist attacks was far from solid:

The Obama administration has not made public an accounting of the classified evidence that Awlaki was operationally involved in planning terrorist attacks.

But officials acknowledged that some of the intelligence purporting to show Awlaki's hands-on role in plotting attacks was patchy.
...
There is no doubt Abdulmutallab was an admirer or follower of Awlaki, since he admitted that to U.S. investigators. . . . But at the time the White House was considering putting Awlaki on the U.S. target list, intelligence connecting Awlaki specifically to Abdulmutallab and his alleged bomb plot was partial. Officials said at the time the United States had voice intercepts involving a phone known to have been used by Awlaki and someone who they believed, but were not positive, was Abdulmutallab.

As Glenn Greenwald said so well:

What's crucial to keep in mind is that nobody can see this "evidence" which these anonymous government officials are claiming exists.  It's in their exclusive possession.  As a result, they're able to characterize it however they want, to present it in the best possible light to support their pro-assassination position, and to prevent any detection of its flaws.  As any lawyer will tell you, anyone can make a case for anything when they're in exclusive possession of all the relevant evidence and are the only side from whom one is hearing; all evidence becomes less compelling when it's subjected to adversarial scrutiny.  Yet even given all those highly favorable pro-government conditions here, it's obvious - even these officials admit - that the evidence is "partial," "patchy," based on "suspicions" rather than knowledge.

Frankly, I think the evidence is likely even less reliable and more patchy than is being let on. After all, with all the controversy that this has generated, if the government did have a slam dunk case against him, they would be waving it in the air. If you have nothing to fear, then you would alleviate all those concerns, and let everyone see your evidence. And remember that al-Awlaki was never convicted, nor even accused in court of single crime. As Ron Paul said:

"I don't think that's a good way to deal with our problems," Paul told reporters. "Al-Awlaki was born here; he is an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. No one knows if he killed anybody. We know he might have been associated with the underwear bomber. But if the American people accept this blindly and casually that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it's sad.

"I think what would people have said about Timothy McVeigh? We didn't assassinate him, who we were pretty certain that he had done it. Went and put through the courts then executed him. To start assassinating American citizens without charges, we should think very seriously about this."

Yes, al-Awalki was not in the United States. But we have ways of handling that. He could have been tried in absentia. Hell, the least we could have tried to do was to put out an international arrest warrant against him, but it doesn't even seem that the United States government could even be bothered to carry out that tiny bit of formality against one of it's own citizens. al-Awalki was not even in an active combat zone. If he can be killed in a country we are not at war with, where else can they assassinate people without evidence?

Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, says such attacks are justified by international law and by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed after the September 11 attacks. "The United States is in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces," Koh says. "Individuals who are part of such an armed group are belligerents and, therefore, lawful targets."

But unlike a conventional war, this "armed conflict" is fought on a "battlefield" that spans the globe by "belligerents" who do not wear uniforms and are not readily identified. Hence Koh's reasonable-sounding law-of-war argument amounts to claiming that the executive branch has the unreviewable authority to kill enemies that it unilaterally identifies anywhere in the world.

The geographic reach of this license to kill exceeds even that of an old-fashioned tyrant accustomed to shouting, "Off with his head!" Imagine how the U.S. would react if a foreign government claimed it had the right to kill people on the streets of New York because it considered them "belligerents."

Not that it takes much work these days to go to war with a country. After all, Obama declared war on Libya without the consent of Congress, and shopped around for an opinion to justify it, why not do the same against Yemen, and just make that an active combat zone. See how easy it all is these days? Decide on the outcome first, and then figure out how to justify it later. We don't need laws, or the Constitution for any of this anymore. That is all far too inconvenient.

If you're Patrick Dorwin at Badger Blogger, the idea that a United States citizen should be tried in court, or maybe even given the least protection of the Constitution makes you "pro-terrorist". So you can't even question the methods. You can't question the policy of secret panels putting American citizens to death with secret evidence. This is the ultimate extreme of "you're either with us or you're against us", and it is a shameful thing to do. You may think he was somehow an enemy combatant, but to suggest that you're not even allowed to question the decision without being a terrorist lover is plain wrong.

Do I think that Americans, here in the United States could be put on a kill list and assassinated in our own borders? Lord, I hope not. But considering that you can now be put on a "Terrorist Watch List" and not know it... and that even if you are cleared in court of any wrongdoing, you may not necessarily be removed from it, I find it all more than troubling. These are the kinds of decisions that must be made in the complete light of day, because the consequences of them are the most extreme, and are the powers are the most easily abused.

We are going down a very bad road in this country, in many ways. Killing without conviction, and especially condemning those who even question the decision will only take us further down that horrible road. We must turn around while we still can.

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