This administration is making a claim as broad, absurd and offensive as the Bush administration did when it claimed the authority to declare anyone, including U.S. citizens, enemy combatants. The objection that this power is only going to be used against “those who wish to kill us” trusts that the government is never going to abuse its power and that the government is never going to make a mistake. One of the main reasons why we have due process is the assumption that governments routinely abuse their power and frequently make mistakes. Has the last decade of American history already vanished from our memories?
Consider how many people were wrongfully rounded up and detained at Guantanamo for years, and then suppose that they were all U.S. citizens, and further suppose that instead of being illegally detained they had all been killed by government forces (after all, they were “terrorists”!). According to this administration, not only would the government be within its rights to kill all those people (because they were “those who wish to kill us”), but that for the sake of national security there can be no oversight, no review and no accountability for the decision to kill them. These are the tactics of military governments, dictatorships and colonial empires. If we adopt those tactics, or acquiesce in them because “we are at war,” we will be embracing the legacy of those regimes.
Kevin Drum argues along the same lines:
I'd like to know if the Obama administration really does believe that it has the authority to assassinate U.S. citizens in Washington or Topeka in the same way it believes it has the authority to assassinate them in Sanaa and Karachi. And if not, why not?
Unfortunately, they've declared the entire thing to be a state secret, so we'll never find out.
Yglesias chimes in too:
The White House obviously isn’t saying it has the legal authority to order Glenn Greenwald murdered on the streets of Rio. But they do seem to be saying that if they issue such an order based on a lot of forged evidence, that there’s no legal process through which the agents of the US government can be prevented from carrying out the hit. Now as it happens the power being alleged here is so extreme that in practice it’s difficult to imagine in being misused in this wayI both hope and assume that such an order wouldn’t be followed. But we know that broad post-9/11 surveillance powers have been misused in ways with no connection to al-Qaeda whatsoever. And there have been no real consequences for it, so in the future we should assume that there will be more abuses and more egregious ones.