Charlie Savage has an exclusive story in the New York Times on the details of the United States’ secret memo, written by administration lawyers, laying out arguments for the targeted killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki. The memo, which remains classified and was discussed anonymously, is of particular importance because the Obama administration has thus far provided no evidence of al-Awlaki’s wrongdoing and no explanation for why the killing doesn’t violate the Fifth Amendment‘s due-process
guarantee suggestion. Furthermore, Yemen expert Gregory Johnson has strongly downplayed the claim that Awlaki was even a legitimate threat, explaining, “He is far from the terrorist kingpin that the West has made him out to be. In fact, he isn’t even the head of his own organization, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
The lawyers explored various legal arguments, but “rejected each in turn,” apparently none of them troubling enough to impede America from killing one of its own citizens (and another, less discussed, “collateral damage” American). All of this disturbingly casual, bureaucratic legalese only reinforces Charles Davis’ point that the question we should ask isn’t whether the killing was legal, but whether it was moral.
As Savage notes, the memo was drafted by former Office of Legal Council lawyers David Barron and Martin Lederman, the latter of which criticized the Bush Administration for claiming “the constitutional power to defy a number of extant statutory restrictions on executive war powers that would otherwise cabin the Commander in Chief’s discretion.” The irony is obvious, and only adds to the list of Bush critics who later defend Obama for similar or (in this case) far worse policies.
But Marcy Wheeler (aka EmptyWheel) notes another irony: that the information of the secret memo, leaked anonymously to Charlie Savage, is more secret than the documents PFC Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked to WikiLeaks, yet those who spoke to Savage enjoy impunity while PFC Manning has been imprisoned for more than 500 days.