Bannon and some matters of life and death
In my view, one of the most disastrous actions of the Obama administration was claiming power to target American citizens for killing if a classified Executive Branch review with no public notes or records of any kind determines that that citizen is a serious enough threat and cannot be arrested by conventional means.
In rather Orwellian logic, Obama claimed that confidential review by his branch meets the standard of due process. Unfortunately, that review is carried out by subset of the National Security Council.
Steve Bannon is now a full member of the National Security Council – he has more access to it than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, under Trump’s recent Executive Order. John McCain characterized his move as a “radical departure” from precedent, and a cause for serious concern, noting that the “one indispensable” member of the Council is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff.
I am sure the NSC, which is largely staffed by Trump appointees, will use their powers with the administration’s typical sobriety and prudence.
When Anwar Al-Awlaki’s father appeared in court to challenge the targeting of his son, the DOJ argued and the courts agreed that he lacked standing to do so. In other words, he couldn’t bring suit on his son’s behalf. His son, who would be killed if his whereabouts were known, would need to come to the courts and file suit himself.
It is possible that a U.S. citizen Obama had killed far from any battlefield, Anwar Al-Awlaki, may have been engaged in Constitutionally speech. Anonymous officials admitted that the evidence linking him to operational planning was “patchy.” We’ll never know now, of course, because he’s dead.
Note that, according to the confidential memo the Obama White House used to formulate their legal theory on this issue, “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘immanent’ 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 and interests will take place in the immediate future,” (page 7).
For me, and a surprisingly tiny handful of others, at the time, this was a very serious issue. I wrote about it repeatedly, but very few people seemed particularly concerned at the time.
Here’s what I said about this in 2010:
Perhaps the greatest danger of Obama’s attempt to order the extrajudicial assassination of Al-Awlaki is that if you follow how the White House is playing it, it is clear what they’re trying to do is establish a precedent, using a case that’s (in their eyes) relatively unproblematic. Just wait till a Republican president holds this power, hippie.
Well, that day is here – Trump is in the White House stacking that very same panel, which can apparently target suspected enemies of the US for death without any public visibility or judicial checks, with his political allies. Like Steve Bannon. The guy who published stories like “How to Talk to your Crazy ISIS Relatives about Global Warming at Thanksgiving” and “Hillary Clinton’s Muslim Brotherhood Problem”.
Annnnd two days after I posted this, Sean Spicer said “no American citizen will ever be targeted” at a press conference, only to see the White House walk that assertion back hours later, citing Eric Holder’s justification for using lethal force.