Last October, Reuters published news about a secret U.S. government panel which “nominated” militants for murder or capture, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki. The story peered into the opaque process by which a government bureaucracy decides to take a human life. And it was disturbing:
…Targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC “principals,” meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.
The names suggested are then brought before the president, who may veto them.
What’s astonishing about all this is that the names of those on the panel are unknown, how they decide someone should die is unknown, and what evidence is used to determine on a death sentence is unknown. Everything about this process is deliberately opaque. And there is no written record of the panel’s deliberations in order to further insulate participants, especially the president himself. This fact alone reminds me of some of the more nefarious plots in recent history including Pol Pot’s genocide, Hitler’s Final Solution and Ben Gurion’s plans for the Nakba. All wisely left little or no written evidence of their plans that could be used later by authorities or history to judge them. Not that targeted killings rise to the level of genocide in terms of crimes against humanity, but they are grievious breaches of international law nonetheless.
The hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton swearing on a stack of Bibles that the U.S. had nothing to do with the last Iranian scientist assassination is laughable considering that our own behavior isn’t that dissimilar. In a conversation with a journalist a few days ago who’d had discussions with CIA officers who justified the U.S. killing of al-Awlaki, the agent asked the reporter whether it would be justified to kill someone during World War II who fought right at Hitler’s side.
He was attempting to liken the Yemeni-American cleric to such a figure, when the evidence offered so far doesn’t justify it. Is the CIA saying that Osama bin Laden was Hitler and al-Awlaki was his commander-in-chief? Since when, on both counts? I have no doubt that both were enemies of the U.S. who deserved to be tried and punished for their crimes. But as Mehdi Hassan argues so persuasively in this commentary on the subject, “targeted killing is just the death penalty without due process.”
Barack Obama doesn’t get to be judge, jury and executioner under the U.S. Constitution. In fact, he’s violating the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits taking a citizen’s life without due process. A secret National Council panel is NOT due process. It’s just death by bureaucratic fiat. It is no different from Israel’s targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants and Iranian scientists.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.