On December 19th, Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at the George Washington University, was speaking on C-Span about the loss of privacy taking place in America. This included responding to questions from callers. One went as follows:
Caller [15 minutes in]: One question about the President’s expanded powers… I can’t believe that the President can come, pull me out of my house in the dark of the night, and whisk me away, and I have no actions that I can take, I mean, what is that…?
Turley: It’s actually worse than they’re coming into your house – I hate to ruin your day – but President Obama just stated that he is going to maintain a policy that he can have any American citizen killed – without any charge, without any review except his own… If he is satisfied that you are a terrorist, he says that he can kill you anywhere in the world, including the United States. Two of his aides were just at a panel a couple of weeks ago and they reaffirmed they believe that American citizens can be killed on the order of the President, anywhere including the United States. That has left civil libertarian’s, you know, heads exploding because what is amazing is that you’ve got a President who now says that he can kill you on his own discretion, he can jail you indefinitely on his own discretion, and the response of the American people is one big, collective shrug and yawn.
Click here to watch the video on C-Span website.
In part, Turley was highlighting the dangerous precedent set by Obama’s order for a drone attack that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn, both American citizens, who were travelling in Yemen in late September. Here is an Associated Press report:
Anwar al-Awlaki, the target of the U.S. drone attack, was one of the best-known al-Qaida figures after Osama bin Laden. American intelligence officials had linked him to two nearly catastrophic attacks on U.S.-bound planes, an airliner on Christmas 2009 and cargo planes last year. The second American killed in the drone attack, Samir Kahn, was the editor of Inspire, a slick online magazine aimed at al-Qaida sympathizers in the West.
“Al-Qaida and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world,” Obama said in announcing al-Awlaki’s death. “Working with Yemen and our other allies and partners, we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans.”
Republicans and Democrats alike applauded the decision to launch the fatal assault on the convoy in Yemen.
Whereas the killing of Samir Kahn was justified as ‘collateral damage’, it transpires that target, al-Awlaki, who has been described variously as “the leader” of al-Qaida [FBI Director Robert Mueller]; “a leader of al-Qaida in Yemen” [The Treasury Department]; “a regional commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” [White House spokesman Robert Gibbs]; “the leader of external operations” [Obama after his assassination] had been added to ‘the kill-or-capture list’ in April 2010:
Before al-Awlaki, no American had been on the list.
But the legal process that led to his death was set in motion years a decade ago. On Sept. 17, 2001, President George W. Bush signed a presidential order authorizing the CIA to hunt down terrorists worldwide. The authority was rooted in his power as commander in chief, leading a nation at war with al-Qaida.
The order made no distinction between foreigners and U.S. citizens. If they posed a “continuing and imminent threat” to the United States, they were eligible to be killed, former intelligence officials said.
That Anwar al-Awlaki was a radical Islamist is surely without question, “his sermons in English are posted all over the Internet and his name has been associated with several attempted terrorist attacks”, although his alleged involvement in such plots as the underwear bomber’s failed attempt on Christmas Day will almost certainly never be finally established now that he is dead. By assassinating him, the case is effectively closed and he is thus presumed guilty unless proved innocent:
[But] In taking this step, the Obama administration raised questions about whom else the president has the authority to kill. In principle, such an attack could probably not happen inside the United States because the CIA is forbidden from operating here and the military is limited in what operations it can carry out domestically. But civil rights groups have questioned whether the government has opened the door to that possibility.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney refused to even acknowledge the government’s direct role in killing al-Awlaki. He repeatedly ducked questions about the extent of Obama’s authority and said only that al-Awlaki had been an operational leader for al-Qaida.1
But the killing of al-Awlaki also means closure on any investigation into why, in the months immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Anwar al-Awlaki had been invited to a luncheon at The Pentagon:
Anwar Al-Awlaki may be the first American on the CIA’s kill or capture list, but he was also a lunch guest of military brass at the Pentagon within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Fox News has learned.
According to officials, al-Awlaki had been vetted and, at that time, “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community”. That such an alleged high-ranking figure in al-Qaida had been welcomed at The Pentagon during an extraordinarily sensitive period is astonishing enough, and doubly suspicious given that:
Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who was born in Las Cruces, N.M., was interviewed at least four times by the FBI in the first week after the attacks because of his ties to the three hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour. The three hijackers were all onboard Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon.2
And if you’re thinking that any report from Fox News can’t be trusted, then obviously you’re not alone, however, al-Awlaki’s visit to the Pentagon was reported in other places and has never been officially denied. We can be certain too, that the authorities were aware of suspected terrorist links prior to his invitation to dinner. Here is the New York Times:
In fact, the F.B.I. had first taken an interest in Mr. Awlaki in 1999, concerned about brushes with militants that to this day remain difficult to interpret. In 1998 and 1999, he was a vice president of a small Islamic charity that an F.B.I. agent later testified was “a front organization to funnel money to terrorists.” He had been visited by Ziyad Khaleel, a Qaeda operative who purchased a battery for Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, as well as by an associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheik, who was serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York landmarks. […]
The F.B.I., whose agents interviewed Mr. Awlaki four times in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, concluded that his contacts with the hijackers and other radicals were random, the inevitable consequence of living in the small world of Islam in America. But records of the 9/11 commission at the National Archives make clear that not all investigators agreed.
One detective, whose name has been redacted, told the commission he believed Mr. Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” An F.B.I. agent, also unidentified, said that “if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been” the cleric, since “someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused.”3
Click here to read the full New York Times article.
Following the assassination of al-Awlaki, ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner said: “If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state.”4
Nevertheless, and as Jonathan Turley alludes on C-Span, the precedent is now set that: “If [the President] is satisfied that you are a terrorist, he says that he can kill you anywhere in the world, including the United States.”
So what of Turley’s other assertion that the President “can jail you indefinitely on his own discretion”? Well, Turley was speaking just a few days after The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 had been approved by the Senate on December 15th. What Turley says is now causing ‘civil libertarian’s heads to explode’ are the following Sections: 1021, which permits indefinite detention without trial; and 1022, which requires that the detained are held by the Armed Forces. Not merely unconstitutional, but more evidence that America is galloping down a dangerous path which is leading towards the implementation of martial law.
On December 16th, Jason Leopold, deputy managing editor for TruthOut.Org, discussed on Russia Today, the murky and ‘disturbing provisions’ in the latest bill, explaining how they are not only in contravention of civil liberties, but of human rights:
Additional — The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 was signed into law by President Obama on December 31, 2011 (the day after I posted this article).
Here are the Democracy Now! headlines for January 3, 2012:
Obama Signs Defense Bill Allowing for Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Without Trial
President Barack Obama has signed into law a $662 billion military spending bill that authorizes the government to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial. In a signing statement attached to the bill, Obama said he was signing the bill even though he had “serious reservations” with parts of the bill dealing with detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch: “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.”
Chris Anders, American Civil Liberties Union: “This is so broadly written, it would become a permanent feature of United States law, so that 10 years, 20 years down the road, any president could still use this power to have the military pick up people and indefinitely detain them without charge or trial, potentially for years, potentially for life.”
Controversial Defense Bill Tightens Sanctions on Iran
The newly approved military spending bill also includes a provision to tighten sanctions on Iran by denying access to the U.S. financial system to any foreign bank that conducts business with the Central Bank of Iran. Last week, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a key Gulf passageway, if new sanctions are enacted. Earlier today, Iran also threatened to take action if an unnamed U.S. aircraft carrier returns to Persian Gulf.
1 From an article entitled “US on uncharted ground as drone kills 2 Americans”, written by Matt Apuzzo for Associated Press, published in the Guardian on September 30, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9873705
2 From an article entitled “EXCLUSIVE: Al Qaeda Leader Dined at the Pentagon Just Months After 9/11” written by Catherine Herridge, published by Fox News on October 20, 2010. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/10/20/al-qaeda-terror-leader-dined-pentagon-months/
3 From an article entitled “Imam’s Path From Condemning Terror to Preaching Jihad”, written by Scott Shane and Souad Mekhennet, published in the New York Times on May 8, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/world/09awlaki.html?pagewanted=4
4 From “US on uncharted ground as drone kills 2 Americans” (see above) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9873705