In our criticism of President Barack Obama’s claim of the power to kill an American citizen without a trial, determination of guilt of a capital offense or even that the American citizen is presently engaged in combat against the United States -- it is hard to know where to start.
In Obama’s frightening interpretation of the Constitution, all that is now required to receive a death sentence from the President is a “belief” by a government official that one is an “imminent” threat, that one is somehow associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated organization and that one is a senior operational leader of such an organization.
The standard of mere “belief” by a government official that one is engaged in wrongdoing to justify a death sentence for an American citizen is so low that it does not even meet the requirements for surveillance of one’s telephone or internet communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Yet, in the view of President Obama and his lawyers, it is enough to justify an unappealable death sentence.
To those who are inclined to accept the idea that in the war with radical Islam constitutional considerations should be suspended, we simply note that the Constitution has no “time outs” and that it is the paramount law of the land precisely to prevent the government from using arbitrary standards -- like mere belief to justify killing or otherwise oppressing citizens. That’s why James Madison insisted a Bill of Rights was necessary and that’s why the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment is there.
As bad as Obama’s attempt to suspend the Fifth Amendment is, it is not the most pernicious aspect of his claim of the power to execute an American without a trial or other constitutional authority. The most troubling aspect of the President’s policy is that he claims it is inherent in his executive power to do so.
The logical conclusion of such a claim is that ANYONE believed by the President to be a threat may be targeted for execution. The limit Obama currently imposes upon himself that these killings may take place outside areas controlled by the United States could be changed or abandoned entirely at his whim.
What this means is that if the President were to decide that the current policy of limiting such killings to al Qaeda and its affiliates needed to be changed to deal with another perceived threat, it could be changed by the President to include, for example, those whom the Department of Homeland Security identified as “right-wing extremists” back in 2009.
The report, for which the administration later apologized, identified as imminent threats those Americans “that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
The practical consequence of Obama’s claim that the executive has the inherent power to kill you without a trial if he merely believes you are an imminent threat is that no one is safe in their political views or opinions.
Imagine for a moment Obama’s execution by drone strike policy being applied to the Michigan “Christian warriors” -- the Huttaree. These Americans were arrested because, based on information obtained through an informant, the government “believed” they were an imminent threat.
The Huttaree were charged with sedition and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against the government – the same kind of acts that would earn an American a death sentence under Obama’s drone strike policy.
Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed the sedition and conspiracy charges, saying, although testimony showed that Hutaree leader David Stone Sr. "may have wanted to engage in a war with the federal government … it is totally devoid of any agreement to do so between Stone and the other defendants," and that federal prosecutors failed in five weeks of trial to prove that the Huttaree had a specific plan to kill a police officer and attack law enforcement personnel who showed up for the funeral.
Of course Americans targeted under Obama’s drone strike policy don’t get five weeks of trial... they can be killed based on less evidence than the government submitted in its failed case against the Huttaree.
We agree that the war with radical Islam is an existential threat, not just to the United States, but to western civilization. However, that war is as much a war of ideas as it is a war of guns and bullets. The idea that a mere “belief” by a government official – unknown and unelected we might add – can lead to a death sentence for an American citizen is so antithetical to the founding principles of the United States as to constitute a victory for those who wish to destroy us.
It is time Congress stepped in and put an end to Obama’s policy of executing Americans without a trial before the drones fly home and none of us are safe.