The Kill List

Conor Friedersdorf on the Obama administration’s creation of a “kill list” of individuals whom the US can kill anywhere, anytime:

I wish the right would do less scoffing at the ACLU. It’s often unjustified. But I’ll live with scoffing if it’s followed by the dawning realization that the Obama Adminstration has imprudently asserted for itself an extraordinary extra-constitutional power, the potential abuse of which ought to terrify any citizen who is half paying attention.

Once that realization has sunk in, I’d encourage this followup thought: whereas the ACLU is standing against this radical expansion of federal power — an executive branch death panel, if you will — conservative instituitions like The Heritage Foundation aren’t merely silent, they’re hiring a senior staffer who believes that the ability to draw up a list of American citizens to be killed is inherent in the power of the presidency.

I don’t write about this often enough. But it really is extraordinary. Right now this list is confined (we think) to suspected terrorists in places like Yemen and Pakistan, and I think that distracts us from what’s going on. Even if, in principle, it seems wrong, killing jihadist wannabes in Karachi or Mogadishu just doesn’t get our alarm bells going. Our instinctive reaction is that these are third-world hellholes where life is cheap anyway, so why not?

But it’s the still the principle that matters. If you can do it in Karachi, you can do it in Paris. And if you can do it to a New Mexico-born cleric who preaches vengeance against the U.S. from a mosque every Friday, you can do it to an expat from Oregon who runs a grimy little anti-American newspaper from a basement in Berlin. We might not be doing that right now, but what’s to stop us? The good will of whoever happens to be president at the moment?

For what should be obvious reasons, the U.S. government should not be allowed to execute U.S. citizens without trial regardless of whether they happen to be on U.S. soil. It’s a little hard to believe that this is even a debatable notion.