Obama Refuses to Reveal Secret Memo Authorizing Murder of US Citizen

We may differ on whether or not the recent killing of al-Aqaeda operative and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki is a good thing or not. (See the comments on Steve’s post, “Ron Paul Says U.S. “Assassinated” US-Born al-Qaeda Terrorist“.)

But I think, whatever our stance, we will all agree that there is no legitimate reason why Obama should keep secret his memo that authorized the killing of al-Awlaki. Why? Because the memo is setting a very troubling precedent for the U.S. government to assassinate any American citizen for any reason the government deems justified.

Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason….”     


Conor Friedersdorf writes for The Atlantic, Oct. 3, 2011:

Outside the U.S. government, President Obama’s order to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without due process has proved controversial, with experts in law and war reaching different conclusions. Inside the Obama Administration, however, disagreement was apparently absent, or so say anonymous sources quoted by the Washington Post. “The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi, the American-born radical cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike Friday, according to administration officials,” the newspaper reported. “The document was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi, the officials said.”

Isn’t that interesting? Months ago, the Obama Administration revealed that it would target al-Awlaki. It even managed to wriggle out of a lawsuit filed by his father to prevent the assassination. But the actual legal reasoning the Department of Justice used to authorize the strike? It’s secret. Classified. Information that the public isn’t permitted to read, mull over, or challenge.

Why? What justification can there be for President Obama and his lawyers to keep secret what they’re asserting is a matter of sound law? This isn’t a military secret. It isn’t an instance of protecting CIA field assets, or shielding a domestic vulnerability to terrorism from public view. This is an analysis of the power that the Constitution and Congress’ post September 11 authorization of military force gives the executive branch. This is a president exploiting official secrecy so that he can claim legal justification for his actions without having to expose his specific reasoning to scrutiny. As the Post put it, “The administration officials refused to disclose the exact legal analysis used to authorize targeting Aulaqi, or how they considered any Fifth Amendment right to due process.”

Obama hasn’t just set a new precedent about killing Americans without due process. He has done so in a way that deliberately shields from public view the precise nature of the important precedent he has set. It’s time for the president who promised to create “a White House that’s more transparent and accountable than anything we’ve seen before” to release the DOJ memo. As David Shipler writes, “The legal questions are far from clearcut, and the country needs to have this difficult discussion.” And then there’s the fact that “a good many Obama supporters thought that secret legal opinions by the Justice Department — rationalizing torture and domestic military arrests, for example — had gone out the door along with the Bush administration,” he adds. “But now comes a momentous change in policy with serious implications for the Constitution’s restraint on executive power, and Obama refuses to allow his lawyers’ arguments to be laid out on the table for the American public to examine.” What doesn’t he want to get out?


14 responses to “Obama Refuses to Reveal Secret Memo Authorizing Murder of US Citizen

  1. Does this mean it’s now legal for persons to kill others?? I mean, is it legal for we the people to kill people?? Because the Govt of the USA is of we the people, by the people, and for the people?? I mean, do we the people just now “write a memo” and that’s our license to kill others?? So, then, is it lawful to kill whoever we “want” on the basis of “our better judgment”?? What’s the difference between the USA and a communist state with a dictator via this “Memo”?? Does it say, “The POTUS is now the Dictator of the Communist State of the USSA”??


  2. The only thing I can say is that Congress isn’t doing it’s job, or Bama would already be out of office! But we have too many Socialist and crooks in Congress. Time to get rid of them too. The American citizen has about had enough of these Elitist’s lies, and stealing not counting destroying our Constitution. Hanging would be too good for them. Semper Fi.


  3. The law and its rationality is never secret. Obama’s legal precedent and rationality cannot be a secret as to why the order was given in this regard. His is an Imperial Presidency.


  4. I would like to point out an inconsistency in the administrations actions. I find it VERY hypocritical that it was perfectly ok to kill this American citizen terrorist; however the enemy combatants that are held at Guantanamo bay are/were going to be afforded a civil trial for civil codes.

    Does anyone else find these facts very contradictory?

    Beck and I disagree on this one.


  5. A secret order, hmmm.
    I wonder if John Kennedy even had an inkling of the secret order that got him!?
    Little O won’t know it either when the tribunal turns on him.
    ‘ I thought they loved me’.


  6. Sounds like some lawyers or the media are looking for a cheap way to make money off this, screw him, he is dead and no more American boys will die because of him, treason, evil, criminal, call it what you will, he needed to die and now he’s gone, so what… and I now have no use for Ron Paul either, playing word games over this subject is just that, this war has to be WON, then be put to bed, with another country free and on its own.


    • d,

      I don’t like that Anwar no less than you, but have you considered this:

      Once Obama has set this precedent — that a U.S. president can just have an American citizen killed on the grounds of treason, without even producing the authorizing memo — you might be the next American citizen assassinated without due process of the Constitution’s Art. 3, Sec. 3?


  7. I have to be honest here.

    I generally believe rather strongly in the rule of law – probably more than most, but I also define justice as when people get what they deserve.

    As such, I have no problem whatsoever with this traitorous camel-washer being dispatched in the manner that he was.

    The fact that he was once a US citizen is utterly meaningless to me, as at the very moment he took sides with our enemy in a time of war, he demonsrated for all to see his desire for America to be destroyed – as that is the stated goal of the Islamists.

    Therefore his US citizenship was forfeit at that point, as far as I am concerned.



  8. What’s one more piece of evidence that we’re living under a dictatorship?


  9. point of order: was Anwar ever declared an enemy combatant ?

    ….and can we declare Obama as an enemy ?


  10. Americans civilians who reside overseas for extended periods, must return to the United States for a period of at least three months to retain citizenship. Were Samir Kahn and Al Awlaki out fo the U.S. for more than five years?


  11. Let me correct what I just said: American citizens who reside overseas for extended periods must return EVERY FIVE YEARS for a period of at least 3 months. Sorry about that. I left that one important detail out, which distorted everything.


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