The Obama administration seems to have gone Jack Bauer on us, which would be okay if we were just talking about non-American enemy combatants on some far-flung battlefield.
It seems the administration danced its way around case law and the Constitution in an attempt to justify the assassination of three American citizens it refuses to acknowledge it had any part of, post execution. In September 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki, the mastermind behind the failed December 25, 2010 airplane BVD bombing, and his cohort, Samir Khan were killed. Two weeks later, in a separate drone attack, Denver native and 16-year-old son of al-Awlaki followed his father's fate.
According to the Washington Post, "a recently leaked 'white paper' from the Justice Department...permits the government to kill its citizens in secret while refusing to acknowledge, even after the fact, that it had done so."
No matter how evil someone is, it is unnerving that any president wouldn't hesitate to blatantly disregard an American citizen's constitutional right to a trial and then make the decision to become prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of that same citizen - and not man-up afterward.
To be clear, the use of drones on the modern battlefield has proven effective, but great ideas in the wrong hands can sour quickly.
In the recently crafted white paper, the administration makes a weak argument to justify its seeming extrajudicial power grab by suggesting "the use of lethal force" against an American citizen is equivalent to George W. Bush's detention of foreign enemy combatants.
It seems like only yesterday a then-junior senator from Illinois repetitively repudiated Bush's actions that included the capture, detention, and questioning of non-American enemy combatants, and a military-style christening of a few. Many say Bush's actions led to information regarding Osama bin Laden's whereabouts and eventual elimination.
What a difference a little (or a lot of) power makes. There's a new sheriff in town and, suddenly, the North Star we Americans call the Constitution is no longer the effective navigational tool it once was. Now it's okay to assassinate citizens and grant due process to non-citizens.
After Obama's election, his administration became obsessed with lavishing constitutional rights on Guantanamo Bay terrorists and tried to move them to New York City where they'd be granted due process. Back in August 2012, Attorney General Holder told Bloomberg he still regrets the "missed opportunity."
To complicate things, the white paper extends the battlefield to any foreign country. Page 7 suggests "clear evidence" - that a specific act will occur in the near future - is not required. Page 11 supports killing those simply in the scheming stage, leaving no room for a change of heart. They are guilty because they thought about it. To be fair, the paper does identify potential targets as high level leaders, and it also lists "capture" as an option, but contradicts itself considering what supposedly happened to the16-year old Denver resident. Guilty by association?
Throughout the 16-page document, the white paper intermittently leaves out the word "al-Qaida," and uses the term "terrorist groups" (or variants thereof), which would be of no concern were we dealing with a more transparent and less paranoid administration. Lest we forget, they put out the "Right-wing extremists" watch list in 2009 secretly informing police forces to look out for those who love God, celebrate freedom, adhere to wholesome values, and cherish the Constitution.
What one generation does in moderation the next does in excess; the same goes for presidents. Baby steps. As simplistic as it is, two wrongs will never make something right. We are now witnessing liberals using Bush's so-called extra-judicial activities as case law to justify stepping deeper into the darkness in support of third world-like capital punishment without trial. So what might this president, or his successor, try next?
Susan Stamper Brown is an opinion page columnist, motivational speaker and military advocate who writes about politics, the military, the economy and culture. Email Susan