When Berkeley Law professor John Yoo is able to come to the defense of President Obama’s secret legal justification for the assassination of American citizens, it’s time for progressives to pack it up and find a new candidate. Mike Bloomberg? Cory Booker? There are a bunch of other political figures out there who will gladly champion some liberal ideals until it becomes politically expedient for them to sell out the left in exchange for the warm embrace of the military-industrial complex.

Progressives will need to find somebody else because this Obama guy is done as a progressive leader. Many of you have been following the story of Anwar al-Awlaki. He’s the American-born radical cleric who was targeted and killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Many have questioned Obama’s authority to assassinate an American without due process of the law.

Today’s news is that President Obama did seek and receive legal justification for this strike from the Department of Justice. But you won’t get to see it. That’s because the DOJ issued Obama a secret memo that purportedly explains why Obama is allowed to kill Americans now….

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic explains how hope and change turned into cloak and dagger:

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.”

The next time somebody tells you “elections matter,” you tell them to blow it out their ass. I don’t know about you, but I specifically remember voting for the guy who acted like he wouldn’t do this. I voted for the guy who acted like he believed in transparency and governmental accountability. I voted for the guy who talked about restoring America’s moral legitimacy around the world.

I voted for the guy who went to law school and suggested he would at least be willing to publish the legal memoranda he uses to justify his exercise of power.

Say what you will about John Yoo, but at least the man has the courage of his convictions. Unlike our President, John Yoo is at least out there willing to argue why assassinating Americans abroad is constitutionally permissible. From his article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):

Today’s critics wish to return the United States to the pre-9/11 world of fighting terrorism only with the criminal justice system. Worse yet, they get the rights of a nation at war terribly wrong. Awlaki’s killing in no way violates the prohibition on assassination, first declared by executive order during the Ford administration. As American government officials have long concluded, assassination is an act of murder for political purposes. Killing Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy is assassination. Shooting an enemy soldier in wartime is not. In World War II, the United States did not carry out an assassination when it sent long-range fighters to shoot down an air transport carrying the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

American citizens who join the enemy do not enjoy a roving legal force-field that immunizes them from military reprisal. President Abraham Lincoln confronted this question at the outset of the Civil War.

Yes, yes, we killed Yamamoto. I take Professor Yoo’s point that you can’t apply peacetime justice to wartime combatants. I don’t necessarily agree, but at least it’s an argument that he’s willing to make, in public, so that his position can be scrutinized and debated.

So, is that the argument that the Justice Department is making? Are we at the point where President Obama and John Yoo are legal soul mates? Because, if so, I’d like to know. We have a right to know. If John Yoo would be on Obama’s shortlist to replace Eric Holder during a second term, we have a right to know that before the 2012 election.

The law is not supposed to be carried out in secret. Not in this country. I think a bunch of people thought they voted for a guy who understood that.

What is the will of the Above the Law community on this matter? Take our reader poll and let us know in the comments.

Should the DOJ's secret memo in support of killing Anwar al-Awlaqi be made public?

  • Yes. (80%, 1,308 Votes)
  • No. (20%, 322 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,627

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The Secret Memo That Explains Why Obama Can Kill Americans [The Atlantic]
Awlaqi hit misses al-Qaeda bombmaker, Yemen says [Washington Post]
From Gettysburg to Anwar al-Awlaki [Wall Street Journal]


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