… But what really stood out was Coll’s recounting of the events leading up to Awlaki’s assassination:
President Barack Obama had personally authorized the killing. “I want Awlaki,” he is said to have told his advisers at one point. “Don’t let up on him.” The President’s bracing words about a fellow American are reported in “Kill or Capture,” a recent and important book on the Obama Administration’s detention and targeted-killing programs, by Daniel Klaidman, a former deputy editor of Newsweek.
With those words attributed to Obama, Klaidman has reported what would appear to be the first instance in American history of a sitting President speaking of his intent to kill a particular U.S. citizen without that citizen having been charged formally with a crime or convicted at trial.
Please re-read that bolded part to appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s trail blazing. When The New York Times, back in April, 2010, first confirmed the inclusion of an American citizen on Obama’s hit list, it, too, noted: “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.” But it was only recently known what a personal role Obama himself played in ordering the historically unprecedented hit. As a result, writes Coll, “President Obama and his advisers have opened the door to violent action against American citizens by future Presidents when the facts may be much less compelling.” In fairness to Obama, he did campaign on a promise of change, and vesting the President with the power to order the execution of citizens in secret and with no oversight certainly qualifies as that.
Another part of Coll’s article relates to the big, exciting Election Year controversy of the moment: the perfectly legitimate demand that Mitt Romney release more of his tax returns. Here we have the political campaign of the same President who, in another moment of trailblazing, has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, and whose top aides secretly met at coffee houses with industry lobbyists to draft bills so as to evade disclosure and record preservation requirements, marching, apparently with a straight face, behind the banner of transparency to demand disclosure of his opponent’s tax returns.
Specifically with regard to Obama’s assassinations, Coll notes the extreme secrecy behind which they are ordered: “None of Obama’s legal advisers has testified similarly about what secret system and classified legal memos may exist for judging, in the case of an American citizen targeted overseas, whether and why a capture attempt may be feasible.” Indeed, when Awlaki’s father sued in advance to try to prevent the U.S. Government from killing his American son without due process, the Obama DOJ told a federal court that Obama’s assassination program was too secret even to permit judicial adjudiciation of its legality.
So to summarize the Obama campaign’s apparent argument: it’s absolutely vital that we know all about the GOP nominee’s tax shelters and financial transactions over the last decade (and indeed, we should know about that), but we need not bother ourselves with how the Democratic nominee is deciding which Americans should die, his claimed legal authority for ordering those hits, the alleged evidence for believing the target deserves to be executed, or the criteria used to target them. So low are one’s expectations for an American Election Year that there are very few spectacles so absurd as to be painful to behold, but the Obama campaign’s waving of the transparency flag definitely qualifies.