The unleaked Obama kill-list memos behind the leaked kill-list memo

This is a continuation of the pieces we wrote earlier regarding Barack Obama, his defense of the right of the president to order assassinations of American citizens, his secret kill-list (the list of people he’s planning or trying to kill), and his secret reasons for asserting he has that right.

Did you get all that? Obama thinks the president (or his assigned Executive Branch underlings) can order the deaths of American citizens without trial, and he refuses to tell even the congressional oversight committee why he thinks he has that right.

Recently an administration memo was leaked in which the Executive Branch discussed Obama’s kill-list and its justification. We covered that in detail here:

■ “We aren’t known for torturing people any more. In the Obama era, we’re known for killing them.”

■ Obama’s nonsensical terrorist ‘Kill List’ defense, explained by humorist Matt Filipowicz

Both links provide excellent background, especially the first.

For those who want to follow more closely the Obama kill-list story behind the story — the unreleased kill-list memos behind the single leaked kill-list memo — this piece of video is excellent provides an excellent explanation. It’s from al-Jazeera English and features Marcy Wheeler of — who’s been following along as closely as anyone in the country — along with Joshua Foust, a foreign policy analyst for PBS, and Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights.

The key is that the leaked memo is not the underlying information that the Senate oversight committee was seeking. It’s a white-paper summary of one or more memos issued by the OLC, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council. The OLC is the Justice Dept’s internal lawyer; it’s the department that the rest of the Exec Branch goes to when they want to know if something they’re about to do — or have already done (!) — is legal.

In the matter of the killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, his teen-aged son (yes, a minor), and at least one other American citizen — in separate incidents — the white-paper memo is just the tip of the iceberg, and in fact, may not even represent the main iceberg, the killing of al-Awlaki.

Listen first to the video; it’s remarkable clear and accessible. Then I’ll have a few comments, including a message to progressive activists who are wrestling with this information (click to jump to it). Wheeler’s segment starts at 3:08.

For those who like print, here’s Wheeler writing at Naked Capitalism (my emphasis and paragraphing):

As important as it is to see the white paper DOJ gave Congress to explain its purported legal rationale, it is just as important to make clear what this white paper is not.

First, is it not the actual legal memos used to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and who knows who else. As Michael Isikoff notes in his story, the Senators whose job it is to oversee the Executive Branch — even the ones on the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be read into covert operations — are still demanding the memos, for at least the 12th time. The release of this white paper must not serve to take pressure off of the White House to release the actual memos.

Which brings me to an equally important point: memos. Plural. NBC suggests and the close tracking appears to support that this white paper is a version of the OLC memo written in June 2010 and reported on — the last time there was clamor to release the targeting killing authorization publicly — by Charlie Savage.

But as Colleen McMahon strongly hinted last month, that doesn’t mean that this white paper — and the OLC memo which it summarizes — describe the legal basis actually used to kill Anwar al-Awlaki. Indeed, Ron Wyden has been referring to memos, in the plural, for a full year (even before, if Isikoff’s report is correct, this white paper was first provided to the Committees in June 2012). And there is abundant reason to believe that the members of the Senate committees who got this white paper aren’t convinced it describes the rationale the Administration actually used.

There’s more at the link. Do note her discussion of Wyden not being clear about the source of Obama’s claimed authority — Can Obama kill at will because Congress passed the 2001 AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Terrorists), or because this authority is inherent in his Article 2 power?

In other words, as Wheeler points out, the limitations to the Presidential assassination power noted in the white paper may not be the limitations as understood within the Executive Branch — the power to kill may be much looser. Quoting the white paper:

As stated earlier, this paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation against a U.S. citizen lawful in other circumstances.


Are you comforted yet? Do you still have Obama stars in your eyes? This man is aggressively pursuing this power; he’s pursuing it in secret; he’s hiding his authorizing authority from Congress — militarily, he’s George Bush on steroids.

One final thought from me — this isn’t about just drones. It’s also about blowing a man’s head off in the street. It’s about assassination by any means on executive orders only — a kingly power, I remind you. I don’t call him the Prince for nothing.

Message to progressive activists

Those of you who worked so hard to defeat Duke Romney of Bain, congrats. You succeeded. Now you have to wheel your army about and take on the Prince. Because the Prince is taking you on. And he’ll never face another election in his life.

I’m speaking especially to progressive activists. Now is not the time for stars in your eyes. If you take your progressive principles seriously, you can’t go all tribal and star-struck. You can be loyal to the Prince regardless of his deeds, or you can take the Obama 2.0 integrity challenge and fight the army arrayed against you.

The predator class is still the predator class; and Obama still works for them. His choice is, and always was, the Rubinite way — the Friedman free-trade-from-the-left billionaire rape of the economy. Your choice is how you deal with that, now that he has the throne. I know — sucks — but there it is. We are the reality people, right?

[Update: Introduction added for clarity.]


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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