What do our Constitution-loving conservatives say about our government’s assassination programs?

Summary:  The government asserts the right to kill US citizens without warrant or trial.  Few liberals show any interest in fighting this.  But we can count on Constitution-loving conservatives to defend our rights.  Or perhaps not.

Prohibition of extrajudicial killing of citizens by the government is the most basic right, without which the rest mean nothing.  Achieved centuries ago in the West, we’ve forgotten that basic truth.  Worse, many Americans believe that government accusations equal guilt.  The combination suggests that the Republic is dying.   Fetishization or even worship of the Constitution means nothing once we no longer believe the principles it embodies.


  1. The A-Team of conservative legal analysis
  2. Liberty must die because we’re at war
  3. Bill O’Reilly appluads
  4. Jonah Goldberg applauds

(1)  The A-Team of conservative legal analysis

The go-to website for conservative legal analysis is The Volokh Conspiracy (it’s on the FM blogroll).  What do they say?

“I, as I have remarked various times, see no problem with the US government targeting Al-Awlaki, US citizen or not.  I don’t have a problem with the refusal of OFAC to issue the required license for the expenditure of funds on someone the US government has designated as a terrorist under existing US law.”
— Kenneth Anderson (Prof Law, Stamford), at the Volokh Conspiracy, 3 August 2010.  He also approvingly discusses it here and here.

(2)  Liberty must die because we’re at war

The most common justification for the actions, so extreme in US history, is that we’re at war.  A long war, an undeclared war, against a vague enemy.  As explained by John Eastman (Cato Institute, 11 August 2010) in this essay about the US government’s surveillance programs.

Not once in his article does Greenwald even acknowledge that we are at war with a global enemy bent on destroying us. … Greenwald seems not to understand that the trigger date for a reduction in wartime surveillance efforts should be the conclusion of the war, not its onset! I will be more than happy to join Mr. Greenwald in expressing concern about our surveillance efforts if they are still in place ten years (or even one or two years) after the war ends, but I’d like to see us first defeat the enemy who would destroy us before unilaterally dismantling our efforts in the single most important front of this asymmetrical war.

— To see the rest of that debate, see this article by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.  It’s worth a look.

Our liberties appear to be the most certain casualty of this war.   It’s another reason to ask Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?  Eric Posner (Prof Law, U Chicago) describes this with approval at the Volokh Conspiracy, 7 January 2010:

Many of us said during the days of the Bush administration that restrictions on civil liberties motivated by the conflict with Al Qaeda would be maintained during any subsequent administration, whether Democratic or Republican, as long as the terrorist threat remained. This prediction has been amply confirmed. The most recent example is the implementation of an explicit profiling program for airline passengers. The ACLU aside, there has not been much criticism of this initiative. (Maybe because some of the most prominent critics of the Bush administration’s counterterror policies are now members of the Obama administration.)

The persistence of policies across ideologically divided administrations is good evidence that those policies are now mainstream rather than partisan and ideological. Of course, many people will continue to disagree with them, just as many people continue to object to a standing army and a central bank; but these people are now officially on the fringes. There will also continue to be arguments about interrogation practices and the like, but a wide range of Bush administration policies—indefinite detention without charges, trials by military commission, the use of military force against suspected terrorists in foreign countries, secrecy privileges that undermine litigation against government officials responsible for terrorism policies, profiling on the basis of nationality, and much else—are now politically entrenched. …

(3)  Bill O’Reilly appluads

Many on the right not only applaud these trends, but wish to exterminate even more of our remaining basic liberties.  As in this rant by Bill O’Reilly, astonished than anything other than condemnation by the government should be necessary for summary execution.  From the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, 4 August 2010:

As you may know, President Obama and CIA chief Leon Panetta have wreaked havoc in the ranks of Al Qaeda by using predator drone missiles to attack terrorists all over the world. The strategy has been very effective and has decimated the Al Qaeda leadership. Obama and Panetta are patriots for their actions.

But the far left opposes using the drone attacks, and now the ACLU has filed a backdoor lawsuit to try to stop the campaign.  Please follow me closely here.  Anwar al-Awlaki has been designated a global terrorist by the U.S. government. That means he is a prime target.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)  LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: Awlaki is a terrorist. And, yes, he’s a U.S. citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist, and we’re going to treat him like a terrorist. We don’t have an assassination list. But I can tell you this: We have a terrorist list and he’s on it.  (END VIDEO CLIP)

Enter the ACLU, which has applied to represent Awlaki in any court proceedings that might occur. That application has not been acted upon by the U.S. government.  So the ACLU is suing in federal court, saying the terrorist and others like him are being denied due process because they are attacked by U.S. authorities without warning.  In other words, the ACLU wants designated terrorists to be given rights before any action is taken against them.

If the ACLU succeeds, that would limit predator drone targets. It’s simply unbelievable.  The ACLU has always been a far-left outfit, but is now actively aiding terrorists, actively helping Al Qaeda thugs who kill people all over the world.  The ACLU and other far-left groups simply will not acknowledge there is a war going on. They see terrorism as criminal activity, not a military battle.  If the ACLU had its way, President Obama and CIA chief Panetta would not be allowed to launch predator attacks.

So I ask you: How many Americans do you believe support the ACLU’s actions? Five percent? Maybe 10? But you don’t hear a word in the media about the ACLU’s subversive activities, even when they are trying to help the Al Qaeda leadership.

In a free society, there is nothing we can do. The ACLU has a right to exist, but I have a right to expose it. That organization is putting every single American in danger. It’s disgraceful.

People like O’Reilly can do far more damage to America than can al Qaeda (assuming it even exists today as a substantial force, not just a open franchise for local terrorists — usually with local goals).

(4)  Jonah Goldberg applauds

A classic example of advocating extreme behavior with a smile, providing denialability by Jonah Goldberg, from his G-Files newsletter of National Review, 26 August 2010 (red emphasis added):

The thing I want to know now is: Why hasn’t the CIA assassinated Julian Assange? Indeed, why didn’t the CIA or the DIA or the NSA or the phone cops that came for Johnny Fever take this guy out with a poisoned umbrella or an exploding cigar long before we ever heard the name of the WikiLeaks founder? Hell, why have we even heard of Wikileaks in the first place?

I’m not necessarily advocating that we take him out. First of all, even if it were a good idea, it’s too late now. But think about it. If you go by nearly every Hollywood treatment of the CIA or the NSA, Assange is precisely the sort of guy who should have been garroted in his French hotel room years ago. He’s setting up a website — a series of websites, really — that will allow whistleblowers, traitors, cranks, and misguided morons to publish the government’s most closely kept secrets. Some of these disclosures are guaranteed to damage American national security and put U.S. interests and lives at risk. What are super-cool CIA assassins for if not stopping this sort of thing in its tracks? Whether you think the CIA is an honorable  and unfairly maligned outfit that does democracy’s dirty work, or if you think it’s a hotbed of lawless evil setting back human progress at every turn, you would still expect the spooks to off this guy quietly before anyone had heard his name.

Other articles about our government’s assassination programs

  1. James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy, 18 May 2009
  2. Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care, 9 February 2010
  3. Stratfor looks at “The Utility of Assassination”, 26 February 2010
  4. Another step towards fascism: “Silencing the Lawyers”, 31 May 2010
  5. Code red! The Constitution is burning, 5 August 2010
  6. An Appalling Threat to Civil Liberties and Democracy, 8 August 2010
  7. Every day the Constitution dies a little more, 1 September 2010

About the Constitution and our government

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. The Constitution: wonderful, if we can keep it, 15 February 2008
  3. Congress shows us how our new government works, 14 April 2008
  4. See the last glimmers of the Constitution’s life…, 27 June 2008
  5. Remembering what we have lost… thoughts while looking at the embers of the Constitution, 29 June 2008
  6. Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008
  7. What comes after the Constitution? Can we see the outlines of the “Mark 3″ version?, 10 November 2008
  8. Listen to the crowds cheering Sarah Palin, hear the hammerblows of another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 8 February 2010
  9. Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care, 9 February 2010
  10. Recommended reading about the Constitution, 17 March 2010
  11. The Feds decide who to lock up for life (not just at Guantanamo), another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 2 June 2010

3 thoughts on “What do our Constitution-loving conservatives say about our government’s assassination programs?”

  1. About Anwar al-Awlaki, the government's US Citizen Target #1

    The Myth of Anwar al-Awlaki“, J. M. Berger, Foreign Policy, 10 August 2011 — “One of America’s most-wanted Islamist radicals was once a humble, mainstream preacher who became enraged by the war on terror. At least, that’s the story some people are selling.”

    Berger claims to refute the assertion that al-Awlaki was an insurgent leader prior to 9-11 (his actions since then are not in doubt). He blusters loudly but prevents no strong evidence. Innuendo only.

  2. Congratulations America! "The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality"

    The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 30 September 2011 — Opening (links omitted):

    It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki. No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”

    After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the U.S. succeeded today (and it was the U.S.). It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the U.S. murder its. …

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