Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech to law students at Northwestern University today in which he defended the administration’s right to legally kill American citizens abroad “in full accordance with the Constitution.” Holder said strikes such as the one that targeted American-born Anwar Awlaki in Yemen last year are legal because, “‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.” According to Holder, “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” The enemy, he said, must pose an “imminent threat of violent attack,” but that can be broadly interpreted. “In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out,” Holder said. “And we will not.”
“Neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force to the current conflict in Afghanistan,” Holder said in the administration’s most detailed comments on the legal controversy so far. “We are at war with a stateless enemy, prone to shifting operations from country to country.”
While he noted Congress’s “robust oversight,” Holder did not mention that lawmakers might be notified only after the fact, and that the press and politicians are still fighting to see the full legal memo that backs the administration’s position.
“While the speech is a gesture towards additional transparency, it is ultimately a defense of the government’s chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens, far from any battlefield without judicial review or public scrutiny,” the ACLU responded. “Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact. Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.”