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How Many Americans are Targeted for Assassination?

Glenn Greenwald

When The
Washington Post
's Dana Priest first revealed (in passing) back in
that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of
American citizens targeted for assassination, she wrote that "as of
several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens."  In
April, both the Post
and the NYT confirmed
that the administration had
specifically authorized the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki.  Today, The
Washington Times
' Eli Lake has an interview
with Obama's top
Terrorism adviser John Brennan in which Brennan strongly suggests that
the number of U.S. citizens targeted for assassination could actually be

Dozens of Americans have joined terrorist groups and are posing a
threat to the United States and its interests abroad, the president's
most senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security said
Thursday. . . . "There are, in my mind, dozens of U.S. persons
who are in different parts of the world
, and they are very
concerning to us," said John O. Brennan, deputy White House national
security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism. . . .

"If a person is a U.S. citizen, and he is on the battlefield in
Afghanistan or Iraq trying to attack our troops, he will face the full
brunt of the U.S. military response," Mr. Brennan said. "If an American
person or citizen is in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or
another place
, and they are trying to carry out attacks
against U.S. interests, they also will face the full brunt of a
U.S. response
. And it can take many forms."

Nobody -- or at least not me -- disputes the right of the U.S. or
any other country to kill someone on an actual battlefield
during war
without due process.  That's just obvious, but
that's not remotely what Brennan is talking about, and it's not remotely
what this assassination program is about.  Indeed, Brennan explicitly
identified two indistinguishable groups of American citizens who "will
face the full brunt of a U.S. response":  (1) those "on
the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq"; and (2) those
"in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or another place." 
In other words, the entire world is a "battlefield" -- countries where
there is a war and countries where there isn't -- and the President's
"battlefield" powers, which are unlimited, extend everywhere.  That
theory -- the whole world is a battlefield, even the U.S. --
was the
core premise that spawned 8 years of Bush/Cheney radicalism
, and it
has been adopted in full by the Obama administration (indeed, it was
that "whole-world-is-a-battlefield" theory which Elena
Kagan explicitly endorsed during her confirmation hearing for Solicitor

Anyone who doubts that the Obama administration has adopted the
core Terrorism policies of Bush/Cheney should listen to the concession
-- or boast -- which Brennan himself made in his interview with Lake:

Mr. Brennan toward the end of the interview acknowledged that,
despite some differences, there is considerable continuity
between the counterterrorism policies of President Bush and President

"There has been a lot of continuity of effort
here from the previous administration to this one," he said. "There are
some important distinctions, but sometimes there is too much
made of those distinctions. We are building upon some of the good
foundational work that has been done."

I would really like never to hear again the complaint that
comparing Bush and Obama's Terrorism and civil liberties policies is
unfair, invalid or hyperbolic given that Obama's top Terrorism
adviser himself touts that comparison
.  And that's anything but
a surprise, given that Brennan was a Bush-era CIA official who defended
many of the most controversial Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies

I've written
at length
about the
why targeting American citizens for assassination who are
far away from a "battlefield" is so odious
and tyrannical
, and I won't repeat those arguments here.  Suffice
to say -- and I'm asking this literally -- if you're someone who
believes, or are at least willing to acquiesce to the claim, that
the U.S. President has the power to target your fellow citizens for
assassination without a whiff of due process, what unchecked
presidential powers wouldn't you support or acquiesce to?  I'd really
like to hear an answer to that.  That's the question Al Gore asked about
George Bush in a 2006
condemning Bush's claimed powers merely to eavesdrop
on and imprison
American citizens without charges, let alone
assassinate them:  "If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which
these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their
face be prohibited
? . . . If the president has th[is] inherent
authority. . . . then what can't he do?"  Can anyone
defending this Obama policy answer that question?

Read more here.

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