Legal Experts Destroy Rationale for Obama’s Assassination Policy … And Slam Democrats for Supporting It

George Washington's picture

Attorney General Eric Holder announced at Northwestern University law school that the U.S. can assassinate U.S. citizens without any without disclosure of why they are even alleged to be baddies and without any review of any nature whatsoever by any judge, Congress or the American people.

Northwestern University’s law school professor Joseph Margulies said:

I defy anyone to read [Holder's] speech and show any differences between Obama and Bush on these issues, They both say we are in a war not confined to particular battlefield. … Both say we can target citizens without judicial oversight and that can happen anywhere in the world.

Columbia law school professor Scott Horton notes that this assassination strategy was created by Dick Cheney, and is being carried out by the Obama administration:

A lot of this seems to have been put in place under the tutelage of Dick Cheney. So here we see one of Dick Cheney’s ideas being ratified by Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder.




(Obama is also implementing Cheney and the boys’ plans for war in the Middle East and North Africa.)

Top constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley slams the Democratic Party for its complicity:

The choice of a law school was a curious place for discussion of authoritarian powers. Obama has replaced the constitutional protections afforded to citizens with a “trust me” pledge that Holder repeated.




Senior administration officials have asserted that the president may kill an American anywhere and anytime, including in the United States. Holder’s speech does not materially limit that claimed authority. He merely assures citizens that Obama will only kill those of us he finds abroad and a significant threat. Notably, Holder added, “Our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan.”


The Obama administration continues to stonewall efforts to get it to acknowledge the existence of a memo authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. Democrats previously demanded the “torture memos” of the Bush administration that revealed both poor legal analysis by Judge Jay Bybee and Professor John Yoo to justify torture. Now, however, Democrats are largely silent in the face of a president claiming the right to unilaterally kill citizens.


Holder became particularly cryptic in his assurance of caution in the use of this power, insisting that they will kill citizens only with “the consent of the nation involved or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.” What on earth does that mean?

Former constitutional trial lawyer and progressive writer Glenn Greenwald agrees:

The willingness of Democrats to embrace and defend this power is especially reprehensible because of how completely, glaringly and obviously at odds it is with everything they loudly claimed to believe during the Bush years. Recall two of the most significant “scandals” of the Bush War on Terror: his asserted power merely to eavesdrop on and detain accused Terrorists without judicial review of any kind. Remember all that? Progressives endlessly accused Bush of Assaulting Our Values and “shredding the Constitution” simply because Bush officials wanted to listen in on and detain suspected Terrorists — not kill them, just eavesdrop on and detain them — without first going to a court and proving they did anything wrong. Yet here is a Democratic administration asserting not merely the right to surveil or detain citizens without charges or judicial review, but to kill them without any of that: a far more extreme, permanent and irreversible act. Yet, with some righteous exceptions, the silence is deafening, or worse.


How can anyone who vocally decried Bush’s mere eavesdropping and detention powers without judicial review possibly justify Obama’s executions without judicial review? How can the former (far more mild powers) have been such an assault on Everything We Stand For while the latter is a tolerable and acceptable assertion of war powers? If Barack Obama has the right to order accused Terrorists executed by the CIA because We’re At War, then surely George Bush had the right to order accused Terrorists eavesdropped on and detained on the same ground.


That the same Party and political faction that endlessly shrieked about Bush’s eavesdropping and detention programs now tolerate Obama’s execution program is one of the most extreme and craven acts of dishonesty we’ve seen in quite some time.




To recap Barack Obama’s view: it is a form of “terror” for someone to be detained “without even getting one chance to prove their innocence,” but it is good and noble for them to be executed under the same circumstances. To recap Eric Holder’s view: we must not accept when the Bush administration says “just trust us” when it comes to spying on the communications of accused Terrorists, but we must accept when the Obama administration says “just trust us” when it comes to targeting our fellow citizens for execution.




What’s so striking is how identical Obama officials and their defenders sound when compared to the right-wing legal theorists who justified Bush’s most controversial programs. Even the core justifying slogans are the same: we are at War; the Battlefield is everywhere; Presidents have the right to spy on, detain and kill combatants without court permission; the Executive Branch is the sole organ for war and no courts can interfere in the President’s decisions, etc. I spent years writing about and refuting those legal theories and they are identical to what we hear now. Just consider how similar the two factions sound to one another. When it came to their War on Terror controversies, Bush officials constantly said back then exactly what Obama officials and defenders say now: we’re only using these powers against Terrorists — The Bad People — not against regular, normal, Good Americans; so if you’re not a Terrorist, you have nothing to worry about.




This is nothing more than an exercise of supremely circular reasoning and question-begging: whether someone is actually a Terrorist can be determined only when the evidence of their guilt is presented and they have an opportunity to respond, just as Holder and Obama said during the Bush years. Government assurances that they’re only targeting Terrorists — whether those assurances issue from Bush or Obama — should reassure nobody: this is always what those who abuse power claim, and it’s precisely why we don’t trust government officials to punish people based on unproven accusations. [Indeed, .]




We supposedly learned important lessons from the abuses of power of the Nixon administration, and then of the Bush administration: namely, that we don’t trust government officials to exercise power in the dark, with no judicial oversight, with no obligation to prove their accusations. Yet now we hear exactly this same mentality issuing from Obama, his officials and defenders to justify a far more extreme power than either Nixon or Bush dreamed of asserting: he’s only killing The Bad Citizens, so there’s no reason to object!




That this policy is being implemented and defended by the very same political party that spent the last decade so vocally and opportunistically objecting to far less extreme powers makes it all the more repellent. That fact also makes it all the more dangerous, because — as one can see — the fact that it is a Democratic President doing it, and Democratic Party officials justifying it, means that it’s much easier to normalize: very few of the Party’s followers, especially in an election year, are willing to make much of a fuss about it at all.


And thus will presidential assassination powers be entrenched as bipartisan consensus for at least a generation. That will undoubtedly be one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy. Let no Democrat who is now supportive or even silent be heard to object when the next Republican President exercises this power in ways that they dislike.

As does Charles Pierce:

The criteria for when a president can unilaterally decide to kill somebody is completely full of holes, regardless of what the government’s pet lawyers say. And this…


“This is an indicator of our times,” Holder said, “not a departure from our laws and our values.”


…is a monumental pile of crap that should embarrass every Democrat who ever said an unkind word about John Yoo. This policy is a vast departure from our laws and an interplanetary probe away from our values. The president should not have this power because the Constitution, which was written by smarter people than, say, Benjamin Wittes, knew full and goddamn well why the president shouldn’t have this power. If you give the president the power to kill without due process, or without demonstrable probable cause, he inevitably will do so. And, as a lot of us asked during the Bush years, if you give this power to President George Bush, will you also give it to President Hillary Clinton and, if you give this power to President Barack Obama, will you also give it to President Rick Santorum?

Greenwald also points out that it is unclear whether the poster child for assassination of American citizens – Anwar Al Awlaki – was even a threat:

Applying traditional war doctrine to accused Terrorists (who are not found on a battlefield but in their cars, their homes, at work, etc.) is so inappropriate, and why judicial review is so urgent: because the risk of false accusations is so much higher than it is when capturing uniformed soldiers on an actual battlefield. Just recall how dubious so many government accusations of Terrorism turned out to be once federal courts began scrutinizing those accusations for evidentiary support. Indeed, Yemen experts such as Gregory Johnsen have repeatedly pointed out in response to claims that Awlaki plotted Terrorist attacks: “we know very little, precious little when it comes to his operational role” andwe just don’t know this, we suspect it but don’t know it.” Given this shameful record in the War on Terror, what rational person would “trust” the Government to make determinations about who is and is not a Terrorist in the dark, with no limits or checks on what they can do?




Holder’s attempt to justify these assassinations on the ground that “capture is not feasible” achieves nothing. For one, the U.S. never even bothered to indict Awlaki so that he could voluntarily turn himself in or answer the charges (though at one point, long after they first ordered him killed, they “considered” indicting him); instead, they simply killed him without demonstrating there was any evidence to support these accusations. What justifies that? Additionally, the fact that the Government is unable to apprehend and try a criminal does not justify his murder; absent some violent resistance upon capture, the government is not free to simply go around murdering fugitives who have been convicted of nothing. Moreover, that Awlaki could not have been captured in a country where the government is little more than an American client is dubious at best …

(Interestingly, Lt.Col. Anthony Shaffer – who claims to have tracked several of the 9/11 hijackers prior to September 11th – alleges that al-Awlaki was a triple agent and an FBI asset before 9/11.)

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dizzyfingers's picture
Media Cover-Up Of Obama Impeachment Exposed! happening now
Bastiat's picture


GW check this out -- it will make your head explode with outrage:

"Surprisingly, there have been no health effects that have been demonstrated among the Japanese people or among the workers," says John Boice, a cancer epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University.

To be sure, "there was radiation released. It was about a tenth of what was released from Chernobyl," he says. "But most of the releases were blown off to the Pacific Ocean. The winds were blowing to the sea and not to populated areas."

One big cloud did blow inland, up toward the northwest. But most of the 170,000 residents in the area were quickly evacuated. Boice says that helped limit dangerous doses. So did other quick actions by the Japanese government.

"They prohibited the release of any food that had had increased levels of radiation in them," he says. "So there wasn't milk out there in the public supply. There wasn't any fish that had levels that were increased."

AnAnonymous's picture

This kind of story shows once again that US citizens know.

Many times, US citizen love to play the ignorance card. They did not know.

There, the democrats showed they knew when they blamed the republicans

Here, the republicans shows they know when they blame the democrats.

Once the propositions are collapsed, it shows that US citizens know.

Another give away by US citizens.

They know.

They deny.

roadlust's picture

Murder is still murder.  Last time I looked.

dexter_morgan's picture

Methinks you all give Dick Cheney too much credit for these ideas. I'm sure they were formulated long before he came into the sphere of real influence. He was just more vocal (and enriched) about seeing these ideas come to fruition.

Are we really shocked to see a president embracing/ratifying the policies of a former president after running  a campaign promising to change all those policies? C'mon, that would only happen if we had a true 2 party (or more)  system and not just puppet presidencies.

What should be surprising is that all the hopers and changers don't really see this for some reason and think Obama is doing a great job were it not for those wascally wepublicans stymieing him at every turn.

Holder has kind of been hanging around out there for a long time and has been involved in a lot of cover ups over the years, as well as new ones like the MFG 'there was no fraud' deal being currently floated before us. I'm sure he is a player in all these things regardless of which puppet sits in the White House.



GeneH3's picture

This is the logical consequence of allowing Presidents to declare a "War" on a concept.  The War on Poverty had no military connotations.  The ill-considered War on Drugs was an armed endeavor but technically not a hostile military action.  The War on Terror is the ultimate progression of this shifting word game to military action and murder, not against a country with geographical boundaries (the classic war) but against an undefined enemy without boundaries.  It is a prescription for abuse and too little is being done to oppose it.

The pages on ZH have cataloged the many abuses and legal preparations for abuse that have occurred in the past few years.  But none have been so brazen as those initiated by the Obama administration.

I practiced law in offices across the park from the White House during the fall of Richard Nixon in the firm that sent Holder to the Justice Department.  If Holder is as well-versed in the Constitution and committed to civil rights as we were then, he knows full well that he is unraveling the American Revolution. Even today, I expect that no one in his former firm will endorse the fascist oppression that he is supporting and promoting.

You can't pin this one on the Democrats (or the Republicans) as a group.  That overgeneralization allows the individuals really responsible to escape under the cloak of anonymity.  And that allows the abuse to continue.  The final responsibility lies at the feet of those of us who have failed to publicly identify the individuals who are changing the nature of the Republic established by the Founders and to actively and vocally oppose them.  It does no good to challenge an anonymous group; it is effective only if the light of day is shined on a particular individual.

Whoever is reading this:  Name people.  Drill down.  Identify and shine the light of day publicly and noisily on the individuals in government who initiate and promote these fascist and oppressive ideas, policies and laws in government.  Those who frequent ZH are not uninformed, unthinkling, uninterested sheeple.  So your failure to be vocal and active makes you culpable -- because you understand. 

The philosophical foundations underlying the Declaration of Independence and the concept of limited government embodied in the Constitution represent a historic departure from the control and exploitation of the "little people" by the elite. How the elite uses uncontrolled government power to exploit and subjugate a population has been demonstrated, in spades, in the last five years.  It has to stop.  But it won't if those of us who rant and grumble on ZH don't do more than rant and grumble on ZH.




AnAnonymous's picture

The philosophical foundations underlying the Declaration of Independence and the concept of limited government embodied in the Constitution represent a historic departure from the control and exploitation of the "little people" by the elite.


Quite a distorted account. Ah, yes, fabled past.

One can argue for limitation of the exercize of the government power.

Certainly not limited government, that is state government, the apparatus of power, which is the target.

Get real, the story of US citizens is a success story of the government state.

US citizens have boasted enough about the way a society with a state could that easily crush a stateless societies.

Ah, yes, stateless societies were to be found just next door to the US of A, past war for Independence.

Historically, US citizen societies have always had as big government states as it could have been.

AnAnonymous's picture

The War on Poverty had no military connotations.


Strictly speaking, this goes through easilier than the real aspect of the war, that is the war on the poor that US citizens have unleashed since they used their classwarfare stuff to throw off the King.

War on the poor is a reality in US citizenism and it is embraced widely by US citizenism king class, the middle class.

Better to sell the idea that US citizens strive at eliminating poverty rather than the poor themselves.

Quite easy to fight resounding attempts at the second while the first is just tricks to provide the middle class with job opportunities while making the rich richer.

Alas for US citizenism, theirs is riddled with zero sum games, and the poor are by then structurally enabled. Hard to get rid of them. Nevertheless, US citizens have been trying.

nmewn's picture

Well stated.

Nominated for comment of the year.

geekgrrl's picture

This policy is immoral and the only "legal rationale" being applied by both parties is: "everything we do is legal because we say so."

Van Halen's picture

It's interesting that the Obamabots will support this tool no matter how many of Bush's policies he's expanded upon and made worse - on top of his own horrible ideas to limit our freedoms.

Common_Cents22's picture

obama is truly the worst of both worlds.   continuing policy on erosion of freedoms, and being the most divisie president, taking down the economy.

DaveyJones's picture

Wasn't that Obama's campaign slogan: Vote for me and I will expand Cheney's policies

Does anyone think (1) there is any difference in these stupid labels (2) that as this place goes down, each leader will not get progressively worse 

until ......

Zero Govt's picture

The US Govt is truly delusional and no longer a shadow of a democracy

There's (only) one way to stop this deranged totalitarism:

Stop Paying Your Taxes (don't sponsor the sociopaths)

falak pema's picture

Two gun O'bammy, like Billy the kid; NDAA said he could corral anybody in Lincoln county. Time to make Lincoln county Lincoln's COUNTRY. 

americanspirit's picture

sorry - double click


americanspirit's picture

Obama should ask one of his legal eagles to explain the legal basis for the Nuremburg trials. He's askin' for some neck stretching in The Hague. Bush won't be the only disgraced US prez unable to travel outside the US for fear of arrest on war crimes charges.

On a related topic, if government officials now have the right to hunt down and kill US citizens without charges or trial, don't US citizens have an equal right to hunt down and kill corrupt treasonous government officials without the need for a trial to establish their guilt? No? Remember I don't ask if US citizens have the legal right to do this, since I don't agree that the government has a legal right - I ask if we have an equal right.

Finally, since corporations are officially now persons, does that mean that the US government can hunt down and kill US corporations without charging them with anything? I have a few names I would like to suggest Barack, since you're now in the Murder, Inc. business.


AnAnonymous's picture

GWB is in fear of being arrested in a foreign country for official stuff he did when a president?

Best joke so far.

No country in the world would risk that move.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

americanspirit asked:

On a related topic, if government officials now have the right to hunt down and kill US citizens without charges or trial, don't US citizens have an equal right to hunt down and kill corrupt treasonous government officials without the need for a trial to establish their guilt?



TeresaE's picture

Where ya' been?

Government has been going forth and killing corporations, but instead of in the name of war, it is in the name of "safety" or adminstrative law.

Forcing Boeing to relocate a plant from one state to another because new plant is non-union.

Criminal charges against Gibson guitar.

Removal of Zicam gel from the market due to fewer reported side effects than ANY pharm drug introduced in the past twenty years.

FDIC forced banks to go forth and yank current commercial loans even if this resulted in the bankruptcy of long-standing small biz and the loss of numerous American jobs.

Enact numerous laws that outlaw American made products in exchange for forced purchase of foreign made (incandescent lightbulbs, to name only one).

And that is just off the top of my head.

The government has been killing American corporations without batting an eye.  But, because they are mainly smaller businesses, nobody sees, nor cares.

Until they can't find a job or get a higher tax bill.


Hedgetard55's picture

So Barry is now 007, with a license to kill whoever he likes. Super.

Bartanist's picture

Holder and Obama have an excuse: "They are possessed and run by demons".

What other possibility can there be for so many big lies?

Hedgetard55's picture

It's Bush's fault.

Zero Govt's picture

it's the nature of the power of Govt

the problem is systemic as soon as you put an institution above the people to Lord it over society

Power Corrupts ...that's not just a novel saying

Govt is the biggest socio-economic mistake in history (as Govt has proved beyond all reason)

DosZap's picture

"To recap Barack Obama’s view: it is a form of “terror” for someone to be detained “without even getting one chance to prove their innocence,” but it is good and noble for them to be executed under the same circumstances. To recap Eric Holder’s view: we must not accept when the Bush administration says “just trust us” when it comes to spying on the communications of accused Terrorists, but we must accept when the Obama administration says “just trust us” when it comes to targeting our fellow citizens for execution."


 "DO as I say, not as I DO".

DosZap's picture

I guess since "WE THE PEOPLE ARE THE" the Government , under NDAA, WE can also choose our targets without recourse, and immpunity or fear of retribution, right?.

Wonder how that would wash?.

Without just cause, and zero explanation, this is nothing short of Gangster mentality.


Racer's picture

Shouldn't it be called by its real name.. Obama's Murder Policy...........


gangland's picture

what a shit hole cuntry

Bagbalm's picture

ANY good citizen should be able to execute an evil doer when he finds one - delaying to go through all that legal stuff may endanger us all. Let them tremble to go down the street knowing every patriot is watching closely.

earleflorida's picture

Quote: "In the days immediately following September 11, the most powerful people in the country were panic-stricken. The radical decisions about how to combat terrorists and strengthen national security were made in a state of utter fear, but the key players, Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful secretive adviser David Addington, used the crises to further a long-held agenda to enhance presidential powers to a degree never known in U.S. history, and obliterate constitutional protection that define the very essence of the American experiment" ___ Jane Mayer "The Dark Side" c.2008

Ps. I highly recommend reading up on "Senator Pressler's [R/ N.D.] Amendment" and doing some research on Alexander Haig the man in charge of the WH since Reagan's failed assassination. This was the beginning of the end for democracy by the people and for the people, period!

thanks GW


Gringo Viejo's picture

Like the "Good Germans" of the 1930s, anyone who refuses to open their eyes at this point in time is lost; further efforts expended on trying to awaken them are pointless. Take care of your loved ones as best you can.

etudiant's picture

The reason we call it a 'war on terror' is to take the whole process out of judicial review.

That said, it would not be difficult to provide a modicom of a judicial fig leaf to these kinds of state sponsored murders.

English law along with most of the European legal traditions explicitly includes the category of 'outlaw', someone who is fair game for everyone.

Requiring that people deemed to be terrorists first be declared outlaws would offer the opportunity for judicial review before the executive takes over the executions.

This does not seem to be too much to ask for in cases involving US citizens.

LasVegasDave's picture

Yep, those guys are just a bunch of boy scouts, innocent until proven guilty.

Instead of bombs, maybe we should parachute in a lawyer to aid them in their legal defense

Cistercian's picture

Dave, if the fact they are not boy scouts means they can be bombed then it also means Wall ST, Hollywood and DC are all viable targets.

 OH, and Vegas too.

LasVegasDave's picture

and your house too, shit for brains

Cistercian's picture

What an insightful and valid argument.

 Thanks for playing Mr FAIL.


chunga's picture

Slightly off-topic, not really though.

Obama Admin Cites 'Int'l Permission,' Not Congress, As 'Legal Basis' For Action In Syria

Video of testimony yesterday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a Senate Armed Services Committee congressional hearing, dancing around the issue of who decides who Amerika bombs into peaceful bliss.

Gross...really gross.

Benjamin Glutton's picture

Hey George, the Obama administration are fake Democrats...we have been under one party rule for some time now with each party moving further right every day. Today's Dem are at best mid 90s' republicans.

at least 60% percent of the people in this country have no representation and if you go by congress's approval numbers you could easily argue that 90% have no representation.

reminds me of the posts here mocking the Greek people for screwing themselves when in fact a small group of arrogant Greeks working with Goldman Sach's assistance misled the Greek people.

Can you handle the truth? Washington,D.C. has seceded from the United States of America.

open and shut case. attorney in the house?

thanks...great info as always.

Common_Cents22's picture

the elites in DC are laughing at their cocktail parties.    Job bonanza of high paying federal jobs and lobbyist jobs are booming.  Obama promised no lobbying.     Real Estate boom market in DC area.   The rest of the country, not so much.

DosZap's picture

 moving further right every day.

Ass backwards, further LEFT. Check out the Hitler regime.

We have had it assbackwards here for many years.

Xkwisetly Paneful's picture

Obviously not.

Since every president since Reagan has moved left of the previous to a neo marxist now inhabiting the throne.

Since Greece is the poster child for epic fail, big centralized bullshit left wing garbage call it what you like governance.  Just like those victimized sub prime borrowers, come into the game with NOTHING, leave with something and yet they the victims.

It sure is fun to play delusional moonbat make believe otherwise.

Keep up the good work.

Benjamin Glutton's picture

presented without further comment.



Please accept my apologies for distracting from the original important topic.

Laddie's picture

This is actually a Bolshevik state, the republic died years ago, we just didn't know it.

FeralSerf's picture

The republic died in Nov. 1963 and we didn't know it.  It was replaced by an oligarchy, a really nasty one.

Doubleguns's picture

torture bad, murder good!!! Seems that both party's are simply on the left or right of the tyranny spectrum not the  liberty spectrum.

spanish inquisition's picture

Just gonna throw this out there.....

The US agrees, based on its own policy, that any country, as long as it follows some sort of due process and not necessarily a legal one, can legally kill anyone in the world.

A country conducting a "due process", now has the ability to target an individual and carry out a "legal" sanction anywhere in the world (including US) without retribution. Obviously some collateral damage is allowed in carrying out the sanction based on US experience carrying out said "due process". And stretching the boundries of who can conduct a "due  process", can include any quasi religious/governmental organization as long as they state they have a due process. 

So to conclude.... if the organization who conducted 9/11 can establish that they were targeting an individual that was given "due process" and the rest was mere collateral damage it would be totaly legal in the eyes of current US law.

ljag's picture

Are we (citizens) not the government? Technically, then, any citizen should be able to kill anyone (especially if that 'anyone' resides in the WH) and claim that the person was terrorizing the country and had to be put down. If I were Dickless Cheney, I would grow eyes in the back of my head. Of course, this is all theoretical and has nothing whatsoever to do with the person known on this blog as "ljag".

spanish inquisition's picture

That theoretical issue would be engaging in "citizen due process", but still may need to respect certain laws. I do believe that many governement officials around the world would have diplomatic immunity, so this would only apply to ordinary "bad" people. Of course if you are a quasi religious or governmental group not with the UN it is unclear on how much leeway you would have under your own "due process" law (or statement that you have a secret due process position, but don't worry it won't be abused) regarding diplomatic law.

I look forward to Holder's next speech clarifying the above points of who in what capacity may engage in "due process".