Assassination in Court, U.S. Argues to Make Legal What It’s Always Done

9:45 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

What an incredible era we live in!

Today in federal court, government attorney Douglas Letter argued against a lawsuit brought by both the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that the U.S. executive power had the right to kill an American citizen abroad, without review by the judiciary. In his argument to drop the suit, brought on behalf of the father of “radical” Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi [Awlaki], Letter claimed, ““If we use lethal force we do so consistent with the law.”

According to the Christian Science Monitor story on today’s proceedings:

The lawsuit does not seek to prevent the government from carrying out targeted killings. Instead, the ACLU is asking Judge Bates to examine the government’s criteria for placing Awlaki on the alleged kill list.

To justify lethal action, the ACLU suit says, the government must be able to demonstrate that the targeted killing is necessary to prevent a direct and imminent threat to public safety. In addition, the suit says, the government must be able to show there are no non-lethal options available to neutralize a threat from Awlaki.

According to a joint press release by ACLU and CCR:

“If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, who presented arguments in the case. “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.”

Chickens and Coincidences

It seems strongly coincidental that on the day of the hearing, a new Awlaki video should appear on the scene, courtesy of the dubious SITE Institute, remembered for their unveiling of another timely video, the 2007 Osama bin Laden 9/11 statement, which featured a robotic, unmoving bin Laden, which even MSNBC questioned as faked. Then there was that Gainsville, Georgia chicken farm, whose lawsuit against SITE is still pending, accused by SITE of funneling money to terrorists. SITE’s founder Rita Katz delivered one of the more memorable of all “war on terror” quotes when she told 60 Minutes, “”Chicken is one of the things that no one can really track down.”

Now SITE is back, with a new name (from SITE Institute to SITE Intelligence Group), with a new fire-snorting Awlaki video, just in time for the government’s arguments to dismiss the suit that would challenge the government’s right to kill the U.S.-born cleric, supposedly hiding out in Yemen, a leader of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninula (AQAP). The New York Times led the way with a blog story by Robert Mackey this morning, “Kill Americans, Says Yemeni-American Cleric.” The story followed the news last week that You Tube had removed all of al-Awlaki’s videos from its site. Mackey references SITE and their new Awlaki video, while blandly noting that Monday was the day “a federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by civil libertarians who claim that the Obama administration does not have the right to order the targeted assassination of Mr. Awlaki and other suspected militants.” Gee, what a coincidence the headline for that same Monday article quotes the same Mr. Awlaki as inciting the killing of Americans. As is often the case, the rest of the U.S. press stood up and saluted as the Times sent the story up the proverbial flagpole.

“How popular will Anwar al-Awlaki’s latest video be?” asks the Christian Science Monitor. CNN weighed in, too: “U.S.-born cleric rails against Yemen, Iran, United States.” Paula Kruger at Australia’s ABC was not to be outdone, however, with a headline clanging in its clarion call of danger: “US-born cleric calls for death of all Americans.”

ANWAR AL-AWLAKI (translation): Do not seek any permission when it comes to the killing of the Americans. Fighting the devil doesn’t need a religious edict, deliberation, prayer or guidance. They are the party of the devil and fighting them is the personal duty of our times.

We reach that moment when it is either us or them. We are two opposites that will never meet. They want something that cannot happen unless they wipe us out. This is a decisive battle. This is a battle of Moses and pharaoh; this is a battle of righteousness and falsehood.

“We reach that moment when it is either us or them.” Well, if it was your head being hunted by the CIA or the Pentagon’s JSOC Special Forces assassination squads, you might see the world that way, too. In fact, the blurriness of right and wrong is only made worse by the U.S. assertion that it can kill whomever it wants to, irregardless of constitutional niceties, if only it can claim the right is somehow lodged in the 9/11-inspired Authorization for Use of Military Force. Congress has rubber-stamped the AUMF for years now, and President Obama dutifully pressed it upon a Democratic Party-controlled House and Senate… well, once controlled, as Democratic Party lassitude in the wake of the worst economic recession, if not depression, in sixty years saw their short lived ascendancy in both houses of Congress come crashing down around their well-deserving heads.

Mackey at the Times makes sure we don’t forget that Awlaki is associated with AQAP, which smuggled — no doubt in Mackey’s mind — those bomb packages on freight cargo jets last month. And he notes that a Yemeni judge has issued an order for Awlaki’s capture. But, in the tradition of open-mindedness so bally-hooed around the Times, he gives the final word to legal pundit Jonathan Turley, who noted last August:

If a President can unilaterally kill a U.S. citizens on his own authority, our court system (and indeed our constitutional rights) become entirely discretionary. The position of the Administration contains no substantial limitations on such authority other than its own promise to make such decisions with care.

Bathed in Blood

“War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight, The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade,” wrote the Romantic English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley almost 200 years ago now. But one can only look back to an interesting story in the London Times to gain another kind of perspective on the current events surrounding the obscene U.S. argument for assassinating its own citizens without due process, of running hit teams and killing or death lists.

In 1976, journalist Peter Watson was at a NATO conference in Oslo, when a U.S. Navy psychologist, Dr. Thomas Narut, from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples told Watson and New Jersey psychologist Dr. Alfred Zitani, that the Navy sought men to train as assassins in overseas embassies. The following is from the London Sunday Times, “The soldiers who become killers,” September 8, 1974, but reproduced from a conspiracy site, as the original, and most references to it, plentiful even when I first read about it some years ago, are limited now to a few dozen conspiracy sites. The story is also told at some length in Watson’s book (out of print), War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, published by Basic Books in 1978.

[Narut's] naval work involved establishing how to induce servicemen who ma[y] not be naturally inclined to kill, to do so under certain conditions. When pressed afterwards as to what was meant by “combat readiness units,” he explained this included men for commando-type operations and – so he said – for insertion into U.S. embassies under cover, ready to kill in those countries should the need arise. Dr. Narut used the word “hitmen” and “assassin” of these men.

The method, according to Dr. Narut, was to show films specially designed to show people being killed and injured in violent ways. By being acclimated through these films, the men eventually became able to dissociate any feelings
from such a situation. Dr. Narut also added that U.S. Naval psychologists specially selected men for these commando tasks, from submarine crews, paratroops, and some were convicted murderers from military prisons. Asked whether he was suggesting that murderers were being released from prisons to become assassins, he replied: “It’s happened more than once.”

The story goes into various mind-control methods by which the training was done. The Pentagon denied the story, and also wouldn’t allow Watson access to interview personnel at the U.S. Naval Neuropsychiatric Center in San Diego, where the training was supposedly done. The whole tale might seem fantastic, unless one remembered that the U.S.-sponsored Phoenix Program in Vietnam was responsible for the assassination of 20,000 or more people in the 1960s. The U.S. also supplied assassination lists to the Indonesian government during the bloody 1965 coup that slaughtered half a million people.

“For the first time, U.S. officials acknowledge that in 1965 they systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured, according to the U.S. officials,” Kathy Kadane wrote for South Carolina’s Herald-Journal on May 19, 1990. [Kadane's article also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on May 20, 1990, the Washington Post on May 21, 1990, and the Boston Globe on May 23, 1990.]

The Indonesian mass murder program was based in part on experiences gleaned by the CIA in the Philippines. “US military advisers of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) and the CIA station in Manila designed and led the bloody suppression of the nationalist Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan,” notes Roland G. Simbulan (Covert Operations and the CIA’s Hidden History in the Philippines).

The history of the United States and assassination, post-World War II, and particularly from the 1960s on, has been a sorry tale of botched public attempts (as of Castro), and a bloodbath dealt by U.S. proxy death squads, and if we can believe the Watson story, by deep cover U.S. assassins themselves. In 1976, in the wake of the many revelations about U.S. government crimes, including assassinations, President Gerald Ford issued a presidential directive (EO 11905) banning assassinations, a directive whose basic premises lie in shreds after ten years of Bush/Obama rule.

It would be remiss not to note in this context the blood bath that is U.S. history on the subject, not to bring up Phoenix, and all the rest of it. Recent revelations in the Iraq logs Wikileaks cache of documents suggests that the U.S. helped form torture squads, and perhaps death squads in Iraq. In any case, they certainly turned thousands of prisoners over to Iraqi forces they knew from hundreds of observations were torturing prisoners, often to death. This deliberate war crime, a direct violation of the Convention Against Torture treaty, was conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. But where in our society is the outrage? The society cannot seems to pick itself up out of the muck of triviality and standard party politics and cable TV scandal-mongering.

So forgive me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon to talk about Bush and his approval of waterboarding claims. Is he smug? Of course he’s smug, because Americans have been ignoring news about torture and assassinations on behalf of the ruling elite for decades now. I don’t know what it will take to turn such a historical situation around. Looking at the young and those vulnerable to such confusions as massive societal hypocrisy can allow, one can understand why some have turned even to radical Islam. But I can’t recommend it. I’d like to see the young take up the banner that was once Percy Shelley’s: free love, hatred of tyrannies, including — if not especially — the tyranny of one’s own state, and equality of all sexes, peoples, religious practice (including atheism), and add to it the wisdom of a century’s struggle for economic justice and against the exploiters of mankind.

But for now, all forward-seeking and progressive individuals should be backing the CCR/ACLU lawsuit, because if the U.S. gets its way, tomorrow it may not be the unsavory Awlaki, it may be you or me. And anyone who was forced to study history a semester or two knows that to be true.