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John Brennan Faces the Issue of the Drone War (Updated)

To order a strike, the anonymous high-level official -- in other words, not necessarily the president -- could order a drone strike if there is no concrete evidence that the target has “renounced” or “abandoned” a commitment to terrorism as a tactic. It is not necessary, evidently, to have any evidence that any such activity is being planned or is in the process of being implemented. When Israel uses assassination by drones or missiles to strike at its targets, which always elicits worldwide protests, the Jewish state does so in retaliation for actual acts of terror ordered by its targets. Even then, as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Munich, the agents who took part in assassination are shown as recalcitrant and morally compromised for their actions, and the Israeli Mossad is portrayed as an entity that does not take into consideration morality and justice when it carries out such hits.

Pause for a moment and ask what the liberal community and the political Left would be saying if such a memo had been released during the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

There would have been consistent cries of condemnation for justification of murder, for violation of the civil liberties of American citizens, for the use of dark tactics that harm the image and strength of the United States as a country committed to justice, etc. etc. etc. Remember the cries of horror when counsel John Yoo’s memo on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was released to the press? Yoo was roundly condemned as being a hired gun ready to violate the Constitution in order to provide the White House justification for such violations of our legal code and the administration’s willingness to supposedly go beyond ethical conduct that clearly violated the laws of just war.

Compared to enhanced interrogation, which many regard as torture but which did not lead to death, the drones actually kill people, including innocents in the area near the targeted individual. The newly released memo also goes beyond the criteria cited by Eric Holder in his public statements. “For example,” Isikoff points out, “it states that U.S. officials may consider whether an attempted capture of a suspect would pose an ‘undue risk’ to U.S. personnel involved in such an operation. If so, U.S. officials could determine that the capture operation of the targeted American would not be feasible, making it lawful for the U.S. government to order a killing instead.”

One may not like the ACLU, but at least it is consistent. Its spokesman has called it a “chilling document.” Jameel Jaffer, its deputy legal director, told Isikoff that “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen,” using criteria that are “elastic and vaguely defined,” and which he thinks can be easily manipulated.

Where is the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institution, the left-wing Institute for Policy Studies, as well as the rest of the mainstream media that was calling for the scalps of Bush and Cheney every time they learned of would-be horrors occurring at Gitmo, or the use of torture, or the practice of rendition?

Up to this moment, I have not heard these usual sources giving Barack Obama the same cries of outrage when the drone attacks are more than likely a constitutional violation, giving the administration extensive powers that very well might exceed those any chief executive of our country should have (especially when delegated to anonymous “high-level” officials). As the Washington Post reported, a bi-partisan group of senators has already asked the administration for “access to secret legal memos outlining the administration’s case for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations overseas. The letter from eight Democrats and three Republicans contained the most forceful warning to date that lawmakers were considering blocking Obama’s nominees to run the CIA and Pentagon unless the memos are turned over.”