The Bush Doctrine: The Next Chapter – We Must Act

President Obama has taken the “Bush Doctrine” to the next level. In case you’ve forgotten, after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, President George W. Bush articulated an approach to military intervention based on two principles. The first is that the world is the battlefield in the next war. The second is that the US has the right to preemptively attack possible threats.

This policy justified the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and subsequent military actions – under the current administration – in Yemen and Africa. It justified the establishment of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for suspected terrorists and the practice of “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects to “black holes” in cooperative countries. It has justified layers of secrecy that have, in turn, justified the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects – both innocent and guilty (although we are likely to never know which are which).

Now, under President Obama, the nature of war has changed. It has become eerily like the Star Trek episode in which warfare has been sanitized to the extent that there is no combat, no destruction of property, only the orderly self-sacrifice of designated victims. Except, in this case, it is only the Americans who are spared the risk and consequences of close engagement deep in enemy territory. (The killing of Osama bin-Laden is the notable exception.) Through the use of pilotless drones, US forces are able to attack Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in otherwise secure hideouts. These are the apparatus of targeted killings. They use the most sophisticated technology to “see” their targets and to confirm in real time the results of their missions. “Flown” by pilots at airbases in the US, the drones had sanitized warfare to an extent never before possible. It has made the world-wide war invisible to the average American, whose dissent is muted as much by ignorance as through intimidation. We are encouraged to accept the claim that the drone strikes are “surgical” attacks, precisely targeting and killing the “bad guys.” But these attacks have also killed many non-combatants, family and neighbors of the target.

Within the last 18 months, the President has extended the policy of targeted killing to include US citizens abroad who are accused of involvement with Al-Qaeda. So far the three known victims of this policy are the Islamist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, his colleague Samir Khan, and Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman , all American citizens, all killed by drone strikes in Yemen. The current administration has gone to great lengths to fashion a legal figleaf for its policy of targeted killings, much like the Bush administration’s creation of a legal rationale for torture. The document summarizing the rationale for the killing of American citizens is known to exist but has not been released. A shorter document that may or may not summarize the secret document has been made available by Michael Isikoff of NBC. The news release about this policy rationale can be found online at http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/04/16843014-exclusive-justice-department-memo-reveals-legal-case-for-drone-strikes-on-americans?lite .

The text of the available document is also linked in the article.

The policy of extrajudicial killing of US citizens accused of terrorist links and intentions (based on secret evidence) is a threat to our fundamental constitutional protections and undermines the rule of law. It risks the US becoming a de facto “rogue nation.” It represents the further entrenchment of the “imperial presidency” and relegation of the Congress to irrelevance on the issue of US military polity.

I believe that it is incumbent upon those of us who believe in constitutional restraints on presidential power to seek the involvement of our congressional representatives. To that end, I have sent emails to both of our Illinois senators (Durbin and Kirk) and to my congressional representative (Schakowsky) asking them to initiate hearings on the President’s extrajudicial killing of Americans. This is what I wrote:

As your constituent, I rely on you to ensure that our government operates in a manner consistent with the Constitution. This includes ensuring that all officeholders, legislative and executive, execute their constitutionally defined duties. This is of greatest importance in the matter of war.

Both the executive and legislative branches have been derelict in their duties in this regard. We have been in a state of war for the last decade (longer if we were more precise) with no President having sought, and no Congress having voted, a formal declaration of war. Now, consequent to this state of affairs, the President has taken the ill-conceived “Bush Doctrine” to its next logical conclusion: the Executive has the authority to order the extrajudicial killing of American citizens whom it considers threats to our security on the basis of information that only it has.

I am greatly distressed at the President’s assumption of this imperial power. I am equally distressed by the acquiescence of the Congress to this threat to our constitutional rights.

I am asking you, as my representatives in the Congress of the United States to hold hearings to call the administration to account for this unprecedented usurpation of power. We cannot give this President, or any future President, a “license to kill.”

I strongly urge you to contact your senators and member of Congress to demand action that will stop this egregious distortion of our Constitution and undermining of the rule of law. You can get the email addresses of your representatives at http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.

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