Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder said:

The American people can be — and deserve to be — assured that actions taken in their defense are consistent with their values and their laws.

I agree, Mr. Holder, but if you really cared about informing the American public more than silencing critics of the administration’s Executive power grab, you would release the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos “legalizing” assassinating American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki without a shred of due process and engaging in secret drone warfare in the airspace of sovereign nations. Even the conservative Washington Post editorial board (whose opinion on drone strikes differs from mine) agrees on release of the memos:

If the administration is intent on reassuring the American public, it should release the Justice Department memorandum that lays out the domestic and international strictures which, it says, undergird its drone policy.

The offensiveness of the Justice Department’s hypocritical secrecy is trumped only by Holder’s Constitution-shredding rationalizations.

The factual scenarios Holder says would be enough to assassinate Americans amount to punishing individuals for thoughts. First Amendment need not apply.

[Holder] said the president is not required by the Constitution to delay action until some “theoretical end stage of planning — when the precise time, place and manner of an attack become clear.”

This must be news to dozens of criminal prosecutors who have been bound by criminal attempt statutes, which generally require that a person take “substantial steps” toward commission of a crime before being charged.

Before anyone calls me a fan of al-Awlaki, let me be clear: I am not a fan of al-Awlaki, I am a fan of the Constitution, which the Obama administration abandoned to assassinate al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki was alleged to be an al-Qaeda leader and to have influenced others, not necessarily carried out attacks. This is not Minority Report. We do not punish people who think about committing crimes.

Holder offered no explanation for why the U.S. killed al-Awlaki’s wholly innocent 16-year-old son a week later. Word is that American child was collateral damage.

Holder argued that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to “due process” and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a “judicial process.”

Maybe our constitutional scholar President and Attorney General should read the Constitution. (Apologies for being snarky about such a deadly serious issue). The 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments all require judicial oversight and – dare I say what has been established law since our country’s founding – process before imprisoning – or sentencing to death – Americans.

Holder also told us not to call the murdering of American citizens “assassinations.” Holder says the drone strikes that kill American citizens based on secret findings from the Executive branch are actually just the U.S. using “lethal force in self-defense.”

We’ve heard this re-branding before. We do not “torture;” these are “harsh interrogation tactics.”

And these are not “U.S. citizens” with rights, they are “enemy belligerents.” We need only look at Holder’s speech for that talking point:

“…we are authorized to take action against enemy belligerents under international law . . . and our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields of Afghanistan.”

Are we supposed to be grateful Holder did not add, “Remember, drones are now flying in the U.S.?”

It is maddeningly disappointing how far we haven’t come.


Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.