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Report: Obama Administration Considers Assassinating Another American Overseas

February 10, 2014


Jeremy Scahill

co-founder of The Intercept, a new digital magazine published by First Look Media which launched today. He is also the producer and writer of the documentary film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and also the author of the book by the same name. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. He is a longtime Democracy Now! correspondent.

Glenn Greenwald

co-founder of The Intercept, a new digital magazine published by First Look Media which launched today. As a columnist for The Guardian, he first broke the story about Edward Snowden.

The Associated Press is reporting the White House is considering using a drone to kill an American citizen who is allegedly a member of al-Qaeda. The AP did not name the man or the country where he is residing. The Obama administration has killed four U.S. citizens in drone strikes since 2009, including Anwar al-Awlaki and his son in separate strikes in Yemen. We get response to the latest news from investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald of the new digital magazine,


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman. Our guests, for their first exclusive interview upon the launch of at First Look Media, is Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald. They have just written the piece, "The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program," which they have been researching for months., a new digital magazine launched today by First Look Media.

I wanted to first get a comment from Glenn Greenwald on a piece that has just come out from Associated Press, "US Suspect Possibly Targeted for Drone Attack." It’s by Kimberly Dozier, AP intelligence writer. Just the first paragraph says, "An American citizen who is a member of al-Qaida is actively planning attacks against Americans overseas, U.S. officials say, and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year." Your comment?

GLENN GREENWALD: I haven’t seen the article yet, but that first paragraph should be shocking to every American, and yet at this point I think we’re probably all kind of accustomed to it, despite how radical it is, because of how long-standing it has been accepted. The very idea that the U.S. government suspects an American citizen, not of having already engaged in crimes, but of planning to do so, as Jeremy said, it’s like a pre-crime framework, where the U.S. government tries to guess at who will engage in crimes in the future and then treat them as a criminal—but then, not just treat them as a criminal, but declare them guilty in secret proceedings, not involving any court, but by the decree of the president of the United States to literally, A, declare the person guilty, B, impose the death penalty, and then, C, go out and carry out the execution—just like they did with Anwar Awlaki and Samir Khan. And now they are obviously viewing it as a regular practice. I mean, no American, no matter your political affiliation or ideology, should accept the idea that the president of the United States has the power to order American citizens killed, not on a battlefield or anywhere else that is in a war zone, but simply on the suspicion that they intend to engage in future criminal behavior. To describe that power is to describe the most extremist and out-of-control government you can get.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, if you’d like to expand on this. The Associated Press has agreed to the government’s request to withhold the name of the country where the suspected terrorist is believed to be, because officials said publishing it could interrupt ongoing counterterror operations. And in a later part of the piece, it says, "one U.S. official said the Defense Department was divided over whether the man is dangerous enough to merit the potential domestic fallout of killing an American without charging him with a crime or trying him, and the potential international fallout of such an operation in a country that has been resistant to U.S. action. Another of the U.S. officials said the Pentagon did ultimately decide to recommend lethal action."

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. You know, I mean, again, we haven’t—I haven’t seen this piece yet, but, you know, there are a number of Americans who we already understand have been cleared at some point over the past several years for being hit in these targeted strikes. One of them, my understanding, is a guy named Adam Gadahn, who is basically a propagandist for al-Qaeda who is from the United States, a U.S. citizen, and will occasionally be running his mouth off on videos around the world. I have no knowledge of what he may or may not be involved with, but we do know that the United States doesn’t have a problem with killing American citizens without presenting any evidence against them. And I think that’s the real issue here.

You know, the current guidelines that the White House is using still permit the killing of Americans and non-Americans on a regular basis around the world using these drones. And I think that, to an extent, the White House has started to believe its own propaganda about how precise these strikes actually are, in part because when they get a cellphone or they blow up someone’s cellphone, they’re told, "Oh, well, we got the target." And in the jargon of the operators who do these missions, you know, when you get the phone itself, it’s called a "jackpot." And when you confirm that you’ve actually killed the target, it’s called a "touchdown." So, how often are these jackpots being passed up to the White House as, you know, touchdowns, as confirmation that they’ve killed the individuals in question? But I do think it’s chilling that we live in an era where a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize and is a constitutional lawyer by training is streamlining and creating a mechanism for making assassination, including of U.S. citizens, a normal part of our—what’s called our national security policy.

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