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2012-05-30

Glenn Greenwald: Obama’s Secret Kill List "The Most Radical Power a Government Can Seize"

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Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com.

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The New York Times revealed this week that President Obama personally oversees a "secret kill list" containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well as teenage girls as young as 17 years old. "The president of the United States believes that he has the power to order people killed, assassinated, in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind," says Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. "I really do believe it’s literally the most radical power that a government and a president can seize, and yet the Obama administration has seized this power and exercised it aggressively with very little controversy." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn, I want ask you about another subject. On Tuesday, the New York Times published a major exposé about how President Obama personally oversees a, quote, "secret kill list" containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens as well as teenage girls as young as 17 years old. Glenn, can you comment on that?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, we’ve, of course, known for a long time that the president of the United States believes that he has the power to order people killed, assassinated, in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind. I really do believe it’s literally the most radical power that a government and a president can seize, and yet the Obama administration has seized this power and exercised it aggressively with very little controversy.

What the New York Times article does is it adds some important, though very disturbing, details, probably the most disturbing of which is that one of the reasons why the Obama administration runs around claiming that the casualties of civilians are so low from their drone attacks, which everybody knows is false, is because they’ve redefined what a militant is. And a militant, in the eyes of the Obama administration, formally means any male of fighting age, presumably 18 to 40, who is in a strike zone of a missile. So, if the United States shoots a missile or detonates a bomb by drone or by aircraft and kills eight or a dozen or two dozen people, without even knowing whom they’ve killed or anything about them, they will immediately label any male of a certain age a militant by virtue of their proximity to that scene. And what the New York Times article said was that the rationale for this is that they believe that anybody who is even near a terrorist or any terrorist activity is, quote, "probably up to no good." Ironically, that is, as Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News pointed out, the exact phrase that George Zimmerman used when describing Trayvon Martin to the 911 call, that he must be up to no good, the sort of suspicion that even though we don’t know anything about somebody, the mere happenstance of where they are or what they’re doing entitles us not just to harbor suspicions about them, but to kill them.

And it’s amazing that American media outlets continue to use the word "militant" to describe people who are killed by American drones without knowing their identity, even though we now know that the Obama administration uses that word in an incredibly deceitful and propagandistic way. And the fact that Obama himself is sitting at the top of this pyramid, making decisions about life and death, issuing death sentences without a shred of oversight or transparency, really ought to be provoking widespread outrage. And yet, with the exception of a few circles and factions, it really isn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to William Daley, the White House chief of staff, in the Times saying Obama called the decision to strike the U.S.-born cleric Anwar Awlaki an easy one, Glenn?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, this is why I wrote yesterday, you know, I think one of the things that the New York Times article did was shed light on President Obama’s character. You know, we can talk a lot about his policies, and that usually is what’s most important, and we’ve known that he’s has been embracing these radical theories of executive power that even George Bush’s former former CIA and NSA chief, General Michael Hayden, has lavishly praised and other Bush officials are over the moon about in terms of President Obama endorsing them. So we know his policies have been extremist and radical. But here you have one of the most controversial things, as I said earlier, that a president can do: ordering an American citizen assassinated by the CIA in total secrecy with no due process, never been charged with any crime, even though they could have charged him if they really had evidence, as they claim, that he was guilty of plotting terrorist attacks, and instead of charging him, they simply secretly ordered his assassination.

And it turns out that there was no struggling in terms of the difficult constitutional and ethical and legal issues this obviously presents. According to the president’s own aides, they’re boasting to the New York Times that he’s declared that this was a, quote, "easy" decision, not anything that he struggled with, something that he made quite easily. And so, we find out that not only is he exercising this radical power, he’s not even having any struggles with conscience or constitutional questions or legal or intellectual quandaries about it. It’s something that—as his national security adviser, Tom Donilon, also bragged to the New York Times about, it shows how, quote, "comfortable" he is using force, even against American citizens. And that, I think, reflects really on the type of person that occupies the Oval Office.

AMY GOODMAN: You also write, Glenn Greenwald, in this piece—you recommend Aaron David Miller’s piece, the New York Times reporter who does a piece in Foreign Policy called "Barack O’Romney," that the reason these candidates, Romney and Obama, are not particularly fighting over foreign policy, but domestic issues, is because of the broad Democratic-Republican consensus between the Republicans and the Democrats, even as they fight about what’s going on in Washington, people talk about no consensus at all. In fact, there’s a very serious consensus: unanimity in dealing with foreign policy, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, one of the things that progressives and Democratic partisans love to say is that Republicans will never give President Obama credit for anything. And this is a complete untruth; it’s a total falsehood. You can go back over the last three years and find instance after instance after instance where not just Republicans, but the furthest right neocons and national security state officials of the Bush administration have lavished President Obama with praise for his most defining and controversial policies, and, you know, I think represents exactly the kind of bipartisan consensus that he was talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I think you better go, Glenn. I don’t want you to get bit by the dog.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I’m sorry about that. Someone just came to the door.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger for Salon.com, actually speaking to us from Brazil.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we will go back to Britain to speak with former ABC reporter Charles Glass. He has just returned from Damascus and Aleppo, Syria. Stay with us.

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