Raising troubling comparisons to tactics employed by Josef Stalin and right-wing Latin American dictatorships, the U.S. government has created a “hit list” of Americans abroad marked for murder.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Feb. 3, the U.S. may, with executive approval, target and kill American terrorist suspects, Inter Press News Service reported.
”We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said.
Blair added that U.S. counterterrorism officials may try to kill U.S. citizens involved in terrorism overseas with ”specific permission” from higher up.
In response to questions from the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, Blair said, if ”we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”
Blair’s statement recalls the policies of Soviet Russia’s secret police, who often murdered those who fled Stalin’s tyranny. Red Army founder Leon Trotsky, for example, was tracked to Mexico by a Soviet agent who killed him with an ice pick.
Blair’s remarks followed a Washington Post article reporting that President Barack Obama had embraced President George W. Bush’s policy of authorizing the killing of U.S. citizens involved in terrorist activities overseas.
The Post reported: “After the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said.
“The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for example, has to pose ‘a continuing and imminent threat’ to U.S. persons and interests.”
Daphne Eviatar, an attorney with Human Rights First, told Inter Press, “The short answer is that combatants can be targeted and civilians cannot under international law. Their citizenship isn’t relevant. But just being a ‘suspected terrorist’ doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a combatant.”
She added, “The key question, and where there may be serious disagreement, is whether the person targeted is ‘directly participating in hostilities.’ If not, and they’re targeted, it’s a war crime.”
Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said, ”It is alarming to hear that the Obama administration is asserting that the president can authorize the assassination of Americans abroad, even if they are far from any battlefield and may have never taken up arms against the U.S., but have only been deemed to constitute an unspecified ‘threat.’”
Attorney George Brent Mickum, an American lawyer who has defended a number of Guantanamo Bay detainees, told Inter Press, “I guess my sense is that it’s just more fear mongering. They kill somebody and don’t need to offer any justification.”
”We have killed thousands of innocent civilians while attempting to target alleged operatives,” Mickum said. “And let us not forget how frequently our intelligence has been wrong about alleged operatives.”
“My clients Bisher al Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Martin Mubanga, abu Zubaydah, and Shaker Aamer all are alleged to have been operatives based on intel. In every case that intel was incorrect,” Mickum told Inter Press. “I don’t have any expectation that our intel with respect to alleged American operatives is likely to be any better.”
Other experts on international law were outraged, too.
“This extrajudicial execution of human beings constitutes a grave violation of international human rights law and, under certain circumstances, can also constitute a war crime under the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949,” said Francis Boyle, University of Illinois professor of international law at Champaign.
“In addition, the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizens by the United States government also violates the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution mandating that no person “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Boyle said, “The U.S. Government has now established a ‘death list’ for U.S. citizens abroad akin to those established by Latin American dictatorships during their so-called ‘dirty wars.’”
He claimed President Bush “reduced the United States of America to a Banana Republic waging a ‘dirty war’ around the world in gross violation of international law, human rights law, and the laws of war. It is only a matter of time before the United States government will establish a similar ‘death list’ targeting U.S. citizens living here at home.”
Boyle added that, “As someone who used to teach Constitutional law, President Obama knows better.”
Boyle, a leading U.S. authority in international law, drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 for the U.S. He is the author of a number of books in his field, including Destroying World Order.
Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, told Inter Press, “As with its embrace of the [George W.] Bush approach to indefinite detention, the Obama administration’s even greater reliance on targeted extrajudicial killing – including of U.S. citizens – is a tragic legal, moral, and practical mistake.”
”Even for those who accept the legitimacy of the death penalty,” Pitts continued, “this further undermines the rule of law that is our best weapon in the fight against true terrorists, while completely subverting due process and constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.”
Basic reporting for this article came from Inter Press News Service of Rome. Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based columnist who writes on world events. Ross formerly worked for the Chicago Daily News and wire services. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org