Congress Drags Feet on Obama’s ‘License to Kill’

The expanded powers of the presidency, coupled with spineless parties, have all but neutered 'checks and balances'

by John Glaser, July 31, 2012

Most of Congress is refusing to stand up to the Obama administration’s claim of authority on targeted killings, especially of American citizens, despite a few limited attempts to demand transparency.

Almost a year after the Obama administration assassinated three American citizens in targeted drone strikes without charge or trial, Congress is largely acquiescent, with the exception one long-shot amendment that would require the administration to disclose to certain Congressional committees the secret legal memo authorizing the President to kill Americans on his own say-so.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) recently proposed an amendment that would mandate the disclosure from the Executive Branch of that secret legal memorandum supposedly justifying the President’s targeted killing program, which included the killing last year of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, alleged American Al Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan, and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son who was never accused of anything.

The American Civil Liberties Union, after being dismissed out of court by the Obama administration in 2010, have filed suit again challenging the administration’s claim of authority to kill Americans without due process. Claims of Executive privilege are expected yet again.

There have been at least 10 Congressional requests for the administration to disclose the memo, all of which have been ignored by the President (the administration won’t even publicly admit to its existence). Cornyn’s stands out because it would be a mandate, not a request.

“We’re not mere supplicants to the executive branch, we are a coequal branch of government,” Cornyn said during a Senate committee hearing last week. “So it is insufficient to say ‘pretty please, Mr. President, pretty please, Mr. Attorney General, will you please tell us the legal authority by which you claim the authority to kill American citizens abroad?'”

Democrats have dismissed Cornyn’s amendment in committee deliberations and the party leadership is unlikely to allow it to pass out of respect to their leader, Barack Obama.

But even Cornyn’s proposal – so far the boldest check on the President’s dictatorial powers of due-process free assassinations of American citizens – wouldn’t require the administration to disclose the memo to the public, only to Congressional committees in secret. And even if it managed to pass, the administration would undoubtedly claim executive privilege and stop the legislatures checks on its power in their tracks.

So the system of checks and balances on power and authority supposedly inherent in the Constitution appears to be an antiquated tool in the US government. Equally obsolete is the notion that it is any of the American people’s business how and why their President manages to kill their fellow citizens.

Last 5 posts by John Glaser