By Boris Volkhonsky
As reported by The New York Times on Monday, the U.S. Attorney-General Eric H. Holder Jr. stated that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States, and if capturing them alive is not feasible.
“Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack,” Mr. Holder said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school. “In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.”
This is not the first case when a top U.S. official defends the right of the state to eliminate its own citizens. But what is notable in this case, writes The NYT, is that the nation’s top law enforcement official declares that it is constitutional for the government to kill citizens without any judicial review under certain circumstances.
In fact, it has not been uncommon for the U.S. government to eliminate its enemies all over the world, indiscriminately bombing Iraqi or Afghan villages, or using drone strikes in Yemen or Pakistan, where dozens and hundreds of innocent civilians have fallen prey along with a few culprits. But those were cases when the so called “targeted killings” (quite poorly targeted, one must admit) were aimed at aliens. Now it is becoming clear that such basics of a law-governed state as presumption of innocence or due legal process are no longer guaranteed for American citizens.
“‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process,” the U.S. Attorney General is reported as saying.
Hence, the question arises, are we heading towards a law-governed state, or a lawlessness-governed state? Since the U.S. is definitely striving to extrapolate its principles as widely as possible and impose them on a maximum number of subjects, how long are we to wait for, let’s say, the U.S. Secretary of State to assert that it is lawful for the U.S. government to kill citizens of any country if the U.S. officials deem them to be threatening the United States?
What is also notable in Mr. Holder’s statement is the conditions he formulates for justifying extrajudicial (rather, non-judicial) killings – that is, “if capturing them alive is not feasible.”
One may wonder, what happens if a culprit IS captured alive. And as it turns out, his (or, her) fate would not be much easier.
As reported by Agence France Press, the UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Mendez said on Monday that the U.S. authorities’ treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Private Bradley Manning was “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”
It should be noted that Bradley Manning is no terrorist and never planned any attacks on the United States. His only fault was that he had disclosed a number of classified documents to WikiLeaks, and now faces up to a death sentence.
Even before his arraignment, Manning was placed in solitary confinement, where he was abused by guards and was subjected to an ultra restrictive regime in Quantico prison.
Well, Bradley Manning is a U.S. citizen, and as such, should have enjoyed all the legal guarantees provided by the Constitution. He was not. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the U.S. top law enforcement official has gone even further and proclaimed that the U.S. state not only has the right to subject its citizens to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, but kill them upon the slightest suspicion.
The next step would probably be an army of commandoes with a license to kill, roaming all over the world, in search of an opportunity to implement the “go ahead” given by the Attorney general.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies