A survey conducted by The Hill was released yesterday, indicating that a majority of respondents support the killing of non-US citizens deemed “imminent threats” by their government. Moreover, 65% of respondents said they supported the use of drones to kill “people in foreign countries whom the US government says are terrorists and present an imminent threat.”
The poll found that 53 percent of likely voters said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill non-U.S. citizens who meet that description. Meanwhile, 44 percent said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill American citizens who it believes are terrorists and present an imminent threat.
By contrast, 21 percent of respondents thought such an action should be illegal if the target is a non-U.S. citizen. A slightly higher percentage of voters, 31 percent, thought killing individuals whom the government believes are terrorists should be illegal when the target is an American citizen.
A couple of points:
1) As revealed in the DOJ white paper that was released last week, the Obama administration has an incredibly elastic definition of the term “imminent” that does not concord with the definition typically found in international law. The white paper states:
… a high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an ‘imminent threat’ of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States. Moreover, where the al-Qa’ida member in question has recently been involved in activities posing an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, and there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities, that member’s involvement in al-Qa’ida’s continuing terrorist campaign against the United States would support the conclusion that the member poses an imminent threat.
So, to be deemed an imminent threat, all you have to do is be identified (accurately or not) by the US government as being an operational leader of al-Qaeda and fail to provide evidence of having renounced or abandoned your involvement in al-Qaeda’s “continuing terrorist campaign” against the US. It does not matter that you may not actually be planning anything at the given moment that you are assassinated – in other words, presenting an actual imminent threat – because the lack of your having renounced such activities is sufficient for the government to deem you an “imminent threat,” thus legally justifying any potential drone strike or assassination operation. In contrast, the definition I used here qualifies “imminent” threats when “the necessity of that self-defence is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation,” automatically ruling out the possibility of graduated force or capture (just as the Obama administration has done). To include a bit of context, here is Brennan being question on capture operations during his recent hearing:
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: How many high-value targets have been captured during your service with the administration?
JOHN BRENNAN: There have been a number of individuals who have been captured, arrested, detained, interrogated, debriefed and put away by our partners overseas, which is, we have given them the capacity now, we have provided them the intelligence. And unlike in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when a lot of these countries were both unwilling and unable to do it, we have given them that opportunity. And so, that’s where we’re working with our partners.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: How many high-value targets have been arrested and detained, interrogated by the United States during your four years with the administration?
JOHN BRENNAN: I’ll be happy to get that information to you, Senator, in terms of those high-value targets that have been captured with U.S. intelligence support.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I submit to you the answer to that is one. And it’s Warsame, who was put on a ship for 60 days and interrogated.
Notice how Brennan prevaricates without the slightest sense of shame or compunction. Here is the presidential nominee for the Director of the CIA being questioned – at his own confirmation hearing – by the Senate Intelligence Committee about the number of individuals captured during his past four years, and instead of providing a truthful response Brennan answers in anodyne vagaries that completely (and intentionally) miss the point.
2) Some respondents to the Hill survey actually think that while it’s okay for the government to kill non-US citizens without trial, it isn’t okay to treat fellow US-citizens the same way. I have repeatedly pointed out in private discussions the inherent racism in this selective indignation over US-citizens being assassinated on the orders of the executive, but not over the non US-citizens who, incidentally, suffer the brunt of American terror. The fundamental premises of this train of thought is that arbitrary killings is acceptable for non-Americans (typically Muslims), but once that individual in question is born in the US; born to a US citizen; or naturalized as a US citizen, then arbitrary killings is unquestionably wrong because that individual is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
Why is it that a document, which in the first place is derived from our notions of humanity, effectively supersedes those same notions themselves when it comes to people’s relations to the state? In other words, what is it about our modern fetishization of the state that allows us to completely overlook institutional violence, racism, and oppression, and instead legitimize and defend those acts on the basis of our participation in a state society? Isn’t it far more dangerous for us to blindly justify every potentially-egregious act of the state and leave its power unchecked by failing to challenge the very notions on which it operates?