Skip the drone debate, just kill the terrorists before they kill us

We no longer have to transport ourselves to a magical alternate reality to ponder what a love child between Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney would look like.  Given a Justice Department memo obtained by NBC News, we can conclude that child would look like none other than President Barack Obama.

David Frost, in his conversation with President Nixon, asked him if the president could do something illegal.  Nixon responded, “I'm saying that when the president does it, it's not illegal.” Vice President Cheney, in the War on Terror, took the strong position that citizenship did not necessarily matter when it came to targeting our enemies.

Though Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama was squeamish about such things, President Obama has taken on a very Nixonian-Cheneyesque view of such things.  Now, NBC News has uncovered a Justice Department memo making clear what President Obama’s evolved view on terrorists is — kill ‘em regardless of citizenship and do not worry about such small things as constitutional due process.

According to the Justice Department memo, if intelligence confirms an American is involved in a terrorist plot as a ranking member of Al Qaeda and extraction of that American is not possible without putting military lives in jeopardy, the United States should have no hesitation in killing him without making an attempt to arrest him and give him his due process.


More On This...

Civil libertarians on the left and right are aghast. Conservatives who long thought the president was softening on his commitment against terrorists have cheered.  Roles have been reversed.

More importantly, this news exposes partisans who have surrendered intellectual consistency for party cheerleading.  Some Republicans who would have been happy with President Bush doing this are now upset. Some Democrats who denounced Bush are now cheering on Barack Obama.

Perhaps, they should all pay attention to one key part of the newly uncovered memo.

As my friend Moe Lane, writing at, noticed, the memo includes this fascinating portion:

“…the condition that an operation leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future. Given the nature of, for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, in which civilian airliners were hijacked to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this definition of imminence, which would require the United States to refrain from action until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.”

In other words, there need not be immediacy in the definition of “imminent.”  As long as a plan is in continuation, the United States could proceed.

Hypothetically, a world leader — let us call him Saddam — invites Al Qaeda operatives into his country, which we will call Iraq for purposes of this hypothetical, to design and structure terrorist attacks on the United States.  While everyone is focusing on drones and American targets, this memo also begins to justify military and intelligence forces going beyond that in order to stop terrorist attacks.  This memo gives a foundation for invasion to stop imminent attacks that are not imminent, in the common sense of the word, but are in active planning.

The battlefield has shifted over the past two decades.  The president has already killed one American on a battlefield with a drone. His chief role is to keep the nation safe.  In the twenty-first century, in the remote caves of Afghanistan and deserts of the Middle East, it is both impractical and unnecessary to strap a speaker to a drone in order to shout down to an American Al Qaeda operative, read him his Miranda rights, then caution him to step back a quarter mile to wait for his arrest while the drone unleashes hell on all his terrorist friends.

Just kill them before they kill us. At some point, we must trust that the president and his advisers, when they see a gathering of Al Qaeda from the watchful eye of a drone, are going to make the right call and use appropriate restraint and appropriate force to keep us safe.

Frankly, it should be American policy that any American collaborating with Al Qaeda is better off dead than alive.  Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney should be proud.