He just got finished with a drubbing from the right over Operation Fast and Furious and now it's the left's turn to attack U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Following his speech yesterday in which he explained the Obama administration's authority to secretly assassinate U.S. citizens without judicial oversight, Holder is taking a licking from left-leaning pundits and civil libertarians.
Holder's address was the first time a U.S. official justified the killing of American-born YouTube preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was taken out by Hellfire missiles fired from a drone in September. Until then, the government had concealed the legal rationale for killing Americans overseas without judicial oversight, so by and large, everyone was grateful that the rationale was at least out in the open. But that only got Holder so far.
A major point of contention was Holder's broad definition of "due process" with regards to weighing whether suspected terrorists can be assassinated. “Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security,” Holder said. “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” That had some scratching their heads.
"If the standards for when the government can send a deadly flying robot to vaporize you sound a bit subjective, that's because they are," writes Adam Serwer at Mother Jones. "Holder made clear that decisions about which citizens the government can kill are the exclusive province of the executive branch." He cited Holder's remarks that only the executive branch has the "expertise and immediate access to information" to make these important calls.
In a blog post titled "Eric Holder's Appalling Speech" on his personal site, Wired's Spencer Ackerman describes the legal rationale in no uncertain terms. "The Constitution creates unique privileges for citizenship," he writes. "Violating the most fundamental of those privileges, the right for the government not to kill you without an opportunity to contest the case against you, is the most profound act the government can take. It simply must require more protections for a citizen’s rights than the blithe, trust-us assurances that Eric Holder provided."
Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who's no stranger to these types of debates, asks where the chorus of left-wing Bush critics are all of a sudden. "How can anyone who vocally decried Bush’s mere eavesdropping and detention powers without judicial review possibly justify Obama’s executions without judicial review?" he asks. "How can the former (far more mild powers) have been such an assault on Everything We Stand For while the latter is a tolerable and acceptable assertion of war powers? If Barack Obama has the right to order accused Terrorists executed by the CIA because We’re At War, then surely George Bush had the right to order accused Terrorists eavesdropped on and detained on the same ground."
At Talking Points Memo, Ryan J. Reilly speaks to Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First who said the policy is galling regardless of the target's citizenship status. "You cannot arbitrarily kill individuals that you decided secretly are your enemies, even if they are U.S. citizens,” Eviatar said. “It’s not as if due process only applies to U.S. citizens. The bigger question is what made al-Alwaki targetable, was he an operational leader of al-Qaeda with whom were were at war?”
All told, Holder's speech creates a difficult spot for civil libertarians to be in. Outside of the quixotic Ron Paul, none of the President's would-be presidential opponents are challenging the president on this issue.