President Obama claims the right to extrajudicially execute American citizens, keeps a so-called “kill list,” and has bragged he’s “really good at killing people.” This isn’t bluster. Obama has backed this up with action, having killed U.S. citizens — including a 16-year-old boy — without charging, much less convicting, any of them with a single crime.
The implications are profound (and profoundly disturbing), and raise questions about Americans’ constitutional right to due process, the most basic constraints on presidential power, and our treatment of whistleblowers. Indeed, how can anyone expect those who witness executive-branch crimes to blow the whistle when the head of the executive branch asserts the right to instantly execute anyone he pleases at any time?
All of this may sound theoretical, academic, or even fantastical, straight out of a dystopian sci-fi flick. But it isn’t. It is very real. After all, only a few months ago, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee publicly offered to help extrajudicially assassinate NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And now, according to a harrowing new report that just hit the Internet, top NSA and Pentagon officials are doing much the same, even after court rulings and disclosures have concluded that Snowden is a whistleblower who exposed serious government crimes.
In an article headlined “America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead,” Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson reports:
‘In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,’ a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. ‘A lot of people share this sentiment.’
‘I would love to put a bullet in his head,’ one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly…
‘His name is cursed every day over here,’ a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas Intelligence collections base. ‘Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.’
One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.
‘I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,’ he said. ‘Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.’
Buzzfeed characterizes this as government officials merely “seeth(ing) in very personal terms.” However, with a top legislative branch leader offering to assist in the very extrajudicial assassination now being promoted by NSA and Pentagon officials, and with the executive branch categorically asserting the right to order such an extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen, this is more than mere “seething.” These are outright threats.
Think about it: As President Obama would no doubt acknowledge, the NSA and Pentagon are not independent agencies. As president he oversees and runs them. That is, they are overseen and run by the same Obama administration that has asserted the right to execute American citizens without indictment, trial or conviction. While these may just be officials speaking off the cuff, their language (“Most everyone I talk to”/”A lot of people share this sentiment”) makes clear that their sentiment represents a pervasive culture throughout the government — again, the same government that not-so-coincidentally asserts the right to kill people in exactly the way they discuss.
It all leads back to that same harrowing question: how can Americans who witness executive-branch crimes feel comfortable or even physically safe blowing the whistle on said crimes?
The answer in the Obama era is: they can’t.