Ten Miles Square


February 06, 2013 10:00 AM Why the Drone Strike Legal Memo Is Secret

By Ryan Cooper

The big news in civil liberties circles today is the leak of a white paper laying out some of the legal reasoning behind the administration’s drone strike program. It’s not the actual memo itself, but it does appear to track the reasoning as it was described to Charlie Savage. Glenn Greenwald lays out all the legal implications in detail here, something I won’t bother to reproduce. I’d just like to focus on this already-infamous section on an “imminent threat:”

Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, the condition that an operational 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 will take place in the immediate future.

Here we have it, ladies and gentlemen, the reason why the actual drone memo is secret. Not (entirely) because of knee jerk secrecy instinct, and definitely not because it would harm national security, which is and always was preposterous. No, the reason is the only justification they can cook up is so flagrantly ridiculous, so abusive of the plain meaning of words, so stuffed with Orwellian up-is-downism that a bright 5th grader could tell this is bullshit sophistry. If legal words can be bent this far then they mean nothing. When it comes to President Obama and assassination, there is no such thing as law, there is only power.

This memo is telling us one thing: the executive has arrogated unto itself the power to assassinate anyone, anywhere, at any time, without any justification, oversight, or due process whatsoever.

Be warned.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Edward Wurtz on February 05, 2013 11:23 PM:

    The cult of personality with President Obama is a serious impediment for Americans to see the wrongs in the drone killings. I believe the drone killings undermines the rule of law in this country and undermines the moral authority of the US abroad.

    "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." Richard M. Nixon

  • jonh on February 06, 2013 1:05 PM:

    If this is as bad as it seems, then this is what impeachment is for. If not now, when?

    I'm afraid this will all be pushed aside by some celebrity scandal in a few days. That's what celebrity scandals are for.