Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fundamentally unconstitutional

by Jameel Jaffer and Maria LaHood

USA Today
November 16, 2010

The Obama administration is making the unprecedented claim that it has the unilateral authority to kill any American it deems to pose a threat to the country. If the administration is correct, then the president can compile secret kill lists that include Americans who have never set foot on any actual battlefield, and no court will ever review the evidence on which the lists are based.

There is no doubt the president has both the authority and the responsibility to protect the country. But the president also has a duty to protect the Constitution, as his oath of office makes clear. A program that allows the president to impose the death penalty without charge or trial is fundamentally unconstitutional.

Our organizations recently filed a lawsuit to press this point. While the lawsuit does not challenge the government's power to use lethal force on actual battlefields, we argue that the government can carry out targeted killings away from the battlefield only as a last resort to address imminent threats to life. We also argue that the courts have a role to play in setting the standards under which the government can use lethal force outside war zones, and in ensuring that these standards are honored.