To the Editor:
Re “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” (front page, May 29):
If President Obama is allowed to execute American citizens without judicial review and outside the theater of war, that astonishing power will forever reside in the hands of future presidents.
No president should be given that breathtaking level of power—essentially serving as judge, jury and executioner without any check or balance. This abuse of power must be curtailed, not merely because of the possibility of current abuses but because of the certainty of future abuses.
The American Civil Liberties Union has brought—and will continue to bring—litigation on the targeted killing program and the need for greater transparency. Time and again, the Obama administration seeks to dismiss those suits on state secrets grounds, arguing that to allow judicial review of such policies would harm national security. It has also permitted the Central Intelligence Agency to tell courts implausibly that the public does not even know the program exists.
If numerous administration officials can defend the targeted killing program to Times reporters, then surely our federal courts and the American public should be granted that same level of respect. The administration shouldn’t hide its actions in court and then trumpet its achievements in the press. America’s moral standing depends on it.
ANTHONY D. ROMERO
American Civil Liberties Union
New York, May 29, 2012
To the Editor:
I was among the “phalanx of retired generals and admirals” who stood with President Obama as he signed executive orders to ban torture, close the C.I.A.’s secret prisons and set a timetable for closing Guantánamo. President Obama did not break faith with us, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that he fulfills his promises.
President Obama has already eliminated torture and closed C.I.A. secret sites, but he must not stop there. He should bring the number of Guantánamo detainees down to zero and prosecute accused terrorists in federal courts rather than creaky military commissions. He has a responsibility to work beyond the politics and restore America’s reputation as a beacon for the rule of law.
Our group of retired military leaders knew that progress would take time. We also knew that it would be worth the wait.
JOHN D. HUTSON
St. Augustine, Fla., May 30, 2012
The writer is a retired rear admiral and former Navy judge advocate general.
To the Editor:
Re “Too Much Power for a President” (editorial, May 31):
Assassination cannot somehow be made right with court review or delegating the task to nonpoliticians, despite what you suggest. The deeper problem is that President Obama is pursuing the Bush administration’s “war on terror” with lethal absurdity.
A nonterritorial war, which cannot be won with the capture of a hill or a city, is an open license to murder. If we recognize terrorism as a crime, then suspects need to be captured and tried on the basis of evidence, with due process.
From expediency and a desire to look tough, Mr. Obama has adopted a policy that has turned into Buy One, Get Two Free: Kill One, Make Two New Ones. Drone strikes create intense hostility in Pakistan and Yemen, breeding new terrorists.
The United States is setting a precedent for Russia, China and, in time, terrorist organizations to use drones. Like Harry S. Truman with nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama is opening a Pandora’s box.
Bloomington, Ind., May 31, 2012
To the Editor:
Especially for liberals, the very idea of a sanctioned assassination list is troubling. But your editorial’s objections to it are untenable on several counts.
One sympathizes with the desire for oversight, but targeted assassination cannot be the official policy of our court system or of our military hierarchy, and military action against implacable enemies cannot be hostage to the vagaries and complexity of legal briefs. The courts are responsible to the Constitution; the military is bound by the rules of war. Only the president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has both the civilian and military authority necessary to make such decisions.
One also sympathizes with the desire for such decisions to be nonpolitical, but the fact that the president, unlike generals or most judges, is elected by the people means both that the people are responsible for the president’s actions, and that the president will be held accountable to the people.
For better, as in the Obama administration, or worse, as during the Bush years, we, the people, are the assassins, which is as it should be. The buck stops here.
New York, May 31, 2012
Note from KBJ: It's great to see the ACLU taking a principled stand on this issue, but notice the implicit bias. Anthony Romero seems not to mind that Barack Obama has life-and-death power. What worries him is that it sets a precedent for future Republican presidents. The abuses today are merely possible. Those of Republican presidents are certain. Notice, too, the bias of David Berman, who is a frequent contributor to the Times. He so hates George W. Bush that he can't think straight. The Times is increasingly being written for dolts like Berman.