President Obama's media acolytes must really be disappointed – they're comparing his administration's unilateral behavior in the war on terror to that of George W. Bush. The new interest was kicked off by a Justice Department document leaked on Monday that offered a legal analysis of when the president can order the targeted killing of an American citizen suspected of terrorism, without due process. Wednesday's lead New York Times article from Yemen was a rundown of the fatal drone strikes authorized by President Obama and his "kill list" coordinator John Brennan, now Obama's nominee to head the C.I.A.
The Times relegated the actual news about the leaked document to page 11, in the International section, in a "news analysis" by reporters Scott Shane and Charlie Savage that dug into the politics of the controversy under an odd, vague headline: "Report on Targeted Killing Whets Appetite for Less Secrecy."
(Under bipartisan pressure, the Obama administration announced later Wednesday that it would show the congressional intelligence committees the memo backing drone attacks on Americans.)
The article itself did touch lightly on the liberal hypocrisy angle over Obama's new-found embrace of secrecy – The text box reads: "Revelations about Obama policy and Bush policy were treated differently." The Times certainly gave wall-to-wall front-page treatment to memos on the harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects during the Bush administration.
Here's Shane and Savage writing on Wednesday:
Early in his first term, President Obama rejected the vehement protests of the Central Intelligence Agency and ordered the public disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions on interrogation and torture that had been written in the administration of George W. Bush.
In the case of his own Justice Department’s legal opinions on assassination and the “targeted killing” of terrorism suspects, however, Mr. Obama has taken a different approach. Though he entered office promising the most transparent administration in history, he has adamantly refused to make those opinions public -- notably one that justified the 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed an American, Anwar al-Awlaki. His administration has withheld them even from the Senate and House intelligence committees and has fought in court to keep them secret, making any public debate on the issue difficult.
But with the disclosure on Monday of a Justice Department document offering a detailed legal analysis of the targeted killing of Americans, the barricades of secrecy have been breached. Just as leaks of interrogation memos in 2004 under President Bush ignited a fierce public debate over torture, the report on the so-called white paper by NBC News instantly touched off a renewed, and better informed, public discussion about whether and when a president can order the execution of a citizen based on secret intelligence and without any trial.
Some human rights groups dismissed it in language reminiscent of their critiques of the Bush administration’s legal opinions on torture, taking particular aim at its flexible definition of what might constitute an “imminent” threat and the lack of any outside check on its claimed authority.
Wednesday's lead editorial, "To Kill an American," also attacked Obama with the Bush comparison.
On one level, there were not too many surprises in the newly disclosed “white paper” offering a legal reasoning behind the claim that President Obama has the power to order the killing of American citizens who are believed to be part of Al Qaeda. We knew Mr. Obama and his lawyers believed he has that power under the Constitution and federal law. We also knew that he utterly rejects the idea that Congress or the courts have any right to review such a decision in advance, or even after the fact.
Still, it was disturbing to see the twisted logic of the administration’s lawyers laid out in black and white. It had the air of a legal justification written after the fact for a policy decision that had already been made, and it brought back unwelcome memories of memos written for President George W. Bush to justify illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention, kidnapping, abuse and torture.