Conor Friedersdorf suggests an interesting thought experiment:

Imagine that President Obama is visited by aliens who give him the power to kill any human being with his mind. Simply by willing it, he can bring about his or her violent death, as if by a tiny missile. Alternatively, he can kill inconspicuously, so that the target appears to die from an aneurism, a heart attack, a stroke, or any number of other “natural causes” that he can vary as he sees fit. He is limited only insofar as he can kill just one person at a time, which takes roughly two minutes.

Of course this all sounds fantastic, but the President’s use of drones and the enthusiastic support he receives from many suggest that the only impediment to the President’s use of super powers is technological rather than constitutional or moral. Hence,

The Obama Administration’s targeted-killing program is popular, despite the phenomenal power it gives the president, the dearth of meaningful oversight, and the extreme secrecy surrounding it.


Millions of Americans embrace a theory of executive power so broad that, as presently articulated, it offers no good grounds for objecting even to comic-book powers.

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  1. Who was it?…oh yea, I think it was that guy who owns the Cheese Steak Jernt on Passyunk Ave in Philly who said we “have a Republic if we can keep it”

    We seem destined to swamp ourselves in technological gadgets. constitutional limits be damned because , after all, it is not In Liberty We Trust any longer, it is In Technology We Surrender because it makes things Easier.

  2. This is badly overblown. Think about an American citizen fighting for Nazi Germany in Wehrmacht uniform at the Battle of the Bulge. Perhaps his parents, born in Germany, had been brought to the U.S. as children circa 1900, grew up, married, and decided to return home to claim a grandfather’s farm. Would the U.S. military command be under any constitutional duty to refrain at all costs from shooting said U.S. citizen, and to bring him in a timely manner before a U.S. court to determine his rights?

    (Incidentally, Alfred Krupp von Bohlen und Hallbach’s grandfather HAD emigrated to the U.S. with his brother, and one brother had ultimately returned to Germany, while the other was an ancestor of “my cousin, Chip Bohlen,” a colonel in the U.S. army.)

    The president has not claimed the authority to drop a missile from a drone on a hostile blogger lying on a beach in Greece. The targets are legitimate military targets, actively participating in irregular forces making war on the United States, its citizens, its military installations.

    Nor has the Obama administration claimed the power to arrest a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, label them an “unlawful combatant,” and keep them incommunicado, without trial, in a military prison.

  3. Mr. Jenkins, I don’t know that the analogy of Nazi Germany is appropriate here. I think it’s something more like the war on drugs. Partly because of the long shadow someone like Mr. Negroponte casts. Partly because as far as I can tell the main sources of money for the “irregular forces” are things we are buying – narcotics and oil – in massive quantities. I don’t think that people in the US were buying Mercedes Benzes during WWII.
    But mostly because there’s not really an end point. I don’t think killing a few guys in Yemen or Niger will end the war any more effectively than our massive incarceration program has ended the drug business.
    What we have done is created an atmosphere of a permanent crisis. And there’s not much use for a deliberative body during a crisis. That’s a problem, because it seems to me our response is to give the executive branch more and more ways to escape and evade and ignore any sort of congressional oversight on it’s actions. Just off the cuff, that seems like a dangerous path for a whatever we are – what was once a republic.
    So I think we can only say something like this “The targets are legitimate military targets…” with hope, not certainty.

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