My column about Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney endorsing President Obama’s premeditated murder of an American citizen working for al-Qaeda was designed to make the point that the Republican candidates had fallen into a trap laid by Scott Pelley of CBS during last Saturday’s debate. Gingrich, who has made criticism of the media a hallmark of his resurgent campaign, should have sensed the trap. Instead, he fell into it, along with Romney.
One reader missed the point about the media and responded, “Despite all the harm this president has done, it is not wrong to support him when he is right.”
But Obama was wrong before he was “right.” He came into office opposed to the use of executive power in this manner. This is the point that Pelley ignored in his question to the Republicans but which should have been central to the discussion.
The killing of an American without due process, and who has not been charged with a crime, is not an insignificant matter. Obama clearly knows this, having refused to even acknowledge that he ordered the murder when questioned about it by talk show host Michael Smerconish.
Pelley’s raising of the issue suggests how the media will frame the campaign for Obama’s benefit. Most commentators recognize that Obama’s major weak point is the economy, but that his handlers and allies will try to compensate for this weakness by making him look tough on foreign policy. This strategy is apparent in Obama’s visit to Australia, where it has been announced that military cooperation between the allies will be expanded. On this trip, the purpose is to make Obama look tough on China.
Pelley asked if the Republicans would endorse Obama’s policy of killing terrorists abroad, even if they happen to be American citizens and have not been found guilty of anything by an American court. If Gingrich and Romney had rejected Obama’s policy, they would have looked weak and Obama strong. So they took the easy way out and defended Obama, more so than he has defended himself. It had the effect of making Obama look like a tough foreign policy president willing to take on America’s enemies.
The alternative, which would have had the additional benefit of exposing media hypocrisy, would have been to express satisfaction that Anwar al-Awlaki was dead, but note that the Obama Administration was opposed to the use of this kind of executive power when George W. Bush was president. Gingrich could have pointed out that the media were strongly critical of the Bush Administration in this regard.
Sensing they were on sensitive ground, officials of the Obama Administration illegally leaked information to The New York Times about the policy, indicating that Obama relied on a 50-page Department of Justice memo for justification to kill al-Awlaki. The New York Times said, “It was principally drafted by David Barron and Martin Lederman, who were both lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel at the time, and was signed by Mr. Barron.”
But these are the Obama lawyers who were supposed to stop this kind of thing in the executive branch.
Back in January of 2009, liberal blogger Greg Sargent of The Washington Post said, “…one of the more interesting storylines unfolding right now is President Obama’s ongoing appointment to the Office of Legal Counsel of lawyers who strongly opposed George W. Bush’s use of the war on terror to justify dramatic expansions of executive power.” These appointments, he said, included Martin Lederman and David Barron.
A Washington Post political profile of Barron said, “A veteran of the Clinton administration OLC [Office of Legal Counsel], Barron spent ten years teaching law at Harvard University. During that time, he was critical of the George W. Bush administration, claiming that the White House used the war on terror to justify increasing executive power.”
Hence, Obama appointed lawyers who had been critical of how Bush used executive powers against terrorists but turned around once they joined the Obama Administration to endorse such powers, even to the extent of using them to kill an American abroad. Barron is back at Harvard, while Lederman is now at Georgetown University.
At National Review, Carrie Servino noted that leftist blogger Glenn Greenwald had been hopeful that appointments like Barron and Lederman would reverse the Bush Administration approach to terrorism, but that it didn’t turn out that way and he admitted he had been seriously misled.
Servino added, “Assassination by Hellfire missile being more invasive than waterboarding, I think it would be fair for us to expect many others to follow Greenwald’s lead.” Tongue in cheek, she said, “Sooner than later the New York Times and MSNBC will lead calls for Lederman and Barron to be investigated for war crimes, fired from their faculty positions, and disbarred.”
Her point is that the liberal media are blatant hypocrites and would never go after the liberal law professors who served a liberal administration.
Samir Khan was the other American citizen and al-Qaeda operative killed in the strike. In this case, incredibly, the Obama State Department apologized for his death. The Times explained that “There had been an intense debate among lawyers in the months before the Obama administration decided to put Mr. Awlaki on a target list in early 2010, and officials said that Mr. Khan was never on the list.”
Of all the GOP presidential candidates, only Rep. Ron Paul was critical of Obama’s killing of al-Awlaki, saying, “He [was] an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. No one knows if he killed anybody.” Paul suggested it was an impeachable offense.
According to various press reports, al-Awlaki was “linked” to various terrorist or attempted terrorist incidents.
Fox News personality Judge Andrew Napolitano told Newsmax TV that al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen and the Constitution outlaws his killing without due process. Napolitano also recommended impeachment of Obama, saying, “The killing of an American is unforgiveable under the Constitution and it is an impeachable offense and the President, if not being impeached, should be indicted for it after he leaves office.”
Gingrich and Romney had the opportunity to put the Obama Administration on the defensive over a policy that its top officials opposed before Obama took office. They blew it. Obama has to be breathing a sigh of relief.