'US runs murder program across world'
US President Barack Obama
Civil rights organizations the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have filed a lawsuit against the White House, protesting issuance of death warrants for the people the government suspects of terrorist activities.
One such warrant was signed by the country's President Barack Obama for Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, who is identified by the White House as an al-Qaeda leader.
Washington reportedly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, to assassinate the cleric.
Here is the script of a Press TV interview on the issue with Stephen Lendman, radio host and writer in Chicago, and Staff Attorney in the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Pardiss Kebriaei.
Press TV: How can the US authorize the assassination of people, specially their own citizens like this?
Stephen Lendman: Let me just begin by saying that everything going on in the Middle East ties together, the strands all connect. So whether you are talking about occupied Palestine and peace, the war in Iraq that goes on, the one in Afghanistan that continues to get worse, it is already raging in parts of Pakistan, it is spreading into Yemen, and now we have this policy. The only difference between this policy, which of course is outrageous, and what has been going on for many decades past, perpetrated by US administrations, is the Obama administration made it official. We have always murdered people, whether they may be US citizens, [or] citizens of other countries. I think less US citizens.
But if anyone is nasty in our opinion and is getting in the way of our policy, they become a target. We don't talk about it, we just do it. I'm going back to many wars. We did this in World Was II. We did it during Korea. We did it in Vietnam. And of course we are doing it now. We did it in Iraq. They had this raging cold-blooded murder program that McChrystal ran in Iraq before they gave him the same job to do in Afghanistan. Petraeus did it in Iraq. And now we have an assassination plan to put thousands … [of] special US forces in various countries in different parts of the world, most in the Middle East, Africa. But they may be anywhere. And we want to raise those numbers, maybe another three, four or five thousand. This is a mass official assassination program.
Press TV: Let me get my next guest in on this. From New York, Staff Attorney in the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Pardiss Kebriaei. What is your take on what Mr. Lendman has just said? He said that it is basically nothing new, it is just more open now, it has been announced basically. Is assassination sort of a rule of thumb in the US if, as he said, individuals they [the US government] do not like are involved?
Pardiss Kebriaei: I really agree with that, completely. Our case that we've brought, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union, focuses [on the] killings post 2001, and the contacts of the so-called war on terror. But as we know, the United States has carried out targeted assassinations long before 2001. But the contacts of our case is post 2001. The Bush administration not only claimed the authority of worldwide detention authority, it is to detain men anywhere in the world indefinitely. But what is now happening is that the Obama administration is claiming essentially a worldwide assassination policy. And what has also sort of escalated since the time of the Bush administration is that whereas targeted killings were primarily occurring in Afghanistan or in Iraq, which are recognized warzones, what we are seeing now is an expansion really of the authority that the United States is claiming. The precedent that is now being said in terms of targeted killings that are being carried out in Yemen, in Somalia and elsewhere is really the authority to target unilaterally, based on its own secret determination, who to target anywhere in the world. It is really sort of a very dangerous precedent, and it is an escalation indeed of what we saw under Bush.
Press TV: Ms. Kebriaei, the ACLU has claimed that the government continues to add to this list of targeted individuals. And the list is based on a secret and internal process. What exactly does this mean and on what basis does a government determine which of its citizens should be assassinated?
Pardis Kebriaei: One of the very problems with this policy is its secrecy. The process … through which individuals are added to so-called "kill lists" is an entirely secret one. It is an entirely executive one. It is one that happens among Secretary Gates and CIA Director Leon Panetta, and President Bush when US citizens are at stake. But it is based on secret information and intelligence based on secret standards for the kind of conduct that could get someone put on one of these lists. And the outcome is essentially a standing authorization to target and kill that person without any kind of outside check, without any kind of judicial process. And at least, what is clear with respect to US citizens - and I believe it would be clear with respect to non-US citizens that the United States is targeting as well - … [is that] if the United States wants to essentially execute someone, they need to afford that person a judicial process. That is what the Constitution requires. That person has to be charged and tried and if they are convicted of a capital crime, then they can be executed.
Press TV: Let me get Mr. Lendman back in. If this path is continued, what do you foresee happening to individual rights in the US? Imprisonments, assassinations, and surveillances seem to have become a norm in the country that prides itself on freedom. So where is it going from here?
Stephen Lendman: You are absolutely right. We talk freedom and we practice despotism. I talk all the time about [the fact that] despotism is on the fast track to arrive in America. I think it is already mostly here. Take torture for example. Torture was always practiced by this country. Go back to the 19th century. We did it during the Civil War. We probably did it in all other wars. But it was never official. George Bush made it official. And he put it in writing. He put it in executive orders and memoranda, in presidential fundings. The infamous John Yoo and others in his administration wrote torture memos. I mean these guys were so brazen they actually put the stuff in writing. So we have always had an assassination policy. And now Obama is doing what George Bush did. He made it official. The brazenness of these people, I mean the outrageousness of it, is that … it violates an international and US law. I mean the law means nothing to these people. We have thrown it in the garbage can. We do anything we please.