- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Now that it’s in full campaign mode, the Obama administration can’t stop talking about things once regarded as secret. President Obama has been bragging about the once-shadowy SEAL Team 6 so much you’d think he was going to tap it to be his running mate. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta caused a flap with Pakistan on Sunday when he told “60 Minutes” he “believed” that “somebody must have had some sense” that Osama bin Laden was hiding out in Abbottabad, though he had no proof. President Obama piled on during his “historic” Google Plus video chat on Monday, in which he tore the fig leaf from U.S. covert drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Mr. Panetta delved into the legality of U.S. drone strikes against American citizens abroad in his Sunday interview. The issue continues to nag the administration, which claims it has the right to terminate American citizens without due process but also says that the rationale for doing so is classified. Mr. Panetta refused to go into specifics, but he said the government was “required under a process of law to be able to justify that despite the fact that [a] person may be a citizen, he is first and foremost a terrorist who threatens our people, and for that reason, we can establish a legal basis on which we oughta go after that individual.” The process of law Mr. Panetta is referring to is an administrative procedure in the White House, not something that would satisfy constitutional due-process standards.

Asked if Mr. Panetta was saying that the people in question automatically “lose their citizenship if this administration decides they’re a terrorist,” Mr. Panetta hedged. He said that if they returned to the United States they would be afforded due-process rights. In fact, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to extend full constitutional rights to foreigners, such as Somali terrorist Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, who was transported secretly to the United States in the summer of 2011 for arraignment in a federal court solely to establish that precedent.

When it comes to Americans abroad, there apparently are no such protections. Mr. Panetta attempted to use a “threat of imminent harm” defense: “if a terrorist is out there on the battlefield, and the terrorist is threatening this country, that person is an enemy combatant, and when an enemy combatant holds a gun at your head, you fire back.” But to the White House, the battlefield means anywhere in the world, and the threat could refer to anything. This expansive, pre-emptive self-defense logic may be justifiable for taking out foreign terrorists, but it fails miserably as a rationale for executive assassination of American citizens.

The administration’s contortions over the issue are no surprise considering Mr. Obama’s past statements on his predecessor’s handling of terrorists. Try as it might, this administration can’t have it both ways. Mr. Obama should take the medicine he prescribed for George W. Bush and release his advisers’ own memos on the legality of targeting American citizens with lethal force without due process allowing the American public to decide whether this practice is acceptable.

The Washington Times