A Little More on the DoJ White Paper

On the targeting of US citizens: How about a FISA-style special court the president has to go to?

If you follow my Twitter feed you know I got into a bit of a thing with Glenn Greenwald yesterday, which was interesting. (And if you don't follow my Twitter feed at @mtomasky you can correct that now!). I was surprised at the number of people who seemed to take my side, or at least sort of take my side, or alternatively who rebuked GG for his tone.

Far more civilly, Joan Walsh took issue with me. Most of her piece seems to be about the use of drones generally, which I wasn't even writing about. On the question of targeting US citiziens, Walsh writes:

I’m proud of the extraordinary rights we enjoy as Americans, and I don’t know why so many people shrug at the notion that the president can abrogate those rights if he decides, based on evidence (which he doesn’t have to share) that you’re a terrorist. When it comes to Anwar al-Awlaki, who renounced his citizenship and made many public commitments to al-Qaida, those questions don’t keep me awake at night. But don’t we want assurances that the evidence against every citizen who winds up on that list is just as clear? Don’t we want more oversight, even after the fact?

We still don’t know enough about the drone strike that killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son; some U.S. accounts defined him as a male of military age who might have been a legitimate target, others as unintended collateral damage. Are we really not supposed to care about the truth?

I admit I’m disturbed by the controversy over the controversy over Obama’s mostly secret and badly defended targeted killing policy. Can it possibly be wrong to be asking questions? Does this really mark a bright line between Democrats who like and trust and support and root for the president, and those who allegedly don’t, because they want answers to some of these questions? I consider myself on both sides.

Well, I can't say I'd really disagree much with any of that. But if you ask me, in those three grafs at least, Joan appears to be more or less taking my position, at least with respect to al-Awlaki. The killing of him doesn't keep either of us awake at night, which means: reservations in general, but not so much in fact in that particular case.

Of course I think we should ask questions. And having thought about this for a couple of days now, and read many of your thoughtful comments, I think there should be some kind of congressional oversight of this program, even if it is only conducted in private. Or the administration could be required to seek the approval of special courts, modeled on the FISA law, which became controversial in the Bush years.

If the Republicans in Congress propose something like this, and if it's substantively responsible and not some shallow game of the sort they usually play, it should be supported, I think. At least that way, a second branch of government is involved, and members of the opposite political party have a chance to review evidence.

Even if it is just private it should give people a small degree of confidence that a process was followed and that a citizen, even an enemy citizen, wasn't killed because one man said so. That wouldn't satisfy everyone, obviously, and it wouldn't address all the concerns people raise, but for my money it would address the main one, the vesting of such terrible power in one person with no checks.