Lindsey Graham Wants To Kill Americans Without Inconvenience of Trial

Lindsey Graham says that, if elected president, he would summarily kill anyone thinking about joining ISIS.

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Senator Lindsey Graham told the folks at Iowa’s Lincoln Day dinner that, if elected president, he would summarily kill anyone thinking about joining ISIS.

It was buried in a report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and seemingly not noticed by the reporter. The write-up on their website is under the innocuous headline “GOP Presidential Hopefuls Serve Up Ice Cream, Cheese And Red Meat To Iowans.” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker gets the photo atop the page. But this is rather stark:

But the hawkish senator quickly turned serious, taking a jab at his frequent foe, Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator. Paul, who has already officially announced his candidacy, had used his own time to reiterate his opposition to the NSA’s controversial wiretaps, telling voters, “I want to catch terrorists, but I also want to protect the constitution.”

Graham, who could announce his 2016 plans June 1, promised that if someone under his watch as president was thinking of joining ISIS or planning a terrorist attack, “I’m not calling a judge” to get a warrant, as Paul called for, “I’m calling a drone and we’re going to kill you.”

It was even more surreal in audio. Here’s a longtime United States Senator whom Cokie Roberts would opine in the subsequent segment was a bonafide expert in foreign and military policy. He’s risen to the rank of colonel as an Air Force lawyer, including assignments as a senior instructor at the JAG school and as an appellate judge. Yet he thinks the president ought be allowed to kill anyone he deems to be “thinking” about joining a terrorist group?

A DOJ white paper titled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qaida or An Associate Force” was leaked a couple years back, narrowly focused on ”the circumstances in which the U.S. government could use lethal force in a foreign country outside the areas of active hostilities against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force.” It required three conditions:

(1) an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2) capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible and (3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

I argued in The National Interest that, while the Obama administration had struck the right balance in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, we needed more safeguards.

American citizens should nonetheless be wary of granting the president the power to single out citizens for killing based simply on his own judgment. Aside from being plainly unconstitutional, it’s simply too much trust to place in a single individual. At the very least, the rules ought to be spelled out in legislation that has passed both Houses of Congress and survived judicial scrutiny for constitutionality rather than made internally.

Further, in addition to checks and balances, there has to be more transparency. The notion that the government can compile a list of citizens for killing, not tell anyone who’s on it or how they got there, is simply un-American. Surely, a modern version of a WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE notice could be publicly circulated, with a listing of the particulars. Maybe the named individual would turn himself in rather than wait for the drones to find him. Or maybe he’d hire an attorney to present evidence he’s not actually an imminent threat to American citizens.

For centuries, civilized societies have understood that even wars must be fought according to rules, which have developed over time in response to changing realities. Rules are even more important in endless, murky wars such as the fight against Islamist terror groups. Currently, we’re letting whomever is in the Oval Office pick and choose from among the existing rules, applying and redefining them based on his own judgment and that of his advisors. We can do better.

But Graham is advocating a move radically in the other direction. Awlaki, while a citizen, was in a foreign country where capture and extradition was unfeasible. As I noted, “If al-Awlaki or Khan were performing the exact same acts in Cleveland—or, indeed, London, Paris, or Sydney—they would have been targeted for arrest and extradition, not assassination.” Graham seems to think that too inconvenient on the grounds that we’re “at war.”

That position is not only counter to decades of judicial principle, but also to Graham’s introductory statement that “I want to catch terrorists, but I also want to protect the constitution.” Apparently, he wants to do neither.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, National Security, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Butters. The quintessential Republican. Tough talking, chest thumping, and afraid of his own shadow. And no idea what the Constitution actually says.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Lindsey Graham is trying to prove his non existent masculinity.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    I guess he would be the first gay President. So that could be a good thing.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    Tellingly, he doesn’t qualify whether or not that citizen was on foreign soil. I would have to assume he would be OK with a drone strike against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.

    I wonder what he would be saying on FOX if Obama openly advocated for such a thing? I’m sure there is a term…

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Rules are even more important in endless, murky wars such as the fight against Islamist terror groups.

    But but but James, they don’t follow any rules! (end whine)

  6. Tony W says:

    I tend to cut the Republicans a little bit of slack when disparaging our president – he’s on the other side of a grand policy debate about how to run the country. But when they complain about the protections of the constitution itself and advocate for what is essentially martial law, that crosses a line. Lincoln probably had to suspend habeas corpus , but we are not even close to such times.

  7. Slugger says:

    I would kill them before they even think about becoming terrorists. I can tell who is prone to terrorism just by looking at ’em, and that is enough to off them. It’s in the Bible! And in the Constitution.
    Surely there is a billionaire who will fund my campaign. I just need a few million.

  8. JohnMcC says:

    Using ‘drones’ as murder weapons against Americans on American territory is exactly the part of Sen Paul’s filibuster that made the news. As noted, this is not part of the Obama administration’s policy but it was Sen Paul’s topic when he opposed Mr Brennan’s nomination. Now there is this tiny little island in the Republican archipelago where Sen Graham has decided to slug it out with Sen Paul. It almost seems personal with Sen Graham. Obviously the Republicans are at least imitating a party in it’s death throes.

  9. J-Dub says:

    @Slugger: But not until after they have been rescued from a possible abortion.

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Obama opened the door with the Awlaki assassination, as well as the killing of Awlaki’s teenage son. It should be no surprise that others want to use the same door.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: A fair point.

  12. Tillman says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: I feel that I’d make exception for Awlaki, close to how the administration did, but Awlaki’s son? Yeah, they had nothing.

    On the other hand, they really boosted intranational tourism in the country, I imagine.

  13. Scott F. says:

    It was buried in a report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and seemingly not noticed by the reporter.

    James – I heard this same NPR item this morning and to my mind it was much worse than “buried.” It was presented as a “laugh” line!

    People should check out NPR.org to hear the streaming story. Graham chuckles at the end of a line where he dismisses the need for due process for the great offense of “thinking” of joining ISIS. The NPR reporter and the audience seem to be chuckling right along side him. It chilled me to my bones.

  14. george says:

    Limited gov’t at its best. Don’t trust it to regulate business, but killing citizens is no big deal.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Scott F.:

    People should check out NPR.org to hear the streaming story. Graham chuckles at the end of a line where he dismisses the need for due process for the great offense of “thinking” of joining ISIS. The NPR reporter and the audience seem to be chuckling right along side him. It chilled me to my bones.

    Yeah. It was just downright creepy. I’m shocked nobody picked up on it.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    So who will be at the top of the Republican Terror Ticket in 2016?
    Lindsay “I’m calling a drone and we’re going to kill you.” Graham or Mike “…all Americans should be forced…at gunpoint no less, to listen to David Barton…” Huckabee?

    http://www.alternet.org/speakeasy/2011/03/30/mike-huckabee-says-he-wants-americans-to-be-indoctrinated-at-gunpoint

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This reminds me of how, in 2009, Barack Obama “joked’ about siccing the IRS on his enemies.

    Turns out the joke was on us.

  18. TheoNott says:

    Graham, who could announce his 2016 plans June 1, promised that if someone under his watch as president was thinking of joining ISIS or planning a terrorist attack, “I’m not calling a judge” to get a warrant, as Paul called for, “I’m calling a drone and we’re going to kill you.”

    “Hail Hydra!” he added as he raised two fists in salute.

  19. Gustopher says:

    Are we sure he hasn’t already killed some Americans without the inconvenience of a trial? Senator and Serial Killer, Lindsey Graham.