Six years ago, in late May 2012, I read a New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” They reported that President Obama was then overseeing a “regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room” at which potential al-Qaeda suspects — their biographies on sardonically named “baseball cards” — were “nominated” for a global “kill list.” Their killings were then to be carried out by the CIA’s force of Hellfire missile-armed Predator (and later Reaper) drones, which had essentially become the president’s private air force.
Those “targeted killings” were, of course, assassinations, which should have but didn’t shock the nation. In response, I wrote this at the time: “Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.” And I pointed out that, though American presidents had long been associated with assassinations (ranging from plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro to the deaths of Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem and Congolese Premier Patrice Lumumba, not to speak of the CIA’s vast Vietnam War-era Phoenix Program), presidents had generally tried to stay above the fray and maintain at least plausible deniability when it came to such acts. No longer. In 2012, the president of the United States took on the mantle of assassin-in-chief and, as long as that drone program continues, will be so, whether we’re talking about Donald Trump or any future president.
As I wrote then, assassination had been “thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children. He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations. On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.”
In May 2018, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon reports, nothing has changed on this score, except for the worse — and worse yet, the subject of presidential assassination isn’t even up for discussion or debate in the Trump era. It is indeed the norm. It is who our president is, whomever the American people elect — and so, who we are. Think about that as you read Gordon’s grim report on the most recent chapters in America’s now seemingly never-ending drone wars.