Targeted Killings and Article III Courts

February 4th, 2013

EmptyWheel highlights a key focus on the so-called “Kill Memo” that focuses on the role of courts to review the executive’s policy. In short, they have no role, citing cases like Haig v. Agee and Baker v. Carr, to argue that the courts cannot consider these issues.

Finally, the Department notes that under the circumstances described in this paper, there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations. It is well established that “[m]atters intimately related to foreign policy and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention,” Haig v. Agee, 453 US 280, 292 (1981), because such matters “frequently turn on standards that defy the judicial application,” or “involve the exercise of a discretion demonstrably committed to the executive or legislature,” Baker v. Carr, 369 US 186, 211 (1962). Were a court to intervene here, it might be required inappropriately to issue an ex ante commend to the President and officials responsible for operations with respect to their specific tactical judgment to mount a potential lethal operation against a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces. And judicial enforcement of such orders would require the Court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the President and his national security advisors as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorized the use of force.

Curiously, no citations to any of the detainee cases that asserted strong judicial oversight over the Executive’s war powers.