Thursday, February 14, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 7

Outrage of the Week: White paper whitewashes murder

As I'm sure you've heard, NBC news got hold of and released a 16-page "white paper" outlining the administration’s rules for drone strikes against US citizens abroad. Reading it is like reading an essay consciously designed to illustrate Hannah Arendt's famous reference to "the banality of evil." By its very cold, legalistic, language and attitude, by having everything filed and orderly, by replacing consideration with procedure, it looks to whitewash its meaning.

That meaning is this: We of the White House, we on the inside, we get to kill our own citizens abroad based solely on our own say-so. You - Congress, the public? - we don't need your involvement, we don't need your permission, we don't even have to tell you, and we don't even need evidence.

You think that last part goes too far? You think I overstate the case? You think, as too many like to think, that only "the bad guys" get targeted? Unthink it.

Consider the very title of the memo: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force." First, just what is an "associated force?" What constitutes being "associated?" The memo never says.

And how do we know the person to have a bomb dropped on them - which after all is what an armed drone is - is a "Senior Operational Leader?" Because an “informed, high-level official” says so, that's how.

And when can they be killed? When they pose an "imminent" threat. Oh, well, that's okay - except, wait, what does "imminent" mean?

It turns out that in White House world, "imminent" doesn't necessarily mean "specific" or "immediate." No, the memo declares it has a "broader" understanding of "imminent." In fact, it says that if that supposed “informed, high-level” official decides that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities,” that's enough. The memo does not define “recently” or “activities” or what would be required to show a "renunciation" of the undefined "activities." In other words, they don't have to have any evidence of a current threat at all.

When this first started coming out, nearly three years ago, I wrote a letter to the president about it. I never got an answer or even a pro-forma acknowledgement, which I have to say doesn't really suprise me. I'm going to read that letter. It's dated April 8, 2010:
Having been out of touch for a few days, it was only last night that I became aware of the reports in the New York Times and Washington Post that President Obama had ordered the “targeted assassination” of Anwar al-Awlaki. I note that the references were not to “capturing” or “kidnapping” him so he could be brought here for trial, but to assassination. The question that arises is:

Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

Who do you think you are that you can order the cold-blooded murder - and let’s be honest, that’s what we’re talking about - of an American citizen? An American citizen who has been convicted of no crime, who has had no day in court, but is to be stabbed or shot down or ripped to shreds by a bomb based solely on the kind of intelligence that has served us so well in the Middle East, from the fall of the Shah to the supposed existence of WMDs.

Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

You are claiming for yourself a power, an authority, that even the Bush administration - that shredder of the Constitution, that underminer of privacy and civil liberties, that embracer of torture, that invader of foreign lands without justification - did not claim for itself: the power to order, on your own authority, subject to no oversight and no need for proof beyond your personal belief, the murder of American citizens.

It is bad enough that we even talk about “targeted assassinations,” bad enough that we openly embrace methods for which we previously denounced ideological enemies - and hypocritical enough that we will still do so. But with this, a bright red line is to be crossed, a line that once crossed can’t be uncrossed: the officially-sanctioned, cold-blooded murder of an American citizen, someone supposedly protected by Constitutional guarantees of due process at least from their own government even if they are outside the US, guarantees that apparently evaporate in the face of the all-powerful mantra “terrorism.”

Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

Once that line is crossed, where can you draw a new one? How can you draw a new one? Bluntly, Mr. President, if some future administration approved a domestic “targeted assassination,” how could you object? Because “domestic” is different from “foreign?” That sort of absolute distinction was supposed to exist regarding US citizens. If the one can be ignored, why not the other?

Once that bright red line is crossed, what is to prevent the slippery slope, what is the impenetrable roadblock on the path, to the targeted murder of some future administration’s domestic political opponents based on a claim that they are a danger to “security?” If that seems far-fetched, just remember that it was not that long ago that an administration embracing torture or ordering the murder of a US citizen would have seemed equally unthinkable.

Mr. President, I say again: Just who the hell do you think you are?
Because now, when we see this memo - and remember, these are not the actual legal arguments, which are still classified, but essentially an unclassified summary of the argument - when we see this memo we see what I have to describe as, I can't help but describe as, the acts of a tyrant.

Now, I am not saying Barack Obama is a tyrant - but I am saying that this is the act of one. Presuming to yourself, with no oversight, no checks and balances, no counterweight, arrogating to yourself, the power, the authority, to assassinate, to murder, a citizen based solely and completely on your own unquestionable, unchallengeable, claim that this person was "an enemy," can you, can anyone, give me a better example of what you would call tyranny?

This is the act of a tyrant.

And the fact that we as a people are even considering this, that we as a people are actually discussing this seriously as if this was a rational idea - "Oh, I may disagree with it, but I understand" - no, we shouldn't understand.

We're supposed to be better than this - and every single day, we prove that we're not.



JayV said...

Thanks, LarryE. They certainly parse their words to the point of forgetting to respect the dignity of every living person. I am so disheartened by all this shit.

Audacity comes to mind. Ignoring cogent arguments against what they are doing. Not even addressing them.

LarryE said...

Jay -

True dat. What angers me even more, however, is the large (not total, but substantial) silence on the part of those who would be frothing with outrage if Shrub did such a thing (and indeed who did react with great anger over what Shrub did do).

Politics may be seen as a zero-sum game by those whose partisanship outweighs their principles, but a great many things, from the Constitution to simple human decency, must not be seen through that filter.

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