Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Nation of Laws

Glenn Greenwald has written many times of the inconsistency of Obama supporters who decried policies and actions of the Bush administration and who unreservedly support those same policies and actions when taken by Barack Obama. The most recent drum upon which he is beating is one where Obama has surpassed Bush, in that Obama has taken it upon himself to order the execution of American citizens without due process of law, while Bush merely claimed the right to imprison without due process.

I could live to be 500 years old, and I will never hear anyone be able to offer any remotely conceivable means of reconciling (a) those steadfast principles defended by Eric Holder -- as part of his opposition to George Bush's power to punish citizens as Terrorists with no due process -- with (b) multiple Obama policies, including the asserted right to assassinate U.S. citizens away from a battlefield with no due process.

He is referring to the missile attempt on the life of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, one of a purported “hit list” of persons defined by the executive branch as terrorists and marked for execution on sight. How many of them are American citizens is unknown, as it is a secret list.

I at one time thought that the constitutional limitation in the Fifth Amendment about taking of life without due process would apply regardless of citizenship, but I have rethought that. I think that protection applies to non-citizens when they are within the jurisdiction of our government, but otherwise I would suppose that it simply doesn’t apply.

That doesn’t mean that I like the policy of assassination even of non-citizens. Obama, in responding to a critic yesterday, said, “Anyone who doesn’t think that bin Laden deserved what he got needs to think again.” I don’t believe I have any argument with that, but that doesn’t mean I like the idea of my country roaming the world shooting Hellfire missiles into houses hoping that a terrorist is inside and killing innocents when we’re wrong.

Even when we get the right guy, it doesn’t mean that I like the idea of our Chief Executive, the man defined by our constitution with carrying out the laws of our nation, defining extra-judicial assassination as “justice has been done.” It may have been necessary, it may even have been appropriate, but that is not the way our system of laws defines “justice.” If this is our new definition of justice, then we are no longer a nation of laws.

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