We were told long ago, that this would not happen by George W. Bush, at the time of his push for passage of the Patriot Act. This reassurance occurred against a back-drop of widespread concern that America was over-reacting to the threat of terrorism. Many – like Ron Paul and the ACLU – argued and warned that, by passing such extraordinary measures, which increased Government’s access to the private lives of Americans and sanctioned extra-legal (non-judicial) processes of remand and rendition, Americans would be yielding their fundamental, and constitutionally guaranteed civil rights, ultimately, to the whims of the State and the agents of an angry government. The Congress approved, of course, and the critics held their collective breath. Then Jose Padilla was arrested and summarily packed off to Guantanimo Bay.
Apparently, already the critics were right.
Anyone who knows of the politics and recruiting actions of Anwar Al-Aulaqi may fairly believe that the world is safer now – at least for the moment - from the threat of terrorism than it was with him in it. But that is not the point. It is about the perilous extra-legal sanction – the Muslims would call it a “fatwah” - taken to eliminate him with no regard or respect for his constitutional right to Due Process, which is, historically and supposedly, what separates us from the people we have waged war against, both recently and in the dim past. We have joined Iran’s mullahs and Pakistan’s emirs, to say nothing of Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union, on the list of states that assassinate their own citizens when those citizens oppose, offend or threaten the State.
At this time, and since the killing of Osama bin Laden, it looks as if any and all actions – including private, i.e. not only undeclared, but also barely acknowledged, wars by this Imperial President - shall be met with either tacit approval or conspiratorial silence, even by those who once screamed loudest for international standards of Justice and constraint. The guilty silence of those Patriots and Internationalists is now deafening. It is also scary!
One might think I am against the killing of Al-Aulaqi. I am not: in fact, I would have done it myself if that were possible. But I am not the President, and I am not responsible – beyond my ken – to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. He is! His first responsibility is to the Constitution, not to the property interests, the pride, or even the lives, of the American people! His first obligation is to The Constitution! That’s the pledge.
This is my view of the slippery slope: it starts at the Constitution, then it becomes, our lives, then our property rights, then our pride. What will it be next –our primacy in the currency exchange, or his re-election?
I am against the arrogant posing and presumptuous posturing of an Imperial Presidency, whether it be adopted by Kennedy, Nixon, Bush or Obama. It is the posture of a man above all questioning and constraint, unlimited, externally, by a feckless and partisan Congress or, internally, by a serious and sincere regard for the dictates of the Constitution of the United States, and its urgent restraint on the legitimate powers of Government.
We are seeing war waged without so much as a notice to Congress; international borders crashed without diplomatic sanction, and assassination – even of American citizens – without Due Process; all accomplished by fiat, as if this is the way we do things. But, this is not the way we do things! We are Americans. We have a Constitution: A limitation, not a license! It is time we reminded the politicians of that important truth.
At the very least, Congress should undertake an internal special investigation of the Whitehouse, Pentagon and Justice Department officials who ordered and/or sanctioned this hit, the bin Laden assassination, and the private (albeit international) war against Libya, with powers of subpoena, court-martial and an impeachment option on the table, so to speak, should they be necessary –or they should all resign and go home in disgrace. Another election and subsequent inauguration, at this point, with its mandatory pledge of allegiance and another insincere vow to defend the Constitution, would be nothing less than an insult -- to the Constitution itself, to the fallen heroes who died defending it, and to the historical spirit of the American people. America needs a leader: not a dictator!
This cannot, all by itself, undo the harm to our sovereignty – I mean that of the people as pronounced and protected by the Constitution – that 60 years of Imperial executive privilege have done. But it will be a start, and a reminder to politicians and bureaucrats alike – and to the world which is watching - that we still, if belatedly, stand by our principles. The failure to do so – however likely – will be shameful.
If we cannot take this beginning, at least let us leave off with those vainglorious speeches about “the shining city on the hill” and “American exceptionalism.”
Who will be in the mood for self-delusion come inauguration day?