US Attorney General Eric Holder made a startling statement last week.
Holder said in a speech at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago that the government is within its rights to kill citizens who are senior leaders in al-Qaeda or affiliate groups who pose an "imminent threat" of attack against the USA and whose capture is "not feasible".
"Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a U.S. citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack," Holder said, according to a text of his speech. "In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force."
. . .
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said that although Holder's speech represented "a gesture towards additional transparency, it is ultimately a defense of the government's chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens."
"Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact," Shamsi said.
There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.
This is chilling indeed, and I fully agree with the ACLU's alarm over Mr. Holder's position. I want to know, for a start, just where in the Constitution the US government thinks it's been given the right to kill its own citizens without benefit of legal proceedings. I rather think the Fifth Amendment covers that (relevant portions are in bold print):
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
I don't see any authorization or exception in the Fifth Amendment allowing the Executive Branch of the US government to decide on its own authority whether or not one of its own citizens shall be put to death. The Judicial Branch must first pronounce on that - that's what 'due process of law' is all about. An accused person must be tried, have the opportunity to defend him- or herself, have the opportunity to see the evidence against them, have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, etc.
That's why the military tribunals set up to deal with prisoners of the War On Terror held at Guantanamo Bay are so dangerous. The argument is that those prisoners are not US citizens, and are therefore not entitled to the protections guaranteed to citizens in terms of the Constitution. Unfortunately, that's a 'slippery slope' argument, as evidenced by the very recent adoption of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which authorizes clearly unconstitutional actions against US citizens. I'm sure there will be legal challenges to its provisions, but the very fact that the US government was willing to write, pass and enact such legislation, knowing that it violates the Fifth Amendment, is frightening. 'Big Brother' is making a blatant power grab - and if we allow him to succeed, we'll all become his victims, sooner or later. We'll no longer be citizens, but subjects.
This should be seen in the context of what Salon calls 'The cost of America’s police state'.
All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks. To conclude, though, that “the police” have become increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and militarized right down to the university campus.
. . .
Government budgets at every level now include allocations aimed at fighting an ephemeral “War on Terror” in the United States. A vast surveillance and military buildup has taken place nationwide to conduct a pseudo-war against what can be imagined, not what we actually face. The costs of this effort, started by the Bush administration and promoted faithfully by the Obama administration, have been, and continue to be, virtually incalculable. In the process, public service and the public imagination have been weaponized.
We’re not just talking money eagerly squandered. That may prove the least of it. More importantly, the fundamental values of American democracy — particularly the right to lead an autonomous private life — have been compromised with grim efficiency. The weaponry and tactics now routinely employed by police are visible evidence of this.
. . .
Why, for instance, are New York cops traveling to Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and Newark, N.J., to spy on ordinary Muslim citizens, who have nothing to do with New York and are not suspected of doing anything? For what conceivable purpose does Tampa want an eight-ton armored vehicle? Why do Texas sheriffs north of Houston believe one drone — or a dozen, for that matter — will make Montgomery County a better place? What manner of thinking conjures up a future that requires such hardware? We have entered a dark world that demands an inescapable battery of closed-circuit, networked video cameras trained on ordinary citizens strolling Michigan Avenue.
This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal officials, with endless input from national security and defense vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.
. . .
Homeland Security has played a big role in creating one particularly potent element in the nation’s expanding database network. Working with the Department of Justice in the wake of 9/11, it launched what has grown into 72 interlinked state “fusion centers” — repositories for everything from Immigration Customs Enforcement data and photographs to local police reports and even gossip. “Suspicious Activity Reports” gathered from public tipsters — thanks to Homeland Security’s “if you see something, say something” program — are now flowing into state centers. Those fusion centers are possibly the greatest facilitators of dish in history, and have vast potential for disseminating dubious information and stigmatizing purely political activity. And most Americans have never even heard of them.
There's much more at the link.
Note the result of all this expenditure. The 'police state' has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; as the State spends more and more and more money on police and security-related infrastructure, those police and that infrastructure come to dominate the very State that's paying for them. The monster feeds on itself, a bureaucratic, militarized Ouroboros that squeezes us, the people, tighter and tighter in its coil.
It's long gone time we put a stop to this. Perhaps, if those of us who cherish liberty and the rule of law work hard enough, we can, in November, elect enough representatives and Senators who believe as we do to begin that process.
Let's get to work - before it's too late!