Monday, October 18, 2010

President Obama should not have the power of judge, jury, and executioner

Via Scott Horton

It seems increasingly that the Obama White House is using the al-Awlaki case to establish a new principle: the president’s power to order extrajudicial executions of American citizens.
As with Glenn Greenwald, I find it remarkable that there is a need to argue that the president should not be able order a citizen (or for that matter - any person) to be killed outside of any legal process and far from any battlefield at his fiat.

I'm not even sure how to respond: have we as a society had the value of human rights erode so much that we don't recognize tyranny when we hear it? Are we like the frogs in the old Aesop fable, finding the law too boring, wishing instead to be ruled by a predator that we may later find will turn its appetite on us? As Paul Woodruff put it:

In our frustration with law, we forget too easily that law is all we have between us and tyranny. Aesop has a fable to illustrate the point. Long ago, the frogs lived without any form of government. Feeling the need for some sort of authority, they prayed to Zeus and asked for a king. He sent them a piece of wood. To understand the story, you need to know that ancient Greek laws were written on wooden tablets, set up for all to see. The frogs were illiterate, of course, and missed the point:

The frogs were unhappy with the anarchy in which they lived, so they sent representatives to Zeus asking him to provide them with a king. He saw how simple they were and set up a piece of wood in their pond. At first the frogs were frightened by the noise Zeus had made, and they hid themselves in the depths of the pond; but later, since the wood did not move, they came up and were so contemptous of it that they climbed up on it and sat there. Feeling that they did not deserve such a king, they went to Zeus a second time and insisted that he give them a different ruler, as the first one was too lazy. This made Zeus angry, and he sent them a water-snake who caught and ate them up.
And so it was - and still is - when people are frustrated with the law's stupidities or delays or inconveniences. If they wish for a ruler who will rise above the law, they are offering themselves to be devoured.
Since we seem so keen on a return to Nixon era corruption, often in the name of "liberty," perhaps this might be helpful to remember.

In the two decades that followed, the conflict [between Richard Nixon and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson] became so ferocious, Feldstein says, that Nixon ordered CIA surveillance of Anderson and his family — and White House operatives seriously considered assassinating the journalist.

"They actually conducted surveillance. They followed him from his work to his house," Feldstein says. "They staked out his house. They looked at it for vulnerabilities ... [and discussed] how they could plant poison in his aspirin bottle. They talked about how they could spike his drink and they talked about smearing LSD on his steering wheel so that he would absorb it through his skin and die in a hallucination-crazed auto crash."

The plot was ultimately called off, Feldstein says, because Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, the two men who were supposed to assassinate Anderson, were instead tapped to break into Watergate.

No comments: