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Apr 20 2010

Government-sanctioned killing

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

In yesterday’s post, I highlighted the order by Obama to kill a US-born citizen Anwar al-Awlaki because he believes that he has been inciting people to violence. In other words, he has been targeted for summary execution, not because of any actions, but because of things he is alleged to have said. Columnist and analyst Glenn Greenwald, who is also a constitutional lawyer, recounts the legal history of the rights of free speech.

The question of where First Amendment-protected radical advocacy ends and criminality begins is exactly the sort of question with which courts have long grappled. In the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed a criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who — surrounded by hooded indivduals [sic] holding weapons — gave a speech threatening “revengeance” against any government official who “continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race.” The Court held that the First Amendment protects advocacy of violence and revolution, and that the State is barred from punishing citizens for the expression of such views. The Brandenburg Court pointed to a long history of precedent protecting the First Amendment rights of Communists to call for revolution — even violent revolution — inside the U.S., and explained that the Government can punish someone for violent actions but not for speech that merely advocates or justifies violence. (my italics)

Given this extremely broad interpretation by the Supreme Court of the protections granted by the constitution to free speech, how does the government get away with the claim that it can actually kill anyone whose speech it dislikes? It is using the fear and paranoia that has been carefully cultivated by the Bush-Cheney-Obama regimes to make people so fearful of vague threats that they are willing to shred the hard-won rights laid out in the constitution and put their fate in the hands of a protective father-figure. The ‘home of the brave’ has become the home of people hiding under their beds.

How the government gets people to acquiesce in these policies is to use anonymous sources to leak to the media that someone is a very, very bad person who deserves to die. The media dutifully report this and then excitedly and gleefully report as a success in the ‘war on terror’ when that person is reported killed, no matter if other people are killed along the way. No one seems to ask how we really know if this person is bad if there hasn’t been a trial, and whether mere assertions by government officials (often anonymous) are sufficient to deny that person’s right to life or even due process rights. It seems as if all that is necessary is to use the words ‘war on terror’ or to call someone a ‘terrorist’ for the constitution to be shredded.

As Greenwald says:

[I]n Barack Obama’s America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens — and a death penalty imposed — is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone’s guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America’s newspapers — cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they’re granted — to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist.

All of this underscores the principal point made in this excellent new article by Eli Lake, who compellingly and comprehensively documents what readers here well know: that while Obama’s “speeches and some of his administration’s policy rollouts have emphasized a break from the Bush era,” the reality is that the administration has retained and, in some cases, built upon the core Bush/Cheney approach to civil liberties and Terrorism.

When Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination, the Constitutional Law Scholar answered a questionnaire about executive power distributed by The Boston Globe‘s Charlie Savage, and this was one of his answers:

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?
[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges. Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges. Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documents today, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here.

In another post Greenwald pursues this theme:

Here again, we see one of the principal and longest-lasting effects of the Obama presidency: to put a pretty, eloquent, progressive face on what (until quite recently) was ostensibly considered by a large segment of the citizenry to be tyrannical right-wing extremism (e.g., indefinite detention, military commissions, “state secrets” used to block judicial review, an endless and always-expanding “War on Terror,” immunity for war criminals, rampant corporatism — and now unchecked presidential assassinations of American citizens), and thus to transform what were once bitter, partisan controversies into harmonious, bipartisan consensus.

As regular readers know, I quote Greenwald extensively because, unlike most commentators in the mainstream media, he not only knows about what he writes but he cares deeply about upholding basic civil and constitutional rights. If you are not reading him regularly, you are missing a lot.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show (February 2009) on fear-mongering

Using these kinds of tactics, any and every atrocity is justified under the guise of ‘protecting’ us. (For some reason, after the 3 second Comedy Central introduction, you have to click the pause button and then the play button to start the video.)

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