The invaluable Glenn Greenwald provides further evidence of how the US is now a lawless state, pointing out that president Obama and his nominee to head the CIA John Brennan (both of whom are key players in the current drone execution program that have murdered Americans and foreigners abroad) have repeatedly shown themselves unwilling, even under direct questioning, to deny that they have the power to order the extrajudicial killing of Americans even within the US.
As Greenwald says:
As always, it’s really worth pausing to remind ourselves of how truly radical and just plainly unbelievable this all is. What’s more extraordinary: that the US Senate is repeatedly asking the Obama White House whether the president has the power to secretly order US citizens on US soil executed without charges or due process, or whether the president and his administration refuse to answer? That this is the “controversy” surrounding the confirmation of the CIA director – and it’s a very muted controversy at that – shows just how extreme the degradation of US political culture is.
As a result of all of this, GOP Senator Rand Paul on Thursday sent a letter to Brennan vowing to filibuster his confirmation unless and until the White House answers this question. Noting the numerous times this question was previously posed to Brennan and Obama without getting an answer, Paul again wrote:
Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial?”
After adding that “I believe the only acceptable answer to this is no”, Paul wrote: “Until you directly and clearly answer, I plan to use every procedural option at my disposal to delay your confirmation and bring added scrutiny to this issue.”
Yesterday, in response to my asking specifically about Paul’s letter, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said that while he is not yet ready to threaten a filibuster, he “shares those concerns”. He added: “Congress needs a better understanding of how the Executive Branch interprets the limits of its authorities.”
Indeed it does. In fact, it is repellent to think that any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – which claims to conduct oversight over the intelligence community – would vote to confirm Obama’s CIA director while both the president and the nominee simply ignore their most basic question about what the president believes his own powers to be when it comes to targeting US citizens for assassination on US soil.
The reason this matters so much has nothing to do with whether you think Obama is preparing to start assassinating US citizens on US soil. That’s completely irrelevant to the question here. The reason this matters so much is because whatever presidential powers Obama establishes for himself become a permanent part of how the US government functions, and endures not only for the rest of his presidency but for subsequent ones as well.
That this is even an issue – that this question even has to be asked and the president can so easily get away with refusing to answer – is a potent indicator of how quickly and easily even the most tyrannical powers become normalized.
To be clear, neither Greenwald (nor I for that matter) are by any means saying that it is worse for the US to kill American citizens without due process than it is for them to kill foreigners. The point is that our tribal instincts cause us to more closely identify with our compatriots than with foreigners and thus should tend to inhibit governments from killing their own citizens. Rulers who murder their own people are viewed with greater opprobrium. People may recall the much-repeated statements that were used to gin up the invasion of Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was a horrible person because ‘he murdered his own people’.
The fact that the Obama administration refuses to give an unequivocal answer of ‘No!’ to the straightforward question “Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial?” means that the US government has crossed even that Rubicon. Once you assume such a power that denies to your citizens the right to life, you have forfeited any claim to be a government of laws.
While I am angered that the government actually believes it has powers, I am also depressed that there is so little outcry about it.