The Potemkin constitution revisited

The New York Times had a long article showing how willingly and easily Obama sidesteps the constitution he has sworn to protect, all the while presenting him as someone who grapples gravely with issues. The article provides another striking example, if one were needed, of what I wrote about before, how constitutional protections are being hollowed out, to become mere window dressing.

That record, and Mr. Awlaki’s calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch. [My italics-MS]

See how it is done? The Fifth Amendment still applies but the administration gets to decide unilaterally how it applies. Hence the government no longer violates the constitution because they have declared that they have the right to interpret what it says. Glenn Greenwald has more.

The article goes on to say, “Mr. Obama gave his approval, and Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011, along with a fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was traveling with him.”

Too bad for Mr. Khan that he just happened to be next to a man targeted for death. No doubt a definition of ‘due process’ could be manufactured to assert that he received it too. One group has attempted to use sarcasm to protest these summary executions, starting a petition drive on the White House website to create a ‘Do Not Kill’ list for people who want to be kept off Obama’s list of those to be killed by drones or other summary means just because they happened to meet his ‘internal deliberations’ criteria.

The NYT article linked to above shows once again the Obama administration’s hypocrisy when it comes to leaks to the media. It was written by reporters who clearly had access to high-level officials in the administration who had given them classified information. But there has been no outrage from the administration about this, unlike the vigorous manner in which it prosecutes other whistleblowers who reveal information.

What is the difference? The rule appears to be that leaks that make the president and his administration look good are perfectly acceptable while those that make them look bad unleash vicious attacks, even if the leaks serve the public interest by revealing illegality and wrongdoing. The NYT article is acceptable because it advanced the image of Obama coolly making life and death decisions and even reveling in it, and thus advanced their desired narrative of portraying him in the popular election-year mode of the tough-guy, Rambo president, willing to kill anyone that stands in his way, even if innocent people are killed also. This is what we have come to expect from someone who promised to run ‘the most transparent administration ever’. The transparency works in just one direction.

The Colbert Report had a good segment on this topic.

(This clip appeared on May 31, 2012. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. Sunny says

    “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch”

    Isn’t that a dictatorship by definition?

    I have never trusted the chap. He has turned out exactly as I expected. Nothing more than a smooth talker.

  2. says

    What amazes me is how little concern was shown by some for this issue back when it was only foreigners being killed — whether by bombing, gunning down civilians, or specially targeted assassination. That’s where this problem came from. We cannot simultaneously assert that the United States has the right to summarily execute other countries’ citizens at will, but not its own. That’s ridiculous hypocrisy and selfishness.

    These grotesque powers that have been assumed by the executive have to be challenged from the root. Pruning at the edges does very little; this thorned vine will simply regrow.

  3. says

    I’d say there’s little concern being shown about killing citizens. The people who are concerned — for the most part — are those who have also been opposed to the slaughter of non-Americans.

  4. says

    No doubt a definition of ‘due process’ could be manufactured to assert that he received it too.

    Since none of the killings are happening without ‘due process’ the fact that he’s dead means he must have had ‘due process.’ Q.E.D.! After all, the Obama administration has concluded that if you’re in the presence of a target there’s no way you can be a non-combatant because only combatants are in the presence of targets. I think that was the same reasoning that led bomber command in WWII to firebomb Dresden. After all, if you’re in Germany you must be helping the army, therefore you’re a legitimate military target.

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