I Thought Democrats Were “Better” at Civil Liberties

Monday 9 May 2011 - Filed under Authoritarianism + Constitution + Dumbassery + POTUS + Terrorism + War on Terror

The left would be hurling Molotov cocktails nationwide if it had been the Shrub who had ordered attempted an assassination of an American citizen without due process. There would be cries that he’s a war criminal, and that impeachment is necessary in order to protect America. That the president feels he has the authority to unilaterally, on his word alone, kill an American without any charges or trial is sickening. Glenn Greenwald of Salon:

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance.  But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process — far from any battlefield, not during combat — is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it’s hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself — all because the President declares it to be so? “I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die.  Why?  Because the President decreed that, and that’s good enough for me.  Trials are so pre-9/11.” If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.

And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield — if someone believes that the President has that power:  the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner — what possible limits would they ever impose on the President’s power?  There cannot be any.  Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a “traitor” and demand they be treated as such — even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call “a trial” with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason — how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?

What’s most striking about this is how it relates to the controversies during the Bush years.  One of the most strident attacks from the Democrats on Bush was that he wanted to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.  One of the first signs of Bush/Cheney radicalism was what they did to Jose Padilla:  assert the power to imprison this American citizen without charges.  Yet here you have Barack Obama asserting the power not to eavesdrop on Americans or detain them without charges — but to target them for killing without charges — and that, to many of his followers, is perfectly acceptable.  It’s a “horrific shredding of the Constitution” and an act of grave lawlessness for Bush to eavesdrop on or detain Americans without any due process; but it’s an act of great nobility when Barack Obama ends their lives without any due process.

Not even Antonin Scalia was willing to approve of George Bush’s mere attempt to detain (let alone kill) an American citizen accused of Terrorism without a trial.  In a dissenting opinion joined by the court’s most liberal member, John Paul Stevens, Scalia explained that not even the War on Terror allows the due process clause to be ignored when the President acts against those he claims have joined the Enemy — and this was for a citizen found on an actual active battlefield in a war zone (Afghanistan) (emphasis added):


The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.  Blackstone stated this principle clearly:  “Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty:  for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest, magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper … there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. … To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom.” . . . .

Subjects accused of levying war against the King were routinely prosecuted for treason. . . . The Founders inherited the understanding that a citizen’s levying war against the Government was to be punished criminally. The Constitution provides: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”; and establishes a heightened proof requirement (two witnesses) in order to “convic[t]” of that offense. Art. III, §3, cl. 1.

There simply is no more basic liberty than the right to be free from Presidential executions without being charged with — and then convicted of — a crime:  whether it be treason, Terrorism, or anything else.  How can someone who objected to Bush’s attempt to eavesdrop on or detain citizens without judicial oversight cheer for Obama’s attempt to kill them without judicial oversight? Can someone please reconcile those positions?

Any defense of this action is reprehensible. There should be no doubting that there is no substantive difference between Obama and Bush in their blatant disregard for our Constitution. There also should be no doubt that, in light of Obama willing to do what even the daddy of the War on Terror wouldn’t do, Obama is now effectively worse. He is a massive threat to liberty and to every American.

2011-05-09  »  madlibertarianguy