by Jacob G. Hornberger
It’s a real shame that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are on the same page on civil liberties, the war on terrorism, and foreign policy. The big losers of this bi-partisan mindset are the American people, who will continue to experience grave infringements on their freedom.
Consider the presidential power to assassinate people, including Americans, a power that is exercised through the military and the CIA. Sure, we all know that the CIA assassinated people before 9/11. But at least before 9/11, CIA assassinations were frowned up or even condemned. Today, assassination is official policy. Think about that: We now live in a country — post 9/11 — in which the national-security state (the military and the CIA) officially now has the omnipotent power to assassinate any American and, well, anyone else in the world and not be called to account for it.
Oh sure, the president, the Pentagon, and the CIA will say, “Oh, no. Our power to assassinate Americans isn’t omnipotent. The people we choose to assassinate must be terrorists. If they’re not terrorists, we don’t have the power to assassinate them.”
But who makes the call on who is a terrorist? The national-security state does. It has the only say in the matter. The president, the generals, and CIA officials certainly aren’t going to let Congress interfere with whom they choose to assassinate because they’ll say that that would constitute interfering with the president’s war-making powers. Moreover, the judiciary is going to do what it always does — defer to the judgment of the military and the CIA on matters relating to “national security.”
The best example of this is the national-security state’s assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki’s teenager son. With the father, they could say, “Oh, we had evidence that he was conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against the United States.” Of course, some would argue that suspicions and accusations are still not a sufficient ground for the government to assassinate people, including its own citizens.
But they can’t say that about the teenage son, who was also an American citizen. They had nothing on him, and they killed him anyway. Is there an investigation into the boy’s murder? Have grand jury indictments issued? Of course not, which only goes to show that their power to assassinate Americans is total and complete. They can now kill anyone they want with impunity.
Thus, as a practical matter the president now wields the extraordinary power to assassinate his own citizens. It’s extraordinary because it’s a power that the most brutal tyrants and dictators in history have wielded. It’s also extraordinary because the Constitution fails to grant such a power to the president or the executive branch of government. It’s also extraordinary because it’s perpetual, given the fact that the war on terrorism itself is endless. It’s also extraordinary because the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the federal government from depriving any person of life without due process of law.
Alas, however, we’re not going to hear any condemnation of this new post-9/11 power in the presidential campaign. Both Obama and Romney strongly support the omnipotent, non-reviewable power of the president, regardless of which one of them elected, to kill his own citizens.
Unfortunately, that’s not all.
We also now live in a country in which the military and the CIA wield the authority to round up American citizens, keep them in jail, concentration camps, or military dungeons indefinitely without trial, torture them, and even execute them, perhaps after some sort of kangaroo tribunal. Even if they execute people without a kangaroo tribunal as cover, nothing is going to happen to the killers anyway, as we have learned from the immunity from prosecution granted to the unidentified CIA and military officials who have murdered prisoners in their custody.
Oh, sure, there is still habeas corpus. But as every prisoner at Gitmo will attest, that judicial remedy has in some instances proven to be useless as a way to gain one’s release from military custody or CIA custody during the “war on terrorism.” All the government has to do in present a modicum of evidence indicating that a prisoner is a “terrorist,” and the federal courts will bend over backwards in deference and submission to the military and the CIA. Despite habeas corpus, there are still people at Guantanamo who, after more than many years of confinement, still haven’t been charged or tried for any crimes.
It’s impossible to overstate the extraordinary nature of these powers. To place them in context, the U.S.-supported dictator who was ousted from power in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, wielded the same powers. Think about that: the president of the United States now wields, owing to 9/11, the same powers that one of the most brutal dictators in the world wielded while he was in power.
In fact, one of the principal demands made by the Egyptian protestors was the lifting of those powers. But Mubarak knew that the powers were essential to his dictatorial rule. He not only refused to relinquish them, he employed them against people who were challenging his dictatorship. Unfortunately, after his ouster the Egyptian military dictatorship has refused to relinquish those “emergency” powers, just as President Bush did and President Obama has.
Think about what the military did to American citizen Jose Padilla. They removed him from the jurisdiction of a federal district court and carted him away to a military dungeon, where they brutally tortured him. They were going to hold him in jail for the rest of his life without ever according him due process of law and trial by jury.
Why is Padilla’s case important? Because thanks to the extreme deference that the federal courts pay to the military and the CIA, the Padilla case established that the national-security state now wields the authority to do to every American what they did to Padilla. I wonder how many Americans realize that they now live in that kind of country.
Is there going to be any condemnation of this during the presidential campaign? Of course not. That’s because both Obama and Romney agree with it.
When a government wields the omnipotent power to assassinate its own people and to arrest, jail, torture, incarcerate, and execute people without due process of law and trial by jury, there is no way that that society can genuinely be considered a free society. Alas, unless the American people somehow figure out a way to restore libertarian principles to our nation, regardless of who is elected — Obama or Romney — we will continue to live under a regime that is, when it comes to civil liberties, much more similar to brutal military dictatorships than to the constitutional order under which our nation was founded.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
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