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Panetta was also the first senior Obama official to assert that American citizens who are branded "terrorists" and are suspected of "trying to kill our people" can be targeted for death on Executive power alone.
In an interview with CBS 60 Minutes" Scott Pelley, Panetta was asked about the secret process the Obama administration uses to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. He explained that the President himself approves the decision based on recommendations from top national security officials. Panetta said..."...if someone is a citizen of the United States, and is a terrorist, who wants to attack our people and kill Americans, in my book that person is a terrorist. And the reality is that under our laws, that person is a terrorist. And we're required under a process of law, to be able to justify, that despite the fact that person may be a citizen, he is first and foremost a terrorist who threatens our people, and for that reason, we can establish a legal basis on which we oughta go after that individual, just as we go after bin Laden, just as we go after other terrorists. Why? Because their goal is to kill our people, and for that reason we have to defend ourselves."
Now, after four years in this swamp of moral and legal relativism, Panetta has turned to Pope Benedict for prayers and blessings, an ironic choice since Benedict himself has shown a high tolerance for sloshing around in this muck.
In April 2008, Benedict visited the United States amid sordid disclosures about the Bush administration's practices of torture and worldwide recognition that Bush had ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq based on false claims about WMD and ties to al-Qaeda.
On torture, reporting by ABC depicted George W. Bush's most senior aides (Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice and Tenet) meeting multiple times in the White House during 2002-03 to sort out -- complete with practical demonstrations -- the most efficient mix of torture techniques for captured "terrorists." When initially ABC attempted to insulate the President from this sordid activity, Bush responded that he knew all about it and had approved.
But Benedict maintained a discreet silence, placing feel-good scenes of happy Catholics cheering his presence over a moral obligation to condemn wrongdoing, a pattern that has recurred far too frequently in the history of the Vatican.
When I visited Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem a few years ago, I experienced painful reminders of what happens when the Church allows itself to be captured by Empire. An acquiescent church loses whatever residual moral authority it may have had.
At the entrance to the museum, a quotation by German essayist Kurt Tucholsky set a universally applicable tone: "A country is not just what it does -- it is also what it tolerates."
Still more compelling words came from Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who put his own life at grave risk by helping to save Jews from the concentration camps: "I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain: "Where were you when your brother's blood was crying out to God?'"
It is a question that Leon Panetta may want to ask himself as he retires from government service at age 74 and retreats to his walnut farm in California. For Panetta's sake, let's hope papal prayer will help him sort it all out.