"In an admission that took the intelligence community and its critics by surprise, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged in a congressional hearing Wednesday that the U.S. may, with executive approval, deliberately target and kill U.S. citizens who are suspected of being involved in terrorism."
That's the lead paragraph of the news story I wrote for InterPress News Service last Friday. Since then, I just haven't been able to get this thing out of my mind.
Think about it: "...may, with executive approval, deliberately target and kill U.S. citizens who are suspected of being involved in terrorism."
That means that the president of the United States can decide who lives and who doesn't. Not a court. Not a jury. Just the president.
The proposition is overwhelming in its simplicity. And in its stupidity. And in its cavalier abandonment of our most precious principle: the rule of law. That quaint tradition we always cite as the root of our American "exceptionalism."
The key word here is suspected. Killing U.S. citizens who are suspected of being involved in terrorism.
That means we must all believe that our intelligence mavens are perfect, infallible, incapable of error.
But common sense and history should tell us this cannot be true. Our intelligence folks make mistakes all the time. They are humans and humans cannot be infallible. And their performance in recent years has not been all that stellar. Think WMD. Think 9/11. Think Maher Arar. Think Brandon Mayfield. Think Richard Jewel and Steven Hatfill.
Lots of little slipups here!
But those errors are correctible. After we go ahead and kill someone, there's no do-over. There's nothing more final than death.
I found Admiral Blair's revelation so troubling that I consulted some of the country's most respected Constitutional scholars to see if I was missing something.
Unfortunately, I wasn't. As Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois Law School, told me, "This extrajudicial execution of human beings constitutes a grave violation of international human rights law and, under certain circumstances, can also constitute a war crime under the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949. In addition, the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizens by the United States government also violates the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution mandating that no person "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
He said, "The U.S. Government has now established a 'death list' for U.S. citizens abroad akin to those established by Latin American dictatorships during their so-called 'dirty wars'. The Bush Administration reduced the United States of America to a Banana Republic waging a "dirty war" around the world in gross violation of international law, human rights law, and the laws of war."
And where is the outrage? Mostly, it isn't. Our elected officials are driven by fear or actively trying to drive us with fear, or both. And we who elected them are busy being terrified and looking the other way while we try to find jobs and pay the mortgage and feed the kids.
But even in good times, we Americans are not the best-informed citizens. We are far more likely to rail inchoately against "government interference" in our lives. Witness the tea-baggers.
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