- Walt Whitman
It was a dark hour indeed on Thursday when the United States Senate voted to end the constitutional republic and transform the country into a "Leader-State," giving the president and his agents the power to capture, torture and imprison forever anyone - American citizens included - whom they arbitrarily decide is an "enemy combatant." This also includes those who merely give "terrorism" some kind of "support," defined so vaguely that many experts say it could encompass legal advice, innocent gifts to charities or even political opposition to US government policy within its draconian strictures.
All of this is bad enough - a sickening and cowardly surrender of liberty not seen in a major Western democracy since the Enabling Act passed by the German Reichstag in March 1933. But it is by no means the full extent of our degradation. In reality, the darkness is deeper, and more foul, than most people imagine. For in addition to the dictatorial powers of seizure and torment given by Congress on Thursday to George W. Bush - powers he had already seized and exercised for five years anyway, even without this fig leaf of sham legality - there is a far more sinister imperial right that Bush has claimed - and used - openly, without any demur or debate from Congress at all: ordering the "extrajudicial killing" of anyone on earth that he and his deputies decide - arbitrarily, without charges, court hearing, formal evidence, or appeal - is an "enemy combatant."
That's right; from the earliest days of the Terror War - September 17, 2001, to be exact - Bush has claimed the peremptory power of life and death over the entire world. If he says you're an enemy of America, you are. If he wants to imprison you and torture you, he can. And if he decides you should die, he'll kill you. This is not hyperbole, liberal paranoia, or "conspiracy theory": it's simply a fact, reported by the mainstream media, attested by senior administration figures, recorded in official government documents - and boasted about by the president himself, in front of Congress and a national television audience.
How arbitrary is this process by which all our lives and liberties are now governed? Dave Niewert at Orcinus has unearthed a remarkable admission of its totally capricious nature. In an December 2002 story in the Washington Post, then-Solicitor General Ted Olson described the anarchy at the heart of the process with admirable frankness:
"[There is no] requirement that the executive branch spell out its criteria for determining who qualifies as an enemy combatant," Olson argues.
In other words, what is safe to do or say today might imperil your freedom or your life tomorrow. You can never know if you are on the right side of the law, because the "law" is merely the whim of the Leader and his minions: their "instincts" determine your guilt or innocence, and these flutterings in the gut can change from day to day. This radical uncertainty is the very essence of despotism - and it is now, formally and officially, the guiding principle of the United States government.
And underlying this edifice of tyranny is the prerogative of presidential murder. Perhaps the enormity of this monstrous perversion of law and morality has kept it from being fully comprehended. It sounds unbelievable to most people: a president ordering hits like a Mafia don? But that is our reality, and has been for five years. To overcome what seems to be a widespread cognitive dissonance over this concept, we need only examine the record - a record, by the way, taken entirely from publicly available sources in the mass media. There's nothing secret or contentious about it, nothing that any ordinary citizen could not know - if they choose to know it.
Six days after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush signed a "presidential finding" authorizing the CIA to kill those individuals whom he had marked for death as terrorists. This in itself was not an entirely radical innovation; Bill Clinton's White House legal team had drawn up memos asserting the president's right to issue "an order to kill an individual enemy of the United States in self-defense," despite the legal prohibitions against assassination, the Washington Post reported in October 2001. The Clinton team based this ruling on the "inherent powers" of the "Commander in Chief" - that mythical, ever-elastic construct that Bush has evoked over and over to defend his own unconstitutional usurpations.
The practice of "targeted killing" was apparently never used by Clinton, however; despite the pro-assassination memos, Clinton followed the traditional presidential practice of bombing the hell out of a bunch of civilians whenever he wanted to lash out at some recalcitrant leader or international outlaw - as in his bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, or the two massive strikes he launched against Iraq in 1993 and 1998, or indeed the death and ruin that was deliberately inflicted on civilian infrastructure in Serbia during that nation's collective punishment for the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic. Here, Clinton was following the example set by George H.W. Bush, who killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Panamanian civilians in his illegal arrest of Manuel Noriega in 1988, and Ronald Reagan, who killed Moamar Gadafy's adopted 2-year-old daughter and 100 other civilians in a punitive strike on Libya in 1986.
Junior Bush, of course, was about to outdo all those blunderbuss strokes with his massive air attacks on Afghanistan, which killed thousands of civilians, and the later orgy of death and destruction in Iraq. But he also wanted the power to kill individuals at will. At first, the assassination program was restricted to direct orders from the president aimed at specific targets, as suggested by the Clinton memos. But soon the arbitrary power of life and death was delegated to agents in the field, after Bush signed orders allowing CIA assassins to kill targets without seeking presidential approval for each attack, the Washington Post reported in December 2002. Nor was it necessary any longer for the president to approve each new name added to the target list; the "security organs" could designate "enemy combatants" and kill them as they saw fit. However, Bush was always keen to get the details about the agency's wetwork, administration officials assured the Post.
The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of an American citizen, along with several foreign nationals, by a CIA drone missile in Yemen on November 3, 2002. A similar strike occurred on December 4, 2005, when a CIA missile destroyed a house and purportedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia, a suspected al-Qaeda figure. But the only bodies found at the site were those of two children, the houseowner's son and nephew, Reuters reports. The grieving father denied any connection to terrorism. An earlier CIA strike on another house missed Rabia but killed his wife and children, Pakistani officials reported.
However, there is simply no way of knowing at this point how many people have been killed by American agents operating outside all judicial process. Most of the assassinations are carried out in secret: quietly, professionally. As a Pentagon document uncovered by the New Yorker in December 2002 revealed, the death squads must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely, using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to ... enter countries surreptitiously."
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