Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday explained why it's legal to murder people -- not to execute prisoners convicted of capital crimes, not to shoot someone in self-defense, not to fight on a battlefield in a war that is somehow legalized, but to target and kill an individual sitting on his sofa, with no charges, no arrest, no trial, no approval from a court, no approval from a legislature, no approval from we the people, and in fact no sharing of information with any institutions that are not the president. Holder's speech approached his topic in a round about manner:
" Since this country's earliest days, the American people have risen to this challenge -- and all that it demands. But, as we have seen -- and as President John F. Kennedy may have described best -- 'In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.'"- Advertisement -
Holder quotes that and then immediately rejects it, claiming that our generation too should act as if it is in such a moment, even if it isn't, a moment that Holder's position suggests may last forever:
"Half a century has passed since those words were spoken, but our nation today confronts grave national security threats that demand our constant attention and steadfast commitment. It is clear that, once again, we have reached an 'hour of danger.'
"We are a nation at war. And, in this war, we face a nimble and determined enemy that cannot be underestimated. "
So, if I were to estimate that Al Qaeda barely exists and is no serious threat to the Homeland formerly known as the United States, I would not be underestimating it? If I were to point out that no member of that horrifying outfit has been killed in Afghanistan this year, that fact would not contribute to an unacceptable underestimation? What fun it is to fight the most glorious of wars in the hour of maximum danger against an enemy so pitiful that it literally cannot be underestimated.
If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan hadn't risen up and defeated the trillion-dollar U.S. military with some homemade bombs and cell phones, and were Iran not threatening to fight back if attacked, this might be all fun and games. Except that Holder isn't talking about those wars that still sort of look like wars. He's talking about a war paralleling the Soviet Threat, a war that is everywhere all the time, a war that encompasses the murder of anybody anywhere as an "act of war," even if there's nothing warlike about the victim or the situation other than the fact that we are mudering him or her.
" I know that -- more than a decade after the September 11th attacks; and despite our recent national security successes, including the operation that brought to justice Osama bin Laden last year -- there are people currently plotting to murder Americans, who reside in distant countries as well as within our own borders. Disrupting and preventing these plots -- and using every available and appropriate tool to keep the American people safe -- has been, and will remain, this Administration's top priority. "
Osama bin Laden was murdered. No attempt was made to capture him. You can defend that murder, but to call it "bringing to justice" and to get away with that characterization is to win the argument before you've begun it. This speech was advertised as a legal defense of such murders, and such a defense can hardly begin and end with equating murder with justice.
Nor can promising not to spy on U.S. citizens without proper procedures satisfy concerns with the claiming of power to kill people, including U.S. citizens. Here's Holder:
"Let me give you an example. Under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence may authorize annually, with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, collection directed at identified categories of foreign intelligence targets, without the need for a court order for each individual subject. This ensures that the government has the flexibility and agility it needs to identify and to respond to terrorist and other foreign threats to our security. But the government may not use this authority intentionally to target a U.S. person, here or abroad, or anyone known to be in the United States. "
Nor can promising to imprison people without a fair trial justify murdering people. But Holder does not do that. He promises kangaroo courts:
" Much has been made of the distinction between our federal civilian courts and revised military commissions. The reality is that both incorporate fundamental due process and other protections that are essential to the effective administration of justice -- and we should not deprive ourselves of any tool in our fight against al Qaeda. "- Advertisement -
Even though al Qaeda cannot be underestimated! Most legal obeservers do not take this seriously for a minute. Here's 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama: "As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists ... Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary." Go Team!
Holder then explains, sensibly enough, why non-military courts work just fine (unless an extreme record of nearly 100% convictions worries you):
" Simply put, since 9/11, hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in Article III courts and are now serving long sentences in federal prison. Not one has ever escaped custody. No judicial district has suffered any kind of retaliatory attack."