How America kills using drones has been a hot topic for many on the left who feel that the Obama administration has gone too far with the ubiquitous “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) when the president ordered the assassination of Anwar Al Awlaki and two weeks later his 16 year old son. The disagreement over this policy became even more heated when the Justice Department released an undated White Paper that outlined the memos that allegedly justifies extrajudicial executions by the Executive branch without due process. Constitutional lawyer and columnist at The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald observed that the memo has forced many Democrats “out of the closet as overtly unprincipled hacks:”
Illustrating this odd phenomenon was a much-discussed New York Times article on Sunday by Peter Baker which explained that these events “underscored the degree to which Mr. Obama has embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism, right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces.” [..]
Baker also noticed this: “Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama’s hands, not Mr. Bush’s.” As but one example, the article quoted Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor and fervent Obama supporter, as admitting without any apparent shame that “if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms” because, she said “we trust the president“. Thus did we have – while some media liberals objected – scores of progressives and conservatives uniting to overtly embrace the once-controversial Bush/Cheney premises of the War on Terror (it’s a global war! the whole world is a battlefield! the president has authority to do whatever he wants to The Terrorists without interference from courts!) in order to defend the war’s most radical power yet (the president’s power to assassinate even his own citizens in secret, without charges, and without checks). [..]
What this DOJ “white paper” did was to force people to confront Obama’s assassination program without emotionally manipulative appeal to some cartoon Bad Guy Terrorist (Awlaki). That document never once mentioned Awlaki. Instead – using the same creepily clinical, sanitized, legalistic language used by the Bush DOJ to justify torture, renditions and warrantless eavesdropping – it set forth the theoretical framework for empowering not just Obama, but any and all presidents, to assassinate not just Anwar Awlaki, but any citizens declared in secret by the president to be worthy of execution. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee wrote that the DOJ memo “should shake the American people to the core”, while Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman explained “the revolutionary and shocking transformation of the meaning of due process” ushered in by this memo and said it constituted a repudiation of the Magna Carta.
In doing so, this document helpfully underscored the critical point that is otherwise difficult to convey: when you endorse the application of a radical state power because the specific target happens to be someone you dislike and think deserves it, you’re necessarily institutionalizing that power in general. That’s why political leaders, when they want to seize extremist powers or abridge core liberties, always choose in the first instance to target the most marginalized figures: because they know many people will acquiesce not because they support that power in theory but because they hate the person targeted. But if you cheer when that power is first invoked based on that mentality – I’m glad Obama assassinated Awlaki without charges because he was a Bad Man! – then you lose the ability to object when the power is used in the future in ways you dislike (or by leaders you distrust), because you’ve let it become institutionalized. [..]
What’s most remarkable about this willingness to endorse extremist policies because you “trust” the current leader exercising them is how painfully illogical it is, and how violently contrary it is to everything Americans are taught from childhood about their country. It should not be difficult to comprehend that there is no such thing as vesting a Democratic President with Power X but not vesting a GOP President with the same power. To endorse a power in the hands of a leader you like is, necessarily, to endorse the power in the hands of a leader you dislike.
Like Bob Herbert’s statement – “policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House” – this is so obvious it should not need to be argued. As former Bush and Obama aide Douglas Ollivant told the NYT yesterday about the “trust” argument coming from some progressives: “That’s not how we make policy. We make policy assuming that people in power might abuse it. To do otherwise is foolish.”
Hypocrisy thy name is Obama loyalists.
This weekend on Up with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes and his guest examined he government’s use of drone strikes and its “targeted killing” program in light of the release of the White Paper and the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA. They discussed what the law allows, what the constitution allows, what American’s think should be allowed and the what are the moral and ethical implications.
To discuss “How America Kills,” Chris was joined by Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine; Jennifer Draskal, Associate law professor at Georgetown University and fellow at the school’s Center on National Security; Richard Epstein, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, professor of law at New York University Law School; and Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project for the ACLU.