“Assassination” is just a scary word for “due process” – links of the day

At least, that’s what Attorney General Eric Holder would have you believe, in defending the Obama administration’s policy of targeted assassination(s) of American citizens:

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.   This is simply not accurate.   “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.   The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

Charles P. Pierce, responding in Esquire, was rightly outraged:

Attorney General Eric Holder’s appearance at Northwestern on Monday, during which he explained the exact circumstances under which the president can order the killing of just about anyone the president wants to kill, was not promising. The criteria for when a president can unilaterally decide to kill somebody is completely full of holes, regardless of what the government’s pet lawyers say. And this…

“This is an indicator of our times,” Holder said, “not a departure from our laws and our values.”

…is a monumental pile of crap that should embarrass every Democrat who ever said an unkind word about John Yoo. This policy is a vast departure from our laws and an interplanetary probe away from our values. The president should not have this power because the Constitution, which was written by smarter people than, say, Benjamin Wittes, knew full and goddamn well why the president shouldn’t have this power. If you give the president the power to kill without due process, or without demonstrable probable cause, he inevitably will do so. And, as a lot of us asked during the Bush years, if you give this power to President George Bush, will you also give it to President Hillary Clinton and, if you give this power to President Barack Obama, will you also give it to President Rick Santorum?

Shockingly — at least to me, since I didn’t expect to see this coming from the New York Times – Andrew Rosenthal, writing in the section titled “The Loyal Opposition,” defended Holder’s speech, utterly ignoring the most insidious part, about the assassination policy. Even stranger still, Rosenthal neglected to mention, in his praise of Holder’s insistence on terrorists being tried in civilian courts, that his own government has killed a citizen without any trial or even any charges.

That said, Attorney General Eric Holder and Jeh Charles Johnson, the general counsel of the Defense Department, both delivered strong speeches on terrorism recently. The contrast between their remarks and the bad old days of the Bush era was striking.

Some of what they said troubled me. They both seemed to reject any role for the courts in deciding when to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. And I am not as enamored of military tribunals as Mr. Holder and Mr. Johnson are…

At Northwestern University yesterday, Mr. Holder made a powerful case for the need to prosecute terrorists in the federal courts. “Simply put, since 9/11 hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offences in Article 3 courts and are now serving long sentences in federal prison,” Mr. Holder said. “Not one has ever escaped custody. No judicial district has suffered any kind of retaliatory attack.”

Glenn Greenwald, fortunately, made a persuasive case against Holder’s remarks, based on contradictory statements made by Holder and Barack Obama just a few years ago:

Throughout the Bush years, then-Sen. Obama often spoke out so very eloquently about the Vital Importance of Due Process even for accused Terrorists. As but one example, he stood up on the Senate floor and denounced Bush’s Guantanamo detentions on the ground that a “perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence.” He spoke of “the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence.” He mocked the right-wing claim “that judicial inquiry is an antique, trivial and dispensable luxury.” He acknowledged that the Government will unavoidably sometimes make mistakes in accusing innocent people of being Terrorists, but then provided the obvious solution: “what is avoidable is refusing to ever allow our legal system to correct these mistakes.”How moving is all that? What a stirring tribute to the urgency of allowing accused Terrorists a day in court before punishing them.

Then we have Eric Holder, who in 2008 gave a speech to the American Constitution Society denouncing Bush’s executive power radicalism and calling for a “public reckoning.” He specifically addressed the right-wing claim that Presidents should be allowed to eavesdrop on accused Terrorists without judicial review in order to Keep Us Safe. In light of what the Attorney General said and justified yesterday, just marvel at what he said back then, a mere three years ago:

To those in the Executive branch who say “just trust us” when it comes to secret and warrantless surveillance of domestic communications I say remember your history. In my lifetime, federal government officials wiretapped, harassed and blackmailed Martin Luther King and other civil rights leader in the name of national security. One of America’s greatest heroes whom today we honor with a national holiday, countless streets, schools and soon a monument in his name, was treated like a criminal by those in our federal government possessed of too much discretion and a warped sense of patriotism. Watergate revealed similar abuses during the Nixon administration.

To recap Barack Obama’s view: it is a form of “terror” for someone to be detained “without even getting one chance to prove their innocence,” but it is good and noble for them to be executed under the same circumstances. To recap Eric Holder’s view: we must not accept when the Bush administration says “just trust us” when it comes to spying on the communications of accused Terrorists, but we must accept when the Obama administration says “just trust us” when it comes to targeting our fellow citizens for execution. As it turns out, it’s not 9/11/01 that Changed Everything. It’s 1/20/09.

Finally, as is so often the case, Stephen Colbert got it exactly right.

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About Jay Pinho

Jay is a recent graduate of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York. Previously he studied international security at L'Institut d'Études Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris. He currently writes about politics, foreign affairs, and journalism and continues to make painstakingly slow progress in amateur photography.

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