What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
In one of the most pivotal political scenes in the Star Wars series, Padmé Amidala observes Senator Palpatine using the Clone Wars to justify the arrogation of emergency powers. Palpatine gains control over the Senate and judiciary, declares martial law, and transforms the Republic into the first Galactic Empire—naming himself its emperor, of course.
The crowd goes wild, with Senators and observers alike loudly cheering this development. Leaning over to her companion, Padmé makes an insightful analysis which has application to so many similar events in our own day: “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.”
The past few days have once against brought this fictional event into unfortunate reality. A vast majority of Americans have, in the past few days, been either indifferent to or elated with the news of the death of Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-based individual alleged by the government to have been involved in planning operations for al-Qaeda.
What’s different about al Awlaki is that unlike most of the other individuals branded as “enemy combatants” by the government, he was a U.S. citizen. He was born in the United States, earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University, earned an M.A. in Education Leadership from San Diego State University, and worked on a Doctorate degree in Human Resource Development at George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
In April of 2010, the Obama administration put al Awlaki’s name on a list of individuals approved for targeted killing—meaning an authorized man-hunt, off any general battlefield, in which the offensive, premeditated murder of that person would be deemed permissible by the government carrying it out. That this man was an American created only limited concern within the government, delaying the inevitable disregarding of that fact for a few weeks.
No indictment was ever made. No evidence was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order to prevent Obama from murdering his son, the Department of Justice argued that the issue involved “state secrets” and thus the courts could have no say in the matter. No judicial review or pretense of oversight was even sought by the administration.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically mandates that “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” As with almost all of the other amendments, along with entire swaths of the original document itself, the government has defied any constitutional restriction and flagrantly arrogated to itself, as did Palpatine, the authority to defy the existing law in order to impose an authoritarian dictatorship.
And the people applaud. Of this, Glenn Greenwald comments:
From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds ways to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.
The people’s “representatives” have by and large shown an extremely bipartisan reflection of that general agreement with this assassination. Two examples illustrate the mood on Capitol Hill:
“It’s something we had to do,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “The president is showing leadership. The president is showing guts.”
“It’s legal,” said Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s legitimate and we’re taking out someone who has attempted to attack us on numerous occasions. And he was on that list.”
And so the list becomes a self-authorizing justification for murder. After all, it is now assumed that anybody on the list is indeed guilty of the alleged criminal behavior. Never mind that due process exists specifically to require that the government prove the allegation rather than simply asserting its truth on their word alone. And yet, when challenged, the Obama administration simply insists that Awlaki was guilty because they say so.
It’s important to keep in mind that the government routinely makes allegations that have no basis whatsoever in fact. The examples of Brandon Mayfield and José Padilla, among numerous others, portray a government which is repeatedly wrong; taking such fabrications at face value, then, becomes laughably absurd. In short, the government has no credibility. Asking us to believe its allegations—especially when it wants to kill an American citizen—without presenting any evidence demonstrating their accuracy is completely improper.
Due process exists for an important reason, namely, so that the government cannot simply claim that I committed a crime and then punish me for it, all while refusing to let me challenge that allegation. Barack Obama, the Nobel peace prize-winning laureate that he supposedly is, has made himself judge, jury, and executioner of a fellow American citizen. He has assassinated another American who he felt deserved to be on a special list created for the purpose, and he has been widely supported by the bloodthirsty, bipartisan cadre in Congress and throughout the country.
It is quite possible that Awlaki indeed was plotting attacks against people and places in America. Yet until the Constitution is respected and followed, until people like Awlaki are given their day in court, and until the government renounces its secretive refusal to allow the courts to review its decisions, the government cannot and should not be trusted. What could have legitimately been a defensive act is, instead, a murderous, dictatorial decree wherein the President of the United States has claimed the authority and audacity to snuff out the life of a fellow citizen with no due process or external review.