Thursday, December 1, 2011

Democracy's Last Gasp?

Caption: The Constitution. You'd never know that members of Congress and Presidents swear to protect and defend it.

Image credit: National Archives

I wonder if, years from now, we will look back on December, 2011 as being the month when democracy had its last gasp in America:
U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.
[Pentagon counsel Jeh] Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

Obama lawyers: Citizens targeted if at war with US
There it is, in black and white. The President says that he can have anyone killed who he deems to have "taken up arms" against the United States. Considering that Anwar al-Awlaki, the first object of this particular raping of the Constitution, has not been proved to be anything more than a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda, it's hard to imagine that actually using weapons against the U.S. will be required next time, either. Since the Obama Administration has so far successfully resisted all efforts for an independent review of the evidence against al-Awlaki, any other involvement will probably remain unproved, and unreviewed. What al-Awlaki said about Americans is about what many right-wing pundits say about liberals, yet Obama hasn't seen a need to take them out.

You won't see this mentioned much on television news, but there's a portion of the U.S. Constitution, the document that all members of Congress and Presidents swear to defend, that has something to say about this:
Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Constitution, Amendment 4
I can't wait to hear the career progressives' rationale for this one. No doubt the nasty Republicans made him do it. You know, it's because of all those Bush holdovers whom President Obama refused to fire when he took office. Um, wait - nevermind. No, I really can wait to hear all that, but I probably will anyway.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate, which is still controlled by the Democrats, did this a couple of weeks ago:
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Tuesday to approve a new version of the defense authorization bill that changes detainee-related provisions in the measure and could clear the way for the legislation to reach the floor as soon as this week.

However, the changes did not assuage the concerns of the chief critics of the legislation in the Senate, at the White House or the Pentagon, making the bill's ultimate prospects unclear. At the Democratic caucus lunch Tuesday, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) all expressed strong opposition to the modified detainee language, sources said.

Senate panel alters detainee language in defense bill
The amendment (PDF) does not contain any language that limits who can be detained, beyond what our armed forces think is necessary. The language is so broad that it could easily be construed to include U.S. citizens, even those still in the United States.

As Marcy Wheeler observed yesterday:
[W]hile I’d be happy to see the provisions in question fail (because the provisions represent a further militarization of our country), effectively the argument being made is between those (the Republicans, enabled by Levin) who support further militarization of law and those (DiFi and, especially, the Administration) who want the Executive Branch to continue fighting terrorism (and whatever else) with an intelligence-driven approach bound by few legal checks.

Detainee Debate Heats Up: The Rule of Martial Law Vs. the Unitary Spookery
From following twitter messages by Marcy Wheeler today, who has been following the Senate proceedings, it appears that amendments that would have limited these abuses to foreign soil, or anywhere, have been voted down.

That provision, part of the Defense Authorization Act (DAA), will now go to the President for signature. In light of the announcement today that he can kill anyone he wants as long as he can convince himself that that person has "taken up arms" against the United States, I think the odds of him vetoing this bill are about the same as mine winning the Powerball lottery this week.

No, I did not buy a lottery ticket.

The vote on the full DAA will be coming up soon, maybe today, probably before the end of the month.

Nor do I think, as Wheeler suggests he could, that Obama will simply draw up guidelines that allow all detainees to be tried in civilian court, or released for lack of evidence. Rule of law doesn't seem to be big on the President's list of priorities, at least not when that law applies to him.

I'd love to be proved wrong on either of those predictions, but I don't see it happening. I'm generally only wrong when I'm being optimistic these days.

So, cue the professional progressives who will explain how all this is vitally necessary to defend the United States, and how we'd better not let the Republicans get away with this by winning the White House, or some equally ass-backwards logic. Does anyone think that if Rachel Maddow or Ed Shultz discuss this bill that they will mention that Democrats control the Senate, and if they wanted to, the leadership could have prevented this amendment from coming to a vote? Would they mention that Republican Party discipline is such that no one dares to break ranks on bills like this in the Senate? Probably not.

Just another reason I believed Cenk Uygur when he said that MSNBC sees its job as being a propaganda outlet for the Democrats.

UPDATE: In case you think that overreach by the government in the name of security is only a concern of poofy liberals, here's a part of an editorial by Reid Smith at The American Spectator:
While I'm certain Greenwald isn't the most popular policy mandarin among The Spectacle's [Smith's column] readership, he has isolated an authentic threat. Likewise, I'm not always on board with Rep. Paul, but I was distressed by his remarks that this potential suspension of due process and civilian trial would be the first of its sort since the American Civil War. We've had a decade to process the lessons of 9/11. I always thought that the wars being fought overseas would eventually draw to a close. I wouldn't have guessed that they'd simply embed themselves right here at home. Perhaps we've become addicted to our fear. Perhaps it gives us some small comfort to assume that we're being well protected.

But consider the context. We're not talking about the hassle of dealing with that "crack squad of savvy, motivated personnel" manning hand-wands and sporting royal blue TSA frocks. I suppose we can live with in a world where our liquids, gels and aerosols must be tucked ever-so-less-ominously into 3.4 oz. containers. "Enhanced pat-downs" still seem ridiculous...but I digress.

This bill represents a shocking, yet formal codification of what we've come to understand as right and proper in a post-9/11 world.

National Security Nonsense
[links from original - the Greenwald link was placed earlier in the column]

So, with conservatives, libertarians, and progressives all seemingly against this sort of thing for one reason or another, why do we keep getting our collective asses handed to us? Nothing has stopped this march toward a national security state in the last decade or so. Even some of the votes against it by some Democrats seem insincere, since they never make parliamentary moves like filibustering to stop these things. On this question, there were 45 Senators opposed, and yet the thing has passed.

UPDATE 2/Afterword: Marcy Wheeler, AKA emptywheel, gets the last word on this one:
You think the fact that Senate just said Americans should be indefinitely detained has anything to do with 91% of country who hates them?

Twitter message by emptywheel
It's just one of many reasons, I'm afraid. Still, many of those reasons come down to betraying the oath they took, when they're not purely about selling the rest of us out to the rich and powerful.


Expat said...

Since citizens can be murdered at whim, or dungeoned for the most ephemeral of specious charges, that of taking arms against imperial authority; what of those who find fault? As the pen is mightier than the sword, doG help those who write critically of the United States of Amnesia, or point out that the country has become the world's largest open air prison, only the 10% with passports are allowed to leave, or voting whilst poor is discouraged, or shine light into the dark corners of malicious secrecy that the state has become. Generating fear and ignorance is the purpose of the state to preserve itself. It is consent to their extortions and malfeasance that is required. One can only withdraw consent to the goals of the state, withhold support of the means employed, undermine whenever possible the effectiveness of the state and shelter and console the victims of this now rogue state.

Cujo359 said...

There are some people they won't be able to touch, but yes, I think things have become much more dangerous for anyone who speaks out against government policy just in the last three years. That's particularly true if you're a progressive, because, let's face it, we aren't the ones running things these days.

The "house liberals" will be fine, of course. Those are the folks who never insist that things change, only complain that they haven't when they're not telling the rest of us to be "realistic". How many of the rest of us they will have to discredit or disappear to keep the rest of us in line remains to be seen, but there is plenty of money and plenty of jail space.