In the fashion of Caesar thrice refusing the crown even as he assumed dictatorial powers, tyrants will occasionally engage in self-aggrandizement disguised as self-deprecation. Barack Obama offered a moment of that kind last week when, in reply to a question about the budget sequester posed by a media sycophant, he said, “I’m not a dictator.”
Obama wasn’t serious, of course. He does consider himself a dictator, albeit one whose term in office is limited, at least for now.
Obama might not lock the doors of the Oval Office and force Republican congressional leaders to carry out budget negotiations, but – as his Attorney General made clear in a letter to Senator Rand Paul – he considers himself duly empowered to carry out the summary execution of U.S. citizens on American soil if he deems such action necessary.
In his March 6 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder made it clear that the president he serves answers to nobody, and is bound by no laws, in carrying out extra-judicial killings, either within U.S. borders or beyond them. Expressing a point of view familiar to students of Soviet Russia under the reign of Stalin, Holder maintained that the purpose of the law is to prevent anybody – whether an individual citizen, a judge, or a legislative body – from restraining the exercise of presidential will.
“Do you believe Congress can pass a law prohibiting [the President] to use lethal force on U.S. soil?” Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked Holder. If we still resided in something resembling a constitutional republic, that question itself would be perverse: Congress wouldn’t need to pass a law to prevent something that the law doesn’t authorize the president to do.
Furthermore, as civil liberties activist Marcy Wheeler points out, Grassley’s question wasn’t intended to suggest a general prohibition against “targeted killings,” but rather one that “would apply only where a person did not present an imminent threat.” In other words, Grassley was willing to concede that the president could order summary executions after addressing some trivial formalities about the dire necessity of such action.
But even this would be too restrictive, according to Holder.
“I’m not sure that such a bill would be constitutional,” he told Grassley. “It might run contrary to the Article II powers that the President has.” In other words, Holder is claiming that the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the military, can order the military (or, presumably, the CIA) to carry out an extra-judicial execution of a U.S. citizen on American soil – and Congress would be forbidden by the Constitution (whatever that word means to Holder and his ilk) from preventing such action.
Domestic use of the military as a law enforcement agency is forbidden by the Third Amendment and the Posse Commitatus Act. This means nothing to the budding Stalinist occupying the Oval Office.
For the Obama-centric Left, as it was for the Bush-centric Right, the U.S. President is the “Living Constitution.” His power is limited only by the resources at his command, and the extent of his sadistic imagination. Thomas Jefferson – in an essay promoting what we are told is the subversive and un-American doctrine of “interposition” – warned that “confidence in men” is a “dangerous delusion” that is fatal to liberty. Today, collectivists of the Right and Left insist that this is true only on those occasions when power is exercised by people associated with the other faction.
Perhaps this is an unfair and overbroad characterization. There are some prominent figures who can abandon partisan attachments in defense of principle. Regrettably, this usually means that party labels are discarded in favor of an unabashed embrace of the non-partisan Warfare State, and the principles being applied are entirely depraved. Witness the fact that many conservative commentators, rather than condemning Obama for assuming the powers of a literal dictator, have actually applauded him. Among them is John Bolton, who represented the Bush administration in the United Nations, who admits that Obama’s drone strike program “is consistent with, and derived from, the Bush administration approach to the war on terror.” In Bolton’s opinion, the drone-killing program is “entirely sensible.”
Channeling the spirit of a Stalin-era Communist Party apparatchik, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham has proposed a resolution applauding the administration’s drone-killing program and urging all of his Republican colleagues to express their support. Graham has explicitly commended the administration for the summary execution of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was murdered (no other word is suitable) by a drone strike in Yemen without ever being charged with a crime. Graham hasn’t said whether he considers the murder of Anwar’s 16-year-old son Abdelrahman to be a similarly commendable act of statecraft.
More remarkable still was the reaction of John Yoo, a former Bush-era Justice Department functionary who now teaches law at the University of California-Berkeley. Seven years before Eric Holder claimed that Congress has no authority to rein in Obama’s power of discretionary killing, Yoo breezily claimed that no law or treaty could prevent President Bush from ordering the sexual mutilation of a child in order to extract information from the victim’s parents.
Yoo employed a Wall Street Journal op-ed column to criticize the Obama “white paper” that sets out the guidelines for drone attacks – not because it gives unaccountable discretionary killing power to the president and his subordinates, but because it supposedly extends due process to “enemy combatants.” Yoo complains that the paper “suggests” that U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki “enjoy due process rights. By doing so, it dissipates the rights of the law-abiding at home.”
Presumably, Yoo’s concerns have been placated by Holder’s unflinching assertion that the president has unqualified authority to murder Americans anywhere, for any reason he deems suitable.
Senator Angus King of Maine has proposed the institutionalization of the drone program through creation of a special court that would be modeled after the tribunal that issues warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or FISA). The FISA court, significantly, issues warrants after surveillance has begun. In similar fashion, Senator Young’s proposed court would review decisions to carry out drone strikes after the missiles had flown and the targeted individual had been killed. This proposal has been criticized by some congressional Republicans – once again, not because it represents a concession to tyrannical power, but rather because it supposedly inhibits the exercise of that power, if only by acknowledging that the power is subject to some form of independent scrutiny.
Until the filibuster staged by Senator Paul – who, despite his plentiful shortcomings, has proven that he has learned much from his heroic father – no Senate Republican had rejected the Stalinist premise that the President can order the summary execution of U.S. citizens. What about the Professional Left – the people who, like then-Senator Obama, were so agitated over the Bush administration’s crimes against the Bill of Rights? They’re too busy debating such weighty matters as the proper honorific by which to address the Dear Leader, or helping the Southern Poverty Law Center draw up “kill lists” of domestic “extremists.”
It took the 13-hour filibuster from Senator Rand Paul to wring this terse statement from Attorney General Eric Holder:
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: `Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Like all statements from people who presume to rule others, this brief message from Holder – who is Nickolai Krylenko to Obama’s Josef Stalin – should be read in terms of the supposed authority claimed thereby. This means removing useless qualifiers in the interest of clarity.
What Holder is saying, in substantive terms, is that the President does have the supposed authority to use a drone to kill an American who is engaged in “combat,” whether here or abroad. “Combat” can consist of expressing support for Muslims mounting armed resistance against U.S. military aggression, which was the supposed crime committed by Anwar al-Awlaki, or sharing the surname and DNA of a known enemy of the state, which was the offense committed by Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdel.
Under the rules of engagement used by the Obama Regime in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, any “military-age” male found within a targeted “kill zone” is likewise designated a “combatant,” albeit usually after the fact. This is a murderous application of the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy,” and it will be used when – not if – Obama or a successor starts conducting domestic drone-killing operations.
Holder selected a carefully qualified question in order to justify a narrowly tailored answer that reserves an expansive claim of executive power to authorize summary executions by the president. That’s how totalitarians operate.
About a week ago, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted that Washington would maintain its embargo of Cuba because the regime ruling that island continues to be a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Unlike the Regime for which Nuland speaks, the Cuban government doesn’t occupy a foot of foreign territory, nor does it use robot aircraft to rain death from the skies on neighborhoods halfway around the world.
In its 2011 human rights report on Cuba, the agency that issues Nuland’s paycheck described its government as a “totalitarian state” ruled by a military hierarchy that routinely commits criminal violence against the innocent. All of that is true, of course. Interestingly, the document admitted that in 2011, “There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.” The same cannot be said of the Regime that employs Nuland, which in the same year murdered hundreds of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Among those “arbitrary [and] unlawful killings” were the summary executions of at least three U.S. citizens, including – let us never forget – one involving a 16-year-old boy. And now the chief law enforcement officer of the Obama Regime insists that the “law” would forbid Congress to restrain the Dear Leader from carrying out the extra-judicial killings of U.S. citizens.
While it’s true that Cuba remains mired in poverty and still lives under the reign of a thoroughly despicable ruling clique, we really must confront this question:
By what standard is the government of Cuba totalitarian, if the Regime in Washington is not, at least in principle?