Thursday, February 4, 2010

Greenwald: More On Presidential Assassination Orders

Greenwald has more to say about G. W. Bush's issuing of orders for assassination of American citizens by agents of the U.S. government, a practice unapologetically continued by President Obama.

It is difficult to imagine how such a practice could ever comply with several parts of the Bill of Rights, and there is no "wartime exception" as is fondly proclaimed by assassination advocates. At present, says DNI Blair, "a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission..." from (guess who) the President. This cannot possibly comply with the "due process" clause of the Fifth Amendment, not unless "due process" is construed to mean "whatever the President says, goes." I think quite a few Americans may be horrified of that approach, no matter who is President. Greenwald reasonably echos the question put before us:
It would be perverse in the extreme, but wouldn't it be preferable to at least require the President to demonstrate to a court that probable cause exists to warrant the assassination of an American citizen before the President should be allowed to order it?  That would basically mean that courts would issue "assassination warrants" or "murder warrants" -- a repugnant idea given that they're tantamount to imposing the death sentence without a trial -- but isn't that minimal safeguard preferable to allowing the President unchecked authority to do it on his own, the very power he has now claimed for himself?

before dismissing that as well, quoting Adam Serwer (see link in Greenwald's article): "[... according to Republicans,] you can be denied rights not through due process of law but merely based on the nature of the crime you are suspected of committing."

How many of us have witnessed such a spectacle in a courtroom, the prosecutor successfully arguing to a jury, "This crime is so evil you cannot possibly risk freeing a possibly guilty defendant!" Guilt by accusation is the basis of a "murder warrant," and sooner or later is certain to involve assassination of someone the President doesn't like, or finds hazardous to his or her political career. That's why the Bill of Rights prohibits it.Hundreds of years of tradition in American law, and British law before it, confirms the practice; the notion of tossing that out appeals only to radicals. Despite rumors, I know you and I are not radicals in matters of constitutional due process!

How likely is it that the current Supreme Court will curb such behavior? Yes, that's what I think, too.

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