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Obama as judge, jury and executioner

  • March 26th, 2012

Republican presidential contender Ron Paul is usually caricatured here as far right or libertarian.  He is instead principled. On 20 March he posted a thoughtful piece in a weird newsletter (the Daily Bell)  headed" Demolition of Due Process".  Because it raises an issue that will come to haunt us I paste much of that post below. It was triggered by an address by Obama's attorney general Holder at the law school of Northwestern University (Chicago).

Ron Paul says tHolder's speech "demolished what was left of the rule of law in America".

"In what history likely will record as a turning point, Attorney General Holder bluntly explained that this administration believes it has the authority to use lethal force against Americans if the President determines them to be a threat to the nation. He tells us that this is not a violation of the due process requirements of our Constitution because the President himself embodies "due process" as he unilaterally determines who is to be targeted. As Holder said, "a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to 'due process.'" That means that the administration believes it is the President himself who is to be the judge, jury, and executioner….

All the Administration has said is that they closely and faithfully follow their own guidelines — even if their decisions are not subject to judicial review. The fact that they say those guidelines are based on notions of due process is meaningless. They are not a constitutional process of review.

I should make it perfectly clear that I believe any individual who is engaging in violence against this country or its citizens should be brought to justice. But as Attorney General Holder himself points out in the same speech, our civilian courts have a very good track record of trying and convicting individuals involved with terrorism against the United States. Our civilian court system, with the guarantee of real due process, judicial review and a fair trial, is our strength, not a weakness. It is not an impediment to be sidestepped in the push for convictions or assassinations but rather a process that guarantees that fundamental right, to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

….. Sadly, many conservative leaders were silent when Republican President George W. Bush laid the groundwork for this administration's lawlessness with the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention without trial and other violations. Similarly, as Professor Turley points out, "Democrats previously demanded the 'torture memos' of the Bush administration that revealed poor legal analysis by Judge Jay Bybee and Professor John Yoo to justify torture. Now, however, Democrats are largely silent in the face of a president claiming the right to unilaterally kill citizens." The misuse of and disregard for our Constitution for partisan political gain is likely one reason the American public holds Congress in such low esteem. Now the stakes are much higher. Congress and the people should finally wake up!"

I'm not sure how widespread is liberal anxiety about Obama's embrace of realpolitik on Guantanamo and remote control drone killings. A recent review in the Spectator by Alan Judd of a book co-authored by an official in Obama's Defence Dept shows awareness that the US is on a path to unkown terrritory, though the review mentions that it was not all Bush pioneering. There were over 70 renditions under Bill Clinton.

The drone assassination genie will never be rebottled. From where will the West claim persuasive moral authority to outlaw it? What will restrain the usual ruthlessness of China, as soon as it can make drones reliably, or ther countries when they can buy them. They will surely claim the US right to assassinate enemies wherever it finds them. That will surely include countries too weak, or too  financially dependent or too craven to retaliate or otherwise to defend people within its borders.


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