Monday, May 24, 2010

The Imperial Presidency's 'Superfluous Imagination'

 The neo-cons were supposed to have lost the election, but the Imperial Presidency's attack on the U.S. Constitution continues...

Dennis Blair, who evidently* claimed before Congress that the U.S. Government has the right to murder Americans at its own discretion without paying heed to the U.S. Constitution or legal process, is out, but his prescription for dictatorship (is anything prohibited if murder without legal sanction is permitted?) has not been rejected. Whatever good Mr. Blair may have attempted to do as Director of National Intelligence, such as nominating Charles Freeman--a man with the courage to stand up against the Israeli lobby--to chair the National Intelligence Council, cannot begin to compensate for his effort to undermine the Constitution on behalf of the imperial presidency.

It would be difficult to find in history an example of a dictator arbitrarily oppressing his people without having justified his actions as his “right” or “morally required” or “to carry out God’s will” or “to defend national security” or “to protect our way of life.” The fact that the perpetrator of abuse of power defends his own actions is no defense. If the leader can make up new powers all by himself, then the government has passed from democracy to dictatorship: being able to “dictate” your desires to the people is precisely the definition of dictatorship.

In the words of former presidential candidate and Representative Dennis Kucinich [Democracy Now 2/9/10]:

I think it’s incumbent upon the Attorney General to explain the basis in law for such a policy. Our Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, our Seventh Amendment, our Fourteenth Amendment all clearly provide legal protections for people who are accused or who would be sentenced after having been judged to be guilty. And what’s happened is that the Constitution is being vitiated here. The idea that people are—have—if their life is in jeopardy, legally have due process of law, is thrown out the window. 

And, Amy, when you consider that there are people who are claiming there are many terrorist cells in the United States, it doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine that this policy could easily be transferred to citizens in this country. That doesn’t—that only compounds what I think is a slow and steady detachment from core constitutional principles. And once that happens, we have a country then that loses its memory and its soul, with respect to being disconnected from those core constitutional principles which are the basis of freedom in our society. 

The obvious unconstitutionality and anti-democratic nature of allowing the Executive Branch to decide on its own outside of the legal process when it can commit murder is beyond discussion and surely the ultimate example of a conflict of interest. The core purpose of the constitutional separation of powers is to prevent the organs that legislate from the organs that arrest and from the organs that kill. Any individual or bureaucratic organ that is handed the power to give itself new powers and use those powers to destroy people will, sooner or later, abuse that authority. See Glen Greenwald for useful discussion of Obama’s power-grab at Salon. It is also worth referring to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s studies of bureaucracy gone wild, where abuse of authority is unchallenged. Obama does not have the “right” to decide on his own outside of a trial by law to murder anyone, but he now has the power – because we are letting him invent such a “right.” Bureaucrats will grab all powers not expressly denied them.

How do we preserve democracy against the creeping threat of politicians/bureaucrats steadily undermining democratic principles in order to “defend democracy”? I surely do not know, for the solution has never been discovered, but imagine the following first step: imagine that Congress were to stand up and represent us by passing a law that enumerated a simple checklist of “acts impermissible in a democracy” and banned such acts. The intentional killing of any American citizen by the executive branch without trial would surely be a key item on that list, along with the launching of a war without prior Congressional approval. Two more items on my list would be the hiring of mercenary forces outside the control of Congress and the launching of a “preventive” war without some very precise Congressional and legal review demonstrating a “clear and present danger.” Indeed, one must go further than that and add to the list of proscribed actions the authority to murder anyone, citizen or not, outside either of declared war or the use of the judicial system. I know, a mere list would accomplish little. After all, issues as peripheral to U.S. national security as the anti-Somoza rebellion in Nicaragua have been, without embarrassment, termed threats to the security of the U.S. by politicians. "Lose control of those banana fields, and nothing will be secure." The list is just intended to serve as the simplest of ideas, to provoke citizens to think about their freedoms, for only popular oversight over government can prevent abuse of authority. No shield to protect our freedoms against the abuse of authority is foolproof, but that is no reason for citizens of a democracy to walk around naked.
* These remarks are based on media reports; I have not seen the transcript of Blair's statement. If anyone thinks I am misrepresenting what he said, please send me the text.

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