Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Ah, Sweet Song of Tyranny

Eric Holder helpfully explains why it's legal for the President to order American citizens killed without a trial:

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

Technically true, or at least arguable, but, you know, most of us mere citizens think that when the government is deliberately setting out to kill a citizen, there's a hefty amount that's due in that process. Don't worry, though; Holder also gives us the ethical principles under which it is done:

The principle of necessity requires that the target have definite military value. The principle of distinction requires that only lawful targets – such as combatants, civilians directly participating in hostilities, and military objectives – may be targeted intentionally. Under the principle of proportionality, the anticipated collateral damage must not be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. Finally, the principle of humanity requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering.

Because, of course, when the American government is killing American citizens without trial, our primary concern is that it do so without unnecessary suffering, and with only minimal collateral damage. The first two principles are, of course, completely useless as well, as is also Holder's claim elsewhere in the speech that the process should have "robust oversight" by Congress, since so far the Obama administration's idea of 'due process' and 'robust oversight' has amounted to nothing more than notifying Congress that an American citizen has been added to the kill list as a target of "definite military value".

And sure, Americans don't have sympathies with American citizens going around killing their own; but that's part of the point: if you wait to protest assassination -- and despite Holder's claim that this is a tendentious term, it is in fact what everyone would oridinarily call it -- until they've started killing people like Cicero, the Republic is in reality already long dead. The basic principles of American governance put all burden of proof here on our elected officials: they need to show that they are defending the rights of the people, which, remarkably, include rights to things like life and liberty. They shouldn't be getting the benefit of the doubt, and they certainly shouldn't be so gauche as to pretend they have a right to the benefit of the doubt.