As the overflow of pundit effluent after the State of the Union speech continues to sulfurize the political air, Glenn Greenwald brings up a background point that we have been hammering on about here for years: i.e., the fact that the President of the United States claims the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth — including U.S. citizens — without charges, without trial, without warning.
As I first wrote in November 2001, George W. Bush proclaimed this divine power shortly after 9/11. And as we have often noted (here, for example), Barack Obama has reaffirmed this megalomaniacal principle. Greenwald focuses on the latest, and one of the most brazen, assertions of the doctrine of presidential murder: the Obama Administration’s casual compiling of "hit lists" of people in Yemen that it wants to assassinate, including at least three U.S. citizens. (Fittingly enough, one of the first people murdered by Bush’s universal murder racket was an American citizen in Yemen. Continuity, continuity, in all things continuity!)
Greenwald notes the rather glaring fact that Obama’s open embrace of this murderous principle has occasioned not the slightest protest, debate or even discussion amongst the political and media elite. He also points to rather different view of these matters: Abraham Lincoln’s General Order 100, issued in the middle of an actual civil war on American soil, in which thousands of people were dying every week. This is what they thought of "extrajudicial assassination" in those days:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.
Thank god we live in modern times, eh? Can you imagine allowing our leaders to be hobbled by such hidebound notions as they carry out their sacred duty to keep us safe?
Greenwald is outraged by the lack of outrage that Obama’s continuity of the presidential murder principle has evoked. And to be sure, it is outrageous. But there is of course absolutely nothing surprising about it. The use of murder as a bipartisan tool of national policy is a venerable, even celebrated American tradition. (For more, see "A Furnace Seal’d," "Making Their Bones," "Unreality Check" and many other pieces linked to in those posts.)
To illustrate the point, I’d like to bring out an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2005. I’ve used it several times before (such as here, where you can find all the links), but I think it’s worth revisiting. It is highly revealing of the depraved mindset of our rulers, and can perhaps help us understand why there is not — and never will be — any hue and cry from our great and good over Obama’s use of the White House’s self-bestowed license to kill:
On September 17, 2001, George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the use of "lethal measures" against anyone in the world whom he or his minions designated an "enemy combatant." This order remains in force today. No judicial evidence, no hearing, no charges are required for these killings; no law, no border, no oversight restrains them. Bush has also given agents in the field carte blanche to designate "enemies" on their own initiative and kill them as they see fit.
The existence of this universal death squad – and the total obliteration of human liberty it represents – has not provoked so much as a crumb, an atom, a quantum particle of controversy in the American Establishment, although it’s no secret. The executive order was first bruited in the Washington Post in October 2001. I first wrote of it in my Moscow Times column in November 2001. The New York Times added further details in December 2002. That same month, Bush officials made clear that the dread edict also applied to American citizens, as the Associated Press reported.
The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of an American citizen in Yemen by a CIA drone missile on November 3, 2002. … But most of the assassinations are carried out in secret, quietly, professionally, like a contract killing for the mob. As a Pentagon document unearthed by the New Yorker in December 2002 put it, the death squads must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely, using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to…enter countries surreptitiously."
The dangers of this policy are obvious, as a UN report on "extrajudicial killings" noted in December 2004: " Empowering governments to identify and kill ‘known terrorists’ places no verifiable obligation upon them to demonstrate in any way that those against whom lethal force is used are indeed terrorists… While it is portrayed as a limited ‘exception’ to international norms, it actually creates the potential for an endless expansion of the relevant category to include any enemies of the State, social misfits, political opponents, or others."
It’s hard to believe that any genuine democracy would accept a claim by its leader that he could have anyone killed simply by labeling them an "enemy." It’s hard to believe that any adult with even the slightest knowledge of history or human nature could countenance such unlimited, arbitrary power, knowing the evil it is bound to produce. Yet this is what the great and good in America have done. Like the boyars of old, they not only countenance but celebrate their enslavement to the ruler.
This was vividly demonstrated in one of the revolting scenes in recent American history: Bush’s State of the Union address in January 2003, delivered to Congress and televised nationwide during the final frenzy of war-drum beating before the assault on Iraq. Trumpeting his successes in the Terror War, Bush claimed that "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists" had been arrested worldwide – "and many others have met a different fate." His face then took on the characteristic leer, the strange, sickly half-smile it acquires whenever he speaks of killing people: "Let’s put it this way. They are no longer a problem."
In other words, the suspects – and even Bush acknowledged they were only suspects – had been murdered. Lynched. Killed by agents operating unsupervised in that shadow world where intelligence, terrorism, politics, finance and organized crime meld together in one amorphous, impenetrable mass. Killed on the word of a dubious informer, perhaps: a tortured captive willing to say anything to end his torment, a business rival, a personal foe, a bureaucrat looking to impress his superiors, a paid snitch in need of cash, a zealous crank pursuing ethnic, tribal or religious hatreds – or any other purveyor of the garbage data that is coin of the realm in the shadow world.
Bush proudly held up this hideous system as an example of what he called "the meaning of American justice." And the assembled legislators…applauded. Oh, how they applauded! They roared with glee at the leering little man’s bloodthirsty, B-movie machismo. They shared his sneering contempt for law – our only shield, however imperfect, against the blind, brute, ignorant, ape-like force of raw power. Not a single voice among them was raised in protest against this tyrannical machtpolitik: not that night, not the next day, not ever.
As we noted here a few days ago, you should bear these realities in mind when wading through the endless pundit-parsing of the partisan circus, i.e., Did Obama hit a "home run" with his big speech, is the GOP on the comeback trail, is Harry Reid an effective quarterback for the Democratic agenda, is Sarah Palin a credible candidate, etc., etc., blah blah and blah. The political fortunes of these murder-applauding imperial marauders do not matter in the slightest. What’s important is what they do, what they order, what they support, what they countenance, what they enable.
As the scripture says, by their fruits ye shall know them. All the rest — as the scripture doesn’t say but certainly implies — is just pernicious bullshit.