Sic semper tyrannis
I knew I was going to have some major issues with the Obama presidency. Foreign policy, for instance looked really bad, and turned out worse (illegal bombing forays creating popular anger in The Most Unstable Nuclear Power In The World, killing hundreds of civilians? Seriously? That's your strategy to secure the USA? And don't even get me started on Israel.) I also figured his economic policy was going to be business as usual. But I never really thought that the collapse of civil rights in the US was going to be an issue. How could things get worse?
Barack Obama is a trained constitutional scholar. You would think that he would be quick to restore the US constitutional and civil rights that the Bush administration demolished over the past decade. And surely he would dismantle what Lawrence Lessig has called the "unitary überexecutive", where the President's office holds power over life and death. But no, he has done none of these things. There have been disappointingly few reversals, and even several issues where things have deteriorated. He has retained the excessive and unchecked power of the Bush administration, instead of taking his George Washington moment and relinquishing it. And he has insisted on not prosecuting the former administration for its many, many crimes. The man to read about all this is blogger and lawyer Glenn Greenwald, who has been taking the Obama administration to town over these issues.
But I think I had some vague sense of, hmm, Hope for Change, deep down, still. But now? Not so much, no. Two weeks ago, the Obama administration's Treasury Department slapped a Global Terrorist label on a man named Anwar al-Awlaki. He's a US citizen, living overseas, probably in Yemen. Now, in all likelihood, the man is bad news. He's apparently a fundamentalist radical muslim cleric. But that's not really an issue here. This is: The Obama administration has revealed that he is on an assasination list. Obama has, in effect, ordered a US citizen killed without due process, on some dreamed-up neverending battlefield in a neverending war, in which he is apparently a military player. The global terrorist label of the Treasury Dept. makes it a criminal offence to do any kind of business with him — including representing him as a lawyer. This means that al-Anwaki is specifically barred from challenging his kill on sight-order legally.
So the Obama administration is ordering a citizen killed arbitrarily, without due process, with no checks and balances, with no representation, and preventing any legal challenges to that completely crazy concentration of power. That's not something you can do in a democracy. Unchecked and arbitrary power over the life of your subjects is, in fact, the definition of tyranny. Thus, always, to tyrants.
My concern now, extrapolated from this case, is that Obama will keep the political and civil structures in place that preclude change. He was possibly the last hope for a transformative US presidency, but given how he consistently refuses to rethink the distribution of power and rights of opposition, exemplified here in the US's security policy, I'm afraid that this thinking represents his action plans on the domestic front as well. If that happens, then halfway into president Palin's first term, we'll look back on arbitrary extrajudicial assasinations as the good old days.
Update: And while I'm busy recommending Glenn Greenwald's writing, this post is very readable, building on the recent exposure by the Washington Post of the secret intelligence bureaucracy in the USA, and the evaporation of internet privacy.
From the introduction to the Washington Post piece:
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.