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Apparently, if you let one administration off the hook for war crimes and for violating our constitution and laws, the next guy to occupy the White House gets to thinking that it’s okay to issue an assassination order against an American citizen.

Hey, it’s not as bad as lying us into a war, right? Or torturing people to force false intel out of them to support a personal vendetta against Iraq. Or killing thousands of Iraqis or Afghanis or Pakistanis (and we’re not even at war with Pakistan!)…It’s just one guy. One American guy.

Apparently, Obama has gotten the impression that presidential performance is graded on a curve, and that as long as he does better than the previous guy, he’s cool.

Except that’s not the way it works. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work…

For those who don’t obsessively follow the news but somehow do follow this blog (probably a null set, I will concede), the New York Times reported today:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

The article goes on to remind us that al-Awlaki has been linked to both Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman in the Fort Hood shooting last year, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the famed “underwear bomber” from last Christmas. Clearly, from an American perspective this dude is not on the side of the angels (speaking metaphorically, because hey, buddhist here). He may even be guilty of treason.

Does that mean it’s okay for an American president to order his assassination?

Hell no.

Let me remind you, no matter what activities this guy is guilty of, he is an American citizen. Like all of us, he should be held accountable for his crimes. I am not arguing against accountability.

What I am doing is arguing in favor of the rule of law. Remember, that concept – that fundamental principle of our system of government – that Obama campaigned on returning us to?

In taking this action, the Obama administration has started us down a very dangerous slippery slope. If we’re allowed to assassinate Americans overseas for engaging in terrorist activities, why not assassinate them domestically, as well? So much neater than actually trying and convicting them, after all. No chance they will be released because the prosecution dropped the ball.

But then, why stop there? Why not go after anyone who encourages others to rebel against the government? Again, if someone is truly inciting others to violence, we can lock them up (something Glenn Beck would do well to remember, as some of his rhetoric seems to be skating closer to the Brandenburg standard by the day). But they might beat the charge. A bullet or two would solve that problem right quick.

Sure, we might fuck up occasionally, and kill someone who didn’t deserve it, but it’s all to keep the country safe, right? Just call the innocent victims collateral damage and move on.

What led the Obama administration to believe it could get away with deciding to act to deprive this al-Awlaki character of life without due process of law?

I would argue that it is Congress’s failure, during and since the Bush administration, to rein in the power of the executive branch of government and reassert itself as a check on the authority of the president.

If our national political system were working the way it ought to, Bush and/or Cheney would have had to face the consequences of their various illegal and unconstitutional acts. At a minimum, following the last election, Congress would have imposed new constraints on the executive, or at least increased its oversight activities.

It’s what happened after we got rid of Nixon. It’s what should have happened in 2008. Actually, it should have happened by sometime in 2002 or 2004, but no use crying over spilled milk…

But a curious thing happened in 2008: voters were so fed up with the Republicans after eight years of Bush malfeasance and misfeasance that they voted in powerful Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

As a result, Congress apparently perceived very little need to rein in the executive branch. They were all on the same side, after all…the side of the angels (there they are again)…right?

Riiiiiiight…

It is a simple fact of political power dynamics that almost no one in a position of power will voluntarily relinquish that power to another official or branch of government unless forced to do so. Why would they? Even if they don’t intend to use the power to do some specific act (say, torture detainees, or hold them without trial) right now, well, there’s no telling whether circumstances might arise in the future where they would want to be able to do so.

Which is why we haven’t seen some changes that we were promised when we voted for Obama.

Remember habeas corpus? Yeah, I don’t either. Seems like we should have gotten that back by now, though, doesn’t it?

How about basic privacy protections? Like being able to trade e-mails or IMs or texts without thinking about how some computer was storing the information just in case someone got it into his head to use that information to build a federal case against you. Or maybe sell it to the tabloids. Whatever.

Remember how President Obama talked about Due Process back when he was candidate Obama? I miss that.

I could go on. And on. About the powers that Bush 43 grabbed that Obama hasn’t relinquished. About how wrong it is for our government to be targeting American citizens for assassination, no matter what those individuals are accused of doing. About what a freaking disappointment Obama is for progressives (no matter how much the Republicans may scream “Socialist!” about the man).

I could. But as usual, Glenn Greenwald has done a much better job than I could of explaining just how fucked up the whole thing is. Spencer Ackerman has some good thoughts on the subject, too.

Seems like this would be a good time to flood the White House e-mail servers with messages expressing concern about this change in policy.

We need to remind the Obama administration that if Congress won’t hold him accountable, we will. That we voted for him based on certain claims about what he would do if and when he was elected, and we can vote him out if he doesn’t at least try to live up to the hype. That he works for us, and has a duty to uphold the laws and constitution. And not some convoluted John Yoo interpretation of same, but an interpretation that would likely persuade a few Supreme Court Justices if it ever came down to that.

Speak up. Speak out. Do something.

jane doe


NB: Updated at bottom of post. -jd

Hey everybody, lookit what I just found:

It appears that some Political Science professor named Marc Turetzky, of Gavilan College (in Gilroy, California, home of the always fragrant Gilroy Garlic Festival) has set up one of those “Rate My ______” sites.

There are a whole mess of these things. Rate My Picture. Rate My Life. Rate My Date. Rate My Rack. The one I’m most familiar with is RateMyProfessors.com, because hey, grad student here. This one is new, though:

It’s time to play Rate My Congressman!

It’s set up in blog format, one blog post per Representative. Visitors to the site are invited to rate their Representative in the Comments.

At least, that’s what I assume we’re supposed to do. It looks like the professor has been setting it up this weekend. He seems to be going state-by-state, with each state being it’s own blog category. As I type this, only about twenty states are up. But hey, lookee here…it appears that he’s already added all the California representatives.

And here’s our beloved House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

No one’s left a comment yet.

How could I possibly resist?

To Professor Turetzky:

It looks like you are still setting this blog up. I don’t know if you are doing this in connection with a course you are teaching, or if this is for general public consumption, but I stumbled across your blog and really couldn’t resist.

jd

——-

When Nancy Pelosi rose to the position of Speaker of the House after the 2006 elections, a lot of people, myself included, thought that we would finally see an end to the Bush administration’s illegal and unconstitutional actions at home and abroad.

Surely, with the Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives, we would see some real oversight, some investigation into the many, many scandals that seem to have become business as usual over the past few years.

Surely, Ms. Pelosi would use the powers granted to her by the Constitution and laws of this country to at the very least ensure that no further damage was done to our civil rights, our dignity, and our reputation among other nations.

Surely, she would guide the House of Representatives along a course that would rein in the worst abuses of the Bush administration.

Surely, you jest.

Almost immediately, she made it clear that impeachment – the most powerful tool granted to Congress to control illegal acts by the executive branch – was off the table.

The reason for doing so has never been clear to me. If ever there were a president deserving of impeachment, it would be the current Decider in Chief. His crimes against our constitution, against our laws, and against humanity are almost too numerous to itemize at this point. Failure to impeach such a man under these circumstances would itself be a failure by Congress to uphold its responsibilities under the constitution.

And yet, the president has not been impeached, despite efforts by Kucinich and others, despite widespread public outcry.

Because Speaker Pelosi declared that impeachment was off the table.

Furthermore, she has repeatedly caved in to Bush’s craven demands for yet more power, yet more authority, and has allowed yet more money to be poured into the pockets of corporations like Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater as part of his unending war on Iraq.

The Democrats have a strong majority in the House of Representatives. It is not like the Senate, where they can only be said to control the chamber because Lieberman is still caucusing with them.

It should have been relatively simple to prevent Bush from shoving through measures that were antithetical to our nation’s governing documents. Measures like the revised FISA bill that passed recently.

What was it Nancy Reagan always used to say? Just say, “No.”

And yet somehow, Pelosi did nothing, or next to nothing. And we are now faced with an even graver situation, both domestically and internationally, than we were in 2006.

And while we are rating Speaker Pelosi’s performance, let us not forget that recent weeks have brought the revelation that Speaker Pelosi was among the Democratic House leaders who were briefed on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that have been used by Americans against others in recent years. She knew we were torturing prisoners as a matter of federal government policy, yet she did and said nothing.

To be fair to Speaker Pelosi, she has managed some good things during her tenure as House Speaker. There have been times when she and her colleagues have stood together to pass important legislation opposed by the president, or to block legislation he tried to force through.

But many of those victories seem to have been only temporary ones. The House initially held strong against the FISA expansion and telecom immunity provisions, for instance, yet when faced with repeated demands from the Bush administration, the Democrats eventually caved.

Is it fair to blame Pelosi for that? Maybe not. But I can’t help thinking that Tip O’Neill wouldn’t have let some of that crap through.

Looking around the site here, I cannot find any rating metric for rating our representatives, so I guess it is up to me as the first commenter to propose one…

Hmmm…this is actually trickier than it sounds. I have several ideas, actually, but the WordPress restrictions on HTML don’t seem to allow for inserting little icons in one’s post, which rules out a couple of my ideas. For instance, I was going to go with little pink pigs, because, well, our representatives in Washington are feeding at the public trough, and also there’s the nice Orwellian tie-in with Animal Farm.

But that’s probably overly cynical, isn’t it? After all, I’m sure there are people who want to say nice things about their representatives. I mean, not me, because I’m in Redstatesville, and my representative is a rubberstamper who votes however Bush wants him to. But surely there must be SOME people who actually like their representatives, no matter how low the approval ratings are for Congress these days, right?

How about this: we can use the symbol for dollars ($) as the rating icon. It’s perfect, because it can carry so many meanings — the tax dollars that they waste (or occasionally use wisely), the campaign contributions they receive from the lobbyists and heads of major corporations, the federal dollars they are able to direct to their home districts via earmarks, the bribes they receive…the possibilities are endless.

So, using a one ($) to five ($$$$$) scale, with five representing the best one could possibly hope for in a congressional representative and one representing pond scum:

My overall rating for Nancy Pelosi is: $$

Though to be fair, I would have given her two and one half dollar signs, if I could just figure out how to get half a dollar sign to appear.

Ah, well, maybe someone else will come up with a better rating system.

jane doe

Update: It looks like the person running the blog is moderating the comments – unmoderated was too much to hope for, wasn’t it? I thought they were unmoderated because I could see my comment after I submitted it, but I found out no one else could. So if you follow the links in this post, you won’t see my comment over there – at least not yet.


Anonymous Liberal has a great discussion of the petitioners’ brief for the Supreme Court hearing on whether the detainees in Guantanamo are entitled to the protection of habeas corpus and due process under the constitution. Go read it!

jane doe

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