Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Not Disillusioned, Disappointed, Maybe
For one thing, anyone who wants to talk about whether "American citizens" should be protected especially from assassination is missing the point--our Constitutional rights are granted to "persons"--not citizens. We aren't Republican Romans, but Americans, a coalition of colonies cobbled into a nation and built by an intermittent influx of immigrants into the oddly diverse and yet cohesive exceptionally international beast we are today; predicated on the curious thought of our founders that men (not citizens, but humans) had certain inalienable rights. And you can all quote along with me: among them, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. And so it happens that we are not unified by any particular religious or ethnic cohesion, so much as a shared interest in preserving a concept of freedom that was kind of a freak for the time in which the bright boys with muskets in the laboratory of our national experiment went and thunk us up.
My general horror, then, at practices including indefinite detention, cruel and unusual punishment (my contention being that persons detained allegedly for interrogation, having no information to impart, are ever treated ill for only one distinctive and destructive purpose--vengeance for crimes neither proven nor resolved--or call it two purposes if you would include bucking the morale of the sorts of people who would plump for torture in any event) and execution without trial has no relationship to citizenship--except--
I can appreciate a logic that considers that participation in an organization (such as al-Qaeda), in whatever capacity, is an embrace of the goals of that organization. It's a matter of aiding and abetting the larger organizational goal. If anything, to the degree that an American citizen's embrace of such an organization constitutes possible treason, I think I am prepared to view such a person as having become a kind of enemy of the state.
But I am loath to accept that any government can order an execution (because I can not view the loose notion that because the terrorist agencies in question are non-governmental and not, therefore, subject to borders, makes it right to assume that the planet is itself a battlefield) without at the least some sort of judicial review, just as we would expect to have for a warrant. Which gets us right to the quick'n'dirty "warrantless wiretapping" sorts of justification that President Obama has already shown himself too ready to endorse. It's an assumption that a branch of the government will simply do its job without excesses and appropriately--which is a lovely thought and one I doubt is accurate. While I might, for example, shed no "civil libertarian tears" for an al-Awlaki--I am hard-pressed to find a similar justification for the murder of al-Awlaki's son. And while "collateral damage" might get one so far in a genuine "battlefield" argument, it is less true where the strike is premeditated, isn't it?
I am not John Yoo--I don't find it easy to figleaf the excesses of the administration I support. I am sick at heart that I question the degree to which I excuse or understand-- tous comprendre ne sont pas necessaire tous pardonner. It is not my intent to rationalize behavior that I would abhor in any other government, because where do I stop justifying it? Where does anyone? Ethics has to be understood as a social compact, and transparency, or at least, some degree of imput, must hold sway over a life or death decision regarding anybody--right? And so why not that old mechanism we inherited over the years--our checks and balances--at least someone to second the vote to sentence any party to death?
I trust Obama and yet I don't trust the executive branch to do anything like being judge, jury, and executioner of some indiscriminate number of persons because we'd like to think they aren't the worst people to make that decision. I am appalled that I am comfortable with the deaths of those not so much immanently concerned with plotting death to America, as merely copacetic with it. I'll be damned if I imagine that any one authority should then be responsible for a hit on that individual or those individuals, though.