It’s a basic principle of U.S. law that a person accused of a crime has the right to face his accusers and defend himself. The Obama administration demonstrated last week how little it cares about due process when it assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki. But it turns out the process is even more sinister than we thought. There’s a secret group of bureaucrats who decide which Americans should be killed. They simply inform the president of their decisions.
Have we really become so callous toward Americans’ civil rights that we turn over decisions about citizens’ executions to anonymous groups of bureaucrats who can’t be held accountable? How can anyone think this is constitutional or legal in any way?
Disgraced former president Richard Nixon infamously declared that, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” Nixon was explaining his actions related to Watergate to journalist David Frost in a 1977 interview. Even though he was forced to resign from office, Nixon still believed he had done nothing wrong, because he believed a president had the power to do pretty much whatever he wanted.
In what way is the Obama administration’s position here different from what Nixon said? At least Nixon didn’t order the CIA to kill anyone, as far as we know.
For about 150 years, presidents and member of Congress have slowly ignored the text of the Constitution. For awhile, the Supreme Court held back most of the worst excesses. But in the 1930s, FDR was successful in ramming through socialist economic programs that went far beyond what the Constitution authorized. The trend has continued in both economics and in civil rights. Although the courts have extended some additional protections over the last 50 years, the Supreme Court has been AWOL when it comes to stopping presidents when they assert the right to do pretty much anything in the name of national security.
It’s bad enough to have a president assert the right to kill Americans with no arrest and no trial. It’s worse when courts ignore the issue. But it’s worst of all that we find out the president doesn’t even have to decide. When unaccountable bureaucrats have the power to decide which Ameircans to kill, it’s just a kangaroo court or a star chamber.
Ron Paul suggested last week that a president ordering the assassination of Americans is an impeachable offense. If others in the administration ordered the death — and claim the right to order other deaths — they deserve to be arrested and charged with murder. This is what we would expect from a dictatorship, not from a free country. The fact that we hear so relatively little outcry about this says a lot about how far respect for law and due process has fallen.