Street Corner Soapbox: The Kill List

Category:  Street Corner Soapbox
Thursday, October 13th, 2011 at 9:00 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: The Kill List by Jay Stevens
A. Conaway

Last week, it came to light that a secret panel made up of government officials creates a ?kill list? of US citizens for targets of CIA assassination. The panel ? allegedly a subset of the White House National Security Council ? meets in secret, operates outside the law, and deliberates on no known set of rules or guidelines.

It's this panel that recently approved the killing of US-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who allegedly recruited American-born Muslims for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, including Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, and Christmas Underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdumutallab.

I write, ?allegedly,? because al-Awlaki never faced a prosecutor, never had a day in court, and the evidence against him was not judged by a jury of his peers, as is his right as a citizen of the United States.

al-Awlaki may have been guilty of the crimes he was accused of. He may have been as terrible and malicious as depicted by government terror experts. But we'll never know because he was convicted and sentenced to death by a secret panel of Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.

But was his killing unconstitutional? Not according to the legal advisers of President George W. Bush. John Yoo ? author of the infamous ?Torture Memo,? which argued the government has the right to torture terror suspects ? wrote that the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure, ?had no application to domestic military operations.? According to Yoo, in time of war, no Constitutional amendment prevents presidential action to defend the nation from a threat ? and, conveniently, it's up to the president to define when we're at ?war? and what a ?threat? is. In short, Yoo argues that a president can do anything he wants whenever he wants to, as long as he can justify his actions as war-time measures.

It's this legal reasoning Obama has adopted from the previous administration to set up the secret death panel and assassinate al-Awlaki.

According to current legal precedence, however, Yoo's way off base. In Youngtown vs. Sawyer in 1952, the Supreme Court ruled that the president had no power to seize and operate striking steel mills during the Korean War. ?The President's power, if any, to issue the order,? went the majority opinion, ?must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.?

?The experience through which the world has passed in our own day has made vivid the realization that the Framers of our Constitution were not inexperienced doctrinaires,? wrote Justice Felix Frankfurter in the ruling, ?These long-headed statesmen had no illusion that our people enjoyed biological or psychological or sociological immunities from the hazards of concentrated power....?

It would seem, then, that the president, even in time of war, must obey the law.

But, of course, the current crop of conservative justices in the Supreme Court live to overturn decades- and centuries-long precedence. It was this same court that bestowed personhood and the right of unlimited political spending on corporations; that approved voter registration photo identification laws while acknowledging it targeted a particular, partisan demographic ? the poor and elderly; and upheld the centuries-long practice of habeas corpus by a single vote in a 2008 case.

If Justice Anton Scalia is any guide for how the Supreme Court would today rule on a secret administration program to assassinate Americans, the republic is in deep trouble. In a 2008 60 Minutes interview, Scalia was asked if the nation's torture program represented ?cruel and unusual punishment? ? which is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

?No,? said Scalia. ?Has anybody ever referred to torture as punishment? I don't think so.? Scalia elaborated: ?When he's hurting you in order to get information from you, you wouldn't say he's punishing you.?

Pretty ugly semantics, isn't it? Grabbing people and torturing them is constitutional because the government isn't arresting and prosecuting them for breaking a law. It's easy to see how this would apply to the government's real death panel, isn't it?

al-Awlaki was not a citizen accused of wrong-doing, his death not a prosecution, but a government response to a ?threat? in time of ?war.?

?The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day,? wrote Justice Frankfurter in 1952 in war-time conditions much worse than today. ?It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority.?

Erie Reader: Vol. 4, No. 23
Now Available — Pick It Up Today

CURRENT

House Republicans are suing the President. Where's Edgar Snyder when you need him?

President Obama addressed the nation last night in regards to his new plan for immigration policy, did you tune in? If you didn't we've got you covered. In other news, the CIA is trying to delete all their old emails, and in Iraq and Syria the refugee crisis seems to be getting out of hand. 

Local singer parodies infectious pop song to spread message about controversial topic.

Max & Erma's will celebrate the joys of beards and moustaches in a competition to see who has the most fantastic facial hair in the Erie area.

It's Thirsty Thursday and you need something to talk about. So here are five stories, neatly summarized for you. Another man was arrested outside the White House, snow is proving deadly in Western New York, and someone has been charged in the Edinboro shooting. All that and more, in case you missed it.

IN THIS ISSUE

The popular genre-bending cellist and composer brings his distinct brand of indie folk to Erie.

The comedy legend makes his first Erie appearance.

Local organization Pro Wrestling Rampage celebrates its 7th anniversary.

Addressing the future of athletics in the Erie School District.

The imminent closing of Shur-fine on West Eighth Street will result in a food desert.

In 2102, a van and a narrow patch of asphalt changed Bob Sonnenberg’s life permanently.

This crowdfunding program could be the answer Erie needs to foster new businesses.

To invest, or not to invest taxpayer money in the Public Safety Radio System – that is the question.

The Texas-based band brings their metalcore to Basement Transmissions.

The real reason the Republican Party came out on top Nov. 4.