Privacy SOS

Another looking glass moment: the President as judge, jury and executioner

There was a time when the notion that the executive branch possesses the power  to decide (in secret, with no explanation given) whether to execute an American citizen would have provoked outrage.

There was a time when due process and the Fifth Amendment had something to do with the courts.

We have left that world and are now inhabiting a twilight zone where Attorney General Eric Holder can assert that targeting terrorist suspects for death is the sole role of the Executive Branch and is “not a departure from our laws and our values.”

In his March 5 speech at the Northwestern University School of Law the Attorney General leapt beyond the constraints of language and insisted that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment (“no person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law) does not mandate “a judicial process.”    Language means what the Executive Branch says it means.

“It is entirely lawful,” he states, for the Executive branch to decide which Americans are senior al Qaeda operatives who cannot be captured and represent an “imminent danger” and kill them, even if they are nowhere near a battlefield in the conventional sense. The battlefield is wherever the Executive branch says it is.  

How can this to be justified? In the name of self-defense we can act wherever we choose, without any kind of transparency or accountability, and do so, the Attorney General states, in full accordance with international and domestic law

Not only that. He insists that this is in keeping with “our most sacred principles and values – of security, justice and liberty for all citizens” which “must continue to unite us, to guide us forward, and to help us build a future that honors our founding documents and advances our ongoing – uniquely American – pursuit of a safer, more just, and more perfect union.”  

Contrast that with these words from the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi: 

Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact.

Two sides of the looking glass: which makes more sense to you?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.