THE SENATE’S NEWEST MEMBER WILL FIT RIGHT IN AS PRESIDENT OBAMA RETAINS “LEGAL” TORTURE AND ESCALATES THE WAR ON THE CONSTITUTION.
by Nat Hentoff
for HUSTLER Magazine – July 2010
When barely known Republican Scott Brown took the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, it was front-page news that shook the White House. The Democrats had lost their 60-vote hammer to stop Republican filibusters. Also, the new senator had the “common man “aura, campaigning across Massachusetts in his pickup truck. And Brown won a strong majority of the state’s large bloc of independent voters.
But how independent of the Bush-Cheney legacy—now vigorously continued by Obama—of bypassing the Constitution is this guy? Right after Brown’s victory I discovered that he supports water boarding. This form of torture—making an interrogated prisoner believe he is about to be drowned—is illegal under the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996, the Torture Act of 2000and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. signed and ratified.
In his acceptance speech, moreover, Senator Brown showed multidimensional ignorance by proclaiming that our Constitution does “not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime.” But the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumedienev. Bush decision granted Guantanamo prisoners the right, under our Constitution, to file habeas corpus petitions to make the government justify their imprisonment. And then the shining new senator also harrumphed that “in dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them—not lawyers to defend them.”
But how do we know, under our rule of law, that individuals taken into custody are actually terrorists until there are lawyers to represent them? And where did Senator Brown get the notion that our tax dollars are going to such defenders of accused terrorists as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and various lawyers in Washington firms who volunteer to represent them?
Also, Brown is emphatically against “giving new rights to terrorists.” Again, shouldn’t we first find out if they are terrorists, and which “new rights” does he have in his cluttered mind?
So far the media has been Scott Brown’s cheerleader. However, I have a grave question that I hope the elite Washington press corps asks the gladiator senator: Does he believe that a President of the United States has the legal authority to order, without going to any judge, the targeted assassination of an American citizen considered to be involved with al-Qaeda or other direct terrorist threats to our country?
On February 3, 2010, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair declared that President Barack Obama does have the authority to assassinate such Americans. Admiral Blair was reacting to a January 27, 2010, front-page Washington Post report by Pulitzer Prize-winner Dana Priest that in Yemen, in a hunt for terrorists, forces involved in joint operations with Yemeni troops conducted targeted assassinations—approved by President Obama—that have killed six top leaders of al-Qaeda affiliates among scores of other people, including civilians.
Priest added significantly that these operations include “a short list of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC[the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command—Army Rangers, Delta Forces, Green Berets, et al.].”
Yemen isn’t the only country where Presidentially authorized hit lists are being implemented. The CIA’s pilotless Predator drones, guided thousands of miles away by agents at CIA headquarters in Virginia, are being deployed elsewhere. As William Fisher reported in TruthOut.org: “The Obama Administration is ramping up its use of drone unmanned aircraft to execute targeted killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and perhaps other locations—and in the process, killing [innocent] civilians along with insurgents.”
These assassinations are being conducted in our name as Americans. Accordingly, in a Freedom of Information Act request to the President, the ACLU wants to know, as do I, the geographical scope of these deadly missions, the civilian casualty toll and how many fatalities in Afghanistan were al-Qaeda or Taliban. Also, of course, on what legal basis are these assassinations being conducted?
As for any Americans on any of these hit lists, former Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald, a dauntless exposer of Bush-Cheney and Obama lawlessness, has emphasized atCommonDreams.org that without any judicial approval or specific oversight by Congress, these executions are “basically giving the President the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial.”
And what about the innocent civilians killed as “collateral” damage” during these assassinations? Said Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions: “We need the United States to be more upfront and say, ‘Okay, we’re willing to discuss some aspects of this program.’ Otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people, and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws.”
I haven’t heard or seen any deeply troubled member of Congress seconding that urgent request to the President. I have also heard nothing about these extrajudicial assassinations from Senator Scott Brown. Now that the news is out, where are the demands from protesters, however small in number, in our streets?
As Obama continues to increase drone annihilations, there will be even more successful recruiting by our terrorist enemies than happened after the release of photos depicting what U.S. troops were doing to Abu Ghraib prisoners.
Is this America?
Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America ; Living the Bill of Rights; and the forthcoming Is This America?
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