Historians of the future, if they are not imprisoned for saying so, will trace the end of America's democratic experiment to the fearful days immediately after 9/11, what Bruce Springsteen called the days of the empty sky, when frightened, small men named Bush and Cheney made the first decisions to abandon the Constitution in the name of freedom and created a new version of the security state with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, secret prisons and sanctioned torture by the U.S. government. They proceeded carefully, making sure that lawyers in their employ sanctioned each dark act, much as kings in old Europe used the church to justify their own actions.
Those same historians will remark from exile on the irony that such horrendous policies were not only upheld by Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor of Constitutional law, but added to until we came to the place we sadly occupy today: the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, publicly stating that the American Government may murder one of its own citizens when it wishes to do so, and that the requirements of due process enshrined in the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, itself drawn from the Magna Carta that was the first reflowering of basic human rights since the Greeks, can be satisfied simply by a decision by that same president.
Yesterday will thus be remembered as the day we gave up. No more clever wordplay (enhanced interrogations, "patriot" act, targeted killing, kinetic operations) but a simple declaration that the U.S. government will kill its own citizens when it wishes to, via a secret process we, and our victims, are not allowed to know or contest.
Brevity in Our Freedom
Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is beautiful in its brevity and clarity. When you are saying something true, pure, clean and right, you often do not need many words: "... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
There are no footnotes in the Fifth Amendment, no caveats, no secret memos, no exceptions for war, terrorism, mass rape, creation of concentration camps, acts of genocide, child torture or any evil. Those things are unnecessary, because in the beauty of what Lincoln offered to his audience as "a government of the people, by the people, for the people," the government would be made up of us, the purpose of government was to serve us, and the government would be beholden to us. Such a government would be incapable of killing its own citizens without care and debate and open trial.
With the excuse all tyrants proclaim, protecting the nation, on or about September 30, 2011 a U.S. drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, born in the United States and tragically devoted to al Qaeda. About a week later, the U.S. murdered al Awaki's 16 year old son. The U.S. had shot at the elder al Awlaki before, on May 7, 2011 under Obama's orders, and under the Bush administration. Before the U.S. government killed his son, attorneys for al Awlaki's father tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government killing of al Awlaki. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. This was the first time in our nation's history that a father sought to sue to prevent the government from extra-legally killing his son. The judge in the case surrendered to his post-9/11 fear and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens by decree.
Fear Shaped by Lies to Compel Compliance
In his speech, Attorney General Holder said things no honest man would ever believe would be said by the highest law officer in the United States.
Holder said "that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to 'due process' and that the Constitution's Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a 'judicial process.'"
Holder thus also declaimed that the victim also has no right to a defense, no right to speak on his behalf, no right to examine and refute the evidence against him and no right even to know his life will be taken under the decision of a few men in Washington. Indeed, Holder made clear that the government's decision to kill overshadowed the right to self-defense in saying "An individual's interest in making sure that the government does not target him erroneously could not be more significant. Yet it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks."
Holder said he rejected any attempt to label such operations assassinations, invoking the same airbrush of lawfulness that fueled the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the Holocaust. "Assassinations are unlawful killings. The U.S. government's use of lethal force in self-defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful."
So while the popular media remembers yesterday as the day Rush apologized for calling someone a slut and Republican candidates ignored the wave of history to carp about birth control, historians will look back on March 5, 2012 as the day America gave up on its experiment with unalienable rights, rights that are natural, not given, rights independent of governments, what our Declaration explained to an unsure forming nation as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
And that is the saddest part of a very sad day: the majority of Americans -- the consent of the governed -- seemingly do not care what Holder said, and are even now bleating on internet forums and likely in comments below to this article about the need to kill more terrorists, adding terrified, empty justifications to Holder's clever Newspeak. We did not have our freedom taken from us, we gave it away.