WASHINGTON – Selected to run by the powerful and wealthy, promising the public one thing and delivering another after elected, the President of the United States is the focus of a new political doctrine — the unitary executive. The office of the president has rapidly become a law unto itself over the past ten years.
Some time before February 2010, the President of the United States authorized the assassination of a U.S. citizen living overseas. The citizen was identified by the White House as a terrorist.
Unlike previous government programs to kill individuals overseas, this one wasn’t a covert operation. The program was openly announced, without qualification. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, discussed the plan in February at a congressional hearing. A few weeks later, John O. Brennan, the president’s National Security Adviser, announced that the marked man was one of “dozens” of U.S. citizens put on the presidential death list because “they are very concerning to us.”
The principal of unfettered executive power, absent political and judicial restraint, was officially established. Executive power now supersedes established law.
We have come to the point where the president can openly designate a U.S. citizen as a terrorist removing all rights, including the right to life. The administration implied that this was for overseas targets only. But recall that the illegal wiretapping program was originally for overseas calls only. It rapidly spread to domestic surveillance, as well.
We have laws that require investigations, indictments, and trials prior to applying any sentence, let alone the death penalty. Those laws were cast aside, replaced by executive fiat.
Who spoke out against this assumption of executive prerogative?
Very few. What is the next step?
Will terrorists designated by the executive branch be targeted for execution in what is now referred to as the homeland?
This open proclamation of lawlessness by the president was asserted and accepted without so much as a whimper by the other branches of government, political leaders, and the mainstream media.
War Making and other Lawlessness
The broadest premeditated program of lawlessness by the executive branch concerns war making. The U.S. has not declared a war since World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt gained congressional approval for declarations of war against Japan and Germany in December, 1941, then Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania in June, 1942.
The military efforts in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, for example, were all wars. Yet, with one exception, every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt committed the nation to war or the continuation of war without the required congressional declaration.
The Constitution couldn’t be more explicit. Only Congress has the power to declare war: “The Congress shall have power to … declare war… (Article I, Section 8). Calling a war by another name does not justify bypassing the requirement for congressional action. It’s still a war. Yet the governing law, the U.S. Constitution, has been ignored time and again.
This is the ultimate lawlessness. It invokes the major efforts of people, material, and ongoing expenditures. These wars result in injuries, deaths, and destruction in the nations attacked and injury and death to U.S. citizens unlawfully committed. In addition, the wars fuel substantial ill will and hostility toward the United States.
Congress has been consulted, so to speak, about these wars. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for example, President Bush had to prove that Iraq was an imminent danger to the United States. The intelligence community produced a report that wrongly indicated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But the only scenario listed for a Saddam Hussein attack on the U.S. was in the case that the U.S. attacked Iraq; the very act the president asked Congress to authorize due to an imminent danger that never existed.
In addition, the pretext for war, 9/11, was bolstered with hysterical fear-mongering that the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction would be used here. No credible finding was (or has been) made that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 and George W. Bush has explicitly denied any connection.
This illegal invasion and undeclared war were based on a deliberate lie, a 180 degree reversal of the intelligence report used to justify a preemptive invasion. Lying in order to launch an invasion is a crime.Nothing was done to punish the lying by the president and nothing much was said by those in power to indicate that a war based on lies needed to be stopped.
Disregard for the law continued after the invasion. Security threats created by the invasion were used as the rationale for presidential license to violate established law. The secret, illegal wiretapping of citizens by the Bush administration violated multiple U.S. laws protecting a citizen’s right to privacy.
The torture of prisoners captured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was another presidential act in full defiance of established law. Rather than provide information, the unlawful techniques actually inspired greater resistance.
Architecture of a Totalitarian State
The architecture of a totalitarian state is almost fully in place and the lawless implementation is accelerating. While the Bush violations of the Constitution and various federal codes were greeted with shock in some quarters, the staid declaration of a presidential assassination order by Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Barack Obama, was met with virtually no resistance by Congress.
The president can point to congressional authorization for its acts and judicial tolerance when those acts are challenged. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution and the laws it embodies and protects have been savaged.
We are ruled by a lawless executive branch, by presidents who routinely ignore the law. The chief executive in our system is unchecked.
Presidents also make sure that others are never held accountable for these lawless acts, including their predecessors from the opposition party. It is a perpetual and predictable process of occasional feigned concern that masks a profound indifference to the law and protects those who do the most damage through that indifference.
Those with any doubts about a lawless nation need only refer to the suit filed against the presidential assassination program. Two civil rights groups seek to stop the program based on long-standing and clear U.S. and international law.
The administration’s response was that the suit should be dismissed since a trial would require the release of state “secrets”, i.e., the reasons and motives for their extra-judicial murders and how their information was obtained. The executive branch simply declares that its decisions are beyond any review. Our current president continues to animate the unitary executive Frankenstein created by Addington, Bybee, and Yoo.
Unfettered executive power is allowed by an enabling Congress and a complicit federal judiciary. The three branches of government form a seamless whole of self-supporting lawlessness.
Special thanks to Michael Green and Andrew Kreig for their very helpful comments.
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