First things first. Obama is completely cool with the U.S. government killing its own citizens without the hassle of charging them with a crime or providing a trial, because it’s safer for the nation to simply have someone killed because they might do bad things in the future, which in fairness to the administration is unquestionably true. A leaked document provided the legal rationale behind the drone strike that killed an American citizen about a year ago in Yemen, arguing that assassinating a U.S. citizen is fine if an “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”
Let’s briefly forego the monumentally idiotic language here granting authority to kill to any ‘informed, high-level official’, language that’s so over-the-top comically broad it would be rejected for the first act of the third Ace Ventura movie, and instead, let’s just focus on the White House’s core belief that it is acceptable to kill its own citizens without the benefit of the protections afforded them by the Constitution.
Civil liberties have never fared well in America during times of war, so it’s no surprise to see terrorism bringing out the worst in the current administration, but their thinking is painfully short sighted. I could ramble on for an eternity about specific legal obligations against the government using deadly force without provocation, namely the fourteenth fucking amendment, but the big-picture principle is what matters here, and what it comes down to is at the very core of what it means to live in a free society.
What is this high-minded, sacrosanct principle, you ask? Well, here it is, as simple as can be, and I can’t make it no simpler, no matter how badly I manlge the English language in the process of setting it up:
Sometimes you have to let people shoot you in the face.
This is the price we pay to live in a free society. The state must allow me the ability to think, speak and live, or else I’m not really free. My actions are of course limited by law (I cannot steal, murder, rape or pillage without consequence) however, and this is the single most crucial aspect, I am totally free to attempt all of those things. I cannot be stopped from trying, and that is what makes me a free man, not the thousands of restrictions that are placed on me should I break the social contract and the laws of the land, but the ability to choose, to give my consent, tacit or otherwise, to behave according to my own desires and sense of morality. Every single day I could pillage. And every single day I choose not to.
Any supposed threat to national security doesn’t change our fundamental obligation to the laws of the land, which are born from the aforementioned concept, boiled down to its basics though it might be. Sometimes people will do bad things. We can try to police them, to stop them from doing evil, but we can’t punish them until they do, a crucial difference, and the death penalty clearly falls under the punishment rather than policing category. We have to allow for a chance of destruction or else we fundamentally alter our way of life. (I refrained from ending that sentence with …or else we let the terrorists win. No need to thank me for my restraint.) There’ll be plenty that argue we’ve been on that path for a long time, but I can’t remember the last time the government assassinated a U.S. citizen who was never charged with a crime.
We don’t have to watch Game of Thrones to know power corrupts, and those that attempt to use it for ‘good’, whatever that means in our limited concept of the term, are no different. A precedent has been set. A legal one at that. It’s now totally acceptable for the U.S. government to kill its own citizens. Where will this end? How do we hold ‘high-level, informed’ people accountable? None of this is even about Obama, who will only have power for a few more years. We just got done with ten years of good times in Iraq in response to the complete absence of nuclear weapons or any involvement on their part in 9/11 and does anyone feel like going back in time and retroactively giving Bush the power to assassinate at will? How about Cheney? This is not an isolated incident. You can bet that somewhere along the way, someone we know nothing about who is unaccountable for his actions is going to take the opportunity to use this doctrine to ‘protect’ the nation’s interests again.
The same concept came to play here in my Southern California home, when police officers narrowly missed killing two women in their attempt to kill Jordan Dorner, a former police officer who allegedly murdered multiple people and also allegedly attempted to kill multiple policemen. On Thursday the 7th, around 5ish in the morning, reportedly at least seven police officers opened fire on a truck they thought to be driven by Dorner, but was in fact carrying two women delivering newspapers. It was also the wrong make, model and color vehicle from the one Dorner owned, and the nice Hispanic women who almost died bore little resemblance to the 270 pound black man the police were targeting.
It doesn’t matter if you’re on edge. Police policy should not allow for the use of deadly force without provocation. It’s just that simple. You should have to do something to get shot two dozen times by the LAPD. If that policy is in place, which seems doubtful, then how can everyone who discharged their weapon on that morning not be summarily fired for gross negligence/incompetence? How can anyone think there is any other minimally appropriate response? Frankly, I see no reason why the officers shouldn’t be charged with attempted murder. I’m sure the officers were nervous. I’m sure they weren’t trying to execute two women on their paper route, but it’s not acceptable to respond to a tense situation with lethal violence.
Since then, Chief Beck has authorized a review of Dorner’s dismissal, but the fact that his only response to the near massacre of the two women was to explain the officers were working under “incredible tension” shows his priorities misplaced. Who gives a shit about Dorner’s firing right now? Dorner is the proverbial tree. The forest is the LAPD’s decision to riddle a truck and the surrounding cars and houses with bullets in the complete absence of provocation. Could we review that, maybe?
Of course, in fairness, a review of the shooting is certainly taking place, as all shootings receive some attention I imagine, but it will almost as certainly find minimal fault placed on the officers. There will be some nonsense about the officers yelling out instructions that weren’t heard, a miscommunication (“The truck was coming at us so we responded”)resulted in shots being fired, or something to that effect, and a slap on the wrist will be given, and then the two women will receive a settlement and that will be that. The incompetent and excessive force of the LAPD obscures the larger point, which seems incredibly unlikely to be dealt with by an internal review board, which was the officers should never have fired in the first place, even if it had been Dorner in the truck.
It’s the same as when the Obama administration approves assassination, you should have to wait until you are fired upon to respond in kind. Police, and the military falls under this umbrella when it acts preemptively against terrorism, should not be allowed to punish. It’s not their job. That’s the job of the courts. Nobody wants to get shot in the face, metaphorically or in practice, and when it happens we are all, appropriately, crushed and sickened. Regardless, ‘alleged’ doesn’t give anyone the right to shoot first.
Anyway, congrats to everyone involved in the application and legal defense of the U.S. government’s state-sanctioned assassination of an American citizen who was never charged with a crime or given a chance to defend himself at a trial, but who was, they’re all certain, a bad guy (and he probably was). I rarely get this angry so early in the year, especially before the academy awards gives out Oscars to undeserving recipients. The LAPD would receive the same level of recognition, except they failed to actually kill anyone in their most recent quest to forego the inconvenience of actually arresting someone, let alone charging someone for a criminal act, before letting loose with a torrent of gunfire. Obsessed only with the immediacy of the moment (Terrorism! Cop killer!) in both cases, we have the singular failure of those in a position of power and authority to understand the simplest and most powerful bedrock of this country’s philosophical underpinnings: Don’t tread on me.