Wednesday, April 07, 2010


I've been re-watching one of my favorite TV series of all time, Firefly. It's unfortunate that this series was canceled before even one season could complete. It was absolutely brilliant and Fox did it a great disservice in the way they aired it.

Anyway, I like it mostly because the cast of characters in this 14 episode series are incredibly complex and rich and well thought out. My favorite character is Malcolm Reynolds, the captain. He would be - if he lived here - a libertarian. This quote from him is really quite insightful:
A government is just a group of people, usually notably ungoverned.
And it reminds me of those who put a great deal of trust in government. The government isn't magic. It's just people. People who are given a lot of power. And with almost no accountability. Sure, there are elections... every 4 years!  But in between those elections we have very little power to contain the hubris of those we've elected.

And I'm reminded of this as I contemplate a piece of news that came out today:
Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield.
The person in question, Anwar al-Awlaki, is an American-born Islamic cleric. In other words, he's an American citizen. Now one could argue that this doesn't change anything. And I have before. I believe that the rights described by our constitution are rights that all people have - not just US citizens. So it makes no difference that he's an American or not. I believe that his right to due process is a constraint on the behavior of our government regardless of his citizenship. Of course, not everyone agrees with this.

But there is little disagreement that the constitution requires due process as a protection for American citizens, and he is one. And the president has just authorized his execution without due process! This is crossing a line beyond which is a short step to totalitarianism. I was angry when the Bush Administration held what it called "enemy combatants" for years in Guantanamo. That was, in my opinion, an egregious violation of those people's civil rights. But so far as I'm aware, no one was summarily executed. If the people in power can kill this man without due process demanded by the constitution, what else are they willing to do? Is there no line they're unwilling to cross?

My hope for this is that somewhere, something was grossly mis-reported. That there's some fact here not yet known that changes this whole story. The alternative - that it's accurate - is horrifying. It means that we don't just have a government that's fiscally out of control, we have people in power who do not respect the rule of law. And they have the keys to the weapons.