Thursday, March 14, 2013
It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face ... was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime ...
George Orwell, 1984
So Rand Paul stayed on his feet for half a day and talked about the Constitution. What the filibuster came down to, minus the eloquence, was the statement that the President can't order an American citizen killed on American soil on a whim, or even a well-founded suspicion of terrorism or other homicidal crime. Failing an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to some innocent person, due process is obligatory. That Paul was talking about death by drone is irrelevant. Killing is killing, whether by drones, snipers, ninjas or CIA button-men. That's part of the Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
So why are drones an issue? We've been finessing the Fifth Amendment for years, seizing property via civil forfeiture or eminent domain, always with some flimsy excuse about the "War on Drugs" or "urban renewal." In both cases it comes down to money and power, just like it always does. Eric Holder's shucking and jiving is just the latest in a long history of rationalizations, and they're all manure. Whether the source is a donkey or an elephant, the stink is the same. Oh, perhaps it's because we're now talking about killing people rather than just taking away their living. Way to stand on principle, Rand. Could it be that if someone had defended the rest of the Amendment we wouldn't now be debating assassination by remote-control airplane?
Another question: Why is getting a letter from Holder saying "Oh, no, of course we're not going to kill any Americans in America!" considered a victory? It's just a letter, dummy. It means nothing, just like Obama's promises about guns, health insurance, transparency and the rest meant nothing. They're all lies. Why do you think this is any different?
You'll notice that Brennan, like Hagel, was confirmed and they're both now free to ravage our intelligence and military services, respectively. So what did Rand Paul achieve? Some notoriety for himself and a little morale boost for Limbaugh, Hannity and other conservative pundits. (For another, less sanguine, conservative opinion, see here.)
What's the real issue with drones? Why are we more afraid of them than other killing or spying machines? I think it's because they're easy. Very easy. Military snipers, for instance, are enormously skilled marksmen and have many other roles besides shooting. Only a small fraction of people can do the job, and they need extensive training. To kill they have to deploy within range and sight of the quarry. It's hard enough on a battlefield, let alone in the US, especially when you're trying to keep the whole thing secret. Too many people have to know. It's hard to argue that you're responding to "imminent danger." Drones are operated by anyone capable of playing a video game, sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned room*. They can patrol constantly; using satellite surveillance the operator, maybe a continent away, can locate the target and spit a missile before you can say "due process." Afterwards there's plenty of time for excuses and coverups.
"So what?" somebody might think. The drone strike took out a terrorist and his or her accomplices, right? Let's consider that. When you see "terrorist" most people think of a wild-eyed Muslim fanatic. The DHS has a longer list, though, and while I wouldn't mind seeing a lot of the people on it take a Hellfire proctological exam I also know that in a just society the worst people are treated by the law exactly as are the most admired. Then, too, there's definition creep. The domestic terrorists have lots of guns and practice shooting, right? So if you have guns and practice shooting you must be one, too. There are pro-life fanatics who murder people and blow up buildings, so if you're pro-life, you're suspect. Any veteran might be the next Timothy McVeigh. See? Sixty-odd years ago there were Communist witch-hunts. History repeats but the sides have switched and we haven't learned anything. Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover didn't have satellites or drones, though, nor a compliant media.
The whole drone issue is just one more piece of evidence that the entire population of the United States is on double secret probation and has been for years. It didn't start with Obama, in all fairness, but his people are refining and escalating it. Governments always seize more power unless they're checked, but our checks and balances have been askew for generations. It's going to take more than thirteen hours of legislative theater to reset them.
* And Hegel proposed giving these twinks medals. What for? Carpal tunnel? Going without a Grande Latte?