Forgetting our founding principles
By Nat Hentoff
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2013
Our Founders would not recognize what we Americans have become, as nakedly shown in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial on the “King of Drones.”
It shows us to be a country that goes beyond the barbarism of “enhanced interrogation.” The world now sees we don't “arrest and interrogate suspected terrorists.” America “merely blows them away with missiles from the sky.”
This includes American citizens — without judicial due process.
For all the Senate Intelligence Committee's recent grilling of the overseer of these targeted CIA drone assassinations, John Brennan, it appears that he may well be confirmed as Barack Obama's new director of the CIA.
Also looking ahead shallowly is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who, according to The New York Times, “said she would review proposals to create a court to oversee targeted killings (most notably by pilotless drones).”
Feinstein indicated to The Times that “such a court would be analogous to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (created in 1978 through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), which oversees eavesdropping on American soil.”
According to The Times, Brennan said “that lethal operations are generally the sole responsibility of the executive branch.” (Where does it say that in the Constitution?)
“But he said the administration had ‘wrestled with' the concept of such a court and called the idea ‘certainly worthy of discussion.'”
I'm not surprised that Brennan, Obama's current chief counterterrorism adviser, is open to this court overseeing drone assassinations: The FISA court's proceedings are classified and only the government appears before it. The CIA drones' human targets would not be seen by these remote judges, and the court's sessions would be closed to the public.
If there were an award for those of our leaders who are most ignorant of the separation of powers, competing for first place would be George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama and — as chief counterterrorism adviser and during his years in the CIA — John Brennan.
Should Brennan be confirmed, he earnestly told us at his hearing what to expect from him during his regime:
“What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security,” The New York Times reported on Feb. 8.
As a reporter for 65 years, I became mindful of James Madison's emphasis on the press' importance in keeping the citizenry aware of what was really going on in the presidency, the Congress and the courts. But he turned out to be overly optimistic then and would be stunned now by how partisan and un-investigative so much of our media is — especially when covering the un-Constitutional killings of Americans.
In the few times that Obama has been directly challenged on where he is taking us, he smiles and says, “We won.”
When will the Constitution win? What are the odds in 2016?
Nat Hentoff is an authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
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