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Idolizing Absolute Power: The Pro-Assassination Crowd

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The Christian Science Monitor published a piece I wrote last month in opposition to allowing the U.S. government to kill Americans without a warrant, trial, or any judicial niceties. The article, “Assassination Nation: Are There Any Limits on President Obama’s License to Kill?,” spurred a torrent of feedback on Yahoo.com that vividly illustrates how some Americans now view absolute power.

Some folks believed that opposing “extrajudicial killings” should be a capital offense. My article mentioned an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit pressuring the Obama administration “to disclose the legal standard it uses to place U.S. citizens on government kill lists.” “Will R.” was indignant: “We need to send Bovard and the ACLU to Iran. You shoot traders and the ACLU are a bunch of traders.” (I’m not aware that the ACLU is engaged in either interstate or international commerce.) “Jeff” took the high ground: “Hopefully there will soon be enough to add James Bovard to the [targeted killing] list.” Another commenter — self-labeled as “Idiot Savant” — saw a grand opportunity: “Now if we can only convince [Obama] to use this [assassination] authority on the media, who have done more harm than any single terror target could ever dream of….”

Many folks feared that any restrictions on U.S. government killing could be fatal. As “Rogmac” groused: “You guys who are against killing these guys are going to be the death of all of us.” Other commentators started from the self-evident truth that, as “Bert” declared, “In the best interest of the United Sates and it’s citizen’s, someone has to be the judge, jury and executioner.” This theory of government differs significantly from that proffered in the Federalist Papers. “Rich” was sure everything had been done properly: “The warrants have already been signed, the execution orders have all been approved now we just need to find them and eradicate them.” Having a president approve his own execution orders is more efficient than the procedures used by the U.S. government in earlier times. “Coder Cable” joined the pro-power parade: “In a time of war, the military (ie: President) is allowed to execute anyone for the crime of treason, assuming there is strong evidence to backup the claim.”

This was practically the only pro-assassination comment that referred to a standard of evidence. The question of whether government officials can be trusted to arbitrarily label Americans as enemies did not arise. Instead, most commentators favored “faith-based killings,” blindly accepting the assertions of any political appointee as the ultimate evidence. “Dark Ruby Moon” wrote: “I won’t loose a minutes sleep over these people being eliminated…. One of the reasons presidential elections are so important is we are picking someone who must make such difficult decisions and who is in the end accountable for those decisions.” Perhaps future presidential races will feature campaign promises such as “Vote for Smith — he won’t have you killed unless all his top advisers agree you deserve to die.”

Commenter “FU” played the race card: “James bovard, I don’t think the killing started with Obama but I wonder if you would write the same article if the cowboy from Texas was pulling the trigger? Or is it that you are angry because the existence of plantations run with blacks are done in this country and Obama managed to become president? We would all be better off if bigots like you stopped writing crap.” Bigotry is the only reason to oppose permitting a black president to kill Americans of all races and ethnicities.

For “Rocketman1945,” the fact that I opposed unlimited presidential power proved I was a foreigner: “WOW! You can sure tell what side of the political spectrum this article came from. Not one word of support for the currant American President. Who are these people that write this drivel? Not Americans that’s for sure.”

The newspaper won few fans on Yahoo for publishing that piece. “Zaria” said it was no surprise that an article that was “all nonesense” came from the Monitor. “Nomadd” denounced the Monitor as a “socialist rag” that should be “put in supermarket checkout lines.” Perhaps “Nomadd” assumed that only left-wingers had anything to fear from this new power. (I never saw socialist rags in grocery checkout lines, except maybe at the Boston Food Co-op).

Unfortunately, the primary difference between some assassination advocates and Washington apologists for targeted killing is that the latter use spellcheckers. For both groups, “due process” is an anachronism — if not a terrorist ploy. And for both groups, boundless groveling to the commander-in-chief is the new trademark of a good American. Anything less is national suicide.

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    James Bovard serves as policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. His other books include: Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book's Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.