Hold It, Holder
The great danger of criticizing specific things government does or says or fails to do or say is that readers can reasonably infer that if the opposite were done or said, all would be well. In other words, they can infer that the author envisages the possibility of a satisfactory government. I do not, ever, anywhere; for by definition (of “govern”), government is always and everywhere in violation of the human right of each person to govern himself. Hence, it needs not to be reformed, but to be abolished. I come to bury Caesar, not to improve his image.
Okay, with that vital preamble properly stated, let's check Thursday's “shortest legal opinion ever” from US Attorney General Eric Holder: “No.”
That was his reply to Senator Rand Paul, who had, being troubled by Holder's March 5th refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens on American soil, asked a follow-up. Holder then said, “'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.” Paul was pleased. Clearly, however grudgingly provided, that answer is better than “Yes.”
The problem with it is what Holder did not say.
First, it's surprising that he didn't do himself and his boss a favor by adding something like, “Remember, Senator, a prime reason for this government to exist is to protect American citizens from harm, both on US soil and when traveling abroad.” That wouldn't have been true (government exists only so that its members can enjoy power), but it would have looked good. That he didn't write it suggests that the Feds are really scared of the possibility that we peons start discussing what government is actually for. Splendid! Progress!
Second, Holder didn't say that drones would not be used to kill Americans on US soil who are “engaged in combat.” Why not? As Rand Paul remarked on March 5th, that would be “an affront to the Constitutional due process rights” of Americans. And further, what exactly is “combat”? Suppose you're in a demonstration, vigorously protesting the latest outrage, perhaps a new war. You shake a clenched fist in the direction of some government office or official. Is that “combat”? Who decides? Lawyers. Like Holder. And if you take two lawyers, like as not you'll get two opinions. Meanwhile, the drone missile is airborne. Or perhaps the demo turns ugly, and rocks or Molotov cocktails are thrown at a police line. Is that “combat”? Then the military drone may strike before you can say “Posse Comitatus.”
Third, Holder didn't say that drones might not strike peaceful Americans traveling overseas. Perhaps you take a vacation in Cyprus, and perhaps a couple of Al Q'eda planners you never met happen to sit next to you by the pool. Zap, bam, too bad, RIP.
Fourth, he didn't say drones might not strike non-citizens residing on US soil – whether here “legally” or “illegally.” So he left open the possibility of cutting the illegal-immigrant population down to size rather literally . . . as well as disposing of legal immigrants who might be perceived as troublemakers. Or even non-troublemakers; no distinction was drawn. Foreign tourists will perhaps hesitate, now, before setting out to visit America the Beautiful.
Fifth, he didn't say that his President could not assume the power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, using weapons other than drones. True, that is beyond the strict scope of the question he was answering; but someone on the receiving end of the shot is just as dead, and there was plenty of space on the page of his letter to add that valuable amplification.
Finally there's Jane Fonda, who paid a visit to Hanoi in 1972 during the war with North Vietnam, and consorted with government officials there, who were certainly in “combat” with the US one. She furthermore met some US prisoners and betrayed one of them. She even, apparently, sat on an NVA anti-aircraft gun, thereby literally taking arms against the US military. If there was ever a US citizen engaged in anti-US combat, she was it. Had drones been available then, would a time-warped Obama have zapped her? Everything that Holder did not say answers “Yes!”
Yet Rand Paul's fellow-Republican John McCain, himself a veteran of the Hanoi Hilton, huffed and puffed and blew down the very notion that such a shocking thing would even be contemplated. Why? Just because she's a good looking, certified Limousine Liberal, and a vigorous supporter of the President's own party? No, wait, that's the rival party to McCain's. Gee, it's confusing.
Perhaps the sickest aspect of this controversy is that it tests the extent to which government considers itself entitled to use a very sophisticated weapons system to assassinate anyone it deems appropriate, at the very time that it and its media spokesmen shriek hysterically that those whom it supposedly serves, and who supposedly appointed it to office, should be denied the right to own and operate certain types of repeating rifle. What could more clearly demonstrate that government is lethal, far beyond any hope of taming?