If President Barack Obama gets his way, five American citizens will have become victims of announced “targeted assassinations” by the military and CIA. Coupled with disturbing statements by United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, it is evident that the principle of the rule of law has lost force in the past few decades, especially after 9/11. Rule of law – the principle that society should be governed by laws that apply to everyone, including the lawmakers – is a fundamental principle of democracy. It was enshrined in the American, British and French Revolutions as sacred, and is an essential precept of liberalism.
The force of this basic principle on American political life, however, has significantly decayed.
Since taking office, Obama has engaged in activities that accelerated this decline, such as assassinating American citizens in contravention of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and international law.
As the Fifth Amendment states, “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Since 9/11, however, “due process of law” has increasingly been determined by the executive branch, removing the essential democratic rights to face one’s accuser and to defend oneself.
According to The Associated Press, “If the target is an American citizen, the Justice Department is required to show that killing the person through military action is ‘legal and constitutional’” – although the only real judge (and executioner) is Obama himself.
This has already been used several times to kill Americans overseas, starting with Anwar Al-Awlaki in 2011. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, also an American, was killed in a subsequent drone strike.
The American Civil Liberties Union has decried these actions, stating that the “targeted killing of an American being considered right now shows the inherent danger of a killing program based on vague and shifting legal standards, which has made it disturbingly easy for the government to operate outside the law.”
Once the government begins operating outside the law, new illegal actions can be taken. This is evident in the National Security Agency’s creation of a massive surveillance apparatus to collect as much information as possible from unsuspecting citizens.
Scalia’s remarks at the University of Hawaii law school on Feb. 3 are just as frightening. When asked about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Korematsu v. United States, Scalia criticized the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
But then, citing Cicero’s famous phrase – “Inter arma enim silent leges,” or “In times of war, the laws fall silent” – Scalia warned that “you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.”
In other words, in the event of another massive war, the U.S. will place any elements that could oppose its plans – based perhaps on ethnicity or political affiliation – into internment camps, and the courts will remain silent on the issue, perhaps ruling in defense of “national security” and “due process.”
If anything, Scalia’s words constitute a warning that the rule of law has deteriorated into a mere rhetorical flourish used to give unconstitutional and immoral actions a justification.
This is not the sign of a vibrant constitutional democracy but rather the jurisprudence of a police state.