To hear some people tell it, the United States hovers on the brink of tyranny. President Obama has seized dictatorial power to murder any American citizen he secretly deems a terrorist. Attorney General Eric Holder’s craven rationalization of the so-called “CIA assassination” of U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the wilds of Yemen last September struck some as the veritable death-knell of democracy.
“The President and his underlings,” writes one fiery critic, “are your accuser, your judge, your jury and your executioner all wrapped up in one, acting in total secrecy and without your even knowing that he’s accused you and sentenced you to death, and you have no opportunity even to know about, let alone confront and address, his accusations.”
Sounds grave, doesn’t it? No less penetrating a critic than Esquire’s Charles Pierce characterized Holder’s March 5 speech at Northwestern University’s School of Law, as “a monumental pile of crap that should embarrass every Democrat who ever said an unkind word about John Yoo.”
Yoo, of course, is the Bush administration lawyer who helped write memos rationalizing that anything short of “organ failure or death” wasn’t torture.
Then why are so many Americans, myself included, so blasé about it? Partly because we’ve all been raised on spy thrillers like the Jason Bourne series, in which picturesque world capitals teem with rogue CIA agents scheming to bump off Matt Damon.
But more importantly because most feel that, American citizen or not, if you’ve run off to join a band of lunatics at war with the United States, then to hell with you.