It’s The Power, Stupid

July 19, 2015 § 4 Comments

I keep thinking about Thomas Piketty and the relentlessly increasing degree of wealth and income inequality he describes.  Every month when a new report comes out and news anchors talk about the state of our economy, the story is, “Our economy is doing better, but wage rates are lagging.”  The working class is going back to work, but they’re not being paid as much for their work.  As the Chicanos say, “Mucho trabajo.  Poco dinero.”  [Actually the rest of this old toast, which I will edit, goes “Ching**** tu madre.  Viva Madero!”  LIke most gringos, I learned to curse in Spanish before I learned anything else.]

I’ve  been thinking about what governments should do to reverse this process.  I now believe my reasoning has been flawed.  Government policies are based on political power.  A tiny percentage of our voting population exercises giant influence on government policy.  Their influence results from control of money contributed to candidates and so-called “PACs”.   In other words, their money translates to political power.

Our state and federal capitols are brokerage houses where political power shapes bargains between the interests of the wealthy and interests of the working class.  There is a growing imbalance of that power.   So, the solution to the inequality described by Piketty must focus on that imbalance.

The Private Sector 

There is another component to Piketty’s inequality:  In our capitalist system most bargains are struck in the private sector, between workers and employers.  There, again, is a glaring imbalance of power.  When I look and listen to the political rhetoric leading toward the 2015 election season, I hear and see nothing about this private sector power imbalance.  I don’t believe redistribution of wealth through reform of the tax system will occur unless it is accompanied by a re-balancing of bargaining power in the private sector.

That private sector re-balancing can be accomplished only if workers are allowed to use their power the same way that employers use theirs:  By making strategic  choices of how and where they use their power.  Employers control where and how to invest their money.  Workers must be allowed to control where and how they invest their work.

How can workers empower that control?  There are three ways.  First, workers have the power to control where and how they and their supporters consume goods and services.  That power is called boycott.  Second, workers have the power to control where and how they work.  That power is called the power to strike.  Third, workers have the power to use social media, mass media and the internet to recruit and persuade their families and supporters to join them in their struggles and bargains with owners and managers.

Politicians who seek support of working class Americans should support workers’ rights to exercise all three of those powers.   Union organizing should be facilitated and encouraged.  Campaign rhetoric should feature lifting legal restrictions on secondary boycotts.  Politicians who rely on the votes of workers should show up on the picket lines of labor disputes and worker demonstrations seeking workplace justice.

The problem with “Occupy Wall Street” was its focus on a workplace where the working class could not exercise power.  Fast food chains and retail shopping chains are appropriate targets for worker power, not Wall Street.  The labor movement needs to broaden its focus and labor’s political allies need to join in that effort.

Making Political Parties Relevant

It is absurd that Scott Walker is basing a strong political challenge in Wisconsin on his union busting credentials.  Every Democratic candidate should spend time in Wisconsin denouncing him as an enemy of worker justice.

The deafening silence of Democratic Party leaders concerning issues discussed here threatens to render the Party irrelevant to the most pressing issues of our time.  We cannot correct unjust distribution of power in our country as long as every mention of Bernie Sanders by the TV talking heads includes dismissive comments comparing him to Hillary Clinton.  We have intelligent, experienced attractive political leaders.  Our problem is:  They fear to speak the truth about wealth inequality.  That injustice will not be solved by government hand-outs.  It will be solved by empowering the working class and re-balancing bargaining between workers and employers.

How Can Low Wage Employees be Organized?

We need new models for strikes.  It is unrealistic to expect workers earning minimum wage incomes to walk off jobs and stay off until employment contracts are negotiated.  Social media could be used to direct carefully planned one-day strikes.  The workers in a particular location can be recruited and given a coded direction and asked to keep it secret.  When all, or a majority, of the staff at a particular location have agreed, they wait for an email or twitter message with the code phrase.  The next day, they fail to show up for work.  The next day they return to work.  If this works, the pattern of low-wage targets could be like the bumpers in a pinball machine.

Of course, the chain could fire all of them, but that would compound the disruption of its business.  If the recruitment process occurs in multiple locations, a retaliatory one-day shut-down at another location would discourage the mass discharge strategy.  Also, the present labor laws have protection for “concerted activity” and there might be a remedy for management’s retaliatory discharge.

What I am suggesting is a strategy requiring months of preliminary planning and education.  An online campaign to identify employees of a specific chain in a specific area should precede “one-day pinball strikes”.  Google has a program called “Google Groups” available for this kind of organizing.  I assume it would attract “fink” members who would rat out the workers, but unions have been surviving finks forever.  There are risks in any strategy.

Suppose a campaign to organize MacDonald employees:  Justice At McDonalds  “JAM”.  A JAM Google Group would be created.  Some cheap radio advertising would invite McDonalds employees to sign on the JAM group. Joiners would be identified by email addresses.  Some pamphlets would be handed to some McDonalds employees at shift change times.  When the recruitment campaign has progressed far enough, a meeting would be scheduled at a community center or a church.

After most or all of the employees at a particular McDonalds were identified, the above “pinball one-day strike” procedure would be implemented.

This kind of organizing would be initiated by one or more of our established unions.  The Teamsters or SEIU (Service Employees International Union) are likely candidates.  They would not be trying to organize the fast food workers into their union. This would follow the model of the Mine Workers launching the Steelworkers in the ’30’s.  Minimum wage workers at McDonalds would not be able to pay the dues of a major international union and their needs differ from those of the sponsoring union.  The JAM members would  elect their own leaders.

The established unions could offer training, money and advice,  but not domination and incorporation.  This would have to be done carefully because established unions have assets and are vulnerable to damage suits.  The kind of JAM union I am suggesting should take care to operate without assets.  It should operate like an AA organization.  No dues, some hat-passing at meetings, no buildings, no vehicles.  Some friendly groups might contribute funds for particular projects.  This “business model” would discourage creative corporate lawyers from filing law suits complaining about boycotts, trespassing, trade libel etc.  Judgement proof is handy insulation from damage suits.

I can’t anticipate the goals of a JAM union.  I would suggest a simplified contract with a “just cause” requirement for discipline or discharge, a grievance procedure and some small increase in the wage scales.

80% of McDonalds restaurants are owned by franchisees.  This would complicate collective bargaining but this could be overcome by targeting a few of the most popular locations in an area, posting a prominent sign at those with JAM contracts and waging a boycott campaign against those who refuse the JAM effort.  This would follow the model of the New Deal’s “Blue Eagle” campaign.  That was ruled unconstitutional by a recalcitrant Supreme Court.  Because JAM boycotts would not be sponsored by the government, constitutional issues would not apply.

Conclusion

These Sunday afternoon musings are born of frustration.  I have small confidence that a political system dependent on billion dollar contributors will ever redistribute the wealth necessary to save America’s working class from wage slavery and global exploitation.  Nibbling around the edges of the problem will not work.  The descamisados must be organized because they are numerous enough to counter the money-driven forces of wealth.

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The Weakness of Power

September 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Theme of this Essay

One thing insufficiently noted and understood about the exercise of power is that responsibility for its exercise is coextensive with its scope.  When the President of the United States assumes personal responsibility for committing our lives and treasure to a war in plain violation of the restrictions on his authority imposed by our Constitution, his decision is both dangerous for us and foolish for him.

I thought of entitling this essay, “I Told You So”, but decided that would be tacky.  This is not the first time I have dissented from the notion that we should treat acts of terrorism as an excuse for waging war.  See “Bush’s Dumb War and Obama’s Track and Whack War”.  posted on this blog.  Wars expand government’s  authority to infringe liberties protected by the Constitution.  Treating criminal acts as declarations of war is both unnecessary and dangerous.

The First Commander in Chief of Our Worldwide Thousand Year War

President Obama has now committed the United States of  America to an interminable,  unlimited responsibility to rid the world of an amorphous, amoral, murderous, ill-defined, barbarous, military organization claiming affiliation with Islam, called ISIS or ISIL or “Islamic State” or “The Islamic Caliphate”.  Those names are only the latest ones.   The organization has demonstrated expertise in the use of social media and digital communication technology.  It calls itself by whatever name suits its purpose:  To attract and recruit members and support from all over the world.

His decision, probably the most consequential of his presidency, was not made after reasoned negotiations with possible allies, extensive analysis of “actionable intelligence”, or public debate in the U.S. Congress.  It was made in the aftermath of two sensational TV executions of two American journalists, while Congress was in recess and during the opening days of a national midterm election.  Congress was not called back into session so that the issues could be debated.  President Obama first declined to call his plan to bomb targets in Syria a “war”, referring to it as opposition to a “terrorist group”.  When skeptical journalists gleefully picked at  that distinction, his press secretary, after two or three days of pundit discussion, finally said, “Yes.  We are at war with ISIL”.

[Why the President and his staff choose to call this group “The Islamic State in the Levant”, continues to mystify me.  I assume  about one percent of Americans understand what the “Levant” is.  I looked it up.  According to Wikipedia, the “Levant” is an area at the East end of the Mediterranean.  Historical definitions have varied but it is generally understood to include Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and part of southern Turkey.  Regardless of the ambiguity of the term, whatever it is, according to the Obama Administration, if ISIS is present in it, we are at war with it.]

President Obama has not stated any defined geographical area as the battleground for this new war.  He has ceded to ISIS (or whatever form or designation it chooses to assume in the future) the right to determine where we will wage war.  He has also ceded to ISIS the right to determine how long we will wage war:  i.e. until ISIS agrees to extinguish itself or surrender.

These circumstances are typical, indeed inevitable consequences of making “war” on ideas rather than on geographically located countries.  They also suggest the peculiar risks of designating hostility toward ideas as “wars”, and then applying to those wars the rules and customs developed over centuries in wars against geographically located countries.  The power to choose the limits of those  “wars” are vested in those who profess the challenged ideas.

I see no reason to believe that ISIS (I’ll use this moniker to encompass all the various names.) will ever surrender or be eliminated.  ISIS does not refer to a place or to a specific organization of people.  It refers to an idea.

Consider  Zionism.  A sustained nuclear attack could destroy Israel, but it could not destroy Zionism unless every  person committed to the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland could be found and killed.  Given the origin of that idea in the Old Testament and its prominent place in Jewish theology, that result seems unrealistic.  Centuries of brutality have proved unable to accomplish the destruction of Zionism.

Consider Al-Qaeda.  The combined might of the United States and the “coalition of the willing” have waged war on Al-Qaeda for thirteen years, wrecked havoc and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in countries in the Middle East and North Africa, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan with massive armies.  Al-Qaeda still exists and shows no sign of disappearing.

I do not mean to equate Zionism with ISIS or Al-Qaeda.   The ideas are entirely different.  But both refer to ideas that have long histories.  ISIS is a Muslim Sunni tribal group claiming to represent all Muslims in the world.  Those claims and the conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects within Islam date back to the 6h Century CE.

There are many ideas that emerge from time to time and capture the imagination and commitment of large groups of people.  Teddy Roosevelt thought the United States was destined to spread its doctrine of freedom and democracy to nations all over the world   “Manifest Destiny” rhetoric inspired thousands of Americans to engage in wars and colonialism in Cuba and  the Philippines.  George W. Bush used similar oratory to enmesh our country in Middle East wars.  If Dick Chaney had his way, we would still be, as he said, “on offense” toward those NeoCon  fantasies.

The point is that, while ideas may go out of fashion, they cannot be defeated or destroyed.  In fact, when they are recognized by the most powerful country on the planet as sufficiently important to require a worldwide war of unlimited scope, they assume importance and gravity that they could never otherwise achieve.

The Alternative:  Obey the Law

I think the English immigrants who tore this country away from England, after a couple of false starts (e.g. The Articles of Confederation), had a good idea: They created the first government in the history of the world without any king, queen, Pope or chief.  [We can quibble over the Mayflower Pact, but that agreement did not create a new nation.]  They decided to rule by consent to a contract, a constitution.  They amended it to insure that journalists, lawyers and courts could protect it.  They recognized that the most dangerous possibility was the misuse of military force.

To address that threat, they did several things.  One was to protect the right to bear arms.  They trusted local militias and citizens with weapons would never allow the central government to overpower the checks on authority put in place by the constitution.  They had a healthy distrust of standing armies led by professional soldiers.

They knew they would have to defend against the envy and greed of other nations, so they provided a carefully crafted system to enable national defense without risking a coup de etat from within.  Their main fear centered on the President.  They had experienced the problem of dealing with kings and took care not to create a new one.

The government created by the Constitution was one of limited powers; the only rights allowed for the federal officials were those granted by the constitution.  All residual power was left with the states and the people.

Here is how they protected us from out-of-control military adventurers and ambitious war hawks:   The House of Representatives was granted the following powers:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Here is the entire grant of authority granted to the President as “Commander in Chief”:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;”

It is impossible for any sensible person with a basic knowledge of plain English to interpret these provisions of the Constitution without understanding that the framers took pains to keep the Commander in Chief on a very short leash.  The Congress was given the power to make “rules and regulations” to govern the “land and naval forces”.  Military appropriations were limited to two-year terms.  The arming, disciplining and regulation of the part of the militia used “in the service of the United States” was the responsibility of the Congress, not the Commander in Chief.

The Problem

The Constitution gave us a careful, reasonable way to govern ourselves free of the whims of politicians who might be both stupid and ambitious, of which we have had, and have now, plentiful examples.  They had recently freed themselves from the antics of King George III, a loser in the gene-pool-lottery.

Unfortunately  these provisions of the Constitution did not lend themselves to judicial review.  When the restrictions were ignored, it was up to the Congress to enforce them, with impeachment if necessary.  The history of the past 200 years is a history of repeated failure of nerve and the triumph of political ambition and fear over steadfast dedication to their oath of office.

No elected federal official, including the President, is granted the authority to protect American citizens from harm.  There is no obligation stated in the Constitution requiring that our government protect us from other nations.  Every elected official is sworn to protect “The Constitution of the United States”.

It is true, of course, as Mr. Justice White once remarked, the “Constitution is not a suicide pact”.  But neither is it a menu of rights and duties that elected officials may treat as if they are in a cafeteria, free to choose which ones they find appealing on a given day.  This latest episode is an example of what happens when the President arrogates to himself the power and obligation to be our protector instead of our elected agent, bound by the terms of his contract of employment.  When Obama claimed unlimited authority, he imposed upon himself unlimited duty.  He allowed himself to be goaded into a bad decision by loud mouthed fools like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and trash-talkers of Fox News.

But the most culpable and feckless offenders were the Congressmen and Congresswomen who walked away from their posts, threw open the gates and skulked off to the cocktail parties, fish frys, bar-b-ques, cocktail parties and fundraisers incident to their re-election campaigns, too fearful to enforce the document they were sworn to “defend and protect”.   They eagerly took advantage  of the President’s naive willingness to assume their responsibilities.

We are facing some very complicated and dangerous choices.  We should confront them with faith in our constitution.  We should require the Congress to perform its constitutional function.  The people should be given a chance to learn the facts and the truth about the consequences of what our government does.

ISIS poses a threat to the “Levant” far more immediate than to us.  But, I predict that the governments in the Levant will be perfectly happy for us to assume the responsibility for protecting them and defending them against ISIS.  They have indigenous Muslim leaders and populations much larger and more powerful than we do.   They are in a better position to discredit ISIS’s claims to religious authenticity than we are.  It will require that they stop funding ISIS and stop tolerating extremist Muslim groups inside their country.  That will involve some risk that they are loath to take, but it is more properly their problem than ours.

I hope some ISIS thugs don’t come here and murder some of  our citizens.  But that seems likely, whether or not we continue on our present course.  We should use our technology and surveillance capability to prevent it, but recent history shows that those measures will not ultimately be sufficient.

If that happens, we should cooperate with other nations  in an effort to track down and arrest or kill the perpetrators.  If arrested, they should be tried in civilian courts, like other murderers.  That will not involve us in sectarian feuds and cross-border wars.

The AUMF

One of the many abominations inflicted by the George W. Bush administration, reading like Dick Chaney’s wet dream, is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, yahooed through a cowering Senate shortly after the World Trade Center bombing. It unleashed Bush and his band of amateur believers in gunpoint democracy on the Middle East.  Some of them may have been so deluded as to imagine that the Arabs were breathlessly waiting for deliverance from centuries of oppression.  Instead, their ham-handed military forces spawned chaos and violence in Iraq Afghanistan and Pakistan,  wasted billions of dollars, destabilized several other countries and caused the deaths and injuries of thousands of Americans.  The legions of brutal groups who emerged or were strengthened in response to those wars and the excesses incident to them, are still active and destructive.

Here is the full text of that infamous document:

“Joint Resolution
To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.
Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and
Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and
Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and
Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and
Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1 – Short Title
This joint resolution may be cited as the ‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’.
Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces
(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.”

The meaning of this ill conceived document has been often debated.  So far as I am aware, the Supreme Court has not resolved the debate.

The issue is this:  Does the language of Section 2(a) limit the war-making authority to war “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons”

or

Does Section 2(a) authorize a war against any  nation, organization or person if the motive is to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States”?

I have argued, but have not been able to convince a friend of mine, that the resolution limits its scope to those with some connection with the bombing of September 11, 2001.  The Bush lawyers and, apparently, the Obama lawyers, all interpret the resolution to be a completely open ended  grant of authority to make war without any further involvement of  Congress on anyone anywhere if the President claims  the object of  military force either intends to harm the United States, is aiding someone intending to harm the United States or is harboring someone who is intending to harm the United States.

I think that requires ignoring the specific reference to the September 11 bombing in Section 2(a) as well as the phrase “such organizations or persons” at the end of Section 2(b).

It also, not incidentally, deletes all meaning from the above quoted provisions of the Constitution that limit the war powers of the President.  Ironically, the War Powers Resolution cited in the AUMF, was an effort to prevent a repetition of Dick Nixon’s lawlessness when, during the Viet Nam War, he authorized the invasion of Cambodia, which even the fraudulent Tonkin Gulf Resolution did not authorize.

The AUMF, as interpreted by Presidents Obama and Bush, also wipes out all meaning of the War Powers Resolution.

Conclusion

I write these complaints with some sadness.  I thought that when a Constitutional law professor and accomplished writer was elected president of the United States, we could look forward to the thrill of being led by a disciplined scholar.  I admire many of Obama’s accomplishments and I abhor the barely hidden racist assaults which have hounded his presidency.

I fear, however, that, like Woodrow Wilson, his judgment about the proper place of our country in the world will, as Wilson’s did, lay the predicate for more terrible wars with all the horror that comes with them.  Wilson thought European diplomacy and American idealism could create an orderly and peaceful world.

A few decades later, the colonial deals made when the Ottoman Empire shattered led to the emergence of several dictators  whose oppression of Arab countries and Persian Iran, produced pent up rage and Islamic extremism.   In Germany, Hitler used the sanctions imposed after WWI to mobilize anger and hopelessness to produce Nazism and a new and more destructive world war.

If, as I fear, we are on the precipice of another outbreak of worldwide violence, it is a bad time for us to abandon the protection of our Constitution  from reckless involvement in foreign sectarian struggles.  I was hopeful we had an Abraham Lincoln.  We got Woodrow Wilson.  Now I look in vain for an FDR or a JFK or a Winston Churchill.  What I see is Hillary Clinton, who, as a Senator, voted for the AUMF.  And the House of Representatives?  Fugettaboutit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Harris: The Muslim Problem

June 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

In the course of a long distance argument with a friend who believes my objections to the Obama administration’s policies concerning the “War on Terror” are misguided, he forwarded to me a post from Sam Harris’ blog entitled “Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy” .  Here is a link to that essay.

The essay is long and includes embeded links to several religious rituals and ceremonies related to Islam and Hinduism.  I found it interesting.  I have appended the rest of my friend’s dissent in the form of comments to my post entitled “The Prism of Work”.  That won’t do justice to this Sam Harris essay because, when the forwarded email he sent me with a link to the essay is copied into the “Comment” section of my post, the embeded links don’t work.  So, I am including it as a separate post.

In case you are not familiar with Sam Harris, he is a very well known author, philosopher and neuroscientist.  His book “The End of Faith” is a broad and scathing attack on religion.  He regularly appears in public forums debating issues with theologians and other scholars.  As you will see if you read his essay, he is especially hostile toward and concerned about the extreme form of Islam.  His arguments support the defensive measures adopted by the United States in the “War on Terror”, primarily because he believes Islam now confronts us with a unique type of enemy:  One that has no fear of death and is oblivious of reason.

He was born in 1967, and thus has no  memory of our fear when the Japanese sent Kamakeze pilots to sink our warships and launched suicide attacks on our troops in the Pacific Theater during WWII.    He has only read about the suicide “human wave” attacks our troops in Korea faced during the Korean “Police Action” after China entered the war.

I respect Harris’ scholarship and I have learned from his research but he has not persuaded me that the threat we now face justifies the kind of defensive policies adopted by and approved by the Obama administration.

Bob

The Prism of Work

June 3, 2013 § 4 Comments

Summary

In the following essay I will describe a carefully reasoned dissent from my two “Lynch Law” efforts.  I will also try to explain the way my thinking about the issues differs in some fundamental ways from the dissenter’s.  I will attempt to do this without discounting the dissents’ reasoning.

The Dissent

In response to my posts entitled “Lynch Law” and “Lynch Law Two”, I have received two thoughtful dissents from a reader who shares my political beliefs but rejects my reasons for criticizing President Obama’s terrorism speech.   The dissenter made three cogent and well reasoned arguments:

First:  He wrote that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is a fact; that regardless of whether it was wise, appropriate or necessary, Congress adopted it by an overwhelming vote (unanimous in the Senate; one dissenting vote in the house)  hence Obama, the President, should not be faulted for using the authority it granted to the presidency.

Second:  He wrote that it is a fact that there are terrorists and terrorist networks in the world that threaten to harm the United States.

Third:  He wrote that, based on the obvious intent of its framers, the AUMF should be interpreted to authorize the President to locate and either kill or capture any terrorist in any part of the world outside the United States if the target poses a threat to the United States.

Here are the words of the AUMF:  “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

To the dissenter, the plain meaning and intention of this sentence can be expressed as follows:”That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force . . .  in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States . . . .”

I contend the past tense verbs used in the AUMF to describe its targets limit the scope of its authorization for use of force.  He responded that, on the contrary, they were comparable to the recitation of Japan’s transgressions in the 1941 declaration of war against that nation.  As he correctly observed, the fact that the transgressions  occurred before the declaration did not limit the scope of our war against Japan.  To illustrate this point, the dissent posed a hypothet.  He stated that if, when the war was closing in on the Japanese homeland, the island of Honshu had changed its name, became no longer a part of “Japan” and opted to fight on after Japan surrendered,, we plainly would have paid no attention to the name change and would have proceeded to make war on the inhabitants of that island without further Congressional authorization .

Finally, he observed, again correctly, that some very good lawyers advising Obama disagreed with my analysis and they could not fairly be lumped in with John Yoo as lawyers whose reasoning was based on ideology.

Some Comments on the Dissent

It is hard to argue with the dissent’s contention that when Congress adopted the AUMF, it intended to authorize a broad military attack on any foreign organization, country or individual that posed another threat of a 9-11 type attack on the United States.  The AUMF was adopted just seventeen days after the stunning attack of September 11, 2001.  Emotions were running high.  Anger and fear were palpable and Bush, the NeoCons and talk radio demagogues were in full cry.

Any analysis based on “legislative intent” is almost always a fiction because each voter in the body had his or her own, essentially unknowable, intention when he or she voted.  Having said this, however, it is true that, as President Bush proceeded to interpret AUMF as a license to torture prisoners, intercept emails and phone calls, use dragnet arrests to jail large numbers of Muslims and establish “black sites” all over the world where prisoners were held incommunicado regardless of  the Geneva Convention or any other law of war, Congress,  generally remained silent.  And that silence can be fairly interpreted as assent to his actions.

It is also true, however, that as reports began to surface of Bush’s wild-west carnival of horrors,, some members of Congress began withdrawing their support.   By 2005, there was some support in Congress for his impeachment.  So, the “intent” of Congress was an evolving phenomenon.  In my first “Lynch Law” post, I linked to a Huffington Post video of the stunned reaction of some Senators when Pentagon representatives, testifying before a Senate committee, declared their understanding of the AUMF’s breadth of authority.  Senator McCain, who rarely sees a war he doesn’t want to wage, said he did not think Congress intended such an unfettered grant of authority.  Here again is that link:  Huffington

So far as concerns the dissenter’s creative hypothet about the name change of the island of Honshu, I am not as sure as he is that if that had occurred and a new nation was thereby actually created, further Congressional action would mot have been required.   A somewhat similar occurrence happened when Nixon began military operations in Cambodia during the Vietnam war.  He tried unsuccessfully to keep his expansion of that war secret but, of course, bombs, helicopters and armed troops are too obtrusive to be invisible to reporters.  He didn’t bother to ask Congress for approval because his disdain for the niceties of constitutional government is legendary.  That may be an inapposite example, since the Vietnam war itself was probably illegal since it was based on a false report and not on a formal declaration of war by Congress.

This issue, the identity of those against whom the AUMF authorized deadly force, is at the heart of my disagreement with the dissent.  If the authorized targets of the AUMF are subject to discretionary selection by the President, then we have a Commander in Chief with access to a world-class military machine, unrestrained  concerning its use other than his judgment and presumed devotion to our form of government and a requirement that he use it only to protect us from terrorist attacks.  There is a vast difference between a President with constitutionally limited powers and a protector charged only with the task of keeping citizens safe.  See Orwell, “1984”.

I regard the result of the dissent’s reasoning, especially on the third issue, as troubling  In the remainder of this essay I will try to explain why.

A Lawyer’s Way of Interpreting Contract Language

Statutory interpretation and contract interpretation are based on generally similar legal principles.   In the case of federal statutes, the debates preceding the enactment of a law afford clues to the intentions of the framers not available with respect to most private contracts.  Still, the same principles apply to both.  The objective is to give effect to the intention of the parties who draft the language, provided they have expressed that intent in a form that can be determined without ignoring the words used to express it.

That is, the “four corners” rule applies.  The writing must be interpreted based on the writing within the “four corners” of its documentary record.  The drafters will not be allowed to walk away from the drafting and, next day,  proclaim that some of them “really did not mean what the words state.”  Contracts and statutes are written because they are intended to be “time binding” events.  That is, they fix in time the agreement of the parties.  That agreement, of course (and contrary to the foolishness of Justice Scalia’s “original intent” obsession) can be couched in deliberately ambiguous language, leaving room for later application to changing circumstances.  Our Constitution is worded  that way.  “Interstate commerce”, was not intended to apply only to the 1789 forms of commerce.  “Searches”, as used in the 4th Amendment was not intended to apply only to the technology available to searchers in the 1700’s.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that a “word is the skin of a living thought” and the operable word is “living”.

One reason lawyers [I am not comfortable with the word “attorney”.  It is based on the French word attourne,  one to turn to.  French words seem to me generally effete and pretentious.   I think of myself as a lawyer (Middle English originally “lawyere”)]  have a well-deserved reputation for being trouble-makers is that, when they analyze the language of a contract or any other kind of agreement, they try to imagine how it would permit one party or the other to use its language in the worst, unfair and disagreeable manner at the expense and inconvenience of the other party.  Then they add or subtract whatever language is required to preclude such an event or interpretation.  They regard that as appropriate, regardless of how reasonable and agreeable the parties are when the contract is drafted.

That is the way I analyze the language of the AUMF.  I seek an interpretation of its language that would appropriately restrain the discretion of Ted Cruz, not Barack Obama.  So I choose an interpretation called the  “plain meaning” rule.   The dissent chooses to interpret it according to the “intent of the framers” rule.

Both approaches are accepted by courts in appropriate situations.  There are limits to each approach.  For example, drafters of a contract are not allowed to use words in some sense other than their common meaning unless they specify the intended meaning.  This does not prevent use of “terms of art” if, in the context of the contract, the meaning of such terms are discernible and are generally understood in the industry or environment in which the contract is drafted.  It does, however, preclude one of the parties from contending, for example,  that the phrase “bay horse” was intended and understood by the parties to mean “roan horse” when the contract was drafted.  If that were permitted, the contract would depend on verbal testimony and would prevent courts from being able to enforce the written language of the contract, thus vitiating the time binding  purpose of written agreements.

As I read it, the identity of those affected by the AUMF is plainly stated in words used in their ordinary sense.  To illustrate this point suppose, instead of “the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001”, the AUMF stated “the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012″.   Wouldn’t the targets be limited to those persons, nations or organizations” that were actually involved in that attack?  Would a reasonable interpretation of that statement assume that it would justify a drone attack on someone in Somalia or Pakistan?  I don’t think so.

This narrow interpretation would not conflict or dilute the meaning of the concluding phrase, “. . . in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”  One standard purpose of apprehending and punishing wrongdoers is to make example of them to discourage others from attempting other crimes.  That purpose is served without waging a wide ranging assault on all similar but different  wrongdoers.

Because the U.S. Department of Justice and Pentagon and White House lawyers disagree with me, I cannot deny that there are differing ways to interpret the language.  What I do argue is that, given the consequences of the broad interpretation of the AUMF, there are strong policy reasons for interpreting it narrowly rather than broadly.

Interpreting it as broadly as the dissent and the just stated government lawyer do, results in a state of martial law throughout the world outside the boundaries of the United States.  It results in a state of war on a boundless battlefield.  The law of war cannot apply to that state of war because there is no way objectively to identify enemy combatants.  The distinction between enemy soldiers and civilians is rendered impossible.  If one is accused of being an enemy, that is sufficient to impose the death penalty.   Analogies to wars between uniformed armies cannot be applied.  In other words, neither the law of war nor constitutional law applies.  The President becomes the ultimate and sole “decider”.

President Obama’s speech on  terrorism was becomingly uneasy with this unlimited authority.  He disclosed that he is considering various ways of structuring self-imposed limits on his war making authority.  At the same time, and in the same speech, however, he claimed the right to make the decisions about such limits and how they would be administered.  That claim converts his speech into a discussion of executive policy.

Policies, unlike laws and constitutional restrictions, can be changed from one administration to another.  Presidential authority can be limited in only two ways:  By a formal declaration that the authority is no longer claimed, in this case by either the President or the Congress, or by the judgment of a court of appropriate jurisdiction.   Obama’s speech will serve as President Ted Cruz’s justification for his use of the AUMF powers because it satisfies neither of those ways.

The Political Dilemma

I recognize that my arguments, if credited by President Obama, would confront him with a dilemma fraught with  peril.  If he goes before the American public and declares that the AUMF did not authorize the actions he has taken based on it, he will be confessing to wrongdoing that could have dire consequences for him, for his political party and for the standing and reputation of the United States in the world.  I know that will not happen, nor, given its consequences, should it happen.  I think that instead, the President should draft a modification of the AUMF that abjures the power to make war on terrorists, terrorist organizations or anyone else.  It should authorize the President to use American intelligence forces and law enforcement agencies, domestic as well as international, to identify criminals who participate in planning or executing harmful acts directed against the United States.

He should explain to the public and the world that the United States is a nation of laws based on a Constitution.  That we will defend ourselves against criminal acts and assist and cooperate with other nations seeking to defend themselves from such acts.  He should state that his judgment on this matter is based on his personal experience with conducting these efforts as acts of war and that he has discovered that a state of war without identifiable, specific classes of enemies and without identifiable national boundaries is inconsistent with the laws of war as well as the system of laws and constitutional protections that are cherished by Americans.  He should state that, rather than craft a new system of courts to deal with these criminals, he is confident that the American judicial and criminal justice system is adequate to deal with the kind of criminal behavior the new congressional authorization will target.

This switch from a “war on terror” to pursuing criminals who seek to harm the United States would require that, before a person could be branded a “terrorist” subject to capture or death by whatever means are reasonably necessary, a federal grand jury would have to indict him or her and, based on that indictment, a warrant would have to be obtained from a federal magistrate or judge.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, so compromising information sources would not be required.  Federal law is entirely adequate to deal with criminal acts before they are actually completed.  Almost all federal crimes are accompanied by related criminal laws that make conspiracy to commit the crime a separate and indictable offense.  This indictment and warrant process would, however, add the judgment of a grand jury and a judge or magistrate to the process of authorizing government killing.  It is a process based on a very long history;  a history that is littered with the results of government killing without such safeguards; a history that caused the designers of our country’s government to include this process as part of our law.

Do I think this will happen?  Probably not.  But I am sure if it did happen it would insure Obama’s place in history along with Abraham Lincoln as a President who took the risk necessary to preserve a vital and noble feature of this country:  Its patriotic proud respect for its Constitution,  justice and the rule of law.  He would become a revered icon of our “land of the free and home of the brave”.   Not a bad legacy and poetically symmetrical:  From Lincoln, who freed the slaves, to a black president who, in an act of humility, affirmed this nation’s tenacious devotion to its Constitution as a protector of freedom.

A Solution to the “Hiding in Caves” Problem

In Obama’s  speech, he said that his drone “death from above” capability was necessary when the threatening terrorists were hiding in caves located in countries that would not or could not gain access to them.  If Obama took my advice I would have to offer a solution to that problem.

A solution is already part of our legal tradition.  In 1958, when the State of Alabama refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, Congress enacted a statute, called the Force Act, authorizing Eisenhower to send the National Guard to Little Rock to protect black students who sought public education in a previously all white school.  Congressional action was necessary because the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, as part of the the settlement of the Samuel J. Tilden v. Rutherford B. Hayes presidential election contest, prohibited federal troops from enforcing state laws, thereby ending Reconstruction in the South and putting the Republican Hayes in the White House.   The 1958 statute did not repeal the Posse Comitatus Act.  It merely granted specific authority to solve a specific problem.

This kind of Congressional authority could be sought if law enforcement authority proves incapable of dealing with a specific terrorism problem.  In most cases, secrecy would not be necessary.  If part of the information submitted to justify the authority sought needed to be secret, that could be accomplished in committee hearings  conducted behind closed doors.  That circumstance would be unlikely in most instances.  The recent example of Anwar Awlaki’s drone killing did not result from secrecy.  His name on a “hit list” had been mentioned in press reports for months before he was finally killed.

The point is that the checks and balances system of our government would be restored and unlimited presidential authority would be avoided.

At the present time, we are embroiled in a national debate over limiting the discretion of the IRS and the subpoena power of the Justice Department versus the privacy of news reporters.  I suggest that carefully limiting the war powers of the President is far more important than either of these matters.

The Prism of Work

I entitled this piece “The Prism of Work” because, when faced with reasoned dissent from a man who generally shares my beliefs and opposes those whom I oppose, I had to ask myself, “What has happened to you?  How did you arrive at this point, attacking a President whom you stoutly supported and respected;  motivated to write several pages of diatribes that sound like Rand Paul’s denunciation of ‘big government’?  Have you, at last, slipped your moorings and become a candidate for the Tea Party?”

You will not be surprised to learn that I reject that characterization, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to question why, in this context, I feel so strongly suspicious of government power.

The answer is that much of the work I did for more than fifty years consisted of arguing against discretionary authority.  My work for labor unions often consisted in opposing management decisions to fire, demote or otherwise discipline some employee.  The tension was usually between contractual protection of seniority versus the “management rights” discretion of company supervision to manage the workforce.  In fact, in law school I wrote and defended a research paper in a labor law seminar which argued that the concept of “management rights” was no longer appropriate because enterprise ownership was no longer held by the craftsmen who performed the work, but by the corporate financiers who furnished the capital.  I contended that allowing money managers to manage production processes was inappropriate and illogical.  I did not persuade my professor or any of the other members of the seminar, but I persuaded myself.

In addition to these arguments based on private contracts, I spent several years representing public school teachers, students and professors in government supported colleges and universities.  My opponents in those cases were school superintendents, college and university department heads, athletic directors and governing boards.  I was always trying to impose due process or First Amendment limits on managers who claimed the right to make subjective, discretionary decisions.

I think that record left me with enhanced sensitivity and pervasive hostility toward unfettered authority.  My experience was that, in the absence of accountability based on some objective limits, people with authority were often prone to defensive hostility toward any challenge to their decisions from those whom they supervised and managed.  They feared public exposure of their choices and actions.  They were uncomfortable at the prospect of being judged by any independent arbiter.

So, given this work record, the notion of a runaway Commander in Chief of the U.S. military establishment rang just about every alarm bell in my brain.

George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics has written extensively about the way that “framing” issues determines the way our brains process them.  He has also offered evidence that, over time, presenting an issue framed in a specific way causes changes in the way we react to similar issues.   I have written about this and Lakoff’s book, The Political Mind  in a previous post entitled Recent Thoughts.  I think this is pertinent to my reaction of the issues raised in this essay.  Over and over, as part of my work, I framed issues for judges, juries and arbitrators that equated legal limits on government and management discretion with “truth, justice and the American Way”, just like Superman taught us.

Thorstein Veblen anticipated some of the brain research done by Lakoff and others in his 1904 book, The Theory o f Business Enterprise.   Veblen wrote before the invention of MRI’s and brain scans, but he was a keen observer of human behavior.  He wrote about the “discipline of the machine”.  According to Veblen, those who worked with machines developed  reasoning and thinking habits and frameworks different from those who worked with money and the various ways it could be accumulated and strategically  used in a market based economic system.

Here is his description of this difference:

“Leaving aside the archaic vocations of war, politics, fashion and religion, the employments in which men are engaged may be distinguished as pecuniary or business employments on the one hand, and industrial or mechanical employments on the other hand.”

Veblen described the two separate “employments” as follows:

“. . . one class of men has taken over the work of purchase and sale and husbanding a store of accumulated values . . . [while another class of men has]  given their attention to the mechanical processes involved in this production for a market . . . .”

He contrasted the thought processes of the “pecuniary” class with the “production for market” class as follows:

“The end of . . . [the pecuniary class’s] reasoning is the interpretation of new facts in terms of accredited precedents, rather than a revision of the knowledge drawn from past experience in the matter-of-fact light of new phenomena.  The endeavor is to make facts conform to the law, not make the law or general rule conform to facts.  The bent so given favours the acceptance of the general, abstract, custom-made rule as something real with a reality superior to the reality of impersonal, non-conventional facts.”

I became aware of Veblen as a nineteen year old sophomore  at UT, under the tutelage of Clarence Ayres.  I never became a Veblen scholar but I was a dabbler in his writing.  I thought of this concept of his when I was examining the origin of my hostility toward Obama’s war powers and the AUMF.  I know Veblen was writing about economic functions, not legal arguments.  In fact, so far as my reading goes, Veblen never had anything complementary to say about lawyers.  He regarded them as no more than retainers in the service of the above mentioned “pecuniary class”, the object of much of his biting and occasionally hilarious critical commentary.

I know it may seem a stretch to drag Veblen into this essay but, to me, he adds a dimension, a new variable to Lakoff’s analysis.  Lakoff uses modern technology and the science of linguistics to demonstrate that our thinking is molded by what we hear and see.  Veblen adds that it is also affected by what we do.

All this personal information is not offered to bolster the value of what I have argued.  It is added to describe the prism through which I view the world.  Whether  you regard that prism as a disability or a benefit depends on whether your reaction to Obama’s speech about terrorism is like mine or like the entirely defensible one expressed by the dissent.

Bob

Lynch Law

May 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

,Summary 

In the following essay I will argue that President Obama’s claim of authority to order assassinations of American citizens and others without complying with the requirements of due process and without disclosing the factual basis for his order violates the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

Lynch Law 

The etymology of the phrase “Lynch Law” is murky.  It may have been named after James Lynch Fitzstephen of Galway, Ireland who, while mayor, hung his son from the balcony of his home in 1493, after convicting him of murdering a Spanish visitor.  It has  also been attributed to Charles Lynch, a Virginia planter and American revolutionary,  who presided over a county court.  Judge Lynch, without formal jurisdiction, imprisoned British loyalists for up to a year during the Revolutionary War.  The  Continental Congress retroactively affirmed his action.  William Lynch, also of Virginia,  claimed the phrase originated in a 1780 privately negotiated compact between him and his neighbors in Pennsylvania County.

Lynch law has a long and shameful history in  America.  A study at Tuskegee Institute listed 4,743  lynchings between 1882 and 1968; 3,446 blacks, 1,297 whites.

Based on this history, it is fair to characterize lynch law as lawless imprisonment, punishment or execution.

A Brief Historical Comment

The history of warfare is a record of expanding the reach and capacity of men for death, mayhem and destruction.  The process began when the first man picked up a stone, a club  or a stick to gain advantage over an enemy.  The sling extended the range of the stone.  The spear in the hands of a strong armed warrior extended the range of the stick.  The bow and the catapult added range to both the spear and the stone.  Roman soldiers armed with short swords, standing shoulder to shoulder in squares, powered an empire.  Genghis Khan and his fearsome mounted army swept away everything in his path from Mongolia to Western Europe with highly trained horsemen armed with bows and arrows.

Explosive compounds, rockets  and airplanes enabled transcontinental range for destructive weaponry.   In the past sixty days, we learned that American stealth bombers based in Missouri flew nonstop 6,500 miles to engage in war games on the Korean peninsula and returned home.  Nuclear technology and chemical warfare have increased the destructive capability of men to a potential for rendering our planet uninhabitable.

War and The Law

In a fitful effort to control these forces of chaos and destruction, societies have developed various systems of laws and cultural norms designed to impose some limits on war.  One of the most basic  legal principles established by laws related to war is that assaults, homicides and property destruction are not criminal if committed by soldiers engaged in wars.  War affords its participants a legal justification for acts that, if committed by private citizens, would justify prosecution and punishment.  Western democratic societies have tried, with very limited success, to establish limits on this defense to prosecution.  An effort has been made to define “crimes against humanity” and to prescribe punishment for such “crimes”, regardless of whether committed during a war.

These efforts have resulted in somewhat skewed results.  The victors in WWII  prosecuted, imprisoned and executed German and Japanese “war criminals” for wanton destruction and killing of civilians, conveniently ignoring the bombing of Dresden and the nuclear and fire bombing of Japan.  This said, however, it is true that, until the past decade or so, the distinction between crime and war was generally recognized and observed.

Even revolutionary wars, pitting neighbor against neighbor and countryman against countryman, were treated as wars and the participants were not viewed as criminals.  Confederate soldiers in the Civil War were not prosecuted for treason, even though Union rhetoric accused them of being traitors.  When the war ended, Confederate prisoners were released to return to their homes.  A vengeful Congress stripped them of their rights as U.S citizens, but even those retaliatory measures were later modified as part of a political deal.

9-11, The Failure of Checks and Balances and the Patriot Act

On September 11, 2001, airplanes piloted by agents of Al Qaeda crashed into two office buildings in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C..  The buildings in New York were destroyed and the Pentagon sustained significant damage.  Seventeen days later, on September 18, 2001, with one dissenting vote in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate, the U.S. Congress adopted a joint resolution that stated, in pertinent part:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

This joint resolution, entitled “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, often abbreviated as AUMF,  has been used by the Bush and Obama administrations to authorize the President to by-pass the Constitutional provision that reserves to Congress the power to declare war.  [Article I, Section 8].  In fact the last time Congress declared war was in December, 1941.

The United States has used military force against against  North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya,  all without any declaration of war by the Congress.  Harry Truman named the Korean War a “police action” to explain why he sought no Congressional declaration of war.   LBJ claimed that the Vietnam war was waged in response to an attack on an U.S. Navy vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin. A Joint Resolution of Congress authorized the president to use military force to help countries who were parties to the South East Asia Treaty Organization secure “their freedom”.   A later investigation concluded that most of the claims that the Navy vessel was attacked by North Vietnam ships were false.  Nevertheless, 58,000 dead American soldiers and countless Vietnamese and Cambodians resulted from this undeclared war based on those lies foisted on Congress.

The Bush and Obama administrations have ignored the language of the Joint Resolution that limits its targets to “. . . nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons,. . . .”  Al Qaeda has been interpreted to mean any person or group that seems to have some wish or intent to do harm to Americans.  The only requirement seems to be that the target must be somehow “associated with” some group, regardless of how amorphous or loosely organized, that can be linked to the phrase “Al Qaeda”.  

At a Senate hearing on May 18, 2013, representatives of the Department of Defense testified before a committee of the Senate.  In response to friendly questioning from Senator Graham they claimed the right to wage war anywhere they found anyone threatening any “terrorist” act against the United States; that the “battlefield” encompassed an area they described as “from Yemen to Boston”.   This testimony astonished even Senator Graham’s political clone, John McCain.  To appreciate the scope of our present lawless and unlimited military machine, see the excerpts published by the Huffington Post.

To summarize:  Both Bush and Obama have used the above-cited 2001 Joint Resolution as a basis for their authority to make war on anyone, anywhere, any time if they can relate some activity, threatened or likely activity of the target to some “future acts of international terrorism against the United States”.    Some times that relationship seems, at least to me, so tenuous as to be credible only to those who, like the audience watching a play, are engaged in a  “willing suspension of disbelief”.   “Six degrees of Separation from Kevan Bacon”, an interesting parlor game, seems to have become a template for the “war on terror”.

The most dangerous power of government is military power.  The United States has the most powerful military force in the history of the world.  The only protection from misuse of that power is the Constitution, a worthless document unless its terms are enforced, either politically through elected  officials or legally in our courts.  During the past seven decades we have passively watched as that military force has become stronger and the restraints that render it safe have all but vanished.

This has occurred for three reasons:  First, American citizens have been terrorized, not by foreign terrorists but by home-grown political demagogues who have used appeals to patriotism and exaggerated fear to convince Americans that constitutional protections against lawless government are mere hindrances that interfere with efforts to protect them against dreadful attacks.  Second:  Elected officials charged with enforcing those constitutional protections have defaulted because of political cowardice or corrupt alliances with corporate business forces that profit from military armament.  Third:  Our courts have been unwilling to halt the erosion of constitutional protection because they perceived the issue to be political, rather than legal and, in cases involving individual rights, have been too willing to accept the so-called “national security” defense that allows government to cloak in secrecy the factual bases, or lack thereof, for its actions.

The “War on Terror”

I have expressed my concern about the undeclared wars that have cost trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives and devastated several countries.  I am convinced that the costs of those wars, both in blood and treasure, have greatly exceeded any benefit that resulted from them.  I am convinced that none of them, with the possible exceptions of the Korean war and the first Gulf War, were necessary.  So far as I can tell, neither Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq nor South East Asia are better off today because America waged war against them.

I am grateful, of course, that many of the leaders of Al Qaeda, a vicious and dangerous organization, have been captured or killed.  I do not believe, however, that tracking them down and dealing with them required the trashing of our Constitution and the various wars that have been waged in response to the attack on September 11, 2001.  Terrorist attacks are crimes committed by criminals.  They are not acts of war and the criminals are not soldiers.

We have criminal laws and orderly constitutional procedures for dealing with criminals, both those found in America and those found elsewhere in the world.  When the September 11 attacks occurred, we should have organized an international  team of law enforcement officials in  a joint effort to locate and apprehend those responsible.  When they were caught, we should have extradited them to America, jailed them, tried them and imprisoned or executed them without violating our laws and without engaging costly and unnecessary wars.

The vast Homeland Security bureaucracy employing 180,000 people, created in the panic following the 9-11 attacks,  had little to do with the successful effort to deal with Al Qaeda.  Neither the Iraq war nor the Afghanistan war has resulted in any appreciable damage to Al Qaeda that could not have been accomplished with a more targeted law enforcement effort. Individual leaders of Al Qaeda have been captured or killed by small teams or specific attacks unrelated to those wars.   Misnaming our reaction to the September 11 attack as a “war on terror” has done little to injure our enemies.  It has done significant damage to our system of laws.

The extra-judicial invasion of privacy spawned by the Patriot Act, claimed to be required because we are in a “state of war”,  has enabled government access, without a warrant, notice or hearing, to our emails and our telephone calls.  Our activities are recorded by ubiquitous cameras mounted on drone aircraft as well as thousands of other stationary locations.  The information about us thus secretly acquired is then secretly analyzed by nameless bureaucrats whose motives and methods are secret,  hidden from judicial oversight  and public disclosure by claims of “national security”.

The Advent of the Drone

The development of drone aircraft capable of carrying explosive weapons and controlled from remote locations have, in my opinion, significantly increased the danger to all of us resulting from the above described expansion of presidential discretion to kill people located anywhere in the world because they are claimed to be, or likely to be or become “terrorists”.  This new weapon sheds the disguise of a “war on terror”.  It is an individualized personal weapon to be used against specific named persons.  In other words, a drone does exactly what a law enforcement officer does:  Seek and kill people suspected of having committed a crime.  As presently used, however, drone killing is done with no pretense of due process.

A thief who shoplifts a candy bar can be arrested only based on probable cause, is entitled to Miranda warnings,  a written statement of charges against him or her, a lawyer and a trial before an impartial tribunal.  If, however, he or she is in Yemen and can be somehow be connected to some group calling itself “Al Qaeda”, he or she can be added to a hit list by a group meeting in the White House and blown up in a drone strike based on secret evidence never disclosed.

If this does not concern you, because you are confident that Barack Obama and his administration would not misuse this authority, I have just two words for you:  Ted Cruz.  He will probably run for President in 2016.  How much are you willing to wager that he won’t be elected?  Your life and your liberty?  Did you think American voters would grant George W. Bush a second term in 2004, given the fact that his disastrous first term had embroiled us in a senseless war in Iraq, converted a budget surplus to a giant debt, and allowed Wall Street bankers to wreck our economy?  No?  Neither did I.  But they did, by a larger margin than his first election, the one they had to steal.

The Supreme Court and the “War on Terror”

In Ex parte Merryman Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that the President, even if the country was at war, could not suspend the writ of habeas corpus without Congressional authority.  The  case is an interesting one.  In 1861, the Civil War was beginning.  President Lincoln, desperate lest Rebel sympathizers in Maryland cut off Washington from the rest of the union , called up the loyalist Maryland militia to defend against the Rebel forces.  He declared martial law in Maryland and told General Winfield Scott that, if he found it necessary, he could suspend the right to habeas corpus and summarily detain anyone who acted against union forces.

John Merryman was a sympathizer with the southern cause and a lieutenant in the Maryland militia.  He committed  acts of destruction and sabotage and was arrested, charged with treason by a Brigadier General in the Union Army and jailed at Fort McHenry near Baltimore.  He filed an application for a  writ of habeas corpus in the Federal Court presided over by Chief Justice Taney.  Taney was a Democrat and hated Abraham Lincoln.  He granted the writ and ordered Merryman brought to his court.  When the writ was served, the General in charge of Fort McHenry responded with a letter declining to recognize Taney’s writ.  Taney issued a writ of attachment ordering a federal marshal to arrest the general and bring him to court.  The marshal was denied entry into the Fort.  Taney responded with a lengthy opinion castigating Lincoln for arrogantly presuming to possess authority capable of suspending rights protected by the Constitution.  Taney quoted from the Declaration of Independence.  One of the justifications offered for revolting against King George was that “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

President Lincoln ignored Taney’s decision as well as several other federal court decisions rendered thereafter agreeing with Taney.  Finally, in February, 1862, Lincoln rendered the issue moot by releasing on parole all political prisoners.  However, a month later, after Congress refused to grant him authority to suspend habeas corpus, he defiantly suspended the writ throughout the country.  The matter was finally settled in March, 1863, when Congress enacted the “Habeas Corpus Suspension Act”.

[An aside:  After reading this account of Lincoln’s disdain for the Constitution, I was reminded that Obama admires and has carefully studied Lincoln.  I assumed he admired Lincoln’s noble assault on slavery and his wise moderation toward conflicting views.  After reading this case, I wonder if my political support of Obama has blinded me to other aspects of his philosophy  and admiration of Lincoln which, to me, are not so attractive.  ??]

The next case pertinent to the present inquiry was Ex parte Milligan, decided in 1866.  Lambdin P. Milligan and several other Southern sympathizers planned to free Rebel prisoners or war held in Yankee prisons, organize them into a military force and take over the governments of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.  He and several of his cohorts were arrested, tried before Military Commissions and sentenced to death for treason.  The Civil War ended before the date of Milligan’s executiion.  He filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus and the Supreme Court granted his application.

The Court ruled that martial law and trials by military commissions were proper in three situations:  First:  Military courts or commissions could try members of the armed forces.  Second:  During a war, a military force occupying enemy territory could try civilians in military courts or commissions during the continuation of the war and until some new government was established.  Third:  In time of some catastrophe or chaotic event when regular government courts were not available, martial law could be declared and the writ of habeas corpus temporarily suspended.

The Court ruled that Indiana, where Milligan was arrested, was not occupied territory and that trial before a military commission was not proper because the courts were available.  Therefore, Milligan’s application was granted, the Court ruled that the trial before a Military Commission was unconstitutional and he was freed.

In Johnson v. Eisentrager, decided in 1945, the Supreme Court held that German soldiers arrested, tried and convicted in China by a military commission of having fought with the Japanese army against United States forces, and later detained in a  prison in Germany could not invoke the jurisdiction of an American federal court to hear an application for habeas corpus.  The applicants were not American citizens and, at no time had been on any American territory.  They were convicted of committing acts of war against the United States after the war against Germany was concluded. Justice Jackson held that  persons who were engaged in acts of war against the United States in a foreign land, who were neither American citizens nor aliens located in an American territory, had no right to assert rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Ex parte Quirin is the Supreme Court case relied on by Bush and Obama for their authority to deprive “enemy combatants” of any semblance of due process, imprison them indefinitely without any formal charges against them, and to deny or severely limit their access to counsel or to any hearing before an impartial tribunal.

That case involved German saboteurs.  Four debarked from a submarine in 1942 at Long Island, New York.     The others landed on the east coast of Florida.  They wore incomplete German uniforms but changed to civilian clothes after landing. Their mission was to destroy various strategic targets in the United States.

One of the saboteurs, Hans Haupt, was an Ameerican citizen.  The other seven were German citizens.  They were tried before a military commission, established pursuant to an executive order from FDR and sentenced to death.  They were represented by counsel.  They filed an application for habeas corpus, challenging the legality of their convictions.  The Supreme Court denied their application for a writ of habeas corpus.  Six of the applicants were executed.  The other two were sentenced to prison terms.

The Court did not deliver an opinion until several months after the executions.  Justice Stone delivered a per curiam opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court denying their claims.  He based his decision on the fact that war had been declared on Germany; that they were actively engaged in making war on the United States; that they were not soldiers and, therefore, not entitled to treatment as prisoners of war.

The opinion was based on  draft opinion written by Justice Jackson.  There was unanimous agreement that the applicants were not entitled to a jury trial and that they could be tried by a military commission.  The justices were divided on the extent to which Congress could circumscribe the discretion of the President with respect to the trial of the saboteurs.  Because the Court concluded that the detention of the Germans was legal and that their trial by a military commission was proper, they found it unnecessary to rule on the procedure followed by the commission or the extent of the President’s authority to order such trials.

Louis Fisher, an expert on the law of war and, especially on the use of military commissions, has written extensively and critically on the procedure followed by FDR concerning these German saboteurs.  [See Louis Fisher, “Military Tribunals:  A Sorry History”, e.g.  .  This essay is available online.]

Having read this decision as well as some of the commentary concerning it, I do not think it is a Mother Hubbard clause added to the Constitution granting discretionary authority to the President to ignore the Congress and the Constitution in all situations involving terrorist threats against the United States.  It is disturbing to me that our former constitutional law professor President disagrees.

Another Supreme Court case pertinent to some of the issues raised here is U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990).  The Defendant, a Mexican citizen residing in Mexico, was suspected of smuggling dope into the United States.  With the cooperation of Mexican authorities, U.S. law enforcement officials searched his home in Mexico, found evidence of his crimes, arrested him and extradited him for trial in the U.S., where he was convicted.  In this appeal, he argued that the search in Mexico violated the 4th Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures”.  The Court disagreed, holding that an alien living in a foreign country was not protected by the amendment because it began with the statement that “The right of the people to be secure . . . shall not be violated. . . .”  The Court stated that “the people” refers to residents of the United States, not residents of foreign countries.

The Court, however, cited the following distinction: “That text, [the Fourth Amendment] by contrast with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, extends its reach only to ‘the people.'” (emphasis added) They continued, “Before analyzing the scope of the Fourth Amendment, we think it significant to note that it operates in a different manner than the Fifth Amendment, which is not at issue in this case. “The privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment is a fundamental trial right of criminal defendants” (emphasis added).  ”

In other words, the Court made clear the fact that, if the defendant had been deprived of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, even if the deprivation occurred in Mexico and even though he was a Mexican citizen, that circumstance, if material to his case, might have vitiated his conviction.  Because he relied only on a 4th Amendment violation, his conviction was affirmed.

In 2004, the Supreme Court decided Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.  Yaser Esam Hamdi was born in Louisiana in 1980.  As a child, he moved to Saudi Arabia with his family.  In the Summer of 2001, twenty-year-old Hamdi went to Afghanistan to work as a relief worker.   He was taken into custody by the Afghan Northern Alliance during the American invasion of Afghanistan.  They turned him over to the U.S. Military.  He was interrogated and then transferred to Guantanamo.  When the authorities there discovered that he was an American citizen, he was transferred to a Navy brig in South Carolina.

His father, as next friend, filed an application for habeas corpus in a federal court.  The federal judge conducted a hearing and, after listening to the government’s case, concluded there was no persuasive evidence that Hamdi was an “enemy combatant”.  The government appealed and the 4th Circuit reversed, ruling that the court had no jurisdiction to challenge  the discretion of the President concerning the treatment of a person accused of having participated in hostile activity during a military invasion.  The case was remanded to the district court, which again ruled in Hamdi’s favor.  The 4th Circuit again reversed and Hamdi appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court took the case and, in 2004, ruled that the government had no right to detain an American citizen without complying with the requirements of due process.  A four-member plurality of the Court ruled that “due process” in view of the government’s claim that Hamdi had engaged in active hostilities in a combat zone during a military invasion, did not mean that Hamdi had the rights of a defendant in a peacetime criminal proceeding.  They did, however, firmly reject the Bush administration’s claim that federal courts had no jurisdiction to evaluate Hamdi’s treatment. After describing the manner and timing of Hamdi’s arrest and detention, the Court stated:  “[W]e necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances. Indeed, the position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens.Youngstown Sheet & Tube,’ 343 U. S., at 587. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake. […] Likewise, we have made clear that, unless Congress acts to suspend it, the Great Writ of habeas corpus allows the Judicial Branch to play a necessary role in maintaining this delicate balance of governance, serving as an important judicial check on the Executive’s discretion in the realm of detentions. […] it would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” (emphasis added)

The Court also limited the scope of the “enemy combatant” classification.  Here is their language:  “There can be no doubt that individuals who fought against the United States in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban, an organization known to have supported the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for those attacks, are individuals Congress sought to target in passing the AUMF. We conclude that detention of individuals falling into the limited category we are considering, for the duration of the particular conflict in which they were captured, is so fundamental and accepted an incident to war as to be an exercise of the ‘necessary and appropriate force’ Congress has authorized the President to use. […] A citizen, no less than an alien, can be ‘part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners’ and ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States,’ […]; such a citizen, if released, would pose the same threat of returning to the front during the ongoing conflict [as an alien].[…] Because detention to prevent a combatant’s return to the battlefield is a fundamental incident of waging war, in permitting the use of ‘necessary and appropriate force’, Congress has clearly and unmistakably authorized detention in the narrow circumstances considered here. […] Under the definition of enemy combatant that we accept today as falling within the scope of Congress’ authorization, Hamdi would need to be ‘part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners’  and ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States’ to justify his detention in the United States for the duration of the relevant conflict.”(emphasis added)

To me, this means that when the Afghan war concludes, those alleged to have been “enemy combatants” in that war, must be released.  The Court clearly was not willing to agree to an endless “war on terror” to extend the detention powers of the government.

Following this decision, the government made a kind of modified “Br’er Rabbit” deal with Hamdi.  They agreed to drop all charges if he would renounce his American citizenship and agree to be deported to Saudi Arabia, where his family lives. He agreed not to travel back to the U.S. or to several other places in the Middle East without approval of the Saudi government.   Apparently, they knew full well that they could not prove their accusations against the young man.  And, oh yes, he also had to agree not to sue them for having abused and imprisoned him for several years.  As Chris Dixie, my law partner, used to say, “These people have no class.”

In Rasul v. Bush (2004),  the Supreme Court ruled that citizens of Great Britain and Australia, arrested in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Afghan war, accused of actively engaged in hostilities against U.S. forces, had due process rights to challenge their detention at Guantanamo.  The Court ruled that their citizenship was not determinative of their rights to enforce constitutional limits applicable to the government of the United States; that they could go to federal court to enforce those limits by filing an application for habeas corpus.

After these defeats, Bush and his supporters in Congress crafted a set of rules for military tribunals.  That effort tried to render useless the rights of prisoners affirmed by the Supreme Court in Hamdi and Rasul.   The Congress also purported to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of these measures.

In Hamden v. Rumsfeld (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that those efforts were unconstitutional.   The Court ruled that any military tribunal scheme had to comply with the Geneva Convention as incorporated into the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  They also disallowed the effort of Congress to deprive them of jurisdiction to enforce the Constitution.

One of the interesting sidelights of the Hamden case was an amicus brief filed by Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kyl.  In their brief, the Senators presented an “extensive colloquy” purporting to show that the Congress was aware, when they enacted the “Detainee Treatment Act of 2004”, that it would strip federal courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to the legality of the Act.  The “extensive colloquy” was added to the record after the debate, a detail not mentioned in the Senators’ brief.  Again, “no class”.

Summary

These cases establish, for me, three propositions:  First, the protection of “persons” in the Fifth and  Sixth Amendments applies to citizens and non-citizens if their life, liberty or property is being threatened by the United States government.  Second:  Even if the government accuses a person of having engaged in active hostile acts in a war zone, if the accused person is in a territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States courts, the accused is entitled to challenge his detention and treatment by filing an application for habeas corpus in one of those courts.  Third, neither the Congress nor the President has the right to strip federal courts of jurisdiction to enforce these rights.

Anwar Al-Awlaki

The assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki convinced me that the hazy “Al Qaeda” label, the willfully misunderstood language of the AUMF and the flexible designation of “enemy combatant”, combined with drone technology has finally confronted us with a President and a military/intelligence establishment that threaten our lives and liberty in far more serious ways than any Muslim fanatic is likely to do.

Anwar Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico.   In late September, 2011, drone aircraft controlled from a Middle-East CIA location, fired missiles at a car traveling across a dessert in Yemen.  Al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn, both American citizens, were killed.  Kahn was the editor of a violently anti-American internet publication, Inspire.  Al-Awlaki was a fiery Muslim Imam who used YouTube and emails to preach violently anti-American diatribes, including statements that praised the killing of soldiers and others at Ft.  Hood by Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist on November 5, 2009, the acts of a martyr.

The American press has highlighted the fact that, during the months before the Ft. Hood attack, Hasan and Al-Awlaki had exchanged several emails.  The emails were initiated by Hasan, in apparent response to Al-Awlaki’s YouTube postings.  There is no evidence that Al-Awlaki urged Hasan to kill anyone or that Al-Awlaki helped Hasan plan the attack.  The Department of Defense has not charged Hasan as an “enemy combatant” or claimed that he is being held as a prisoner of war.  He has been charged with murder and is being prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

On September 11, 2001, Anwar Al-Awlaki was a Muslim preacher at a large mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.  He denounced the attack as an outrage, was interviewed on TV,  profiled in a piece in the Washington Post and was featured in NPR episodes concerning the 9-11 attacks.  When the FBI learned that one or more of the 9-11 attackers had attended a mosque in Los Angeles when Al-Awlaki had been the imam there, he was interviewed and cleared of any wrongdoing related to that circumstance.

The story of how this American Muslim preacher became a target for assassination by an American President is a long and interesting one.  I have read two versions of this story.  One, written by New York Times reporters, repeats the government’s version.  The other, written and narrated by Jeremy Scahill, a writer for The Nation and a longtime correspondent for Democracy Now, the liberal media program presided over by Amy Goodman, is based on information gleaned from non-governmental sources as well as from current and former members of the American intelligence community.  The Times’ version generally justifies, with some reservations, the government’s case against Al-Awlaki.  When it mentions the gaps in the government’s factual case, it gives the government the benefit of the doubt.  Scahill is less forgiving.  He also adds many details left out of the Times’ version.

Here is a link to two Times stories which fairly represent the government’s version:  Times One  Times Two

Here are links to a long Democracy Now interview of Jeremy Scahill by Amy Goodman.  It is in two parts.

Democracy Now One  Democracy Now Two

Here is a link to a video of Jeremy Scahill stating his criticism of the government’s handling of the Anwar Al-Awlaki killing.  Scahill video

These are long stories.  I know that, with busy lives, you may not have time to have read this far in this too-long essay.  I understand this.  I have indulged myself by writing this and doing this research because I believe that America is, as the neo-cons keep insisting, an exceptional place, but not for the reasons the neo-cons claim.  I don’t think our exceptionalism is based on our ability to bully people and nations.  We are an exceptional nation because we have declared ourselves willing to accept the substantial risks of being  free.

We do not value our safety more than our freedom.  We respect our government because it is our creation, based on our authority and subject to a written enforceable contract we drafted and adopted.  We did not copy it from a form book.  We haggled, raged and argued about it and  we refused to agree to it until the first ten amendments were added, but finally, recognizing that it was imperfect and the result of many compromises, we ratified it.  Our Constitution and the government it established are unique accomplishments, unmatched in the history of human efforts to govern.

I think some of the core ideas that distinguish America from all other nations are under serious attack by well meaning but nevertheless dangerous people.  And, unfortunately, technology has produced the ideal weapons, like drone aircraft, powerful tiny cameras and computers capable of sorting and compiling information about us on a scale impossible to imagine.  These weapons, eagerly adopted by those who perceive government’s power as a desirable means of insuring our safety, have  caused a perilous imbalance between the force of government and the power of a democratically empowered population.  Delegating to military agencies functions traditionally left to civilian law enforcement authority has become an accepted circumstance, claimed to be necessary to insure our safety.  Secrecy has been allowed to conceal information that is necessary to alert us to government judgments and choices that threaten our freedom and render impotent the protection we sought when we adopted our Constitution.

After thinking about all this, I had to organize and write some kind of structured statement of my concerns.  This enables me to sort out my fears and confront them with pertinent facts.  Only then can I say to myself, “This is the way this problem developed.  I see how some of the pieces fit together.   I now have an outline in my brain, a kind of scaffolding  to adorn with future information.  I think I can now tell the difference between real peril and distracting rabbit trails.”

An Afterthought

Finally, for those of you, if any, who are still with me:  I want to share with you a video of a “good ol’ boy”‘s YouTube tirade against the government that finally works up to a justification for killing American soldiers.  This is the kind of rhetoric that Anwar Al-Awlaki is accused of using in his YouTube rants.  As you watch it, understand that the speaker is the co-owner with his wife of a weapons store and that this is one of 170 videos posted by him on YouTube.  See philliptjrYouTube

I think this guy is pathetic, but I damn sure don’t want some drone to drop a bomb or a missile on him.  Not in my country.  And, by the way, I am aware of the fact that I have just written a tirade of my own about the government.  I insist there is an important difference between the two of us:  I think it is vital that he be able to say whatever he wants to say.  He probably thinks I, with my opinion about our gun culture, ought to be shot.

Bob

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