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How extremism is normalized

Posted: 2012-06-05

Ohanian Comment: I contribute to Salon.com because they publish Glenn Greenwald. Yes, I could read it for free but I believe we should contribute to those who work at informing us. There are so few of them.

This commentary includes Greenwald's May 30, 2012 post at Salon. And also Andrew Rosenthal's New York Times column, May 29, 2012.

Surely an Eggplant is coming: I see the scene where Obama, Duncan, and Bill Gates choose which non-Common Core-compliant teachers to take out with a drone.

As Attorney General Eric Holder put it, "'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security." Bill Gates/Arne Duncan say that student needs and student mandates are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to corporate needs. If Stephen Colbert chose to brutally mock Gates/Duncan he'd probably say, 'there's just what you need to do.'

But it doesn't occur to satirists to mock federal education policy because the unions and the professional organizations embrace it--and they're dead serious. And only a handful of people recognize this ed policy as extremism normalized.

Here's Colbert:

Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them.

The Obama administration has converted once unthinkable government claims into permanent political fixtures. I actually got tears in my eyes when I read the New York Times article Greenwald refers to. Imagine the outrage if George Bush had made the claim Obama makes. Notice the silence from the so-called progressive community.

Thank you, Glenn Greenwald, for speaking out.

Question: Will NCTE give its Doublespeak Award to President Obama for his legerdemain: avoid counting civilian deaths by re-defining "militant" to mean "all military-age males in a strike zone"? Probably not. After all, they've issued no outrage over Obama/Duncan calling on teachers to educate workers for a global economy.

Once something is repeated enough by government officials, we become numb to its extremism.

Note this reader comment to the Rosenthal column in the New York Times:

Mr. Rosenthal,
Read the comments your post has incited. You are sending people to Romney. Time to lay off Obama unless you want pure Tea Party government---and Romney would be doing all of this & more on our dime employing private contractors run by fat-cat Repubs behind the scenes, Get a grip on your liberal angst until next December.

by Glenn Greenwald

There is one important passage from yesterday's big New York Times article on President Obama's personal issuance of secret, due-process-free death sentences that I failed to highlight despite twice writing about that article. The fact that I did not even bother to highlight it among all the other passages I wrote about is itself significant, as it reflects how rapidly true extremism becomes normalized:

That record, and Mr. Awlaki's calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?

The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Mr. Obama gave his approval, and Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011, along with a fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was traveling with him.

Please just re-read that bolded part. This is something that we already knew. The New York Times' Charlie Savage had previously reported that Obama OLC lawyers David Barron and Marty Lederman had authored a “secret document” that "provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war" ("The memo concluded that what was reasonable, and the process that was due, was different for Mr. Awlaki than for an ordinary criminal”). Attorney General Eric Holder then publicly claimed: "'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process." Both of those episodes sparked controversy, because of how radical of a claim it is (Stephen Colbert brutally mocked Holder's speech: "Due Process just means: there's a process that you do").

But that's the point: once something is repeated enough by government officials, we become numb to its extremism. Even in the immediate wake of 9/11 -- when national fear and hysteria were intense -- things like the Patriot Act, military commissions, and indefinite detention were viewed as radical departures from American political tradition; now, they just endure and are constantly renewed without notice, because they’ve just become normalized fixtures of American political life. Here we have the Obama administration asserting what I genuinely believe, without hyperbole, is the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime --that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that the State cannot deprive you of your life without "due process of law" is fulfilled by completely secret, oversight-free "internal deliberations by the executive branch" -- and it's now barely something anyone (including me) even notices when The New York Times reports it (as the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer asked yesterday [on Twitter]: "These Dems who think executive process is due process: Where were they when Bushâ€Â¬ needed help with warrantless wiretapping?" -- or his indefinite detention scheme?)

A couple of months ago, I spoke at Purdue University in Indiana about civil liberties in the post-9/11 era, and several high school students drove from Kentucky to attend. They were aspiring journalists who worked on their high school newspaper and were battling their county School Board officials who were attempting to censor some of their articles on gay equality; they interviewed me after my speech in the hope that I would provide critical quotes about those officials (which I happily supplied). One of the student-journalists, a girl in the 11th grade, said something to me that was striking, something I knew rationally but had not quite internalized viscerally: she pointed out that much of my speech was grounded in post-9/11 erosions of civil liberties, but that for people her age -- she was 6 years old at the time of the 9/11 attack -- the post-9/11 era is basically all they know.

The post-9/11 era comprises the entirety of their political experience. They have no different American political culture to which they can compare it, at least from personal experience. The post-9/11 U.S. Government is the only one they know. The rights that have been abridged in the name of Terrorism are ones they never experienced, never exercised, and thus do not expect.

Every year that these assaults on core liberties are entrenched and expanded further -- the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process "can be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch" -- the more normalized they become, the more invulnerable to challenge they are, the more unlikely it is that they will ever be reversed. In 2006, Al Gore gave a speech on the Bush/Cheney assault on the Constitution and asked: "If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?" What prompted Gore's denunciation was mere eavesdropping and detention without judicial review. That's no longer controversial. Now we have this question: if the U.S. President can openly declare the power to order even the nation's own citizens executed by the CIA in total secrecy, without charges or a whiff of transparency or oversight, what can't he do?

President Obama's Kill List
By Andrew Rosenthal
New York Times, May 29, 2012

Whenever I raise questions about President Obama's "targeted killing" policy, and the cavalier way his aides dismiss criticism of it, administration officials tell me that I wouldn't worry so much if I understood the program's inner workings. But the more that comes to light, the more worried I feel.

Take today's lengthy article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, which describes how Mr. Obama has placed himself "at the helm of a top-secret 'nominations' process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, for which the capture part has become largely theoretical." He "signs off on every [drone] strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan -- about a third of the total."

The White House spin on Mr. Obama's personal involvement with the drones program is that he's shouldering the moral responsibility. In the words of Thomas Donilon, his national security adviser, "he's determined to keep the tether pretty short."

That's precisely the problem: The tether is too short. If Mr. Obama wants to authorize every drone strike, fine--but even the president requires oversight (remember checks and balances?) which he won't allow. The administration refuses to accept judicial review (from a FISA-style court, say) prior to a strike directed at an American citizen, and won't deign to release the legal documents written to justify the targeted killing program. The Times and the ACLU have both sued to force disclosure of these documents. No luck yet.

Apologists for the president's "just trust me" approach to targeted killings emphasize that the program is highly successful and claim that the drone strikes are extraordinarily precise. John Brennan, the president's counter-terrorism adviser, said in a recent speech that not a single non-combatant had been killed in a year of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And today's Times article quoted a senior administration official who said that civilian deaths were in the "single digits."

But it turns out that even this hey-it's-better-than-carpet-bombing justification is rather flimsy. The Times article says "Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties. . . It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

The logic, such as it is, is that people who hang around places where Qaeda operatives hang around must be up to no good. That's the sort of approach that led to the false imprisonment of thousands of Iraqis, including the ones tortured at Abu Ghraib. Mr. Obama used to denounce that kind of thinking.

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