• We Take Care of Our Own: Eric Holder and the End of Rights

    March 6, 2012

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    (This post also appeared on the Huffington Post on March 6, 2012)

    Historians of the future, if they are not imprisoned for saying so, will trace the end of America’s democratic experiment to the fearful days immediately after 9/11, what Bruce Springsteen called the days of the empty sky, when frightened, small men named Bush and Cheney made the first decisions to abandon the Constitution in the name of freedom and created a new version of the security state with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, secret prisons and sanctioned torture by the US government. They proceeded carefully, making sure that lawyers in their employ sanctioned each dark act, much as kings in old Europe used the church to justify their own actions.

    Those same historians will remark from exile on the irony that such horrendous policies were not only upheld by Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and professor of Constitutional law, but added to until we came to the place we sadly occupy today: the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, publicly stating that the American Government may murder one of its own citizens when it wishes to do so, and that the requirements of due process enshrined in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, itself drawn from the Magna Carta that was the first reflowering of basic human rights since the Greeks, can be satisfied simply by a decision by that same President.

    Today will thus be remembered as the day we gave up. No more clever wordplay (enhanced interrogations, “patriot” act, targeted killing, kinetic operations) but a simple declaration that the US Government will kill its own citizens when it wishes to, via a secret process we, and our victims, are not allowed to know or contest.

    Brevity in Our Freedom

    Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is beautiful in its brevity and clarity. When you are saying something true, pure, clean and right, you often do not need many words: “…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

    There are no footnotes in the Fifth Amendment, no caveats, no secret memos, no exceptions for war, terrorism, mass rape, creation of concentration camps, acts of genocide, child torture or any evil. Those things are unnecessary, because in the beauty of what Lincoln offered to his audience as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the government would be made up of us, the purpose of government was to serve us, and the government would be beholden to us. Such a government would be incapable of killing its own citizens without care and debate and open trial.

    With the excuse all tyrants proclaim, protecting the nation, on or about September 30, 2011 a US drone fired a missile in Yemen and killed American Citizen Anwar al Awlaki, born in the United States and tragically devoted to al Qaeda. A few days later the US also killed al Zawaki’s 16 year old American Citizen son. The US had shot at the elder al Awlaki before, on May 7, 2011 under Obama’s orders, and under the Bush administration. Before the US government killed his son, attorneys for al Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a US District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government killing of al Awlaki. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. This was the first time in our nation’s history that a father sought to sue to prevent the government from extra-legally killing his son. The judge in the case surrendered to his post-9/11 fear and wrote that it was up to the elected branches of government, not the courts, to determine whether the United States has the authority to murder its own citizens by decree.

    Fear Shaped by Lies to Compel Compliance

    In his speech, Attorney General Holder said things no honest man would ever believe would be said by the highest law officer in the United States.

    Holder said “that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process’ and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a ‘judicial process.’”

    Holder thus also declaimed that the victim also has no right to a defense, no right to speak on his behalf, no right to examine and refute the evidence against him and no right even to know his life will be taken under the decision of a few men in Washington. Indeed, Holder made clear that the government’s decision to kill overshadowed the right to self-defense in saying “An individual’s interest in making sure that the government does not target him erroneously could not be more significant. Yet it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks.”

    Holder said he rejected any attempt to label such operations assassinations, invoking the same airbrush of lawfulness that fueled the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the Holocaust. “Assassinations are unlawful killings. The US government’s use of lethal force in self-defense against a leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful.”

    Sluts All

    So while the popular media remembers today as the day Rush apologized for calling someone a slut and Republican candidates ignored the wave of history to carp about birth control, historians will look back on March 5, 2012 as the day America gave up on its experiment with unalienable rights, rights that are natural, not given, rights independent of governments, what our Declaration explained to an unsure forming nation as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    America was different. We became a country not based on a common language, or religion or anything else except adherence to a common set of beliefs, our Bill of Rights. When you take that away, there is nothing left in common, and goddammit Eric Holder and Barack Obama know that.

    The saddest part of a very sad day: the majority of Americans– the consent of the governed– seemingly do not care what Holder said, and are even now bleating on internet forums and likely in comments below to this article about the need to kill more, adding terrified, empty justifications to Holder’s clever statements. We did not have our freedom taken from us, we gave it away.

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  • Recent Comments

    • jim hruska said...


      As you conclude -we gave it away, and can’t hang it all on gwb and company.
      The congress, the courts and we the people were actively complicit in the entire enterprise.
      Our NG was even involved with the torture, it wasn’t just storm troopers involved.
      We all nodded and winked at the blind horse, and we as a society gloried in our dark side as if it were something to be proud of.
      I don’t blame 9-11.
      Think the Phillipine insurrection, or Truman fighting an undeclared war. These were practice runs for the PWOT.Grenada, Panama, PKO etc…
      Do we as a society have a clue?

      03/6/12 2:14 PM | Comment Link

    • teri schooley said...


      Mr. Van Buren,

      This is a beautifully written article.
      It all breaks the heart. I guess this is how the grand experiment ends.

      As an aside; a sign of how corrupt and craven the “leadership” is – I was doing some research into Blackwater/Xe/Academi a month or so back. Sitting on the new board of directors are former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and retired Admiral Bobby Inman. Can you imagine any time in our history when two leading public figures, both of whom used to be sworn to protect and uphold our laws, would go on to head up a mercenary force without anyone noticing or caring? WWTJS (what would Thomas Jefferson say)?


      03/6/12 4:34 PM | Comment Link

    • David Macadam said...


      Thank you for the article, it makes sobering reading. I read through Att. Gen Eric Holder’s talk and what came over to me as a lawyer a foreigner and an historian, was the feeling that this was a final irrevocable extension of Munroe’s Doctrine. Would you agree or do you feel that would be seeing this statement in too dark a tone?

      03/6/12 5:28 PM | Comment Link

    • MattieB said...


      Bravo, Peter. Eloquent, lucid, honest.

      03/6/12 7:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Blackwater Watch » Blog Archive » The Day We Gave Up: Eric Holder and the End of Rights | We Meant … said...


      […] Read more… […]

      03/7/12 6:03 AM | Comment Link

    • jim hruska said...


      The fact of the matter is that countries get the leaders that they’ve earned and whom they deserve.
      Bush and crowd were no an aberration.
      Nor was Stalin, Hitler , or Saddam.

      03/7/12 1:41 PM | Comment Link

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