There is no doubt that the 9/11 attacks changed America. While policies, including the Patriot Act, targeted assassinations and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (waterboarding), originated during the George W. Bush administration, candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric led many supporters to believe he would abandon or soften many of the policies.
On May 24, 2009, President Barack Obama delivered a national security speech at the National Archives in which he stated:
“We are indeed at war with al-Qaida. ... We do need to update our institutions ... but we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach ... a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass.”
Commenting on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” he added: “They undermine the rule of law.”
NBC reporter Michael Isikoff recently revealed a Department of Justice internal memo that outlined the legal basis the president has been using to justify drone strikes on American citizens. While space limits detailed discussion here, suffice it to say the authority as deemed is far more expanded and vague than that assumed by the Bush administration.
It redefines the word “imminent,” requires no evidence of a pending attack and concentrates power with the president alone. No submission of facts to a classified intelligence court, just a determination by an “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government,” and the president’s free to strike at will. No check, no balance, no worry. Thumb up, you live; thumb down, you die.
While the president must always have the authority to take what actions he deems necessary in the case of a true, imminent threat, that authority cannot be so vague, so “ad hoc” that it becomes unchecked and without balance.
For an even greater threat to the American ideal than any terrorist attack is a government that for the sake of expediency turns its back on the rule of law and, ergo, its own citizens.
Or, as Benjamin Franklin surmised more than 200 years ago:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”