Fr. Dale Matson
As the season of Lent approaches, I am once again reminded that in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, there are also many things for which I need to repent. This is a season for personal reflection. This is also a season for national reflection.
While our nation seems to have an ever expanding list of personal rights, one of those rights seems to be in the process of being redefined. What it essentially means is that the individual right to life and liberty (due process) are secondary to the national right to self-defense. One thing at stake is the important element of trust. Americans are increasingly seen as a possible threat to their own government. The reverse is also true. Many Americans do not believe that they are being governed with their consent.
While much of the conversation during my lifetime has been over the meaning of the First and Second Amendments to our Constitution, it seems like much of the conversation today includes the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. The Fifth Amendment includes the due process clause. Due process deals with the administration of justice and thus the Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government outside the sanction of law. In addition a law may be ruled void if it is too vague. This means that the average citizen must be able to understand the laws he or she is governed by.
Our Bill of Rights was patterned partly after the Magna Carta (1215). The Magna Carta removed the absolute power of the monarchy and provided due process to freemen. In clause 61 it held the monarch accountable to 25 barons who could overrule the monarch. This made it enforceable and could be seen as an early version of the separation of powers. It was a system of check and balances.
In facing the terrorist threat to the United States following 9/11 the congress gave unlimited power to the president to prosecute the war against the terrorists with the resolution authorizing the president to use "all necessary military force" to fight al-Qaida. I believe this was an emotional response that has led to an abuse of power. This has led to proactive attacks on what have been termed by John Brennan as “High value targets”. Thus, humans have taken on the same meaning as railroad depots, munitions factories and bridges. There is a certain chilling reality to this. I am not just concerned about illegal drone flights over sovereign countries and the killing of American citizens without due process. I am also concerned about the use of the words “Targeted killings” which are really assassinations. This is worse even than the Bush administration calling torture “Enhanced interrogation”. Eventually these things are shortened to simply initials such as TK and EI which further obfuscates the intent and meaning of immoral actions yet the White House called these actions, “legal, ethical and wise.” We have even changed the definition of imminent threat to mean “elongated imminence”. That is an oxymoron in the same vein as jumbo shrimp.
An executive order (12333) signed by President Gerald Ford prohibited the act of state sponsored killing. It was viewed at that time that it would not offer additional options but would undermine our moral status as a nation.An estimated 3,500 -4,700 individuals have been killed by drone strikes. How many were actual targets of the drone strike and how many were simply in the wrong place at the time? Those who were killed in addition to the targeted individuals are considered “Collateral damage”. This is another deliberate attempt to cloak manslaughter. It is rather myopic to only argue against the killing of American citizens without due process. What about due process for everyone else?
Finally, drone warfare is not legal, ethical and wise as much as it is simply convenient. Since we have increased the use of drones, we have only captured one individual. We perhaps have spilled less precious American blood but at what cost? The use of drones has helped fuel the next generation of terrorists. Are we simply buying time until we leave with the least cost of American lives? I am a Viet Nam era Veteran who can still see in my mind’s eye the last helicopter lifting off the American embassy in Saigon.
What are we becoming? Are we still a nation that lives by its own principles or a nation that is becoming what it has been fighting against?