Dec 10, 2013
The American Lockdown State
Posted on Feb 5, 2013
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Post-Legal Drones and the New Legalism
This week, during the Senate confirmation hearings for Brennan’s nomination as CIA director, we are undoubtedly going to hear much about “legality” and drone assassination campaigns. Senator Ron Wyden, for instance, has demanded that the White House release a 50-page “legal” memo its lawyers created to justify the drone assassination of an American citizen, which the White House decided was far too hush-hush for either the Congress or ordinary Americans to read. But here’s the thing: if Wyden got that bogus document, undoubtedly filled with legalisms (as a just-leaked 16-page Justice Department “white paper” justifying drone killings is), and released it to the rest of us, what difference would it make? Yes, we might learn something about the vestiges of a guilty conscience when it comes to American legality in a White House run by a former “constitutional law professor.” But we would know little else.
Once upon a time, an argument over whether such drone strikes were legal or not might have had some heft to it. After all, the United States was once hailed, above all, as a “nation of laws.” But make no mistake: today, such a “debate” will, in the Seinfeldian sense, be an argument about nothing, or rather about an issue that has long been settled.
The drone strikes, after all, are perfectly “legal.” How do we know? Because the administration which produced that 50-page document (and similar memos) assures us that it’s so, even if they don’t care to fully reveal their reasoning, and because, truth be told, on such matters they can do whatever they want to do. It’s legal because they’ve increasingly become the ones who define legality.
As with our distant wars, most Americans are remarkably unaffected in any direct way by the lockdown of this country. And yet in a post-legal drone world of perpetual “wartime,” in which fantasies of disaster outrace far more realistic dangers and fears, sooner or later the bin Laden tax will take its toll, the chickens will come home to roost, and they will be able to do anything in our name (without even worrying about producing secret legal memos to justify their acts). By then, we’ll be completely locked down and the key thrown away.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt
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