Monday, January 28, 2013


Macbeth murders King Duncan, and becomes the King of Scotland.
Before the final curtain, MacDuff has beheaded Macbeth and succeeded to the throne.
No need for term limits back then. Indeed killing people has a long and storied history in the politics of human governance.
Louis XVI, Benito Mussolini, and Muammar Gaddafi are all rather well known examples of leaders mortally removed from office by their constituents.
Some victims, like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy are seen as martyrs. Many others are hardly noticed.
Fifteen political leaders were assassinated in the United States in the 19th century.
Seventeen more, including John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, were murdered in the 20th century.
We’re off to a strong start in the twenty-first century.Five American politicians have been killed in the first decade:
Derwin Brown, a Georgia Sheriff-Elect, murdered on orders of the man he defeated.
James Davis, New York City Councilman, Bill Gwatney, Chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, Mike Swoboda, Mayor of Kirkwood, Missouri, and John Thorton, the Mayor of Washington Park, Illinois.
All condemned to death for the crime of aspiring to public service.
Of course voting with guns and knives goes both ways. Bashar al-Assad has reputedly slaughtered tens of thousands of his constituents in a frantic effort to stay in office.
There is a substantial body of literature in the United States which presumes that the Counter Intelligence Agency, popularly known as the CIA, and frequently dubbed “the company” is, from time to time, expected to ‘eliminate’ dangerous enemies of the nation.
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne romps through a series of CIA shoot ups; Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson and the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, get in their licks with AK47’s , and the peace and prosperity of the land is saved from the bad guys. Again.
My predecessor as Chief Justice of Michigan, a folksy Dutchman, used to say that the first issue in every murder trial is, “Should the deceased have went?”
No doubt, in the court of public opinion, the moral dimension of homicide is determined in just about that way.
Far too many Americans believe that the President of the United States has the power of life and death. His writ runs around the world, wherever a drone can land.
Osama bin Laden had it coming. The Navy Seals are heroes. The President is applauded on both sides of the aisle. He has taught those al-Qaeda guys a lesson.
Now we don’t have to worry about them any more. Do we?
Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki. The father was killed in Yemen by an American drone. An American citizen who reputedly renounced his citizenship, the father was known to be an advisor to Nidal Hasan, who slaughtered a dozen Americans at Fort Hood.
The son, a sixteen year old American citizen had gone to Yemen trying to find his father. He was killed by another drone two weeks after his father.
Former White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs defended the killing by saying that the boy should have had a more responsible father.
Even the mainstream Washington Post has reported that the administration has a secret ‘kill list.’ Too many Americans are content to think that when someone is killed by a drone, “they must have had it coming, or we wouldn’t have killed them.”
I cannot subscribe to that kind of thinking.
I suggest that it is time for a national debate on the issue of Presidential powers.
Does the President of the United States have the power of life and death? Should he have that authority?
It is campy to say that ‘the buck stops here’ in the Oval Office. But how is it that the buck ever gets there in the first place? Who recommends names for the kill list? And why?
I would endorse a constitutional amendment like this:
Except in the prosecution of a war duly declared by the Congress, the President shall not order nor authorize the killing of any human being without the prior advice and consent of the Senate.
If you disagree, I invite you to tell us just who you think the President can kill and why.


  1. James Madison wrote "The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature." and "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended."