By Doug Newman
Last Sunday evening, after The Big News, someone wrote the following in their Facebook status.
“WAS IT WORTH IT? Assuming the government’s report is indeed true and OBL is dead, were the trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, not to mention the worldwide animosity created against us worth it to capture one individual that could’ve been caught with Letters of Marque and Reprisal?”
I cut and pasted the above as my status, which led to a spirited albeit civil conversation thread. An old and good friend wrote the following:
“What evidence is there that a Letter of Marque and Reprisal would have led to Bin Laden’s capture or death any sooner than yesterday or even at all? Yesterday only showed this way worked, not that it was the best way. You might as well ask if the Civil War was worth it.”
I started to reply on Facebook, but thought I would drone on at some length about these questions. Herewith:
The proper question about how the FEDGOV should respond, if at all, to a given situation is the constitutional one. Our Constitution gives us a tool to deal with things like piracy and terrorism: a Letter of Marque and Reprisal. Such letters, issued by Congress, are a type of warrant.
The 9/11 attacks, while horrific crimes, were not acts of war. There was no invading army, no naval armada or submarine force, no aerial bombing raids by a terrorist Luftwaffe and no jihad jarheads riding their LCACs ashore in Battery Park. The 19 hijackers are dead, and hence not capable of taking us over, making us all speak Arabic and pray to Mecca five times a day, forcing Sports Illustrated to do a burqa issue, yadda, yadda, yadda.
(As Fred Reed has pointed out numerous times, it has been several centuries since a Muslim country conquered a non-Muslim country.)
Had 19 American scumsuckeroos gone overseas and committed some horrific suicide attack, would that justify a war on America? If the answer is no, why do so many Americans support all these wars in response to 9/11?
Or would you rather that any Americans who could be proven to have had a hand in planning and financing the attacks be tried and punished accordingly, and that us innocents be left alone?
With this in mind, had I been president on 9/11, I would have asked Congress to issue a Letter of Marque and Reprisal. I would have demanded that those who could be proven to have been accomplices to the attacks be apprehended, tried according to the Due Process protections spelled out in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and punished accordingly. (1) The Bill of Rights applies to terror suspects, too. And if it doesn’t apply to terror suspects, it doesn’t apply to you either.
A Letter of Marque and Reprisal would not even necessarily involve the use of the military. Moreover, it would focus our entire energy on apprehending the specific perpetrators of the crimes, and would thus very probably finish the task in much less than a decade. It would not authorize the spilling of innocent blood. It would not authorize ruinously expensive – in both blood and treasure – wars. And it would not set a precedent for further breaches of the Constitution by future presidents.
This course of action would have been worth it.
When Benjamin Franklin was exiting the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a women is said to have asked him just what had the convention had wrought. Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
In 1866, in the case of Ex Parte Milligan, supreme Court Justice David Davis wrote some of the greatest words ever to emanate from the federal bench: “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism.”
The strict limits our Constitution sets on the federal government – both domestically and abroad – become even more important during times of crisis. It is during these times that governments are most likely to take away liberties. Moreover, it is during these times that people are willing to relinquish liberty for a false sense of security.
In response to 9/11, GWB launched two wars without formal declarations from Congress. These wars resulted in the deaths of over 5000 American sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines as well as countless thousands of innocents abroad. 9/11 has been used as an excuse to spy on the American people without warrants, torture people, and declare people guilty without trial. This was most definitely not worth it.
When you allow a president whom you like to overstep constitutional limits on his power for reasons that you approve of, just know that there are other people with other agendas who want presidents that they like to overstep these limits. (Please read my article on how the Right literally begged for Obamacare.)
“But this was Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind.” I don’t give a flying rip who he was! When the POTUS can arbitrarily and unilaterally proclaim Bin Laden guilty, he can also declare you guilty. (2) When the POTUS can order the killing of Bin Laden without due process, he can also order you to be killed without due process. It doesn’t matter how severe the accusation or how overwhelming the weight of public opinion against the accused. Either the Bill of Rights applies equally to everybody or it doesn’t apply at all to anybody.
(The Constitution only grants the POTUS one direct power over an individual: the power to pardon.)
Bin Laden was never formally charged in connection with 9/11. The FBI wanted him in connection with the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and “other terrorist attacks.” However, no specific mention was ever made on his “Most Wanted” poster of 9/11. And calling 9/11 “(an)other terrorist attack” is like calling the Grand Canyon another hole in the ground.
Osama bin Laden was most probably quite a horrible person. Nevertheless, he was a person, however hard that statement might be to stomach. And as this war was never properly declared by Congress, he is entitled to the same protections as thee or me.
(And if they really wanted Bin Laden, why did they never trace any of those recordings they claimed he made back to their origin and just nab him?)
But the feds would ne-e-e-e-e-ever kill innocent civilians. Oh yes they would. What happened at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and at Waco in 1993? I have heard the Waco massacre described as a trial balloon floated before a brainwashed nation. The Powers That Be wanted to see just how much the American people would let them get away with. As it turns out, this is a whole lot.
Eighteen years and a few weeks later, the majority of Americans are all good with having themselves photographed naked and sexually assaulted as a condition of travel in the name of “national security.” If they are so devoid of self-respect that they will tolerate this, what will they NOT tolerate?
Blood? Money? Liberty? No, it was not worth the price at all.
Now let’s rewind things 140 years to the Civil War. (I will not drone on at nearly as much length about this.)
First, the war was not about slavery, but about the disproportionate burden that tariffs placed on the economy of the South.
Second, slavery was well on its way to extinction and would have ended without a war. (No other country “needed a war” to end slavery.) It was dying because of technological advances as well as the growing conviction in the hearts and minds of Americans that it was just plain wrong. There were, however, powerful lobbies in both the North and South in favor of preserving slavery. Lincoln’s prime objective was to save the Union, regardless of whether or not he ended slavery.
Third, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in certain states and, in the case of Louisiana, parts of those states. It did not apply in several states where slavery still existed.
Fourth, Lincoln was a tyrant who arrested dissenting legislators and newspaper editors, censored the mails, suspended habeas corpus, and imposed the first income tax and military draft.
Fifth, secession was never forbidden by the Constitution. The Civil War put an end to the “free and independent states” envisioned by Jefferson became mere administrative subdivisions of the federal leviathan.
620,000 people, whose only offense – not crime, offense – was to exercise the same rights that the colonists exercised so bravely in 1776, died as a result.
The War of Northern Aggression – or for Southern Independence – was not only not necessary to free the slaves, but it also constituted a great leap forward, if you will, in the direction of an omnipotent central government.
When I look at all the spirited resistance to federal authority I see today over Obombercare, gun rights and medical hippy lettuce I can only think how badly we have all been lied to. A war that was supposedly about freedom actually set the table for an all-powerful federal government that today is hellbent on making us all slaves again.
Good ends do not justify bad means. What goes around comes around. We reap what we sow. And before we chop down those hedges of protection enshrined in our Bill of Rights for whatever reason – even an apparently very good reason – we have to ask one question: when those hedges are down, and the hurricane-force winds of tyranny blow, will you – yes, you – be able to stand upright?
I leave you with this.
And, more eloquently, with this.
(1) Also, had I been POTUS on 9/11, I would have pursued a policy 0f – in Jefferson’s words – “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all and entangling alliances with none.” This would include Israel. When you throw your weight around militarily to the extent that America does, you will inevitably have a lot of people hating on you. Also, I would have stopped this idiocy of disarming air travelers.
(2) As Dubya said of Bin Laden: “We know he’s guilty. Turn him over. There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt.”
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