Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.


I wish I could be a better sport about this rapid erosion of our liberties. It would be nice to watch the convention and feel inspired. But, you know, this:

Barack Obama’s administration is still insisting in court that its worst-kept secret—the use of unmanned aircraft to target and kill suspected terrorists—is classified information. But that didn’t stop the president from openly defending the program to CNN reporter Jessica Yellin in an interview that aired Wednesday. Here’s an excerpt from Obama’s remarks, transcribed by Chris Woods at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:


It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States. And this is an example of where I think there has been some misreporting. Our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence. But a lot of terrorist networks that target the United States, the most dangerous ones operate in very remote regions and it’s very difficult to capture them. And we’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties, and in fact there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think there’s going to be civilian casualties involved.


So we have an extensive process with a lot of checks, a lot of eyes looking at it. Obviously as president I’m ultimately responsible for decisions that are made by the administration. But I think what the American people need to know is the seriousness with which we take both the responsibility to keep them safe, but also the seriousness with which we take the need for us to abide by our traditions of rule of law and due process.


As Woods notes, while the administration has tried to keep its “license to kill” secret, this interview actually lays out in some detail what the administration thinks the legal parameters actually are: It can target suspected terrorists with lethal force when they are in “remote regions” where they are difficult to capture, force is necessary to “stop them from carrying out plots,” and civilian casualties won’t be significant. Still, these factors are all evaluated by a secret process within the executive branch, rather than the kind of public and adversarial process used to, say, put someone in prison for life.


Obama also specifically addressed the issue of targeting American citizens—like Anwar al-Awlaki—although he did not mention al-Awlaki by name.

I think there’s no doubt that when an American has made the decision to affiliate himself with al Qaeda and target fellow Americans, that there is a legal justification for us to try and stop them from carrying out plots. What is also true though is that as an American citizen, they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.


Understand that when Obama says “due process,” he is referring not to courts, but to an internal executive branch review. Following Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech in March explaining how “due process” here means that national security officials evaluate the evidence against an individual before asking higher-ups for permission to vaporize them, comedian Stephen Colbert quipped that “due process just means there’s a process that you do.”

Rep. John Lewis: ‘Stand Up, Speak Up And Speak Out’

Rep. John Lewis gave a powerful speech, all the more meaningful in recent light of the numerous efforts by Republicans to deprive African-Americans of their votes. Here is the man who has the moral authority to tell us about the the real meaning of a vote:

I first came to this city in 1961, the year Barack Obama was born. I was one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders.” We were on a bus ride from Washington to New Orleans trying to test a recent Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination on buses crossing state lines and in the stations that served them. Here in Charlotte, a young African-American rider got off the bus and tried to get a shoe shine in a so-called white waiting room. He was arrested and taken to jail.


On that same day, we continued on to Rock Hill, South Carolina, about 25 miles. From here, when my seatmate, Albert Bigelow, and I tried to enter a white waiting room, we were met by an angry mob that beat us and left us lying in a pool of blood. Some police officers came up and asked us whether we wanted to press charges. We said, “No, we come in peace, love and nonviolence.” We said our struggle was not against individuals, but against unjust laws and customs. Our goal was true freedom for every American.


Since then, America has made a lot of progress. We are a different society than we were in 1961. And in 2008, we showed the world the true promise of America when we elected President Barack Obama. A few years ago, a man from Rock Hill, inspired by President Obama’s election, decided to come forward. He came to my office in Washington and said, “I am one of the people who beat you. I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?” I said, “I accept your apology.” He started crying. He gave me a hug. I hugged him back, and we both started crying. This man and I don’t want to go back; we want to move forward.


Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots.


Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just.


And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.


And we have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never before. We must come together and exercise our sacred right. And together, on November 6, we will re-elect the man who will lead America forward: President Barack Obama.

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