Thursday, August 16, 2012

Would Obama have signed Magna Carta?

A recent news story revealed that President Obama has the distinction of being the first sitting President to speak openly of his intention to kill a US citizen, Anwar Awlaki, who has not been charged with committing a crime or convicted at trial. In fact, when Awlaki's father filed a lawsuit to stop the American government from killing his son, the administration responded by filing a brief that the lawsuit be dismissed without further consideration because the assassination attempt is too secret for even the courts to adjudicate on.

My understanding of American history is that the country was founded on the principle that all people have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that cannot be abrogated without due process of law. This was in reaction to the historic fact that despotic kings and governors with unlimited power have been notorious for having people they don't like either detained at their pleasure, or even tortured or killed. A well-known historical precedent for imposing checks and limits on the power of kings is of course Magna Carta. King John of England was forced to sign this document in which he acknowledged that he was subject to the rule of law and could not arbitrarily violate the rights of his subjects.

Although the American Constitution was designed to place strict limits on the powers of government, these limits have been progressively eroded or ignored altogether by a succession of modern presidents from both the major parties. A glaring example of such disregard in recent times is the disgraceful conduct of George W. Bush in having people detained for years at Guantanamo Bay without any charges and without trial, in open defiance of international law. President Obama has continued this tradition of disregarding the constitution by enacting laws that enable the President to not only have people detained without trial at will on the mere suspicion of terrorism, but to actually have people killed, again on mere suspicion without charges or trial. This has been described as an "Alice in Wonderland" style of justice in which people are sentenced first and then tried later.

King John, Obama's forebear

A recent genealogical study has claimed that all American presidents, except van Buren, are actually descended from King John of England. Interestingly, some time after being forced to sign Magna Carta, King John tried to repudiate it and claimed that it was not binding on him after all. Seems like Obama and Bush have decided to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious ancestor in seeking unlimited power, unchecked by the rule of law. So would Obama have signed Magna Carta? Hardly seems likely.

More info:
Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial

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