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Assassinations and Constitutions

What is happening in America today is actually worse than what happened in Brazil in the ’70s.

On one side of the aisle, there are Republicans, Conservatives, neoConservatives, and Libertarians who vocally support only two amendments to the constitution. The first is the Imaginary Amendment that says that corporations are people. The second is the Sacred Amendment (the Second), which to them means that corporations (which are virtual people) as well as actual flesh-and-blood people have the right to bear arms.

Neoliberals, who disagree violently with their neoconservative friends about the Sacred (Second) Amendment (and who are neither here nor there on the Imaginary Amendment), respect most of the other amendments except for the Sixth and the Fourth Amendments. The Sixth amendment is the one that says that Americans have the right to a speedy and public trial, must be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, must be confronted by witnesses against them and must have the assistance of counsel for their defense. The fourth is the one about needing a warrant … to surveil.

Neoliberal President Barack Obama, who has been accused of being a weak leader by neoconservatives and progressives alike, has been a tower of strength when it comes to an in-your-face ignoring of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.

Recently, he wondered out loud – and it was reported by major media such as Al Jazeera, USA Today, and the Huffington Post among others – how he might legally assassinate an American (whose name is kept secret, in an unnamed foreign country) who may not know what crime he’s been charged with, who has not been formally accused of anything, who will not have a jury of his peers, or the benefit of a lawyer to defend him in a court of law.

Granted the phrase “legally assassinate without trial” is an oxymoron, but that is exactly what is quoted. As a matter of fact, this looming assassination will be his fifth since he instituted the policy in 2009.

The unnamed American to be assassinated is purportedly an American Moslem. Obama is sure that this particular American is aiding and abetting terrorists, but cannot prove it, and doesn’t seem to think he needs to do so. Since the target’s name has not been made public, there is no way for anyone to verify anything. Since he is not technically an “enemy combatant,” Obama is in a quandary about who should do the assassination – the CIA or the military.

No doubt these deliberations are terrifying to American citizens living abroad.

By ignoring the Sixth Amendment, Obama has de facto suspended the Constitution. When this happens in other countries, it is usually a military man in a long, black coat and sunglasses who does the evil deed. Obama maintains the illusion that the constitution exists by keeping it in place, then ignoring it.

We learned what it was like to live without rights when we lived in Brazil in the ’70s. For reasons that are still a mystery to us, a friend of ours was kidnapped by the secret police. His name was Paolo. He was an artist; he was never involved in politics.

Horrified and afraid for him, we went to the American embassy to see what could be done. They said that since Paolo was not an American citizen, there was nothing they could do. Later we were warned by other Brazilians that we had better not inquire about him because if we did, his fate might become ours.

Paolo did not have Sixth Amendment rights. Like thousands of other Brazilian citizens at the time, he disappeared forever.

Innocent people who don’t have Sixth Amendment rights cannot demand a fair trial. They can be detained, tortured, even killed because someone, somewhere decides that they are guilty. “Justice” is swift and severe.

To disappear in Brazil in the ’70s (things have radically changed for the better since then) all it took was for someone to denounce you. Anyone with a suspicion – or a grudge – could do it.

When the founding fathers wrote the Sixth Amendment, there were no “excepts.” The Founding Fathers didn’t say you get a fair trial except when… They knew that even a single exception to the rule of law meant that there would be no rule of law at all.

And dignity would be lost.

We learned what it meant to lose our dignity about a week or so after Paolo was kidnapped. A short, stocky man we had never met before rang our doorbell. He flashed his badge and indicated that he wished to come in. We had no idea who he was or what he wanted, but since it was right on the heels of Paolo’s disappearance, we acquiesced. He looked around as he made small talk. “Who painted those pictures,” he asked? “Do you know somebody named…” We didn’t.

When he left, we breathed a nervous sigh of relief, and decided it was time to leave Brazil. We realized what it meant to lose your dignity. It means you are afraid that you might become one of the broken eggs needed to make some dictator’s idea of an omelette.

Tyrants are averse to constitutions because they transfer power to the citizens. A constitution diminishes the power of the tyrant, because it establishes the rule of law.

What dignity means is demonstrated in a scene from the Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart. A big, burly cop who suspects that Bogie may be involved in murder tells him that he needs to look around. “Sure,” Bogie says, “look around, turn the place upside-down… if you have a warrant”

What a great moment! … “if you have a warrant.”

That movie, took place in the 1940s, a time when America was not the creeping police state that we live in today. We had a fully functioning constitution then. It didn’t matter how angry a cop got. It didn’t matter that he was positive that you were guilty. He had to have a warrant.

What is happening in America today is actually worse than what happened in Brazil in the ’70s. The Brazilian constitution was nullified by a military leader who dismissed it as a tool that can be used to protect the enemies of state. The Brazilian people never agreed – it was forced upon them. They cannot be blamed for the thousands of innocent people who were secretly detained, tortured, and made to disappear.

Our president, on the other hand, suspends the constitution every time he ignores it. Neoliberals, neoconservatives, local politicians, the major media, and the Department of Justice stand by and say nothing.

Shame on them.

Copyright 2014 James and Jean Anton, All rights reserved.

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