Glen Greenwald has an interesting column in today’s Salon.com.
It seems that two of the three leading GOP presidential candidates were asked whether the president should have the authority to arrest U.S. citizens with no review. Let’s look at the answers given on this subject by both these candidates and a few other leaders…
Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint. – Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in his opinion on Brown vs. Allen in 1953
OK, but he’s from the judiciary. How about a President…
I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution. – Thomas Jefferson writing to Thomas Paine in 1789
Well, that’s old and the GOP doesn’t particularly like what those founding father types actually had to say (see separation of church and state and their frequent cry of "The Constitution wasn’t meant to be a suicide pact" whenever they are expected to live up to the oath they swore) so how about this quote from a modern hero of the GOP provided by Andrew Sullivan…
The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgement by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments whether Nazi or Communist. – Sir Winston Churchill
Now, let’s look by comparison with the responses given by Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani when asked about whether they would arrest US citizens without review or charges…
Romney said that he would want to "hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before [he] made up [his] mind".
And if that total lack of understanding of a thousand years of government accountability wasn’t enough, Giuliani went even farther.
Giuliani said that he would want to "use this authority infrequently".
So we have Romney wanting to get a legal OK before he could act in a way Churchill called the highest degree odious. Not that he wouldn’t want to do it, not that it was a violation of everything this country stands for, just could he get away with it.
And Giuliani actually thinks that it’s clear that the president should have more power than a medieval king but his campaign promise to us is that we should trust him because he’d only execute this particular absolute, supreme dictatorial power "infrequently".
When two of the leading contenders for the most powerful executive position in the world don’t even bother to try to hide their designs for absolute authoritarian rule we can only ask what is left of the principles of democracy and limited government that founded this country.