Opinion » Ted Rall

Shoot Then Justify

Police state does what it wants, then writes a memo


Imagine that you were the president of United States. Now think what you would do if you or one of your advisers proposed an idea--a great idea, one that solved a big problem--that was radical to the point of possibly crossing the legal line into unconstitutionality.

You'd want to lawyer that sucker, right?

Now imagine that you were a chief of police and you or one of your officers came up with a great approach for tracking down bad guys, but you couldn't be sure that arrests made using your new tactic would hold up in court. What would you do? I know what I'd do: I'd consult legal counsel.

But that's not how presidents or cops do things in today's might-makes-right era. Case in point: Since 2009, President Barack Obama has ordered more than 300 drone strikes, killing more than 2,500 people.

All of these bombings and murders were committed minus the veneer of legal justification. However, it has come out that during the final months of the presidential campaign, when polls showed that Mitt Romney had a chance of winning, Obama and his advisers gathered to begin work on a legal framework for the drone program.

"There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands," an Obama official told The New York Times, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace," the leaker said.

Obama referenced his retroactive drone legalization project on Oct. 18. "One of the things we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president's reined in terms of some of the decisions that we're making," he told Jon Stewart.

Isn't this the sort of thing Obama should have thought about back in January 2009? For that matter, shouldn't George W. Bush, who originated the drone assassinations, put forward some sort of legal basis?

You'd think Congress would take an interest. But no, the legislative branch took no interest whatsoever in a president--make that two presidents--who secretly claimed the right to murder anyone they please without any accountability whatsoever.

This culture of top-down lawlessness has filtered down to local police departments, many of which have begun routinely searching the cellphones of suspects they arrest. Phone companies told Congress that they turned over 1.3 million records in 2011 to police departments seeking location data, emails, text messages and other data about their customers.

It's easy to see why cops want to collect as much information as they can--although, under our system of laws, suspects are innocent until proven guilty--but how can they justify enacting such a radical new policy before getting authorization from the courts?

Most people want to think their political leaders and law enforcement authorities mean well and are using their powers wisely. But, according to The Times, the program has broadened into something far more sinister that few Americans would support.

Why are these guys getting away with murder--literally? Because we're letting them.