Sunday, February 05, 2006

I, the Jury 

Question du jour on Capitol Hill: Does the Constitution grant Mr. Bush, as our duly elected chief executive, double-oh status?
During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

Current and former government officials said they could think of several scenarios in which a president might consider ordering the killing of a terror suspect inside the United States . . . . University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein says the post-9/11 congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Al Qaeda empowered the president to kill 9/11 perpetrators, or people who assisted their plot, whether they were overseas or inside the United States. On the other hand, Sunstein says, the president would be on less solid legal ground were he to order the killing of a terror suspect in the United States who was not actively preparing an attack.
Now the people under discussion here are suspects, mind you, who have not been charged with, much less tried and convicted for, any sort of crime. The only step in what used to be called "due process" that Mr. Bush's courtiers seek to retain is the final one: execution of the sentence, which is of course foreordained from the -- but forgive us; we are yet again thinking, out of habit, in narrowly legalistic terms which are no longer appropriate to the modern, postlegal era in which we find ourselves. The question of whether the President, and the President's men, should be expected to abide by the law is long settled. The President has been violating laws, treaties, and the Constitution itself for some years now without consequence, and with the seeming consent of a large portion of the American people; he is, after all, the President, and despite his peccadilloes was perhaps reelected in 2004. Ergo, the question we should be considering is how to make the President's established right to imprison, torture, and execute, at a whim, more popular.

It occurs to us, on Super Bowl Sunday, that the best and simplest way to turn the notion of unitary executive power into a surefire political winner is to bring the American public into the process. Since Mr. Bush's power derives from the fact that so many Americans imagine they would like to have a beer with him (if he still drank beer, which of course he cannot), it would not do for him to seem autocratic.

We therefore propose to democratize the execution process. The capture of suspected terrorists leads to brutal interrogations, which lead to the extraction of hot tips, which lead to the capture of more suspected terrorists. Eventually you wind up with an awful lot of suspected terrorists and no place to house them. So why not train them, equip them with hand weapons (nothing serious: we're thinking broadswords, javelins, maybe nets & tridents), and let them duel to the death before cheering crowds in a large public venue, such as a football stadium?

And here's the beauty part. The President would be prominently in attendance at each such event. At the end of each bout, after the victor had been decided but before the coup de grace had been delivered, Mr. Bush would turn to the thousands of onlookers in the stands and ask them to decide the loser's fate by applauding one of two gestures: "thumbs up," indicating clemency, or "thumbs down," meaning that the fatal blow should be immediately struck.

Whatever the outcome, there could be no doubt that the will of the majority had been faithfully served. Mr. Bush would surely enjoy the regular opportunity to bask in the adulation of a bloodthirsty crowd; civil libertarians would be pleased because, for a change, every suspect would get a fair chance to defend himself in a public forum -- sometimes repeatedly, if he should prove especially adept with the trident. Pay-cable and merchandising rights could generate enough revenue to bankroll another round of tax cuts for the rich.

We think it's critic-proof. If we can just wangle our way onto one of those blogger conference calls with the Democratic leadership . . . .

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