Thursday, March 15, 2012

Interview with Larry Wilkerson on executive power

Today at the Real News Network, Paul Jay interviewed Col. Larry Wilkerson on the Obama Administration's accumulation of executive power.  Considering both the case of Attorney General Eric Holder's recent speech at Northwestern University, where he declared the U.S. has a right to assassinate anybody without trial, worldwide, based only on the White House's decision, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's recent Congressional Testimony, where he stated that the President did not need Congressional approval to attack Syria, Wilkerson has come to the opinion that:
 I think we're watching our democracy disappear before our very eyes. We certainly are watching our Constitution trampled on. The Constitution, in Article One, is very clear who has the war power, and it is the Congress of the United States. And the Congress has been pusillanimous, it has been without intestinal fortitude over the last half-century or so, since 1945, and it has increasingly balked at doing anything that would require it to stand on its own hind legs and be identified. But that notwithstanding, just because of the cowardice of the Congress is no reason to abandon the Constitution. The more the war power is consolidated in the executive branch, the more, as Madison, Hamilton, and a host of other founders warned, we approach tyranny.

More at The Real News

After the Jump, there is video and transcript of both Panetta's and Holder's comments

And Here is a transcript of the Panetta testimony, under questioning from Senator Sessions at the March 1st, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing

Senator SESSIONS. And do you think that you can act without
Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria, without Congressional

Secretary PANETTA. Again, our goal would be to seek inter-
national permission and we would come to the Congress and in-
form you and determine how best to approach this. Whether or not
we would want to get permission from the Congress, I think those
are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.

Senator SESSIONS. Well, I’m almost breathless about that, be-
cause what I heard you say is: We’re going to seek international
approval and we will come and tell the Congress what we might
do, and we might seek congressional approval. I want to just say
to you, that’s a big—wouldn’t you agree? You served in Congress.
Wouldn’t you agree that that would be pretty breathtaking to the
average American? So would you like to clarify that?

Secretary PANETTA. I’ve also—I served with Republican presi-
dents and Democratic presidents, who always reserved the right to
defend this country if necessary.

Senator SESSIONS. But before we do this you would seek permis-
sion of the international authorities?

Secretary PANETTA. If we’re working with an international coali-
tion and we’re working with NATO, we would want to be able to
get appropriate permissions in order to be able to do that. That’s
something that all of these countries would want to have some kind
of legal basis on which to act.

Senator SESSIONS. What legal basis are you looking for? What

Secretary PANETTA. Well, obviously if NATO made the decision
to go in that would be one. If we developed an international coali-
tion beyond NATO, then obviously some kind of UN Security Reso-

Senator SESSIONS. So a coalition of—so you’re saying NATO
would give you a legal basis and an ad hoc coalition of nations
would provide a legal basis?

Secretary PANETTA. If we were able to put together a coalition
and were able to move together, then obviously we would seek
whatever legal basis we would need in order to make that justified.
We can’t just pull them all together in a combat operation without
getting the legal basis on which to act.

Senator SESSIONS. Who are you asking for the legal basis from?

Secretary PANETTA. Obviously, if the UN passed a Security reso-
lution, as it did in Libya, we would do that. If NATO came to-
gether, as we did in Bosnia, we would rely on that. So we have op-
tions here if we want to build the kind of international approach
to dealing with the situation.

Senator SESSIONS. Well, I’m all for having international support,
but I’m really baffled by the idea that somehow an international
assembly provides a legal basis for the United States military to
be deployed in combat. I don’t believe it’s close to being correct.
They provide no legal authority. The only legal authority that’s re-
quired to deploy the U.S. military is Congress and the President
and the law and the Constitution.

Secretary PANETTA. Let me just for the record be clear again,
Senator, so there’s no misunderstanding. When it comes to the Na-
tional defense of this country, the President of the United States
has the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this coun-
try and we will. If it comes to an operation where we’re trying to
build a coalition of nations to work together to go in and operate,
as we did in Libya or Bosnia, for that matter Afghanistan, we want
to do it with permissions either by NATO or by the international

Senator SESSIONS. Well, I’m troubled by that. I think that it does
weaken the ability of the United States to lead. If we believe some-
thing ought to be done, I’d be thinking we would be going more ag-
gressively to NATO and other allies, seeking every ally that we can
get. But I do think ultimately you need a legal authority from the
United States of America, not from any other extraterritorial group
that might assemble.

Relevant testimony (Northwestern University Speech, March 5th):

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.  This is simply not accurate.  “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.  The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.
The conduct and management of national security operations are core functions of the Executive Branch, as courts have recognized throughout our history.  Military and civilian officials must often make real-time decisions that balance the need to act, the existence of alternative options, the possibility of collateral damage, and other judgments – all of which depend on expertise and immediate access to information that only the Executive Branch may possess in real time.  The Constitution’s guarantee of due process is ironclad, and it is essential – but, as a recent court decision makes clear, it does not require judicial approval before the President may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war – even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen.

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