You don’t have a right to a lawyer

No, this is not yet another decision by the Supreme Court cutting back on Miranda.

This is your Executive Branch speaking.

Glen Greenwald’s article in today’s Salon tells the astonishing tale of the legal position taken by the Executive Department, headed, we were formerly told, by a constitutional law professor.

The case involves Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen who emigrated to Yemen to commence propaganda against the United States. It was not astonishing enough that the US Government announced last April that it planned to assassinate him, if they could. (Since the planned assassins are cowards, they undoubtedly await the opportunity to do it by drone missile, so they won’t have “blood on their hands.” Our leaders are quite concerned about that image.) So when this Administration, which truly has no moral compass and lacks even the most basic regard for the rights protected by the Constitution, found it politically acceptable to announce a decision to assassinate an American citizen, they have gone one step further. They won’t even let him have a lawyer.

Here’s the hitch. As Greenwald explains:

“regulations promulgated several years ago by the Treasury Department prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with individuals labeled by the Government as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” and those regulations specifically bar lawyers from providing legal services to such individuals without a special “license” from the Treasury Department specifically allowing such representation.”

So when Awlaki’s father brought an action to enjoin the government from killing his son without due process (Imagine! In this country you have to petition a court to prevent the President from killing an American citizen without due process, on his own say so!), the Treasury Department slapped the tag on Awlaki making it a criminal offense for any lawyer to represent him without a license from the Treasury.

This is truly the stuff of Star Chamber proceedings. Only in an Orwellian dystopia could a bureaucrat decide that this was a perfectly sensible idea. And imagine. It’s not the Justice Department that must give a license, but the agency that regulates our currency.

But that’s not the end. The ACLU requested such a license. But they received no response! Not a “no,” or “sorry” or “we’ll think about it.” Just silence. Imagine begging the government for the right to represent someone they want to kill and the government doesn’t answer. Too busy. Not my job. Try DMV. We’re busy studying how much copper to put in a penny.

Today the ACLU is before a federal judge in D.C. to litigate this issue. If this matter is not swiftly resolved against the government, then we will know that we do not have the kind of government we thought we did. This is not the slow erosion of rights, or reclassification of appellate procedure, or a narrowing of federal court jurisdiction, or a subtle procedural gambit. This is blatant tyranny. The kind Henry VIII practiced. And a few others since — their names are pretty familiar.

Update:  I just got out my copy of the constitution. (It had been in mothballs since there won’t be much use for it in the foreseeable future.) I can now see the legal position of the Administration. The Sixth Amendment only guarantees assistance of counsel in “criminal proceedings.” So, clearly, when the government is out to murder you, you have no right to counsel. I don’t see how even James Madison could argue with that.

Update 2: Politico states that the Treasury Department has granted licences to the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional rights to represent Anwar al-Awlaki pro bono in a lawsuit designed to enjoin our Executive branch from assassinating him without due process. Here’s the official, butter-won’t-melt-in-his-mouth official to explain:

“The head of Treasury’s sanctions office, Adam Szubin, said in a statement that Treasury’s policy “is to broadly authorize the provision of pro bono legal services” to designated persons who want to challenge the government in court. “To the extent that the particular legal services that the ACLU wishes to provide in this instance do not fall into any of the broad categories that are generally licensed, [Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] will work with the ACLU to ensure that the legal services can be delivered,” Szubin said.”

So this petty bureaucrat says that the Treasury has a policy to liberally allow citizens to exercise a fundamental right, so long as it is under conditions imposed by Treasury. We can expect regulations to provide for licensing of speech and the press — which will be liberally offered if no money changes hand. Soon you will need a Treasury license not to have soldiers quartered at your house — which they will broadly interpret assuming you don’t have more than 3 bedrooms in your house. Licensing for protection against warrantless searches will be harder to get, however, because, well, because this administration just doesn’t believe in privacy.

Note that this clerk assures us that Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control “will work with the ACLU to ensure that the legal services can be delivered.” How would you like help from the government that announced it intends to assassinate you? Here’s how that will work. “Just have Mr. Imam Anwar al-Awlaki come to our office and will give him a room for you and him to meet. Right behind that blast wall.” Or “No bother. Just give us his address — or better yet just get him to go into the middle of this big field and let us know.”

The designated lickspittle then goes on to chastise the ACLU for making the Treasury Department look bad. But even Politico could see that he wasn’t entirely telling the truth. Politico should be careful. If the Treasury can decide when you can have a lawyer, surely they have the ability to vindictively audit you.

By the way, when are the teabaggers going to get on this bandwagon. Aren’t they supposed to be guardians of our fundamental rights?

It has now become apparent that this administration is willing to take increasingly outrageous positions (e.g., the Hollman Morris situation), and then walk them back if there is enough outcry. The problem is, when they think they have enough cover, they let the outrageous position stand (e.g, the announcement that they will seek to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki in the first place). This is exactly how an administration would act, if it were guided by expediency and not principle. Is there any doubt left? And given how outrageous its positions have become lately, it really is now time for us to stop making excuses and start opposing this administration. They are more daring and more clever than the boobs who ran the last administration, so they are more dangerous. But as for freedom to exercise arbitrary executive power, their goals are exactly the same.


  1. March 13th, 2011
  2. July 4th, 2011
  3. May 30th, 2012

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