Glenn Greenwald on the label “terrorist” (emphasis in original):
If I had the power to have one statement of fact be universally recognized in our political discussions, it would be this one:
The fact that the Government labels Person X a “Terrorist” is not proof that Person X is, in fact, a Terrorist.
That proposition should be intrinsically understood by any American who completed sixth grade civics and was thus taught that a central prong of our political system is that government officials often abuse their power and/or err and therefore must prove accusations to be true (with tested evidence) before they’re assumed to be true and the person punished accordingly. In particular, the fact that the U.S. Government, over and over, has falsely accused numerous people of being Terrorists — only for it to turn out that they did nothing wrong — by itself should compel a recognition of this truth. But it doesn’t.
Glenn brings this up now in the context of the news — which Glenn wrote about at the time it was revealed, in a WaPo article by Dana Priest — that the Obama administration is adding American citizens to an already existing policy of assassinating foreign “terrorists.” The response to this story — even from people who did not support this sort of thing during the Bush years — is just as troubling as (if not more than) the policy itself:
That authoritarian mentality is stronger than ever now. Why? Because unlike during the Bush years, when it was primarily Republicans willing to blindly trust Government accusations, many Democrats are now willing to do so as well. Just look at the reaction to the Government’s recent attempts to assassinate the U.S.-born American citizen and Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Up until last November, virtually no Americans had ever even heard of al-Awlaki. But in the past few months, beginning with the Fort Hood shootings, government officials have repeatedly claimed that he’s a Terrorist: usually anonymously, with virtually no evidence, and in the face of al-Awlaki’s vehement denials but without any opportunity for him to defend himself (because he’s in hiding out of fear of being killed by his own Government). The Government can literally just flash someone’s face on the TV screen with the word Terrorist over it (as was done with al-Awlaki), and provided the face is nefarious and Muslim-looking enough (basically the same thing), nothing else need be offered.
That’s enough for many people — including many Democrats — to march forward overnight and mindlessly proclaim that al-Awlaki is “a declared enemy of the United States working to kill Americans” (if you can stomach it, read some of these comments — from Obama defenders at a liberal blog — with several sounding exactly like Dick Cheney, screeching: “Of course al-Awlaki should be killed without charges; he’s a Terrorist who is trying to kill Americans!!!”). Even now, beyond government assertions about his associations, the public knows virtually nothing about al-Awlaki other than the fact that he’s a Muslim cleric with a Muslim name dressed in Muslim garb, sitting in a Bad Arab Country expressing anger towards the actions of the U.S. and Israel. But no matter. That’s more than enough. They’re willing not only to mindlessly embrace the Government’s unproven accusation that their fellow citizen is a TERRORIST (“a declared enemy of the United States working to kill Americans”), but even beyond that, to cheer for his due-process-free execution like drunken fans at a football game. And the same people declare: no civilian trials are necessary for Terrorists (meaning: people accused by the Government of being Terrorists). Even more amazingly, the identities of the other Americans on the hit list aren’t even known, but that’s OK: they’re Terrorists, because the Government said so.