The Obama Watch

Blago and Al Qaeda: A Question of Rights

Are terrorists getting better treatment than the Governor of Illinois?

By 1.27.09

Send to Kindle

Let's see.

According to press reports, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has a popularity level in the polls somewhere in the neighborhood of 4%. Al Qaeda, one would hope, has an even more serious popularity problem, although in certain quarters of the American left don't bet the ranch on it.

But the real question that needs to be asked is much more fundamental than whether someone is popular or not. The decision by President Obama to close Guantanamo Bay, followed closely by Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha's assertion that he would have no problem putting up al Qaeda terrorists in a minimum security prison in his congressional district -- where they would be entitled to the same rights as your average American pickpocket -- raises a very odd question.

Are we watching events unfold that actually have terrorists dedicated to the destruction of the United States -- foreign citizens -- getting more legal rights than an actual American citizen who happens also to be the sitting governor of his state? Is the Obama administration, headed by an Illinois lawyer who boasts of a degree from Harvard Law School -- someone who until a mere five years ago also sat as a member of the Illinois State Senate -- actually planning a "process" that will ensure basic constitutional rights for the likes of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? Are they really on the brink of giving Miranda warnings to a roster of others such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash, whose activities include such interesting time-fillers as "key operative" "key leader" "paymaster" and "bodyguard" in a group devoted to mass murder? The last a "bodyguard" to Osama bin Laden himself? All of this at the same time the Illinois State Senate is denying American citizen Rod Blagojevich the right to call witnesses as part of his defense? Because the federal government headed by Mr. Obama says so?

Whoa baby!

One doesn't have to have any disagreement with the common view of Blago and what he was up to in trying to sell the open Senate seat of the now-president. There are no fools watching his latest PR blitz with the New York media crowd. But there is most assuredly something askew when the Obama administration is lecturing us all about the importance of rights for terrorists while simultaneously the self-same administration is allowing an agent representing the federal government (U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald) to go to the State Senate and demand of legislators, according to an AP story, "not to call witnesses involved in Blagojevich's criminal trial."

Witnesses, oh so coincidentally, that just happen to include Obama top buds Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, both brand spanking-new Obama White House aides with Emanuel no less than chief of staff to the President.

Where are all those human rights activists who have been busy hiking themselves to Guantanamo to complain about the lack of basic rights for terrorists? Why aren't they hustling up to Springfield, Illinois, to demand equal treatment and due process for Blago? Where, need it be asked, is the president who advertised himself as a law professor? No wonder the governor is calling his impending impeachment trial a "sham."

THEY SAY YOU SHOULD always be careful of what you wish for. In this case, in the long ago, it was the dream of Democrats to undo the presidency of Richard Nixon. The entire liberal establishment was on this case back in the 1970s, and that meant the liberal groves of legal academia were working overtime explaining about the abuse of power. For Raoul Berger, the Charles Warren Senior Fellow in American Legal History at Harvard University from 1971-1976, this was a particularly golden moment. Professor Berger (who passed away in 2000) wrote the book of the day for liberals. Impeachment: The Constitutional Problems was published in 1972, at the height of Nixon's popularity, the year he carried 49 states against the hapless McGovern. It became a popular liberal bible before the next year was out as Watergate became the crisis du jour.

Professor Berger is at pains to explain the importance of due process, precisely the right that Governor Blago is being denied by the Illinois State Senate -- expressly at the request of the Obama administration. Berger cites Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican of the Civil War and Reconstruction-era, who, wouldn't you know, was a leader in the move to impeach President Andrew Johnson. At one point in the epic tale of righteousness that was the fury of the immediate post-Lincoln assassination era, Stevens makes the following point as Berger describes it:

"Suppose that a Negro charged with rape were to be tried by a jury composed of men who outside of court had already declared him guilty: would it not be a lynching bee though garbed in 'all the forms of a fair trial'?"

The point Berger was trying to illustrate was why the U.S. Senate, as opposed to the House, should actually try the executive on charges. He cites the Stevens "lynching bee" example as reasoning for having the Senate, not the House that already impeached the executive, hold the trial.

"The Senate was made judge (as opposed to the House) not in order to lessen the guarantees, but to ensure that the accused would not be crushed by the weight of the House of Representatives."

What Berger does not anticipate is that the Senate itself would deliberately deny due process to the accused, effectively turning itself into Stevens' "lynching bee" under pressure from an outside "authority." In Blago's case this means the federal government, a federal government being run by people who have every incentive to "crush" Blago's rights. Not to put too fine a point on it, the federal government is now run by Blago's ex-pals and Illinois pols, all of who whom -- the President and aides Emanuel, Jarrett, and David Axelrod along with who knows who else -- have a vested interest in hustling Blago off center stage ASAP. Who knows what the man could force them to say under oath? Or, more troubling, cause them not to say under oath. The latter, of course, would be called a lie. And as every good law professor knows, including the University of Arkansas professor-turned impeached president, lying under oath is a crime. Surely no one wants to go down that road again.

Denying due process to Blagojevich is precisely what Berger termed the "essence of unfairness." Borrowing from Alexander Hamilton, Berger pointed out that a trial cannot take place "under the auspices of judges who had predetermined guilt." Predetermined guilt. This easily covers the remarks of now ex-Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones, a Democrat, who has termed Blago's alleged actions "shocking." Another State Senator, this one a Republican, has already said the governor "should resign immediately." One would not have to dig deep to find a who's who of Illinois politicians who want Blago out.

NOT A WEEK INTO the Obama administration, Americans are being treated to a disturbing spectacle. The President of the United States has signed an executive order that is leading inexorably to changing the legal status of al Qaeda's terrorist psychopaths from captured soldiers to run-of-the mill criminals who deserve, for the first time in the history of warfare, all the rights of a defendant in the American legal system.

Simultaneously he is leading an administration that is insisting on withholding the due process rights of an American citizen who is the sitting governor of his own state -- and with whom the top tier of his administration is caught up in an undeniable, quite in-your-face conflict of interest.

The response from Obama to a question on the economy in a congressional leadership meeting is perhaps most telling here in terms of the treatment of Blago.

"I won the election" said the Illinois pol.

And so he did.

So much for due process. Unless, of course, you happen to have murdered 3,000 Americans.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.