The day I became a citizen of these United States, June 17, 2009, in the old Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland, I raised my right hand and swore that I “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
To my immediate left in that vast and splendid Deco theater was a Moroccan; to my right, a Salvadoran; and around us 956 others from ninety-eight countries, each holding a small specimen of the flag that was about to become our standard. All of us had sworn earlier that day that since our final, successful interviews with immigration officials we had not become prostitutes or members of the Communist Party. (When asked some years earlier, also in Oakland, whether she planned to overthrow the government by force, Jessica Mitford answered, “What other choices do I have?”)
The sovereignty I was abjuring was the Republic of Ireland, itself not so far from shifting its allegiance from the Irish Constitution to the dictates of European bankers. Since questions about the Bill of Rights were likely to come up in those final interviews, many people in the theater had a pretty clear notion that along with allegiance came certain important protections, such as guarantees of due process and the right to a public trial by jury. There’s no doubt that for many, with vivid memories of summary seizure and arbitrary imprisonment in their biographies, these guarantees had great significance.
But it turns out it was all a fraud. The Uzbek down the row from me who had fled Karimov’s regime probably had no need to anticipate being boiled alive—a spécialité de la maison in Tashkent. But being roasted alive by Hellfire missile, doomed by executive order of President Obama, without due process in any court of law, for reasons of state forever secret, could theoretically lie in his future. If presidential death warrants beyond the reach of scrutiny and review by courts or juries are the mark of a banana republic, then we were all waving the flag of just such an entity.
On May 21, less than a month before that June morning in 2009, Obama had abandoned his commitments to restore the rule of law after the abuses of his predecessor. In a speech at the National Archives he announced that he was reviving the military commission trial system, and disclosed that his advisers had told him that some prisoners at Guantánamo may be too dangerous to release. Though there was insufficient evidence to build a case, they would be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Then, in February 2010, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair blithely told a House committee that “being a US citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans.” Blair added helpfully that if “we think direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”