What Happened to the “Due Process of Law”?

In 1929 the Soviet poet Mayakovsky wrote his poems, “Verses to the Soviet Passport.” The poem was shameless propaganda to serve the regime in Moscow, which Mayakovsky himself knew very well to be tyrannical, cynical, and murderous. In the poem, relating an experience he had at a border check in a Western capitalist country, the poet proudly shows his “red-bound booklet,” for the amazement of every one present. He ended the poem with the words:

Read,

Be envious,

I am

A citizen

Of the Soviet Union.

Of course, being one of the pet poets of the regime, Mayakovsky could have such experiences. He traveled extensively at government expense, and he was one of the official propagandists for Communism in Europe and America. At the same time he was writing the poem, millions of Soviet citizens could not own a passport, could not travel abroad, and could not even leave their villages without a permission from the local police station. Millions of Ukrainian peasants were being rounded up for death by starvation, an operation that would start a year after Mayakovsky wrote his poem. Millions were being executed by the Cheka or sent to Gulags for imaginary crimes against the Soviet state. While people were suffering throughout the whole Soviet Union, Mayakovsky ate and drank and had sexual exploits and enjoyed life at their expense in America, France, and Britain. Surely he could be envied.

Less than a year later, on April 14, 1930, he shot himself in his apartment in Moscow. Apparently, being among even the most privileged Soviet citizens wasn’t an enviable thing after all. In fact, it can be argued that being a Soviet citizen was the worst liability a man can have – it meant being subject to all kinds of restrictions and humiliations, and it meant that your life, liberty, and property by default belonged to the state.

America stood in sharp contrast to it. The life, liberty, and property of its citizens were God-given rights, not state-given, and governments were constituted for the purpose of protecting those rights. America went even farther, by declaring in the Bill of Rights that not only citizens, but all men were to be protected from government tyranny. The language of the Fifth Amendment is clear about that:

“No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .”

And the world looked up at America as the symbol of liberty. It was not America’s military might that gained her the admiration and the respect of the other nations but her liberty and justice for all.

These days, the CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston declared that this has changed, and the Federal government is not bound by such outdated notions anymore. When asked about official assassinations of American citizens without presenting evidence of wrongdoing, he declared that American citizens are not immune, and anyone who is a threat to the US will be treated as enemy and killed without a due process of law. Notice well, he is talking not about a combat situation where soldiers don’t have the opportunity to ask the enemy about their passports. Preston is talking about the self-conscious, premeditated murder of American citizens based not on evidence or on a court sentence but on the arbitrary decision of a Federal bureaucrat.

And he didn’t even comment on how a bureaucrat can decide whether an American citizen is an enemy without any proofs.

How far can this go? Is there a limit to it? There wasn’t, in the Soviet Union. What was officially a war against foreign enemy, in the final account killed millions of Soviet citizens. Once the government is allowed to kill its own citizens without a due process of law, it never stops killing them – that’s the lesson from history. Even today, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, millions of American citizens – elderly, children, pregnant mothers, disabled veterans – are humiliated, strip searched, irradiated at the hands of the TSA. What could stop the government from taking these same American citizens’ lives, liberties, and properties under the same pretext, if the Federal government can take lives without the due process of law?

Yes, yes, I know, “This can’t happen here.” My grandfather heard those words many times in Bulgaria in 1945.