Keep Your Declaration of Independence Right Next to Your Assassination Cards

Call me crazy, but this is probably not exactly the kind of treatment Thomas Jefferson was thinking the Declaration of Independence would receive 234 years after he wrote it.

Many nights an item prompts a call to wake the NCTC director, Michael Leiter, 41, the junior member of the nighthawks. He displays a copy of the Declaration of Independence, next to a deck of baseball-style cards of high-value terrorist targets: “I keep the ones who are dead on top. It’s a little macabre, but that’s the world we live in.” When the NCTC calls in the middle of the night, he is often half-awake.

Among those cards, after all, is probably the one that signifies that the President has approved, with no due process, an order to assassinate US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. That’s the kind of thing that Jefferson objected to when he called the following “Despotism”:

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.


For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:


For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:


For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

While I’m making wildarsed Fourth of July guesses, let me also suggest that this kind of security porn–a 24-style terror play in 9 acts–is probably not exactly what Thomas Jefferson imagined as the role of the free press when he so furiously defended it.

  1. Mary says:

    That’s really beyond being something you could make up unless you were going for farce – it’s like the edited out character from a Road to Gandolfo style novel.

    • emptywheel says:

      Dunno. If David Addington can walk around his entire lifetime with the Constitution in his pocket without it burning up in spectacular flames because of the blasphemy, I think I’m prepared to imagine the assassination cards next to the Declaration of Independence.

      I should also note, that Laura Blumenfeld must have thought it would ruin her hagiography if she mentioned that Leiter was on a ski vacation when the UndieBomber struck (which she says he still dreams about), and didn’t return. I do think it important that these people take vacations, but to admit that fact probably would ruin her narrative.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I still wonder why that copy of the Constitution in Addington’s pocket didn’t spontaneously turn to ash, like the signs on the crate in the ship’s hold in the first Indiana Jones flick.

  2. Mary says:

    I guess she thought it would ruin her spiel, too, if she asked to see his Maher Arar card.

    Or if she mentioned that what she thought was him being happy to see her was a full set of the Makeen airstrike dead in his pocket

  3. Synoia says:

    Make me wonder if Michael Leiter has ever read that declaration of independence he keeps close by himself.

    Hey, Michael! Read that damn document. Then weep.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      That he keeps his baseball playing card profiles of dead terrorists on top, not the ones of live alleged terrorists who might still be a credible threat, suggests that if he read the Declaration of Independence, he doesn’t understand it, or how or why it came about.

      • bmaz says:

        I have a theory of where exactly this prime location is. I will come along with a trashy post to elaborate. If I can find my bloody cocktail……

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The WaPoop’s Hollywood script-doctor format for that adulatory article was a little breathless, but not the kind Jean-Luc Godard had in mind, more like 24.

    I’m all for saluting the sentinels who watch over us, the men and women in khakis, grey, green and blue who protect our shores from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I am underwhelmed by the lies and falsehoods that permit their political masters to silently change the legal and political framework that defines their permitted action and our freedoms.

    Safety and security are not the only objectives of our society or political system. The freedom these people tell us they are protecting for us entails risks to more than the wealth or political futures of our ruling class. It entails the everyday: the risk of listening to someone with whom I disagree; watching them burn a flag or other symbol for which men died; permitting them go to a house of worship I despise or, worse (to some), none at all. It entails limits on the prying and spying purportedly done in our name, such as government’s peering into bedrooms, computers and phones, and into credit, tax and innumberable databases that collect and “analyze” my digital trail, all for reasons of national Sichereit and on the off-chance that some bit of information or computer-defined “pattern” may make me an object of interest.

    Allowing such things is not the kind of freedom I or many others have in mind. I don’t think the Deists who wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution would care much for them either.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Security porn” sums up Laura Blumenfeld’s piece in a nutshell. I assume she gave her editors exactly what they asked for.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Security porn, indeed.

      With two wars, multiple crises abroad and growing terrorism activity at home, these national security officials do not sleep in peace.

      The growing terrorism activity? A bit of hyperbole never hurts.

      The Declaration of Independence makes a fine coaster for the cups of coffee needed at 3am, or alternately the alcoholic beverages that those who do not sleep in peace use to get a few winks of shuteye.

      The stack of cards is incomprehensible. The dead people are kept near the top, because one wouldn’t want trembling hands to falter when looking for one’s favorites, would one?

  6. mattcarmody says:

    Isn’t an order from the president authorizing the assassination of a specific American a very extreme kind of bill of attainder?

  7. fatster says:

    Apologies if a dupe.

    Government loses appeal in Guantanamo habeas case

    “The appeals court overturned a lower court’s decision upholding the detention of Belkacem Bensayah, who was seized in Bosnia along with five other Algerians and shipped to Guantanamo in January 2002, and said the lower court must rehear the case.”


  8. pdaly says:

    Tonight the CIA director will bunk with national security adviser James Jones at the back of a C-40, sharing a chair, a small couch and a lavatory stocked with Tylenol.

    What? They are not affected by the Tylenol shortage affecting the rest of the country in 2010?
    Maybe it’s product placement for the worried Americans switching to generic acetaminophen.

    Great post. And great pickup by bmaz in following post to note that these guys in the middle of the night should be asking themselves how they can uphold their oaths to defend the US Constitution (not the Declaration of Independence).

    • fatster says:

      Ah, but you see, they caused the shortage because the bought up all the Tylenol and stashed it in the C-40.

  9. JohnEmerson says:

    So much of the War on Terror seems to fit the definition of either “bill of attainder” or “star chamber proceeding”, which were specifically mentioned in the debates of the revolutionary era and even in the Declaration of Independence itself. They also seem to make the suspension of habeas corpus at the will of the executive permanent, rather than temporary as it was during the Civil War and to an extent during the World Wars, since it is claimed that we will be in a state of war forever from here on out.

    The Bush Administration seems to have introduced its various encroachments of civil liberties and human rights in a rather careful piecemeal basis, so that each unit is bad enough in itself, but it’s only when you piece together all the various parts do you realize that the American executive now has no limits whatsoever on his arbitrary police powers.

    As I understand, Scalia has worked out the rational for this reading of the Constitution.

  10. JohnEmerson says:

    Article I Sec. 9 of the Constirution:

    The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

    No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.


    The historical abuses of the Star Chamber are considered a primary motivating force behind the protections against compelled self-incrimination embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[8] The meaning of “compelled testimony” under the Fifth Amendment—i.e., the conditions under which a defendant is allowed to “take the Fifth”—is thus often interpreted via reference to the inquisitorial methods of the Star Chamber.[9]