Wherein I Agree With Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald on the ability of Presidents to have Americans assassinated:

During the Bush-era torture debates, I was never able to get past my initial incredulity that we were even having a "debate" over whether the President has the authority to torture peopleAndrew Sullivan has responded to some of the questions I posed about his defense of Obama's assassination program, and I realize now that throughout this whole assassination debate, specific legal and factual issues aside, my overarching reaction is quite similar:  I actually can't believe that there is even a "debate" over whether an American President -- without a shred of due process or oversight -- has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.  The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be -- such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power -- that, no matter how many times I see it, it's still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

The whole post is an excellent defense of Constitutional protections and limited government.  If only he would treat the government's taking the product of peoples' labor with the same logic.


  1. DHL:

    At what point is the soldier on the battlefield, who is targeted for killing without due process, far enough away from battle that he falls under the protection of your image of war?

    I agree that it is a difficult question, but the president has broad war-making powers, and the targeted assassinations of bad guys seem to fit within those bounderies. That they may be American citizens is beside the point.

  2. Andrew:

    >>That they may be American citizens is beside the point.

    WHAT? That's the WHOLE point. As American citizens they are entitled to due process no matter how close they are to a battlefield.

    Killing an American citizen without due process is murder unless in immediate self defense. PERIOD.

    Anything else leads directly to tyranny.

  3. Andrew:

    To clarify, on a field of battle an individual soldier may kill an American citizen who is actively trying to kill himself or someone else. This is clearly self defense.

    A president ordering the deliberate assassination of an American citizen, who has not been afforded due process, and who MAY pose a threat, is just as clearly murder.

  4. spiro:

    "and the targeted assassinations of bad guys seem to fit within those bounderies. That they may be American citizens is beside the point."


    You and I are different people so, your list of "bad guys" undoubtedly differs from mine. Now, use this reasoning in the context of the person occupying the White House.
    We're already at the bottom of the slippery slope, now it's a brief phone call away.

  5. Jim Collins:

    With the way the Obama Administration is throwing the word "terrorist" around, this concerns me greatly. If he can smoke some Imam in Yemen with a Predator, what's to stop him from someday smoking someone that he's labeled a "terrorist" in Texas?

  6. sux2bme:

    When I saw the Wikileaks video of the helicopter gunner opening up on the "weapon" (camera) carrying journalists & civilians in the street I pondered how long it will be before the gunners' sights are lined up on the corner of Mayberry & Elm streets in Anytown, USA. These claims of "presidential power" and the debates that surround them compresses that time period into a very uncomfortably short one.

  7. Doug,:

    Then again, the target of our government's fatwa seems to have issued his own: http://tinyurl.com/2g9uavs

  8. Rick Caird:

    I am all for due process if we could get this guy back to the United States. But, we cannot. He seems to be in Yemen and the Yemen government will take on action. So, the question is whether we allow him to continue plotting attacks against the US or take him out if possible. I favor the latter.

    Would everyone feel better about that if we tried him in abstentia first and sentenced him to death, or would you prefer he be allowed plan some more American deaths until we can grab him or find him on the field of battle? I suppose Bonnie and Clyde should have died in prison, too.

  9. Doug:

    Brace yourself, Rick. Incoming...

  10. dhlii:

    The fact that respecting someone's rights is not easy or convenient is insufficient. Nor is the fact that they may be a threat. Self-Defense or defense of others requires the threat to be imminent. When you kill someone who credibly will kill you in the future, that is a mitigating factor, not a defense. The question concerning how far from a battlefield one must be is difficult but actually relevant, because aside from enhancing the ability of his lawyers to bring a case, the fact that the target is a US Citizen is not relevant. The constitution claims the right to life for all men - not just citizens. Political and military assassination gets tricky. We get queasy for good reason when enemy citizens become legitimate military targets. Targeting political leaders gets even more dicey. Free nations can not protect their leaders the way totalitarians ones can - not without sacrificing their freedom. We would all like to see Osama Bin Laden's head on a pike, but we did not attempt to assassinate Stalin or Mao during the cold war, nor during any of the hot parts were they were clearly fanning the flames. Oswald had to have acted alone - because every single other possibility would have consequences that are unthinkable.
    At the same time if you believe - as I do, that assassination is wrong, then it must also be wrong, even when it works, even when it saves lives, even when the death of one evil individual saves millions of lives. The right needs to grasp that the natural rights of life and liberty that are first principles of this country can not be sacrificed to expediency without sacrificing our principles. The left needs to grasp that it is not enough to argue that we should not violate our principles because it does not work. It is necessary to hold to principles even when doing so may cost lives. The left is unlikely to do that because it does not recognize individual rights as more important than societal needs.

  11. Tim Fowler:

    Re: "When you kill someone who credibly will kill you in the future, that is a mitigating factor, not a defense."

    When you are a defendant, in terms of criminal law, sure. But when you are at war, you don't even need someone to be a credible threat in the future. Any member of an armed enemy group, even if he may never kill anyone directly, is a legitimate target.

    Normally you could kill him without trial, or capture him and hold him for the duration, but you couldn't reasonably bring him to trial. Just being on an enemy force, or trying to kill people on your side because he's on an enemy force, isn't a crime. OTOH in addition to being enemy combatants Al Qaeda, also commits war crimes, and operates as illegal combatants.

    Killing enemy political leaders might be dicey because of possible retaliation, but it isn't an illegitimate or immoral act (except the the extent you consider waging the war in the first place to be immoral), its just an act that invites retaliation.