Abandoning Principle to Protect Their Guy

Scott Lemieux, via Kevin Drum, argues that people are getting way too worked up about the targeted killing memo.  Everything's fine"

Much of the coverage of the memo, including Isikoff's story, focuses on the justifications offered by the Obama administration for killing American citizens, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan (two alleged Al Qaeda operatives killed by a 2011 airstrike in Yemen.) In some respects, this focus is misplaced. If military action is truly justified, then it can be exercised against American citizens (an American fighting for the Nazis on the battlefield would not have been entitled to due process.) Conversely, if military action is not justified, extrajudicial killings of non-Americans should hardly be less disturbing than the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. The crucial question is whether the safeguards that determine when military action is justified are adequate

As I wrote in his comments section to this:

There is an immense chasm of difference between killing an American on the battlefield dressed in a Luftwaffe uniform in the Battle of the Bulge and authorizing assassination of American civilians without any sort of due process (Please don't tell me that presidential conferences and an excel spreadsheet constitute due process).  The donning of an enemy uniform is a sort of admission of guilt, to which there is no parallel here.  A better comparison would be:  Would it have been right for FDR to have, say, Charles Lindberg killed for supporting the nazis and nazi-style eugenics?  How about having a Congressman killed who refused to fund the war on terror - after all, there are plenty of people who would argue that person is abetting terrorism and appeasing Al Qaeda by not voting for the funds.

Before the election, when asked to post possible reasons to vote for Romney, the best one I could think of was that at least under a President Romney, the natural opponents on the Left of targeted killing and drone strikes and warrant-less wiretapping and prosecuting whistle-blowers under treason laws would find their voice, rather than remaining on the sidelines in fear of hurting "their guy" in the White House.

By the way, I know this puts me out of the mainstream, but Presidential targeted killing and drone strikes on civilian targets bothers me whether or not Americans are targeted.  I don't accept the implicit notion that "foreigners" have fewer due process rights than Americans vis a vis our government.  I believe the flaw goes all the way back to the AUMF that was directed against a multinational civilian organization rather against a country and its uniformed military.  I don't believe this is even a valid definition of war, but even if it were, there is no way the traditional rules of war can apply to such a conflict.  But here we are, still trying to apply the old rules of war, and it is amazing to me to see denizens of the Left leading us down this slippery slope.

Update:  As usual, Glenn Greenwald seems to have the definitive editorial on the targeted killing memo.  It is outstanding, top to bottom.  Read it, particularly if you are on the fence about this.


  1. bigmaq1980:

    Where's the MSM and Democrats outrage over this? ....(crickets)...

    Had this been Bush, coverage would be 24/7!

    This is a venture into some serious Constitutional territory...it is far from "black and white". I'm no Constitutional expert, but there does seem to be something missing.

    What are the limiting principles? Who gets to decide and what is the standard of proof? At what point does this policy go too far, when it gets used on American soil?

    These and other "hard questions" need to be asked and answered, but the very people/organizations who should be challenging the government seem to overwhelmingly be playing favorites - a real tragedy for our society!

    This "silence" for "favorites" will have far wider damage before domestic drone raids occur, I'm afraid.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Abandoning Principle to Protect Their Guy"

    You go off the tracks right in the title. You are assuming (probably incorrectly) that they had principles in the first place. You can't abandon what you never had. :)

  3. mesaeconoguy:

    It was Bush. He supposedly started this, and he definitely set us down this path with his expansion of executive power.

    The guy who just won again is so dangerous he may push for domestic strikes, not just foreign. Watch for that - he now effectively has no opposition, and is dangerously ignorant and arrogant. That's a deadly combo in power.

  4. bigmaq1980:

    That's the problem, we get herded by fear or other concern into endorsing some use of power, only to find that when other hands get voted in it expands further or gets twisted for other uses.

    I understand the need to do something to limit these people who choose to effectively "go to war" with America, and a simple criminal process (due process) won't cut it. That said, the principles, processes and decision making bodies should not be murky, and it sure as heck better be locked down from use domestically.

  5. marque2:

    You get this about the deficit too. Bush - we have the deficit because he started wars and cut taxes. Um, well Obama just created some 5 billion more with deficits in teh 1.2 - 1.5 trillion range rather than about 350 billion. The wars were only about 100billion a year and at best the Tax cuts would have cut 200 billion from last year assuming static analysis still brings the deficit to 900 billion much more than anything Bush had done,

    But yeah, Bush evil Obama good. I didn't particularily like Bush allowing all sorts of domestic spending increases, but then who could I vote for, Kerry, the war hero? Hah, hah, hah

  6. Matthew Slyfield:

    Sorry, Bush isn't the one who set us down this path. That path goes all the way back to at least FDR and probably further.

  7. Dan Hill:

    The Republocrat apologists for unrestrained government power always justify actions like indefinite detention in Gitmo, waterboarding, death by drone etc. with the answer "because he's a terrorist."

    Accepting for the sake of argument that being a terrorist justifies indefinite detention in Gitmo, waterboarding, death by drone etc. my question is always "according to whom?" To which the answer is "we can't tell you, but trust us."

    I'm sorry, but the concept of due process, of not being deprived of our property, our liberty and our lives without a fair hearing before an impartial forum according to a well known and understood process pre-dates the founding of the US. It goes back at least as far as the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

    Since 9/11 we have thrown out the fundamental principles we have held dear for more than four hundred years in order to fight against a bunch of kooks hiding out in caves (existential threat my a$$). The terrorists have already won.

  8. SelimT:

    I assume you meant to say Wehrmacht and not Luftwaffe in your comment since there weren't many (if any) German fliers circling around during the Battle of the Bulge (I know, nitpicking... :)

  9. James Sullivan:

    Gun confiscation will require drone strikes.

  10. Eris Guy:

    Since Obamunism rejects the idea of citizenship as an outmoded Constitutional concept--there is no difference between an illegal alien and American citizen in schooling, voting, welfare, etc.—then there can be no difference between killing Americans and auslander (I find that when speaking of the Democrat Party and its ideology, it’s best to use the original German or Russian).

  11. Steve Walser:

    The great "benefit" in this non-debate is that it reveals, in all their unclothed glory, the rank hypocrisy and partisanship that lies at the heart of the lefty anti war and social justice movement.

  12. marco73:

    Good God! In Greenwald's article Steven Colbert, of Comedy Central Fame, is the voice of reason when interviewing Attorney General Eric Holder.

  13. NormD:

    Your argument style is so flawed. You setup strawmen and knock them down. In uniform? How in the hell would you know they are an American?

    Lets say:

    An American spy with plans for D-Day is escaping across the channel in a boat.
    An American who knows about Enigma is shot down behind enemy lines
    An American scientist is helping the Nazis develop an atom bomb
    Am American is running Auschwitz!

    You can imagine no circumstance when its OK to kill an American without a court trial???

    Would it not be OK to bomb Peenemunde even a PoW camp were nearby? Hell, this is killing Americans who are innocent!

    I don't want to see this power abused, but saying there is never, ever a situation where its OK to kill an American without a court trial is childish.

  14. Daublin:

    I believe everyone gets that. What makes it interesting is that this isn't a hypothetical legal analysis. Obama has put out thousands of these hits, on average about one a day of his presidency. That's counting weekends and vacations; in his actual Oval Room meetings to authorize hits, he must be going through a packet of half a dozen to a dozen at a time.

    To channel John Kerry for a moment, what kind of American way of life are we fighting for?

  15. Daublin:

    On a similar note, Obama is making Bush look like a paragon of diplomacy. Yet the media is quiet.

    One of the most consistent complaints I've heard about Bush is that he did not get international permission for his actions in Iraq. But look at what he did garner! He had support from Congress, from the elected Iraqi government, from a U.N. security council resolution, and from a dozen or so countries that directly contributed military forces. Yes, each of these is patchy support, but take a moment to ponder the overall level of diplomatic effort.

    To contrast, Obama just holds a meeting in the Oval office. The Pakistani government explicitly opposed his hit team that went after Osama, and they have explicitly opposed the drone strikes.


  16. Dimitri Mariutto:

    I agree with bigmaq1980. Times have changed and the term battlefield needs redefining. Used to be, only nations went to war against each other and the battlefield was easy to define, not to mention enemy combatant. The traditional rules of war no longer apply but we have yet to find a better framework. But yeah, what is going on now is unbelievable. Killing people who murder others is a good thing but there needs to be some due process with checks involved and transparency of the process.

  17. mesaeconoguy:

    Yes, for entitlements, and various executive power breaches.

    But the popular narrative (mostly wrong) is that Evil Bush started this (and AIDS, and Global Warming, and everything else bad).

    In proximate history, he can be seen to have directly contributed, though FDR was by far the most abusive and controlling executive (and consequently worst president) in US history.

    Wilson belongs in that conversation, as does TR.

  18. Robbo:

    What would have been the response if the British government had in 1974 or so, killed Gerry Adams ?

  19. markm:

    Someone should ask Jane Fonda about this. When she posed with an anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam, she was both expressing dissent from American policies (protected by the 1st Amendment if anything is), and giving aid and comfort to the enemy (the Constitutional definition of treason). When she returned to the US, the Nixon Justice Department either chose not to settle that tension between Constitutional principles in court or acknowledged that the courts would find for the right of free speech - at least when we had not declared war against the "enemy". But according to Obama, Nixon could have had her assassinated in North Vietnam, or anywhere until she stepped on American soil.

  20. Matt Landry:

    The only relevant distinction between Americans and non-Americans is the incentives. A policy which permits the killing only of non-Americans preserves the incentive not to use drone strikes against domestic political opposition.

    I'm on record opposing USG's loose definition of "enemy combatant" back during the Bush administration as well. It so happens that I actually did trust George Bush (as a man) not to abuse the power to kidnap and hold hostage anyone he felt like, for any reason or no reason...but it was already obvious that such power is never truly safe in the hands of the sort of person who gets elected to high office.