Obama's hit list within the rules

Obama's hit list within the rules

Can members of one nation's army kill soldiers of an opposing army? Some people don't think so.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave a remarkable speech last week, remarkable not necessarily for its conduct but because Holder felt the need to explain himself.

War is cruel, Civil War General William Sherman once said, and the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over. In other words, the goal is to subjugate the opposition in whatever form it takes. Since 9/11, the United States has been engaged in a different kind of war, one against members of a terrorist group not identified with any single nation.

Last September in Yemen, an American drone launched a bomb that killed well-known terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki.

There are civil libertarians who object to killing members of al-Qaida with unpiloted drones. But they were especially upset because, although al-Awlaki was a senior al-Qaida leader, he was born in New Mexico and was, by virtue of his birth and not his allegiance, an American citizen.

Critics suggested the military violated al-Awlaki's due-process rights under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment by killing him. They suggested he should have been arrested and brought back to this country for trial.

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project characterized the federal government's killing of al-Awlaki as a "chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens, far from any battlefield without judicial review or public scrutiny."

The ACLU's contention is, no doubt, sincere, but the organization could not resist shading the facts — al-Awlaki was not just a civilian, he was a leader of a terrorist group that declared war on this country years ago.

In war, soldiers die, and al-Awlaki, whatever his place of birth, was a proud and dedicated soldier in an opposing army.

In Holder's address at the Northwestern University College of Law, he stated that the "realities of war" dictate this country's military actions and that President Obama's status as commander-in-chief is not restricted by the Fifth Amendment.

"Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States-born terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack. In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force," he said.

Most Americans have no problem with this interpretation of the law. Indeed, to them, it's a no-brainer. They see war as the generally lawless enterprise that it is.

But the critics not only blanch at drone attacks on terrorists, they also interpret the killing of an American-born citizen as the first step down a road of egregious abuse of government power. They are entitled to their view, however unrealistic it may be.

But al-Awlaki was not subjected to summary execution. He knew he faced criminal charges in this country for his terrorist activities, but stayed with al-Qaida because he was a high-ranking member of that army.

Holder's speech won't end the debate on the propriety of military action under these kinds of unusual circumstances. But his explanation will almost assuredly be accepted by those who realize that war is hell and the goal is to make the other guy die for his country or, in this case, his terrorist organization.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions


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dw wrote on March 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm

The fact that the author uses Sherman's March to the Sea, one of the very first instances of state-sponsored terrorism by the United States military (the sole purpose of the level of killing and distruction was to incite fear and terror into the civilian population of the south), is illuminating to the validity of this line of thought by the author.

Generations later in many places in the south, they take the claim "The South shall Rise Again" quite seriously.  This is a direct result of the resentment of the north for using terrorist tactics.

Hell or not, these are not tactics I wish my United States to employ.  I expect better -- we all should.  Once you learn to think like a terrorist, then you find it is impossible to protect against all (terrorist) threats, both foreign and domestic -- there are just far too many ways to attack to invoke terror (remember the mailbox bombers and the terror it incited in small-town America?  To say this was poorly planed would be an understatement.  But it was effective).  If not planes, trains.  If not trains, busses.  If not busses then yellow rider trucks.  Or mailboxes.  It is far better to not give them cause, because it's not preventable by warfare.

In 100 years, I do not want my decendants dealing with "the Arab States shall rise again" like we still do with our southern brothers.

Instead of "kill 'em all and let the devil sort 'em" we need a new military mantra of "I'd rather be nice than right"  we need to invert our peace corp and military budgets.  We need to start carpet-bombing with Hershey bars ala WWII pilot Gail Halvorsen.

We need to use non terrorist ways of dealing with terrorists, else we become what we are trying to eliminate (which many of our foes already see us as we have in the past supported Sadaam Hussein and other merciless dictators in our quest for controlling access to assets vital to our national security -- aka, oil).

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Love thy Neighbor is commendable; but it does not win wars.  Those who kill American citizens whether foreign, or domestic must be eliminated for the greater good of protecting innocent lives.  Would it not have been better to have killed Osama Bin Laden, Adolph Hitler, and Timothy McVey prior to their acts of killing innocents?  Hearts and Minds maybe helpful; but killing is necessary in a war whether it be foreign, or domestic.  I respect your view; but I doubt many others agree with you in regard to their, and their families safety.    

jthartke wrote on March 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

Would you say George Washington should not have shot Benedict Arnold across the battlefield without a trial?

Should a sniper not take the shot when he has a hostage taker that has already killed one of his prisoners in his sights?

These men, American citizenship notwithstanding, are traitors by their own admission. While I disagree with many of the tactics of the so-called "War on Terror", the state has the right to kill those who are actively working to kill Americans or whomever else they can get to.  Collateral damage is awful, but these people also surround themselves with "human shields" -- even members of their own families -- specifically to cause tragedy.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

With the rapid increase of so called "militias" filled with people who feel that elected government does not apply to them; there will be more incidents of domestic terrorism.  These groups of right wing, gun nuts need watching.  They rant that they have their right to their views based on their mish mashed interpretation of the Constitution; yet, they rave that elected government based on democracy does not apply to them.  Anyone who attacks our government, and people whether they be a foriegner, or citizen is a terrorist; and should be treated accordingly.  

narciblog wrote on March 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm

The problem is, what the Editors mean when they say "terrorist" is "someone the President has accused and then decreed in secret to be a Terrorist without ever proving it with evidence" (to quote Glenn Greenwald.)

Even Eric Holder isn't clear about whether the President has this power within the United States. Should a President decide during an election year to declare his opponent a "terrorist", are there any legal means to stop him? 

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 15, 2012 at 10:03 am

There is a protocol that involves others besides a President.  Catching a "terrorist", and giving them a trial to "prove" that they are a "terrorist" is absurd when the lives of innocents are involved.  An elected leader has the duty to protect the citizens.  When circumstances, and time do not permit the capture, and trial of a "terrorist"; the elected leader must act.  A President whose opponent is killed would be far fetched.  Even Nixon did not do that.