War on Terror

Challenging Obama's License to Kill

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In today's Washington Post, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, explain why their groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's policy of "targeted killing" for suspected terrorists. Romero and Warren say targeted killing can be justified 1) on the battlefield as part of an armed conflict (in Afghanistan, for example) or 2) outside of an armed conflict "as a last resort and in the face of a truly imminent threat to life." But Obama's policy, based on the view (also espoused by his predecessor) that the entire world is a battlefield in the War on Terror/War on Al Qaeda, gives the executive branch carte blanche to kill people it unilaterally identifies as members or supporters of Al Qaeda, including U.S. citizens, wherever they may be found and regardless of whether they pose an imminent threat:

We simply cannot accept the proposition that the government should have unchecked authority to carry out extrajudicial killings…far from any actual battlefield. Nor can we accept the contention that the entire world is a battlefield….

The danger of dispensing with due process is obvious. Without it, we cannot be assured that the people the government kills are individuals who presented a threat to the country. Indeed, over the past decade, our government has repeatedly labeled men terrorists only to find out later—or to be told by a federal judge—that the evidence was overstated, wrong or nonexistent. If we invest the government with unchecked authority to impose death sentences on people who have never been convicted of or even charged with a crime, it is inevitable that innocent people will be executed.

Romero and Vincent also note that the U.S. government is setting an example it assuredly does not want others to imitate:

The conduct of our government heavily influences the practices of other countries. The United States would in all likelihood not endorse the authority it claims for targeted killings if it were asserted by other countries. Americans would surely be appalled if another country claimed the right to send a drone after a declared enemy in Wyoming.

In a column a few months ago, I noted how Obama's license to kill blurs the line between warfare and summary execution. More on the ACLU/CCR lawsuit here.

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  1. We simply cannot accept the proposition that the government should have unchecked authority to carry out extrajudicial killings…far from any actual battlefield. Nor can we accept the contention that the entire world is a battlefield….

    That’s good. I hope you win your case and stop these “no knock” searches that have killed countless innocents and . . .

    Oh, you were talking about killing innocents outside the U.S.?

    1. I’m pretty sure the ACLU is against those, too…

      1. Collateral damage. My boss can’t afford to be seen as weak on the drug war.

        If that happens, I get to bust some fuckin’ heads.

  2. The United States would in all likelihood not endorse the authority it claims for targeted killings if it were asserted by other countries.

    No shit.

  3. They need to start using these on the U.S. border. See a truck full of illegals? Boom!

    Don’t like it? Don’t sneak into my country.

    1. Your country? Nation state worshipper?

    2. Fuck you, troll.

    3. And kill all those Democrat voters? Not a chance!

    4. Did they touch your country and then smear hot sauce around your butthole, tacofucker?

      1. Please use the dolly to show the court where the bad illegal touched you!

  4. Do we need to dress up the naked truth? Obama is a war criminal. As was Bush, the lesser.

    1. “Do we need to dress up the naked truth?”

      I dnno, how hot is the truth?

      1. Haw! Ever take a look at Carl “The Truth” Williams? Not so pretty.

      2. Good point.

      3. When I saw The Causey Way years ago, I thought The Truth was pretty hot.

    2. Lock em up both. They can share a prison cell.

  5. Some Americans would surely be appalled if another country claimed the right to send a drone after a declared enemy in Wyoming.

    FTFY. Anyway, the US has good anti-aircraft capability. Or so I’ve read.

  6. What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.

  7. I think I saw a Predator drone flying over the west end of Richmond, VA yesterday. Right near Regency Square Mall, I’m sure of it.

    1. We’ve been following your comments at H&R, BSR, and now we’re tracking you. You have no rights.

  8. Go ACLU. I hope they win this one…

  9. ACLU Targeted By Obama Administration. IRS Audits Hinted.

    1. When bustin’ fucker’s heads doesn’t work, we send in the IRS.

  10. Romero and Warren say targeted killing can be justified 1) on the battlefield as part of an armed conflict (in Afghanistan, for example) or 2) outside of an armed conflict “as a last resort and in the face of a truly imminent threat to life.”

    They are missing a third and fourth case, which have long been part of the law of war:

    As part of an armed conflict, but an enemy combatant who is out of uniform (regardless of whether he is on or off the battlefield). Technically, such people are war criminals, and have always been subject to summary execution.

    For that matter, any combatant in an armed conflict is a legitimate target regardless of whether he/she/it is on a “battlefield” (whatever that is).

    So, color me unimpressed with the ACLU on this one, although I certainly have no doubt that these age-old categories under the Western way of war don’t map well to the current unpleasantness, and that the kind of policy the administration pursues is vulnerable to abuse.

    1. “”As part of an armed conflict, but an enemy combatant who is out of uniform (regardless of whether he is on or off the battlefield). Technically, such people are war criminals, and have always been subject to summary execution.””

      How is someone a war criminal without a war crimes trial?

      “”For that matter, any combatant in an armed conflict is a legitimate target regardless of whether he/she/it is on a “battlefield” (whatever that is).””

      How do you define combatant in an armed conflict? If that applies to all members of an organization regardless to their direct participation in the conflict, then AQ can kill any US service member in the world, and it’s just part of war.

      1. then AQ can kill any US service member in the world

        They would if they could. RC Dean wins here.

        1. “”They would if they could. RC Dean wins here.””

          And they do from time to time. Yet most Americans view it as a dispicable act, not just another fatality in war.

    2. “Terror” doesn’t have a uniform. You can’t apply the rules of war developed for enemies who organize and define themselves (ie, armed forces of nation-states) to situations where the enemy is defined by *us*. If the US declares war on everyone in the world who grows marijuana, we can’t plausibly claim that it’s OK to execute anyone suspected of growing marijuana without wearing a uniform.

      Of course, you and your neocon buddies have never been interested in carefully applying the laws of war to US actions; just using whatever fig leaf you can find to rationalize them.

  11. I wonder how they would view that assasination of a terrorist by Israeli agents in Dubai about a year back. Not very positively I would imagine, given that a) Dubai is not an active battlefield and b) the threat posed by this terrorist, though ongoing, was not imminent, nor did Israel attempt any non-lethal means of neutralizing this threat.

    1. nor did Israel attempt any non-lethal means of neutralizing this threat

      They should’ve just hugged him until the hate stopped.

    2. I believe that guy the Israelis whacked was a leading member of Hamas, an organization that on a per capita basis has been far deadlier to Israelis than Al Qaeda has been to the USA.

      They had wanted to get him for years, and once he left Syria to a place they could get at him, they took him out. Dubai wasn’t exactly the hottest spot to do that – kind of a low-spec operation for an outfit as respected and competent as Mossad, but I sympathize with their motives.

  12. Mr. Sullum – What about during WWII when Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was shot down by the US?

    1. Slight difference between a uniformed service member of a declared belligerent and that guy over there who somebody thinks is a threat.

      1. Slight difference between a uniformed service member of a declared belligerent and that guy over there who somebody thinks is a threat.

        So the enemy gets protections simply because they dress as civilians?

  13. The United States would in all likelihood not endorse the authority it claims for targeted killings if it were asserted by other countries

    However the US will at least examine and likely extradite the person if the evidence is compelling. I can’t see the Pakistan government successfully extraditing these people.

    1. The ACLU lawsuit concerns non-battlefield drone strikes (specifically in Yemen aimed at Anwar Al-Awlaki, but the precedent would apply to anyone not fighting on a battlefield). Certain parts of Pakistan clearly meet the criteria for being a war zone/battlefield; and thus military strikes against enemy forces there can be regarded as legal acts of war.

      There may be other areas where there are no US troops that still meet the legal criteria of a battlefield, and where the US may have an anti-terrorism interest in launching military strikes (Somalia, for example, against Al-Shabab terrorists). However, it would be harder to make the case that Yemen (or Wyoming) qualifies.

  14. Another angle ignored by the ACLU:

    I bet that the US engages in this activity in only in areas where an armed conflict is actually being engaged and/or are not actually sovereign in their own right, that is, under the control of an actual government.

    If this is so, then it is being used on “battlefields” or in areas where there is no other recourse, because there is no sovereign to hold accountable and/or do business with.

    1. Pakistan?

      1. The writ of the Pakistani government does not run in much of what is nominally Pakistan, especially along the Afghan border. There is effectively no sovereign there.

        1. I declare sovereignty over this cubicle. I demand you remove your flying robots of death. Further, I demand you extradite the mouse that stole my Cheetos!

          1. I contest your sovereignty! My catapult will commence flinging rubber cockroaches immediately!

            1. But have you got a flag?

              No flag; no country.

    2. The American targeted for execution is supposedly is Yemen.

      1. is, in, whatever. I is USA!

    3. I bet that the US engages in this activity in only in areas where an armed conflict is actually being engaged and/or are not actually sovereign in their own right, that is, under the control of an actual government that the US doesn’t mind getting pissed at us

      Once again, RC, your logic is so tendentious as to be laughable. So when the Nazis withdrew from France after D-Day, any French civilian suspected of collaborating with the Nazis was subject to summary execution without trial? There was no sovereign government there, so it was open season on snail-eaters, right?

  15. I’d like to point out that this ‘we don’t want others to imitate our example stuff’ is BS. America is morally superior to the kind of countries that we don’t want doing this, like Russia or Iran. These countries are morally inferior and therefore have no rights. The nations that have rights are the kind that should only benefit the world with targeted killing, like Israel.

    1. uh…..joking?

      How many countries has Iran attacked in the past 20 years, compared to America? And how exactly does Israel benefit the world in any way? The whole country is a mistake that should have been aborted in the womb

  16. You morons who voted for Obama… God, I hope you’re crying in your soy lattes.

    “Oh, he’ll be MUCH better than McCain! Obama will get us out of war and respect the rights of foreigners!”

    Fucked either way, we were, in 2008.

    1. “Oh, he’ll be MUCH better than McCain! Obama will get us out of war…..

      To be fair, while there are significant problems with the Obama administration, he never said that he would move immediately towards withdrawal from Afghanistan – indeed he supported the Afghanistan war all along. He always distinguished (reasonably in my opinion) between that Afghanistan “war of necessity” (which was a direct response to Al-Qaeda terrorist aggression) versus the Iraq “war of choice” (which was not).

      Full disclosure: I voted for neither McCain nor Obama in 2008. While I have no particular affection for Republicans, I am rooting for them to take at least one house this election cycle so that we can have gridlock.

  17. I don’t recall Bush ever claiming this supposed power. Not that anyone would have complained if he had…

    Just a matter of time before “danger to the US” applies to drug dealers and then, logically, drug users. And the president has more important things to do that authorize the executions of countless American citizens, so naturally he’ll just deletate that decisionmaking authority to the DEA (all of whom will instantly orgasm in their pants and then demand higher pay).

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