Throughout this week, we'll be posting old and new Reason material related to the 9/11 attacks.
To see a snapshot of what Reason.com (then called Reason Online) looked like in March 2002, go here.
In a taped message released to the world on October 7, 2001, Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden listed among his reasons for attacking America the fact that "a million innocent children" were "dying at this time…in Iraq" because of U.S. sanctions. Left-wing critic Noam Chomsky meanwhile insisted that to understand the "context" of the 9/11 attacks, it was essential to remember that U.S. sanctions were killing "5,000 children a month" in Iraq.
In Reason's March 2002 issue, then-Associate Editor Matt Welch examined these and other claims in his feature story "The Politics of Dead Children: Have sanctions against Iraq murdered millions?"
Two weeks after the hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I began looking in earnest for trustworthy sources of information about the effects of sanctions on Iraq. I was joined in my search by a half-dozen or so e-mail acquaintances who approached the question from a broadly similar viewpoint: If sanctions are killing Iraqi babies, then Osama Bin Laden has a legitimate propaganda tool, and the U.S. has blood on its hands that demands immediate attention. So let's find the facts, weigh them against Saddam's weapons capabilities, and proceed from there….
Any sustained inquiry into the sanctions issue runs up against waves of propaganda and reckless disregard for the truth, and it would be all too easy to declare the issue settled after a quick dismissal of the most glaring lies. But that would be an abdication of responsibility. Many of those who support continued pressure on Saddam Hussein tend to focus on a few key counterpoints while ignoring piles of haunting in-country surveys and the damning testimony of former U.N. officials who have quit to campaign full-time against U.S. policy in Iraq. Sanctions proponents, if they are not careful, run the risk of aping the foolish debate tactics of the critics they condemn.
In Reason's August/September 2008 issue, W. James Antle III reviewed former Reason staffer Bill Kauffman's book Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism. According to Antle, the antiwar right championed by Kauffman stands out like a sore thumb in post-9/11 America:
Politically speaking, modern anti-war conservatives are men without a country, a fact that Ron Paul's presidential campaign illustrated brutally. When Paul started talking about foreign policy at GOP debates, he could not have made less sense to his audience had he been speaking in a language of his own creation.
A conservatism that identifies with McGovern more than Reagan, Gore Vidal more than William F. Buckley Jr., and the New Left more than the religious right probably has no political future. Neither does a Kauffmanesque coalition of libertarians and socialists, segregationists and Black Panthers, hippies and Birchers, however interesting that coalition might be. And there are better reasons than Kauffman acknowledges to question whether Middle America's hearths and homes could have been protected by a completely laissez-faire approach to Hitler, the Soviet Union, and those who would emulate the 9/11 murderers.
Yet this remains a country that prefers baseball diamonds to global hegemony, bringing the boys home in victory to sending them in search of monsters to destroy. That American character cannot be preserved in a garrison society. Nor can crusades to transform faraway regions of the world be undertaken lightly without changing our nature. The limits of the U.S. government's power, wisdom, and competence do not stop at the water's edge, a fact too many conservatives have forgotten.
On May 4, 2011, three days after a team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum asked if Bin Laden's death vindicates President Barack Obama's policy of targeted killings:
According to the official story, Osama bin Laden was killed because he resisted the Navy SEALs who were attempting to capture him at his hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan. "If we had the opportunity to take him alive," John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism adviser, said on Monday, "we would have done that."
Does it matter? Evidently the Obama administration thinks it does. But such fastidiousness seems inconsistent with the president's policy regarding terrorism suspects who are not in custody, which is to shoot first and never ask questions.
Under the laws of war, which the administration says apply to members and supporters of Al Qaeda, you are not supposed to shoot an enemy combatant who is attempting to surrender or summarily execute him after he has been captured. Yet it is OK to kill him from a distance, without offering him a chance to give up.
In my own column that week, I examined whether the Bin Laden killing violated U.S. law:
Let's say the mission was to kill, not to attempt capture. Does the difference matter? The legal question may ultimately turn on Senate Joint Resolution 23, also known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress on September 14, 2001, which empowers the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons" involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
If that authorization covers anybody, it covers Bin Laden, who repeatedly claimed credit for the 9/11 attacks and made no secret of his leadership role in Al Qaeda. So although the terrorist leader's demise may appear to fit the conventional definition of an assassination, the administration does have a plausible legal argument that the mission was a legitimate military operation carried out under the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Under that argument, the targeted killing of Bin Laden is no different than killing any other enemy commander during war—assuming Bin Laden wasn't shot while trying to surrender or while he was in custody, both of which would violate the rules of war.
To read previous entries in Remembering 9/11 and related stories, go here.