War on Terror

Obama's Advisers Debate the Limits of His License to Kill

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The New York Times reports that the Obama administration's lawyers disagree about the president's authority to unilaterally mark people for death. Mind you, they all agree he has that authority; they just differ on how far it extends. Obviously people in Pakistan, "where the legal authority to attack militants who are battling United States forces in adjoining Afghanistan is not disputed inside the administration," are fair game if they are "deemed likely members of a militant group." But what about Yemen or Somalia? May U.S. missiles there "take aim at only a handful of high-level leaders of militant groups who are personally linked to plots to attack the United States," or is it OK to "also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers focused on parochial concerns," such as "controlling the essentially ungoverned lands near the Gulf of Aden"? The president's more cautious advisers worry that too broad a definition of the president's license to kill "could lead to an unending and unconstrained 'global' war."

This dispute, like the argument over President Obama's authority to wage war in Libya without congressional approval, pits State Department legal adviser Harold Koh against Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson. But in this case, according to the Times, it is Johnson who takes a broader view of presidential power, while Koh argues that to kill people outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan "the United States must be able to justify the act as necessary for its self-defense—meaning it should focus only on individuals plotting to attack the United States." That view is more along the lines of what you might expect from Koh based on his academic career before he joined the Obama administration, when he was known as a leading skeptic of executive power. I suspect that Obama, who adopted Koh's widely ridiculed argument that bombing Libya did not constitute "hostilities" under the War Powers Act, will suddenly have doubts about the former Yale Law School dean's legal acumen now that his advice puts limits on the president's freedom to kill at will.

Perhaps you are thinking, "Surely Congress will step in." Yes, but probably not in a good way:

It is considering, as part of a pending defense bill, a new authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda and its associates. A version of the provision proposed by the House Armed Forces Committee would establish an expansive standard for the categories of groups that the United States may single out for military action, potentially making it easier for the United States to kill large numbers of low-level militants in places like Somalia.

In an interview, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said that he supported the House version and that he would go further. He said he would offer an amendment that would explicitly authorize the use of force against a list of specific groups including the Shabab [Islamist insurgents in Somalia], as well as set up a mechanism to add further groups to the list if they take certain "overt acts."

"This is a worldwide conflict without borders," Mr. Graham argued. "Restricting the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn't deter people who are on the fence."

Far from worrying about that "unending and unconstrained 'global' war," Graham seems to relish the idea. After all, why on earth would you want to "restrict…the definition of the enemy," as opposed to letting the president order the death of anyone, anywhere, anytime for any reason that makes sense to him?

More on targeted killings here and here. More on the global battlefield of the War on Terror here and here.

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  1. since the ascended OnE is brown hisself, he can kill n kill n [KILZ] as many browns as he desires

  2. Halloween is coming up and here are Obama’s ghouls.

  3. Obama’s license to kill falls somewhere between James Bond and Kim Jung Il.

    1. License to Il.

  4. Speaking of cold-blooded murder

    …very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.

    So would people on the right be willing to let those who are uninsured through no fault of their own die from lack of care? The answer, based on recent history, is a resounding “Yeah!”

    Think, in particular, of the children.

    I love the smell of self-caricature in the morning.

    Fucking Krugabenomics- how does it work?

    1. Once again, you’ll understand when you have children…

    2. Holy fuck, what a steaming pile of stupid.

      1. Also, this^^.

        There is no longer such a thing as personal responsibility. Not enforced anyway.

        1. There is too enforced personal responsibility! You’re personally responsible for other people’s poor decision-making. And if you decide to not be responsible for others, the law enforcers will throw you in jail and take away your stuff…

  5. you’ll understand when you have children…

    In other words, NEVER.

  6. It was here, in these very pages, that it was pointed out, under the fucking BUSH administration, that the POTUS and his lawyers asserted the AUMF gave them the authority to whack anyone, anytime, anywhere. US citizen or not, abroad or not, doesn’t fucking matter. Why anybody pretends there are some functional or logical limits on this power after it’s been asserted and confirmed by action is beyond me. If the man wants you dead, he’ll order you dead. The only consideration is how much PR fallout he’ll get.

    And this is one of the reasons I think it’s getting really goddamned close to time to burn it down and try again. At least they used to pretend to pay some lip service to the rule of law. Now? Fuck it, we’ll do what we want and you can’t do anything about it, serf.

    1. They will do as they please and you can no longer escape….

  7. “Restricting the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn’t deter people who are on the fence.”

    Huh?

    1. If six extremists are on the fence and you shoot one, how many are left?

      1. 100 extremists on the wall, 100 extremists
        Take one down with several rounds,
        99 extremists on the wall

        1. I think to maintain the rhythm of the original you might need to specify what kind of extremists, preferably something with two syllables.

          1. 100 militant foes?
            100 gun-toting thugs?

      2. If six extremists are on the fence and you shoot one, how many are left?

        Eight.

      3. None. The other five adopt a new ideology.

      4. I was told there would be no Math questions.

    2. If the enemy takes cover behind the fence for a few seconds, they can regenerate health.

  8. Is it too much to ask for Lindsey Graham and Obama to choke to death on eachothers’ dicks?

    1. Sometimes it sucks to have a good imagination. Thanks for the visual.

    2. Yes. That’s too kind of a fate.

  9. The president’s more cautious advisers worry that too broad a definition of the president’s license to kill “could lead to an unending and unconstrained ‘global’ war.”

    I thought that was the idea. How can you justify spending $500 billion a year on defense without killing a few schmucks from time to time?

  10. Someday, when the president is mowing down his political enemies at will, making himself dictator for life, and openly slaughtering anyone who disagrees, the statists will all be stupidly asking “how did this happen?”

    1. Correction:

      “Someday, when a Republican president is merely considering using the precedent that Obama has set, the statists will not only all be stupidly asking “how did this happen?,” but will be demanding impeachment and indictment by the International Court of Justice.”

      There. All fixed.

  11. “Restricting the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn’t deter people who are on the fence.”

    Killing people in dubious circumstances away from war zones also regenerates the enemy and pushes people off the fence onto the side of the terrorists.

    If the US minded its own business, al-Qaeda would be no more dangerous than the KKK, and thousands of miles further away. Pure hatred of our freedom only motivates a select few; a lot of the volunteers, money, and logistical support come from people who have less abstract grudges against the US.

  12. That this is even discussed shows how far we’ve fallen after 2.75 terms of George Bush. Moral High Ground? What’s that? Or maybe the lefties have been right all along – we are the moral equivalent of [pick a regime].

  13. I think it’s okay, so long as the proximate cause of death is a drone or robot.

  14. There was little if any concern from anyone in the realm of Power in the George Bush Administration who dared to question anything the “Decider” did because the going philosophy was that if one “Opposed” “The Decider” one was anti-American, Traitorous or Treasonous. Thus, mouths were shut for fear of being singled out and having a career ruined or worse. No one ever questioned a single thing that was done during that Administration. But now, with Obama–It is “Gotta Make Sure He Fails” and “Gotta Make Sure He Is A One Term President.” That is the sum total of what the Right and The Far Right have to offer– that and almost total paranoia.

    1. Hey, look, a new troll! One that thinks this is a republican website! Idiot.

    2. Kind of easy to oppose him when Barack has done everything W did, only taken it a step further.

    3. Weird, I thought Obama voters wanted Hope and Change, not Hope and The Same Shit But Done By Our Guy Instead.

    4. Ah, the dreaded Frutex Quoque fallacy.

    5. “No one ever questioned a single thing that was done during that Administration.”
      Nope. Not a single soul said anything unkind about W.:
      http://www.zombietime.com/zomblog/?p=621

      “But now, with Obama–It is “Gotta Make Sure He Fails” and “Gotta Make Sure He Is A One Term President.”
      Yep, sounds like a fine idea. If he fails, we won’t.

    6. You haven’t been paying much attention, have you? Libertarians, in particular, went after Bush tooth and nail with respect substantive issues. Now, the left went all hysterical, but that was just because it was Dubya. Libertarians have consisting expressed their detestation for the kind of policies pursued by Bush. Those same policies are now no big deal for the left. They still infuriate libertarians. Libertarians are hated equally by both the left and the right because both are authoritarian statists who despise liberty and peace.

  15. as well as set up a mechanism to add further groups to the list if they take certain “overt acts.”

    Tell me, libertarians, Tea Partiers, non-statists, DO YOU FEEL LUCKY?

  16. Kill Kill Kill the little hosers, beat beat beat the shit out of the little fuckers

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