MSNBC's Touré: Killing Untried 16-Year-Olds Is OK, Killing Convicted Murderers Isn't


The Internet is making itself sweaty talking about Touré, the liberal MSNBC TV host, who, on Tuesday, defended President Obama's targeted killing policy to the disbelief of his MSNBC colleagues (and Twitter). In his own words, Touré's position

We're at war with al Qaeda right now, and if you join al Qaeda, you lose the right to be an American. You lose the right to due process. You declare yourself an enemy of this nation, and you are committing treason. And I don't see why we should expand American rights to people who want to kill Americans, who are working to kill Americans, who are committing treason. This is not criticizing the United States. This is going to war against the United States.

As the segment progresses, it becomes apparent that Touré isn't familiar with the nonpartisan criticisms of Obama's assassination policy. For instance, when Salon's Steve Kornacki asks him about the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the Denver-born 16-year-old son of radical (New Mexico-born) cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Touré responds, "What do you mean what about the 16-year-old who was killed?" and then "We're not talking about civilian casualties." And when his co-hosts continue to press him on the consequences of a small group of individuals determing who deserves to die without a shred of oversight, Touré dismisses them by saying, "Al Qaeda attacked this nation. We are attacking al Qaeda back." On Twitter Touré simply said, "He's the Commander in Chief." 

Touré's confidence in Obama's assassination policy is fascinating in light of his skepticism of capital punishment, which he revealed after the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer:

America is one of the last nations in the world to still employ the death penalty even though it cripples our status as a world moral leader and is barbaric and is not uniformly applied and is subject to bias and is rife with error and sometimes leads to the execution of people we're not completely certain actually committed the crime. How could that happen? We're just human and we need to end the death penalty and get out of the business of playing God."

Emphasis mine. If we can't execute, with 100 percent certainty, someone who's had the benefit of a public trial and an extensive appeals process, where does Touré get off expressing confidence in a system as opaque and challenge-free as Obama's targeted killing doctrine?

The best rebuttal I've yet to read to people like Toure is from Reason's own Jacob Sullum, who argues that to accept the reasoning in the DOJ's targeted killing white paper

you have to put complete trust in the competence, wisdom, and ethics of the president, his underlings, and their successors. You have to believe they are properly defining and inerrantly identifying people who pose an imminent (or quasi-imminent) threat to national security and eliminating that threat through the only feasible means, which involves blowing people up from a distance. If mere mortals deserved that kind of faith, we would not need a Fifth Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution.