Friday, September 30, 2011

International Execution

Anwar Al-Awlaki
It is being reported this morning that an American drone attack in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda.

I previously wrote about the legal challenge brought by his father challenging the Obama Administration's policy of targeting an American citizen for assassination.  I was particularly incensed by the criticism of the legal team that brought the lawsuit as having crossed some line by representing a suspected terrorist. 

The judge ultimately dismissed the case without reaching the merits, finding that the father did not have standing to sue.  But it is worth taking note of the New York Times Dec. 12th editorial entitled Judicial Scrutiny Before Death, which argued that despite winning in court, "the administration should remain very worried about the moral implications of its policy," which the district court judge "sharply questioned" despite dismissing the lawsuit.  The Times noted that, as the judge wrote, one of the many unanswered questions remaining is whether "the Executive [can] order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization”

The Times stressed the importance of judicial scrutiny, and suggested creating a court that operates in secrecy, "like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretaps on foreign agents inside the United States."  Thus, at minimum, "the government could present its evidence to this court behind closed doors before putting a terror suspect on its target list."

After the death of Osama bin Laden, I wrote:
Of course the world is better off without Osama bin Laden, and it is far better that "the face of the Arab world in America’s eyes," as Jon Stewart said, will no longer be bin Laden's, but instead will be "the young people in Egypt and Tunisia and all the Middle Eastern countries around the world where freedom rises up.”  But, while President Obama declared that "justice has been done," if it turns out that bin Laden could have been taken into custody alive without immediate risk to life when more than 20 Navy SEALS entered his compound, then his killing was retribution, not justice.

"Proper justice," as Daniele Archibugi explains, "is made in the tribunals, not outside them."  Perhaps there was no choice, but it would have been "much more judicially satisfactory," if less immediately gratifying, "to have arrested bin Laden," and to give responsibility to the courts, "rather than to a commando" to judge and punish.

As human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson states, justice "requires a fair trial before an independent court."  . . .  What should not be forgotten, as Karen Greenberg reminds us, is that the effect of bin Laden's reign of terror on the United States was to pervert our notion of justice: "Under the rubric of fighting terror, the United States rolled back its hallowed notions of civil liberties, its embrace of modernity, and even its reliance on its own courts. We delved into medieval-style torture, we reneged on our courts as a viable option for trying terrorists, and we blindly took aim at a religion, rather than its disaffected hijackers."
This Administration's "relentless program of wiping out top al-Qaida leaders around the world through unilateral covert strikes" is deeply troubling, both morally and legally.  More so for Al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who was never indicted and not afforded the due process rights to which American citizens are entitled.  As Glenn Greenwald put it:  "he was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner."

Jameel Jafar,  the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal director, argued that the government’s targeted killings violated United States and international law.
“As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts.” 


Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Can the president order such an execution based on the mere assertion of terrorist status?

No, and no one says he can.

But can the president order a military attack intended to kill him based on the fact (not the assertion) of his active membership, participation, and even leadership in al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization with which we are at war?

Yes, and so says the administration and all those who agree with it.

Imagine an American in 1944 had defected to Germany and taken a general's rank in the Wehrmacht and proceeded to play a specially notable role in the war against America, Americans, and American interests.

If FDR had ordered the bombing of a hotel in France to kill him, who would have taken seriously any complaints like the ones we now hear?

Who would not have found the suggestion FDR needed the permission of a court absolutely preposterous?

And I hasten to point out that none of this entails the Afghan and Iraqi wars were ever good ideas or that we ought not to abandon both, right now.

I think they were, like the Vietnam War, doomed stupidities from the start and that, again like the Vietnam War, the sooner we admit inevitable failure and pull out the better.

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

Who are you, Lovechilde, to argue with someone named Gaius Sempronius Gracchus? Totally not a fair fight!

And I agree with him, too.
September 30, 2011 6:49 PM

Stephen said...

Jeremy Scahill delivered a cogently argued case opposing the assassination on Countdown with KO.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

I saw that just now on a re-run of the show.

[What on Earth is wrong with Shuster’s mouth, anyway?]

Have to say I didn't think it cogent, at all.

All he did was express personal outrage and repeat the propaganda claim that it's scary as heck that a president can order an American (Oh my God! Not a foreigner! An American!) killed under circumstances well outside the judicial, criminal justice process.

Well, no.

He did do one other thing.

He urged emphatically and angrily another point I do not accept, that the bare fact of collateral damage makes the drone campaign morally and maybe legally unacceptable.

He then also expressed outrage at an alleged double standard among liberals who, he says, would certainly have furiously denounced this if it had been done by GW but are instead defending it since it was done by Obama.

While he is probably right that the disapproval would have been deafening if GW had done this, I haven't see even one liberal actually defend or even express grudging or faint approval of this killing.

Every liberal whose comments I have seen has disapproved or, in one case, avoided expressing either approval or disapproval.

And that was Michael Tomasky, a writer who maybe doesn’t strike people as all that liberal, anyway.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Btw . . .

False dichotomy.

Shuster on today’s repeat of yesterday’s Countdown, in a diatribe against “Islamophobia,” urged that American Muslims have provided a great deal of help to security forces in preventing Jihader terrorism in the US.

He did this either sincerely believing or wanting us to sincerely believe that this fact (well, I think it’s a fact) proves conservative claims that sympathy with Islamism and with actual Muslim terrorism are sufficiently widespread in America to be a problem for security forces and scary to the rest of us are hateful lies.

He is mistaken or simply lying, himself.

Far from showing Muslims are as peaceable and loyal a bunch of Americans as any other religious group (Quakers? Buddhists? Christian Scientists?), his own report – accurate, I think – that Muslims have actually tipped off security forces to many Jihader plots they were able, with that assist, to foil itself testifies to the reality of the danger.

But why expect more logic from a liberal propagandist than from a conservative?

Stephen said...

GSG said: "I haven't see even one liberal actually defend or even express grudging or faint approval of this killing.

Every liberal whose comments I have seen has disapproved or, in one case, avoided expressing either approval or disapproval."

I don't know that it cuts quite so black and white -- or is that blue and red? Chris Matthews and liberal guests leveled no complaints at Obama and perhaps a collective leg tickle over Al-Alwaki's whacking. Bill Maher was also quite happy. None of my non-virtual liberal friends are losing any sleep over it.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Stephen, I think you have a point.

There is a contrast between virtual liberals and TV liberals (whom I do not watch), another between those who are current affairs junkies and the broader mass of self-identified liberals who are not, and another between the devout liberals and the mere self-identified Democrats.

But most importantly there is the gap, often quite large, between what is the liberal view and what liberals think, much like the gap between the Catholicism of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and that of the folks in the pews.

Not everybody is a one hundred percenter.

And in just that connection neither Matthews nor Maher is a one hundred percenter, and they often take hits from those who defend the liberal line when they depart from it.

Rachel Maddow once called Matthews a conservative tool to his face (I forget why, though I recall his look of astonishment and pain), and many liberals have condemned Maher as a renegade Islamophobe.

There are many videos of Maher attacking Islam posted at sites linked with Jihadwatch, infamous among liberals as cesspools of Islamophobia.

Give him a couple of days, though, and Maher will start to back-pedal in the face of liberal pressure.

He did that back when Obama had OBL killed in Pakistan.

And recall what I wrote about Tomasky who wrote on the topic but neither praised nor blamed Obama for the killing of al-Awlaki.

Tomasky has never been a one hundred percenter.

Nor am I, come to that.

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