Amid new controversy over his administration’s targeted killing of American citizens overseas by drones, President Barack Obama has yielded to demands that he turn over to Congress classified Justice Department legal advice seeking to justify the policy, an administration official said.
The president’s move comes on the eve of confirmation hearings Thursday for his CIA director nominee John Brennan and amid complaints from senators, including several Democrats, about secrecy surrounding the drone policy…
The president, the official said, was turning over the information because he believes the scrutiny and debate is healthy.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: I really don’t understand this sort of hysteria over the idea of killing Americans who have taken up arms against the United States. Thousands of Americans, Southerners, died in Antietam without any due process. When we stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-day, and Americans approached German bunkers, I don’t think anybody asked if they were any German-Americans here, I want to read you the Miranda rights. If you take up arms against the United States you were a target because it was an act of war and you forfeited those rights.
Now, the question is, it’s a different war, these people are in a guerilla war, a terrorist war, we don’t have the same lines. They aren’t representing a country and we need guidelines. I think the critique of this administration, is in the guidelines that you indicated, they were probably written by somebody in the lower quintile of his law school class.
They want to pretend that you can only hit an American al-Qaeda operative who is an imminent threat and then define the imminent threat out of existence by saying al-Qaeda is continually hatching plots, so he’s always, all day and all night, an imminent threat; i.e., that criterion is meaningless. I think that we really have to have an effort in the Congress and in the executive and in the country, have an argument about what are the guidelines, who is the soldier and who loses all rights in this kind of shadow war?
As early as 2002, Obama was publicly carving out a decidedly progressive stance on these issues, using a Chicago television appearance to defend the civil liberties of American terror suspects who were being detained indefinitely without charges.
“There always has been a distinction between citizens, and non-citizens,” he said. “It means something to be a citizen. And that’s important.”…
Similarly, when George W. Bush signed the controversial Military Commissions Act of 2006, he did so at a desk with a sign on the front displaying the words, “Protecting America.” Obama was a vocal opponent of the law, which was criticized for its broad definition of an enemy combatant, its justification of torture, and its apparent encroachment on habeas corpus rights.
“I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed,” Obama said in a Senate floor speech in September 2006, criticizing the bill. “Because what we’re doing here today, a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused, should be bigger than politics. This is serious.”…
But before tomorrow’s Brennan hearing gets underway, Paul had lots of outstanding questions about drone warfare.
“We’re very concerned about having one person in the executive branch get together with some flash cards and decide who they’re going to kill around the world, particularly American citizens,” he said. “There’s never been any answer from the executive branch on the killing of the 16-year old son of somebody who was an admitted terrorist. The son never was. The statement that came out, that was leaked, is particularly concerning — the statement that the condition of an operational leader presents an imminent threat of attack to the U.S. does not require the U.S. to have clear evidence that a specific act will take place in the immediate future. One of my staff said, only a team of lawyers could define ‘imminent’ to mean the exact opposite. I agree completely.”
SCARBOROUGH: Here you have something truly chilling. Here you have the United States government saying, we can kill you, American citizen. You have no constitutional right to a jury by your peers. You have no constitutional right even to probable cause or to due process. You have no right to a lawyer. You have no right to counsel. You have no right to anything. If we suspect you, just suspect you, without evidence, that you were thinking about committing an act against the United States of America, we can kill you.
There are no checks and there are no balances. We can kill you. We can pick you out of a list and drop a bomb on you, and not only can we kill you, we can then kill your 16-year-old son who is not even affiliated with al Qaeda, and then we can blame it on the father for us having to kill the son.
The intelligence and targeting challenge presented by our enemy’s systematic violation of the laws of war — by hiding amongst civilians, refusing to wear uniforms, etc. — is exactly the same regardless of whether the target is an American or Pakistani or Iraqi. In prior wars, American forces have reacted to targeting challenges not with greater restraint, but with greater firepower — for example, one of the reasons for the firebombing of Japanese cities was the decision by Japanese leaders to disperse key manufacturing facilities across urban areas, rendering European-style daylight bombing raids essentially fruitless. We were faced with the terrible choice between area bombing and leaving much of the enemy’s war machine essentially unmolested — in the midst of an existential struggle for our existence. We chose area bombing.
In the current war, we go to great lengths to avoid targeting the wrong individual (when I was in Iraq, our targeting decisions were typically based on multiple, overlapping pieces of intelligence). Killing the enemy while sparing civilians is sound counterinsurgency, and it is sound morally. But when civilians do die, the responsibility for their deaths lies with the enemy that unlawfully used them as human shields.
If all this sounds harsh, or “chilling,” or scary, that’s because it is. War is hell. And there is no constitutional doctrine that exempts American citizens from that hell when they choose to wage war against their own country. Any other legal doctrine will create yet another perverse terrorist incentive: Can an American terrorist now be a unique human shield to prevent direct attack? An American al-Qaeda member would suddenly become the most deadly and dangerous of terrorists — enjoying unique legal protections not enjoyed by, say, Americans who wore German uniforms in World War II.
[H]ere’s the ugly truth: Obama is giving us what we want.
We have an unspoken agreement with the president. Obama never promised America he wouldn’t kill people more aggressively than his predecessor. But with a wink and a nod, he gave us plausible deniability.
Americans, it turns out, don’t really have the stomach for the unseemly business of taking prisoners, extracting information from prisoners, and then (maybe) going through the emotional, time consuming, and costly business of a trial.
American citizens want someone who will make the big, bad world disappear. Problems only exist if we have to confront them. Obama has made warfare more convenient for us — and less emotionally taxing. We should thank him.
This dynamic helps explain why some other liberal policies become popular. Ignorance is bliss.
Via National Review.