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February 09, 2010

Comments

Take the world off your shoulders, Eric.

OT, an echo from days gone by:

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.

-John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism


"While he displays a slight preference for attacking military targets, he avers emphatically that U.S. civilians are legitimate targets by virtue of the fact that they live in a democracy and pay taxes, and can ultimately change their government if they wish to dissent (no word on dissenting voters). This is the same rationale employed by bin Laden and al-Qaeda proper."

Which means, basically, that the last people to have real faith in American democracy are al-Qaeda.

Great.

Which means, basically, that the last people to have real faith in American democracy are al-Qaeda.

Or that if Anwar al-Awlaqi is a sincere supporter of al-Qaeda's goals, and is willing to die to further those goals, he is providing Obama with the provocation (what Eric calls "rope for the noose") that may ensure Obama continues to further al-Qaeda's goals, just as Bush did.

After all, the long-term result from publicly declaring the US believes it has a right to kill Muslims anywhere in the world on the President of the United States' say-so, without judicial oversight or legal standing, can only be beneficial to al-Qaeda's mission. Anwar al-Awlaqi may well be bright enough to see that, and brave enough to hazard his life for that goal.

The only real question is, will Obama find principles somewhere to build himself a backbone and say no to the idea that he ought to have the power to order a military strike on anyone, anywhere on the world, just by identifying them as a member of al-Qaeda?

Given what's happened with his failure to close the illegal prison camps, end torture, or prosecute torturers, I doubt it. Though it would be nice to think he might...

There is a distinction between assassination and dropping a bomb on someones house in Yemen.

In the last forty years (or so) we have alternately authorized and demonized the thought of the assassination, while jusifying the attack on the AQ safe house in Pakistan.

A successful assassination should have no collateral damage and, in principle, is not attributable to the US or anyone else.

The act of dropping a bomb on a house in a rural or residential area of another country is extraordinarily crude and ineffective in almost every way.

I wonder if we just lost the skill to do it right, since we have for so long pilloried those who would support it.

Marty: I tend to think it has a lot to do with risk aversion - fear of casualties.

Political leaders must, at all costs, hide costs and bodies. So, we engage conflicts with the overriding goal of limiting US casualties (heavy reliance on air power), then hiding the coffins that do come back, and keeping the press out of war zones (at least, the kind of press that would show gruesome images ala Vietnam). We opt for sympathetic embeds instead, and rely on a media that now feels that showing dead/mutilated bodies is in bad taste. Not creating the dead/mutilated bodies, just showing them to the people whose government is creating the piles.

In addition, we don't talk about the financial costs as if they're real, we recoil at the notion of a tax to pay for wars, and even go about hiding appropriations of funds in supplementals so that we don't have to include their numbers in the annual budgets (actually, Bush did that, and Obama has reversed it - with some claiming his budgets are X amount bigger without accounting for that bit of forthrightness).

I got no particular love for al-Awlaki. In my opinion both Hasan and Abdulmutallab were messed up, unhappy people who were preyed upon and recruited into stupid, nihilistic acts of violence.

There's nothing good, or particularly heroic, in any of it.

All of that said, IMO it's walking on some thin ice to take al-Awlaki's comments here as justification for using military force to kill him.

The US is, in fact, a tyrant in its actions in many parts of the world. If you're inclined to think of things in such terms, the US does stand under moral judgement for how we have acted, and continue to act, in our dealings with other nations and people.

The people of this nation did, in fact, elect George W Bush as President, twice, and Obama once, and Obama has yet to demonstrate a full rejection of the Bush-era policies that are most offensive to the rest of the world.

And it is, at a minimum, justifiable for people who are oppressed or exploited by foreign powers to resist that with force. That's how this nation got its start.

None of this is offered as a justification for the actions of Hasan or Abdulmutallab. The actions of both were acts of cowardly murder and attempted murder.

But folks need to be guilty of more than talk before you start dropping bombs.

If al-Awlaki provided some kind of operational help to acts of murder, or if he called for the actions that Hasan or Abdulmutallab took, or actively recruited them to carry them out, there's a case for going after him.

Otherwise I'd say not.

Read King on Vietnam, or Malcolm X on the African revolutions of the 60's. Actually, read Malcolm X on pretty much anything.

Would they be candidates for assassination by the federal government?

What we're talking about is letting the President go anywhere in the world and kill people through the use of military force, including the use of explosives which will inevitably kill other folks as well.

This is some serious sh*t.

IMO in the long run this is going to prove to have been not worth doing, because it's going to bite us on the @ss in about 100 ways. But if we're going to go do it anyway, we need to be pretty damned clear about why someone is selected as a target.

Actually planning or committing real, concrete acts of terror -- causing real harm to actual people -- would seem to be the bare minimum required to qualify.

And seriously, we should really put the shoe on the other foot and think about how we would feel if agents of foreign governments started visiting us to assassinate people in this country who they considered a threat.

It'll be open season on CIA agents, Blackwater employees, TV pundits, and hot-headed bloggers. Not so fun.

Russell:

I don't necessarily disagree with everything you wrote. I don't take this as evidence alone that would be worth a death list inclusion. But it is evidence that goes in the file nonetheless.

And to be certain, railing against US imperialism is not worthy of inclusion. However, arguing in favor of using terrorism to attack US civilians is enough to raise an eyebrow. When that is combined with other evidence of recruitment efforts directly linked to attacks on US civilians, that might get you over the hump, so to speak.

I'd need to see more evidence - or better yet, a FISA-type court should be shown such additional evidence.

The point of this piece was to argue for a standard to be established, not that this interview was sufficient to justify his death (but, again, he's not doing himself any favors by the substance of his remarks).

fear of casualties

I'd guess it's more like fear of embarrassment.

Covert operations will fail from time to time. Military decision-makers have developed a fear of failing epically and publicly, I think, that's more controlling than the fear of killing a few women and children along with, or even instead of, the desired target.

That's one explanation, anyway. I have no idea if it's the right one. I have hopes otherwise, but nothing to hang them on.

Two points, first:

What we're talking about is letting the President go anywhere in the world and kill people through the use of military force, including the use of explosives which will inevitably kill other folks as well

We aren't letting the President do anything, he always has been able to make this happen. What we are talking about is our expectations of the limits he will impose on himself based on our beliefs.


Second:

And seriously, we should really put the shoe on the other foot and think about how we would feel if agents of foreign governments started visiting us to assassinate people in this country who they considered a threat.

Do you think they don't? It is very unlikely that, if they were successful, our government would announce it.

I think the main motivation for airstrikes is the immediate feedback loop between live intelligence and action. Sending in helicopters or vehicles takes much, much longer, probably days, by which time the intelligence is likely to be out of date; helicopters and vehicles also give much more advance warning (especially with spotters on the roads who phone ahead).

Doesn't mean they're a good idea, but I think that has a lot more to do with it than the potential casualties of an infantry operation. Those kinds of operations are routine in Iraq and Afghanistan in areas where they are practical, casualties & all.

(No time for more right now, but when I said that the evidence for this guy's connection to the recent attacks was strong, it was this kind of thing I was talking about, rather than taking anything from the government as beyond question.)

While he displays a slight preference for attacking military targets, he avers emphatically that U.S. civilians are legitimate targets by virtue of the fact that they live in a democracy and pay taxes, and can ultimately change their government if they wish to dissent (no word on dissenting voters). This is the same rationale employed by bin Laden and al-Qaeda proper.

It's also the same rationale employed by a number of nations I can think of, including some that we consider close allies.

Don't doubt it UK, but it is boll*x regardless.

We aren't letting the President do anything, he always has been able to make this happen.

We'll probably get into a separation of powers discussion here, but I'm not sure what you've said is exactly right. In particular, in the context of applying specifically military force to go after individuals.

Do you think they don't?

No, I'm aware that they do. SAVAK assassinated people here (and pretty much anywhere they liked) in the 70's, Pinochet had Letelier and his American aide killed.

Mir Kasi shot CIA employees in Langley while they waited for a traffic light, killing two. Although that wasn't with state sponsorship, he was just pissed off at the US and the CIA in particular.

I'm sure that's far from the end of it.

We don't really like it when it happens. We'd like it less if it was more common. We'd *really really* like it less if ordinance like JDAMs were used.

As an aside, Kasi was pursued, captured, convicted, and executed through the criminal justice system.

In the last forty years (or so) we have alternately authorized and demonized the thought of the assassination, while jusifying the attack on the AQ safe house in Pakistan.

Our political institutions lack the credibility needed to take responsibility for assassination, so we've pushed assassination efforts underground. There, in the dark, various secret agencies have been charged with assassination, but they are incompetent. They must be incompetent because the sort of institutional secrecy they require is incompatible with institutional architectures that promote competence. There's a reason that the CIA's Directorate of Operations has a long history of unending failure.

As long as we insist on running our assassination efforts out of little mini Stalinist states within the government, we should not be surprised when our assassins are only as competent as Soviet bureaucrats.

ordinance like JDAMs

ordnance too!

Sorry about the double post.

Don't doubt it UK, but it is boll*x regardless.

No. You think it is bollocks. The US government clearly does not. If the US government agreed with you, then maybe it would change its foreign policies with respect to its allies. But since we're talking about the ethics of the US government's actions, rather than Eric Martin's actions, your opinion matters a lot less than the US government's.

Easy Turbo, I was only offering it as my opinion, nothing more. Nothing in this post, in fact, goes beyond "my opinion" status.

PS: I'll clean up the double post.

Don't doubt it UK, but it is boll*x regardless.

Of course. And I agree with your post overall. But my comment circles back to the whole "We're better than that" discussion on a previous thread.

Collective punishment is hardly a distinguishing characteristic of al-Qaeda or bin Laden or "terrorists" more generally. The US and its allies alternately engage in it, turn a blind eye to it, or condemn it, depending on the circumstances. It's hardly a bright-line thing (like torture was, until recently).

"There's a reason that the CIA's Directorate of Operations has a long history of unending failure."

That is one of two ways to look at it.

I suspect, tell all books notwithstanding, that the nature of the beast is that we mostly don't know when they are successful. I also believe that the tasking of the the agencies ensures failure is more common than success. I suppose I believe that when you are the last resort it must be that the job is difficult. I also believe that even those involved consider themselves the last resort.

Or, as you say, they are just incompetent.

Totally agree UK. But you know I'm no prude when it comes to critiquing US foreign policy, nor am I operating under any exceptionalist illusions.

But I know that you know that. And so boo! to me for forcing a round of clarifications. Damn lawyers.

I suspect, tell all books notwithstanding, that the nature of the beast is that we mostly don't know when they are successful.

I'm specifically thinking of Tim Weiner's book Legacy of Ashes. It is not what you would call a tell-all book. And Weiner did have a great deal of access to many success stories.

I suppose I believe that when you are the last resort it must be that the job is difficult.

Eh, I'm not so sure. Assassination isn't necessarily very difficult. The reason we task incompetent agencies with assassination is that it is more important that the killings be done in secret with deniability than that they be done correctly. Consider the CIA officers who were charged by the Italian government for kidnapping a guy from Italy for torture. These CIA officials were easy to track because they used their personal frequent flyer and hotel loyalty cards, WITH THEIR REAL NAMES, everywhere they went. Is that behavior consistent with anything but a very incompetent organization?

Or, as you say, they are just incompetent.

I said the institutions are incompetent, not necessarily the people. The amazing thing about incompetent institutions is how easily they can render useless the most competent of individuals.

If I described an institution whose operations were secret and in most cases un-reviewable, which didn't have to compete with anyone, and which had substantial discretion in presenting information to the small groups that were supposed to evaluate it, what would you expect? I mean, this is capitalism 101, right? Organizations that have no competition and for which independent review is difficult or impossible and which operate completely in secret tend to be...low quality organizations. Does anyone disagree with that?

No worries, Eric. Like I said, my interest was piqued by the discussion of the "We're better than that" trope on the other thread, and I'm kind of turning it over in my own head.

"We must not descend to the level of our enemies" may or may not be an effective argument in terms of domestic politics, but it's hard to sustain that argument when we have repeatedly done exactly that, and continue to do so.

Eric, I think your post makes a lot of sense. Obviously, like the FISA law and other constraints on Executive power, it would be nice if there were sanctions would be in place, and enforced, for failing to follow the law.

it would be nice if there were sanctions in place, and enforced, for failing to follow the law.

Absolutely. Without them, the law is more or less meaningless.

I'm specifically thinking of Tim Weiner's book Legacy of Ashes. It is not what you would call a tell-all book. And Weiner did have a great deal of access to many success stories.

I'll second Turbo on that. Access to everything - good and bad - within the given timeframe via FOIA. Unless there's been a rash of success stories of late?

I think the notion that a FISA-court like institution would be helpful is a bit off-base. What do we know about the FISA court? That until 2003, it never turned down the government. Not even once. In other words, it was a rubber stamp institution. What would you say about a court that processed thousands of cases over decades and never once sided with the defense? Does that sound like a functional judicial institution to anyone?

The record of non-FISA courts in dealing with executive secrecy is not much better. Our courts consistently defer to the executive in matters of national security in a degrading fashion.

I think we have to face the fact that we don't know how to design effective secret courts. The FISA court was designed in a hurry amidst the turmoil of the Nixon era; back then, people had reason to believe that it might be successful. But looking back over the last few decades, its record is pretty pathetic: we now know that the experiment has failed. And that shouldn't even be surprising since we designed an impartial judiciary that listens to only one side. Of course it will be biased towards letting the government do whatever it wants.

I'd say we should take those criticisms into account, and try to adjust the new body accordingly. However, even having the FISA court there likely deters the most egregious abuses from even being attempted. For example, domestic political opponents.

" However, even having the FISA court there likely deters the most egregious abuses from even being attempted. For example, domestic political opponents. "

I am pretty certain that any review body would not stop a President who was inclined to assassinate his political opposition.

They certainly wouldn't know about it.

Perhaps we are pretty far down a conspiracy theorists rabbit hole at this point, but I don't see a rational slippery slope here.

As for Weiners book, I did agree that, even in the best of worlds, the operations side of the agency was likely to fail more than succeed.

However, even having the FISA court there likely deters the most egregious abuses from even being attempted. For example, domestic political opponents.

I agree in the sense that forcing the government to make a case, any case, eliminates some nutty actions the government would otherwise take.

I am pretty certain that any review body would not stop a President who was inclined to assassinate his political opposition.

Um, are there any institutions at all that can prevent a determined executive from assassinating his political rivals? If that is the standard, I think we should throw in the towel right now.

But I don't think that's a reasonable standard. There's all sorts of people who are not politically powerful that the executive may wish to murder.

I am pretty certain that any review body would not stop a President who was inclined to assassinate his political opposition.

What Turbo said.

Eric, would your FISA-style court pre-approve candidates for assassination or would permission to assassinate have to be obtained in advance for each operation? What about 'hot pursuit, no time to get permission' exigencies? A big part of the reason our traditions and laws fall short of the task of fighting terrorist organizations is that we've never really faced anything like this recently, recently being the operative word.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, we had piracy on the highs seas, pirates then being subject to summary execution, no questions asked. Practicalities aside (truly snail-like communications being only one of many), there was an overwhelming consensus that hunting down and killing pirates was just common sense.

The Progressive Left has great confidence in government's ability to regulate and administer much social and almost all economic activity, but virtually no confidence that government can identify in advance who specific enemies are and kill them. Put differently, the Progressive Left seems to believe the government is first in promoting domestic tranquility but last in providing for the common defense. Someday, I'd like that explained to me.

More practically, yes, of course, the kind of power we are talking about is huge and is subject to abuse. More likely mistake, but conscious abuse is certainly in the picture. Not using that power is just as bad, and probably much worse--killing the bad guys, particularly the leadership attenuates and may eventually disable Al Qaeda and its associated groups. Doing nothing, or next to nothing, not only invites the next attack, it makes the attack much easier. Like it or not, pre-emptive action against Al Qaeda is the only practical, near-term way to defend ourselves. Vesting the power in the executive is the only option. For my part, I am glad someone took the time to make out a list. I tend to agree with Eric only insofar as it would be good policy to have a second pair of eyes validate the list. After that, it is a matter of seeing that the list is shortened. Permanently.

Is inspiring Muslims a capital crime now?

Eric, would your FISA-style court pre-approve candidates for assassination or would permission to assassinate have to be obtained in advance for each operation?

Pre-approve. ROE on the applicable operation would still be governed by the administration/military command.

What about 'hot pursuit, no time to get permission' exigencies?

What would that look like in an al-Qaeda setting? If someone is in the process of perpetrating an attack, then normal law enforcement ROE would apply (allowing some use of force, possibly lethal depending on the circumstances). But otherwise, how do you end up in hot pursuit of previously unknown al-Qaeda operatives?

The Progressive Left has great confidence in government's ability to regulate and administer much social and almost all economic activity, but virtually no confidence that government can identify in advance who specific enemies are and kill them. Put differently, the Progressive Left seems to believe the government is first in promoting domestic tranquility but last in providing for the common defense. Someday, I'd like that explained to me.

No, you have us confused with someone else. The Progressive left is in favor of: maximum transparency in governance; stringent adherence to checks and balances; separation of powers; and a strong deference to individual rights - even and especially in domestic matters.

We don't want government administering social activity. With respect to economic activity, it's merely a recognition that certain private forces can and inevitably do distort and abuse markets and individuals (thank GOP hero Teddy Roosevelt for recognizing that and saving capitalism, and his cuz for furthering the effort), and the government is the least bad entity capable of protecting citizens from such abuse.

As for the govt "identifying" specific enemies and killing them, see, above, re: checks and balances, separation of powers and individual rights. The power to "identify" and imprison or kill enemies is one of the most obvious openings for massive government abuse. See, ie, COINTELPRO and the Nixon administration in general. Though those abuses are certainly not unique.

Oddly enough, that (unchecked state power of imprisonment/military action) is supposed to be the one area where progressives and conservatives are in complete agreement. Conservatives haven't been living up to their end of the bargain much lately, however.

Doing nothing, or next to nothing, not only invites the next attack, it makes the attack much easier. Like it or not, pre-emptive action against Al Qaeda is the only practical, near-term way to defend ourselves.

McK TX, no one is suggesting doing nothing, or not taking preemptive action. The question is more along the lines of what preemptive action should be taken. Consider, many of our biggest successes against AQ have NOT come via military strike. See, ie, KSM.

Is inspiring Muslims a capital crime now?

Certainly not. I've been known to inspire a Muslim or two on occasion.

However, recruiting Muslims to carry out terrorist attacks against US civilians just might get you killed unless there is a means to arrest you sooner.

I'd like to provide some checks on that process, personally, and so I have laid out some suggestions.

The argument that citizens of a democracy are responsible for its policies and therefore legitimate targets is not at all new. And it seemed a relatively uncontroversial one when Alan Dershowitz used it to justify the IDF's habit of strafing and bombing refugee columns in Lebanon

Is John McCain a legitimate target for the Iranians, since he keeps publicly agitating in favor of bombing and killing them?

There's "inspiring people" and there's "inspiring people to mass murder".

It may seem a nitpicky point to want to differentiate between the two but I don't know, I guess I'm just like that.

Jacob Davies: There's "inspiring people" and there's "inspiring people to mass murder".

It may seem a nitpicky point to want to differentiate between the two but I don't know, I guess I'm just like that.

George W. Bush. Dick Cheney. Donald Rumsfeld. Barack Obama, as he's kept talking up the current mass murder in Afghanistan. Fox News. Ann Coulter. Sarah Palin. Hell, just about any right-wing op-edist over the past 10 years.

Okay about other countries carrying out military strikes on those targets? Regardless of collateral damage?

Really? '

Is John McCain a legitimate target for the Iranians, since he keeps publicly agitating in favor of bombing and killing them?

If he then undertook to recruit individuals to organizations that carried out deadly attacks on Iranian citizens, then yes.

John McCain, George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Obama might very well be considered high value targets by AQ. I am sure that is why most or all of them have full time security details. Does anyone doubt that, given the opportunity, AQ would assassinate them?

John McCain, George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Obama might very well be considered high value targets by AQ.

Perhaps there exist other entities in the world besides the US and AQ. The US has brought about orders of magnitude more deaths than AQ. Given the logic we're seeing here, that suggests that nations which feel threatened by the US are completely entitled to execute Bush, Cheney, McCain, etc whenever they have the opportunity.

I am quite curious to see how one might avoid that conclusion. Who will be the first to claim that special rules apply to the US?

Presumably, since Bush, Cheney, McCain, etc., were acting in their role as part of the government of the United States, a nation that felt threatened by the United States would have to declare war (or the equivalent) on the United States in order to target them, just as we are at "war" against al Qaeda.

The difference isn't that it's the United States; it's that the United States is a government - so we don't really have to make up new rules. There is plenty of history and precedent for how nations deal with government actors from hostile adversary nations.

we've never really faced anything like this recently, recently being the operative word.

At the turn of the last century, anarchists in this country assassinated a sitting President, bombed Wall St, and twice tried to kill the Attorney General with bombs.

Among other things.

That's probably not the only example.

This stuff is nothing new.

russell: "At the turn of the last century, anarchists in this country assassinated a sitting President, bombed Wall St, and twice tried to kill the Attorney General with bombs."

One difference is that the anarchists of the early 20th century were located n this country where they could be apprehended and arrested (treated like the underpants bomber). Eric's proposal applies to people who are beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement (including the reasonable opportunity to extradite). To the extent that it's possible, the United States has worked with the Yemeni government - presumably there was some sort of agreement. But whatever, I don't think anyone's suggesting that it should be the default position that the US runs around and bombs everyone. Trying to circumscribe the rare situations where such action might be considered lawful is what I think Eric's trying to accomplish.

I don't want to sound like I'm pointing out the obvious, but the wars that have killed and displaced so many people since 2001 were a completely foreseeable consequence of a major terrorist attack on the US. How many fewer people would have died if Clinton had succeeded in killing bin Laden in 1998?

Is it more important to have a consistent critique of American policy, or is it more important that a whole bunch of people not die in another pointless stupid war?

The US is not unique in overreacting to terrorism. It's unique in the damage it can do when it overreacts. The best thing to do is keep it from having anything to overreact to, because its military dominance is not going anywhere.

Now: whether this program is effective is unclear, but there are some reasons to think that the attempts to target key people who are actually in a position to plan attacks on the US has been successful and might continue to be successful. And as far as the fairness and scale of the US response goes, this part of it is at least pointing in the right direction.

We had murder squads in South Africa when I was a little chap. There was the D40 police unit based at Vlakplaas, who murdered Matthew Goniwe on the orders of President Botha's Cabinet ("Permanently remove from society" was the words on the memorandum" and who had earlier murdered Griffiths Mxenge. The last boss of D40, Eugene de Kock, is now serving 200 years in the C-Max prison in Pretoria. Sorry that his bosses are not sitting in the neighbouring cells. (One of his bosses, ex-Police Minister Adriaan Vlok, theatrically washed the feet of the Reverend Frank Chikane as an apology for trying to murder him with nerve toxin.)

We also had the Civil Cooperation Bureau which was run by the Army Special Forces, and who murdered Anton Lubowski, the lawyer who supported SWAPO in Namibia, and David Webster, the lawyer who worked for the Detainees' Parents' Support Committee. They wanted to murder Archbishop Tutu, too, but didn't get around to it because they were too corrupt and incompetent.

South Africa is dotted with little graves of the bodies of political activists and guerrillas murdered by these organisations. Of course there were also the people who were murdered by parcel-bombs and suchlike. And many who were kidnapped, murdered, burned to ashes and the ashes thrown into rivers. (Sometimes the murderers held barbeques, to save time and trouble, next to the funeral pyres.)

This is the organisation which you are endorsing the establishment of. This is what you are saying America today is. Make absolutely no mistake about that.

Even if we are still relying, unwisely, on the good faith of the executive branch in assessing evidence before green-lighting military strikes, al-Awlaqi seems intent on providing the hangman with some rope for the noose.

As, indeed, is his clear tactical intent. Much as bin Laden seeks to provoke us as much as possible into unending interventions in lands wher we will be seen as occupying infidels, al-Awlaki seeks to have us expand the area in which we are exercising deadly force in Muslim lands, and also welcomes the aggrandizement he receives in his own movement by being a direct target of U.S. assassination (probably his most proximate motivation).

Of course, it should be remembered that the only complication that has made this (extrajudicial execution by the U.S. in its terror war) a novel question this year is the matter of hte intentional targeting of U.S. citizens. The larger issue of review of the executive decision to carry out such assassinations in cases other than intentional targeting of U.S. citizens is, of course, a nearly-nine-year-old issue, if not closer to fifteen (Clinton dealt with it as well). There should be no claim that this is legitimately an issue we are newly confronting if it is claimed that the same review process is appropriate for U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

Jacob Davies: "I don't want to sound like I'm pointing out the obvious, but the wars that have killed and displaced so many people since 2001 were a completely foreseeable consequence"

Three points:
1) War is a political and social human phenomenon, not a natural occurrence. They were a reaction, not a consequence.
2) You mentioned wars, are you also referring to the invasion of Iraq? If so, I'd rethink that categorization.
3) The manner in which a society conducts war is significant and affects the legitimacy of the actions. The act, in this case, is typically bombing one or more houses (though sometimes they just destroy a car). These attacks very often 1) fail to kill the intended target, 2) target the wrong house(s), and/or 3) even when targeted correctly often kill bystanders.

In light of the last point, the option is not kill-them-or-let-them-go it's blow-up-one-or-more-houses-killing-the-occupants-and-some-people-outside-or-pursue-them-by-other-means.

Jacob Davies: I don't want to sound like I'm pointing out the obvious, but the wars that have killed and displaced so many people since 2001 were a completely foreseeable consequence of a major terrorist attack on the US.

I don't want to sound like I'm pointing out the obvious, but the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001 - and at other times - were a completely foreseeable consequence of the aggressive wars the US wages that have killed and displaced so many people since 1945.

How many lives would have been saved in the past sixty-plus years if the US had refrained from waging aggressive war and imposing tyranny in order to promote its own interests in and against countries which cannot harm the US?

Iraq and Afghanistan just happen to be the two most recent examples of the US going to war for oil or for some other reason that benefits the current rulers of the US.

. The best thing to do is keep it from having anything to overreact to

I'm sure. But, until the US achieves absolute hegemony over the whole world and all of us foreigners are either dead or enslaved... actually, even then: thoughtcrime will always exist. "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever." That's your ideal future world, Jacob.

I was watching 1984 last night, which is why O'Brien's words came to mind when reading Jacob's justification of the American mass slaugher in Iraq: but really, it's also the attitude of an abusive husband - he can beat up his wife as often as he likes, because he's bigger and stronger than she is (and maybe she's also economically dependent on him) - and that's not going to go away. So, he shrugs masterfully, she should avoid doing things that provoke him, 'cause she knows he's got a temper and it's her fault if he hits her when she makes him mad.

You understand, Jacob, I'm not calling you an abusive husband. I'm saying you think the US is like an abusive husband and father, and the rest of the world is his family, and your refusal to see that if the husband gets hurt or killed after battering his wife and family for years - this is a foreseeable consequence. It doesn't happen to all abusive husbands. But where a person smaller and weaker is being backed into a corner and constantly abused and has no way out and no way to make it better - sometimes she will hit back at the bigger, stronger guy.

Sometimes that means he'll kill her. ("A foreseeable consequence" says the patriarchal establishment, giving the man a light sentence as he complains she was always nagging him and she hit him the night he killed her.)

Sometimes she waits till he's asleep and uses a gun or a knife and kills him. ("A terrible crime", says the patriarchal establishment, giving her a life sentence for murdering her husband as he lay sleeping.)

That's the US and the rest of the world in the vision expressed in your comment.

And those of us trying to get the US to quit being a battering, abusive husband and father - we're the ones trying to save lives, not you, trying to get us to lie down and take it and not ever even think of striking back.

"thoughtcrime will always exist"

Money does not equal speech. Corporations are not persons. "Thoughtcrime" is not conspiracy to murder.

"Thoughtcrime" is not conspiracy to murder.

Tell that to Eric Martin and other folks in this thread who are arguing that what Anwar al-Awlaqi has said justifies his assassination.

After all, it's not as if an American Muslim has any rights under the First Amendment to say what he likes, is it?

Thoughtcrime is a crime invented by fascists to justify killing a person for what they think and say, not because they have actually committed any crime.

The idea of thoughtcrime is a wee bit older. In a way Socrates fell victim to it, although it was his student that designed the first proto-fascist system only after his death.

I was watching 1984 last night
Which film version? I hear nothing comes even close to the original BBC production with Peter Cushing as Winston and Andre Morell as O'Brien.

Presumably, since Bush, Cheney, McCain, etc., were acting in their role as part of the government of the United States, a nation that felt threatened by the United States would have to declare war (or the equivalent) on the United States in order to target them, just as we are at "war" against al Qaeda.

The US has not declared war in over 5 decades. Is it your contention that the US has not fought in any wars during that time? "Declaring war" is a meaningless affectation nowadays. That's why international treaties don't mention it; obligations of warfare are incurred when you begin fighting, not when Congress issues some stupid "declaration".

The difference isn't that it's the United States; it's that the United States is a government - so we don't really have to make up new rules.

So, let's say that an American citizen was on the President's secret murder list and then we discovered that he had been made a minor government official in Pakistan and that the Pakistani government was unwilling to arrest him. Do you seriously expect us to believe that the US government would then shrug its shoulders and not assassinate him? Are we to believe the merely being part of a government gets one off of the secret murder list?

If " incitement to violence" is a "thoughtcrime", is Britain a fascist state?

The US is not unique in overreacting to terrorism. It's unique in the damage it can do when it overreacts. The best thing to do is keep it from having anything to overreact to, because its military dominance is not going anywhere.

Um, yes, the US actually is unique in overreacting to terrorism. Or did the British government kill a million people in Northern Ireland while I wasn't looking? These claims about military dominance are absurd. Many countries have more than sufficient military capability to exact horrific losses on states hosting terrorists. The UK easily had the capability to drop a few conventional or nuclear bombs over Libya after the Lockerbie bombing. But they didn't. And military capabilities had nothing to do with it.

Our "military dominance" is a joke in any event. We can't even pacify a country as pathetic as Iraq without resorting to paying off our enemies and waiting for ethnic cleansing to thin the population.

I don't think anyone's suggesting that it should be the default position that the US runs around and bombs everyone.

I'd suggest you spend a day or two watching Fox News and reading The Corner, and then get back to us.

That may sound glib, but I mean it in all seriousness.

Uncle Kvetch, I should revise: I don't think anyone here, who is considering Eric's proposal in a positive light, is suggesting that it should be the default position that the US runs around and bombs everyone.

This is the organisation which you are endorsing the establishment of. This is what you are saying America today is. Make absolutely no mistake about that.

Which "you" are you addressing?

Is John McCain a legitimate target for the Iranians, since he keeps publicly agitating in favor of bombing and killing them?

And Steve Dahl, for having written that song?

One difference is that the anarchists of the early 20th century were located n this country where they could be apprehended and arrested

Some were and some weren't. The ones that were, we mostly deported.

But we didn't respond to, frex, the Galleanist bombings by tracking down and assassinating Errico Malatesta at his home in Florence, or by invading Italy.

Don't forget that, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, most or all of the attackers had been living in the US for months to years.

Also, IMO The Creator's 2:57 is worth a re-read. Turb's reply on the topic of US over-reaction is, likewise, IMO right on.

I can't disagree that, if we are going to embark on a policy of assassinating people around the world, that it's better if there's some sort of due process and review involved, as opposed to just giving the President carte blanche to have at it.

But I also can't think of any example of a similar undertaking that hasn't gone awry, and often seriously so.

Does anyone doubt that, given the opportunity, AQ would assassinate them?

No, I'm sure that noone does.

That's why they are called "terrorists".

Given the logic we're seeing here, that suggests that nations which feel threatened by the US are completely entitled to execute Bush, Cheney, McCain, etc whenever they have the opportunity.

I'm not sure "feel threatened" is the standard established. We're talking about actual repeated attacks and attempted attacks. To quote the power pop anthem, more than a feeling.

This is the organisation which you are endorsing the establishment of. This is what you are saying America today is. Make absolutely no mistake about that.

So, al-Qaeda are like black freedom fighters from South Africa's apartheid days. And setting up a system to target known al-Qaeda ops on foreign soil, with a high evidentiary standard, is the same as unleashing domestic assassination squads on political opponents. I would say that's a stretch, but you'd snap the thing before it reached the full dimensions of the yawn.

There should be no claim that this is legitimately an issue we are newly confronting if it is claimed that the same review process is appropriate for U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

I'll be the first to admit that I should have confronted this years ago, and it took something like this to wake me from my stupor with respect to some of these issues. However, I'm not alone, and even if the reason is not a satisfying one, that "is" the reason that this topic is being discussed at the moment on so many blogs.

On the other hand, I have long been a very vocal advocate of:

1. Reducing the number of airstrikes, and tightening up the ROE to demand a higher threshold for intel and civilian casualties (in particular, we should cease targeting Taliban with such reckless abandon).
2. Relying more on law enforcement and intel, rather than military strikes wherever possible.
3. Phasing out of the "war" posture in general.

If " incitement to violence" is a "thoughtcrime", is Britain a fascist state?

Our government of the past few years has been endeavoring to take us down the same road at the US, yes.

The BBC discusses the various "anti-terrorism" laws passed by Parliament: I note that Mohammed Atif Siddique, after eight years in jail, walked free yesterday after the court of appeal quashed his conviction.

Yes, the Terrorism Acts of the past ten years in the UK have made it possible to convict a young man of thoughtcrime. That he spent eight years in jail for being a pesky loudmouth is a stain against our justice system.

What did you suppose, Sapient - I'd try to defend what my country does when I know it's wrong? We need to quit trying to mimic the US - your bloody failures and the massive human cost are obvious reasons why we need to pull away from the fascist road you are going down before we fall into the same pit you're mired in.

We're talking about actual repeated attacks and attempted attacks.

Yes, we are. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et all, are all guilty of actual repeated attacks and attempted attacks. This is not just "feel threatened" - this is a real, serious risk that could kill upwards of a million people.

So, nations which are at risk of attacks or attempted attacks by the US are completely entitled to execute Bush, Cheney, McCain, etc whenever they have the opportunity. That's your view, Eric?

And setting up a system to target known al-Qaeda ops on foreign soil, with a high evidentiary standard, is the same as unleashing domestic assassination squads on political opponents. I would say that's a stretch

Jesus effin' Christ. Once upon a time I saw liberal bloggers defending the setting up of Guantanamo Bay on the basis that targetting known al-Qaeda and Taliban ops on foreign soil, where their captors had "high evidentiary standard" that they were guilty of actual or attempted attacks, was not the same thing as just kidnapping people at random and locking them up with no due process at all.

Now it's going to happen all over again with the same goddam close-eyed blindness to the plain fact that deciding it's OKAY to do something illegal because you're ONLY GOING TO DO IT TO BAD PEOPLE is just a really goddam screwed-up effin' BAD IDEA?

Sorry for the caps-lock. I'm just...

No. No. No.


"But we didn't respond to, frex, the Galleanist bombings by tracking down and assassinating Errico Malatesta at his home in Florence, or by invading Italy."

Well, it wouldn't have done very much good to invade Italy since Malatesta spent most of his time in London. And it seems that the United States freaked out about the Galleanist bombings in other ways (not to mention the fact that we were busy sending troops into the Russian Civil War, freaking out about the Bolsheviks). Actually, the Russian Civil War situation is more apropos, considering that the "law and order" element, which existed in Italy and England at the time, was not available in Russia.

But these instances aren't completely parallel to the present one. Sure, we've dealt with terrorism before, and when the terrorists are in the country, we've used the criminal justice system. Where the terrorists are in a country which has a functional system, we use our cooperative criminal justice systems. But where no criminal justice system is available, we've sent troops. Maybe allowing a military reaction, but circumscribing it, is an answer.

3. Phasing out of the "war" posture in general.

In what other posture could we possibly entertain the idea that we have cause to go around the world zapping people out of existence without due process simply because we determine they are "threats" to our precious "security"?

I don't mean to single you out no the sudden realization of the magnitude of the problem of near-zero-process executions outside of our territory. It seems to be a crisis the blogosphere is collectively gearing up to confront at this late date -- but better than never.

Yes, we are. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et all, are all guilty of actual repeated attacks and attempted attacks. This is not just "feel threatened" - this is a real, serious risk that could kill upwards of a million people.

"We"? In the UK? I don't think so.

Iraqis? Yes. Afghans? Yes. Iraqis and Afghans are definitely would have been entitled during their tenure to target them. Since they were not around, they targeted US troops. Which is definitely legitimate.

Now Bush, Cheney, et al are not really doing much of much in terms of directing attacks or not.

So, nations which are at risk of attacks or attempted attacks by the US are completely entitled to execute Bush, Cheney, McCain, etc whenever they have the opportunity. That's your view, Eric?

See above. And, again, this is not about "risk." This is about actual attacks, or imminent attacks. I rejected preventitive war when Bush tried it, and I reject it in the hands of other nations.

Well, it wouldn't have done very much good to invade Italy since Malatesta spent most of his time in London.

Whatever. The point is we didn't respond to the Galleanist bombings by assassinating anybody. Including Galleani, either when he was in this country or after he was deported.

And yes, we did send troops into the Russian Civil War, but I'm not sure that can be construed as a response to the Galleanist bombings here in the US.

My point here is that, contrary to McKinney's comment, we *have* had periods of serious domestic terrorism before. And we have *not* responded to them by assassinating individuals wherever they are in the world, either skillfully with a rifle or crudely with bombs.

Terrorist violence is not unique in our history. The response we're making now is.

In what other posture could we possibly entertain the idea that we have cause to go around the world zapping people out of existence without due process simply because we determine they are "threats" to our precious "security"?

Are you saying that counterterrorism can never use military components? I don't. I believe that you can not be in a state of war, but can use military strikes in extremely rare circumstances where you have:

1. A known al-Qaeda operative, with "known" having been established by exceedingly compelling evidence (self indictment helps, as in taking an oath to al-Qaeda, or claiming credit for attacks or participation therein).

2. That operative operating beyond the reasonable reach of law enforcement, in a foreign country as a rule.

3. The intel on their whereabouts is very solid, and the risk of collateral damage very low.

You don't have to be in a war posture to carry out such strikes against known transnational terrorists. Not that it proves anything, but the Clinton admin did this without being on a war posture.

I don't mean to single you out no the sudden realization of the magnitude of the problem of near-zero-process executions outside of our territory. It seems to be a crisis the blogosphere is collectively gearing up to confront at this late date -- but better than never.

Not necessarily "sudden realization." As mentioned, I've always considered them highly problematic and often counterproductive. I've written about them extensively in those regards. Just never thought about actual legal regimen to govern their use.

Jesus effin' Christ. Once upon a time I saw liberal bloggers defending the setting up of Guantanamo Bay on the basis that targetting known al-Qaeda and Taliban ops on foreign soil, where their captors had "high evidentiary standard" that they were guilty of actual or attempted attacks, was not the same thing as just kidnapping people at random and locking them up with no due process at all.

First of all, not THIS liberal blogger. Never defended. Not once.

Second, there was never any claim to a "high evidentiary standard." Quite the opposite. The standard was "bounty hunter X said you were al-Qaeda. That's kind of crucial to the "at random" charge.

Third, the Taliban should not be included in this group. Full stop.

Now it's going to happen all over again with the same goddam close-eyed blindness to the plain fact that deciding it's OKAY to do something illegal because you're ONLY GOING TO DO IT TO BAD PEOPLE is just a really goddam screwed-up effin' BAD IDEA?

Is it illegal? Under what legal regime?

Second, there was never any claim to a "high evidentiary standard." Quite the opposite. The standard was "bounty hunter X said you were al-Qaeda. That's kind of crucial to the "at random" charge.

Do we have a good faith basis for believing that the US government no longer thinks that "some random guy we paid cash to said you were AQ" is sufficient evidence for detention and homicide? I mean, we know that the military and intelligence agencies of the US government really did believe that in the past. Has anyone been fired or disciplined for those policies? Obviously, being charged is completely unthinkable. But is there any evidence that the institutions that used to think "eh, someone said he's a bad dude, so let's detain/kill him" have actually changed their structure?

Look, the reason our government agencies ended up capturing all those random people wasn't because some one individual had a bad day and made a minor error. It was because the entire institutional structure encouraged all manner of systemic errors and lacked the kind of really basic error correction policies that would detect and rectify those errors. Why exactly should we believe these institutions have changed? Institutional change on this scale is very hard and we've seen no evidence that it has occurred in this case.

If we don't have any evidence demonstrating a really profound change in the national security bureaucracy, then you can't really claim that the killings we're talking about will be any less random than the gitmo captures.

"My point here is that, contrary to McKinney's comment, we *have* had periods of serious domestic terrorism before. And we have *not* responded to them by assassinating individuals wherever they are in the world, either skillfully with a rifle or crudely with bombs."

I would suggest that this is an assumption based on a lack of knowledge that it happened rather than knowledge that it didn't. The fact that we didn't assassinate one person doesn't mean we didn't assassinate any.

Assassin is notably the second oldest profession, we didn't invent it.

If by posture you simply mean the rhetoric and relation of the state engaged in war to its populace -- i.e. societal mobilization for war -- then yes, these acts "can" be done outside of a war posture. But that question is not material to an analysis of the acts in the international legal context (I don't believe; I am not a lawyer). The only way I can see that acts such as these can be given any coherent legal analysis are as acts of war by our country against a non-state entity (potentially against states as well if we bollix up the diplomacy around them, or, God forbid, again seek against all clear calculation of our interest to expand what rightly can be a nearly invisible conflict into one involving combat between nation-states for the sake of getting pictures on the teevee). I suppose it could be argued that if we receive permission from the government of the territory on which we strike then the strikes are merely part of a joint anti-terrorism campaign. But can we legitimately say that any government has the power to authorize the assassination of residents on its territory with no process other than an opaque assurance from the state striking that a determinative process (at whatever evidentiary standard) was followed? What of the question of coercion in the process of securing said permission?

I believe that yes, quite clearly a war against this terrorist group and others like it can be fought by our country in a way that allows our own politics to move ahead on a nonmobilized footing. I believe that at all costs the last administration sought to avoid pursuing this war in that way, indeed launched a war for territory intended almost exclusively to sustain and maximize the society's war posture on which it wished to exercize its politics. I think the current administration is right to seek to relax the society from that posture, to allow politics to return to its domestic moorings. But in fact the wars in which it found itself when it came to power continue -- both of the wars for territory (one perhaps wise, the other folly) and the war against the non-state entity which had declared war and carried out an act of war (and which may indeed be getting close to neutralization at this point) against us. And acts of war by us continue pursuant to those various states of war. Because these various wars can be readily managed by the military establishment without significant societal mobilization, that should be done. But this fact does not imply that the actions we take in those wars are subject to.

In my view "counterterrorism" is a composite governmental policy objective that can be pursued by means of war, law enforcement, diplomacy, economic development, and other methods -- in any combination. There may (ought to) come a day (soon) when we have ceased use of the means of war in our counterterrorism effort. When that day comes, the neutralization of the threat posed to us by any specific person in the world will be accomplished by arrest subject to due process by the government of a territory in which they are found, (or else by that government with assistance from the state power wishing detain the person), and then extradition/rendition to the power wishing to try him for crimes. As long as we insist on using methods outside these strictures, particularly deadly force outside the context of a judgement of guilt, but also indefinite detention without trial, it seems to me by our actions we remain at war.

I would suggest that this is an assumption based on a lack of knowledge that it happened rather than knowledge that it didn't.

It is impossible to prove a negative. So one can always say, about any statement, "this is an assumption based on a lack of knowledge that it happened rather than knowledge that it didn't." Your argument here can literally be used to disprove any claim about anything in the world. Since I at least am unwilling to accept the notion that there are no true claims in the world, I think we can safely dispense with this line of argument.

If you have some evidence, cite it.

"...U.S. civilians are legitimate targets by virtue of the fact that they live in a democracy and pay taxes, and can ultimately change their government if they wish to dissent (no word on dissenting voters). This is the same rationale employed by bin Laden and al-Qaeda proper.""


It is also the same rationale used by the Busheviks to invade Iraq, just in case you weren't paying attention...

...sorry, cut myself off at "subject to." That is "...imply that the actions we take in th[e]se wars are subject to..." ...any sensible international legal analysis other than one treating the limits on the actions of a state at war. And even those, it should be said, are only very dubiously being observed, if at all, by our current methods and rules of engagement, as you point out. The idea that any state of affairs remotely like our current array of activities (ie even with far tighter ROEs and standards, even if those were strictly upheld) could be brought within the far tighter legal strictures of peaceful interactions among nations strikes this (again) non-lawyer as a rather hopeless notion.

"Your argument here can literally be used to disprove any claim about anything in the world. Since I at least am unwilling to accept the notion that there are no true claims in the world, I think we can safely dispense with this line of argument."

I might agree with this except when drawing conclusions from the assertion, which is not provable, that we didn't do it. There is no evidence we did something that, at least ideally, would have been kept secret, but we should draw a conclusion from the absence of proof?

As a technical point, Eric asked, "But otherwise, how do you end up in hot pursuit of previously unknown al-Qaeda operatives?"

Answer, by going after a known target and encountering previously unknown targets.

russell: "Whatever. The point is we didn't respond to the Galleanist bombings by assassinating anybody. Including Galleani, either when he was in this country or after he was deported."

Nor would we do that now, nor is anyone arguing for it! The countries Galleani where was had law enforcement mechanisms, and they still do. So everyone here would be in favor of using them. You seem to be purposefully missing the distinctions being drawn here in order to make it seem that no one who's arguing for this cares about due process. You don't take any time to discuss the relevance of the historical examples you toss out, and you ignore hugely destructive things that happened partially in response to those and similar events.

I agree that there are some similarities with the early 20th century terrorists, but no historical situation is entirely analogous (for example, even a handful of people these days could get hold of nuclear material and kill massive numbers of people). And we're NOT talking about people in places with a functional criminal justice system.

Mike: "As long as we insist on using methods outside these strictures, particularly deadly force outside the context of a judgement of guilt, but also indefinite detention without trial, it seems to me by our actions we remain at war."

One of the things that bothers me most about the "war against al Qaeda" concept is that there's no conclusion to the "war". I'm thinking that we wouldn't have to resort to the "war" rhetoric if we had a means for dealing with a situation where, as here, there are specific, named people who, upon evidence, pose a substantial threat to another nation, and who are beyond the reach of law. I just don't see how this isn't better than what we're doing now.

Do we have a good faith basis for believing that the US government no longer thinks that "some random guy we paid cash to said you were AQ" is sufficient evidence for detention and homicide?

My proposal is for a new standard. My proposal is not for the same standard that was applied before. To the extent the govt is still using that standard, I strongly oppose the policy.


Why exactly should we believe these institutions have changed? Institutional change on this scale is very hard and we've seen no evidence that it has occurred in this case.

If we don't have any evidence demonstrating a really profound change in the national security bureaucracy, then you can't really claim that the killings we're talking about will be any less random than the gitmo captures.

I'm not saying things have changed. I'm proposing a change. Just to be clear.

It is also the same rationale used by the Busheviks to invade Iraq, just in case you weren't paying attention...

I was. Actually, I was a rarity amongst liberal bloggers in that I strongly OPPOSED the invasion. I didn't buy the rationale then, and I dont' buy it now. Whether it's Bush, Obama or bin Laden.

Answer, by going after a known target and encountering previously unknown targets.

Not sure how that fits in the current discussion. Going after presumably means airstrikes. How does one determine that previous unknowns are al-Qaeda through the lens of a drone?

And if it's a military raid, and not an airstrike, well then, standard military ROE would apply in that case for discerning hostiles from non-hostiles.

Your argument here can literally be used to disprove any claim about anything in the world.

Only claims that we know about.

8p

The "abused wife" view of the citizenry of a hegemonic power is not one I find completely inapt or offensive, actually, but I'll have to come back to that one.

The First World War is a pretty good example of prior overreaction to terrorism.

On the international legality of this kind of thing, one factor is that it is mostly done with the consent ("consent", I know) of the nation whose territory it happens on. There are some exceptions, for instance Clinton's cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan. But in recent years it's mostly been done with permission. That permission may not have been given willingly* but as a matter of international legality I'm not sure there's much to say about a government allowing a second government to conduct military operations on its territory.

* Armitage's alleged threat to "bomb Pakistan back into the stone age" if they didn't cooperate springs to mind.

I would suggest that this is an assumption based on a lack of knowledge that it happened rather than knowledge that it didn't.

In the case of the folks I'm referring to, their biographies are a matter of the public record. They weren't assassinated by US agents.

You seem to be purposefully missing the distinctions being drawn here in order to make it seem that no one who's arguing for this cares about due process.

The only point I was trying to make in bringing up the Galleanists was to counter McKinney's claim that terrorist violence was any kind of novelty in the US.

You are correct, historical analogies are never exact. You are less correct, I think, to claim that all of the countries where the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th C lived afforded robust criminal justice regimes, or at least regimes that were willing or able to interoperate with our own, but that's kind of a nit, and doesn't detract from your basic point.

I have no idea, frankly, if attacking known AQ actors in other countries by pursuing them with military force is going to make us safer, or not. I dare say nobody does. It is probably going to be different in each case.

It's not my opinion that military action is never justified. It's not even my opinion that tracking these guys down and slitting their throats while they sleep in their beds is never justified.

What *is* my opinion is that pursuing individual people by dropping high explosives on them from above is highly likely to kill a lot of people who have nothing whatsoever to do with AQ. That will be very bad for us, and far, far worse for them. The only people it will be good for is AQ.

And anyone here who thinks authorization to use this kind of force is never going to be abused really needs to review the history of the US intelligence and military forces over, say, the last 70 years. Perhaps more.

It is problematic in the extreme to try to apply military force against individuals or small groups of individuals who are living in the middle of a population that you otherwise have no particular quarrel with.

That seems, to me, to be so obvious as to not need saying, but apparently it needs saying.

We're taking this path, and a lot of people with whom we have no particular quarrel are going to die hideous violent deaths as a consequence. I know this because it happens now.

Maybe it will make us safer, maybe it won't. But it will definitely make a lot of people who wish us no particular harm very very dead.

On another thread I referred to Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani man who came to live in the US, and who gunned down a handful of CIA employees while they waited for a traffic light in Langley.

The reason Kani gave for doing this was (a) he thought US policy in Muslim countries sucked, and (b) his father had apparently worked in some way as a CIA asset in Afghanistan, and was then abandoned by them, leading to his killing by the Russians.

So one day Kasi went and bought an AK-47 at a gun shop in Chantilly, noticed that CIA folks had to wait a long time at a traffic light by CIA headquarters, and a light bulb went off. He realized he could just walk up and kill some of them, and that's what he did.

Everything we do affects other people, and they will respond. It's not like we can simply go kill anyone who we think poses a threat to us, then wash our hands, come home, and be done with it.

This policy will have consequences. We don't know what they will be, or when they will come back to affect us. But come they will.

There's probably some calculus by which we can figure out if, net/net, the blowback ends up being worse than whatever a guy like al-Awlaki is cooking up, but if so that kind of math is above my pay grade.

In any case, that's a question nobody can answer until our current actions bear their full fruit. Good luck to us.

Are we willing to categorically limit the potential universe of strikes we sanction here to those authorized by the home government?

And anyone here who thinks authorization to use this kind of force is never going to be abused really needs to review the history of the US intelligence and military forces over, say, the last 70 years. Perhaps more.

It is problematic in the extreme to try to apply military force against individuals or small groups of individuals who are living in the middle of a population that you otherwise have no particular quarrel with.

Part of the problem with this discussion is that I'm proposing a sort of preferred outcome according to specific rules and criteria that are not currently being applied, but am kind of held to answer for current practices - which are far, far from ideal in any sense.

We should recognize that the status quo is worse than an attempt to provide some form of judicial oversight, with codified rules and restrictions.

Whether or not we should abandon military strikes altogether is an interesting question, and I'm open to the suggestion.

However, I think of situations like an al-Qaeda training camp and wonder why military force shouldn't be used. Or, a car full of al-Qaeda ops driving along a deserted road in Yemen.

Populated areas and sketchy intel are one thing. Secluded targets with solid intel are another.

And what's the law enforcement alternative? Say we dropped in a SWAT team on an al-Qaeda training camp or compound, and had them flash their badges and say, in Arabic, "You're under arrest"! Is there any doubt that a firefight would ensue? And that many "suspects" would be killed - and that those deaths would be without due process.

And if that is wrong in the same manner, then where does that leave us when such a congregation manifests?

Are we willing to categorically limit the potential universe of strikes we sanction here to those authorized by the home government?

That is an interesting question. I'm not prepared to offer an answer yet as it requires me to ponder the permutations.

I will try to find some solid examples, but my impression is that a lot of the time, in the kinds of places where everyone has an AK-47 under the bed, when American forces go in on the ground or by helicopter, a lot of people who would never have otherwise gotten involved in fighting US forces will get pulled into things and many of them will wind up dead. I'm thinking of the Black Hawk Down incident as a particularly famous example, although I think similar things have been common in Iraq and Afghanistan too.

That was an - ill-advised - attempt to snatch a handful of leaders from Mogadishu. It ended up with somewhere between 500 and 1,500 Somalis dead. Virtually all of those Somalis would still have been alive if the US had dropped a bomb instead of attempting an helicopter-borne raid, because there would have been no battle to be drawn into. The bomb might not have hit the right people. It might have killed dozens of innocent people. But "dozens" is less than 500-1,500.

By the way, russell, they didn't assassinate Galleani, but they did shoot him in the face. I found this possibly unreliable, but interesting random source :

"... [Galleani] fled to London. He was 40 years old at this time, and arrived at the United States in 1901, barely a month after the assassination of President McKinley at the hand of a self-proclaimed anarchist.

"... In 1902, the Paterson silk workers engaged in a strike, and Galleani threw his oratorical talents in with the strikers, urging workers to declare a general strike and overcome capitalism, spellbinding his audiences with his rhetorical flourish and clarity of thought.

"When police opened fire on the strikers, Galleani was wounded in the face and was later indicted for inciting a riot."

"The Galleanists engaged in numerous high-profile acts of terrorism, including a systematic bomb plot with thirty targets, ...

"Another Galleanist, Mario Buda, to protest the indictment of Sacco and Vanzetti, bombed Wall Street (September 16, 1920...), leaving 30 dead, over 200 seriously injured, and creating a conflagration causing $2 million in property damage (including demolishing J.P. Morgan's office).

These bombings caused a panic among the authorities that served as the main impetus for the Red Scare, and led to the unparalleled expansion of the FBI's powers...

"The authorities invoked the idea of a giant anarchist "conspiracy" to overthrow the government, which was actually false. The infamous "Palmer Raids" whereby the government raided and jailed radicals across the country, were a direct response to the Galleanists' terrorism (Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer being one of their bombing targets). The American Civil Liberties Union was created in reaction to the unconstitutional Palmer Raids.

"Between 1919 and 1920, hundreds of radicals, including many anarchists, were deported (including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman), as part of a nationwide reaction against radical insurgency, largely instigated by the bombings of the Galleanists. ... Interestingly, these deportations were not carried out juridically, but instead were done by the Department of Labor, mostly because the courts proved unable to convict anarchists and radicals, either from lack of evidence or from hung juries. The government relied on the executive power of the Labor Department to treat it as an immigration issue, allowing them to bypass the court system entirely.

...

"With Sacco and Vanzetti's executions in 1927, the anarchist movement in the United States was pronounced dead, as most radicals joined the Communist Party or the Democratic Socialists, were deported, or renounced anarchism altogether."

Anyway, sorry for the long excerpt, but it is pretty interesting. And we were far from committed to providing due process.

As far as blow-back is concerned, sure - maybe we should send people with knives so there wouldn't be any collateral damage - I'd be in favor of that. Except for the various people who'd be sent to try to accomplish it. Or maybe we should do nothing and take our lumps (that is, innocent people here taking the lumps). There are consequences to WHATEVER we do or don't do which is why some of us try to elect people who are likely to weigh the consequences in an informed and intelligent manner instead of, say, paying visits to the CIA to find "intelligence" to justify belligerent policy after the fact. That is something, Turbulence, that I believe has changed.

Part of the problem with this discussion is that I'm proposing a sort of preferred outcome according to specific rules and criteria that are not currently being applied, but am kind of held to answer for current practices - which are far, far from ideal in any sense.

Fair enough.

Whether or not we should abandon military strikes altogether is an interesting question, and I'm open to the suggestion.

I wouldn't argue that military strikes should be abandoned. There are situations where they are appropriate. A situation like the military training camps that AQ used to operate in Afghanistan, frex, seem like a completely appropriate target for a military strike.

To me, anyway.

The Dec 24 attack Dana Priest refers to in the Post article that prompted this discussion was directed at "a compound". What does that mean?

The air strikes we've been conducting in the northwest Pakistani territories apparently kill some folks who we believe are AQ, and also kill dozens or low hundreds of people who happen to live nearby.

I don't really know how likely it is for people who clearly and unambiguously mean us harm to present themselves in a context where we can kill them through military action without killing people who have nothing to do with them, or us.

We can go ahead and do it anyway, but it's very, very far from clear to me that what we get out of it is worth what we lose.

And we were far from committed to providing due process.

No argument there.

But to beat this tired dead old horse one more time, what we *did not do* was send US military around the world to blow up anarchists, whether active bomb-throwers, or the intellectuals who provided them with their justification.

"Are we willing to categorically limit the potential universe of strikes we sanction here to those authorized by the home government?"

I am sorry and curious. I don't understand this question.

But perhaps I would instinctively answer that I only worry about whether we are killing the right people (or none depending on the conclusion). I assume any action by a foreign government on our soil is an act of war.

Any action by a gang (AQ is as much an international gang as some ethnic mafias) is a crime and should be punished within the framework of our legal systems (military or civilian). That should be in concert with the country they are hiding in or, ultimately, in spite of them. That ultimately is based on the level of cooperation from the country and local law enforcement across multiple issues.

However, we should reserve the right, as should all sovereign nations, to defend ourselves and our people anywhere we have to do that. On foreign soil that is a cooperative venture or our own act of war.

"But to beat this tired dead old horse one more time"

Actually, I enjoyed the digression. it's one of my favorite periods in history, although I know more about the Russians. (Should put that in the past tense since it's been awhile that I studied it and my memory sucks.)

I'm thinking that we wouldn't have to resort to the "war" rhetoric if we had a means for dealing with a situation where, as here, there are specific, named people who, upon evidence, pose a substantial threat to another nation,

Not to be overly glib, but "substantial threat" my rear end. To reduce it to numbers, assuming a population growth rate in the US of 0%, and a 9/11-level event every single day (i.e. 3,000 deaths), it would take nearly 275 years to completely eliminate the population of the country.

If, instead of 9/11-level events, we limit it to a successful underpants bombing every day, resulting in the deaths of about 300 passengers and crew, we're looking at nearly 2,800 years.

So let's not go getting too worked up about "substantial threats to the nation." We aren't getting invaded by the vast al Qaeda army anytime soon.

That is something, Turbulence, that I believe has changed.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, has this change produced any prosecutions for intelligence or military officers who imprisoned random people for a decade based on nothing? Of course not. As long as we refuse to sanction, in any way, people who committed horrible injustices, we are going to continue seeing horrible injustices. I really don't understand this: our military and intelligence institutions imprisoned people for nothing. So, given their manifest failure to handle a small amount of power, now we're going to give them even more power by letting them kill random citizens on a whim. This seems...not smart.

We had lots of institutional safeguards to prevent the horrific miscarriages of justice that have already happened. And they all failed. We know that because horrific injustices happened. I see no reason to think that some new safeguard designed by Eric Martin will be successful.

To put it another way: the quality of presidential administrations varies over time. But looking at the history of CIA operations, crazy stupid stuff happens during both bad and good administrations. A bad administration can make things somewhat worse, but a good administration can't compensate for the fact that the entire institutional structure promotes bad decisions at all levels. The problem isn't just bad presidents, it is bad institutions, and those institutional structures persist across administrations.

So, given their manifest failure to handle a small amount of power, now we're going to give them even more power by letting them kill random citizens on a whim. This seems...not smart.

No. They have that power now, or at least have been exercising said power for well over 8 years now without blinking. I'm not proposing a new grant of power. I'm proposing putting restrictions on the current exercise of that power. Big difference.

Also, my proposed framework specifically outlaws killing random citizens on a whim. Both in the "random" analysis, and "whim" analysis.

We had lots of institutional safeguards to prevent the horrific miscarriages of justice that have already happened. And they all failed. We know that because horrific injustices happened. I see no reason to think that some new safeguard designed by Eric Martin will be successful.

Did we have such safeguards on airstrike ROE? Which ones?

Regardless, the worst that could happen if my approach is attempted, and the safeguards fail, is a return to the status quo ante.

What alternative were you proposing? Because from where I'm sitting the status quo looks pretty bad - and my proposals would be a vast improvement if adhered to. And if rejected, well, then back to the status quo.

"So, has this change produced any prosecutions for intelligence or military officers who imprisoned random people for a decade based on nothing? Of course not. As long as we refuse to sanction, in any way, people who committed horrible injustices, we are going to continue seeing horrible injustices."

I agree with this. But I haven't given up hope that it's going to happen. I think if Obama had pursued this the moment he got into office, he wouldn't have had a prayer of getting anything else done, and there's a lot that needs to be done. Obviously, he's having a hard enough time as it is. But I still have hope that this will be coming later in his administration. I'll give up hope in Obama when I find a better alternative.

I have hope that Holder is going to get going on it this year despite the wishes of some at the White House (at least Rahm Emanuel, maybe Obama too).

It's been clear that they have been gathering evidence for some time. It's not clear what they're going to do with it. I suspect pardons will eventually be involved, which is a very very second-best approach to prosecutions, but in the long run is a lot better than nothing at all, because it does at least definitively mark the action as illegal. As I said, very much second-best, but far better than simply stating that it wasn't illegal in the first place.

I don't think there's any question that many of us here have more confidence in this kind of power in the hands of Obama than we did in the hands of Bush/Cheney. The argument that granting this power legally means it will be misused in future runs into a powerful obstacle, which is that it was misused in the past despite having even less legal framework around it. As Eric has said a couple of times here, that power is in the hands of the President whether we like it or not. That was demonstrated during the Bush years. This is not an argument that any action is acceptable if it has a legal figleaf - torture certainly comes to mind - but that certain types of actions that have legitimate and illegitimate uses are better off being brought into a legal framework constraining their use, rather than simply accepted as extra-legal exigent measures.

(Certainly if you think there is no legitimate use of this kind of tactic it is a principled stand to oppose it under all circumstances, but I'm not convinced of that.)

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