Thursday, April 8, 2010

Color Me Surprised

Keith Olbermann does journalism. Really.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Unfortunately, the little watched Olbermann seems to be about the only mainstream television journalist shedding light on the horrible decision to allow the President to order the assassination of a United States Citizen. Justin Kuznicki of CATO notes that this goes directly against the grain of what America founders struggled to create, A Government of Laws, Not Men:

Consider today’s news:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

Americans, this is what arbitrary government looks like. As a simple matter of fact, even George III was never this arbitrary. Even he didn’t make individual colonists’ lives depend merely on an act of his own will.

Indeed, if I wanted a perfect example of what a government of men, not laws, looked like, I could just glance at the newspapers today and see what our government is doing right at this moment.

Do not respond that this power will only be used wisely and sparingly. Doing so just admits my basic point, namely that we now depend purely on the wisdom and restraint of our individual leaders. We depend on their wisdom and restraint — to check their own worst impulses. All power, both for and against, is contained in one individual. No legal processes, and no guarantees, separate us from them. And the stakes are life or death.

Likewise, do not respond that this power will only be used against very bad people. Again, doing so just admits that we now depend on an unreviewable judgment of character, not on a legal system with formal procedures and safeguards. Even in the dark days of the Cold War — even during the Revolution itself — we never ceded so much power to so few.

Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the most civil liberties oriented journalist in our country, expounds on this decision in great detail at

Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they're sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind. I won't repeat those arguments -- they're here and here -- but I do want to highlight how unbelievably Orwellian and tyrannical this is in light of these new articles today.

No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that.

Instead, in Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist.

Just to get a sense for how extreme this behavior is, consider -- as the NYT reported -- that not even George Bush targeted American citizens for this type of extra-judicial killing (though a 2002 drone attack in Yemen did result in the death of an American citizen). Even more strikingly, Antonin Scalia, in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, wrote an Opinion (joined by Justice Stevens) arguing that it was unconstitutional for the U.S. Government merely to imprison (let alone kill) American citizens as "enemy combatants"; instead, they argued, the Constitution required that Americans be charged with crimes (such as treason) and be given a trial before being punished. The full Hamdi Court held that at least some due process was required before Americans could be imprisoned as "enemy combatants." Yet now, Barack Obama is claiming the right not merely to imprison, but to assassinate far from any battlefield, American citizens with no due process of any kind. Even GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra, when questioning Adm. Blair, recognized the severe dangers raised by this asserted power.

And what about all the progressives who screamed for years about the Bush administration's tyrannical treatment of Jose Padilla? Bush merely imprisoned Padilla for years without a trial. If that's a vicious, tyrannical assault on the Constitution -- and it was -- what should they be saying about the Nobel Peace Prize winner's assassination of American citizens without any due process?

Why are so few people worried about laws, checks & balances, due process, and all those other pesky principles that keep governments from descending into tyranny? Does the cult of personality towards Obama have no limits?


Justus Hommes said...

I had some trouble with embedding the videos - hope they work.

Professor J A Donis said...

Is the world safer now that this guy is gone from preaching hate?

Dr. RosenRosen said...

Prof: Honestly, the world is probably no more or less safe than it was when he was alive.

Once you make the decision that violence is the answer to the problem, if the problem gets worse, the only response can then be more violence. We've already chosen violence; the only decision left to make is when, if ever, to stop.

John said...

First, I generally accept your position that we want to use our judicial system to determine someone's guilt before we render punishment.

Here, I don't mind. We are at war with people like him and the people he is inciting. When someone is engaged in violence on a battlefield, then the idea of due process is inapplicable. That person is provoking a military response and should not be surprised when that military response leads to his death.

If we had a chance to kill Adolph Hitler while he was resting comfortably at some villa in the countryside removed from the battlefield, we absolutely would take the chance if we thought it was the best means to obtain victory.

Dr. RosenRosen said...

John, by your rationale, any war-time POTUS would both be a reasonable target for assasination by our adversaries.

I'm not comfortable with that notion.

Justus Hommes said...

Anwar al-Awlaki is just like Hitler, except he is an American Citizen, holds no political office, has command of no army, and has not claimed credit for much less been proven guilty of any actual crime. Yup, I see the similarities. Because he speaks words of hate against America, and we have "intelligence" saying that he is involved on a deeper level (and US intelligence is always accurate, right?) it is OK for a single person to sentence him to death.


And no, this does not make us any safer. What jihadist wouldn't want to die a martyr's death that both angers and inspires countless others to join in against the evil empire (that is, unfortunately, actually becoming an evil empire).

We are becoming that which we hate, and at the same time adding fuel to the enemy's fire.


John said...

True absurdity is pretending that we can force the construct of a criminal judiciary onto a battlefield.

Look it's not an nice, neat solution, but no such solution exists. We have developed rules of warfare as best we can, but ultimately, there aren't rules when we are using deadly force when national interests and survival are at stake. Even within our civilized domestic society, we permit our government to use deadly force if necessary to quell insurrection. Ironically, we fight so hard so we can have a society with rules and clean judicial systems.


I have long been offended by the hyperbole that we shouldn't strike back at terrorists because that will make them more powerful. Certainly, we should explore potential responses, but at some points, when they are shooting our troops or causing others to shoot at our troops, then you simply must shoot back. Being a U.S. citizen does not entitle you to a trial when you are engaged in warfare (here, through incitement) against U.S. troops.

Justus Hommes said...

You call it hyperbole, I call it research and statistics. There is strong empirical evidence to support my position, and I have linked to it elsewhere on the blog.

I have long been offended by the hyperbole that we should assassinate religious nut jobs because that will make us safer. Certainly, we should explore potential responses, but at some point, when they are running their mouths or cause others to get crazy ideas in their heads, then you simply must preserve freedom of speech. Being a U.S. citizen still entitles you to a trial, even if you are engaged in anti-U.S. rhetoric that people listen to and act upon to the detriment of our country's citizenry and national safety.

By your rationale, we should also assassinate every Christian that espouses a staunch pro-life message to others, lest someone they associate with be incited to become a terrorist and stab or shoot U.S. citizens or detonate a bomb on U.S. soil. No trial needed, just make a list of all suspected abortion-related terrorists, along with the suspected pastors and/or mentors that might have incited them, and kill them. In their home, at the grocery store, at Burger King with the family, it doesn't matter. Take 'em down.

Justus Hommes said...

BTW, mark this day in history, folks, John defends Obama.

John said...

Just because Democrats suffered from Bush Derangement Syndrome and opposed George W. Bush at every turn is no reason to oppose Barack Obama if he offers a correct policy. :)

I think you abuse my position in extending it far beyond what I said. Quite simply, there are no rules of war. Here, a U.S. citizen was doing a lot more than just voicing a different opinion. He was complicit in the battlefield deaths of U.S. soldiers, and being a U.S. citizen does not protect him in a war zone. President Obama considered the various positions and decided that he was an appropriate target in a war.

Now, what I haven't heard from anyone here is what we should do as an alternative to military action against him. In a perfect world, we would

1. Have jurisdiction over him (arguable but let's assume we do)
2. Convene a grand jury to review evidence and indict him
3. Send law enforcement to arrest him.
4. Meanwhile, he would comply and no one would be hurt.
5. He would peacably stand trial, confront his accusers, and a jury would decide his fate.

Of course, I don't think any of us seriously believes that these steps could have been taken to stop him. To me, a participant in warfare loses the expectation of due process rights, and I believe history is on my side here. His role in the war led to a war-like death. We clearly disagree on this point.

Dr. RosenRosen said...

I'm sorry - I stepped out of the way, but I have to interject here.

John, first of all, don't set up a diversion by going after Democrats. Political affiliation should be irrelevant in this discussion.

Now, as to the merits: I, for one, seriously believe steps 1-5 could have been taken.

Step 1: Jurisdiction is not an issue - the guy was a U.S. national. There is no reasonable argument that we don't have personal jurisdiction over him. If we have subject matter jurisdiction to kill him, we should have subject matter jurisdiction to try him.

Step 2: If there was enough evidence against him to kill him, there must have been enough evidence to indict. If not, then there most certainly was not enough evidence to kill.

Step 3: Surely Afghanistan, our partner and ally in the middle east, would extradite him to stand trial. Our reliance upon Afghanistan police would have been minimal seeing as how we conveniently have a large number of military personnel in Afghanistan that could have assisted in the extradition, just like they assist in all other police functions.

Step 4: see my discussion of step 3 immediately above. His compliance is neither desired nor required - if there is evidence sufficient to arrest/take into custody, we have the means of doing just that regardless of whether he complies.

Step 5: As a US citizen, he presumably has the protections of the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments. And those protections attach regardless of the nature of the crime. Even if he's in Afghanistan. Even if he's a really mean guy. Even if he's both. Insurrection, sedition, and treason are all capital offenses. If proven guilty, the jury would decide between life in prison or execution. Either way, he's out of commission. But, because our justice system is inefficient and sometimes unpredictable, I will acknowledge that it was far more more expedient, cheap, and certain to summarily execute him. Its is important to remember that the 4th 5th and 6th exist to precisely to prevent just this kind of summary execution.

Honestly, I don't understand why following the steps above would be unreasonable to the point of absurdity. I also don't understand why these steps wouldn't apply in this situation. History may be on your side, but there are plenty of counter-examples, the most notable being the Nuremberg trials.

John said...

Rosen, our host teased that I finally was supporting Barack Obama. I'm free to get in a political dig, too. :)

As for your other points, I don't think anyone reasonably believes the path to bringing him to "justice" was that clean and easy. Sure, we probably had sufficient information to indict, but no one reasonably believes that the FBI or local authorities were going to take him into custody -- certainly not without considerably blood. Moreover, if Barack Obama believes his law enforcement rhetoric and believed that path to be possible here, then he probably would have done so.

As for the rights you discuss, I am unaware of an obligation for a U.S. troop to Mirandize enemy combatants participating in war, regardless of their citizenship. In fact, Barack Obama campaigned against it.

Generally, war trials are a separate animal that we should probably avoid in this discussion. There, the problem is often that a fighting has ended and the victors are deciding what to do with losing side's surviving leaders.

Lumbee said...

Rosen Rosen, I only have one comment, pertaining to your initial post:

We didn't chose violence, THEY DID.

You say we just simply stop shooting, that is absurd. If people are actively trying to kill Americans, foreign or domestic, then I personally want the U.S. military to kill them. I do not want to see even one American death to save even one million of our enemies.

We cannot stop fighting terrorists abroad or they will come over here. They have proven that. They want us all dead, not because of our actions, but because of their evil religion.

Dr. RosenRosen said...

Lumbee: This is the second time you've pointed out that I am absurd. In the past you've also questioned whether I believe in the sovereignty of God and his Providence. Its becoming clear to me that without you to tell me, I wouldn't know who I am.

As to the substance of your post, i can only say you and I see the world in fundamentally different ways. And I'm cool with that.

John: I don't see where Miranda fits into this particular discussion. That aside, the case of John Walker is exhibit A that the criminal process (or at least some form of process) absolutely does work when you're dealing with US nationals on the field of battle. I agree in that I'm not sure we need to have a discussion of what kind of process is best, unless Justus is down for that. However, my point and Justus' point is that we're addressing the question of whether there will be any process at all. When you're talking about American citizens, I believe there is a protected right to at least some semblance of process. And the reason why I say that is because I'm also not really concerned with whether justice is clean or easy, but rather whether justice is, in fact, just.

Justus Hommes said...

Well, Lumbee, technically Anwar al-Awlaki was an American, but I get your point. As long as we can call them enemies, their lives are rendered worthless. how nice.

And John, your response proves my point. We are at war. With what? Terrorism. A tactic. One which is employed by several enemies to a broad array of US interests and national security. The precedent set will itself be abused and extended far beyond its current scope, because it is subject to personal interpretation. Today it is al-Awlaki's brand of alleged terrorism, but when ordinary citizens are already being arrested for making terroristic threats (in just the last week against Elton John, a senator, and a drunk UGA student harrassing someone in a taxi), what type of terror incitement will be deemed assassination worthy in the future?

Professor J A Donis said...

Oh my! What have I started?? I only asked a simple question. LOL!

My two cents: I agree with Justus. He's an American citizen, BORN IN this country. He has the right to due process of law. This is extended to all citizens of this country, AT ALL TIMES, not only during peacetime, not only during times of war, and not when it is not convenient for you. ALL THE TIME. Even if Ms. Rand were to disagree with me, I still stand by the tenets of all citizens being innocent until proven guilty.

And I happen to like Keith Olbermann. At least I know where he stands on these issues--always left of center.

John said...

We’re going in many different directions here, and missing each others’ points. I propose stepping back to the original issue: May the president of the United States order the killing of a U.S. citizen who resides in a foreign country where the individual directly incites (and, perhaps, organizes) attacks against U.S. troops and interest?

There are two facts that the assembled readers identify as relevant: (1) He is a U.S. citizen, and (2) he is arguably separated from the battlefield.

As to the first point, being a U.S. citizen does not compel the United States to treat someone differently if they are taking up arms against the U.S. military. “Due process” as we’ve thrown out the phrase here does not require the U.S. government to accept the harm that someone threatens to cause or causes. Furthermore, there’s historical precedent for promptly executing spies and saboteurs when they are caught at a time of war.

To me, the trickier question is the second issue: How far removed must one be from the battlefield before they can no longer be targeted for killing? I conceded with my first two posts that there is no clean, simple, “right” answer here, as there rarely is during war. Based on what I have read, I believe that President Obama correctly evaluated the situation and ordered the U.S. military to eliminate him. Clearly, others reach different conclusions.

Everyone, enjoy your weekend!

Lumbee said...

Justus, I have a question for you. You said that if I call people enemies their lives are rendered worthless. I never said that. I just said that true enemies' lives to this country, are of less worth than any one American citizen's life. My question: What do you call a person who wants to kill all Americans? A friend? A buddy?

Come on, lets be real here. People who want us dead are our enemies! They have decided to make their lives "worthless" in the eye of clear thinking Americans. To quickly dismiss my point with a backhanded, sarcastic dribble is offensive and dishonest. I expected more.

Rosen, I didn't say that you were absurd. I said that your point was absurd.

And for the record, I agree with Justus that the president should not assasinate American citizens. My points were directed to the absurd idea that we are in the wrong for using violence to defend our nation.

Justus Hommes said...

Lumbee, fair enough. If an armed combatant is trying to kill U.S. citizens, they are an enemy to the U.S. I misinterpreted that you meant any person//religion associated with said armed combatant.

John, the reason this is going in so many different directions is that I believe it is impossible for an executive directive of this nature not to be used as a reference point in the future. It is a matter of principle that I disagree with, as to my knowledge there was no hard proof provided, or self-admission by Anwar al-Awlaki given, that made it absolutely clear that he in fact committed the acts of treason, sedition, and/or warfare that were levied against him.

Anonymous? said...

Jumping in at this point, probably doesn't bring much value, but that is my specialty.

This topic easily brings out the rhetoric in all of us, and often we end up arguing side issues instead of the point of the initial post. Probably because you can't argue these issues in a vacuum, and this issue really does touch on war, constitution, enemy combatants, ideology, and everything else.

I agree with America taking a strong response to the acts of September 11th, and don't have a problem with that response including us going into Afghanistan to go after those responsible. The lines can quickly and easily become blurred from there, and that can be very dangerous - as I think Justus was pointing out.

A lot of this argument is based on the condition that we are at war. I think Justus makes a good point about what are we at war with - "a tactic". We've referenced WWII multiple times, but in that case there was a clearly defined entity that had openly declared war on us, and was easily defined. The battlefield was also easily defined. In this case it seems at times that we have just declared a "war on terror", but that term leaves itself up for much personal interpretation, and opens the door to allow itself to be used as justification to cover a multitude of acts. I think there is also inherent danger in waging a war against either individuals or against an ideology instead of a country that has also openly declared war on you. Part of that is because you can never have a resolution or any finality to that type of war. America is built on allowing freedom of any ideology. I'll qualify that by saying as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others, but we have never delcared a nebulous war on those who infringe on the rights of others (like it is assumed the cleric did in this case).

In this specific case, I'd have to side with those who say we don't have the right to assassinate him. Besides, using the term assassinate implies to me that he is not a battlefield combatant.

As a random note I wonder why the NYT and Post spelled his name differently? Awlaki vs.Aulaqi

Justus Hommes said...

Anon, as to your random note, the issue is one of transliteration and transcription. Translation doesn't really work for names and other proper nouns, especially across language families (Afro-Asiatic Arabic to Indo-European English in this case). Absent someone saying "This is how I would like my Arabic name to be written in English," the best that can be done is to use English characters that best approximate the sound (called phonetic transcription) of his Arabic name.

To complicate matters, phonetic transcription and transliteration can create their own problems when the result creates an unintended meaning. For example Aw-la-ki or A-la-qi could also be rendered Owl-a-key, a combination of existing English words that have their own meaning, and this can connote additional meaning, be it innocuous or potentially offensive.

On a related note, make sure you pick your own Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, or Hebrew name and have it reviewed by a native speaker should you ever have business cards printed into any of those languages.

Now doesn't your life feel complete?

Lumbee said...


You said, "... but we have never delcared a nebulous war on those who infringe on the rights of others (like it is assumed the cleric did in this case)."

I agree that this is the first time we have declared this kind of war. A point....we didn't just randomly do this....our hands were forced. We had to declare war on an ideology. Because, it declared war on us.

My word verification was "astainds".

Just for the record, I wiped very well this morning.

Oh, and one more thing. I noticed that several posts have been deleted. Why?

Justus Hommes said...

The deleted posts were John making change to his comments. You see the final version, but he deleted the earlier versions (and I went behind and permanently deleted them).

Anonymous? said...

I disagree that we HAD to declare war on an ideology, or that we should. I agree that we should have responded with force against those who attacked us on September 11th. Widening that to anyone who professes a certain belief, as evil as that may be, is a road I don't want to travel. The reason is that declaring war on an ideology allows far too much leeway for abuse and attack on people solely because of their beliefs. Or in this case the assasination of an American Citizen and a disregard for his rights.

Anonymous? said...

Justus, my life is complete. So does that mean you complete me? That is another road I don't want to go down.

Fortunately for me, my business card just says "I'll call you", so the translation isn't too bad.

My word verification: ozitatis, which is a rare disease I hope to never contract.

Dr. RosenRosen said...

My word verification: opigon, which is the mutant spawn of an oppotamus, a pig, and a pigeon. If you happen to confront one in the wild, all I can say is good luck.

Lumbee said...

Mine is "fultant" which clearly means gassy but only one tracked.