The War on Terror: an old psychohistorical fable

by John Quiggin on September 8, 2011

As rediscovered by Salvor Hardin, in Foundation by Isaac Asimov:

“A horse having a wolf as a powerful and dangerous enemy lived in constant fear of his life. Being driven to desperation, it occurred to him to seek a strong ally. Whereupon he approached a man, and offered an alliance, pointing out that the wolf was likewise an enemy of the man. The man accepted the partnership at once and offered to kill the wolf immediately, if his new partner would only co-operate by placing his greater speed at the man’s disposal. The horse was willing, and allowed the man to place bridle and saddle upon him. The man mounted, hunted down the wolf, and killed him.

“The horse, joyful and relieved, thanked the man, and said: ‘Now that our enemy is dead, remove your bridle and saddle and restore my freedom.’

“Whereupon the man laughed loudly and replied, ‘The hell you say. Giddy-ap, Dobbin,’ and applied the spurs with a will.”


Further reading from the ACLU (via Glenn Greenwald).

{ 199 comments }

1

straightwood 09.08.11 at 8:59 pm

There never was a serious global terrorist threat to the United States after 9/11. The 9/11 attacks were a freakish anomaly. This is confirmed by the absence of any significant follow-on attacks in the presence of demonstrably porous anti-terror measures. The TSA repeatedly succeeded in smuggling simulated bombs aboard aircraft in the last decade, but no US aircraft were bombed. QED.

The entire war on terror was fabricated and sustained by the US Military Industrial Complex as a desperately-needed successor to the Cold War. Their ability to sustain this bogus war indefinitely is a testament to the remarkable power of modern propaganda tools.

2

P O'Neill 09.08.11 at 9:38 pm

Speaking of horses, it never seemed to get sufficient level of wonder that a statement widely attributed to Osama bin Laden — when people see a weak horse and a strong horse, they will follow the strong horse — became the central element of the Bush White House strategy on the Middle East, with Dick Cheney being the vector bringing it from Bernard Lewis to Bush.

3

herr doktor bimler 09.08.11 at 9:50 pm

I would prefer not to follow any horses. Partly on account of the amount of horse-shit, and the way a horse’s butt dominates the view, and partly on account of not trusting their leadership.

Is this an available option?

4

Marc 09.08.11 at 9:54 pm

Sadly apt. Except, of course, that in the real world analogy the horse is scared to death of what would happen if the saddle were removed. There could be a wolf behind every shadow….

5

Keith 09.08.11 at 11:08 pm

It occurs to me that the only time since 1941 that the US hasn’t been on a war footing was during the Clinton Administration. This goes a long way to explaining why the GOP hated him so much and sought to change this all through his tenure (PNAC was born then and kept trying to get him to invade Iraq or anyplace since roughly 1994). WWII was when the GOP found their true calling (war profiteering) and Clinton’s refusal to wage war filled the GOP with fear and loathing. Only when we are at war do they feel they have the existential reason to be hard ass gun nuts, war mongers and law enforcers. If we get too soft and squishy and don’t have someone to hate and fight (and an excuse to keep feeding the MIC) then we’ll slide into irrelevance and start contemplating other ways to spend our fortune, like universal health care, space exploration, infrastructure repair or some other sissy project. Thus, the War on Terror. It can last forever because we’ll always be afraid of something (or be able to be talked into pretending to be afraid of something).

6

David Kaib 09.08.11 at 11:13 pm

This story is all wrong. The horse should be given the choice between two men. The first promises to swiftly kill the wolf, but delivers a brutal beating in the process. Whereupon the other man insists he will treat the horse better and does – by delivering a somewhat less brutal beating, all the while berating the horse for thinking the second man is not a model rider.

7

Soru 09.08.11 at 11:14 pm

I’ve heard it claimed that one Arabic translation of _foundation_, in the senses of organisation and base, is _Al Qaeda_.

The follow on theory that bin Laden, who after all was a mid-20th century engineering student, was an Asimov fan, is sadly lacking in supporting evidence.

8

gordon 09.08.11 at 11:15 pm

There was a multi-part investigation of the crazy expansion of “security” agencies in the US after the WTC attack in the Washington Post starting here:

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/1/

They begin by saying: “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.

9

Kenny Easwaran 09.08.11 at 11:27 pm

It’s not quite clear that this story shows what people seem to be using it to show. After all, if the horse really was in severe danger of losing its life, then didn’t it actually gain something out of the deal, even if it ends up paying a cost in perpetuity?

10

Ted 09.09.11 at 12:22 am

Kenny – In the original fable, or at least the original one we have, it’s not a wolf but a stag with whom the horse has a quarrel. http://www.bartleby.com/17/1/32.html

I don’t know if that makes any difference. There are fables in which death is to be preferred to servitude, but also fables where the opposite is the case.

11

Donald Johnson 09.09.11 at 12:46 am

I think to make this more like 9/11 we need a backstory between the man and the wolf. Maybe the man had used the wolf or its friends to kill other animals, or maybe the man had killed some of the wolf’s friends and the wolf thought it could get revenge by attacking a horse the man obviously wanted to domesticate.

Then we could have a Truther movement among surviving horses who imagine that the man actually trained the wolf to kill the horse, but there would be no evidence for this, though it was firmly believed by some of the more left-leaning horses. Later the man tortures some wolf pups…

12

John Quiggin 09.09.11 at 1:37 am

@Kenny presumably a sensible horse would have refused the bridle and saddle, and had the man ride bareback

13

rea 09.09.11 at 2:06 am

The story would be a better fit if, instead of killing the wolf, the man killed a rabbit and claimed it was the wolf.

14

LFC 09.09.11 at 2:22 am

@1
The 9/11 attacks were a freakish anomaly.
Even if this is true, it’s only in hindsight that it’s possible to say it. It’s not as if there weren’t post-9/11 attempted attacks; we know there were. What we don’t know about is the ones (if any) caught in the planning stages that didn’t get publicized. Not, of course, that this justifies the whole ‘war on terror’ — it was an overreaction, in some cases grotesque, and costly in lives (and money). But without a catalyst like the 9/11 attacks, to which some response was reasonable, no amount of propaganda could have managed to launch the WoT.

Btw, some may be interested in this.

15

yoyo 09.09.11 at 2:24 am

The correct story should note that the man also keeps the wolf, in somewhat defanged form, as a well-fed pet. And then lets the wolf rule the house, shitting wherever it likes, since it is afraid of the dog’s bark. But then the story sounds like its about the finance industry.

16

LFC 09.09.11 at 2:29 am

Sorry bad link.
Try this one

17

Nine 09.09.11 at 2:52 am

Unfortunately Salvor Hardin also reportedly said – “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right”. Dick Cheney must have taken note.

18

Andrew F. 09.09.11 at 3:00 am

Well, there’s certainly a lot of horse manure in that ACLU report.

The “targeted killing” they decry is almost unquestionably legal under US law, and is a major reason why the organization that committed 9/11 is now crumbling. As are, incidentally, indefinite detention of enemy combatants and trial by those combatants via military commission.

The ACLU’s hysterical rhetoric, equating the use of targeted killing, indefinite detention, and trial by military commission, with the betrayal of core American values, is frankly absurd.

Their report is a sermon for the choir, nothing more; and I left that church for the real world a long time ago.

19

Joshua Holmes 09.09.11 at 3:43 am

It occurs to me that the only time since 1941 that the US hasn’t been on a war footing was during the Clinton Administration.

The sanctions on Iraq during the 90s were enforced by the American military and sent hundreds of thousands of people to untimely deaths. Clinton attacked Serbia, a nation that did the US no harm, on “humanitarian” grounds, sending thousands of people to their deaths.

Idiot.

20

Natilo Paennim 09.09.11 at 3:59 am

18: The “targeted killing” they decry is almost unquestionably legal under US law

Oh, well, then it must be alright. Perhaps we could get a constitutional amendment (or just a John Yoo memo) to legalize squishing enemies of the regime to death with steamrollers. Oh! Think of the fun!

21

Yarrow 09.09.11 at 3:59 am

@Andrew F: The ACLU’s hysterical rhetoric, equating the use of targeted killing, indefinite detention, and trial by military commission, with the betrayal of core American values, is frankly absurd.

The report says “Ten years ago, we could not have imagined our country would engage in systematic policies of torture and targeted killing, extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretaps, military commissions and indefinite detention, political surveillance and religious discrimination.” Are you saying that torture, extraordinary rendition, warrantless wiretaps, political surveillance, and religious discrimination are essential parts of America’s core values, right up there with assasination, imprisonment without trial, and kangaroo courts? Or are the former just side issues, not really worth mentioning as you rush to defend the latter?

22

geo 09.09.11 at 4:15 am

Andrew F: The “targeted killing” they decry is almost unquestionably legal under US law

Could you explain?

23

john c. halasz 09.09.11 at 4:39 am

I just don’t understand this whole discussion. I’m a houyhnhnm.

24

Greg 09.09.11 at 5:37 am

Postscript:

“Later, a small owl said to the horse, ‘you know that wolf you were so scared of? The one the man kept telling you had such big, sharp teeth and claws?’

‘Well, it was a bundle of hay in an old wolf-skin.’”

25

Keith 09.09.11 at 6:17 am

Joshua Holmes @19:

There’s a big difference between war footing for prolonged occupation and engagement in international operations and the occasional short term military operation.

Jackass.

26

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.09.11 at 7:00 am

Animal Farm is better. It has pigs. How can you tell this kind of story without pigs (‘the pig power structure’)?

27

Steve Williams 09.09.11 at 7:32 am

Re Andrew F@18, is ‘almost unquestionably legal’ the new ‘with notably rare exceptions’?

28

Bexley 09.09.11 at 9:53 am

The “targeted killing” they decry is almost unquestionably legal under US law, and is a major reason why the organization that committed 9/11 is now crumbling. As are, incidentally, indefinite detention of enemy combatants and trial by those combatants via military commission.

So the POTUS can unilaterally declare you an enemy combatant and then either kill or imprison you indefinitely and this is all legal and not at all a betrayal of American values. Well I’m reassured.

PS I have solid intelligence that an individual who goes by the alias “Andrew F” is an enemy combatant. We now have no choice but to lock him up indefinitely. If he disagrees with this assessment he can challenge it at his trial – whenever we decide to grant him one.

29

Andrew F. 09.09.11 at 12:02 pm

Yarrow, the US – as the report notes – has ended the s0-called “enhanced interrogation program.” I don’t address it because it’s not part of US policy. Nor, for that matter, is religious discrimination or political surveillance.

I do agree that certain types of renditions are morally problematic; the administration says that they’ve altered that program in certain respects, but I simply don’t know enough about it to even make tentative judgments. And so I don’t refer to that part of the report as horse manure.

Bexley: Nope, there’s no blanket authority to declare anyone an enemy combatant and order them killed. No one has claimed that there is.

geo @22: targeted killing is simply a possible component of the use of military force. So long as that use is authorized, there is nothing in the law that prohibits its use against legitimate targets in foreign areas, provided that the standard of proportionality and other rules governing the application of lethal force in war are met.

The ACLU provides a valuable function as a strong advocate of civil liberties. And I’ve worked with them when I’ve agreed with them. At times however, such as here, they do seem to walk the line between zealous advocacy and melodramatic nonsense.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 this Sunday gives occasion to remember, mourn, celebrate, and reflect upon many things. The ACLU’s concern that we’ve betrayed fundamental values and must reclaim lost liberties isn’t one of them.

30

straightwood 09.09.11 at 12:47 pm

@29

Andrew’s sophistries are clear demonstrations of how an authoritarian personality exhibits elastic ethics. All he needs to know is that the bogeyman is coming to abandon any moral principle. There is nothing that he could not justify as a regrettable necessity in our glorious, never-ending WAR ON TERROR.

31

J. Otto Pohl 09.09.11 at 1:52 pm

Andrew F:

The law is an ass. Really just because something is legal hardly makes it right. The laws of man and God are considerably different. I would note that the Bible does say “Thou Shalt not Kill.” So regardless of what US or Israeli or any other state law says, I am going to stick with my position that assasination or the deliberate targeting and killing of individuals is morally wrong.

32

Theophylact 09.09.11 at 1:53 pm

It’s not at all clear to me that killings carried out by civilian employees of the Government, operating (say) remotely piloted vehicles from several thousand miles away, constitute legitimate use of military force.

33

Bexley 09.09.11 at 1:53 pm

@ 29
You have no problem with just declaring someone an enemy combatant and detaining them indefinitely with no day in court? Despite the fine rhetoric from Obama, there remain people who have been jailed for years with no chance to answer their accusers in court. But don’t worry such behaviour is totally legal and not at all a betrayal of American values!

34

Watson Ladd 09.09.11 at 2:29 pm

As the US government has consistently claimed, all the targeted individuals need to do to avoid being killed is surrender. If OBL had walked up to the US embassy in Pakistan and surrendered he would not have been killed but shipped back to stand trial. Was the partisan attack on Richard Heydrich also illegal? It was after all the specific targeting of a named individual in a time of war.

35

John Quiggin 09.09.11 at 2:29 pm

“Bexley: Nope, there’s no blanket authority to declare anyone an enemy combatant and order them killed. No one has claimed that there is.”

Would you care to explain a bit further?

There certainly is a claimed authority to declare people as enemy combatants and kill them. This authority is clearly claimed as entirely unlimited, and regularly exercised without any limits or legal rights of redress, as regards non-citizens located outside the US (the great majority of the world’s population).

If the authority is not a blanket authority as regards US citizens outside the US, it’s unclear what limits there may be, or how someone who became aware of their status as a target could obtain redress (it’s been implied in press leaks that surrendering to US authorities would suffice, but I don’t know of anything legally binding).

As regards people located within the US, I don’t think there is a current claim of unlimited Presidential power (though Bush certainly made such claims wrt Padilla). But if a killing were carried out or attempted on the basis of claim that the alleged enemy combatant posed an imminent threat, and the supporting evidence was declared to be a state secret, it’s hard to see what legal redress would be available to the target or their survivors.

36

John Quiggin 09.09.11 at 2:34 pm

@34 As far as I know, Awlaki has not been charged with a crime or officially called upon to surrender himself to the authorities. Also, AFAIK, there has been no official announcement that he is on a target list. IOW, legally he is in the same position as anyone else, although the fact that he is targeted for death is well known.

So, are you proposing that everyone in the world should turn up at their local US embassy and volunteer for indefinite detention if the US authorities see fit? If not, what are you saying?

37

Watson Ladd 09.09.11 at 2:54 pm

He’s a major player in Al-Queda, and the military believes it can consider him a combatant. That’s a bit more then just your usual run of the mill robbery and murder. We all recognize that the military has the power to target individuals in a time of war who are military targets, and that US citizens can be military targets of the US government if they satisfy the conditions of being military targets. So what exactly is the objection? Is it that the military should not be able to fight nonstate actors? Of course, the whole neither civilian nor military bit is quite worrying, but that’s an objection that isn’t ripe until Awlaki is captured.

38

NomadUK 09.09.11 at 3:15 pm

the military has the power to target individuals in a time of war

Such time being, these days, pretty much whenever the executive branch decides it’s convenient — which means anytime.

39

straightwood 09.09.11 at 3:16 pm

@37

Declaring assassination to be a “military” matter is a neat trick for bypassing the rule of law. If domestic protests were considered a threat to the state, these could easily be made into “military” matters too. That is how the dirty wars in Latin America were conducted. You seem to be happy to slide down the slippery slope of trading justice for military expediency.

40

Kaveh 09.09.11 at 4:36 pm

Andrew F. @19
Clinton attacked Serbia, a nation that did the US no harm, on “humanitarian” grounds, sending thousands of people to their deaths.

Wasn’t there actually ethnic cleansing/a near genocide being committed by Serbia?

41

J. Otto Pohl 09.09.11 at 4:44 pm

Kaveh:

There was ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Serbia backed the most aggressive side. But, being as that our Croatian allies also committed ethnic cleansing, “Operation Storm”, it is hard to say that opposition to human rights violations was the real motive. After all we did not intervene militarily in Rwanda regarding a far more lethal genocide.

42

Dragon-King Wangchuck 09.09.11 at 4:53 pm

Further modification to teh story:

The man mounted, hunted down the wolf, but could not catch it. He then told the horse that to be successful, the horse would also need to pull a wagon. The horse was confused and asked why, at which point the man questioned the horse’s loyalty to the cause. Apologetically, the horse had the wagon attached.

The man remounted, hunted down the wolf, but could not catch it. Apparently the wagon needed more stuff tossed into it making it extremely heavy. The horse was confused as to why the man was doing this as they were clearly moving much more slowly than otherwise. But the man convinced the horse to trust his judgement and that the wolf may be eavesdropping so explaining the reasoning would be helping the enemy.

The man got into the LaZ Boy recliner in the wagon, hunted down the wolf, but surprise, surprise could not catch it. He then told the horse that the real thing holding them back was the lack of co-operation between the two and that to catch the wolf, the horse would have to allow the man to grope the horse’s genital area. This really confused the horse, but after several accusations of being a wolf-sympathizer, the horse accepted its debauched fate.

The man got back into the wagon, cracked open a cold one from the beer fridge and hunted down the wolf, but could not find it since by this point the wolf had moved on. The man told the horse that the reason they weren’t succesful that time was because the horse wasn’t wearing his special wolf-hunting glasses – essentially a stick with a picture of a wolf hanging from it. This seemed a lot less onerous than the genital fondling, so the horse agreed to wear the glasses.

The horse now having to deal with the ever present image of a wolf right in front of it began to panic. OMG! it cried. What do we do Mr. Man?! What do we do!

Shut up, I’m watching the game.

43

John Quiggin 09.09.11 at 4:55 pm

OK, then Watson, you seem to agree that the US Executive does claim a blanket authority to declare anyone an enemy combatant and order them killed (subject to the unreviewable determination that they are a “military target”), and say that this is fine. By contrast, Andrew F denies this, but also says everything is fine.

This is very reminiscent of the shuffle that took place about torture when Bush was in office.

44

geo 09.09.11 at 5:14 pm

Andrew F @29: targeted killing is simply a possible component of the use of military force

Whoa. Of course on a battlefield, or from the air, you target one person or emplacement rather than another. But you can’t kill even combatants indiscriminately — you have to offer them the opportunity to surrender. No doubt some Special Forces killings are in combat situations, but it’s alleged, at least, that some of them are simply executions. You can’t do that, even on a battlefield.

Kaveh@40: Wasn’t there actually ethnic cleansing/a near genocide being committed by Serbia?

No, not in the year before the NATO bombing. There were 2000 deaths on all sides in Kosovo in 1998, many of them from combat between the KLA and Serb regulars and irregulars, some of the latter Kosovar Serbs. And there was very little violence in the first three months of 1999, thanks in part to the UN observers, whom the US insisted on pulling out over Serb protests. The NATO bombing of Serbia began at the end of March 1999, and large-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo began immediately thereafter. Unfortunate, but then, as Madeline Albright said to Colin Powell: “What;s the point of this wonderful military you’re always talking about if we don’t use it now and then?”

45

Watson Ladd 09.09.11 at 5:47 pm

@geo: Look up Operation Anthropod. That was simply an execution by grenade. Nothing wrong with that, even though the target was unable to surrender before being blown up.

@John: Your argument is that the president could order the execution of someone who was not a military target. No, he couldn’t. That would be a war crime. The nature of the decision doesn’t change the fact that it is a substantive and clear distinction. If you are in the chain of command, watch out! A civilian: no worries. If this was a matter of US citizens fighting in an army of foreign countries against the United States we wouldn’t be having this dispute. The issue that I think is underlying this is the broader question of which targets are acceptable for the military. Drug gangs clearly aren’t, armies clearly are, as are militias etc., but treating al-Queda as a military target seems to weaken the distinction.

46

John Quiggin 09.09.11 at 6:52 pm

As regards drug gangs, I just saw a claim that essentially all secret searches under the Patriot Act were undertaken in relation to drug crimes. You might want to check on this.

47

DaveL 09.09.11 at 8:36 pm

@geo: “Whoa. Of course on a battlefield, or from the air, you target one person or emplacement rather than another. But you can’t kill even combatants indiscriminately—you have to offer them the opportunity to surrender.”

Whoa, indeed. In what way are combatants killed discriminately in aerial bombardments or artillery barrages or long-range rifle fire? Other than “we are at war, you should surrender,” what form of offer (much less opportunity) have they been given?

On the other hand, executions on the battlefield are an entirely different matter from indiscriminate in-battle killing. They speak far more to the hypothetical case posted earlier where Osama bin Laden walks up to the US Embassy and turns himself in.

48

geo 09.09.11 at 9:35 pm

Dave: I think the relevant legal category is “armed and hostile.” You can shell or bomb enemy combatants because, even they’re no immediate danger to you, they’re a proximate danger to your side. But if they’ve surrendered or been disarmed, you can’t just shoot them or bomb them. The less lethal way to remove the danger from them is to take them prisoner, and the overall obligation imposed by the law of war and the UN Charter is to do as little violence as is compatible with reestablishing peace without surrendering. Which is why indiscriminate (or worse still, deliberately targeted at non-military infrastructure) aerial bombardment of the sort practiced by the United States in Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, and Iraq is a war crime.

49

geo 09.09.11 at 9:37 pm

Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, and Iraq

I’m not sure about Afghanistan. What do others think?

50

Meredith 09.10.11 at 1:52 am

yoyo #15. There’s a fable of Aesop for that (as for just about everything):
The Lion’s Share
The Lion went once a-hunting along with the Fox, the Jackal,
and the Wolf. They hunted and they hunted till at last they
surprised a Stag, and soon took its life. Then came the question
how the spoil should be divided. “Quarter me this Stag,” roared
the Lion; so the other animals skinned it and cut it into four
parts. Then the Lion took his stand in front of the carcass and
pronounced judgment: The first quarter is for me in my capacity
as King of Beasts; the second is mine as arbiter; another share
comes to me for my part in the chase; and as for the fourth
quarter, well, as for that, I should like to see which of you will
dare to lay a paw upon it.”
“Humph,” grumbled the Fox as he walked away with his tail
between his legs; but he spoke in a low growl.
“You may share the labours of the great,
but you will not share the spoil.”

As for surrendering our civil liberties, or our respect for others’, in the name of short-term security, this Aesop fable gets at the heart of the matter more quickly than Asimov’s horse-fable:
The Doe and the Lion
A DOE hard pressed by hunters sought refuge in a cave belonging
to a Lion. The Lion concealed himself on seeing her approach,
but when she was safe within the cave, sprang upon her and tore
her to pieces. “Woe is me,” exclaimed the Doe, “who have escaped
from man, only to throw myself into the mouth of a wild beast?’
In avoiding one evil, care must be taken not to fall into
another.
(With thanks to aesopfables.com)
One reason animal fables can be effective: animals don’t live under laws, except those of “nature.” We humans do live under laws — or else we become “mere” animals.

51

CharleyCarp 09.10.11 at 6:03 am

@Andrew

With regard to Aulaqi (that’s how his dad spelled it filing suit), the argument that he’s just as much subject to use of force as a ‘private’ in the enemy army depends, it seems to me, on the quality of intelligence that hasn’t been made available to ordinary folks. Is he a fighter? Is he a chaplain? Is he a planner? We have anonymous leaks, but I’m not sure we have much (in the public domain, anyway) by way of facts. I personally have a lot less faith in the products of military intelligence since I started seeing some, and much less faith in anonymous leaks from the intel community. Anon leakers do seem to present his role in AQAP quite differently from that understood by people like Gregory Johnsen, who seem to be trying more to be careful about facts than score political points within our government.

On the legality of commission trials, I’ll note that no appeal from a commission verdict has yet reached an article III court. They will eventually. And it may well be that the crime most often charged turns out to be improper for a commission. It may turn out that the evidentiary rules don’t meet due process. I personally think the commissions have done better than a lot of people expect — eg Jawad — but I don’t think you can claim vindication of the legality of the system as it exists just yet.

WRT indef detention, what the Hamdi plurality said was that in the immediate wake of captivity, war still raging, someone who was actually engaged in hostilities against the US could be detained. But also hinted that if detention went too long, the understandings underpinning that conclusion could unravel. The DC Circuit has been very hostile to GTMO (and Bagram) prisoners — and has been reversed every time the SC has taken a case. The SC didn’t take Kiyemba or Adahi or any of the others this term. But you know what? We’re not supposed to infer anything from that. There may well be a dozen petitions in the next term, and the legality of detaining people who never fired a shot, or carried a gun, or were at a battlefield — facts quite different from Hamdi — may end up getting a hard look. Eventually, the SC might even get a chance to look at section 5 of the military commissions act. And as the war described in the AUMF winds down, as it will, maybe those periodic reviews (seen the regs on that??) are going to have to look again at the legality of ‘indefinite’ detention.

52

CharleyCarp 09.10.11 at 6:29 am

The exact quote from the plurality opinion in Hamdi:

“It is a clearly established principle of the law of war that detention may last no longer than active hostilities.

“Hamdi contends that the AUMF does not authorize indefinite or perpetual detention. Certainly, we agree that indefinite detention for the purpose of interrogation is not authorized. Further, we understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of “necessary and appropriate force” to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles. If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that understanding may unravel. But that is not the situation we face as of this date. Active combat operations against Taliban fighters apparently are ongoing in Afghanistan. The United States may detain, for the duration of these hostilities, individuals legitimately determined to be Taliban combatants who “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.” If the record establishes that United States troops are still involved in active combat in Afghanistan, those detentions are part of the exercise of “necessary and appropriate force,” and therefore are authorized by the AUMF.”

53

straightwood 09.10.11 at 11:51 am

The singular quality of the “war” on Terror is that it has no boundaries in space or time. It is an Orwellian eternal war. As long as a single Islamic militant anywhere wishes to raise his hand against America, the good times will continue to roll for the Military Industrial Complex. When a nation becomes culturally militarized, all considerations of legality, economics, and sanity are swept away by the craving for military action. We are now tasting the bitter fruit of our great military adventure to conquer Terror.

The 9/11 attacks were criminal acts by a small stateless band of political radicals. Declaring “war” on this motley crew was the crowning stupidity of the Bush administration. Bin Laden’s most damaging blow to America was not the pin-prick of the airplane attacks; it was the bleeding out of our treasury and the corruption of our laws. Our economy has been crippled by war profiteers and financial looters, and our liberties have been supplanted by a permanent climate of fear. Ten years later, it is Bin Laden’s mission that was accomplished: the destruction of America’s wealth and prestige.

54

Watson Ladd 09.10.11 at 11:55 am

@John: The Patriot act regulates law enforcement searches. It isn’t a use of military force.

55

Andrew F. 09.10.11 at 12:39 pm

John @35: There certainly is a claimed authority to declare people as enemy combatants and kill them. This authority is clearly claimed as entirely unlimited, and regularly exercised without any limits or legal rights of redress, as regards non-citizens located outside the US (the great majority of the world’s population).

The assertion I denied is that it is an unlimited authority to kill anyone. With respect to non-citizens, outside the US, the US is limited by the law of warfare and by its own criminal statutes – as are other governments limited by theirs. There is no government, of which I’m aware, that allows those it views as belligerents, outside the reach of its law and having not surrendered to any authority, to challenge their status as military targets.

The claim is that the President may, in the course of conducting an authorized military effort, attack military targets in areas outside the jurisdiction of the US in a manner consistent with the law of warfare and US law. Those restrictions do not include successful judicial review prior to an attack. And this is neither a new principle, nor is it a principle unique to the United States.

In this instance, the target in question is an individual well-known – indeed self-proclaimed – to be part of a hostile enemy organization with which the US is actively engaged, and who is located on a battlefield, well beyond the reach of US law, and who has not surrendered to any authority.

CharleyCarp @51: Is he a chaplain? Is he a planner? We have anonymous leaks, but I’m not sure we have much (in the public domain, anyway) by way of facts. I personally have a lot less faith in the products of military intelligence since I started seeing some, and much less faith in anonymous leaks from the intel community.

I think there’s actually enough in the public domain for us to say that he’s, at a bare minimum, engaged in recruitment and propaganda operations – but in any case the courts don’t get a seat at the table on this. You’re raising the possibility of a mistake, and implying that a judicial hearing would minimize that possibility. And while I agree that additional reviews would reduce the possibility of error, that kind of review is consistent with neither the authority granted to Congress and the President to authorize and engage in war nor with the effective conduct of a military effort.

I personally think the commissions have done better than a lot of people expect—eg Jawad—but I don’t think you can claim vindication of the legality of the system as it exists just yet.

I agree that it’s possible (though unlikely) that the particular structure of the commissions or individual charges could be found lacking, and therefore require further changes. But it’s well settled that, in principle, the use of military commissions is legal – and I took a refutation of that principle to be part of the ACLU’s contention.

But also hinted that if detention went too long, the understandings underpinning that conclusion could unravel.

Well, they said that if the “practical circumstances” of this conflict varied in a certain way, then their understanding of the law of warfare as applied here might unravel. That’s not the same as saying that if the detention is too lengthy, then it might become improper.

Nor am I saying that detention without review is authorized. But, with respect to detainees who would remain a threat to the US and return to hostilities against the US should they be released, it is very hard to argue that their continued detention is not a necessary incident of the military effort authorized by Congress.

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Peter Erwin 09.10.11 at 1:08 pm

J. Otto Pohl @ 41:

After all we did not intervene militarily in Rwanda regarding a far more lethal genocide.

True. I guess the argument then is that having once failed to intervene in order to stop genocide[*], one should never do so in the future. After all, genocide might be pretty bad, but inconsistency — well, that’s simply unforgivable.

[*] Leaving aside the question of whether such an intervention would have been at all feasible or possible.

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Tim Wilkinson 09.10.11 at 1:42 pm

Gordon’s link @8 is good – as is much on the Post’s ‘Top Secret America’ site, e.g.:

CIA shifts focus to killing targets
and
A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command

Which describe the CIA/special forces merger under the rubric of JSOC, one practical effect being to facilitate the CIA’s initiating covert paramilitary action free from the (notional) need for Title 50 Presidential approval and congressional ‘oversight’ (i.e. notification).

I think the ACLU is going to have less influence on policy than, say, the CFR:

A revised AUMF [Authorisation for military force, to replace the 2001 one still being used to cover the airborne killer robots infesting the skies over Pakistan, etc etc] can certainly reference the 9/11 attacks. But my view is that it’s not intended to be an open-ended legal authority to carry out military operations against terrorists or others all around the world, as some critics suggest. It is important to bring the statutory authority in line with the reality of our military operations. Administration lawyers at the Defense Department and the Justice Department have to strain very hard when reviewing the legal authority for our military or intelligence agencies to go after certain individuals or groups to find that affiliation with the original 9/11 planners.

The point is not to have a huge unrestricted authority that opens up new wars, but simply to make plain that our military and intelligence services have clear statutory authority to do what it is they are already doing today. It would be possible to rely on constitutional authority; I have absolutely no question about that. But it is useful and important for Congress to be authorizing what government agencies are doing. If they are not already over the line today, as far as eking out every last bit of authority from the ten-year-old AUMF, then it is likely to happen very soon.

(Note the bootstrapping involved: we’re doing it, so it must be OK, so we should have authorisation for it.)

Also, a promising new propaganda front in the GWOT is opening up in Libya now that phase 1 (start and participate in regime-change war) is – entirely predictably – giving way to phase 2 (tackle resultant chaotic conflict, including groups plausibly described as Islamist, by getting tame authority to invite regular ground troops in; build bases, eat Big Macs, play golf).

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LFC 09.10.11 at 2:24 pm

straightwood @53-
The war on terror is not what bankrupted the economy or caused the financial crisis. Silly claims like this play into the hands of reactionaries like Krauthammer, who in a recent column crows about how unsupported such claims are.

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CharleyCarp 09.10.11 at 2:47 pm

Plenty of straw there, along with implications not justified, at all, by the text.

That a thing might be unreviewable by the judiciary does not mean it is ‘clearly legal.’ It just means that appeal for redress of alleged illegality has to be made in a different forum.

Membership in the enemy force is, in fact, not enough: e.g., chaplains are protected.

You are free to trust in the judgment of the kind of people who beat false confessions out of Fouad al Rabia and then believed them, or who think some granny from the Midwest just might bring down a jetliner with a tube of toothpaste. Plenty of us think our Constitution should and in fact does require a little more before you start going around depriving people of life and/or liberty.

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CharleyCarp 09.10.11 at 2:49 pm

Medics too, and we’ll see how that plays out as Warafie’s case moves up the system.

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CharleyCarp 09.10.11 at 2:55 pm

Btw, I see that the first substantive decision from the Court of Military Commission Review came out yesterday.

http://media.miamiherald.com/smedia/2011/09/09/23/59/ZIYoo.So.56.pdf

We’ll see how this fares on Article III review.

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skidmarx 09.10.11 at 3:02 pm

There was a military intervention in Rwanda, albeit not one designed to stop the genocide.
[If we separate out the French intervention, more than one]

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CharleyCarp 09.10.11 at 3:10 pm

(Oops, that’s the second decision. Hamdan slipped by me in June).

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geo 09.10.11 at 4:21 pm

Andrew @55:

The claim is that the President may, in the course of conducting an authorized military effort, attack military targets in areas outside the jurisdiction of the US in a manner consistent with the law of warfare and US law. Those restrictions do not include successful judicial review prior to an attack. And this is neither a new principle, nor is it a principle unique to the United States.

In this instance, the target in question is an individual well-known – indeed self-proclaimed – to be part of a hostile enemy organization with which the US is actively engaged, and who is located on a battlefield, well beyond the reach of US law, and who has not surrendered to any authority

“Belligerent” means a member of the armed forces of a state with which the US is at war. There cannot be a state of war with a criminal organization. (Again, “hostile” has a legal meaning: part of the armed forces of a state with which the US is at war.) That is what domestic and international law enforcement is for. And let’s not forget that the US Congress cannot “authorize” a “military effort” (ie, a war) without prior Security Council authorization. The fact that the US has consistently flouted the UN Charter doesn’t mean that the latter has ceased to be binding. The Congress can authorize military efforts against a domestic insurrection. It can authorize law enforcement efforts (respecting the sovereignty of other states) against international criminals. (And the courts most certainly do “have a seat at the table” with respect to such law enforcement efforts.) It can’t declare war or intervene militarily without Security Council authorization.

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geo 09.10.11 at 4:22 pm

Damn the preview pane. The second paragraph is also a quote from Andrew and should be in italics. Sorry.

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philofra 09.10.11 at 5:47 pm

This fable suggests that there are unintended consequences or unexpected results. One of the unexpected results, as the horse found out, is that in our hope to be liberated we end up being enslaved. In the case of the War On Terror, we have hemmed ourselves in by that war. We have lost something , like the horse did, an innocence perhaps.

I am not sure Osama bin laden was aware that he lost something also, like the horse did, when he started the war. With the attacks of 9/11 he was hoping to restore a fundamentalism in Islam and rid it of infidels. The reverse has happened. By starting the war he brought an unprecedented criticism and study of Islam he hadn’t expect, thus inadvertently starting a reformation of that religion. Martin Luther created the same situation for Christianity when he tried to cleanse it and bring it back to its origin form.

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Brett Bellmore 09.10.11 at 6:58 pm

“Ten years ago, we could not have imagined our country would engage in systematic policies of torture and targeted killing, extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretaps, military commissions and indefinite detention, political surveillance and religious discrimination.”

No offense, but plenty of people imagined things like that, or worse, prior to 9-11. Plenty of people noticed the government doing little things like, oh, burning people alive, or keeping hitmen on it’s payroll, way back in the 90′s. It’s just that they were conservatives, and gun owners, so they didn’t much count.

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Andrew F. 09.10.11 at 11:41 pm

CharleyCarp, well, I of course didn’t say that mere membership is enough to render one a legitimate military target. I did say that it’s fairly clear that Aulaqi isn’t simply acting as a chaplain or medic – he’s quite an important part of their recruitment and propaganda efforts at a bare minimum.

But then there are two issues here. Are we concerned that there might be a mistake regarding Aulaqi? And, secondly, is there a general principle here that we are violating by not having some form of judicial review prior to targeting Aulaqi?

On the first issue, notwithstanding some abuses and mistakes by the government, I doubt there’s such a mistake here, given the level of review, the willingness of the government to discuss this with the press, and the public nature of much of Aulaqi’s actions.

On the second issue, I also don’t see the violation of any general legal or for that matter moral principle. Can you, or anyone, articulate what exactly you think the procedure ought to be in circumstances such as Aulaqi’s?

Geo, from a US legal perspective, I don’t think Congress requires UNSC approval to authorize military action. In fact I think it would be faintly ludicrous, and unethical, to give nations like China and Russia a veto over when the US decides to use its military.

I also disagree that military hostilities can only exist between state actors.

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straightwood 09.11.11 at 2:55 am

I also disagree that military hostilities can only exist between state actors.

Of course you do, because you place the military above the law. You judge Aulaqi guilty and deserving of summary execution because the military told you he is. Despite the documented shoddiness of the military evidence against Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have been freed after being described as “the worst of the worst,” you would prefer that, when in doubt, the military should kill a suspected terrorist. If the US Military removed the President and declared martial law in the US, you would cook up some sophistry explaining how it was perfectly legal as a matter of national security.

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geo 09.11.11 at 3:05 am

Andrew: the UN Charter is pretty clear — no military action without Security Council authorization, except to repel an actual or imminent attack. Giving the rest of the world a veto over the great powers’ military interventions was exactly the point of the United Nations, since the absence of such a veto appeared to have brought the planet to the brink of destruction. Many nations have contributed to undermining the authority of the UN since its inception, but none more than the United States.

I also disagree that military hostilities can only exist between state actors.

What exactly are we disagreeing about? Obviously such hostilities can exist: until the US provoked North Vietnamese intervention, it was fighting nonstate actors in South Vietnam. The question is: under what circumstances may a country legitimately employ force outside its borders?

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geo 09.11.11 at 3:06 am

Sorry again. The second paragraph (“I also disagree … “) was a quote from Andrew and should have been in italics.

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LFC 09.11.11 at 4:47 am

geo @70
I’m fairly sure we agree more than disagree about the US role in Vietnam, but your statement that the US provoked North Vietnamese intervention needs some qualification. N. Vietnam was supplying the NLF with material and some trained men well before the deployment of US combat forces in 1965. That deployment was followed by more direct North Vietnamese involvement in the war, but to say that the US provoked N. Vietnamese intervention makes it sound as if the North had previously been completely aloof from the conflict, which was not the case.

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Andrew F. 09.11.11 at 10:32 am

Geo, just a few things… first, Congress isn’t bound by the Charter. Like the government of any other nation, it may alter or reject its agreement to abide by the Charter. Second the Charter doesn’t require actual or imminent attack. It merely provides for a right of self-defense. Finally, since there certainly were actual attacks here, it’s crystal clear that the US is acting in self-defense. It did not require UNSC authorization to begin the destruction of AQ following 9/11. It does not require that authorization today.

My view, both from the vantage of US law and int’l law (such as it is), is that there is a properly authorized and ongoing military conflict with AQ and its affiliates; and that Aulaqi, in the context of that conflict, and given his circumstances, has rendered himself a legitimate military target in that conflict.

Straightwood, I don’t know if Aulaqi would be deserving of capital punishment; that’s not the issue here. This isn’t a question of punishment. Your various personal accusations are ludicrous in the extreme. Let’s stick to the issue at hand.

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a different chris 09.11.11 at 2:38 pm

>There cannot be a state of war with a criminal organization.

Thank you, thank you.

This is not a military conflict, Andrew. It just isn’t. All your Wizard of Oz proclamations come to nothing when the curtain is pulled back. Show me specific US territory that flavor-of-the-month Aulaqi wants to so his landlocked country can have a warm water seaport. Show me where there are “oppressed Muslim communities” in America and that Aulaqi has concrete plans to liberate these territories from US jurisdiction. Show me where there are serious attempts to take over by force the government of even a US ally (and no, Pakistan is not an ally. Seriously.).

Those are the causes of war. If some French farmer bulldozes a McDonalds with actual people in it, including visiting Americans, everybody knows he is not an “enemy combatant”. He is a criminal. Any Frenchmen professing sympathy and claiming they will do the same thing (even in the unlikely event they really mean it) are not ememy combatants, they are criminals.

But you and your ilk have taken advantage of the fact that these particular criminals are different – in that they are not “western” in culture – to elevate them to the status of warriors. They just don’t deserve it, and I can’t believe you do not realize that. What you do realize is that you can gain power for your particular causes by fearmongering.

The result of that deliberate misclassification, that fearmongering, is that you have completely unleashed the US military, a force so overwhelming in its relative power, both in the sense of destructive power outside the US borders and political power within, that there may be no historical precedent for it. Unbottling that genie has put innocent people all over the world in grave danger of, if not losing their lives, then losing their freedom and their economic future.

This is beyond unconscionable.

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Salient 09.11.11 at 5:05 pm

Like the government of any other nation, it may alter or reject its agreement to abide by the Charter.

No, it literally cannot. This is a false statement. We have been through this before, with you, on CT. I’m less inclined this time around to be charitable and call you ‘misinformed.’ But let’s walk through the steps

* The U.S. Constitution is the highest law of the land

* Article II, Section 2: The President … shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur

* Any legislative act that attempts to compromise the validity of a treaty is unconstitutional, because it would be overruling executive authority to make treaties

* For that matter, any action that attempts to compromise the validity of the U.N. Charter is illegal under international law (just as the U.S. Constitution does not provide any means for a state to legally secede, the U.N. Charter does not provide any means for a nation to withdraw its signatory status — a signatory could flout its responsibilities, but it is literally impossible for a signatory to actually become a non-signatory)

* the U.N. Charter is a constituent treaty, and all members are bound by its articles; each nation that has become a signatory is bound by its articles in perpetuity

Given those bullet points, the only way the U.S. can alter or reject its agreement to abide by the charter is by rejecting its own Constitution and forming a new government not bound by the Constitution. Now ok, some of us feel that that has sort of already happened, at least in spirit. But that’s a different issue; people who express that opinion don’t believe it literally happened.

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MarkUp 09.11.11 at 5:30 pm

@Andrew – “..chaplain or medic – he’s quite an important part of their recruitment and propaganda efforts at a bare minimum.”

Not to be flip, but would not all who minister to the mind and body of those who fight on any side be aids in recruitment and propaganda. I hear DARPA working on a wrist watch size communicator that could quite feasibly bring words of solace, and encouragement to those in the foxholes.

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geo 09.11.11 at 7:01 pm

I wasn’t aware of everything Salient contends @75. If true, it’s extremely important. I wish some commenters more knowledgeable than me about US and international law would chime in.

I would have answered Andrew more simply: whether or not Congress may or may not repudiate some of its obligations under the UN Charter, it has not formally done so and is therefore still bound by it. As for “self-defense”: I think Andrew is simply mistaken; it means “in response to actual or imminent attack.” Every other perceived threat must be referred to the Security Council for resolution.

LFC: yes, I didn’t mean to imply that the North Vietnamese were completely aloof, merely that they hadn’t intervened with their own forces (as the US had as early as 1962) until the US started bombing North Vietnam after the Tonkin Gulf circus.

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geo 09.11.11 at 7:04 pm

LFC: just to follow up: by US “forces” in the preceding comment, I mean thousands of armed US “advisers” and many US bombers and pilots.

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Andrew F. 09.11.11 at 8:40 pm

Salient, I appreciate your patience with me. Notwithstanding that virtue, your above comment seems to be almost completely wrong. In US law, the governing principle is “last in time” when a conflict between an act of Congress and a treaty arises. In int’l law, the US is has not agreed that any treaty is perpetually in force, and it has not behaved as though that were the case.

Different Chris, this conflict seems to have all the important features of a military conflict to me; I’m not sure you believe that a military conflict must involve vying for territory.

MarkUp, yes, but if a chaplain goes beyond providing spiritual comfort and actively recruits fighters in enemy territory, then he’s no longer simply acting as a chaplain. The intended protection no longer applies. I agree that it’s a closer case than if Aulaki were clearly engaged in additional operational roles, though.

Geo, self-defense isn’t a defined term in the Charter. From a common sense vantage, especially given the nature of contemporary weapons, I don’t think it should be read to require an imminent attack. As to whether the US is bound, from a US legal perspective the government can qualify or adjust its level of agreement whenever it chooses, as can any other government. And this, frankly, is why I don’t think int’l law is very useful when it comes to the regulation of force. But, this is academic: 9/11 qualifies as an actual attack.

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geo 09.11.11 at 9:04 pm

There’s an old saying: “When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law is against you, argue the facts. When both are against you, call the other lawyer names.” Andrew has updated this: “When the law is against you, express doubts about its usefulness in the situation under discussion.”

Whatever Andrew may think, the settled and traditional understanding of “self-defense” in international law is “response to actual or imminent attack”; governments may not lawfully choose whether or not to comply with their UN obligations; and 9/11 was not an attack by a state, nor was the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan a response to an ongoing or imminent attack — completed attacks are no longer ongoing or imminent and must be referred to the Security Council for redress.

There are lots of laws we all don’t like, Andrew. In a law-abiding culture, domestic or international, we obey them and try to change them. This is precisely what the US has not done, not merely since 9/11 but all the way back to World War II and often before. You may feel that the world is too dangerous a place for the US to be expected to obey international law, now or in the past. This is a point worth arguing. But it’s simply inarguable that the US has behaved lawlessly throughout much of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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ckc (not kc) 09.11.11 at 9:30 pm

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MarkUp 09.11.11 at 9:46 pm

Andrew – “but if a chaplain goes beyond providing spiritual comfort and actively…”

Comforts thee who is in said foxhole from say CEMENTCOM or the Crystal Cathedral – much more efficient to reach larger numbers from there/there and rally spirits through said comforting that the right thing is being done, and must continue to be done.

Perhaps there is some document I’m as of yet unaware of that prohibits distance ministering but it would appear that in absence of and w/o verifiable proof that it does not occur, that not only would they who minister but they who facilitate or are nearby are ‘credibly’ placed in the cross-hairs… and the joys of neutron bombs begin to raise eyebrows again.

Targeted killing isn’t a or the problem, it’s the targeting process that will always become suspect. Same issue as designating that the leader of each side would face off in combat/contest and be the deciders. Works well once, esp if you are on the winning end, the next time will be different.

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straightwood 09.11.11 at 10:00 pm

Let’s stick to the issue at hand.

The issue at hand is your primitive belief that a bogus state of “war” makes the pronouncements of the US military the highest authority in the land. If some targeting idiot in a cubicle concluded that you were a “military threat,” I suppose you would consent to your own execution to support our national security state. But have no fear, blog trolls have not yet been designated “enemy combatants.”

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.11.11 at 10:07 pm

Whatever the law, whatever the details, it’s clear that the US is a superpower with global ambitions. It has military bases all over the world, and it actively meddles with internal affairs of many nations. It’s only natural that there is a resistance, and that one of its manifestations is terrorism. Of course the natural impulse is to suppress all the resistance, but of course in the long run this can only produce more resistance, more terrorism. This is all, of course, rather trivial.

So, for international (and national) laws to address mere symptoms – that simply isn’t sufficient; they have to address the underlying causes, limit the projection of power, ban all those “Project for the New American Century” sorts of advocacy and policy. Now, that’s a utopia for ya.

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e abrams 09.11.11 at 11:01 pm

bin laden was pretty clear why he attacked us: our support of apostate dictators in the mideast iis a obstacle to bin ladens plan to restore the caliphate. so far as i can tell, bin laden doesn’t really care that much about our liberty and lifestyle

Bush said that bin laden attacked us cause bin laden hated out liberty and way of life.

what is amusing, in a black humor sort of way, is that both bush and osama are loosing: osama is loosing because we are more entrenched (in terms of military bases and footprint) in the mideast, and bush is loosing cause our civil libertys are reduced.

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Watson Ladd 09.11.11 at 11:04 pm

@Henri: Only natural? The terrorists are moral actors who decide on what they do. To naturalize them is to deny their moral status as humans. I don’t think the resistance to the US global project was motivating the stoning of women, the ban on kite flying, the bombing of the Buddhas, and all the other horrors of Taliban rule. It was the explicitly modernizing project of the USSR that provoked the resistance and all its horrors.

The people of Pakistan have suffered far more from terrorism then the US. How is that possible if Islamism is simply anti-US resentment? What exactly was Rushdie doing to further that global project of domination of the US that lead to a death sentence being pronounced halfway across the world? When Theo van Gogh got stabbed on the streets of Amsterdam was this some direct animalistic response to a war half a world away?

And if what you say explains Islamism, why are we not justified in adjusting affairs to suit ourselves? The farmer thinks nothing of killing the hive that stings him if it gets in his way, because it stings like an animal, part of nature. It is only our capacity to imagine each other overcoming our nature that forces us to restrain our hands. Or would such a transformation be nothing more then imperialist designs of modernity, the horrors of sewers, schools, roads, justice, etc?

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e abrams 09.11.11 at 11:07 pm

yarrow @21
if you had any knowledge of US history (say chomsky) you would know that support of torture is commonplace
I mean, how many people on this blog know who Mohammed Mossadegh is, and why his name is relevant to a discussion of US sanctioned and supported torture ?
School of Americas ?
Kissinger and Allende ?
Paraguay and Stroessner ?
Indonesia after the coup that took out suharto ?
Today, Kazakastan and other countries in mid asia we need for airbases ?
D Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam (bad, bad saddam …you really shouldn’t use poison gas on your own people, bad saddam,,,oh, and by the way, heres some satellite info to help you with your war against Iraq

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geo 09.11.11 at 11:24 pm

Watson: by “only natural” Henri just meant “not surprising.” Or, in WH Auden’s words: “Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.” Neither Henri nor Auden is denying anyone their moral status as humans.

e abrams: how many people on this blog know who …

Pretty much everybody, actually.

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Watson Ladd 09.12.11 at 12:32 am

@geo: Okay, that works as an interpretation. Knowing what human nature is we should not be surprised that violence exists. But Islamic terrorism has a content, and we shouldn’t shy away from considering how to respond to that. Al-Queda won’t vanish if we don’t confront them. They will quite simply make life a living hell for millions.

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straightwood 09.12.11 at 2:36 am

Al-Queda won’t vanish if we don’t confront them. They will quite simply make life a living hell for millions.

Just what was this thing called “Al-Queda?” It was treated like a powerful, cohesive, and dangerous enemy because that was required to justify military engagement. But abundant evidence suggests that it was a small, amorphous, ramshackle, pick-up band that never justified the hundreds of billions in war profiteering that the US sqandered.

Compared to Imperial Japan or the USSR, Al-Queda was a pipsqueak, but the magnifying media lens of the 9/11 fright show persuaded a foolish public that AQ was the ultimate bogeyman, against which America should fight an endless global war. (It is not a coincidence that chasing a ragged band of Islamic terrorists “justified” roughly the same level of enormous military spending as the height of the Cold War.) The courageous Paul Krugman was absolutely right in declaring America’s collective insanity following 9/11 to be a subject for national shame.

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LFC 09.12.11 at 3:19 am

Andrew F.
As to whether the US is bound [by the UN Charter], from a US legal perspective the government can qualify or adjust its level of agreement whenever it chooses

I’m not sure exactly what you intend by “qualify or adjust its level of agreement whenever it chooses,” but US obligations under int’l law are not like thermostats that can be moved up or down whenever someone in the State Dept’s Legal Adviser’s Office decides that he or she is feeling too chilly or too warm on a particular day. I’m sure the present chief legal adviser in the State Dept would reject this view, or anything resembling it, out of hand. Presidents have attached reservations to treaties before submitting them for Senate approval, and the Senate has at times attached reservations itself, but that’s different and in any case the legal status of such reservations is debatable.

On the other hand, on the question whether treaties are “perpetually in force,” I think that states/govt’s can decide to withdraw from treaties if they follow certain formal procedures (presumably an act of Congress etc. in the US case), though I don’t know what the situation is specifically w/r/t the UN Charter.

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LFC 09.12.11 at 3:22 am

p.s. You can argue about whether Op. Enduring Freedom was justified as self-defense under the Charter, but that’s not the same as saying the US can adjust its level of agreement whenever it chooses.

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Adrian Kelleher 09.12.11 at 6:16 am

@79, 91

Unless a treaty includes a clause allowing a party to withdraw (as, e.g., the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty does and the ABM treaty did), then one country cannot legally pull out unilaterally. They’re like any other contract in this regard.

There are a great many treaties with no provision for withdrawal. This explains why some some countries have ‘de-criminalised’ certain drugs but none have actually legalised them; the treaties governing them make no provision for individual signatories to pull out. To do so would require all signatories to conclude a new treaty.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.12.11 at 10:19 am

Watson Ladd, I don’t understand the nature of your objection, and what stoning of women (the US, incidentally, practice capital punishment too; should France try to modernize it by bombing?) and banning kite flying has to do with any of it.

Yes, it is only natural that among millions and billions of individuals, unhappy, to various degrees, about a foreign power meddling in their internal affairs (and especially with violence), there will be some who choose to use terrorist methods to stop that foreign power’s projects. Whether we call them “modernizing projects” or “imperialist projects” is irrelevant.

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Salient 09.12.11 at 11:17 am

Thank you to Adrian Kelleher for the backup.

In US law, the governing principle is “last in time” when a conflict between an act of Congress and a treaty arises.

First of all, when it comes to international obligations I don’t give a hoot about what the United States’ internal law is. It’s about time for a Godwin, so take for example: the Holocaust was legal under German law. International law that takes precedence for exactly that reason.

I assume you’re referring to the Supreme Court decision Whitney v. Robertson from the 19th century, which contradicts and is superseded by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties [pdf], Article 27, to which the United States is a signatory. The assertion that treaty obligations take higher precedence than federal and state legislation was specifically verified by International Court of Justice in the LaGrand case.

I suppose the United States could say “go stuff it, world, our military’s larger than the rest of yours combined, so we can do whatever we want, m*****f*****s,” the same way a criminal might get away with saying “f the law, I’m above the law” if they’re not subject to law enforcement (maybe because they’re the sheriff’s nephew or whatever).

If nobody’s militarily strong enough to enforce the treaty by force, and if everyone’s too scared to attempt economic sanctions against the US, then there’s effectively no enforcable penalty the United States suffers for breaking/violating any treaty. We could just go invade Haiti, and be like, whazzup, this is now our 51st state! And really probably no entity in the world could effectively enforce the international law that makes such an act illegal. But that’s very very different from saying that the United States has no legal obligation to follow the treaty, or that the United States is acting legally!

If you’re arguing “the United States should flout its international treaty obligations when those obligations conflict with its homeland security goals” then you should say so explicitly, instead of maintaining some veneer of international-law legitimacy.

In int’l law, the US is has not agreed that any treaty is perpetually in force

Neither has it disagreed with that principle, except in cases where a treaty explicitly provides a means through which a signatory can withdraw from the treaty. The case law is silent, so far as I know. (Again, the United States could just ignore the treaty and make a public statement about its intention to not be bound by that treaty anymore, the same way a criminal could publish a newspaper manifesto outlining their intention to rob everyone else. If there’s no capacity for enforcing the law, then there’s effectively no penalty for breaking it. And there’s really no force on Earth that can enforce anything on the United States at this time.)

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Salient 09.12.11 at 11:27 am

That paragraph beginning with “First of all” was supposed to go somewhere else in the comment or get deleted, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the discussion or my follow-up to #79. Obviously the fact that I personally feel international law ought to supersede the laws of nations, has no impact on the answer to the question “does the United States have a mechanism through which it can secede from a treaty or withdraw from treaty obligations in a manner that is consistent with its own constitution?”

(This may have been obvious, I don’t know. I’m just trying to make sure I don’t accidentally move the goalposts.)

97

Andrew F. 09.12.11 at 11:42 am

geo @80: 9/11 was not an attack by a state, nor was the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan a response to an ongoing or imminent attack—completed attacks are no longer ongoing or imminent and must be referred to the Security Council for redress.

Geo, the idea that self-defense ceases to be operable once a given attack has ceased is actually absurd. One no longer must act in self-defense once the probability of further attacks has fallen below a certain level – and even then, self-defense sometimes requires retaliation even when it appears that an entity cannot immediately launch further attacks.

Your interpretation of int’l law in the case of 9/11 – that it was a single attack, not ongoing, and therefore the US was obligated to turn to the UNSC – has not, as far as I’m aware, been upheld anywhere. By contrast, numerous international organizations have held to, and followed through with, a much more reasonable interpretation.

As to what the inherent right of self-defense involves, it is certainly not settled that one may act in self-defense only upon actual or imminent attack. There are those who argue this – but their arguments fly in the face of any reasonable understanding of self-defense, particularly given the nature of modern war. But in fact there is not a settled interpretation.

Markup @82: Perhaps there is some document I’m as of yet unaware of that prohibits distance ministering but it would appear that in absence of and w/o verifiable proof that it does not occur

Chaplains are given protection to allow them to provide spiritual comfort to those in battle. Once they exceed that role, and assume some unprotected operational function, they become legitimate targets. Aulaki is quite clearly not simply providing spiritual comfort. He’s not simply “distance ministering.”

LFC @91: I’m not sure exactly what you intend by “qualify or adjust its level of agreement whenever it chooses,” but US obligations under int’l law are not like thermostats that can be moved up or down whenever someone in the State Dept’s Legal Adviser’s Office decides that he or she is feeling too chilly or too warm on a particular day.

My point was that under US law, the government may adjust its level of agreement whenever it chooses. The State Department cannot do this, but Congress certainly can.

Henri @84: It’s only natural that there is a resistance, and that one of its manifestations is terrorism. Of course the natural impulse is to suppress all the resistance, but of course in the long run this can only produce more resistance, more terrorism.

We differ on the causes of the particular organizations at issue, and the best way of dealing with them. My view is that they were created as a result of a leadership both privileged but held in diminished roles in their native society. That leadership took advantage of a variety of alienations and real problems to recruit. The predictable goal of the leadership is to assume a more powerful role in the society that marginalized them.

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Salient 09.12.11 at 11:44 am

Sorry for clogging up the ‘recent comments’ list and I’ll stop after this one, but it occurred to me I left out the most important bit: basically everything I have said depends upon the fact that

* The United States ratified both the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the United Nations Charter.

If that was not the case, then that “contradicts and is superseded by” comment would not apply to the U.S. according to its own Constitution. As it stands, that treaty has the force of the Constitution behind it under the Presidential authority to ratify treaties that have received the necessary supermajority consent from the Senate.

It occurs to me that there’s two tiny loopholes. [1] A new President could petition the ICJ for a ruling that withdrawal from a treaty is legal; ICJ opinions are legally binding, so if such a petition were successful there would be no law (international, national, etc) that would hold the U.S. to account. In what I’ve said I’ve assumed the ICJ would be hostile to such a petition. [2] A new President could attempt to legally withdraw from Treaty X by writing up a new Treaty Y that declares Treaty X invalid, getting supermajority consent to that from the Senate, and then successfully getting all the signatories of Treaty X to sign onto Treaty Y. I’m pretty sure that would work. In everything I’ve said, I have implicitly assumed that a solid majority of signatory nations would not sign on to that kind of thing.

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Andrew F. 09.12.11 at 12:15 pm

Salient, you made an argument based on the US Constitution. To claim now that your argument has nothing to do with US law is a bit disingenuous, imho. As to the “last in time” rule, that rule is followed by the courts today. Treaties have the same force as ordinary law from a US constitutional vantage. The seminal decision was in the 19th century, but that precedent has been upheld consistently to this day.

The US never ratified the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

As to international law, I’m not sure why you would give it any moral precedence over domestic law. International law is the product of agreements between sovereigns and sovereign behavior. It is, to be sure, far less the product of any democratic processes than the domestic law of democratic states, and has correspondingly less moral force.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.12.11 at 12:27 pm

Hi Andrew,
we can speculate endlessly about the motives of leadership, but, particularly in this case, it doesn’t seem relevant.

Mohammed Atta, for example, according to his friend Ralph Bodenstein, “was most imbued actually about Israeli politics in the region and about US protection of these Israeli politics in the region. And he was to a degree personally suffering from that.” These are volunteer-driven organizations; they’re merely channeling and organizing this specific form of popular discontent.

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straightwood 09.12.11 at 1:16 pm

As to international law, I’m not sure why you would give it any moral precedence over domestic law.

Then you would repudiate the Nuremberg principles and allow Hitler-era atrocities, provided they were, as in the case of Germany, legal under domestic law. Your elastic concept of law conveniently permits any level of violence that your authoritarian personality desires, as long as it has some “legal” cover. This silly-putty concept of “law” was employed by John Yoo when he legalized torture for the Bush administration, presumably with your approval.

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Salient 09.12.11 at 1:55 pm

To claim now that your argument has nothing to do with US law is a bit disingenuous, imho.

What the f, dude, I went back explicitly, specifically excluded that one-paragraph side comment that didn’t stick to U.S. law. The rest of what I said did stick to U.S. law. Pretending that I didn’t take the time to make another comment and specifically remove that “First of all” paragraph as irrelevant to the discussion is very disingenuous, imo. Did you bother to read the rest of what I wrote?

* Congress can’t tie the hands of future Congresses, but a treaty is not a legislative act. The power to negotiate treaties rests with the executive office.

* The executive office is given the power “to make Treaties” (II.2) but not the power to break them.

* The executive office could negotiate a new treaty that supersedes the old one and get all the old treaty’s signatories to sign the new treaty, but that’s sidestepping the issue.

* In the Constitution, no branch of government is ever given the authority to unilaterally modify or withdraw the U.S.’s status as signatory to a treaty.

* The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

* The States explicitly do not have the right to sign onto, modify, or withdraw from a treaty. Article I, Section 10.

I rest my case.

In theory, if Congress passes a bill saying “F you all, we withdraw from all treaty obligations, we’re the US and we do what we want,” and the Supreme Court rules that’s ok, there’s really no further formal means for contesting the constitutionality of the obligation-withdrawal. But then, that’s true for anything. If Alabama passes a law that allows white people to shoot anyone who looks Mexican, and the Supreme Court rules that’s constitutional, there’s really no further formal means for contesting the constitutionality of mass murder.

As to international law, I’m not sure why you would give it any moral precedence over domestic law.

Well ok, let me scale that back, let’s say I give law prohibiting or restricting war some moral precedence over the laws of a nation. Maybe moral precedence is the wrong phrase to use. I’m willing to set that part aside or retract it or whatever, since it has nothing to do with my argument.

103

LFC 09.12.11 at 2:52 pm

A. Kelleher @93:
Thanks for the clarification. I remembered that the GW Bush admin withdrew from the ABM treaty but had forgotten the mechanism, i.e., a clause in the treaty allowing withdrawal with a certain amount of advance notice.

104

Tom Bach 09.12.11 at 4:28 pm

As an aside, the Auschwitz or Frankfurt trial of 1964 was it, used contemporary German laws, that is laws on the books in the 30s and 40s, to convict Holocaust perpetrators.

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Kaveh 09.12.11 at 4:49 pm

J Otto Pohl @41 “it is hard to say that opposition to human rights violations was the real motive”

Well, I never said anything about “the real motive”, just about whether there actually was a genocide being committed. I don’t even see why “the real motive” is all that important.

geo @44, okay, you’re talking about the genocide in Kosovo, which happened later, I was talking about the earlier events in Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia.

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MarkUp 09.12.11 at 5:15 pm

@Andrew – “Chaplains are given protection to allow them to provide spiritual comfort to those in battle. Once they exceed that role,…

…That leadership took advantage of a variety of alienations and real problems to recruit.”

So would you consider Col. (ret) E.H. (Jim) Ammerman an appropriate target? His followers and fellow believers? Then and/or now? Now because of then? Should, in effort to maintain our separation of C&S, he/they be parted out to GTMO? Should the other team be allowed or not vilified for taking equiv actions? How about 3rd parties?

> “As to what the inherent right of self-defense involves, it is certainly not settled that one may act in self-defense only upon actual or imminent attack. There are those who argue this – but their arguments fly in the face of any reasonable understanding of self-defense, particularly given the nature of modern war. But in fact there is not a settled interpretation.”

Should Canada take preemptive action against US? History would be on their side, eh? ;)

107

geo 09.12.11 at 5:25 pm

Andrew @97: I guess we’re both too lazy to chase down citations, which is (I hope) entirely forgiveable. But I think you’re quite wrong about the legal meaning of “self-defense” and”imminent” and about the obligations imposed by the UN Charter.

108

Watson Ladd 09.12.11 at 6:12 pm

@Henri: The Taliban don’t think of themselves as simply stopping the US. They have a positive program. The contents of that program strike me as something that entirely justifies war to stop it from being enacted.

109

CharleyCarp 09.12.11 at 6:45 pm

I don’t know what exactly Aulaqi is doing; I know of rumors that are sourced to anonymous people who have proven pretty unreliable. I do know that our military/intelligence operation doesn’t usually call out members of the enemy force by name. Having done so, having made a particular finding, I think that finding ought to be reviewable on petition of someone with appropriate standing.

I also think detention in Bagram ought to be reviewable. The idea that habeas jurisdiction depends on the location of the prison and not the identity of the jailer is a mistake and, I expect, will be seen as such at some distant point in the future. The point of the suspension clause, and of the 1679 act, were that you can’t hide your detentions from the law either by going offshore or by declaring yourself exempt because there’s an emergency (unless there really is one).

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.12.11 at 7:07 pm

@108, I don’t get this at all.

111

CharleyCarp 09.12.11 at 7:27 pm

Should Canada take preemptive action against US?

Yes. Canada should demand to come in as 10 states (plus a Puerto Rico like free commonwealth) to finally dilute away the effects in the US of plantation slavery. Do the Canadians want to save humanity or not?

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Salient 09.12.11 at 7:36 pm

They have a positive program.

But doesn’t every international criminal organization have a positive program? (It’s a serious question, I could be misunderstanding what you mean.) What I’m thinking is, we didn’t declare war on the Mafia…

I think you’re quite wrong about the legal meaning of “self-defense” and”imminent” and about the obligations imposed by the UN Charter.

I’m pretty sure Andrew asserts that the United States only has the obligation they want to have, as regards the UN Charter (with ‘U.S. = they’ meaning Congress + President & etc). If we’re allowed to choose how strictly we adhere to the Charter, and if we’re allowed to define for ourselves the meaning of self-defense rather than have those definitions strictly imposed upon us by the Charter, as I think Andrew is suggesting, then the whole Charter’s effectively meaningless. Apparently we can back out whenever we like, or bend the rules as selectively or leniently as we see fit. So it’s nothing more binding than a loose statement of our current intentions. Yikes.

Sadly given that our army >>>>>>> the armies of the rest of the world combined, Andrew’s description is probably correct in practice. I’m not sure what the rest of the world could really do, if we decided to up and invade and upend Pakistan for the hell of it, asserting that there exists some ongoing security concern there (and in that case, unlike Iraq, the assertion itself would be fairly well-founded).

113

Watson Ladd 09.12.11 at 7:43 pm

The Taliban is a political movement. They want to reshape society in a way the Mafia doesn’t even try to. They want to do all sorts of nasty things to a lot of people, not out of any sense of resisting the US, but that’s what they are going to set out to do. I’m not going to bore you with a lengthy description of their crimes, but the fact that thousands flee their advances in Pakistan should convince you of their reality and serious nature. Doesn’t that make military action against the Taliban justified in the same way slavery justified the Civil War and monarchy Napoleon’s conquest of Europe?

114

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.12.11 at 7:50 pm

No, it doesn’t. In fact, it goes against the core principles of international relations.

115

straightwood 09.12.11 at 8:14 pm

@113

The US power elite have made justification of military adventures into a propaganda art form. FOX News alone could have 40% of Americans rabidly committed to invading any country in the world with 72 hours of atrocity stories. For some putrid monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, it would take even less time, since they flaunt their barbaric customs.

Regrettably, for many American, the rationale for the WAR ON TERROR is anything they have been told often enough on television (e.g., “We are fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here”). America’s blood-stained pursuit of self-interest has empowered some of the most vicious regimes in modern history, so our objection to the “crimes” of the Taliban stinks of hypocrisy.

I understand when ignorant people claim that the USA is a champion of liberty and defender of the poor, but when educated and informed people on this blog spout this nonsense it is insufferable. As long as the tyrants we support keep our business and military interests happy, America, Inc. doesn’t give a flying flip for the innocents rotting in their prisons. That is the realpolitik face of America that the “good war” lovers refuse to see.

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Watson Ladd 09.12.11 at 8:41 pm

Far better inconsistent virtue then consistent vice.

117

MarkUp 09.12.11 at 9:31 pm

“Far better inconsistent virtue then consistent vice.”

Much like death by freezing is better than death by old age, I suppose.

118

Watson Ladd 09.12.11 at 9:38 pm

So faced with the knowledge the Taliban could be destroyed by us and that our failure to act costs lives and liberty, we are supposed to do nothing because we cannot do everything? I find this argument deeply wrong.

119

soru 09.12.11 at 9:49 pm

No, it doesn’t. In fact, it goes against the core principles of international relations.

Well yes, the core principle of international relations is that the successful perpetration of atrocities gets you a palace, a choice of arms deals and a coterie of apologists who go around repeating that any description of what you did is meaningless propaganda.

120

Uncle Kvetch 09.12.11 at 9:50 pm

So faced with the knowledge the Taliban could be destroyed by us

I don’t “know” this. How do you “know” it?

and that our failure to act costs lives and liberty

In case you haven’t noticed, we have “acted” to the tune of nearly 10 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and thousands of lives lost, a great many of them innocents caught in the crossfire.

Utterly bizarre.

121

Uncle Kvetch 09.12.11 at 9:51 pm

Well yes, the core principle of international relations is that the successful perpetration of atrocities gets you a palace, a choice of arms deals and a coterie of apologists who go around repeating that any description of what you did is meaningless propaganda.

I’m sure Bush and Cheney have very nice spreads these days, but I think “palace” may be a bit much.

122

Salient 09.12.11 at 10:18 pm

So faced with the knowledge the Taliban could be destroyed by us and that our failure to act costs lives and liberty will prevent millions of otherwise uneffected people from being killed or maimed by the war we begin and its aftermath, we are supposed to do nothing because we cannot do everything?

Fix’d. Accuse us of whistling past the graveyard while the Taliban are filling it, and you receive from us an accusation that you support mass murder on a scale the Taliban couldn’t dream to achieve in a century. Seems fair to me.

Reminds me of the bumper sticker So you’re for killing babies, but against killing terrorists? Why on Earth would I want to converse with someone so priggish?

Actually I like this fix even better:

…we are supposed to do nothing because we cannot do everything?

We are supposed to do nothing because we cannot do anything right.

I submit, as proof, one decade of senseless tragedy perpetrated by my damn fool country. (Which sure as hell hasn’t weakened the Taliban as a criminal organization, unless by ‘weaken’ one counter-intuitively means ‘massively improve recruitment to, despite their temporary withdrawal from actively exercising political authority over the whole of Afghanistan, which it’s not abundantly clear they were able to sustain in the first place.’)

123

James 09.12.11 at 10:52 pm

Salient @102 and @112

Under US law, the Constitution is always the highest Law of the land regardless of what treaties are ratified by the US Sentate. These days, US generally spells out this limitation in the treaties it signs. As the US Constitution grants that the Declaration of War is a power held by Congress, it would take a Constitutional Amendment to give that power to another entity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reid_v._Covert

124

MarkUp 09.12.11 at 11:04 pm

@Watson – “So faced with the knowledge the…”

That wasn’t an argument any more than saying we need to rip out the highways and airports would be considering the odds of being killed sometime in the next year in any sort of transportation accident is 77 to 1, which I didn’t say. It was more an [¿ anti] paradox of choice.

125

straightwood 09.12.11 at 11:07 pm

The depth of cold-blooded predatory exploitation of the events of 9/11 is unfathomable to people with conventional morals. Rove, Bush, Cheney, and their whole sick crew were jacked up on some sort of domestic Nietschean philosophical brew that relegated morality to the “little people.” In their power-crazed minds, they were history’s heroic actors, and what a performance of knavery, brutality, and greed they put on. Historians will record the 9/11 decade as one of the most shameful chapters in America’s recent history.

126

Watson Ladd 09.12.11 at 11:49 pm

Salient, the people of Afghanistan were not unaffected by Taliban rule. They were politically disenfranchised, 50% of them virtually slaves, and subject to arbitrary and capricious authority. Furthermore I don’t recall millions being killed in Afghanistan. If you want to make utilitarian arguments you should get your facts straight.

MarkUp, you are assuming something major about the costs of the war in your counterargument.

Henri, you are privileging state sovereignty. Political entities in my mind do not automatically receive deference. Citizenship might require us to speak more harshly about our own states then others, but it does not require us to avoid criticizing all other states. And if we would consider military action against our country under certain conditions, we should consider it against other countries.

127

Salient 09.13.11 at 12:20 am

Salient, the people of Afghanistan were not unaffected by Taliban rule.

Quite a lot of folks in the U.S. military and their families were unaffected.

If you want to make utilitarian arguments you should get your facts straight.

Admittedly, I’m not a utilitarian. Mostly I was trying to point out how silly your boisterous comment was. There’s a big big difference between “well, nobody’s perfect” and “wow are we ever botching the hell out of that” and the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan clearly belongs in the latter category.

As the US Constitution grants that the Declaration of War is a power held by Congress, it would take a Constitutional Amendment to give that power to another entity.

I sort of think that interpretation of Reid v Covert is backwards (though I am apparently not on very sturdy ground here). The decision specifically states that international treaty can’t give more power to the Congress than the Bill of Rights allows. It doesn’t say that treaties cannot bindingly restrict exercise of that power.

At the beginning we reject the idea that when the United States acts against citizens abroad it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely [354 U.S. 1, 6] a creature of the Constitution. 3 Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. … The language of Art. III, 2 manifests that constitutional protections for the individual were designed to restrict the United States Government when it acts outside of this country, as well as here at home. — R v C, pages 5-6

[blah blah] …no agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution. — page 16

And actually, saying “treaties cannot in any way restrict actions of Congress” is exactly equal to saying “treaties do not matter for squat whatsoever” since the whole point of a treaty is to agree to restrict states’ behavior in various ways (presumably in mutually beneficial ways). And if I’m wrong about how expansive Reid v Covert is, and the Supreme Court’s opinion is that treaties can’t restrict Congress, I have to admit I don’t understand why we would have treaties in the first place, because they’d be utterly meaningless.

128

straightwood 09.13.11 at 12:28 am

Salient, the people of Afghanistan were not unaffected by Taliban rule.

The Taliban rose to power because they were initially preferable to the near-anarchy of warlord rule, a state resulting from the US proxy war against the Soviet occupation, in which Osama Bin Laden was on “our side.” Of course, the truncated melodrama of Afghanistan playing in the heads of America’s good warriors doesn’t stretch back that far, just as our propaganda play about Iran doesn’t include anything concerning the Shah and the CIA overthrow of his democratically elected predecessor.

I have no problem accepting that ignorant, propaganda-addled Americans justify our endless war with these distorted views, but when literate and educated people repeat propaganda fairy tales, it undermines my belief in the future of our species.

129

Salient 09.13.11 at 12:47 am

tl;dr the Supreme Court has ruled that the United States can’t evade its constitutional responsibilities via treaty, but I haven’t seen a ruling that asserts the United States can’t limit its legislative rights via treaty. (In fact, I think the fact that treaties can do this is exactly why the Constitution requires the Senate to supermajority-approve treaties before they are ratified. But that’s a side issue.)

It is entirely possible I am about to get schooled on this, but consider for example this passage from Geofroy v Riggs:

The treaty power, as expressed in the Constitution, is in terms unlimited except by those restraints which are found in that instrument against the action of the government or of its departments, and those arising from the nature of the government itself and of that of the States. It would not be contended that it extends so far as to authorize what the Constitution forbids, or a change in the character of the [354 U.S. 1, 18] government or in that of one of the States, or a cession of any portion of the territory of the latter, without its consent.

Now it is true that the ruling explicitly states:

This Court has regularly and uniformly recognized the supremacy of the Constitution over a treaty.

However, in context, it seems to be saying that the Court has regularly and uniformly recognized the supremacy of Constitutional citizen protections over any treaty which seems to curtail the applicability of those protections.

This summary seems to support me (weakly), not that that means much.

130

Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 12:59 am

straightwood, why should that history matter for whether or not continuing the fight against the Taliban is a good idea today?

Salient, how does the Migratory Bird Treaty fit into that argument? It was used to get around limitations on the Commerce Clause.

131

straightwood 09.13.11 at 1:20 am

straightwood, why should that history matter for whether or not continuing the fight against the Taliban is a good idea today?

History matters because it tells us that simple-minded rationales for very costly and destructive wars are seldom correct. We are continuing the endless WAR ON TERROR because is is a cracking good business for some of the most powerful corporations in America, not because we are advancing the cause of social justice in Afghanistan.

If you fight an endless war, sooner or later you will kill a bad person. That does not justify a deeply dishonest and largely destructive foreign policy that has drained our treasury and destroyed our credibility in the Islamic world.

132

Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 1:42 am

Straightwood: And so ultimately our treasury and our credibility are more important then the lives of others. I don’t think motivations matter: while sympathetic to Kant I’m not going to say someone is bad for wanting to do good for bad reasons.

133

MarkUp 09.13.11 at 2:02 am

@ Watson – “Far better inconsistent virtue then consistent vice.”

You’re still assuming there was an argument with that. There wasn’t. There was an obtuse [perhaps] rede, but certainly no argument or counter. It’s was not something that is particularly arguable; well it wasn’t then but I do have a beer now so it could change…
… so in stripping some gloss, is the faltering virtue purposely preventing death[s], and the consistent vice public booger picking?

134

geo 09.13.11 at 2:17 am

Seconding Salient @129 in answer to James @123: the decision James cites (Reid v. Covert) is characterized this way in the link: “The Court found that “no agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution.”" In other words, no treaty obligation can trump a Constitutionally protected right. But this seems to mean, as Salient points out with reference to a different case, the Constitutionally protected rights of citizens against the government. It does not seem to mean that the Congress, having accepted certain treaty obligations (like those expressed in the UN Charter), can disregard them when it pleases. It only prevents Congress from making treaties that violate Constitutional rights — again, presumably of citizens.

135

straightwood 09.13.11 at 2:48 am

I’m not going to say someone is bad for wanting to do good for bad reasons.

When someone disguises evil as a noble action, it is doubly evil. This kind of sophistry is corrosive to society, because it affords malefactors a defense based on any incidental good arising from bad actions. The moral compass spins aimlessly as superficial appearances become the criteria for judgments of character and policy. It suggest the absurd conclusion that only evil people can accomplish good things.

Your statement is such a fundamental declaration of moral bankruptcy, that no further discourse is possible. A person who believes this would say anything to win an argument, irrespective of truth or logic, and justify the action by claiming to produce some “good.”

136

Donald Johnson 09.13.11 at 3:04 am

“Doesn’t that make military action against the Taliban justified in the same way slavery justified the Civil War and monarchy Napoleon’s conquest of Europe?”

Napolean’s conquest of Europe? I didn’t know people were still defending that.

137

Salient 09.13.11 at 3:50 am

After an enlightening in-person conversation, I’ll save others the trouble of responding to my not-terribly-bright post earlier saying “[if] treaties can’t restrict Congress, I have to admit I don’t understand why we would have treaties in the first place, because they’d be utterly meaningless.” Under that logic, laws are utterly meaningless, since laws passed by previous Congresses can’t restrict Congress’s ability to pass legislation that would revise existing statutes. My apologies for whiffing on something so obvious.

As for the rest of my argument, I’m allegedly almost surely wrong, because Congress’s ability to pass legislation is sacrosanct according to the Constitution. I’ve been trying to argue that, unlike legislation which can always be annihilated later on by passing a bill that says the opposite thing, there is no mechanism in the Constitution for undoing ratification of a treaty, ergo all treaties are ratified in perpetuity. Which would be cool, if it were true. My argument is basically sunk because [1] nobody else in the world interprets the wording in the precise and peculiar way that I need to in order to make my argument make sense and [2] five copies of me are not sitting on the Supreme Court.

Boo. Somewhere my old high school civics teacher is weeping and crying out, “why didn’t you listen to Andrew?!”

Salient, how does the Migratory Bird Treaty fit into that argument? It was used to get around limitations on the Commerce Clause.

The trouble with SWANCC is the Supreme Court evaded the interesting questions and stuck to the sadly completely sensible ‘the existence or nonexistence of a pond in the middle of nowhere has negligible effect on interstate commerce, even if some pretty birds bathe in it’ assertion (though I suppose I should be deeply grateful for that, given frustrating/execrable decisions like US v Morrison).

I really feel like what we’re missing is a case where [1] the U.S. signed onto a treaty that constrained the circumstances in which it can exercise its Constitution-granted capacity to declare war (or to fulfill other duties unambiguously delegated by the Constitution), and then [2] the U.S. attempted to get around or ignore those constraints, and it went to the Supreme Court. But at this point that’s just an academic exercise, given the two paragraphs I led this comment with.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.11 at 6:11 am

@Soru 119, the core principle of international relations is respect for national sovereignty, and prevention of wars between nations. There are very good reasons for that.

However, you, personally, together with Watson Ladd are free to join any anti-Taliban resistance you like, peaceful or armed. Surely you can afford a plane ticket, and once you’re there, I hear AK47s are very inexpensive. As a bonus, the silly rhetoric, about ‘we’ doing this or that, would make a bit more sense.

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soru 09.13.11 at 10:40 am

@138: the core principle of international relations is respect for national sovereignty, and prevention of wars between nations

Why do you think restating the same facts in flowery rhetoric is a counterargument? How is ‘respect for national sovereignty’ functionally different from ‘selling the dictator a palace and some fragmentation bombs’? Why do you prefer the vaguer phrase?

There are very good reasons for that.

Yes, there are certainly good reasons for it, within a certain context and scope of validity. But I am unconvinced those arguments are well served by becoming disconnected from the reality of what is being advocated.

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Andrew F. 09.13.11 at 11:18 am

On the legal question of treaties: they are no more binding upon Congress than ordinary US law. That has been the settled law of the land for quite some time, and clearly accords with the supremacy clause. In fact, it seems quite likely that unilateral Presidential withdrawal will be a viable and recognized legal option for the foreseeable future as well.

On the definition of “self-defense”: Geo, I’ll continue to disagree with you, but I appreciate your courtesy in expressing your disagreement with me.

Salient: I wouldn’t say treaties are meaningless – but it’s simply true that a nation can reject or withdraw from a treaty as it pleases. True power rests with the sovereign. It’s also true that particularly ambiguous terms like “self-defense” are subject not only to contested interpretations, but are also subject to changing implications as the nature of war changes and so the actions that self-defense requires changes. What was required by “self-defense” in the 17th century differs greatly from that required today, for example.

Does this make international law of dubious efficacy in regulating military conflicts? Absolutely. But this is not new news!

Henri: Leadership tends to use its membership instrumentally and strategically. Understanding their intentions is important to anticipating their actions; anticipating their actions is important to defeating them. I wouldn’t consider Atta to be leadership. I’d consider him to be one of those willingly used by leadership to a strategic end.

CharleyCarp: Well, the military actually isn’t that shy about naming individuals it is targeting. In fact they’ve had a tendency to deal out the names like playing cards. But, more seriously, do you mean that ANYONE the military names should result in a review of the military’s finding? What would be the finding that the reviewing party would review? And who would this reviewing party be?

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straightwood 09.13.11 at 12:57 pm

Well, the military actually isn’t that shy about naming individuals it is targeting. In fact they’ve had a tendency to deal out the names like playing cards. But, more seriously, do you mean that ANYONE the military names should result in a review of the military’s finding? What would be the finding that the reviewing party would review? And who would this reviewing party be?

Andrew’s willing suspension of disbelief regarding assassination is enabled by the magic word, MILITARY. Once this word is whispered, all reason flies out the window, because now we are in fear of our national security. A funny thing happened on our way to becoming nationally secure. America’s leaders found that almost anyone they didn’t like could be considered a threat to national security.

Andrew is fully aware of the incarceration and abuse of innocent people at Guantanamo, many of whom were handed over for bounties, but he doesn’t care if mistakes were made, because the MILITARY made the mistakes. It is all good as long as it is a MILITARY decision that is keeping him safe. He is delighted that the MILITARY is spreading so much rage in the Islamic world that an ever increasing number of targeted killings is needed to keep him safe.

But wait! The CIA, which used to be an intelligence agency, is now in the robotic killing business, having executed over 2,000 “terrorists” via remote controlled strikes. Are they quasi-military, or para-military, or just desk murderers? No problem for Andrew. It’s all MILITARY, and it’s all good.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.11 at 2:09 pm

How is ‘respect for national sovereignty’ functionally different from ‘selling the dictator a palace and some fragmentation bombs’?

It’s different in that it has nothing whatsoever to do with selling anything to anyone.

Yes, there are certainly good reasons for it, within a certain context and scope of validity. But I am unconvinced those arguments are well served by becoming disconnected from the reality of what is being advocated.

Fair enough. However, it seems that what’s being advocated is always disconnected from the reality of what’s being planned and done. A national government is an institution that represents the interests of its constituency. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that any national government could ever invade a foreign nations with the purpose of doing something nice to the population of that nation, and at the expense of its own constituency. That is simply impossible. Once this is understood, I think everything should become clear: the US may fight the Taliban today, but it might start arming, supporting, and glamorizing the Taliban (or something similar) tomorrow (just as it did back in the 1980s). So, the assumptions behind ‘we’re doing this or that’ are completely bogus.

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Salient 09.13.11 at 2:15 pm

Does this make international law of dubious efficacy in regulating military conflicts? Absolutely. But this is not new news!

Neither is it welcome news, or news unsomber enough to warrant an exclamation point. There really was a point and purpose to the Vienna conventions, and flouting that purpose

True power rests with the sovereign.

Horrifying. I’d rather that true power rests with the populace, you know? And the power to annihilate cities’ worth of people in war, that power I’d rather have limited by a supermajority population support across multiple nations.

In your view of international relations, I don’t understand how you can condemn the World Trade Center attacks. The military force Al Qaeda identified strategic targets in the WTC and Pentagon, and conducted a targeted strike, using its authority to unilaterally dispose of targets it considers a threat. If our military gets to use that kind of justification, theirs does to, right? It’s just business, at that point.

But, more seriously, do you mean that ANYONE the military names should result in a review of the military’s finding?

This belief that the military is allowed to unilaterally declare open season on assassination for any target is alarming. I suppose anyone who Al Qaeda names should not be subject to review either, and no international force should be applied in any attempt to protect the right of the named person to face a jury and hearing before being subjected to assassination.

Let’s try it this way. If you identify Al Qaeda as a military force in conflict with ours, then anything you allow our military to do, you must also allow their military to do. And that means legally (in the sense of international law) in addition to morally. There’s no coherent principle of fairness/justice that allows ‘us’ to commit atrocities that are prohibited to ‘them.’ (And if you attempt to assert that pre-emptively striking us disqualified them from any such reciprocal protection, I’d like to point out that our striking Iraq pre-emptively means we have no recourse vs Iraq aggression — in that case, you’re giving Iraq the unrestricted and assymmetrical right to conduct assassination operations on U.S. soil when and where their security force sees fit.)

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LFC 09.13.11 at 2:17 pm

Watson Ladd, esp. at 113, seems to want to recast the war in Afghanistan as an armed humanitarian intervention, i.e., the Taliban are horrible, therefore military action against them is justified. However, the main (official) rationale for acting vs the Taliban after 9/11 was (and remains) that the Taliban, when in control of Afghanistan, allowed al Qaeda to use the country as a training center and base of operations. Whether one finds this rationale persuasive or not, whether one supports the NATO operation in Afghanistan or not, this is a somewhat firmer rationale than the one Watson favors from the standpoint of international law and also as a practical matter. As Henri implied, if the al Qaeda/terrorism/’self-defense’ angle had not existed, an action to invade Afghanistan and remove the Taliban would have run up against the principle of non-intervention. One could have tried to trump it with R2P, but as a practical matter there would have been little or no appetite for a Libya-style R2P intervention against the Taliban (if the al Qaeda connection had not existed) — and that lack of appetite, given the difficulties Afghanistan’s geography and history pose for any military operation, would have been very understandable. In short, yes the Taliban are horrible, but justifying military action vs them mainly on that basis is quite problematic.

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straightwood 09.13.11 at 2:40 pm

@144

American militarists don’t argue in good faith, as is clear from Andrew and Watson Ladd’s posts. Their constantly shifting arguments reflect the psyops of the US Military. It’s all about securing dominance for the good old USA. Winning is their mission, and for all we know “Andrew” is part of a domestic psyops unit. That is why these threads never seldom result in fruitful discourse. The militarists will sacrifice anything to prevail, including the truth.

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Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 2:52 pm

Straightwood I’m arguing in good faith. If you could demonstrate that surrender to the Taliban is better for the people of Afghanistan then continuing the war, I would support that surrender. But that’s a pretty high bar of horrible. Furthermore, suppose someone is sexually gratified by helping old ladies across the street. Is his helping the old lady across the street immoral because it makes her an agent of his sexual gratification without consent?

Henri, war is not the worst thing in the world. Slavery and tyranny are. Besides, you seem to be arguing that since war is carried out for perceived national interests it must always be opposed, to avoid it being used for immoral interests. But I’m pointing out that the US has been very willing to sacrifice men and money to defeat slavery, and so we should not always expect base motives from the US.

Salient, did I ever say we should kill civilians? The Pentagon attack was perfidy, but the target was very acceptable. The Twin Towers were not a legitimate target under any conditions.

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straightwood 09.13.11 at 3:08 pm

Straightwood I’m arguing in good faith. If you could demonstrate that surrender to the Taliban is better for the people of Afghanistan then continuing the war, I would support that surrender.

Do you have any basis for assuming that the condition of people in Afghanistan today, under effective local warlord rule and the massive corruption of the Karzai regime, is better than it was under the Taliban? Your use of the term “surrender” shows that you have a cartoonish view of the situation, in which we are the gallant defenders of an innocent populace against sinister oppressors.

This is the same story that the public was sold in Vietnam. America was dropping napalm and cratering 15% of the surface of the country to defend “freedom” of the Vietnamese peasants. How did that work out?

Your childish search for feel-good rationales makes you easy prey for the PR professionals who tell you how many schools have been painted and how many Taliban atrocities were committed. Meanwhile, the war profits keep rolling in. How many more decades of this nonsense are you willing to pay for? How long must Afghanistan bleed because it make you feel we are doing good?

I know what really makes you feel good: it is that militaristic buzz you get while you help the old Afghan lady across the street.

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Salient 09.13.11 at 3:29 pm

Salient, did I ever say we should kill civilians?

Well, I think you did, but you get away with claiming you didn’t because you basically define whoever the hell you want to be a ‘combatant’ and then define citizens to be noncombatants. One-step, two-step, you get to kill anyone you want and they don’t get to kill anyone they want. The problem is, that kind of definition is incoherent to anyone who isn’t rigidly partisan enough to blow past its obvious faults. If I grant you the right to assert unilaterally who legitimate military targets are, I have to grant that same right to Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Given that that is my alternative, if it’s ok with you, I’d really rather just go on believing that you advocate killing civilianesque people (more on this in a bit).

Even by the U.S. definition of civilian, we assassinate civilians all the time, with drone attacks in Pakistan; civilians are targeted because we think those civilians might be traveling with or providing material support to combatants, and IIRC we acknowledge a 60%-80% success rate. Can you imagine the military coursing through the streets of Detroit killing anyone who looks like they might be providing organized support to gang members that assert authority over certain streets, and declaring that it’s all OK because four out of five murdered civilians did turn out to be offering such support in some ill-defined way?

So to me, killing people with little regard for their welfare seems to be within the realm of what you support, because you dehumanize an entire class of people by recategorizing them as terrorists, or warriors, or sympathizers, or combatants, or whatever the WOTD is. And people who don’t deserve to have their human rights stripped away and be subject to assassination or imprisonment without trial is the category I care about, not people-who-are-civilians.

But more importantly. If we’re allowed to define whoever the hell we want on their side as noncivilian, then they’re allowed to define whoever the hell they want on our side as noncivilian. Reciprocity. If you don’t consent to strictly internationally agreed-upon standards for who constitutes an enemy combatant, then you are affording your enemies the right to be reciprocally expansive in their definition of who among us is combatant/sympathizer/deserving-of-death.

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straightwood 09.13.11 at 3:49 pm

Chris Hedges on the real disaster of 9/11:

We could have gone another route. We could have built on the profound sympathy and empathy that swept through the world following the attacks. The revulsion over the crimes that took place 10 years ago, including in the Muslim world, where I was working in the weeks and months after 9/11, was nearly universal. The attacks, if we had turned them over to intelligence agencies and diplomats, might have opened possibilities not of war and death but ultimately reconciliation and communication, of redressing the wrongs that we commit in the Middle East and that are committed by Israel with our blessing. It was a moment we squandered. Our brutality and triumphalism, the byproducts of nationalism and our infantile pride, revived the jihadist movement. We became the radical Islamist movement’s most effective recruiting tool. We descended to its barbarity. We became terrorists too. The sad legacy of 9/11 is that the assholes, on each side, won.

Link

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.11 at 4:00 pm

But I’m pointing out that the US has been very willing to sacrifice men and money to defeat slavery

You’re wrong about that too. That war was fought to keep control over the southern states, slavery or no slavery. This is not even controversial.

151

MarkUp 09.13.11 at 4:47 pm

Coalitions of the willing never have identical, singular motives for action.

152

Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 5:07 pm

Salish, we are adhering to internationally accepted rules on who is a noncombatant. Its active participation in hostilities. Your Detroit example ignores the whole AUMF, which is central to the military doing anything.

Henri, Charles Beard wants to have a word with you, as does Karl Marx. The lost cause ideology espoused by Leftists! John Brown wasn’t trying to control the Southern States, he was trying to free the slaves.

153

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.11 at 5:24 pm

John Brown wasn’t trying to control the Southern States, he was trying to free the slaves.

Absolutely. And that’s exactly why I suggested that you should follow his example, stop blowing hot air, and start marching on Kandahar immediately. Time’s a-wastin’, the suffering masses of Afghans need your support. Now.

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Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 6:17 pm

They get it every April 15th.

155

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.13.11 at 6:32 pm

What happens on April 15th, you send a check to Hamid Karzai?

Washington has endorsed plans for the Islamist network to open political headquarters in the gulf state of Qatar by the end of the year. The move has been devised so the West can begin formal peace talks with the Taliban. ….

The initiative follows more than a year of informal stop-start talks between Western diplomats and a senior representative of the Taliban, Tayyab Agha, at the home of a former Taliban diplomat in Qatar.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad and one-time envoy to the UN in New York, said Mr Agha was negotiating with the personal authority of the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Western diplomats said there was little hope of brokering a end to the conflict without his blessing. Previous attempts at negotiations have foundered over the credentials of intermediaries.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/taliban-office-in-qatar-approved-by-us/story-e6frg6so-1226135168019

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Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 6:44 pm

Henri, I’m not sure what your argument is amounting to. Clearly I am willing to pay the costs of the action I endorse, but its also clear that I cannot do anything absent a large number of people willing to carry out that action with me. We don’t say that supporters of higher tax brackets should give more to charity, or that moral objections to abortion justify one withholding taxes that might pay for them.

157

Salient 09.13.11 at 7:35 pm

we are adhering to internationally accepted rules on who is a noncombatant.

Not that I feel much obligation to follow up on this (Salish? Not that I’m stung, it’s cheeky and cute and all, but what’s the reciprocal retort supposed to be? Waddy? Whatsup? Laddie? Watslow Wilson?) but for the sake of planting a flag in the dirt: No. No, we are not adhering to internationally accepted rules on aggression, including rules on who can be targeted by assassination squads. (Did you use the word ‘rule’ rather than ‘treaty’ to try to squeam around the specific treaties which we were discussing back when we were discussing something worth discussing?)

The fact that we have found ways and acted on ways to brazenly flout very nearly every convention which could potentially apply to these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan is pretty important to the general discussion of “we are not acting in accordance with international laws and treaties to which we are signatory” — to which the (sadly unanswerable) retort was not “no actually we’re following all that” in any way shape or form, but something more like “there’s nothing in our own Constitution binding us to all that claptrap crap about actually having to be restrained about how we pursue our wars or how we select who to kill and under what circumstances, international law’s a flimsy sham we can abandon whenever we feel like, so stuff it, World, we didn’t even ratify hardly any of it in the first place and even the stuff we did ratify, we’ll ignore at will ’cause you can’t bind us to nothin’ and our own laws won’t hold us to account for it.”

Which is unsatisfactory, but I don’t exactly have recourse.

They get it every April 15th.

That’s a couple orders of magnitude too brass-necked for my tolerance level. I’m out.

158

Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 7:39 pm

Sorry Salient, I have issues with typing correctly. Salish is a word I am very familiar with typing: its the name of a language family in the Northwest US, and finger memory took over. So let’s have at the factual issue: What do the Geneva Conventions, the AUMF, and any agreements between Afghanistan and the US say about who is a combatant, and have we had documented proof that the US is assassinating persons who do not qualify as combatants?

159

straightwood 09.13.11 at 10:42 pm

have we had documented proof that the US is assassinating persons who do not qualify as combatants?

The process is opaque, and requires that we trust the CIA. The CIA has been involved in a long history of unsavory clandestine operations, including coups, arms smuggling, and assassinations. The CIA deliberately, and illegally, destroyed recordings of the torture of captives. Having a secret agency decide who should live or die is as far from due process as you can get. How long before domestic “terrorists” are summarily executed?

160

MarkUp 09.13.11 at 11:02 pm

@158 – “How long before domestic “terrorists” are summarily executed?”

Are negative numbers allowed? ;)

161

Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 11:40 pm

straightwood, why should due process apply to the armed forces? Again, I think the key contention you are making is that terrorism should be a civilian problem handled by the police, not the military. Its not clear how that would work in say Yemen or Pakistan .

162

CharleyCarp 09.14.11 at 12:41 am

Why should due process apply to the armed forces?

Because it’s in the fucking magna charta? And the fifth amendment. The government that we have created doesn’t have the power to act outside the law.

163

CharleyCarp 09.14.11 at 12:45 am

Salish, we are adhering to internationally accepted rules on who is a noncombatant. Its active participation in hostilities.

This is plain wrong.

164

CharleyCarp 09.14.11 at 12:49 am

And I don’t see anything in the AUMF which prevents its application in Detroit. Indeed, the SG claimed flatly that it applied to O’Hare when Padilla was captured.

165

straightwood 09.14.11 at 1:18 am

straightwood, why should due process apply to the armed forces?

In which branch of the armed forces would you place the CIA? Are they subject to any laws? They waterboarded one prisoner 183 times in one month. They destroyed torture evidence in defiance of a court order. Obama has a CIA robotic death squad roaming the world killing people with drones – by decree, and you see nothing wrong with that? Where are the checks and balances? Where is the recognition of the corrupting effect of absolute power? Where is your common sense?

166

Salient 09.14.11 at 3:04 am

For the record, thank you for the clarification and no worries about Salish (having not been aware of its literal meaning, I thought it was some strange attempt to assert bonhomie facetiously or via nickname-creation). Still, between the painfully cheeky line about taxes and this–

why should due process apply to the armed forces? (?!)

–and this–

we are adhering to internationally accepted rules on who is a noncombatant [sic - from the next sentence, I think you mean 'combatant' - Sal]. It’s active participation in hostilities.

–I just have to reiterate that I’m checking out of the discussion before I let myself get too pissy in reply (might already be too late). Anyhow, I’ll share a personal anecdote that’s tangentially relevant.

I can never remember what the statute of limitations is for it, but I may-or-may-not have engaged in some nontrivial-but-noncatastrophic property destruction at an ROTC site as part of an ongoing organized protest, and that act was surely engaging in some sort of ‘active participation in hostilities’ (and active indulging in a youthful indiscretion which I’ve yet to completely outgrow). It might even be accurate to say the hostilities were against the property of a U.S. civilian institution, I can never remember the civ-mil distinctions that parse the corridors of the ROTC offices and, for example, we may-or-may-not have exercised very little discretion in precisely whose grey plastic garbage containers got Sharpie’d. I get that you’re slicing up what the words ‘active’ and ‘participation’ and ‘hostilities’ in some particular way that doesn’t apply to that kind of thing, but your characterization feels really ad hoc to me, or maybe the phrase is a posteriori — like, oh this is the definition we need now in order for this stuff we’re doing to be ok, so let’s take this definition.

There’s another CT thread where we (‘we’ meaning it was 99.9% other people’s effort and maybe 0.01% mine) looked up and concretely identified a fairly thorough list of items that would answer question in your #157, and if I get enough energy together I may try to google the relevant thread(s) back into living memory and provide linkage here, since I hate to leave a reasonable “ok let’s hash this out” question unanswered [especially when the work has all already been done for me to copy-paste, if I can only find it].

167

Jack Strocchi 09.14.11 at 5:18 am

John Quiggin @ #12

@Kenny presumably a sensible horse would have refused the bridle and saddle, and had the man ride bareback.

The US government, with the consent of the governed, went into anti-terrorist over-kill after 911, but mainly because it was once bitten, twice shy by the liberal bug. It dropped its guard swept up by a wave of “globaloney” after the end of the Cold War. The day before 911 Clinton was blathering about the wisdom of a borderless world in Australia.

The “sensible horse” (general public) was happy to trot along without “bridle and saddle” during the decade-long “era of good feelings”, with the government pleased to ride”bareback”. So much so that even George W. Bush, in the second of the 2000 presidential election debates, called for a liberalisation of terrorist profiling laws:

there is other forms of racial profiling that goes on in America. Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what is called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we have to do something about that. My friend, Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan, is pushing a law to make sure that Arab-Americans are treated with respect. So racial profiling isn’t just an issue at local police forces. It’s an issue throughout our society. And as we become a diverse society, we’re going to have to deal with it more and more.

And how did that work out on 9/11/? Pretty shabby, although the catastrophic consequences of relaxed border security have been carefully air-brushed out of the received version of history. By both conservative REPs for political reasons, and liberal DEMs for ideological reasons.

Fortunately eye-witnesses do testify. MNBC reports that Michael Tuhoey, an airport clerk, gave Atta a free pass at the airport check-in despite his unsettling appearance and suspicious demeanour, mainly due to his fear of politically correct sanctions:

“I said to myself, ‘If this guy doesn’t look like an Arab terrorist, then nothing does.’ Then I gave myself a mental slap, because in this day and age, it’s not nice to say things like this,” he said. “You’ve checked in hundreds of Arabs and Hindus and Sikhs, and you’ve never done that. I felt kind of embarrassed.”

More liberal border regulations and political correctness are not the whole story when it comes to figuring out why 911 happened. But its a bit rich for liberals to complain about the authoritarian reaction to 911 when part of the buck should have stopped with them, including GW Bush, on this issue a liberal mugged by reality if ever there was one.

PS in the spirit of civil liberties which I know all CT’ers hold dear I trust moderators will let this comment stand.

168

Andrew F. 09.14.11 at 12:04 pm

Salient @143: Horrifying. I’d rather that true power rests with the populace, you know? And the power to annihilate cities’ worth of people in war, that power I’d rather have limited by a supermajority population support across multiple nations.

While I appreciate your vision, that’s not the international system as it currently exists. In the current system, power resides with each state, for better or worse, irrespective of whether that state is democratic. International law as it currently exists, including the UN, does not deserve any form of special respect. It does deserve instrumental respect. Someday that may change.

For democratic nations, power does reside with the populace; and so a democratic government can – imperfectly, subject to the usual distortions – be seen as acting as the people’s agent in international affairs. And as their agent, the first duty is to protect the interests of the principal.

In your view of international relations, I don’t understand how you can condemn the World Trade Center attacks. The military force Al Qaeda identified strategic targets in the WTC and Pentagon, and conducted a targeted strike, using its authority to unilaterally dispose of targets it considers a threat. If our military gets to use that kind of justification, theirs does to, right? It’s just business, at that point.

My view of international relations doesn’t hold that the ends of every nation and organization are equal. Nor does it hold that any and every action undertaken in war is ethical.

With respect to targeting, you’re conflating two different discussions. There is the discussion about whether the President, having decided that an American citizen, in place far outside US jurisdiction or the reach of the legal system, and clearly an active member of a hostile organization engaged in an ongoing military conflict with the US, should be able to target that American citizen without some form of prior judicial review. The only question here is one of procedure in US law. If Aulaki is in fact acting for AQ in a manner not protected by international law, and far from the reach of US law, then he’s a target regardless of his citizenship.

There is a second discussion as to the justice and legality of the US invading Afghanistan, launching attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere, and so forth. Certainly as a matter of conduct in war, attacking military targets consistent with proportionality is legal. So if an adversary of the US, in the course of a military confrontation, launched attacks on domestic US military targets consistent with proportionality etc., that would not be a violation of conduct in war. But so what?

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straightwood 09.14.11 at 1:10 pm

There is the discussion about whether the President, having decided that an American citizen, in place far outside US jurisdiction or the reach of the legal system, and clearly an active member of a hostile organization engaged in an ongoing military conflict with the US, should be able to target that American citizen without some form of prior judicial review.

Ah, so now it is the President who is targeting people for summary execution. And I thought it was a MILITARY matter (assuming that the CIA is a military organization). Obviously all that matters to you is that someone in authority is having people killed summarily. I don’t see much point in continuing this discussion, since you simply ignore points that conflict with your position and continually muddle legal and might-makes-right arguments. Your argument boils down to “We are America, and we can kill at will.”

170

Andrew F. 09.14.11 at 1:53 pm

Straightwood, leaving aside the silly characterizations of my view, what procedure do you think should exist, either in the case of Aulaki or in the case of military strikes generally, that does not exist?

171

straightwood 09.14.11 at 4:24 pm

what procedure do you think should exist, either in the case of Aulaki or in the case of military strikes generally, that does not exist?

The entire military campaign should be halted. Terrorists are criminals, who should be hunted down by coordinated international police and intelligence agency action. Arrest and trial should be the goal, not summary execution. In the case of heavily defended terrorist enclaves, military assistance may be necessary, but only in support of law enforcement personnel.

This struggle was militarized deliberately to secure geo-strategic advantages and to fund the Military Industrial Complex. The grief of our nation was ruthlessly exploited by jingoists and profiteers in a cold blooded, sustained campaign to achieve power projection and enrichment of weapons makers.

TEN YEARS of (very expensive) fighting in Afghanistan have brought us to the point where infiltrators can rain bullets and RPGs on the US embassy in Kabul (yesterday). When both Ralph Nader and Ron Paul call for an end to this farce, I think you should reconsider your position.

172

Jack Strocchi 09.14.11 at 7:10 pm

John Quiggin @ #35

There certainly is a claimed authority to declare people as enemy combatants and kill them. This authority is clearly claimed as entirely unlimited, and regularly exercised without any limits or legal rights of redress, as regards non-citizens located outside the US (the great majority of the world’s population).

Count me as one of those black-hearted reactionaries content to concede the US government’s “claimed authority to declare people as enemy combatants and kill them”. So long as they are suspected terrorists high-tailing out to the Badlands of Trashcanistan.

My impression is that the US’s claims are not “entirely unlimited” and that “most of the world’s population” has thus far managed to get through the night without their sleep being interrupted by a Hellfire missile. Although the shameful business of the pre-emptive war in Iraq does indicate that the Bush White House took its own rhetoric pretty seriously, for a while.

Its a pity about the collateral damage suffered by the citizens of Pakistan, for some reason the drones seem irresistibly attracted to weddings. But my sympathy for this nation is in short supply after the way its leaders conned us with the Bin Laden sting.

The drone strikes have been one of the success stories of the GWOT. Its definitely taken its toll on terrorist leaders and has generally made fugitive terrorists unwelcome at most households. I don’t like the idea of terrorists sleeping soundly in their sanctuaries. Wikipedia records that the drones are killing terrorists faster than Al Quaeda can recruit them:

Messages recovered from Osama bin Laden’s home after his death in 2011, including one from then al Qaeda No. 3, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman reportedly, according to the Agence France-Presse and the Washington Post, expressed frustration with the drone strikes in Pakistan. According to an unnamed U.S. Government official, in his message al-Rahman complained that drone-launched missiles were killing al Qaeda operatives faster than they could be replaced.

More generally its a category mistake to treat the war on terror as police work by other means. Its a war so participants don’t get Miranda rights and access to a lawyer every time they get caught in the cross-hairs.

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straightwood 09.14.11 at 8:51 pm

Count me as one of those black-hearted reactionaries content to concede the US government’s “claimed authority to declare people as enemy combatants and kill them”

A black heart and an empty head are often found in the same person. You think the more people we kill, the safer we are. Unfortunately, when you kill people in a vengance-oriented culture, there is a multiplier effect that does not favor the killers. We are creating enemies faster than we are killing them, but this is exactly what the US Military Industrial Complex wants. If there is no AQ bogeyman, they have to find a substitute, and these have become scarce creatures.

Look at Hollywood’s products and you will see that Americans like to see killing, especially when served up through high technology. The violence we are spreading in the world will not go unanswered. We have killed vastly more people in the Mideast since 9/11 than perished in the WTC and Pentagon attacks, and we don’t intend to stop. Enjoy the show, but don’t think it is making you safe.

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Tom Bach 09.15.11 at 12:42 am

Its a pity about the collateral damage suffered by the citizens of Pakistan, for some reason the drones seem irresistibly attracted to weddings. But my sympathy for this nation is in short supply after the way its leaders conned us with the Bin Laden sting.

Yes, those innocent wedding goers are the very same evil doers who conned us about bin Landen. Jesus, quite literally, wept because of sociopathic crap like this.

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Andrew F. 09.15.11 at 2:49 am

Straightwood, I don’t think a law enforcement response would have been sufficient to handle the threat. I also believe, purely from a prudential vantage, that a strong military response to the attacks of 9/11 was important as a demonstration of the consequences for any state that harbors or aids those who carry out such attacks. Finally, quite frankly, from the perspective of an American and a New Yorker, any foreign group of fanatics that plots for years to kill as many Americans as possible, and then ends 3,000 innocent lives on a day of fanatic lunacy, is highly deserving precisely of what Bin Laden received.

As far as the targeted killing program, in my view it has been a success. It allows the US to focus on killing particular terrorist networks by attacking important nodes and lines of support. And, in conjunction with other lines of effort (intelligence gathering, broader military support, and economic/political reform), it seems to have worked quite well.

I wish it, and those who are undoubtedly on a mission right now, continued success.

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Uncle Kvetch 09.15.11 at 4:16 pm

Yes, those innocent wedding goers are the very same evil doers who conned us about bin Landen. Jesus, quite literally, wept because of sociopathic crap like this.

It’s always refreshing (in a nauseating kind of way) when neocons let their guard down and reveal just how similar their thinking is to that of the 9/11 bombers: there is no such thing as an innocent bystander.

Strip away all the high-minded blather and you get “If the Good Guys do it, it’s good.”

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Salient 09.15.11 at 5:00 pm

my sympathy for this nation is in short supply

I’d like to nominate this as the takeaway phrase from this thread, if not the decade.

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Andrew F. 09.15.11 at 9:52 pm

Also, let’s remember that the targeted killing program produces the least amount of civilian casualties of alternatives.

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Tom Bach 09.15.11 at 10:28 pm

Also, let’s remember that the targeted killing program produces the least amount of civilian casualties of alternatives.

Excluding, of course, an alternative that relies on something other than military activity. Like, say, not blowing people up. But you, of course, knew that.

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Watson Ladd 09.15.11 at 10:49 pm

That assumes we can let al-Queda leaders get away scott-free. That’s an outcome that we should all view as unacceptable. Punishment is deserved for what they have done.

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Tom Bach 09.15.11 at 10:56 pm

That assumes we can let al-Queda leaders get away scott-free. That’s an outcome that we should all view as unacceptable. Punishment is deserved for what they have done.

Because the only way to punish a criminal is to blow stuff up.

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Andrew F. 09.16.11 at 12:10 am

Tom, there was not any reasonable alternative that did not involve military action. The only real questions were strategy and scale.

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Tom Bach 09.16.11 at 12:55 am

Andrew:
There were and are all manner of alternatives that didn’t involve blowing stuff and people up. These alternative weren’t pursued but they did, in fact, exist. Or there ought to have been if, as you argue, there were questions of strategy. Because, after all, strategy means how to attack a or the problem. You could, for example, decide on a strategy that didn’t involve blowing stuff and people up and, instead, pursue a strategy of arresting and trying those specific individuals responsible. That kind of a strategy might or would be hard but it wouldn’t involve blowing stuff and people up.

As to the modifier “reasonable,” I ask how reasonable is blowing up people and invading nation-states who had nothing what so ever to do with the initial outrage?

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Tom Bach 09.16.11 at 1:01 am

Just as by the way, for the German and Austrian militarists in 1914, to say nothing of the French, Russian, Serbian, and etctrians, the only reasonable course was total war. Obviously, they were wrong. So to, I would argue, were those of us who thought blowing stuff and people up in response to 9/11. The point, in the sense of learning from our mistakes, would be to stop insisting that the onliest solution was the bad, stupid, and counter productive one we then made. Consequently, I would suggest, something about standing in holes and the necessity of stopping digging.

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Andrew F. 09.16.11 at 1:33 am

I don’t see a good analogy with ww1.

Going in and simply arresting every AQ fighter wasn’t an option. Nor was the intransigence of the Taliban remotely acceptable for any country in the US’s position.

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Tom Bach 09.16.11 at 2:20 am

I don’t see a good analogy with wwi.
Really? Do you know anything about the Black Hand? Or the debates in Berlin and Vienna about the appropriate response? Or the famous question of who rules in Berlin?
Or Moscow’s overreaction? Do you actually think that the choice was arresting all of them or involving ourselves in 10 or more years of pointless and endlessly costly, in terms of money and lives, war? Instead of some less costly and less effective strategy of not blowing stuff and innocents up? If your answer is no, then your imagination is seriously impaired.

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Tom Bach 09.16.11 at 2:21 am

I meant, of course, more effective.

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Watson Ladd 09.16.11 at 2:23 am

Arresting Osama in the middle of Afghanistan? You would need a lot of guns to get him out. Afghanistan had a lot to do with Al-Queda: it was harboring the main players, and had training camps for its fighters which were used for 9/11. Notice I am not defending Iraq here!

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Tom Bach 09.16.11 at 2:34 am

Arresting Osama in the middle of Afghanistan?
And yet he is dead in the middle of some other state, no?

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CharleyCarp 09.16.11 at 4:39 am

It certainly wouldn’t have been necessary to arrest Yemeni cannon fodder (or less, eg people like Ghaleb Nasser al Bihani) participating in the Afghan civil war priot to 9/11 — and had no involvement in plotting or participation in the 9/11 attacks — to respond adequately to the attack.

In the event, Afghanistan is proving a pottery barn rule more severe that Sec Powell imagined: you don’t even have to have broken it to buy it.

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Andrew F. 09.16.11 at 10:36 am

Charley, perhaps that’s one key distinction between a law enforcement action and a military action.

Law enforcement actions are focused on arresting criminals for prosecution. A presumption of innocence applies to those who are arrested, and they must be treated accordingly. While one goal of law enforcement actions might be the dismantling of a criminal organization, that goal must be achieved by arrests, convictions, and the seizure of assets.

Military action by contrast is focused on the achievement of a certain end-state by the application of military force. Here, the end-state is a destroyed AQ organization, the detention or death of those directly responsible for 9/11, all states deterred from giving aid or harbor to organizations like AQ, and a shrinking number of areas from which AQ can operate in relative safety.

The major benefit of the law enforcement action is, of course, the preservation of civil liberties and the restraint of the state. Within the United States, and in most circumstances in other developed and friendly countries, this the way to go.

But of course in undeveloped, non-friendly countries or in failed states, the law enforcement action is unlikely to be effective in achieving the end-state that military action can be designed to achieve.

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straightwood 09.16.11 at 1:37 pm

@191

Andrew should be delighted to know that Obama’s drone assassination program is following the law of absolute power and expanding like a cancer. It has overflowed the boundaries of Afghanistan and Pakistan and is now threatening to expand into any country in which there is a hint of a “terrorist” presence. The corruption resulting from the unchecked power to kill will inevitably result in an ugly international incident in which we kill someone in a state that takes a very negative view of this action. It will also result in the steady lowering of “standards” for deciding on the victims, until many innocents fall victim to our magnificent new death machine.

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Andrew F. 09.16.11 at 9:41 pm

Straightwood, obviously as to where it should go would be case by case. But for failed or unriendly states where other options are limited and the target is of high value, there’s likely a good case at least – even if it will not necessarily be a persuasive case in each such instance.

It’s effective and it minimizes civilian casualties. Can we at least agree that, where law enforcement is not a viable option, these targeted strikes are preferable to other military options?

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Jack Strocchi 09.16.11 at 10:02 pm

Tom Bach @ #174 said:

Yes, those innocent wedding goers are the very same evil doers who conned us about bin Landen. Jesus, quite literally, wept because of sociopathic crap like this.

Spare us the mendacious histrionics, get off your high horse’s arse and give the flies a break.

I can’t do much about your character but I can at least set the record straight. I made explicit distinction between innocent civilians for whom I had particular sympathy (“pity…the suffering…civilians “) and the Pakistan nation for which I have some, but not unlimited, sympathy (“in short supply”). Admittedly that falls short of my Christian ideals but only a pathological liar would denounce it as “sociopathic”.

Happy to stand by my original comment. I’m kind of losing patience with Pakistan, which just seems to go from bad to worse on many metrics. It is a woeful country, in no small part due to bad choices made by its people.

At a personal level I have a grudge to bear. Not so long ago Pakistan militants nearly blew up a good friend of mine for the sin of unpardonable sin of covering a story. He shares my estimation of this nation and he would know. Back in 2008, straight after yet another terrorist outrage (Mumbai), I reported this conversation:

One of these days Pakistan is going to seriously overstep the mark. Then India is going to chuck a monster wobbly and turn Pakistan into a parking lot.

When I suggested this to an old (and impeccably Left-liberal) journalist hand who has covered the region for yonks his immediate response was “it couldn’t happen to a better country”.

Even I was shocked.

Politically speaking, Pakistan is the 800 lb gorilla in the living room – the enemy that none dare name. Its not in dispute, although every one is too politically correct to connect the dots, that this nation (from its tall poppies down to many of the grass roots) is a source of political toxicity both to itself and the world:

- churning out suicide bombers from madrasses;
- stirring up trouble in Kashmir and Pakistan;
- spiritual homeland for the London bombers;
- trafficking (?) nuclear material for terrorists; and of, course,
- harbouring Bin Laden.

I’m sure there’s more. And don’t get me started on what Pakistan’s go-getters have done to the culture of competitive cricket.

Its not like this country is the unfortunate victim of circumstance. Its instructive to compare Pakistan with India, a country with a similar geneological endowment and ecological environment. India’s folk hero is Gandhi. But its T-shirts of Bin Laden that sell well in Pakistan bazaars.

Now the US government has finally hit upon a method (drone attacks) that targets terrorists, minimizes civilian casualties and avoids the cost of blood and treasure that comes with main force military deployments. So of course Left-liberals immediately whip themselves up into a lather of indignation about the “sociopaths” who support this measure, amongst whose number I count Obama, the man who signed of on to ramping up the program.

He can keep the drone’s on station until hell freezes over for all I care. Its not as if Pakistan’s chances of establishing a civil society are actually harmed every time a militant fundamentalist is blown to kingdom come. Machiavelli would argue those chances are helped. And we are relieved the wearisome task of nation building Trashcanistan, IMHO not worth the blood of one single grenadier.

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straightwood 09.16.11 at 10:24 pm

Can we at least agree that, where law enforcement is not a viable option, these targeted strikes are preferable to other military options?

You seem not to have been exposed to any literary, historical, or philisophical writings on the nature of evil. Evil commonly arises when men are given unlimited power. The unchecked power of life and death: to condemn men to summary execution without appeal WILL BE ABUSED. Your child-like faith that men in AUTHORITY directing expensive machinery are immune to destructive behavior patterns that have been demonstrated and documented throughout the history of civilization is absurd.

Only a mindless American exceptionalist would consider Obama’s robotic global execution scheme to be a good idea. It is evil to the core, and like any unchecked evil it will spread until the horrible moment when even you will ask “What have we done?”

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Watson Ladd 09.16.11 at 10:49 pm

straightwood. I agree! We should ensure that when someone halfway around the world is condemned to death by a leader with no accountability that someone does something. And maybe if they kill civilians indiscriminately along with political opponents we should do something about it.

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straightwood 09.17.11 at 2:03 am

@196

Tit for tat is an infantile approach to setting national policy. The United States used to regard itself as a morally superior nation. George Washington refused the requests of his officers to inflict reprisals on British prisoners in revenge for the maltreatment of American captives. We did not torture or summarily execute Nazi or Japanese captives in WWII, even if lives might have been saved by abusing them.

Now we have descended to the level of brutality and viciousness of our adversaries, on whom we inflict indefinite imprisonment, torture, and summary execution (by robotic drone). Instead of being ashamed of this conduct, armchair belligerents like Watson Ladd cheer it on. We have already lost the war on terror, because we now resemble our enemy: we have become cruel, vindictive, and unjust.

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Andrew F. 09.17.11 at 3:37 am

Straightwood, there is a difference between the argument that a power will be abused, and the argument that the same power is currently being abused.

As to the latter, I don’t think it is being abused. There’s no evidence that it is, and some testimonial evidence that it is being used effectively and legally.

As to the former, the power of the President is not unchecked. I don’t know why you would think that it is.

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straightwood 09.17.11 at 2:09 pm

I don’t think it is being abused. There’s no evidence that it is

Yes, and when the abuse is revealed, you will piously say that “Who could have known that the unchecked power to kill would be abused?” Your demand for “evidence” is ridiculous, because the assassination teams deny that any innocents are being killed and refuse to disclose any targeting errors. (And, of course, you believe that persons in AUTHORITY never make mistakes.) Obama’s power to kill “terrorists” is effectively unlimited, because of the decade-long PR job equating them with the essence of evil. The current President has demonstrated that the CIA can act with complete impunity in matters of murder, torture, and destruction of evidence. What further proof of unaccountable power do you require?

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