Sunday, May 08, 2011

Liberals for extrajudicial murder

Under George W. Bush, a common liberal critique of the U.S.'s post-9/11 foreign policy was that, instead of treating terrorist attacks as crimes, the Bush administration had adopted the war paradigm. Instead of treating the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as criminal acts like previous acts of terrorism, such as the 1993 WTC bombing, Bush and company responded with invasions rather than indictments.

With the killing of Osama bin Laden, however, the liberal commentariat has come to embrace the terrorism-as-war framing, just as Democratic partisans who once mocked Bush's “cowboy” persona are now, with no trace of irony, casting their beloved Barack Obama in the role of tough-talking, ten-gallon hat wearing bad ass.

This was all to be expected, of course. It borders on the banal to point out that, for many liberals, the problem was never the U.S. empire, it was that the U.S.'s state of permanent war was being administered by a member of the wrong party. If Al Gore had decided to invade Iraq, no doubt many Democrats would have embraced the supposed humanitarian case for war – even more so than they did under Bush – just as they have with Obama's unilateral decision to bomb Libya.

Despite the predictability of it all, however, even I'm a bit surprised by how readily those who based the “eight disastrous years” of George W. Bush have come to embrace not just the policies they once claimed to loathe, but the rhetoric. On Twitter, American Prospect blogger Adam Serwer lambasted those who would dare claim the execution of Osama bin Laden was illegal, despite reports he was unarmed and that U.S. officials had no intention of taking him alive – and, if you believe his 12-year-old daughter, that he was in fact executed after being captured.

Indeed, despite the shifting narrative from the White House about how the hit actually went down, "there's just no dispute killing him was legal," Serwer declared. The evidence provided: this UN Security Council resolution and the internationally recognized right to "self-defense."

There's a couple problems with this. For one, nothing in the Security Council resolution appears to endorse an extrajudicial killing. In fact, it states simply that UN members ought to "bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of [the 9/11] terrorist attacks," suggesting the opposite. Secondly, as Michael Mansfield points out in The Guardian, the right to self-defense applies in cases of an imminent threat and, nasty man though he may have been, there's little to suggest Osama bin Laden -- a man who didn't even have an Internet connection -- had an actual operational role in planning future attacks against the United States, instead serving as a figurehead and inspirational figure. That is, though he may have been a murderer, he did not pose an imminent threat that would justify murdering him. And while you may not shed a tear for the death of an admitted killer, the dangerous principle embodied in his killing -- that the U.S. can extrajudicially kill anyone it declares a terrorist -- is important to oppose; while it may just be Osama today, it could just as easily be Anwar al-Awlaki or others against whom there is much less evidence of wrongdoing tomorrow.

As for Osama, what of that minor being-unarmed thing? It's of no concern: "[A]ctually," Serwer replied to one critic, "in the context of armed conflict it's perfectly legal to shoot someone who is unarmed but has not surrendered." If true -- like Serwer, I'm no lawyer -- this indicates that perhaps appeals to international law don't have the moral authority some would like to believe. And given that the institutions tasked with upholding international law have allowed the U.S. to run roughshod over the most basic aspects of it, like the prohibition against aggressive war, it's not clear it's worth the paper -- not stone tablet, as Serwer appears to believe -- it's written on.

If we accept the interpretation of international law offered, however, it's hard to see how one could argue against other nations acting just like America and summarily executing anyone they say has declared war against them, a fear actual experts in international law have raised. If the whole world's a battlefield, as Serwer argues, then, indisputably, the Cuban government has the right to send an assassination squad to Miami to take out admitted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. After all, Carriles is unrepentant about killing 73 civilians on an Cuban airliner in 1976 and admitted to The New York Times his role in planning a series of deadly bombings that struck Havana during the 1990s.

Or, as I suspect, does only America, guided as it is by the Light of Liberty, have the right to execute its enemies without trial?

That Serwer and his ilk would stretch international law to defend the actions of President Obama isn't surprising. He's a Democrat. What is, at least to me, is the extent to which he and his ilk have adopted the exact same rhetoric and debate techniques as the neoconservative right. Consider this exchange between Serwer and a critic who noted that America's "right to self-defense" was perhaps undermined by the fact that said right was cited to justify the invasion of Iraq.

This disgusting response is straight out of the Rudy Giuliani school of foreign policy debate. Challenge any aspect of the war on terror -- in this case, uncontroversially pointing out that the U.S. has killed a lot more people in "self defense" than actually died on 9/11 -- and, my god, you must be siding with The Terrorists.

Then there are the lame attacks on limp-wristed liberals  -- nay, pacifists (if phlegm doesn't come out of you're mouth when you say it, you're pronouncing it wrong) -- who have the audacity to question whether the U.S. really ought to be going down the assassination route:

If it's not clear by now, the Democrats -- and their faithful defenders -- are no friends of peace or the rule of law. As soon as it's a member of the Blue Team dropping the bombs and ordering the assassinations, partisan liberals will turn on their anti-war allies the first moment it's seen as politically beneficial. And they'll do so with the exact same unoriginal rhetoric, because when it comes down to it, they share the exact same beliefs in American exceptionalism as their right-wing brethren.


  1. It occurred to me a day or so ago why they're not releasing bin Laden's picture. I'm guessing that it might be enough forensic evidence to give credence to the assertion that he was executed and never, ever, had an option to surrender. From what I've read he was shot in the chest and head.

    It seems to me that being shot in the chest alone would be enough to immobilize anyone, let alone a grey haired dialysis patient. But maybe it didn't kill him, so while lying on the floor, someone walked up and gave him the 'double tap' at nearly point blank range.

    Although I've watched CSI on TV, I'm not a forensics expert. But I'd imagine a shot to the head when standing could result in a different wound from that described above, what with trajectory angles, powder burns, and all...

    Regardless, it's a sad state of affairs. I'm disgusted by the whole thing. I had hoped with Bush's exit, things would start to improve. But with Obama's turn to the Cheney side, the end seems now to be completely out of sight.

  2. It has seemed to me for some time that the democrats and republicans arn't actually two opposed political parties, but rather rival wings of the Ruling Party.

    They have divided between them the generally accepted American values so as to divide americans as well, though they don't actually believe in, or act according to them.

    They use their chosen set of values as a facade to divert attention from their true motives, growing government, increasing its power and size and their personal fortunes at the expense of Liberty and to the disadvantage of individuals.

    I don't have any surprise that the left approves of murder when their man does it, so does the right. Because they are the same.

    Its only a giant game of good cop/bad cop where the right and the left can simultaneously play both the good cop and the bad cop for each others supporters and opponents.

    I told my lefty friends that Obama was the same as the old boss, just as I told my right-eous buddies that Bush was a greater threat to America than terrorism could ever be.

    I like your principles, Charles. I came here from a Lew Rockwell link to an earlier post of yours. I also like Glenn Greenwald, Justin Raimondo, Andrew Napalitano, Lew Rockwell, and Ron Paul, and I dont see any conflict in this. I think that when all the people who think that they are democrats or republicans finally have to admit to them selves that those parties don't actually represent the things they want them to, we might finally get America back.

  3. What a bunch of original thinkers:!/daveweigel/status/66953491754663936