Sunday, October 02, 2011

The liberal deference to murder

"This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous."


  1. If Bush had committed this execution of American citizens without due process, Alternet would totally have equivocated like that.

    Absolutely, definitely, no doubt about it.

  2. Chase Madar12:36 PM

    Yup, that's one shabby performance from AlterNet, shoulder-shrugging. The assassination of Awlaki was a bad thing for several reasons, the trampling of his constitutional due process rights among them.

    But one thing: We should recognize that international law does indeed license a great many acts of violence and military domination, and always has, ever since the days when IL authorized colonial violence against "the savages" whom we now called "non-uniformed unprivileged combatants." We should never confuse international law, particularly International Humanitarian Law (the grotesque euphemism for the laws of war) with morality, good sense, wisdom, prudence, a guarantee of humane outcomes. Leftists and libertarians would do well to loosen their grip a little on legalistic arguments, and lay greater emphasis on expressly political, expressly moral arguments about war and military violence. As the very canny jurist David Kennedy writes in his excellent little book Of War and Law, "We should be clear--this bold new vocabulary [of int'l law] beats ploughshares into swords as often as the reverse... we should be wary of treating the legal issues as the focal points for our ethics and politics."

    For anyone interested, I've written about the weaponization of int'l law most recently in Le Monde diplomatique, available here
    accompanied by an LMd podcast here
    where I take a quick look at Hugo Grotius, the revered founder of modern laws of war; far from being a disinterested humanitarian sage he was a shyster for hire who hired out his services during the Thirty Years War. The Laws of War have always been to some degree deployed as a strategic weapon by the strong against the weak. This is not to trash all IL and IHL as meaningless, only to point out that we should bring some worldly skepticism to the subject. Successful opposition to imperialism and extrajudicial killing will ultimately be more political than legal, relying more on organized political force than on nonprofit lawyers, a valuable as they are.

  3. Hey Chase,

    I hope you're not working on a piece, because I'm just finishing up an essay on that very theme: that the law does not dictate what is right or wrong; that it is, in fact, merely the code those who would like to make murder respectable (h/t George Orwell) craft to grant their actions an air of legitimacy.

    Oh Tarzie,

    Sorry :(

  4. This fetishization of "due process" is curious.

  5. Chase Madar8:17 AM

    Charlie, no, I'm not working on a piece on this subject now... look forward to reading yr essay.

  6. "This fetishization of "due process" is curious."

    Really, Jack? Due process is largely fraudulent, but it's not as open and shut as just killing someone. I mean, had Al Awlaki been tried, don't you think there's a possibility he could have walked?

    Are you really saying that throwing people in jail without trial or just murdering them is NOT qualitatively different from trying them, if only from an efficiency standpoint? If so, why then are the rulers working so hard to work this into the fabric of our lives?

  7. Walter Wit Man9:17 AM

    I couldn't get past the first sentence: "Was it [legal]? I don't know -- the question hinges on facts I don't claim to possess. (I know -- that kind of agnosticism seems to infuriate people for some reason)."

    I am in no mood to play around with intentional obtuse progressives. The author doesn't know why people are pissed at apologists for the U.S. government when it executes American citizens for their speech? Fuck off. Sure he knows why people are pissed. He's just pretending to be confounded to help him sell the argument for state-sanctioned murder.

  8. Tarzie,

    No. Al Awlaki would not have walked. He was a dead man from the moment the order was signed. He was as certain to be dead as the teenaged Walker was certain to be locked up until everyone forgot his name.

    Examples will always be made. That's why Troy Davis didn't get "due process" despite the trappings of it. It's why the next AQ#2 (citizen or no) will be afforded no "due process."

    "Due process" is a liberal complaint, when "conservatives" are in power; it's a conservative one when "liberals" are in power.

    It's spectacle.

    And it's a marker: you get it if you play the game. If you agree to the terms. You get it if you accept the magisterium of the law.

    And we know this is true, because those who are nominally entitled to it, but functionally non-entities are regularly deprived of "due process."

    Middlers worry it. The rest of us should remember why that is.

  9. Jack -

    So why don't they just go through the motions with Al-Awlaki? Why do something that could possibly create political problems for Obama, if they don't think they're moving toward something that is at least more efficient at killing and, by extension, intimidating people?

  10. the comments on the alternet article give me head pains.
    the fact that there is even a debate gives me heart pains.
    i have a dream to write halmark cards.