The hysteria about “killing Americans”

Both the left and the opportunistic, anti-Obama right are having conniptions about Obama’s claim to have the right to kill “American citizens,” or, more simply, to kill “Americans.” It’s a fraudulent issue, just as the overheated complaints about the killing of the “American” Anwar Awlaki in Yemen a couple of years ago were fraudulent. The individuals whom Obama claims the power to kill by drone are members of al Qaeda, people who are waging terrorist war against the United States. Whether they are American citizens are not is irrelevant to whether they may be killed. Obama’s critics have no problem with Obama killing non-U.S. citizens who are waging terrorist war against America. But in reality the U.S. has no more a right to kill non-U.S. citizens than U.S. citizens, just as the U.S. has no more a right to arrest and imprison non-U.S. citizens than U.S. citizens. Non-U.S. citizens who are waging war against the United States and organizing terrorist attacks against the United States from a foreign country may be killed, and U.S. citizens who are waging war against the United States and organizing terrorist attacks against the United States from a foreign country may be killed.

Americans, particularly conservatives, tend to be fanatically legalistic in their thinking and fail to see substantive reality. Thus they absurdly demanded a legal proceeding stripping Awlaki of his citizenship or finding him guilty of treason before he could be killed by drone in Yemen. Read the September 2011 VFR thread in which I show how pathetically weak are the arguments that it was wrong for the U.S. to kill Awlaki. In that thread I repeatedly ask my main interlocutor what difference would it make whether Awlaki was a U.S. citizen or not a U.S. citizen, and I don’t get an answer.

I repeat: the U.S. has no more right to deprive a non-citizen of his liberty or his life without due process of law than it has to deprive a citizen of his liberty or life without due process of law. Since the opponents of targeted killings of U.S. citizens are so legalistic, they should be aware that the U.S. Constitution, and particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, protects the life and liberty of “persons,” all persons, not just the life and liberty of U.S. citizens.

(Other entries about the Awlaki issue are here.)

- end of initial entry -

Daniel S. writes:

On a side note, it is no longer necessary to put Awlaki’s nationality in scare quotes. In the age of Obama someone like Awlaki is far more representative of America than either you or I (an Anglo-American with ancestory in North America that dates back to the 1620s).

N. writes:

People I know who are in an uproar about the assassination of nominal American citizens are mainly concerned about the precedent being set: that the President may decide, unilaterally, that some individual somewhere on the planet must die, and that death sentence may be carried out. They are concerned about the possibility of drone strikes against U.S. citizens within the continental U.S. as a “next step.”

But to me, the more interesting aspect of this is the utter turnabout that much of the left has made on assassination as a policy. There was a great deal of debate in the 1970s and 1980s within various left, and left-liberal circles about the use of assassination as a tool of foreign policy, growing out of anti Viet Nam protests.

The left, and left-liberals, firmly decided that assassination was never a good thing for a nation such as the U.S. to engage in.

But since 2008, that entire position has become moot. The Obama administration has made free use of remote piloted aircraft, a.k.a. “drones,” to range across the Middle East, making missile strikes against dwellings and other buildings as well as vehicles. There is no question but that people who are in no way involved in making war upon the West have been killed, as these strikes involve modfied anti-tank rockets. For the most part, the left and left liberals have remained silent. Their entire principled stand against assassination as a part of foreign policy has crumbled against their unquestioning support of Obama.

This is a somewhat eerie example of just how unprincipled the left really are. Having spent a generation staunchly insisting that assassination is never right, when presented with a fait accompli by their cult leader, all that deep, principled, philosophy proves to be no more durable than a wet paper towel. This proves, once again, that appeals to the left on any principle, on any philosophical basis, etc. is simply useless. Because they will dump principles in a second, if it is expedient to do so.

LA replies:

But haven’t the left been rather loudly criticizing the use of drones?

February 7

BD writes:

You are correct, both morally and legally.

In 1942, German saboteurs landed on the coasts of New York and Florida with the intention of blowing up important facilities. They were rounded up by the FBI and tried by a military tribunal. All were convicted and sentenced to death, but two, Dasch and Burger, received commutations for cooperating with the government and were deported to Germany after the war. The saboteurs appealed their convictions through the US court system. In Ex Parte Quirin, the Supreme Court upheld the convictions. Two of the defendants, Burger and Haupt, claimed US citizenship, which was disputed by the government. The Supreme Court found the issue moot, because, it ruled, such claims, even if true, were irrelevant. In other words, if you were engaged in acts of war against the United States, it made no difference whether or not you are a citizen.

February 9

Ken Hechtman writes:

You asked: “But haven’t the left been rather loudly criticizing the use of drones?”

Well, yes and no. The drone issue has become one of the litmus tests that distinguishes the hard left (or at least the independent left) from the moderate Democratic Party-aligned left. Glenn Greenwald has staked out a position as the lead commentator on this issue. Andrew Sullivan (who I think of as more independent left than hard left) has been vocal about it recently. But the moderate left has learned its lesson from Vietnam. The way they tell that story now is “We destroyed the best domestic-policy president America ever had. Our party didn’t recover for a generation. Our country still hasn’t recovered. We will never be responsible for an “own-goal” like that again.”

It was with this thinking that the Democratic Party co-opted and then shut down the major anti-war organizations back in 2006. The groups like UFPJ and Win Without War that you’d expect to be out front on the issue don’t exist anymore.

LA replies:

The discussion on this topic continues here.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 06, 2013 09:13 AM | Send

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