27 January 2010

Is the "entire world" a "battlefield"?

I really admire Glenn Greenwald's writings for Salon.  They are among the few op-ed columns that I review on a regular basis, because he isn't afraid to ask challenging questions.  He did it when the Bush administration was in power, and he continues to do so with Obama in charge.  The most recent column is headed by the in-your-face title "Presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens."
Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests."  They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations....

Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens.  That's just the essence of war.  That's why it's permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war zone but not, say, torture them once they're captured and helplessly detained.  But combat is not what we're talking about here.  The people on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities.  More critically still, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- defines the "battlefield" as the entire world So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks.  That's quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.

As we well know from the last eight years, the authoritarians among us in both parties will, by definition, reflexively justify this conduct by insisting that the assassination targets are Terrorists and therefore deserve death.  What they actually mean, however, is that the U.S. Government has accused them of being Terrorists, which (except in the mind of an authoritarian) is not the same thing as being a Terrorist.
Much more at the link.  There's a lot to think about here. 


  1. Wow... There's some hard-core fearmongering going on there. It's good that people are checking to make sure none of our presidents become citizen-"disappearing" dictators like Pinochet and others more recent, but isn't this just a little alarmist?

    Certainly, our "war on terrorism" isn't really fixing much inside the country or out, but I'm guessing the feds are doing their best to justify any leads they're following with good evidence and reasonable suspicion. Furthermore, when the govt investigates a person unfairly (either because of his race or associations), there is an UPROAR, and it looks really bad for the feds. (Just like when the govt tries to do anything, really. Good or bad.)

    Any law needs to be broad enough to allow enforcers to do what needs to get done to keep it effective, but specific enough to prevent abuses of it. I'm guessing that's a pretty tricky balance to find when it comes to "tracking down" non-governmental enemies who may be acting entirely on their own (like the underwear bomber, it sounds like), both outside our country and in.

    I feel reasonably confident, at least, that Obama's administration won't go after citizens just for being Muslim, or somewhat anti-government, or any of the other creepy things the Bush administration seemed to do. I guess I just have a bit more faith in the gov than this author.

    However, I personally still think that the best way to prevent terrorism in the long run is to ease the enmity towards the US is through diplomacy and mutual cultural respect.

  2. Although... re-reading the post, it does seem that law is written pretty loosely... My hope is that they would only see fit to murder "unverified, uncharged, unchecked" people if they were caught in the act, only to prevent an imminent disaster ("24"-style) and that it would be questioned very, very painstakingly afterwards.


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