Tag: Ethics

The CIA Thinks the CIA Did Nothing Wrong

Last year, we found out that the CIA was spying on members of Congress in an effort to find out if the torture report included information from their internal Panetta Report. It was unauthorized, illegal and outside of their authority. It’s worse than the spying that was at the heart of the Watergate scandal. It was the kind of action you would expect in a dictatorship, not a constitutional Republic.

You’ll be pleased to know that a CIA panel — staffed entirely with people picked by Brennan — has concluded that the CIA did nothing wrong.

A CIA panel Wednesday cleared agency officials of any wrongdoing when they accessed the computers of a Senate committee investigating the agency’s involvement in torture. The finding ended a yearlong dispute marked by angry accusations of “hacking” and criminal misconduct.

Instead, the panel — whose members were appointed by CIA Director John Brennan — faulted the agency’s own outgoing inspector general for suggesting in a report that there may have been grounds to discipline five officials at the agency.

The findings by the so-called CIA accountability board drew sharp objections from some Senate staffers who were involved in the torture report, citing it as yet another example of the CIA’s own inability to police itself.

Their conclusion was that the five people who spied on the Senate and who were recommended by the Inspector General for punishment should be let off because they were, in essence, just following what they thought might be orders. Said orders supposedly came from Brennan, who initially lied about the spying on the Senate but insists he’s telling the truth now. So Brennan isn’t accountable because he says he didn’t give the order. And the people who did the spying aren’t accountable because they thought Brennan had told them to do it. And the real villain is the IG for having the temerity to suggest that spying on your own government might be a crime.

It reminds me of every cover-up we’ve enjoyed from government since forever. No one ever gives orders to spy on Senators, target Tea Party groups for audits or illegally look into political opponents’ FBI files. The idea to do these things just … appears … out of nowhere. Like a sort of mass hysteria, only focused on political enemies for some strange reason.

So … let’s sum up. The CIA tortured people. They covered it up by destroying the torture tapes and lying. They spied on the Senate committee that was investigating them, then lied about that. And the only people who did anything wrong, according to them, are John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the torture program, and David Buckley, the inspector general who determined that they had spied on the Senate after their repeated denials. All of this has come with the approval and support of President Obama.

So our national security is the hands of an unaccountable agency headed by a serial liar under the command of a “look forward, not backward, unless you cross me” Commander-in-Chief. Feeling safe yet?

As Andrew Sullivan pointed out, the President may have “ended” torture. But by refusing to hold anyone accountable, he has made it inevitable that it will come back. And it will probably be a lot worse. When you don’t punish people who do wrong, you only encourage more wrong-doing.

Update: The White House knew.

Post-Memorial Day Quick Hits

My browers tabs are filling up faster than I can empty them. So here are some quick reads going into this week:

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George Will has a great piece on the Presidential candidate we need. The problem is that we’ve had people run like that. They don’t get as far as someone promising the American people the world for free.

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Bjorn Lomborg reminds us that Paul Ehrlich is a pathologically wrong doomsayer. We should continue to ignore anything he says.

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More on Operation Chokepoint. Money quote:

The ability to destroy legal industries through secret actions to deprive them of banking services has obvious political consequences. For example, it was reported last week that firearms shops are alleging that Operation Choke Point is being used to pressure banks into refusing to providing financial services. There are also reports that porn stars (and here) have had their bank accounts terminated for “moral” reasons related to the “reputation risk” of banking individuals in the porn industry. IRS officials must already be salivating about ways to apply Operation Choke Point to tea party groups.

In principle, of course, the logic of Operation Choke Point could be extended to groups not currently targeted. Notably absent from the FDIC’s hit list, for example, are abortion clinics, radical environmental groups, or, well, marijuana shops, for that matter. Something similar was done to cut off credit-card payments to support the operation of WikiLeaks.

The larger legal and regulatory issue here is the expansive use of the vague and subjective standard of “reputation risk” to target these industries. In a letter to Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, last week, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling expressed concern over the growing use of “reputation risk” as a vehicle for attacking legal businesses. Is there any discernible principle as to why, for example, a payday lender or firearms dealer poses a “reputation risk” and an abortion provider does not?

Nope.

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The White House has either deliberately or mistakenly outed the CIA’s top officer in Kabul. I was virtually alone on this blog in supporting to pursuit of the Valerie Plame affair. This should be pursued with similar fervor.

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One final thought. Over the weekend, we had a horrible mass killing in California by a 22-year-old. There was a lot at play here: clear mental issues and violent tendencies, social emotional and sexual isolation, an attitude of entitlement and narcissism. And it exploded in seven deaths.

I don’t know that this could have prevented. But I would like, just once, for the Left Wing in this country to not to bathe in the blood of the slain every time this happens. Mass shooting are thankfully rare, despite the mathematically-challenged efforts of rags like Mother Jones to convince us otherwise. They constitute a tiny portion of the violence in this country. This kid stabbed three people to death, tried to run over others with his car and then shot a few more. In doing so, he used small arms with low-capacity magazines purchased in compliance with California’s strict gun control laws. This isn’t about gun control. Nor is it about Men’s Right or Pick-Up Artists or whatever other group of men you want to demonize. This isn’t about finding some group you’ve never liked and pinning this on them. This is about a deranged adult with severe issues and an unrelenting anger against women (and men, for that matter) who did something unspeakably evil.

Just for once, could we wait maybe a few hours before people start grinding whatever political ax they want to grind? Men’s rights, pick-up artists, gun rights, sexual harassment, men who feel “entitled to sex … come on. There are a couple of hundred million gun owners in this country. There are millions of men who have some sort of resentment toward women (and virtually all have gone through some stage where they were bitter about their relation with the fair sex). There are tens of millions who are sexually, romantically or socially frustrated. There are tens of millions who have untreated mental health issues. You know how many of them went on a murder spree this weekend? One.

In a nation of 3000 million people, there are inevitably going to be people where the right alchemy of mental illness, resentment, anger and lack of empathy will come together to produce this sort of thing. Sometimes they are caught before they happen; sometimes they aren’t. Blaming groups of millions of people for the actions of one is just stupid.

Cut it the fuck out.

Snowden, Obama and the Cult of the Presidency

I have thought from early on that the revelation of the government’s massive surveillance operation is a good thing and little that has happened in the past few days has altered that opinion. Already, we are seeing some good coming out of Edward Snowden’s revelations: Google is asking to publish more information; a bipartisan group of Senators want this dragged out into the open; the ACLU is suing. The result of all this will be the very transparency and debate that Obama claims to want (but really doesn’t).

And it should go this way because the reassurance of “trust us” simply isn’t going to cut it. Let’s assume, for the moment, that the safeguards for our data are in place that information can only be obtained on a court order. Fine. But let’s consider the history of the IRS: political persecutions, “seizure fever”, overzealous prosecutions, agents abusing their privelege to snoop into the financial records of celebrities and neighbors. Let’s consider the history of COINTELPRO. The fact is that the government’s investigatory powers have a history of being abused. This is not a hypothetical. This is not some paranoid Glenn Beck fever dream. Abuses have happened; abuses are happening. You don’t have to be a crazy libertarian to be worried that a secret program with the power to look at our electronic data has a massive potential for abuse.

Given the overwhelming case for great transparency, the defenders of Obama are focusing their attention on the leaker himself. Snowden, of course, is being hailed as a hero in many quarters. Despite my gratitude for the leak, I’m not prepared to proclaim Snowden a hero quite yet. I am reserving judgement until we know what was revealed, to whom and for what reason.

However, the effort to demonize him is also running full force. It can be as mild as David Brooks’ bizarre psychoanalysis to as heavy as Jeffrey Toobin’s accusation of “sabotage” (although Snowden didn’t actually sabotage anything or break anything) all the way to several prominent senators accusing him of treason.

The treason charge is, by far, the most troubling. As Dylan Matthews point out, treason is actually defined in the Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Snowden obviously didn’t levy war on the United States. And “aid and comfort” is awfully difficult to prove. For example, the Rosenbergs were not charged with treason for giving our atomic secrets to the Soviet Union because we technically weren’t at war with them. Neither Hanssen nor Ames were charged with treason. So while it’s likely that Snowden broke the law, calling him a “traitor” is a bit hyperbolic given what we know.

(Of course, one thing to keep in mind every time the Administration or their apologists talk about how crazy Snowden is: this crazy person had access to top secret information. In fact about 500,000 people have top secret clearance right now.)

Why am I splitting this hair? Because I think it’s important to shine a light on what people like Diane Feinstein and John Bolton and and Bill Nelson and others consider treason. They seem to be defining it as crossing the will of the President. This isn’t about leaks. As Alex noted last week, the Administration was more than happy to leak classified information to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty when it suited their purposes. Just this week, they leaked info about disrupting al-Qaeda’s online magazine. And you really absolutely must read this piece by Jack Schaefer:

Yet even as the insults pile up and the amateur psychoanalysis intensifies, keep in mind that Snowden’s leak has more in common with the standard Washington leak than should make the likes of Brooks, Simon and Cohen comfortable. Without defending Snowden for breaking his vow to safeguard secrets, he’s only done in the macro what the national security establishment does in the micro every day of the week to manage, manipulate and influence ongoing policy debates. Keeping the policy leak separate from the heretic leak is crucial to understanding how these stories play out in the press.

Secrets are sacrosanct in Washington until officials find political expediency in either declassifying them or leaking them selectively. It doesn’t really matter which modern presidential administration you decide to scrutinize for this behavior, as all of them are guilty. For instance, President George W. Bush’s administration declassified or leaked whole barrels of intelligence, raw and otherwise, to convince the public and Congress making war on Iraq was a good idea. Bush himself ordered the release of classified prewar intelligence about Iraq through Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in July 2003.

After recalling a number of incidents where Obama and his minions have leaked classified info for their own purposes, he concludes:

The willingness of the government to punish leakers is inversely proportional to the leakers’ rank and status, which is bad news for someone so lacking in those attributes as Edward Snowden. But as the Snowden prosecution commences, we should question his selective prosecution. Let’s ask, as Isikoff did of the Obama administration officials who leaked to Woodward, why Snowden is singled out for punishment when he’s essential done what the insider dissenters did when they spoke with Risen and Lichtblau in 2005 about an invasive NSA program. He deserves the same justice and the same punishment they received.

We owe Snowden a debt of gratitude for restarting—or should I say starting?—the public debate over the government’s secret but “legal” intrusions into our privacy. His leaks, filtered through the Guardian and the Washington Post, give us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place limits on our power-mad government.

This isn’t about the leaks. This isn’t about security. If we had really caught a bunch of terrorist with PRISM, you can bet your bottom dollar that Obama would be leaking details about PRISM to the media: probably more details than Snowden has leaked. So spare us the lectures about how leaking secure information is treason.

No, this about loyalty. This is about only leaking information that the Administration thinks should be leaked and nothing else. Controlling the flow of classified information is, of course, part of the President’s job. But when that information is leaked to the American people for their supposed benefit, it may be a crime but it is not treason. Treason is a crime against the nation, not against the President. And the people who are screaming treason and want Snowden tied up and shot are conflating the two, subscribing to the belief that the President is the country.

Even if we posit that Snoweden is cuckoo, his actions are enabling people who aren’t to make some changes that just might protect our privacy. These actions would not be taking place without the leak. Is that so bad? Is that betrayal? Is that treason?

Only if you worship the Cult of the Presidency.

Update: The latest information is that Snowden is talking to the Chinese press and has told them that the US is hacking Chinese sites. If he is revealing secret information to them, then Snowden is committing espionage for a foreign power, similar to the Rosenbergs or Hannsen. That’s why I was reluctant to call him a hero.

That’s still not technically treason. And it’s worth noting that the accusations of treason were leveled at Snowden for revealing this information to the American public long before any meeting with China. So good on him for revealing this information to us; shame on him if he is revealing technical details to China as well.

She Said Don’t Hand Me No Lines and Keep Your Hands to Yourself

Those of you who went to college in the 90’s might remember Antioch College’s bizarre sexual assault policy. Conceived by campus activists on a late-night political correctness bender, this policy stated that verbal consent was required for any and all sexual activity. Interpreted strictly, this meant that if you did not ask your girlfriend of four years if it was OK to take off her bra, you were potentially guilty of sexual assault and could be expelled. The policy was widely ridiculed.

This was part of a general push on sexual assault and harassment issues in the early 90’s. It wasn’t unjustified — many universities barely had policies on the subject and those policies that did exist were designed to keep it quiet. My own college was involved in lawsuit when they allegedly failed to deal with incidents of rape on campus.

But, as is often the case with campus radicals, they pushed too far, abandoning the idea of “no more in loco parentis” in favor of universities that were empowered to punish any behavior that anyone considered untoward. A rallying cry at the time was the ultimate subjective view of issue: “if someone thinks they’ve been harassed, they’ve been harassed!”

Guess who thinks those activists had the right idea?

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Among the forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government are:

  • Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—subject to discipline.
  • Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
  • Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.
  • There is likely no student on any campus anywhere who is not guilty of at least one of these “offenses.” Any attempt to enforce this rule evenhandedly and comprehensively will be impossible.

    That last part might be the most important. If a University decides they want to get rid of a student, they can easily find some way he has violated this policy. Maybe someone got offended when he told the joke about the bishop, the monkey and the six cantaloupes. Off with his head!

    It’s actually even worse than this. Through the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX, the federal government has been pushing universities toward using a “preponderance of evidence” in sexual assault and harassment cases with the implied threat of revoking their federal financial aid. Under this standard, you don’t need to prove someone committed a sexual assault in order to boot him off of campus and ruin his career. You only have to think there’s enough evidence that he probably did so (this is the standard used in civil cases and grand juries). When you add in that campus courts are often kangaroo courts with rules of evidence and testimony that come from watching Matlock with the sound off, the situation is frightening.

    Obviously, no one doubts that universities should protect women from sexual harassment and assault. But they should not do using a standard of justice that would be laughed out of North Korea. We should strive, wherever possible, to make our college campus more free than the rest of society when it comes to freedom of expression. College is where you are supposed to rub elbows with bad ideas and say stupid things.

    For far too long, these policies have advanced because their proponents have successfully painted their opponents as evil sexist monsters who want women to be groped and harassed. Such tactics were used to renew the VAWA despite serious problems with the law. But when we’ve gotten to the point where someone can be thrown out of college because a student court thinks it likely that he made a dirty joke, haven’t we gone too far?

    We’ll Take That

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: thank God for the IJ:

    Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.

    That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family is now facing in Tewksbury, Mass., where they stand to lose the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

    Seeking to circumvent state law and cash in on the profits, the Tewksbury Police Department is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to take and sell the Caswells property because a tiny fraction of people who have stayed at the Motel Caswell during the past 20 years have been arrested for crimes. Keep in mind, the Caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property. And the arrests the government complains of represent less than .05 percent of the 125,000 rooms the Caswells have rented over that period of time.

    The Institute for Justice — one of those evil Right Wing groups that defense our civil liberties — is now fighting this in the courts.

    Asset forfeiture is one of the most vile things out government does. The idea that started it was not completely insane: taking the property of people who did illegal things when the people themselves were not obtainable because they were overseas. It’s ridiculous and offensive to use asset forfeiture when the supposed perpetrator of the crime is standing right there. I don’t care what the Supreme Court says — charging someone’s property with a crime to bypass their Constitutional rights is simply not acceptable. And the federal government has made a bad situation far worse. If local authorities work with the Feds, they get to keep most of the property they seize.

    Cops are taking the property of people who have not been charged with a crime and then using it for their own purposes. Can this be described as anything other than plain and simple armed robbery?

    I have said before the Supreme Court is only one of the defenders of our liberty. Congress needs to step in and pass laws abolishing or severely restricting asset forfeiture. And if they don’t or won’t because they are pant-shittingly terrified of being seen as weak on crime, the President should issue an executive order suspending the practice. If you need to explain it, just run Russ Caswell in front of the cameras and explain that our government is stealing his hotel.

    You can not possibly claim that you uphold the Constitution and support freedom and simultaneously support this bullshit. Citizens are being robbed by their own law enforcement agents. And, as we’ve see with all government abuses, it is only escalating, now extending to people who are bystanders of crime. This gangsterism can not end … it will not end … until we force our government to stop it.

    There should not be a politician in this nation who can go another day without being asked if he supports this crap. And there should not be another politician who does support who is not thrown out on his police-state-loving ass. The lesson of the recent SOPA/PIPA fight is that we can make the politicians do the right thing when we want to. Do we want to?

    (And while I’m at it: if you ever wish to donate money to a political cause, support the Institute for Justice. They are doing incredible work defending basic property and business rights. I can’t overemphasize their role in this.)

    Update: Something to consider: one of the things assert forfeiture is used for is to deprive accused criminals of assets needed to procure legal defense. With no money to hire lawyers, people are reduced to either incompetent defense or plea bargain. Assert forfeiture is poisoning law enforcement in every way imaginable. It has to stop.

    First They Came for the Cartoons

    Hmmm.

    The Renton City Prosecutor wants to send a cartoonist to jail for mocking the police department in a series of animated Internet videos.

    The “South-Park”-style animations parody everything from officers having sex on duty to certain personnel getting promoted without necessary qualifications. While the city wants to criminalize the cartoons, First Amendment rights advocates say the move is an “extreme abuse of power.”

    They’re trying to use cyber-stalking provisions to go after the guy. See? I knew those laws would come back to bite us. What else could happen in a society where mocking authority is considered the worst crime imaginable?

    Well, the Renton police shouldn’t waste their time. Just wait until the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act is passed. Then they can just ask the ISP for information on the cartoonist and proceed from there with the appropriate harassment and humiliation.

    The Moral Question

    Gallup has an interesting poll up asking people about moral issues. They’ve been asked if they consider certain things — fur coats, the death penalty, abortion — to be morally wrong or morally acceptable.

    I found the idea fascinating and went down the list of issues. There are some drawbacks to this sort of poll, of course. The principle issue is that moral dilemmas are not always so black-and-white. By this, I don’t mean moral relativism (or, more accurately, amoralism). What I mean is that many issues are more complicated than “morally acceptable” or “morally wrong”. Sometimes, doing something morally wrong is necessary. War is morally wrong, but is sometimes necessary. And sometimes something that is morally wrong in one circumstance is morally acceptable in another.

    It’s also an important point that, for most people, “morally wrong” is not the same as “should be illegal”. Many more people think abortion is wrong than think it should be illegal. Same with adultery, homosexuality, gambling and porn.

    Anyway, I thought I’d list the moral issues and my thoughts. Hopefully, this will get a flame war started.

    • Doctor-assisted suicide: While I’m somewhat torn on this one, I prefer to keep doctors out of the suicide business. So count this as morally wrong although I’m not sure it should be illegal.
    • Abortion: While I’m pro-choice, I think abortion itself is wrong with the exception of life of the mother or severe abnormality.
    • Having a baby outside of marriage: This is one of those depends things. Most of the time, I think it’s wrong. But if it’s a committed gay couple who can’t get married for technical reasons, I’m fine. If it’s a woman who got pregnant by a worthless man, I don’t think marriage is necessarily a good idea. Marriage is a good proxy for having a good child-rearing environment, but it’s still only a proxy. I’d focus on the latter rather than the former. I’d much rather have a single mother or a gay couple who invest the time and love needed to raise a child than a married couple who don’t give a shit. It’s neglect or walking away from responsibilities that’s morally wrong.
    • Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur: I don’t have problem with this although I’m not a fur person. PETA members in the audience may throw paint at their computer screen if they prefer.
    • Gay or lesbian relations: No problems. I actually think honest homosexuality is morally superior to the closet.
    • Medical testing on animals: not only do I not have a problem with this, I think it’s highly moral. And my friends whose health depends on insulin developed from animal experiments or blood transfusion preserved by chemicals tested on animals would agree. Penn and Teller’s Bullshit episode on this is one of their best and really captures the passion we should all have on this issue.
    • Pre-marital sex: no problems. Frankly, I think the 36% saying it’s wrong are engaged in wishful thinking.
    • Cloning animals: I don’t have a problem with this being done in a research context. For commercial purpose, I think the technology is still too new and too poorly understood. I’m willing to reconsider that position as events warrant. And I do think their oughtta be a law.
    • Stem cell research: again, torn. I don’t like restricting science but I don’t like creating a market for human embryos either. I kind of admired the way President Bush seemed to honestly struggle with the issue.
    • Gambling: morally acceptable if it’s in reasonable amounts. I have no problem with an office Final Four pool. Someone blowing their kid’s college fund in Vegas is a different story. As far as legality goes, it be should be legal for anyone over 18. The federal ban on internet gambling was a terrible idea.
    • Porn: no problems as long as it involves adults. Given the plunging rates of sexual violence during the rise of internet porn and the removal of stigmas against oral sex, I’d almost say this was morally right. I know at least one therapist who had some success in couples counseling by recommending married people watch porn together to stimulate their physical life.
    • The death penalty: too complicated to get into now. My main problems with the death penalty are practical.
    • Divorce: this depends on the situation. Most of the time, I don’t have an issue. I think its actually a good thing if there’s abuse involved. If there are kids involved, that changes the moral calculus considerably.
    • Suicide: for someone suffering from a debilitating disease or condition, I could see this being acceptable. For anyone else, I think it’s immoral (and selfish). Self-sacrifice however, such as in war or a sinking ship, is highly moral. It may, in fact, be the highest morality.
    • Cloning humans: for now, both immoral and illegal. I consider cloning technology to be too primitive for ethical use on humans. If we get to the stage where we can clone a lung to replace a cancerous one, then it becomes moral.
    • Polygamy: I think it’s immoral but I’m a bit dubious on keeping it illegal.
    • Adultery: mostly immoral. However, I don’t have a lot of problems with people who have open marriages or “an understanding” if that’s their thing. While I think monogamy is the moral standard, I tend to think we have a somewhat romanticized view of it.

    For the general populace, the largest splits were on four issues: suicide, polygamy, adultery and cloning. I’m no sure what to read into that.

    The other interesting thing about the poll was the cross-tabs. They’re not exactly unexpected, but interesting. Republicans, as you would expect, are far more morally opposed to abortion, euthanasia and illigitimacy than independents or democrats. But the age splits are also interesting — the young are far less opposed to premarital sex, porn or homosexuality than the elderly, but less accepting of animal testing and the death penalty. Whether that’s a youthful preference for fucking over killing or a seismic shift in societal attitudes, I don’t know.

    Legal Killing

    I just want to address one last aspect of the OBL thing before moving on. The usual left wingers are asking whether the killing of bin Laden was legal.

    Prof Nick Grief, an international lawyer at Kent University, said the attack had the appearance of an “extrajudicial killing without due process of the law”.

    Cautioning that not all the circumstances were known, he added: “It may not have been possible to take him alive … but no one should be outside the protection of the law.” Even after the end of the second world war, Nazi war criminals had been given a “fair trial”.

    The prominent defence lawyer Michael Mansfield QC expressed similar doubts about whether sufficient efforts had been made to capture Bin Laden. “The serious risk is that in the absence of an authoritative narrative of events played out in Abbottabad, vengeance will become synonymised with justice, and that revenge will supplant ‘due process’.

    I wouldn’t usually address this but even Andrew Napolitano, with whom I rarely disagree, has been arguing this point as has a Glenn Greenwald, with whom I frequently disagree but respect.

    Napolitano also admitted that his emotional and patriotic sides rejoiced at the news of bin Laden’s death, but his moral and legal sides realized that governmental assassination is very dangerous and unlawful. Napolitano argued:

    “Beyond the issue of whether the government is telling us the truth or pulling a fast one to save Obama’s lousy Presidency – is the issue of the lawful power of the President to order someone killed, no matter how monstrous, how dangerous or how unpopular.”

    Napolitano wondered could the President authorize the killing of anyone he deemed an enemy and sarcastically asked could Obama next kill Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh?

    This is an unusually stupid utterance from Napolitano. But just to address this.

  • It is illegal for the President to order the assassination of a foreign head of state. But bin Laden was not a head of state. He was a criminal organizing attacks on the United States.
  • Yeah, maybe it would have been nice to have a trial. But bin Laden had proclaimed both his guilt and his intentions. It was not a necessary component.
  • A historical illustration of points (1) and (2) would be Operation Vengeance — the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto during World Word 2. FDR directly ordered the killing of Japan’s greatest military leader. No trial necessary. I feel bad about this comparison since Yamamoto, while he was our enemy, was an honorable one. Osama bin Laden was a piece of shit. But the precedent is what matters — in time of war, the President can order the killing of someone who’s not a head of state. And I would argue, if we’re talking about a declared national war — like WW2 — he could even order the killing of a head of state.
  • Napolitano’s point about Beck and Limbaugh is astonishingly ridiculous. They are American citizens. I’m on record as opposing extrajudicial killing of Americans working with AQ unless it’s in combat. But comparing the assassination of an enemy combatant to the assassination of American citizens is a slippery slope argument made of pine straw.
  • The fact that bin Laden was unarmed is irrelevant. If he had his hands up and was surrendering, maybe that would matter. But his people resisted with guns. In that situation, you kill anything that might be a threat. You don’t wait until three of your friends are down. If you don’t like those rules of engagement, don’t go to war.
  • There is no doubt in my mind that this was legal. I appreciate that people are worried about the rule of law. But there’s not really a doubt that the President can order the death of an opposing combatant. They can. They have. They should.