This week, a source in the government leaked a copy of a 16-page Department of Justice “white paper” setting “forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which” the United States government can blow away a senior terrorist who is also a U.S. citizen, and a whole lot of people got a whole lot of angry about a whole lot of common sense.
Now, it’s not too often that we find ourselves on the side of the DOJ, its gun-smuggling executive, or his gun-hating boss; and it’s even less common that we think that the government is up to any good, but here’s one thing we will back the aforementioned up on: The quickest path to Allah is — and should be — a promotion in al-Qaida. And here’s another controversial statement to chew on: A person in a foreign land plotting terrorist attacks on the United States can count on an ass whooping — and betraying one’s homeland by committing high treason is not a suitable defense.
But to cut through all the hub-bub, here’s what the white paper actually said: “A U.S. operation using lethal force in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or an associated force would be lawful [if] (1) an informed, high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2) capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and (3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”
And here’s what media opponents have said: This violates their right to due process; all Americans are threatened by the breadth of this power; and the concept puts too much trust in the executive branch.
Now, the document’s authors lay their legal case out rather painstakingly, and we’re not going to waste anyone’s time writing up a summary of their case. What we’re here wondering, however, is if these critics have the faintest grasp of what they’re suggesting, either in its implications, or in how stupid it sounds.
Let’s start with the 4th and 5th amendments — important constitutional rights that citizens of this country have regarding due process, searches, and seizures. Their purposes are to ensure that Americans’ rights are not trampled, and that law and order is upheld.
Additionally, these rights apply when in a foreign country. When legal precedent says these rights do not apply is when a threat is imminent: Say, for example, in a situation where a suspect opens fire on police, or “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.” And even in these situations, an officer is expected to do his best to apprehend a suspect for trial. But what about when apprehension is impossible? Say, when the subject is in a particularly unfriendly part of Pakistan?
Well, some critics of the DOJ document say that these leaders, off their battlefield (meaning, we guess, not opening fire on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan), do not pose “a threat of serious physical harm.” We want to respectfully disagree, and respectfully ride on these fools. The most dangerous sworn enemies of the United States, such as the late Osama bin Laden, didn’t spend a lot of time shooting AKs — they spend a lot of time plotting violent attacks on American soldiers, interests, warships and cities.
We know that a lot of libertarian and progressive critics of a hawkish foreign policy believe that the only real threat to peace and security in this world is the United States, but if anyone thinks that al-Qaida is some kind of dissident political club — rather than a “terrorist organization engaged in constant plotting against the United States” — we’d like to see the research.
And if anyone thinks that this organization’s commitment to “engage in such attacks regularly to the extent it were able to do so” does not pose “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and her just interests, we’d like to know why.
And if anyone thinks that apprehension and trial of these combatants in a “host nation [that] is unable or unwilling to suppress the threat posed by the individual” is feasible, we’d like to understand how.
And if anyone thinks that committing treason by being in a foreign country — as a member of the armed wing of an organization that Congress “has authorized the use of force” against — is a constitutionally-protected place to be, we’d like to get an explanation.
And if anyone thinks that being “a senior operational leader of the enemy forces who is actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans” is too broad, we’d like entertain a more workable definition.
And if anyone think that the president does not have a constitutional duty to defend the citizens of the United States from attack, we’d like to hear that thought process.
And if anyone has a better solution, we’d like to hear that out too.
Additionally, while right-minded people are loath to trust the government on matters as dear as life and death, the necessities of a chaotic world force right-minded people to place that trust in their leaders in dire scenarios. Whether it’s the police officer on the beat in Chicago or the commander in the field in Afghanistan, the decision to return fire on an imminent threat to the United States or its people is taken on a daily basis. And while all those decisions — especially those regarding the lives of Americans — must be open to question, on-the-ground factors must be weighed and taken into account: This is why justice is represented with a scale, and not simply a thumb to point up or down. To subject the important — and, thankfully, rare — decision to kill an American traitor in a foreign land during wartime to the same constraints a common criminal enjoys when captured in the States is so unreasonable it is dangerous.
The reality is that what the paper outlines is neither crazy, nor the next step toward tyranny: “The United States,” the paper states, “retains its authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities when it targets a senior operational leader of the enemy forces who is actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.”
The leaders of al-Qaida, whether born in Egypt or the United States, harp on incessantly about hellfire, judgement from above, and the commandment to martyrdom. Our humble answer to all three: an AGM-114 Hellfire missile launched from 5,000 feet above, commanded from the Pentagon.
What greater liberation from the fears and uncertainties of waging war against the Western world than the sweet release of death?