Assassination by Executive…A slippery slope we are already sliding down rapidly

The New York Times carries a story on the legal justification for killing rather than capturing al-Awlaki.  Link below I hope but I’m not sure.  If not, search Times for “Secret US Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen, it is worth reading.

While the legal case determines that capture would be impossible or at least highly impractical and the story emphasizes that this was a one-time, one person opinion, who can doubt the appeal of the rationale for killing people determined to be “bad guys” by a president and his key advisers?


The Patriot Act and subsequent legislation when being considered by Congress included a multitude of ways in which established legal principles protecting individuals’ rights were diminished or eliminated.  These diminished protections required the police and intelligence agencies to meet high standards for carrying out their activities against you.  The 9/11 attack and the justifiable public fear and outrage provided enough public support to assure the Patriot Act’s prompt passage without serious review and discussion.  The police and agencies took advantage of that environment to seek and obtain lower standards in areas that made adherence to the standards highly inconvenient for them.  At the time, no one knew if any of them were of any importance in the ill-defined conflict that had begun on 9/11, but they were of general “convenience” to police and the agencies.

Thus far, there has been no public appetite to look carefully at the implications of these laws and more that are proposed.  Civil libertarians are a group at the margin of legal debate currently (although there do seem to be a few more voices of concern lately).

Drone and missile technology advances apace with precision increasing dramatically from what it was early in the Afghanistan War.  How precise it can be is, I’m almost certain, both classified and increasing rapidly.

One might easily enough make the case that the risks to the SEALS associated with killing Bin Laden were justified by his prominence in the events of 9/11 and the same case for his successor who was then his deputy, if or when that happens, as necessary for the public to satisfy its retributive passion as well as be satisfied that he is not out there somewhere planning another big attack on us.

What becomes more difficult as time passes and the identity of significant terrorist leaders is less well-known generally is the risk of American lives to capture and/or kill them if capture is impossible at the point of engagement.

If a drone can simply remove completely the risk of American (and allied) casualties and the leaders are many, distributed, and having information to yield about their small group only, well, send the drone to kill them.

At this point killing them becomes purely convenient and unrelated to capture.  And, if they are Americans, the justification for killing them remains in the hands of the executive and secret from the public.

We have seen the new “convenience” powers of the government divorced from exclusively “terrorist” suspicions and made available for more general criminal use against Americans domestically without suspicion.

Who can imagine that, with a few tweaks here and there, the “one-time-only” opinion can permit killing of people domestically, for no better reason than capturing risks police casualties?  Police casualties are risks and police operations are often “inconvenient.”

I think it can be “tweaked” and, unless Americans show greater concern about these issues, if not sooner, then later, it will be.

Follow-up to calling the White House

Having pressed others to call, I thought I should call and I did.  The first time the line was busy.  I kept calling until I got a “volunteer” who took my call.  She politely but quickly asked me what I wanted to tell the president and I told him to veto any Patriot Act provisions coming to him for signature.  I also urged him to take advantage of the current situation to re-evaluate and modify the Patriot Act and related legislation on the basis of the ten years experience we have gained since it was originally passed shortly after 9/11 and in great haste.  She thanked me and hung up.

I know they are busy and if they are using volunteers the number available is probably small.  I later learned from the organization that implored me to call that over 7,000 calls got through and the lines were tied up all day.  I am not certain that tying up the lines with 7,000 calls is indicative of anything other than the limited number of volunteers, or possibly telephone facilities, available.  Nor am I sure that tying up the lines will be understood as a reflection of how many people are concerned about civil liberties.

How many days a month do you suppose the lines are tied up by a particular interest group?  My guess would be that it is a high number, at least 15, and the reports to Obama or whoever actually reviews the issues presented by the calls simply sends copies of the report to various political advisors who make what they will of them.  It is difficult to think that this practice has more than a minimal marginal effect, if any.

If I had it to do again, I’d do it again on the grounds that not doing it may reflect a lack of interest to someone advising the president.  But that’s a very strongly conditional “may.”

Call the White House TODAY about the Patriot Act extensions…

Call 202-456-1111 between 9:00 and 5:00ET and ask to speak to someone working on renewal of the Patriot Act.  If the line is busy, please keep trying.  When you speak to someone, urge them to have the president veto the provisions coming to him and to take additional steps to revise the act in light of ten years of experience to restore rights the Act usurped in the first heat of 9/11.  Whatever modifications in procedures may be needed to confront our enemies, ten years experience is enough to allow for the crafting of something more fitting and more like a scalpel than the axe that the current Patriot Act is as used against enemies and citizens.  Ask the person to use the Bill of Rights as a guide for new legislation.