There was an eight-page article in the New York Times yesterday entitled, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will. The article contains quite a number of excuses and loopholes the administration has found to justify morally- and legally-questionable actions. Innocents can be killed in the line of fire, even if we are not at war. All military-age males in a strike zone are automatically designated as combatants, so we cannot say that we killed non-combatants. The US has a veritable take-no-prisoners policy in order to get around the tricky issue of detaining someone without trial.
This even applies to American citizens. From the article:
[Anwar al-Awlaki’s] record, and Mr. Awlaki’s calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.
“Due process” now consists of the executive branch deliberating about whether you should die or not. We have rewritten the rules to suit our needs.
Still, my mind is not made up about the administration’s actions. It is possible that some of them are morally justifiable -by which I mean they are consistent with the goal of creating an international human society in which people have their basic liberties. Perhaps it is reasonable to kill terrorists in other countries without trial in order to protect innocent lives. However, I am not convinced. I tend to think that the rights guaranteed by the American constitution are there for a good reason, and I tend not to trust people who break the rules and then invent justifications for it later. Humans have done this throughout history; very seldom has it looked noble in retrospect.
In choosing not to release, among other things, the fifty-page Department of Justice memo which gives legal justification for the killing of Awlaki, Obama makes it appear as if he has something to hide. If the administration thinks it is reasonable and good to practice indefinite detention, or to kill American citizens without trial, then let them state their case for it openly, and let the nation debate it openly. This is a democracy, and our ability to scrutinize the actions of our leaders is paramount to keeping power in the hands of its people.