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Is Anwar al-Awlaki a meddlesome prei-- imam?
April 6, 2010 11:39 PM   Subscribe

President Obama has done the (apparently) unprecedented: he has authorized the assassination of an American citizen. Or should this be termed an extrajudicial execution? Or just the use of military force against terrorists? (Previously.)
posted by orthogonality (132 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let's get him.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:51 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a better plan than invading Yemen.
posted by molecicco at 12:00 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm speechless.
posted by Netzapper at 12:00 AM on April 7, 2010


Part of me wonders if this whole "take out the head and the body will die" mentality being directed toward these groups is actually accurate. Are they really just cults-of-personality which will diffuse into the wind if the leadership is killed? I can't claim any kind of real expert knowledge, but what I have digested about them indicates that martyrdom is important and motivating to these groups, and that their worldview is not being driven simply by charisma.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


This leaves a bad taste, a real bad taste, but just because there's authorization to use lithal force it doesn't mean that's the only soultion here. I hope he's captured and given some kind of trial.
posted by Skygazer at 12:05 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald was talking about this case months ago.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking this falls somewhere on the spectrum between the heavily connoted term "assassination" and the sanitary term "targeted killing", nicely triangulated in this post with "extrajudicial execution". If the counterterorism and intellignece officials cited by the NYT are correct (I have no idea if they are, I am somewhat less than confident though) when they say "who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them" then I think Anwar al-Awlaki should at least be made to post to MetaTalk.
posted by vapidave at 12:09 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


So this dude's safest bet is to come back to the US...where he can't be assassinated legally? Huh?
posted by hal_c_on at 12:15 AM on April 7, 2010



delmoi, you are right, I remember reading it too. Here is Greenwald's take on this issue back in January.
posted by dealing away at 12:15 AM on April 7, 2010


Obama's the first? Oh.

Who's being naïve, Kay?
posted by borborygmi at 12:15 AM on April 7, 2010 [33 favorites]


Show me the part of US foreign policy in the middle east that is not about assassination, US citizen or no.
posted by telstar at 12:19 AM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


If this were Bush, I would be aghast.
I'm going to let that guide my conscience here.
I stand opposed.
posted by Richard Daly at 12:21 AM on April 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


So this dude's safest bet is to come back to the US...where he can't be assassinated legally? Huh?
posted by hal_c_on at 12:15 AM on April 7


Mmmm... I'm sure he can already taste the simulated drowning now. No wait, that's the car battery attached to his testicles.
posted by basicchannel at 12:21 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just wait, eventually we'll have RPVs firing at people in the United States.
posted by wuwei at 12:23 AM on April 7, 2010


If this were Bush, I would be aghast.
I'm going to let that guide my conscience here.


There's something to be said for this.

While I trust that the action (that's all it is, trust) is probably thought out and not irrational, moreso than I would have with Bush, the implication worries me more than it would have with Bush. He ostensibly leans towards my politics and thinks this is ok? This notion might have some frightening staying power.
posted by Bobicus at 12:31 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, since they obviously have tons of waterproof evidence that he has commited acts of war against the US (otherwise there is no way they would issue a 'kill order' or whatever against him,) why don't they go ahead and use that evidence to revoke his citizenship (probably in absentia) first?
posted by blenderfish at 12:37 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is everyone forgetting that Obama ran on a platform to escalate the war in Afghanistan and search for bin Ladin there and in Pakistan while scaling back in Iraq? Why is this move so surprising? Obama has never played the dove. He is anti-nuclear, and he thinks Iraq was misguided, but he is emphatically pro-war in Afghanistan.

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (2007)

And he tends towards transparency... so while a predecessor would likely keep a decision like this secret, he let's people know his plan.
posted by molecicco at 12:41 AM on April 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


I don't believe for a minute that this is the first time that the POTUS has made this decision and I'm sure it won't be the last. This just may be the first time the decision has become public knowledge beforehand.

I'm not saying this knowledge makes me happy on any front - just that it doesn't surprise me.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:42 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Are people here having a problem with this just because he's an American citizen or do you have the same compunction about all targeted killings of al-Qaeda the Taliban and their supporters?
posted by The Hamms Bear at 12:43 AM on April 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


why don't they go ahead and use that evidence to revoke his citizenship (probably in absentia) first?

According to the Washington Independent's legal research a couple of months ago, they can't.
posted by XMLicious at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


And by POTUS what I mean PresidentS of the United States as I feel certain some other president(s) made this decision and we just didn't hear about it.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a measure of how divorced from reality this Administration's view of Middle Eastern motives are (in any sphere), that they are publicly admitting to sharing intel with Yemeni military elements. And insofar as the second link is concerned, the following "correction" from WaPo is worth noting:
"Correction to This Article
The article referred incorrectly to the presence of U.S. citizens on a CIA list of people the agency seeks to kill or capture. After The Post's report was published, a source said that a statement the source made about the CIA list was misunderstood. Additional reporting produced no independent confirmation of the original report, and a CIA spokesman said that The Post's account of the list was incorrect. The military's Joint Special Operations Command maintains a target list that includes several Americans. In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said that the government is prepared to kill U.S. citizens who are believed to be involved in terrorist activities that threaten Americans. "
I.e. "we were talking about the wrong list."

I dunno what this Administration is thinking about the Middle East. Clinton seems to be running around, making no new friends, and building no personal gravitas in the region. Wherever she goes, a few days later, Mike Mullen or some other high ranking U.S. military leader is sucked in, to confirm that she's been there, and that she wasn't just an errant American tourist.

But as an American Secretary of State, serving U.S. interests in a troubled region, she's a visible, if not principal, constant reminder of how little this Administration is capable of influence in this strategically important region. For the Iraqis in Baghdad tonight, who believed this Administration's promises about security during American withdrawal, I have great sympathy, as I do for Afghanistan's Karzai.

Tonight, in Yemen and Iraq and Afghanistan, it's only slightly more dangerous to be an enemy of the U.S., than a friend of ours...
posted by paulsc at 12:53 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not a constitutional scholar, but doesn't this violate the 5th and 14th amendments? Isn't the state not supposed to strip citizens of their lives without the due process of the law? Has Mr. Awlaki been convicted of treason in a court of law and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:03 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fuck, man. It really is totally amazing to me how we got from 9/11 to here. It's like Chinese water torture. Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, extrajudicial executions of American citizens - is it Bush's fault? Nope, all happening under a Democratic administration to boot. I thought Saddam Hussein, WMD's and Osama were an entire meal, turns out they were the fucking appetizer.

All these "Mission Accomplished" atrocities... Blackwater, Abu Ghraib.. to be asked to live in this constant state of fear.. to be asked to buy into this mythical military course of unilateral action that will bring resolution.. after all the lies and cover-ups that suggest otherwise.. Pat Tillman? The cover-ups at Haditha and Samarra? To keep me from doubting that the war is righteous? What the fuck is the point of all this? What's the prize? When do we get to stop? I've been saying for almost ten years that there is no difference between "terrorist" and "alleged terrorist." Back when fucking Ashcroft was in office and the Patriot Act got passed. I seriously think we need to press delete and start over. This is getting unbelievable.
posted by phaedon at 1:08 AM on April 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


Hey Barack, buddy, nobody's questioning your manliness. We've all seen those pics of you without a shirt on- we know you're a manly man. There's no need for this sort of shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:19 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I fail to see how this is different than the numerous alleged taliban or Al Qaeda officials that we blow up with our drones every day.-and anyone else who happens to be nearby.

Since we trained Al Qaeda, it should be obvious that their organization is highly redundant and has a bottomless well of new recruits ready to go. Killing Anwar al-Awlaki would just be political theatre and well could be counter productive done in such a public manner. Apprehending him and putting him on public trial would be much more apropos to the hearts and minds strategy that we need.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:20 AM on April 7, 2010


Um, what?

*reads article*

Shit. I was hoping for Rush Limbaugh.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:24 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't see that this is less - or more - moral than shooting people on a battlefield. Anyway, previously.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:52 AM on April 7, 2010



According to the Washington Independent's legal research a couple of months ago, they can't.

Weird. the relevent law seems to imply they could-- though, I guess court rulings regarding constitutionality of losing citizenship without intending to could intervene. But the State Department's page on it makes it sound like there may be some room for a court to presume intent to relinquish. ("Voluntary service in the armed forces of a state engaged in hostilities against the United States could be viewed as indicative of an intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship.") Anyway, it sounds like it might not be 100% settled.

However, I assume actual, y'know, lawyers, have thought about this, though, and am willing to defer to their judgement.
posted by blenderfish at 2:03 AM on April 7, 2010


What's the point of having a clandestine intelligence service if it is neither intelligent nor clandestine?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 2:45 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obama has never played the dove.
No, because that would pretty much have prevented him from getting elected, right? From the outside it seems to me that the least controversial stance in US politics is the need to have a strong military and engage in foreign wars.
posted by Harald74 at 2:45 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


For the Iraqis in Baghdad tonight, who believed this Administration's promises about security during American withdrawal, I have great sympathy, as I do for Afghanistan's Karzai.

I can't muster much sympathy for a man who had 1/3 of his votes declared fraudulent and whose second-round opponent stepped down before the second round took place. For instance.
posted by ersatz at 3:24 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not really that different from killing non-citizens, is it? It's not like the sanctity of a person's life is somehow dependent on citizenship status of the US or any other country.
posted by Authorized User at 3:25 AM on April 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's not like the sanctity of a person's life is somehow dependent on citizenship status of the US or any other country.

You must be new.
posted by rodgerd at 3:29 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald wrote about this on Salon.com in January:
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.

(...)

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. Numerous Guantanamo detainees accused by the U.S. Government of being Terrorists have turned out to be completely innocent, and the vast majority of federal judges who provided habeas review to detainees have found an almost complete lack of evidence to justify the accusations against them, and thus ordered them released.
He goes on to quote presiden Lincoln's General Order 100, which says among other things in Section IX, entitled “Assassinations”:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

posted by Harald74 at 3:39 AM on April 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


When a citizen takes up arms against the US they should not be surprised if the US decides to shoot back, and the US has bigger guns.
posted by caddis at 4:02 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll echo those who are pointing out that this is no more shocking than if he were Yemeni or anything else.

I will never be comfortable with the logic that underpins (undermines?) a "War on [insert abstract noun here]". War between nations, although vastly unpleasant, can be largely legally defined and hence relatively effectively policed*. The idea of legally defining the terms of a "War on Terror" is inherently ridiculous, and so therefore is the "War on Terror" itself.

Sadly Obama does not seem to be terribly interested in this argument.

*There are significant grey areas, however, and policing very often does not occur

I can't seem to type "War on Terror" this morning, keeps coming out as "War of Terror". How very very strange.
posted by howfar at 4:05 AM on April 7, 2010


Caddis,

So if I rob a post office I can be authorised for execution without trial?
posted by howfar at 4:07 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if I rob someone claims I robbed a post office I can be authorised for execution without trial?

Fixed that for you, howfar.
posted by Harald74 at 4:12 AM on April 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


However, I assume actual, y'know, lawyers, have thought about this, though, and am willing to defer to their judgement.

Are these the same lawyers who told people they could torture prisoners?
posted by mikelieman at 4:20 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Harald74,

You're right that your fix addresses the reality of this particular situation, but in response to Caddis it doesn't matter whether I robbed it or not. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. Due process is there to ensure that the guilty, just as much as the innocent, are given fair trials.
posted by howfar at 4:24 AM on April 7, 2010


Can someone explain something to me? I mean this in all seriousness, I don't really understand the intricacies, and to be honest haven't given it deep thought, but why are targeted assassinations a worse method of containing a threat than the type of war we've been engaging in the last several years? I know (I think) why we're in a war rather than quietly taking out the bad guys, one by one, but why is it considered better?

I've been wondering this since 9/11. I stood on the corner of my block watching the top of the tower burn, a plane had hit it. All of a sudden a massive fire ball hit the other tower midway down. We were watching from the east so didn't see the approaching plane. While we were trying to figure out what had just happened, and wrap our brains around the fact that we had just witnessed probably dozens of people die instantly, a woman on a cell phone started screaming "terrorista! terrorista!". There was a second plane.
I remember thinking so clearly right then please do not let us go and kill innocent people in whichever country we lay the blame on in some giant scourge of a war. We cannot. I knew we would, but I truly hoped that one of those shadow-y government operations that I know nothing about could just go and quietly assassinate those associated in any way with this. Let the terrorists know that our scopes were on them and we would find them, and that anyone involved would not be
I KNEW that we were going to go into some poor country and destroy it and kill thousands of innocent people to get the revenge we needed. Too many people were screaming for blood, and I didn't get it. When I watched the towers fall a little later I felt it again. The horror of watching innocent people die in front of me, less than a mile away from where I stood, made me want to not ever inflict that or anything like it on anyone, there was no justification that I could find for it.

I've stuck with my initial reaction since that day. Why couldn't targeted assassinations be used instead the broad scope of war? I mean other than to appease the public? Wouldn't it be more effective and strike fear into the hearts of potential terrorists if they KNOW that they would be executed quietly and without fanfare or chance for matyrdom? Even taking into account bad information and residual losses (a horrific term), wouldn't far fewer innocent people have been killed this way?

I'm sure I'm quite naive on this subject, but surely sometimes a scalpel works better than a scythe.
posted by newpotato at 5:00 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a ploy by the Obama Administration to get Cheney and Rove thinking real hard these days...
posted by Xoebe at 5:04 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find this a troubling extension of the ethnocentrism in military attitudes that value home citizen's lives over others. The only precedent here is the sanctioned execution of an American citizen. If Anwar had been born in Yemen, this wouldn't even be a footnote in the news.
posted by artificialard at 5:10 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Having watched that Wikileaks video, I am okay with this. Better one shot one kill than 200 shots and 9 dead civilians.
posted by GilloD at 5:10 AM on April 7, 2010


Newpotato,

My response to you is that the people who committed the 9/11 atrocities were criminals, not military combatants. All those associated should have been pursued like criminals, tried and punished according to the letter of US and international law. Unless you prove, fairly and finally, that they are mass-murderers, you do not demonstrate your legal right to imprison or kill them.

To those who claim that this would be impractical, I can only respond that I don't think that the quagmire of the last 9 years has been terribly practical. If the money, resources and diplomacy spent on wars had been spent on international criminal manhunts, we'd have caught those responsible long ago and live in a much less dangerous world.

When a power like the US positions itself outside of international law, it leaves room for people to doubt who the "good-guys" are. The only way to prove you're a good guy is to act like one.
posted by howfar at 5:23 AM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


THAT'S BULLSHIT!

the US has ordered assassination of US citizens for years. you call them terrorists but in Puerto Rico we call them political prisoners. Felisberto Ojeda is one such case --when the FBI could have picked him up at home, having known for years where the fugitive had been hiding, he was killed en sangre fría.

this is not about defending Obama. this is about basically telling you to STFU about US imperial power. Obama didn't pull out of his ass government sanctioned assassinations of political targets who happen to be US citizens.

this is something YOU have been paying for with your goddamn american dream and taxes.
posted by liza at 5:34 AM on April 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


delmoi: "Glenn Greenwald was talking about this case months ago."

Chris Floyd was screaming about the President publicly declaring the right to assassinate anyone he liked back when Bush first made it.

He notes:

... you can be sure that most of our conscience-laden progressives will be more upset about Obama's move to open up vast tracts of coastal waters to oil drilling than his intensification of the wars of dominion on the imperial frontiers.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:37 AM on April 7, 2010


the people who committed the 9/11 atrocities were criminals, not military combatants. All those associated should have been pursued like criminals, tried and punished according to the letter of US and international law.

How do you think this might have been done? Would a letter to the Taliban have been appropriate, asking for the extradition of Osama bin Laden?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:47 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia.

Remind me....when did they capture Osama bin Laden again? Was it before or after they brought peace to Afghanistan? Your presumably favoured method is not quite as effective as your sarcasm.
posted by howfar at 5:52 AM on April 7, 2010


I have great sympathy, as I do for Afghanistan's Karzai.

I can't say that I have a lot of sympathy with corrupt warlords who threaten to join the Taliban when they don't get their way, but ... different strokes, I guess.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:54 AM on April 7, 2010


Didn't the US military extra-judicially kill several hundred thousand American citizens on US soil in the 1860s?

The fact that this person is an American seems irrelavant to the moral case here.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:56 AM on April 7, 2010


Didn't the US military extra-judicially kill several hundred thousand American citizens on US soil in the 1860s?

I'm pretty sure there's a difference between targeting an individual for assassination and putting down an armed rebellion.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman today:

The administration may very well be making the correct evaluation of the threat al-Awlaki poses. But if citizenship means anything, it means that a citizen can’t be killed because the government uses secret evidence to say he or she is an intolerable threat.
posted by shothotbot at 6:03 AM on April 7, 2010


An assassination here and there never hurt anyone, as long as he doesn't make it a habit.
posted by Damienmce at 6:03 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh no, he's American? That makes this extra terrible.

(I will now read the thread.)
posted by Dumsnill at 6:24 AM on April 7, 2010


Protip: do not stand in close proximity to Anwar al-Awlaki.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:26 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you referring to the Mr. Hamid Karzai who has a substance abuse problem?
posted by adamvasco at 6:29 AM on April 7, 2010


I'm pretty sure there's a difference between targeting an individual for assassination and putting down an armed rebellion.

Yes: far fewer people die as the result of a targeted assassination. I suspect that assassinations aren't as effective as the people who call for them may think, but I can't see a moral difference between killing someone via a sniper's bullet and killing them via some shrapnel. If assassinations were effective I'd be all for assassinating the leaders of the bad guys rather than killing a bunch of conscripts.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:39 AM on April 7, 2010


How do you think this might have been done? Would a letter to the Taliban have been appropriate, asking for the extradition of Osama bin Laden?

Actually, that's pretty much exactly what happened. The Bush Administration did pursue the legal extradition of bin Laden in the leadup to the Afghan war.

The Taliban did not give him up for a number of reasons. Religious fundamentalists (in this case, on both sides) are not known for their accommodating nature. The Taliban protested (quite correctly), that they had only the most cursory relationship with bin Laden, and were not responsible for his actions. They wanted him tried in a sharia court, rather than in the US. Finally, just before the invasion, there were back-channel offers to solve the problem in the way it has been handled in tribal politics for millenia, and that bin Laden could suffer an "accident" which would result in his head being delivered on a plate.

All of these offers were spurned, and we have what we have now.

It's amazing how the "what's acceptable" guage creeps slowly over in the mind of the US public. It was public revulsion at assassination attempts like this in the 70's that brought in the changes of the Church Commission. Almost 10 years after 9/11, and the majority of the US has turned to being entirely okay with an Israeli mindset of assassination.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 6:45 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not a constitutional scholar, but doesn't this violate the 5th and 14th amendments?

The 5th would be operative here because it's the federal government doing the targeting and the killing. Following Ironmouth, it didn't seem to prohibit the federal government from targeting Thomas Jackson, Robert Lee, James Stuart, and a few hundred thousand of their friends for assassination.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:49 AM on April 7, 2010


Newpotato raises a good question that I don't think has been addresssed:
why are targeted assassinations a worse method of containing a threat than the type of war we've been engaging in the last several years? I know (I think) why we're in a war rather than quietly taking out the bad guys, one by one, but why is it considered better?

howfar says: To those who claim that this [criminal prosecution] would be impractical, I can only respond that I don't think that the quagmire of the last 9 years has been terribly practical. If the money, resources and diplomacy spent on wars had been spent on international criminal manhunts, we'd have caught those responsible long ago and live in a much less dangerous world.

Putting aside the issue of whether our police can reach someone hiding in North Waziristan or rebel areas of Yemen, which is a big problem, the new drone technology is the point here. If you don't need two giant quagmire wars to take out an enemy, because we've leveraged our video game expertise and gadgetry into an effective and inexpensive way to target someone like Awlaki -- for maybe a couple of million dollars instead of a trillion, and many fewer innocent lives killed -- why is that wrong?
posted by msalt at 7:02 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not coming out in favor or anything*, but it's not like Bon Jovi made up the phrase, "Wanted: Dead or Alive."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:08 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


One question: how does this differ from the practice of US Marshals in the old west calling for wanted fugitives to be captured "Dead or Alive"?

Not that this is something I'm totally comfortable with, but is it really all that unprecedented for the US to call for certain fugitives to be captured "Dead or Alive"?

Otherwise, I'm gonna sit this one out. It's just too much to deal with in the A.M.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:11 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Part of me wonders if this whole "take out the head and the body will die" mentality being directed toward these groups is actually accurate.

Probably not. The guy at the top, if he's got enough support to have any real power, is primarily reflecting the attitudes and the desires of the whole. You might hear rumblings from people lower down on the totem pole about changing that direction, but generally that's a ploy to try and gain sympathy from outsiders and to build up a base of support from disaffected insiders. When there actually is a replacement among the leadership, you'll see a few changes, but more often than not it turns out to be a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss". We can hope for slight improvement, but if the new guy was really less violent then he'd never have been accepted as leader!

Are they really just cults-of-personality which will diffuse into the wind if the leadership is killed?

There's definitely a "cult of personality" aspect to it, and to the extent that there is, you'd never want to kill a bad leader and make the cult permanent. Discrediting a leader with scandals and/or failures would be better, but even that only leads to temporary disarray while others jockey for position. We like to talk about these groups like they're some monolithic enemy force, but they're really distributed entities which use leaders as figureheads as much as for planning.

I can't claim any kind of real expert knowledge, but what I have digested about them indicates that martyrdom is important and motivating to these groups,

Absolutely. We've seen time and again that the deaths of their warriors mostly get used to support a narrative of heroism, and the deaths of innocents always lead to improved recruiting and much more violence. The death of a leader just turns him into an epic figure, with more power posthumously than he had in life.

and that their worldview is not being driven simply by charisma.

Not simply, but it is a big component. Nobody amasses power by clearly stating rational, detailed goals that everybody will agree with, because such goals don't exist. For areas where their followers' worldview is mostly homogenous, it's just a contest to see who is "strong" enough to give the most extreme expression to it. Contrariwise, where there's real disagreement, it's dangerous for a "leader" to actually lead, because doing so he risks losing or fragmenting his followers, or even endangers himself.

The problem of charismatic leaders is supposed to be one of the things that we prevent with the rule of law. You get everybody to agree to a priori principles which restrict what their leaders can do, even restrictions on the execution of war. You then deal with violations of those principles fairly, with impartial judges overruling excessive orders and fairly punishing violators.

But obviously that won't work here. Partly that's because people don't agree on basic principles. Partly that's because of cults of charisma which make people's principles waffle based on how they feel about the guy in power. Partly that's because of cults of ideology which make people willing to abandon their former principles in the name of expediency for what they think is a greater good. Mostly, practically, that's because there's no way to arrest the violators and get them in front of a judge. Just because assassination may be one of the worst solutions doesn't mean that even the "best" solutions are any good. Some problems are unsolvable; this one is at least beyond me.

...

Metafilter Easter Egg: reread this post and the one it replied to, substituting as many antecedents in for "these groups" as you can without reducing the accuracy. I scored 8!

posted by roystgnr at 7:17 AM on April 7, 2010


Oops. I should have previewed, Kid Charlemagne. Didn't mean to steal your thought.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 AM on April 7, 2010


I'm ambivalent about this. Targetted killings are targetted killings, whether the victim is an American Citizen or not. I'm not sure how I can get all worked up about this when I don't get exercised about Predator drones blowing up Taliban in Afghanistan.

I have a feeling that if they pop this guy, they won't drop a smart bomb down his chimney while he's sleeping, they'll probably get him when he's at some kind of meeting or something. But who knows.
posted by empath at 7:41 AM on April 7, 2010


1. This, like any other assassination order is bullshit and fucked up.
2. Also: have we forgotten bombing the Black Panthers or shooting up the folks of AIM?

Upset? Yes.
ZOMG OBAMA WORSE THAN OTHERS? No.
posted by yeloson at 7:47 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still say it's not all that unprecedented for Federal authorities to call for a fugitive to be either killed or captured. It's ugly and barbaric, old west style justice, but it's not unprecedented. Still, disappointing. I'd have preferred a greater show of faith in the justice system and due process.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:55 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, at least it sounds like they're doing this in accordance with international law:

As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country, and officials said that was the standard used in adding names to the list of targets. In addition, Congress approved the use of military force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford.

Hard to know just how "immediate" a threat Mr. al-Awlaki poses without more information though.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2010


I'm cynical enough to believe that putting an American citizen on a capture or kill list is a long way from unprecedented. What might be a first though, is publicly announcing it.

It's be like waking up, reading the morning paper, and catching the headline "US decides quin is a douchebag, killing him on sight is A-Okay!"

And wondering how the rest of my day was going to go.
posted by quin at 8:16 AM on April 7, 2010


If you don't need two giant quagmire wars to take out an enemy, because we've leveraged our video game expertise and gadgetry into an effective and inexpensive way to target someone like Awlaki -- for maybe a couple of million dollars instead of a trillion, and many fewer innocent lives killed -- why is that wrong?

Well, one might argue that you've perhaps unintentionally twisted one question into another. Yes, by this assessment, assassination might be the lesser of two evils, but "less evil" is not generally the antonym for "wrong".

Not that I think the net suffering in the world wouldn't be reduced by a few particular people ceasing to exist, but I'm not sure I trust the most neutral of organizations, nevermind the U.S. gov, to determine who. Of course, they will anyway, but the cost of war can be prohibitive. Assassination? Maybe not so much.

Anyway, welcome to the target pool.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2010


video game expertise and gadgetry into an effective and inexpensive way to target someone like Awlaki -- for maybe a couple of million dollars instead of a trillion, and many fewer innocent lives killed -- why is that wrong?

Firstly because it's not right to kill people without trial, even if it were in your national interest, and secondly because it's not really not in anyone's interest. We've been hearing about how smart bombs will avoid quagmires since Desert Storm, and look where we've ended up. You can't just take out the baddies without realising that people object to you violating their sovereignty.

It is a common hawk tactic to suggest that non-military solutions to problems are naïve and impractical, but the naïve position is really to think that you can wander around the world with your big guns and smart bombs and not piss a lot of people off. Terrorism doesn't need figureheads, it just needs angry people.
posted by howfar at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hard to know just how "immediate" a threat Mr. al-Awlaki poses without more information though.

Fort Hood shooting, 13 dead and 31 injured. 290 people on that Christmas Day flight narrowly missed death; the suspect in that case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, says Awlaki recruited and trained him. That's just in the last 5 months. Awlaki also preached to 3 of the 9/11 attackers.

Given that Awlaki is 38 and doesn't have any serious credentials as a theologian, it seems fair to say that he is exactly the type of charismatic and dangerous threat who would NOT be immediately replaced by someone else. Also his fluency in English and American culture makes him a unique threat to recruit potential American terrorists. That doesn't make it automatically OK to assassinate him, but it does distill this question down to its essence.

Is it always wrong to assassinate? Would an invasion of Western Yemen to capture him, with all the death and quagmire that would entail, be morally superior (since almost certainly more people would die)? Why?
posted by msalt at 8:26 AM on April 7, 2010


Kid Charlemagne and saulgoodman, I liked your almost-simultaneous posts because the "Wanted" poster was the first thing that came to my mind after reading the NYT article.

Seems like the article might have slanted the story a bit, waiting for the seventh paragraph to mention that it's a "capture or kill" authorization? Up to that point the NYT just called it "targeted killing."

If the authorization comes down to "Capture this man, using all possible measures including lethal force if necessary," that seems a bit different to me than just ordering a hit on the guy.
posted by torticat at 8:33 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Firstly because it's not right to kill people without trial

so you would bring lawyers and judges to the battlefield to give all the insurgents firing at you a fair trial before firing back? ;)
posted by caddis at 8:36 AM on April 7, 2010


Targetted killings, or assassinations if you prefer, have always been present in war and black ops (and also bounty hunting). The United States has been doing it since the country's founding, this is not new.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:37 AM on April 7, 2010


caddis,

My starting premise was that a "War on Terror" is incapable of legal definition. I don't like any war, and think most wars are a ghastly pointless waste of life, but conventional wars are to some extent capable of providing a legal framework to their wrongs, and can sometimes be legally (if perhaps not morally) justified.

What the US is currently engaged in is not even an unconventional war, it is simply not a war (although it involves one legal war). The "War on Terror" does not provide the legal framework of a war for the purposes of the violation of sovereign nations as a matter of policy. That this a presidentially publicly mandated policy shows how far out of step the US is with the rest of the world as to how they see their right to operate overseas.
posted by howfar at 8:48 AM on April 7, 2010


Didn't the US military extra-judicially kill several hundred thousand American citizens on US soil in the 1860s?

I'm pretty sure there's a difference between targeting an individual for assassination and putting down an armed rebellion.


If you could explain what that difference is, I'd appreciate it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2010


I'm not a constitutional scholar, but doesn't this violate the 5th and 14th amendments?

The 5th would be operative here because it's the federal government doing the targeting and the killing. Following Ironmouth, it didn't seem to prohibit the federal government from targeting Thomas Jackson, Robert Lee, James Stuart, and a few hundred thousand of their friends for assassination.


Yeah, the 14th Amendment does not apply to the Federal government or the District of Columbia.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2010


Greenwald today: Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen
posted by homunculus at 9:08 AM on April 7, 2010


The Bush Administration did pursue the legal extradition of bin Laden in the leadup to the Afghan war.

Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender bin Laden, October 15, 2001:
After a week of debilitating strikes at targets across Afghanistan, the Taliban repeated an offer to hand over Osama bin Laden, only to be rejected by President Bush.

The offer yesterday from Haji Abdul Kabir, the Taliban's deputy prime minister, to surrender Mr bin Laden if America would halt its bombing and provide evidence against the Saudi-born dissident was not new but it suggested the Taliban are increasingly weary of the air strikes, which have crippled much of their military and communications assets.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:15 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's not like Bon Jovi made up the phrase, "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

He's an Imam,
with Al Qaeda he sides.
Now he's wanted:
dead or alive ...

(I couldn't help myself!)
posted by octobersurprise at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2010


If the authorization comes down to "Capture this man, using all possible measures including lethal force if necessary," that seems a bit different to me than just ordering a hit on the guy.

Would someone please address this question: How is this an authorization to assassinate a fugitive US citizen and not just an authorization to capture him by any means necessary up to and including lethal force?

The language in the authorization is "capture or kill." The US federal government used to routinely issue orders to capture and kill wanted fugitives in the American west.

Please don't ignore this question. Tell me why this is different. I really want to understand what makes it different, if anything.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:35 AM on April 7, 2010


because it's not right to kill people without trial, even if it were in your national interest, and secondly because it's not really not in anyone's interest.

Last April, Navy Seal snipers killed 3 Somali pirates who were holding American ship captain Richard Phillips hostage on a lifeboat. Was that wrong, too?

The Awlaki case, the Somali pirates, and the drones in Pakistan all seem to be similar cases. You have failed states with outlaws attacking U.S. citizens. The outlaws aren't connected to the government, but are taking refuge because the government doesn't have the power or will to stop them. This would seem to make arrest and trial impractical -- you would need a war to arrest them. In fact, it seems pretty similar to the Barbary Wars where we sent the Navy to stop (Muslim) pirates in the early 1800s.

In both the Awlaki and Pakistani drone cases, we even have the permission and support of the nation's governments. Does that change the moral calculus? I really don't have an answer but I think these are interesting and unanswered questions.
posted by msalt at 9:41 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


msalt,

For me, the point is that sustaining the rule of law should be the aim of the operation. Fugitives are sometimes killed during attempts to arrest them or in the course of their crimes, this is unfortunate, but does not invalidate the actions of the police. OTOH a "capture or kill" order issued to police would be no better than an extrajudicial death sentence. There is a difference between authorising reasonable force and claiming that "capture or kill" is a justifiable legal option.
posted by howfar at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2010


In both the Awlaki and Pakistani drone cases, we even have the permission and support of the nation's governments

We have the public disapproval but actual support of the Pakistani government. They are giving us lists of their taliban enemies and we are providing the firepower. These drones could be shot down with ease by Pakistani fighter jets, but they are not.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:19 AM on April 7, 2010


OTOH a "capture or kill" order issued to police would be no better than an extrajudicial death sentence.

But just so we're clear: you acknowledge that we've issued such orders before in the case of notorious gangsters and other outlaws?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on April 7, 2010


So this dude's safest bet is to come back to the US...where he can't be assassinated legally? Huh?

Sounds like an excellent plan. Announce publically that he's targeted, announce that if he heads to the Consulate he can get expedited transportation safely back to the USA, where he will be prosecuted by the laws of the US. If he chooses to remain out-of-country, he takes his chances.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:28 AM on April 7, 2010


Isn't extrajudicial execution just a 5-dollar word for murder? (I suppose it's governmental or institutionalized murder.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


you acknowledge that we've issued such orders before in the case of notorious gangsters and other outlaws?

When in particular? Can we have some examples to firm up the comparison we're drawing.

I should also be clear that my primary concern is with the effect that such an order has on national and international security, its (Benthamite) utilitarian consequences. I can't see how setting out to assassinate people, rather than to try them, can do anything but harm to the state of international law and stability.
posted by howfar at 10:45 AM on April 7, 2010


I should also be clear that my primary concern is with the effect that such an order has on national and international security, its (Benthamite) utilitarian consequences. I can't see how setting out to assassinate people, rather than to try them, can do anything but harm to the state of international law and stability.

Balanced against the harm to the state of international law and stability of flying hijacked civilian airliners into huge skyscrapers filled with people. You have two harms you are balancing against one another--and you have to figure out if you are even harming the first or really helping against the second.

There are no easy answers here.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:51 AM on April 7, 2010


It's not like their first choice is to kill him. He's much more valuable alive than dead, but if there is a possibility that he will get away then he'll be killed.

Is this something new?
posted by Allan Gordon at 10:53 AM on April 7, 2010


At least one very big problem is that nobody knows what the government considers legal. Who can it kill? With what authorization and what oversight? Even if its the best action, it needs to be public. Right now, I think the situation is that the US government thinks it can kill any one - regardless of citizenship or location - whom the executive branch deems to be a terrorist.
posted by shothotbot at 10:57 AM on April 7, 2010


The government has always had the power to kill anyone at any location. To defend the union the President can do all kinds of things. Remember internment camps during ww2. If they should do most of the things they do is of course debatable, but the power they possess to do these things is unquestionable.
posted by Allan Gordon at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


a "capture or kill" order issued to police would be no better than an extrajudicial death sentence.

Well, at least 50% better, right?

howfar: There is a difference between authorising reasonable force and claiming that "capture or kill" is a justifiable legal option.

Wiki says Awlaki is being sought by Yemeni authorities but is hiding in tribal areas; plus, they are promising their citizens not to extradite. Meanwhile he continues to encourage if not recruit and direct people to kill US citizens. Yet another (American) recruit of Awlaki's was arrested in Yemen (and killed a guard trying to escape) just last month.

There must be some established law on people who attack you from sanctuaries on foreign land. I'm not sure "dead or alive" isn't "reasonable force"; Awlaki is actively evading arrest in a lawless area where authorities are certain to be attacked if they enter. What would you suggest the U.S. do to bring him to trial? What's reasonable force in this situation?
posted by msalt at 11:06 AM on April 7, 2010


Somewhat related: Judge dismisses scores of Guantanamo habeas cases:

A federal judge has dismissed more than 100 habeas corpus lawsuits filed by former Guantanamo captives, ruling that because the Bush and Obama administrations had transferred them elsewhere, the courts need not decide whether the Pentagon imprisoned them illegally.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 11:07 AM on April 7, 2010


Balanced against the harm to the state of international law and stability of flying hijacked civilian airliners into huge skyscrapers...there are no easy answers here.

Indeed not, but picking that example seems to muddy the waters somewhat. That isn't really what is at stake here. We are trying to balance the harms of responses to the risk. The available responses seem to be being presented by some as "Either we use drones to assassinate him or we invade to capture him".

Given the support of the Yemeni government, why should an attempt at capture require an invasion? Am I being very foolish? I understand that such an attempt would be more risky for those involved than a drone assassination, but this is the same type of risk we ask policemen to take everyday, trading off the possibility of justice against the possibility of harm. If he dies in the attempt, then that is unfortunate, but it does not undermine either the rule of law, or the USA's international position in the same way as an assassination.
posted by howfar at 11:08 AM on April 7, 2010


Assassination isn't a new tool for the US government and to continue using it won't really undermine our international position since it's been built partially by our use of them.

The only thing new is that we'll now kill a terrorist if he or she is an American as well. No other country cares about this. Also you're constructing a false argument that we'll resort to assassination before even thinking of trying to capture anyone. Capture is always a more beneficial option than assassination, but if that's not feasible of course they're going to kill them.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2010


msalt,

How about an attempt at a diplomatic resolution that involves providing support to Yemeni authorities in their attempts to capture Awlaki? Offering the usual aid trade-offs for international oversight of any prospective trial? Getting US and international forces into Yemen to help stabilise the region from which the danger is emerging?

These seem to me to be the type of possibilities that the narrative of the "War on Terror" tends to exclude. They are more complex, long-term strategies that are prone to setbacks and even failure. But they are also capable of succeeding in making the world somewhat safer, something which I don't believe that ticking another bad-guy off the list will do much to achieve.

All I can see coming out of assassination is that the US make another martyr.
posted by howfar at 11:16 AM on April 7, 2010


we'll now kill a terrorist

The problem is that he ratio of non-terrorists to terrorists the U.S. has killed these past nine years or so is probably something along the lines of 10,000 to 1.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 11:18 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Balanced against the harm to the state of international law and stability of flying hijacked civilian airliners into huge skyscrapers...there are no easy answers here.

Indeed not, but picking that example seems to muddy the waters somewhat.


My point exactly.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2010


Didn't the US military extra-judicially kill several hundred thousand American citizens on US soil in the 1860s?

I'm pretty sure there's a difference between targeting an individual for assassination and putting down an armed rebellion.

If you could explain what that difference is, I'd appreciate it.


What, seriously? You don't see the difference between singling out a single person to be extrajudicially murdered and using military force to respond to a large group of armed people who are assaulting you? That's like saying you don't see the difference between premeditated murder and self-defense.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:35 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


howfar:
Fugitives are sometimes killed during attempts to arrest them or in the course of their crimes, this is unfortunate, but does not invalidate the actions of the police. OTOH a "capture or kill" order issued to police would be no better than an extrajudicial death sentence.

I would imagine that if cops witnessed a perp perpetrating a particularly heinous crime, say a rape-murder, that killing in the attempt to prevent escape would be considered justifiable? (I don't know; maybe some mefite law enforcement officer could fill us in here.) Is it okay in such a case for the cops to effectively bypass the legal process of Miranda rights, trial-by-jury, and so on? Versus permitting an escape?

A difference with the imam, of course, is that whoever carries out the capture/kill is unlikely to have witnessed any crimes first-hand. So there's an element of trust there: does he or she believe the government that lethal force is justified with this person?

In practice, the issues become almost impossibly complex.
posted by torticat at 11:38 AM on April 7, 2010


I think the ultimate practicality is that, if the US is to salvage its international position, it needs to be seen to be engaging with international concerns about its actions over the last decade. I see a lot of positive signs coming from the Obama administration, but it sadly seems that the "War on Terror" narrative is still working its destructive magic in many areas of policy. I am not anti-US or Obama, rather the contrary. My concern is that the consequences of assassination beyond the deaths directed caused are not being fully considered.

As a British person who has lived in the Middle-East, and having a spouse from the region, I feel that the US is frequently insensitive to the way that it is perceived by ordinary people outside its borders, and that the Obama administration needs to do everything it can to improve perceptions, in order that the US can be a force for good in international affairs. To this end it need to be seen to be seeking justice through cooperation and consensus, not by unilateral action. Best of luck to them, it ain't an easy job.
posted by howfar at 12:03 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a British person who has lived in the Middle-East, and having a spouse from the region, I feel that the US is frequently insensitive to the way that it is perceived by ordinary people outside its borders, and that the Obama administration needs to do everything it can to improve perceptions, in order that the US can be a force for good in international affairs.

Fair enough. Also, I see that I just did what a recent metatalk callout accused Americans of doing--talking as if something like "miranda rights" has universal relevance.

Certainly, it does have relevance in terms of how the U.S. treats its own citizens, which is what the FPP is about. But I shouldn't have brought it into a response to your earlier comment.
posted by torticat at 12:11 PM on April 7, 2010


Last April, Navy Seal snipers killed 3 Somali pirates who were holding American ship captain Richard Phillips hostage on a lifeboat. Was that wrong, too?

That's a completely different situation to me, more like taking hostages during an armed bank robbert. They had AK-47s and had a hostage who was in clear mortal danger. The pirates had shot at the hostage the day before during an escape attempt.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is absolutely a difference between using lethal force in a situation where doing so is required to remove an immediate and imminent threat to life and limb and premeditatedly killing a person at a time and place of one's choosing, regardless of the immediacy of the need. A terrorist who is not presently involved in an attack should be arrested; one who is in a position where killing him or her right there and then is necessary to save lives or prevent injuries is a fair target.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:35 PM on April 7, 2010


When in particular? Can we have some examples to firm up the comparison we're drawing.

The gangsters Bonnie and Clyde and the outlaw Jesse James both had government bounties on their heads at one time or another, offering rewards for their capture dead or alive. Bonnie and Clyde ended up being killed in a law enforcement ambush. There are numerous accounts like the following related to fugitives in the late 1800's:
Governor J.S. Pillsbury issued a statewide alert that read: “Wanted dead or alive. $5,000 will be paid for the capture of the men who robbed the bank at Northfield, Minnesota, believed to be Jesse James and his band or the Youngers. All officers are warned to use precaution in making arrest. These are the most desperate men in America. Take no chances! Shoot to kill!”
We've killed people for less. And apparently, even governors could call for US citizens to be killed at one point in history. Of course, that is all ancient history now, and it'd be nice to think law enforcement had made some progress by now. I mean, it's not like we're living in the wild west anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:47 PM on April 7, 2010


A terrorist who is not presently involved in an attack should be arrested

I'm asking this in good faith: How does one go about arresting someone who's holed up in a failed state? If the Yemen government is unable or unwilling to extradite, what is the procedure?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2010


As troubling as this sounds, it's meant to sound exactly the way it does. This is nothing new more about Obama claiming the center-right and neutralizing the republican's political ammunition. He's done it over and over. He does not confront his political enemies head on as much as he simply demolishes their ability to confront him. It's brilliant and it's devastating to the extreme right.

This did not need to be announced. As if American military forces need a reason to use lethal force now. No. Not quite.

It is good for people on the left and pundits like Greenwald etc., to be deeply concerned. That's their (our) job, but at this point, one year into the Obama WH, I'm beginning to get a sense for the man and the team behind this strategy and they intend nothing less than to occupying the middle and neutralizing, if not castrating, the rabid, insane, moribund GOP if they do not intend to help govern.

And I am all for that. 110%.
posted by Skygazer at 1:04 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Wild West analogy is actually very similar to sanctuary in these failed states -- heavily armed areas beyond the reach of the law. (ie what Shakespherian asked) Plus, those were just robbers - these guys are actively organizing attacks against the U.S. It's not exactly like a drone taking out Roman Polanski in France cause we're pissed at him.

Of course, there's another possibility -- that Obama is just bluffing. That they have no intention of assassinating Al-Awlaki, but given the drones in Pakistan, they're hoping the threat will scare him into hiding where he won't be able to incubate American wannabe terrorists.
posted by msalt at 1:05 PM on April 7, 2010


That being said, I'd rather they're able to arrest him and take him to trial. But if he shoots at people at this point. Fuck it. Take the fucker out.
posted by Skygazer at 1:06 PM on April 7, 2010


I'm asking this in good faith: How does one go about arresting someone who's holed up in a failed state? If the Yemen government is unable or unwilling to extradite, what is the procedure?

I didn't say it was easy. I said it was right.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Again, asking in good faith and not rhetorically to make a point.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:27 PM on April 7, 2010


If you think asking me to lay out some sort of strategic plan based on intelligence that it's illegal for me to know is asking in good faith, you've got a very strange concept of good faith.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:55 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


We can discuss the mechanics of what to do about "terrorists" until the cows come home. I find it really odd, though. Because we've done so very much to create terrorists, if not directly then indirectly. We invade countries based on lies (Iraq, +, +, +). We back the worst kind of dictators(Pakistan, +, +, +). We exploit the resources of other countries and suppress their democratic aspirations (Iran, +, +, +). It's as if we create huge pools of stagnant waters where mosquitos breed, and then spend a lot of time discussing how to kill individual mosquitos. Even here, the discussion is quite like it. If we use indiscriminate means to kill these people, means which result in "collateral damage", we are also creating more enemies. You took out one, but you made three more. It's like the old joke "We're losing money on every sale! Increase the sales, think of the cash flow!". Maybe we should expend more effort in cleaning up the mess these mosquitos breed in, and that by itself will cut down, drastically on the number of "terrorists".
posted by VikingSword at 4:51 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


VS is right. We should spend less time creating terrorists so that we can spend less time killing them. I still have no problem putting a price on this worthless piece of S*'s head but camping out a bazillion troops in the middle east who kill innocent people from helicopters etc. is not the answer. Why did we go to Iraq again?
posted by caddis at 5:05 PM on April 7, 2010


If we use indiscriminate means to kill these people, means which result in "collateral damage", we are also creating more enemies.

Sure, I think we're all on the same page there. But drones have radically changed that formula. We're using the word assassination precisely because we can now target individuals more effectively than ever before.

Assume for the sake of argument that we develop nano-bee assassins that can fly right up Awlaki's nose. Does that change your opinion?
posted by msalt at 5:32 PM on April 7, 2010


If we use indiscriminate means to kill these people, means which result in "collateral damage", we are also creating more enemies.

msalt: Sure, I think we're all on the same page there. But drones have radically changed that formula.

Ah, thanks for that, I needed a good laugh. I've been hearing about these super precise weapons that surgically blah, blah, blah, and then I wake up and read the reports. Same as it ever was, plus fat profits for the war industry. Let's talk after we actually reach that happy land - I think it's somewhere west of eldorado.

Assume for the sake of argument that we develop nano-bee assassins that can fly right up Awlaki's nose. Does that change your opinion?

It's not my favorite thing to assume absurdities and impossibilities (like collateral damage free weapons of remote killing), but maybe I should learn to think of five impossible things before breakfast every day. Anyhow, that miracle weapon would need to have a couple more improvements before I would endorse it. In addition to the electronic control explosive, I'd like if it had a legal controller that at a distance determined that the target is doubtlessly guilty and an imminent danger and this is the only solution. Because if the Iraq war has taught us anything, is that taking the word of anonymous intelligence sources is not so much a tragedy but a farce. The same goes for the vast majority of so-called "terrorists" whom we've imprisoned, and who transpire to have nothing to do with terrorism... at least before we imprisoned and tortured them for years before releasing.
posted by VikingSword at 6:00 PM on April 7, 2010


The USA has no legal power of arrest outside its territory, generally speaking. In the particular case at hand I don't know if any body has a legal power of arrest. So "arresting" this guy basically means kidnapping him - a crime that is generally considered to be comparable to murder, and one which would arguably not give the USA legal jurisdiction over him. And, of course, it would be a remarkably dangerous sort of operation that would almost certainly lead to deaths among both the US forces and Anwar al-Awlaki's defenders.

I understand that Anwar al-Awlaki is considered to be an enemy combatant, and I would view his assassination as a military action. But let's suppose that he ought to be considered a non-combatant criminal. If so, he's engaged in felonious acts - I think we can assume that he hasn't renounced his views and associates, so he's conspiring to commit murder. One of the common-law defenses to murder is that the person committing the homicide acted in defense of others. For instance, you can use reasonable force up to and including killing a rapist, if that is necessary to prevent a rape of yourself or someone else. You're not required to use lesser force if that would unreasonably endanger you or the victim, even if you might theoretically be able to wrestle the assailant to the ground.

So it seems to me that this assassination would be legally justifiable whether Anwar al-Awlaki is a combatant or a criminal. I think it's also ethically justifiable, even for non-Utilitarians. The alternative is either to say that the USA has no right to stop Anwar al-Awlaki planning and encouraging acts of murder, or that its right to do so is contingent on its ability to kidnap someone from the middle of a hostile territory without killing his defenders. Neither of these is a reasonable position to hold.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:46 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If so, he's engaged in felonious acts - I think we can assume that he hasn't renounced his views and associates, so he's conspiring to commit murder.

I wish. I wish "we can assume". But having read about the quality of intelligence in Afghanistan that leads us to declare someone a "terrorist", knowing that 90% of detainees in Abu Ghraib were totally innocent, and the general level of "evidence" every time we force the issue... yeah, my conclusion is "no, we can't assume". Really.

So rather we have a different situation. Keystone Kop Central, which has fucked so often it's not even a tired joke, assures us that Citizen X is a terrorist. All we have to figure out now is how to kill him. And I say, sorry, we need to go one step back - is he a terrorist? Ah, the perils of zero credibility.
posted by VikingSword at 7:10 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the Keystone Cops' defense (a position no one should ever have to find themselves taking), it seems to me that there's a much more general consensus that this Anwar al-Awlaki guy actually is one of the really, really bad guys. But I agree we'd better be sure about that first, and these days, it's hard to be sure about anything.

Still, as molecicco noted upthread, at least this decision isn't being shrouded in government secrecy, like similar steps the previous administration took. They could have hidden this from us, classified it as a matter of national security. But they didn't.

That's a major difference from what we had before. The administration leveled with us about this.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:48 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you think asking me to lay out some sort of strategic plan based on intelligence that it's illegal for me to know is asking in good faith, you've got a very strange concept of good faith.

No, really, I'm saying, since I don't think it's all that awesome to assassinate folks in general, and I do agree that arresting them is the best option, but the way that arresting is typically done in other countries-- extradition-- isn't an option, what's left? I'm not asking for a detailed strategic plan, I simply don't know very much about international law and the legality of sending in, say, 20 Special Forces guys with handcuffs to haul the guy out or whatever. Please stop trying to read more into an honest question than is there, for Christ's sake.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:40 PM on April 7, 2010


metafilter: nano-bee assassins that can fly right up your nose
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 9:34 PM on April 7, 2010


Let him know that he needs to go check in at his nearest consulate or face revocation of his citizenship. Problem solved.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:41 PM on April 7, 2010


Of course that means [expletives] like Stephen Harper would publish the notice in the locked off third sublevel bathroom, and the list would include the name of everyone who ever pissed him off.

So, really, one problem solved and a huge problem created.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:45 PM on April 7, 2010


As troubling as this sounds, it's meant to sound exactly the way it does. This is nothing new more about Obama claiming the center-right and neutralizing the republican's political ammunition. He's done it over and over. He does not confront his political enemies head on as much as he simply demolishes their ability to confront him. It's brilliant and it's devastating to the extreme right.

This did not need to be announced. As if American military forces need a reason to use lethal force now. No. Not quite.

It is good for people on the left and pundits like Greenwald etc., to be deeply concerned. That's their (our) job, but at this point, one year into the Obama WH, I'm beginning to get a sense for the man and the team behind this strategy and they intend nothing less than to occupying the middle and neutralizing, if not castrating, the rabid, insane, moribund GOP if they do not intend to help govern.

And I am all for that. 110%.


Given these targeted assassinations have a well-documented track record of killing innocent bystanders going back to, oh, Reagan managing to kill a 15 month old baby, you're saying your 110% behind murdering children to achieve domestic political propaganda goals?

You are, I think, literally the worst person I've encountered on Metafilter.
posted by rodgerd at 3:30 AM on April 8, 2010


Let him know that he needs to go check in at his nearest consulate or face revocation of his citizenship. Problem solved.

I don't think USA law allows for revocation, and I think depriving someone of citizenship is also against international law. But if I'm wrong then you could just make a law that anyone killed by government fiat will be made a non-citizen at the moment of death.

Anyway, it's absurd that the moral issue people are exercising themselves about is al-Awlaki's nationality, not the morality of killing him in the first place.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:38 AM on April 8, 2010


True.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:07 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Exactly. There are several distinct moral issues worth unravelling, I think, and citizenship is the least of them.
-- is mechanized killing by remote control always morally wrong? (due to lack of human involvement)
-- is killing a terrorist always wrong (as opposed to arresting and trying them in court) on due process grounds?
-- is it ok as a special circumstance to remotely kill an outlaw who is attacking you from a sanctuary where the rule of law can't reach them?
-- does it make a difference on #3 if the outlaw has evaded arrest by shooting at and/or killing people who tried to arrest them previously?
-- does the death of civilians in your attempt to kill them make a morally OK act not OK? What about the death of civilians in an attempt to arrest them? What about the civilians they are killing, who might be saved if you arrest or kill the outlaw?
-- if death of civilians is the moral deciding point, do we just compare methods and choose the one that results in the fewest civilian casualties? What if drones have the fewest casualties?
posted by msalt at 11:51 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Assassinations Strengthen Religious Terrorist Groups
posted by homunculus at 2:08 PM on April 15, 2010


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