American killed by American government in anti-terrorism campaign
November 13, 2002 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Ten days ago in Yemen, a car carrying several men, including an American citizen, was blown up. They were deliberately killed by a missile fired from a CIA drone aircraft. The American is from Lackawanna, New York, about nine miles away from my house. When I first heard about this bombing, I thought of Orlando Letelier. Where are the lines now separating law enforcement and war, targeted strikes and murder?
posted by skoosh (38 comments total)
there are none. ever hear of the u.s. patriot act?
posted by quonsar at 5:26 PM on November 13, 2002

first off, the DOD ordered these drones. The C.I.A. just gets a few for "test runs" he-he.

They were deliberately killed by a missile fired from a CIA drone aircraft.
Don't you hate those accidental missile discharges.

"HELLFIRE MISSILES: Because you don't to worry about what you kill."

'deliberate' is an understatement.
The co-owner of the D.C. snipers Chevy Caprice was living 9 miles from my house, I see no need to post that on the front page (create a thread)

law enforcement and war, targeted strikes and murder?

law enforcement is something one has a semblance of control over.

war is when that semblance disappears.
posted by clavdivs at 5:41 PM on November 13, 2002

OK, I'll feed the troll.

Law enforcement is when authorities chase down members of their society who break rules that most everyone agrees with. War is when people outside the society try to wreck it, pressure it, or destroy it.

Busting carjackers is law enforcement, because the carjackers aren't out to destroy the cops or destroy society. They just want the car and would probably not like it if someone jacked it from them.

al-Q wants to destroy or cripple the godless West and bring a reign of righteousness and bad beards.

Was blasting the al-Q guys to bits in Yemen a good idea? Last time the Yemenis attemped an arrest at least 25 people died and the bad guys got away. Had US troops done it again it might of worked, at the cost of the usual criticism.

To put it more beligerently:
"You got a better idea, buddy? "
posted by ednopantz at 5:51 PM on November 13, 2002

I for one would have much preferred if al-Harithi and friends were captured, put on trial, and then blasted with a hellfire.
posted by shoos at 5:55 PM on November 13, 2002

I for one would have much preferred if al-Harithi and friends were captured, put on trial, and then blasted with a hellfire.
You and me both. But given the realities of how little control the govt. actually has in Yemen, it ain't gonna happen.
posted by ednopantz at 6:09 PM on November 13, 2002

To me, this incident is a little more personal than most, because if one guy from Lackawanna can be burned alive by the U.S. government without even an attempt at an arrest, much less a trial, then how does the law protect me? It seems that we have a lawless government that doesn't blink an eye at summary executions, even of its own citizens, as long as they're in foreign countries at the time.

Has anyone heard of Orlando Letelier? In one of the libraries in my hometown, there was a mural that hung in the lobby, to memorialize Letelier's assassination. At the time, that seemed one of the lowest and most despicable crimes that a government could commit against one of its own citizens. It still seems that way. Is anyone else bothered by this sort of behavior?
posted by skoosh at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2002

captured, put on trial, and then blasted with a hellfire

with the trial aired on a special edition of Court TV hosted by Ruth Buzzi and Richard Crenna.
posted by shoos at 6:28 PM on November 13, 2002

It's only murder if it's the president or one of 'our guys'. Otherwise, assassination is a-okay with the government. Ari said so (with regards to Hussein in particular).
posted by letterneversent at 6:31 PM on November 13, 2002

"You got a better idea, buddy? "

Sure. It's called the rule of law, due process, and a little notion known as "innocent until proven guilty."

Forgive the intrusion, back to your mindless violence and archaic value system.
posted by rushmc at 6:32 PM on November 13, 2002

Oh, we got it. The United States can unilaterally decide that someone in a foreign country is a "terrorist" or otherwise undesirable, and then remotely kill him/her and anyone in the car with him/her. So much for the "home of the brave".

The question isn't whether this act represents law enforcement or war. The question is how this act differs from the terrorism which is supposedly the exclusive province of our "enemies." Where was the trial for the thousands killed in the WTC on 9/11? Where was the trial for those killed since?

Don't you hate those accidental missile discharges.
"HELLFIRE MISSILES: Because you don't to worry about what you kill."
'deliberate' is an understatement.

There really absolutely ain't that much funny about murder. But I'll play along. What jokes and/or trivialization can you provide for the Washington D.C. sniper attacks nine miles from your house?

OK, I'll feed the troll.

Name-calling went out in grade school among most.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:37 PM on November 13, 2002

Sure. It's called the rule of law, due process, and a little notion known as "innocent until proven guilty."

Great, make it happen in Yemen. Any notion how much of Yemen the state controls? About twenty miles around Sanaa and 10 miles around Aden.

Like it or not these guys are either

1) killed vigilante style by a govt. I don't like much
2) operate without hindrance in their efforts to kill me and my family

I know which one I choose.
posted by ednopantz at 6:37 PM on November 13, 2002

So you're saying Amnesty International didn't like this? You're kidding.

Hunt Grows in Yemen for al Qaeda {check out the whopper in the first graf, then look right} delineates the extensive cooperation between that country and the US to deal with terrorist activity within its borders. Eleven months ago, Yemen buried its dead; as it happens, nearly the same number as had died on the Cole a year earlier.

This wasn't a diplomat and human rights activist we're talking about here. This was a military commander, who had killed American soldiers, operating beyond the reach of the Yemen government, whose pals recently blew up a French tanker -- one of the most advanced in the world, as it happened. To even remotely make the comparison is an insulting attempt at moral equivalence.

As for the American citizen, he was merely an unfortunate passenger. The US did not know he was in the car. Harathi was the target, and the Yemeni government helped us find him.

rush, how many Yemeni soldiers are you willing to let get killed arresting him, so you can hold your proper little trial?
posted by dhartung at 6:37 PM on November 13, 2002

rush, how many Yemeni soldiers are you willing to let get killed arresting him, so you can hold your proper little trial?

wow, you sound like Darth Vader.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:02 PM on November 13, 2002

All I know is, I don't want George W. Bush holding up Saddam Hussein's plot to assassinate Bush Sr. as a reason to go to war, if we're all supposed to accept assassinations as par for the course. If it's not okay for them, then it's not okay for us.

Obviously, Abu Ali al-Harithi is no Orlando Letelier. But if Gerry Adams was blown up in a car in Washington by the MI-5, it would still be extremely disturbing. Part of what's disturbing about it is that one government has seen fit to extend its deadly reach into another country's territory and assassinate someone there.

The U.S. government may not have known that Darwish was in the car, but, and I quote the Washington Post article I originally linked: "... as the administration official -- who asked not to be identified -- noted dryly, 'it would not have made a difference. If you're a terrorist, you're a terrorist.'"

As for al-Herathi and other al-Qa'ida leaders being "military commanders" - are terrorists soldiers or criminals? Or, if they're something else entirely, where are the distinctions to be made? And by whom?
posted by skoosh at 7:21 PM on November 13, 2002

There really absolutely ain't that much funny about murder

This is where we diverge. I don't see this attack in Yemen as murder.
posted by clavdivs at 7:31 PM on November 13, 2002

All I know is, I don't want George W. Bush holding up Saddam Hussein's plot to assassinate Bush Sr. as a reason to go to war, if we're all supposed to accept assassinations as par for the course. If it's not okay for them, then it's not okay for us.

So you're equating a former President of the U.S. with Al-Queda terrorists... interesting...
posted by gyc at 7:32 PM on November 13, 2002

There are no lines. It's only more public now.
posted by son_of_minya at 7:37 PM on November 13, 2002

rush, how many Yemeni soldiers are you willing to let get killed arresting him, so you can hold your proper little trial?

As many as it takes. That's the nature of law enforcement work--it comes with an inherent risk. Guess you haven't seen High Noon lately?

Are you equally as opposed to countless American soldiers getting killed while violating the sovereignty of another nation or is that, somehow, totally different?
posted by rushmc at 7:41 PM on November 13, 2002

Gyc, try it this way: if I murder a criminal, I am a murderer. The man who murdered MLK was a murderer. This does not equate MLK to a criminal. I can't even begin to understand how you can come to that conclusion. The post you quoted does not equate Bush Sr. to Al-Q.
posted by Nothing at 7:45 PM on November 13, 2002

I'm about as skeptical about the 'war on terrorism' as you can get, and I think one of the strangest restrictions on our foreign policy is the ban on assasinations. Our leaders support wars that have just that purpose, but allow thousands of men to die while miming their way through an old trope of war that doesn't apply anymore - the nation vs. nation model.

We're not 'at war with Afghanistan', we're 'hunting down Usama bin Laden'. We're not planning a war on Iraq, we're 'fighting Sadam'. Why do we ignore the fact that one guy with a rifle and a scope could have killed Sadam ten years ago? GWB spoke extensively against 'nation building' during the 2000 election, and any way it's sliced, that's just what we're doing now in Afghanistan, and will have to do in Iraq after we flush zillions of dollars and untold American and Iraqi lives down the toilet just to kill a few men.

It's like putting out a fire with gasoline, to paraphrase Bowie. We 'fixed' the problem of the Soviets in Afghanistan, and were left with a buch of pissed-off mujahadeen who went a bit nuts and created a culture that became a compost-heap for anti-Westernism. That worked out well - can't wait to see what we create in Iraq next year. Probably a bunch of starving and sick people realizing that life under a brutal dictator was actually better than what we - ahem - gave them. And that's hoping that we toss them any more of a bone than we did at the end of Bush I's war.

I used to kid about living in D.C., and how when the next world war started I wouldn't feel any pain. That joke's a lot less funny now.
posted by GriffX at 7:51 PM on November 13, 2002

Skoosh- Ah, sunny Lackawanna. One of my former students (at good old Bennett High) is the cousin of one of the six. Teeny, tiny world.
posted by oflinkey at 7:58 PM on November 13, 2002

Unfortunately, the lines between civilians and combatants are now blurred. And I don't have a handy pair of magical spectacles in my pocket which would resolve the issue and make the distinction clearer.

But let us be clear on this: major powers do this sort of thing (assasination on foreign soil, though usually through less overt means) all the time. The US CIA has, in recent congressional testimony, admitted to committing 100,000 serious crimes throughout the world each year. that's 100,000. This number dwarfs the Yemeni hit, renders it down to a mere flyspeck.

The real issue here concerns the fact that the US was quite upfront in claiming responsibilty. No sanctimonious denials but, rather, a "sure we wasted them.. and we'd do it again. You got a problem with that?" attitude.

And for the record, Israel has been doing exactly this sort of thing for several years now. It may not yet have been codified in international law, but there is certainly some precedent for the US action.

Gyc - George Bush senior has, as a matter of fact, quite a bit of collaboration with terrorists and terrorist states in his long and er....ummmm...interesting resume... (and, might be attributed with, some would argue, a far larger "body count" than Al Qaeda's). Of course, to be fair, it's simply naive to deny that this is the job of presidents: to make decisions which sometimes result in human death on a large scale however, I would invoke the "Just War/Just Cause" principle here, as well as the need for more than a cursory nod towards international law.

Bottom line: barring an unprecedented transformation in world culture, nations will continue surreptitiously wasting their (perceived) enemies whenever and wherever they can. But they will continue to find it politically counterproductive to admit this....except, of course, for the sole exception of the US -- which is now asserting (and extending) it's imperial dominion....Pax Americana!
posted by troutfishing at 8:11 PM on November 13, 2002

This guy was an Al Queda commander. He's was a combatant. We were lucky to get him.
posted by Zombie at 8:17 PM on November 13, 2002

Forgive the intrusion, back to your mindless violence and archaic value system.

so happy to see that at least someone here has the insight to look down on planet earth and go, 'whoa, that shit is fucked up'.

It's called the rule of law, due process, and a little notion known as "innocent until proven guilty."

does this rule apply over foreign soil? just curious.
posted by poopy at 8:27 PM on November 13, 2002

Dear everyone:

It wasn't an attack on foreign soil. The Yemenis told us where the car us, and said we could attack. They don't have the means or they would have done it themselves. They are nearly a democracy. It's not as if we're flying into sovereign London and Beijing and sniping people off the rooftops to the chagrin of the local government.

This has absolutely zero to do with other nation's sovereignty.

That is all.
posted by Kevs at 9:48 PM on November 13, 2002

One of the reasons that made the US so popular among western nations is its notion of justice. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The justice system would rather let go of countless criminals than incriminate an innocent. This should not only apply to US citizens, but also to everyone else in the world. Afterall, everyone was born equal, and should be treated as such.

This has become blurred by recent events. Apparently, the "enemy combatants" as labeled by the US government have no rights to a fair trial, and are assumed guilty. People are prosecuted, and in this case, executed without proper trial.

If the US wishes to be self-righteous, and make itself the protector of the world, the least it can do is treat everyone equally, rather than subjecting certain racial/religious groups to unfair and unethical treatment.

That is the ultimate hypocrisy.
posted by mfli at 9:59 PM on November 13, 2002

" Where are the lines now separating law enforcement and war, targeted strikes and murder?"

You leave out the part about an international terrorist organization that has promised to kill you. Revolutin is fun, but once you actually impliment your plan to kill as many innocent Americans as possible all bets are off.

Your buddy was riding around with some people who WILL kill you if you don't kill them first. Sad but true. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The CIA is a renigade bunch of nut jobs, but in this case they seem to have actually got something done right.

They've promised to kill you. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. But so far they seem to be one step ahead of "law enforcement". And you want us to serve them a warrant or something? Hello? Earth to skoosh? Next you'll be saying we just need to politely ask them to please stop all that icky bombing.

The war on Iraq is all about oil. What a bad idea.

Al Qaeda is all about killing civilians. Fuck them.

Try to pay attention.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:29 PM on November 13, 2002

GriffX: According to this UPI article, 3 out of 4 experts agree that this was not technically an assassination (assuming this is a time of war) but a "lethal covert action" against enemy operatives. However, 4 out of 4 of those same experts are also concerned about the precedent of killing individuals in non-combat areas and justifying it as a legitimate military action against terrorists.

Kevs: The U.S. government got its information from Yemeni tribesmen. The Yemeni government was told that the U.S. "reserved the right" to take action if the Yemeni government did not. Brig. Gen. Yahya Mutawakel is miffed, not only that the U.S. government broke its covert agreement by making their role in the killing public, but that the Yemeni government was left by the wayside. I don't know if I'd characterize that as a cooperative arrangement.

y6y6y6: "Innocent until proven guilty" implies that the government does not always finger the right suspect, for whatever reason, and so must prove its case before killing someone. This is how it works in peacetime. In wartime, do these rules change? And if so, where are the boundaries between areas at war and areas at peace?

For me, the issue is not only what this government did this month, but what future governments might do, and what other governments (Israel, Russia, etc.) might do in the name of anti-terrorism. It's also that an American citizen in the U.S. is conceded to have the right to a fair trial, but an American citizen in Yemen, apparently, is not. They're terrorists! The government said so.
posted by skoosh at 4:39 AM on November 14, 2002

You leave out the part about an international terrorist organization that has promised to kill you.

So now you are in favor of thought police, eh?

See, how it's supposed to work is as follows:

a) Someone threatens to kill someone one. Their threat is either laughed off (if they're drunk or stupid, say) or taken seriously, duly noted, and they are put under observation of some sort.

b) If they never kill anyone, nothing happens.

c) If they go ahead and kill someone, they are tracked down, arrested, and prosecuted for the crime.

Is that so difficult to understand?
posted by rushmc at 6:37 AM on November 14, 2002

Tell ya what. All you folks who consider this a murder, go sit in that corner, sit on your hands, and be sure to tell those who have killed us in the past, and will continue to do so, that you'll be kind and follow the "rule of law" with them.

The rest of us will go over to this corner, and make it known that we will rain fire from the skies on anyone associated with people who plan to kill us.

We'll see who gets blown up first.
posted by jammer at 7:30 AM on November 14, 2002

GOD! This is a stupid post. We are at war with Al-Quida. Have your forgotten?

No rules of law, no due process, we kill them until they surrender. That's how war works. Always has been always will be.
posted by Bonzai at 7:56 AM on November 14, 2002

I must say I'm troubled by the sentiment that since we're at war, assassination is suddenly OK as a tool of foreign policy. I don't really find that the ends justify the means here. As for the "rule of law" it is what seperates our nation from legions of dictatorships and military juntas around the world, and the idea that it's an important national value goes back 224 years or so.

Leaving aside for a moment the issue of assassinating five foreign nationals, the killing of a US citizen without any sort of a trial is frankly terrifying. The Fourteenth Amendment seems pretty clear on this issue: "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Constitution isn't meant to protect US citizens only in times of peace, it's meant to protect them all the time, unequivocally.
posted by whir at 8:26 AM on November 14, 2002

This has nothing to do with the Fourteenth Amendment. No state legislature gave that order for assasination. This was a Federal issue.

''[T]he action inhibited by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States." From the Scope and Applicability section in the Annotations.
posted by blogRot at 11:54 AM on November 14, 2002

Blogrot: The Supreme Court held that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment also bind the federal government. Bolling v. Sharp, 347 U.S. 497 (1954).
posted by Emera Gratia at 12:32 PM on November 14, 2002

Hundreds, if not thousands, of American citizens served with the German, Italian, and Japanese armed forces in World War II, and a fair share of them were killed by the American military. Were they "murdered"? Were there civil rights violated? It hardly seems so.

Bonzai and Jammer have it right.

Although reasonable people can differ on the war threatened with Iraq, and it is not irrational to be skeptical that putting the Northern Alliance back in Kabul was the wisest choice or accomplished by the best means, how can there be any doubt that al-Quaeda and organizations of its ilk are to be opposed by any means necessary. I mean, unless you never step into a building more than 10 stories high, or ride on an airplane, al-Quaeda wants to kill YOU, and has shown that it has the ability and intention to do so. It really isn't very complicated.
posted by MattD at 1:22 PM on November 14, 2002

It is true that Executive Order 12333 ban on assassinations, and that Executive Orders, when not countermanded by later Presidents, new law from Congress, or judicial ruling, have the force of law.

But this begs the question. Was the killing in Yemen an assassination, defined generally as 'political murder'? Murder, in turn, is defined generally as 'unlawful killing'. Was this killing unlawful, then? Under the Laws of War {often invoked, but rarely read}, killing is lawful -- as long as the target has legitimacy under collective agreements including the Hague and Geneva Conventions. A military commander is a legitimate target in time of war. Al-Harathi was a military commander, although he did not represent a nation-state but instead an organization which in almost every aspect itself flouted the Laws of War (no uniforms, targeting civilians, etc.). This flouting removed most protections granted under the Geneva Conventions to signatory nations' armies which themselves obey the laws. Under the Laws of War, killing is legitimate to prevent an attack. Al-Harathi was known responsible for the Cole attack, and almost certainly for the Limborg attack as well, opening a clear threat to all civilian shipping past Yemen to Suez.

Additiionally, through his association with an American al Qaeda (although the US did not know it at the time), a direct threat to American civilians and infrastructure is implied. Buffalo is on the Great Lakes, a key shipping route to both the US and Canadian interiors. What havoc could the Buffalo cell wreak, if trained in the al-Harathi trademark technique of suicide "boating"? By any measure, al-Harathi was a military commander, with a history of attacks, and a certainty of more, making him a fully legitimate military target under the Laws of War.

Thus this is a lawful killing, and not murder. If it is not murder, it cannot be assassination. If it is not assassination, it is not in violation of the EO 12333 ban.

As for the political considerations elicited in the Yemeni general's whine, give us a break. How many months more should we have waited for the Yemenis to take action? It's already been thirteen months since the last time they tried. There is an army in Yemen which has targeted the United States and the West generally, and Yemen has a responsibility under international law to prevent it from doing so. Failing in that responsibility negates issues of sovereignty. They were warned; they dawdled; they abrogated their part of the "partnership". If they'd been doing their job, al-Harathi could easily be enjoying sunny Guantanamo.
posted by dhartung at 2:09 PM on November 14, 2002

We are at war with Al-Quida.

::: rolls eyes :::

That's like being "at war" with Al Capone and his gang.

Or maybe Tony Soprano would be a more apt comparison.
posted by rushmc at 9:57 PM on November 14, 2002

Even when he's not on my side, reading dhartung's comments are always a pleasure. If nothing else, future generations will be able to cite his links for future reference.

I readily concede that in a combat zone, trials are not necessary to establish guilt before targeting someone with lethal force. Two questions: when does a group cross the line from being a gang of politically motivated mass murderers (i.e. criminals) to being an army? And, if this is to be legally considered an act of war, where are the boundaries of the combat zone? We need to know the answers to these questions, if there are to be any limits on government power.
posted by skoosh at 10:38 PM on November 14, 2002

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