Since we’ve just had Memorial Day, I know we’re all supposed to feel patriotic and get choked up about military heroes and especially our fallen comrades; as a Viet Nam era vet, I can relate to some of that. But it’s the day after and my New York Times lead article is a massive piece describing the President’s “kill list” of supposed “terrorists” — these are the people whom it’s okay for US forces, including drones, to kill with little or no effort to capture. The article describes the actions and “principles” of members of the Obama Administration, including the President himself, as they carry out their view of protecting America from the bad guys.
That view essentially says they have the right to go after anyone in the world they deem a threat and kill them. And if needed, kill the people who happen to be around them. All the rest is details that one might find in another sequel to the Godfather.
What the Times story describes is not a group of heroic patriots risking their lives to protect their homes and families but rather a group of protected, disconnected, and likely deluded men whose actions and justifications aren’t that different from the enemy they’ve so broadly defined and now so meticulously hunt out and kill, anywhere in the world. It’s too bad if innocent civilians happen to die in the effort, because they were too close to those on the “kill list,” but after all, what were they doing there?
There are undoubtedly evil, dangerous people in the world — probably a couple right here in my neighborhood — but what we’re taught is that even with the threat they pose, there is a set of legal, ethical — Constitutional — principles that apply. These are humane, fairness rules developed over centuries that define us as a civilization slightly more advanced than those before, that must be applied without fail. And when they’re violated, we must hold the violators accountable or the whole structure starts to crumble.
As best I can tell, neither the current nor previous administration believes that, but they’re okay lying about it in the meantime.
Their “pragmatic” view, as the Times describes it, is there will always be this uncomfortable “dark side” where people who presume to know how to protect us engage in methods and actions we find appalling, and it’s best not to discuss it. The most you can hope for is that these people have tormented souls, and they’ll at least claim to support and allow the fairness rules to apply in most cases. But that is not what the Times found.
Instead we read of a President who uses his rhetoric to mislead the public and uses his legal education and that of the nation’s chief lawyer to push through the boundaries of Constitutional law to include whatever rendition, indefinite detention and interrogation procedures, and extra-judicial killing that the Commander-in-Chief chooses to pursue. If the rules constrict your freedom, then reinterpret the rules or deny you’re doing so. If the list is too constrained, broaden it, so that civilians get counted as “militants” or sympathizers.
If you know this about your Commander in Chief and the pathological men who surround him, under what circumstances would it be ethical to place yourself under his command? It seems to me that if the entire structure under which they operate is an affront to the rule of law and is undermining even the pretense of a humane civilization, there probably aren’t any today.