Can The President Launch a Drone Strike on Columbia University?

Kathy Boudin, like President Obama’s friends Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, is a terrorist. That’s not up for debate. Like Ayers and Dohrn, she plotted bomb attacks on Americans, and participated in the slaughter of three police officers during a robbery to fund her terrorist activities. She spent 20 years in an American jail because that’s what a civilized nation does to murderers, not keep them in some extra-legal status in a shadow prison far from the eyes of American justice.

Boudin is now out of jail. She shouldn’t be, but that’s beside the point. She’s done her time and is now out. Does she still provide material support to terrorists? I don’t know, but Wiki has anointed her as a “former” radical and we’re supposed to celebrate her rehabilitation and restoration to society. Is she remorseful and redeemed? As one who believes in redemption, I hope that’s the case, but the history of her particularly insane brand of leftism–one separated from the actions of the Manson Family only by a hair–doesn’t lend itself to introspection or regret.

Now let’s turn from Boudin to Anwar al-Awalki, who may or may not have been directly involved in terrorist activities, but was certainly a propagandist for them. For that matter, so are Ayers and Chomsky and the late Edward Said and a whole host of American “intellectuals” who lend their support to myriad murderous causes as long as they’re sufficiently anti-American.

President Barack Obama found al-Awalki’s role in inspiring terrorists sufficient to order his assassination by drone strike, along with the deaths of anyone in his proximity, who were immediately classified as enemy combatants by virtue of that proximity. In a separate attack two months later, al-Awalki’s 16-year-old son was also killed. al-Awalki, along with his son and so many others, was tried, judged, sentenced, and executed in the shadows. Americans don’t do that.

Which leads us back to Kathy Boudin. We actually have proof of the blood on Boudin’s hands. We know for a fact that she conspired in a crime that led to the deaths of Peter Paige, Waverly Brown, and Edward O’Grady, and attempted to kill a room full of 18-year-olds at a dance.

Does she plan to inspire others to do the same? I don’t know. Did Anwar al-Awalki?

Will she provide material or moral support to anti-American activities? I don’t know. Do we have proof that Anwar al-Awalki did? If so, can we see it? If not, why not?

The next question is the title of this post. If we did have such suspicions (suspicions, mind you: not proof that can be presented and challenged in a court of law), would the president be within his rights to fire a missile into her office at Columbia University, where this vile witch recently took up residence?

Would the teachers and staff in adjoining offices be declared enemy combatants because of their proximity to her?

American teen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: murdered by order of Barack Obama

Yes, I understand that Obama’s homicidal drone campaign is used for people who are otherwise out of our reach, and Columbia University is, regrettably, on American soil. Let’s put that aside for a moment and just focus on the parallels, which we tend to get overlooked when comparing our relative treatments of dusky Islamists in foreign locales and white-bread American girls in cushy university postings.

The question is similar to the one Rand Paul asked, and to which he got a only begrudging and not-wholly-satisfying answer. The legal issues are still in flux, but I’m not a lawyer and thus legal issues are not of primary interest to me.

My area of expertise is theology, and so the moral question is paramount for me. Kathy Boudin is being feted by the smart set, restored to a society in a privileged position where she can affect the impressionable minds of students for years to come. Whatever the status of her soul, she has, in the eyes of society, paid for her crimes and been publicly redeemed.

Let’s imagine an alternate scenario 20 years hence. Anwar al-Awalki has spent his time in jail, found Christ, and embraced peace. He’s written poetry! And smart papers! Just like Kathy! His public sins are washed away in the eyes of society. He receives a cushy university position, where no doubt people–such as myself–can protest this as a step too far for a former sworn enemy of the state.

We’ll debate the appropriateness of that job, as we are debating Boudin’s. We will revisit his crimes, which are open for all to see because the evidence for them was presented in a court of law, presided over by a judge with courtesy of council, and decided by a jury of twelve men good and true.

Except that will never happen, because Obama’s America is Mega-City One, and the president is not a chief executive, but the Chief Judge with the power to try, sentence, and execute enemies. Noble Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has turned al-Awalki, who as far as we know posed no clear and present danger to America, into a bloody splotch on the sand.

Please let me clear: I don’t weep for al-Awalki. I’ve read the disgusting Inspire magazine with which is was associated, and it’s a dark and satanic product of pure evil. For that matter, so is The Nation, but we’re not launching drone attacks on Katha Pollitt. (“More’s the pity,” some of my readers are thinking. Now, now…)

Disgusting as I find the presence of Boudin–and Ayers, and Dohrn–among the American intellectual and political elite, American greatness is measured in part by our ability to conduct this kind of debate in the sunlight. In another place or time, these three would have been disappeared in the shadows of something like Gitmo, and although there would be a kind of rough justice in that, it would not be American justice. It would be neither Christian nor civilized. We don’t do it because we’re better than that.

Boudin will not end her life with the last sound she hears being the hum of an inbound Hellfire missile. Whether her redemption is real or not, she has had her chance at redemption–and justice–and the rest is between God and her. Do I believe al-Awalki was capable of redemption? I seriously doubt it, but hope is a virtue, and I have to hope that the light of Christ can shine even in the darkest of places, even in the heart of a Muslim fanatic urging the murder of innocent people.

But America is not a nation of priests: we’re a nation of laws. And even if he didn’t deserve a Boudin-like chance at redemption, he deserved something more than summary execution at the hand of a tyrant. If America can’t offer the world so simple a thing as justice, it can offer nothing.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Gary Chapin

    I’m reminded of a sequence in Graham Greene’s novel (it’s in the Alec Guinness movie, also) “Our Man in Havana.” Our hero is threatened by the evil police captain and asks, “Are you going to torture me?” The captain responds, “Of course not. You are not of the torture-able class!” As long as the torture-able class is far away and dark skinned and turban clad, I’m pretty sure that the mass of Americans will be happy to ignore the moral issues that appall you and me so much.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Neocon and neolib have a reached a consensus: “whatever our guys do is okay!”

  • abb3w

    It seems clear that your expertise isn’t law — which distantly relates to morality, and thus while somewhat indirectly to theology, is close enough some aspects of this post raised my eyebrows. There do seem to be serious questions about drone strikes under national and international law; however, the title question is not one such.

    The most blatant limit here is the principle of posse commitatus — the military generally cannot be used as police on US soil. There are exceptions to this rule; generally involving dire events such as loose nuclear weapons, pandemics, or massive violent civil unrest beyond the scale of ordinary state police AND the national guard to address. This leaves the opening discussion as hysterical hyperbole.

    International law also hints at some of the alternatives that (in theory) should be exhausted before such drastic measures are taken outside US territory and within the demesne of other sovereignties — extradition being the most obvious. There’s also the question of what it signifies when the other sovereign power is unable or unwilling to arrest and extradite a criminal — does active refusal render the criminal’s alleged crime instead an alleged act of war? Does our attempt to capture or kill such a criminal outside US boundaries become an act of war? Even if it is permissible to use the US military for law enforcement overseas under US law (which is itself unclear), what degree of obligation do we have to accept risk to our soldiers’ lives to try to capture a criminal alive? And, for anyone who thinks they have comfortable answers to such — are you willing to have Russians follow the same standards when going after an alleged mobster hiding on US soil?

    In the end, however, the dirty little secret of international law is that the last court of appeal remains the less-than-moral ultima ratio regnum. War remains a standard recourse to the failure of diplomacy for resolution of disputes, and is generally viewed more moral in at least some circumstances than passive acquiescence to the unconscionable. This leaves the line between sovereign governments and criminal gangs a bit fuzzier than most politicians like to think.

  • Theodore Seeber

    What is to stop the National Guard and the Police from buying a drone that, after all, can be redesigned using readily available off-the-shelf parts and explosives for less than $1000?

    The difference between a terrorist threat and a military action, with the police in between somewhere on the spectrum, gets less every day.

  • Reluctant Liberal

    IF you don’t mind my asking, what did Chomsky ever do? I’ve read a bit of his stuff, and I can’t find much that goes farther than a lot of what Mark Shea writes.

  • Guest

    The big difference here is that Al-Awlaki wasn’t on American soil and accessible to the criminal justice system, nor ever likely to be. If he had been, he would have gotten a fair trial just like his compatriot Nadal will get.

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  • MaryMargaret

    And the teenage son? Is there any evidence that he was a dangerous criminal? He was not “collateral damage”..he was killed in another drone strike. Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal, but I would like the US government to have to show some reason to mow down teenagers, even if they are living in a foreign country and even if their deceased father was a dangerous criminal.

  • deiseach

    Some American police forces already have drones. What’s to stop them using them on, say, surveillance of suspected criminals? And then as backup on, say, raids on drug labs? And then sending them in to take out the criminals instead of sending in police officers to be shot at?

    Small steps, gentlemen. Really want to bet something along those lines couldn’t ever happen?

    (Side-note: Hi, Theodore!)

  • Guest

    He was apparently collateral damage (what a nasty term that is) in a strike intended for a different terrorist.

    From NY Times 3/10/13
    Then, on Oct. 14, a missile apparently intended for an Egyptian Qaeda operative, Ibrahim al-Banna, hit a modest outdoor eating place in Shabwa. The intelligence was bad: Mr. Banna was not there, and among about a dozen men killed was the young Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who had no connection to terrorism and would never have been deliberately targeted.

    So I think the term mow down teenagers is unwarranted. BTW, if you think a teen can’t be a deadly terrorist remember this guy?
    I had friends there than night that he was so eager to kill he repeatedly tried to trigger the bomb. He also got a fair trial. May he rot in jail.

  • MaryMargaret

    Oh, well, if the government says “oops”, over a year later, then that’s good enough for me. No, I think the term “mow down teenagers” is still apt. Of course, teenagers can be terrorists. This one wasn’ least, we have absolutely no evidence that he was. I think it is highly suspicious that, two weeks after his father was killed, this kid was just “accidentally” blown to smithereens.

  • Guest

    I’m not trying to be argumentative or defend drone killings here, just clarify. According to news accounts this young man was looking for his father who was missing. He didn’t know yet that he had been killed. Unfortunately, because of who his father was, he was contacting his terrorist network of friends in order to find him. That’s why he was where he was (a meeting of terrorists) when the drone strike happened. He was not targeted and though it’s very unfortunate I don’t see how you can call that mowing down teenagers.

  • Sagrav

    He is unapologetically liberal in his viewpoints, and so the author of this Op-Ed has decided to lump him in with Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers is the one of the bigger boogie men to politically right wing individuals, so associating anyone with Ayers makes them look like bigscarydanger.

    TLMcD: Bill Ayers isn’t a boogieman. Bill Ayers is an aging terrorist who set bombs and said, on the morning of September 11, 2001, that he regretted not killing more people. He’s not scary now: just the most useful example of how the American university system is both a breeding ground and a retirement home for anti-American radicals.

    As for Chomsky: