Just, juster, justest

Many readers disagreed with this earlier post in which I argued that the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and the use of lethal force against the al-Qaida leader, was justified by the principles of just war and supported by U.N. resolutions and international law.

The general sense of this disagreement — correct me if I’m mischaracterizing this — is that such a military raid, being far more likely to result in bin Laden’s death than in his capture, is tantamount to a simple assassination. But I think the distinction matters, both ethically and legally, and that it’s more than just a convenient legal fiction. Such fine distinctions can seem precious or lawyerly — as with the reaction of Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, whose response to the killing of bin Laden involves carefully parsing a distinction between “justified” and “justice.” These may seem like fine lines to draw, but they are lines that matter.

Henry Farrell Brighouse does a good job of clarifying some of those distinctions in a post at Crooked Timber:

Bin Laden’s killing is very likely justified under the laws (such as they are) of war. But, as best as I understand them, these laws are not intended to conduct towards justice; instead they are intended to conduct towards a minimization of those regrettable little side-effects (massacres of prisoners; the deaths of multitudes of civilians &c) that tend to go together with military disputes. It may also possibly be justified in purely pragmatic terms – very possibly, many more people would have died over the longer run had he been captured rather than killed. But it cannot be justified in terms of the procedural requirements of justice as practiced by democracies, which usually do require trials, evidence, judgments that can be appealed and so on. And this is rather germane to the point that Roth is making. …

I’m not at all upset that Osama Bin Laden is dead, and, to the extent that he was an enemy leader in a shooting war rather than a simple policing operation, his killing seems to me to be justifiable. But there’s a big difference between ‘just deserts,’ even when ‘justifiable under the laws of war’ and bringing Bin Laden to ‘justice.’ People like Ken Roth are quite right to be alarmed when the latter starts sliding into the former.

I wholeheartedly agree that bin Laden’s capture, trial and punishment would have been greatly preferable to his death at the hands of Navy SEALs in last week’s raid. That was the point Roth was making and he was certainly right. And I think Steve Poole is also right here, discussing the different uses of the term “justice” and the importance of not confusing them or allowing them to become confused.

But others go much further than Roth does. He argues, rightly I think, that the raid and the killing of bin Laden were “justifiable,” but less than ideal justice. Others, such as Glenn Greenwald, seem to argue that the raid cannot be justified, and that it constitutes a grave injustice.

Several folks pointed to this post from Greenwald, which begins by raising questions about what actually happened during the raid and then sort of snowballs into a bit of a mess.

The questions turn into speculation which turns into assumptions. He repeatedly says things like “it seems increasingly clear” to mean something more like “but what if what happened was really something much, much worse?” And that leads him to question why others aren’t condemning those much, much worse actions he’s increasingly certain might have must have occurred, devising theories to explain their strange indifference and hypocrisy and lack of absolute fidelity to principle and seeming to defend an absolute principle of innocent until proven guilty by deeming Navy SEALs guilty unless proven innocent. (Should evidence arise to lead us to suspect that the Very Bad Things Greenwald fears went down, then it would be strange to be indifferent to such accusations. But indifference to unfounded suspicions that run counter to the limited evidence we do have doesn’t seem inappropriate.)

But if we look past the sloppiness of all of that and past the less-than-winsome tone of universal accusation, he offers some valid points that call for a response.

First there’s the Nuremberg comparison. Greenwald is right that the Nuremberg Trials were, indeed, a great achievement for the cause of justice and the rule of law. And it is certainly true, as he says, that such an approach is far, far preferable to the military brand of justice wrought by a military raid. The speech Greenwald quotes from Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson is a glorious speech.

Jackson gave that speech on Nov. 20, 1945, more than six months after the complete and unconditional surrender of the Nazi German military. The Nazi officials on trial at Nuremberg were in custody as the result of a World War. Their capture had required years of bloody death on several continents with all the might of the Allied forces brought to bear. The other half of that vast and awful war ended with two mushroom clouds above population centers in Japan — one of the most significant tributes that Reason has ever paid to Power.

In any case, the war was over, unambiguously settled, when the trials began. So Nuremberg is neither a precise nor an obviously applicable comparison. Greenwald acknowledges as much, saying:

It’s possible [the principles of Nuremberg] weren’t applicable here; if [bin Laden] couldn’t be safely captured because of his attempted resistance, then capturing him wasn’t a reasonable possibility.

That possibility — grudgingly conceded several times in Greenwald’s post — is attested to by the accounts we have of the planning and execution of the raid on bin Laden’s compound. His capture was not a likely outcome of such a raid, but if there was a scenario that provided for the likely outcome of his capture, then it was not a scenario that occurred to any of the planners involved at any level of this operation. The alternatives were not between this raid by Navy SEALs and a similar raid conducted by federal marshals armed with Tasers, pepper spray and handcuffs. President Obama was not faced with the choice between ordering this military raid or ordering bin Laden’s criminal arrest. He was faced with the choice between ordering this military raid — conducted by military troops, employing military means under military rules — and doing nothing. Given such options, I believe he made the right choice.

Note also that Greenwald does not disagree with the assertion I quoted from Matt Yglesias that the SEALs’ killing of bin Laden “can be justified … by resort to war and military theories.” He doesn’t take issue with that contention — the point I argued in my earlier post — but he argues that this constitutes a reversal for people like Yglesias and I who have long contended, as Sen. John Kerry did in the 2004 campaign, that:

Terrorism should be primarily dealt with within a law enforcement rather than war paradigm, and that terrorists should be viewed as criminals, not warriors.

Greenwald drops the qualifying adjective from the first half of that sentence — “primarily” — in the second half, and then forgets it entirely in the heat of his criticism of Yglesias’ position. And he wants you to forget it too. Indeed, his whole accusation of a hypocritical and dangerously unprincipled “Osama bin Laden exception” is premised on pretending that this qualifier does not exist. The basis of his criticism of Yglesias is, rather, the idea that terrorism should be exclusively dealt with within a law enforcement rather than war paradigm. And that’s a dramatically different notion. That is the Fox News caricature of Kerry’s position from the 2004 campaign, but it was never Kerry’s position, nor Matt’s, nor mine.

Nor is that the position of the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions or of the special rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. They argue that terrorists should primarily “be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially determined punishment,” but while they say that this is what “the norm should be,” they also explicitly allow for “exceptional cases.”

This is not a recent development. It’s precisely the approach that President Ulysses S. Grant took against terrorism. Following the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan and its many allies killed thousands of African-Americans, systematically denying them their civil and human rights through lethal violence and intimidation — which is to say through terrorism. This was terrorism on a scale more massive, more lethal and more entrenched than anything we have witnessed in our lifetimes.

Grant’s primary response was to deal with terrorists as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially determined punishment. He created the U.S. Justice Department mainly for just this purpose and sent his attorney general and solicitor general after the Klan. They arrested and prosecuted thousands of Klansmen, commissioning and deploying thousands of federal marshals for the task throughout the South. (Note to Hollywood: You’ve given us hundreds of movies about federal marshals from this same period in the West. How about a few movies about the largely forgotten heroism of these marshals in the South?)

But that wasn’t sufficient for fulfilling Grant’s obligation to protect the citizens who were being slaughtered, and so Grant also turned to military means. He sent 9,000 federal soldiers — not policemen, soldiers — to South Carolina to capture and/or kill terrorists. Those who could be captured were handed over to the new Justice Department for arrest and trial. Those who could not be captured were dealt with by soldiers acting as soldiers. (Grant also took steps to combat terrorism neither Greenwald nor I would approve of — such as suspending habeas corpus.)

The Grant administration oversaw the most massive and comprehensive legal prosecution of terrorists this nation has ever seen. That was the primary, but not the exclusive, measure Grant employed to deal with terrorism.

The necessity and efficacy of those additional military measures can be clearly seen in what happened after Grant left office. President Rutherford B. Hayes ended all military opposition to the Klan and thus, effectively, surrendered to the terrorists, conceding the South to the Klan and its ilk for the next century.

Today it might seem like we’ve got that equation backwards. Due to the continuing presence of tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan and the ongoing, if ill-defined and amorphous, so-called “war on terror,” it might seem like military measures have become our dominant means of dealing with terrorism. But for all the blood and treasure spent on those efforts, the reality for many years now has been that law enforcement has played the primary role in preventing terrorism and prosecuting terrorists. From the would-be shoe bomber to the would-be underwear bomber to the dozens of stings and arrests and prosecutions in various cities around the country, it has been the FBI — a branch of that same Justice Department that Grant established to fight the terrorism of the Klan — that has taken the lead, supported by good local police work and the assistance of the occasional Dutch tourist or Times Square street vendor. (Thank you again Jasper Schuringa and Duane Johnson.)

The effectiveness of that primarily law-enforcement approach has been vindicated time and time again, and that vindication doesn’t seem to me to be undermined by the recent raid on bin Laden’s compound. That raid seems to me an example of military action in support of the larger, primary work done by law enforcement, an example of the military playing a lead role when — and only when — they were uniquely capable and there was no feasible course of action for the FBI or police.

The architects of the so-called “War on Terror” are desperately trying to portray this raid as, instead, a vindication of their approach. I don’t think that’s correct or even plausible — the “War on Terror” approach would have required the invasion and indefinite occupation of the entire nation of Pakistan. This wasn’t a military action against Pakistan or against “Terror” in the abstract. It was a focused action directed against a single compound.

I see this raid as an opportunity to finally begin sloughing off this idea of an elastic, unrestrained and unrestrainable “War on Terror” and to bring its many dubious, lawless, immoral and counterproductive tactics to an end. Proponents of that never-ending “war” could always point to the enduring freedom of Osama bin Laden as Exhibit A that this unfinished effort must be continued. They have now lost the ability to make that argument.

An effort is under way in the House of Representatives to seize this opportunity, as Susan Crabtree reports for TPM: “Bipartisan Group Urges Obama to Use OBL Raid as Example and End War in Afghanistan.” Bin Laden’s death also makes things like closing the gulag at Guantanamo Bay seem likelier and more possible than they seemed before the news of last Sunday. It marks what could be the beginning of the end of many of the evils that Glenn Greenwald has consistently written about over the past decade, the opportunity to reassert the principles he determinedly wants to defend. I hope he’s able to see that.

  • Guest-again

    ‘He clearly doesn’t want to be an American citizen, so I say we oblige him- revoke his citizenship, then shoot him in the head.’

    Fascinating – no sippery slope there, the bottom has already been reached.

    Well, let me continue the German history lesson. In West Germany, another absolute prohibition in the Grundgesetz is to remove citizenship (in addition, Germany recogizes the right of stateless people to travel through and reside in Germany, providing them documentation). However, East Germany felt that continuing the policies of the previous government was indispensable in dealing with those individuals that simply refused to participate in a properly ordered society, and would remove citizenship as a way to not only punish an individual, but to ensure that whatever that individual said against the existing government was not heard.

    Obviously, there is a difference between someone advocating the overturning of an injust government, and some advocating not only that, but violence to achieve that goal. Nonetheless, there is certainly no reason for Americans not to continue to advocate the practices of those we successfully defeated, whether Nazis or Communists. It goes just shows what sort of society the United States is becoming.

    As a note – the East Germans were not defeated in a war, they simply were able to overthrow their government as being incapable of meeting the minimum standards which they imagined the West incorporated. Nobody fired a shot – which was unusual, and is generally skipped over in all the tales praising war as the best way to destroy an enemy.

    The East Germans replaced their government, in longer measured due to the fact that what it practiced was no longer tolerable for its citizens. But even the East Germans never practiced shooting the people who they removed citizenship from – even the SED leadership had a certain fear of the result, being the survivors of such measures themselves.

  • Guest-again

    ‘He clearly doesn’t want to be an American citizen, so I say we oblige him- revoke his citizenship, then shoot him in the head.’

    Fascinating – no sippery slope there, the bottom has already been reached.

    Well, let me continue the German history lesson. In West Germany, another absolute prohibition in the Grundgesetz is to remove citizenship (in addition, Germany recogizes the right of stateless people to travel through and reside in Germany, providing them documentation). However, East Germany felt that continuing the policies of the previous government was indispensable in dealing with those individuals that simply refused to participate in a properly ordered society, and would remove citizenship as a way to not only punish an individual, but to ensure that whatever that individual said against the existing government was not heard.

    Obviously, there is a difference between someone advocating the overturning of an injust government, and some advocating not only that, but violence to achieve that goal. Nonetheless, there is certainly no reason for Americans not to continue to advocate the practices of those we successfully defeated, whether Nazis or Communists. It goes just shows what sort of society the United States is becoming.

    As a note – the East Germans were not defeated in a war, they simply were able to overthrow their government as being incapable of meeting the minimum standards which they imagined the West incorporated. Nobody fired a shot – which was unusual, and is generally skipped over in all the tales praising war as the best way to destroy an enemy.

    The East Germans replaced their government, in longer measured due to the fact that what it practiced was no longer tolerable for its citizens. But even the East Germans never practiced shooting the people who they removed citizenship from – even the SED leadership had a certain fear of the result, being the survivors of such measures themselves.

  • Guest-again

    ‘advocating the overturning of an injust government’ – read ‘advocating the overturning of a PERCEIVED injust government’ Though I would like to note that Nelson Mandela did not renounce violence as a tool in his fight against a government he perceived as unjust.

    And ‘slippery’ for ‘sippery’ of course.

  • Stewedtomatoesoutofacan

    Why did you refuse to post Greenwald’s response???

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Good fucking night. What’s with the sudden influx of Glen Greenwald trolls? Or is everyone just copycatting for the lulz?

  • Anonymous

    ‘He clearly doesn’t want to be an American citizen, so I say we oblige him- revoke his citizenship, then shoot him in the head.’

    What kind of idiot writes that? We try traitors. And, theoretically, we give them fair trials.

    Like Tokyo Rose. Of course, the government used perjures testimony to do it… In fact, it was coerced perjures testimony: “In 1976, an investigation by Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Yates discovered that Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, who had given the most damaging testimony at Toguri’s trial, had lied under oath. They stated they had been threatened by the FBI and U.S. occupation police and told what to say and what not to say just hours before the trial. This was followed up by a Morley Safer report on the television news program 60 Minutes.”

    But, hey, someone went to jail, right? Right, wrong, guilt and innocence in the face of routine government lying, perjuring and witness tampering don’t matter as long as you get your wood over someone being punished…

  • Anonymous

    It seems the Glenbots have arrived. I enjoy reading Glen Greenwald. He’s a challenging author whom I don’t always agree with. (Same for you Fred.) Glen’s comment section is full of crazy. I mentioned previously that it was a not-uncommon expression (in comments) on his original post on this that Osama Bin Laden had nothing to do with 9-11. I have not witnessed that level of jackassery here – although there are a view commenters who I disagree with on almost everything.

    For those of you just joining us, it’s 3:30 on the Internet, and this is perspectives. Let me fill you in, no, is too much.. let me sum up.

    Glen:

    I understand why some people are okay with this, but they shouldn’t pretend that it was morally justifiable under their definition of justice.

    Fred:

    I understand why some people are not okay with this, but there is a difference between claiming something was “justice” and claiming something was “justified”

    Seems to me like it’s a clash between the pessimistic idealism of Glen vs the more optimistic realism of Fred. It’s a blogfight between two of my favorite writers. Each of whom I read because they make me uncomfortable about the things I think I know about myself and about other people. I don’t think there’s as much daylight between these two positions as commenters (or authors themselves perhaps) seem to think there is.

  • Anonymous

    My fundamental problem with the slippery slope argument is that it presupposes that human beings can’t tell the difference between shooting
    bin Laden, and shooting just anyone. This is a literal case of the exception that proves the rule. When that phrase was coined “proves” meant “to test.” The exception that tests the rule. If, as will happen, we don’t descend into an Orwellian nightmare with anyone the president doesn’t like being hauled off and shot, it will turn out that, actually, we CAN make exceptions to the rule, and still maintain our freedoms. Osama Bin Laden or al-Awlaki being “denied” their right to a trial does nothing at all to lessen my right, or your right to a trial. Assuming you don’t join al-
    Qaeda, that is. Again- why is this a big deal? How are your freedoms lessened? And not in some John Donne, “No man is an island” way. Do you honestly believe that your freedoms are lessened because Osama Bin Laden wasn’t arrested?

  • Anonunlessneeded

    I read most of your post… that is to say, in the parts where you criticize Greenwald but then don’t explicitly quote him, nor provide references to the generalizations to use to counter your interpretation of him; those, I read closely and find you lacking rigor and unconvincing; other areas, where you, like Greenwald, cite history (albeit not as recent) to prop up the popular notion of ‘justified’, I found myself skipping forward and grazing… the meme has already been run down, and so, not in need of further clarification and labor. In the end ‘justified’ is not as strongly a matter of logic, relative to justice or the rule of law… so what can one say about another person’s subjective inclinations and determinations? One can only hope you’re as gracious as we are towards you.

    But then, you have apparently refused to post Greenwald’s comments which, in this person’s opinion, tends to cast a shadow over your capacity for graciousness as well as others’ inclination obligation to treat you with fairness.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Good. Fucking. Night.

    THIS IS FRED’S CURRENT POST.

    What is up with Greenwald that he apparently has the dumbest readers on the left end of the internet? Seriously.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Good. Fucking. Night.

    THIS IS FRED’S CURRENT POST.

    What is up with Greenwald that he apparently has the dumbest readers on the left end of the internet? Seriously.

  • Anony

    What’s bothersome about Fred’s position (and all others who praise the killing of Osama) is that sure, in isolation maybe one could defend this action, if we had all the facts. Suppose we did and suppose there was no choice but to shoot bin Laden. Then fine, this action is justified.

    Hooray for us. Now how about all the hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq (both before and after 9/11, since the sanctions may have been more murderous than the war)? Their blood is at least partly on our hands. There’s been no accountability for this at all. (And losing an election is not accountability.)

    There’s something obscene about the way Americans, including self-described liberals, can just blithely ignore the fact that we can cause death and destruction on a scale bin Laden could only achieve with our help and then we have these precious little arguments about whether one of our specific actions happened to follow the principles of just war theory. Well, anyone can follow those principles some of the time. I don’t want to justify Godwin’s Law or I’d point to an obvious example.

    Donald Johnson

  • Anony

    What’s bothersome about Fred’s position (and all others who praise the killing of Osama) is that sure, in isolation maybe one could defend this action, if we had all the facts. Suppose we did and suppose there was no choice but to shoot bin Laden. Then fine, this action is justified.

    Hooray for us. Now how about all the hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq (both before and after 9/11, since the sanctions may have been more murderous than the war)? Their blood is at least partly on our hands. There’s been no accountability for this at all. (And losing an election is not accountability.)

    There’s something obscene about the way Americans, including self-described liberals, can just blithely ignore the fact that we can cause death and destruction on a scale bin Laden could only achieve with our help and then we have these precious little arguments about whether one of our specific actions happened to follow the principles of just war theory. Well, anyone can follow those principles some of the time. I don’t want to justify Godwin’s Law or I’d point to an obvious example.

    Donald Johnson

  • http://twitter.com/bobsoper bobsoper

    The whole “enemy combatant” argument is a fiction created by Bush administration lawyers (and fully embraced by the current administration).

    This was an illegal political assassination, in violation of international law.

    Even more insulting to our Constitutional values was the recent attempt on the life of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen (which apparently resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians). There is no question that al-Awlaki is entitled to due process, no matter where he happens to be physically.

    This country is slowly becoming a police state, and you’re just cheering it on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    You’re calling FRED a GOP partisan hack?
    O_o

    o_O

    You haven’t read anything he’s written have you?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    You’re calling FRED a GOP partisan hack?

    Read his link. Greenwald couldn’t get a post up because he put in, like, a million links. So he cried censorship and then claimed that Fred has Democratic Party operatives over here cheering him on whilst Fred censors poor, helpless Glenn Greenwald.

    So Les there seems to have gone with Greenwald’s zero information claim about Fred’s position as a Democratic Party hack and decided to pull the old false equivalence canard. Because, y’know, if you point out that a Republican Party hack is bad and then compare that person to the person your attacking, that means that they must be ruthless and horrible and evil and such.

    We had a fun flame war over on the “For those of you who are new to the Internets” thread with another one of Greenwald’s mindless drones. And Glenn Greenwald went from someone I kinda respect to someone I kinda hate because he’s kinda stupid and all conclusion-jumpy over the course of about eight hours.

  • Phil

    why wont you publish Greenwald’s reply?

  • flatten

    bravo Einstein. Bravo. Don’t forget to switch off the night light beside yr bed at the Royal College of Brain Surgeons.

  • flatten

    bravo Einstein. Bravo. Don’t forget to switch off the night light beside yr bed at the Royal College of Brain Surgeons.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    I…

    Something…something…proper spelling…

    “Royal College of Brain Surgeons…?”

    Dude, Sparky, at least give me something worth making fun of. I’ve been told by your buddy rrheard over on another thread that Salon is the big leagues and I’m just not ready to step up to them. I’m beginning to think he’s full of crap and has the IQ of a turnip.

    Wait, sorry. I didn’t mean to insult turnips like that.

  • http://anonymouslefty.wordpress.com Jeremy

    “I think one shot into the eye socket was perhaps the most dignified way
    that this could have gone down. Not that I care much for Bin Laden’s
    dignity, but humiliating him in front of the world might have made the
    U.S. look more petty than it already does. ”

    Actually, the US is belatedly trying to do that now, to undo the damage they did by giving him what can be portrayed by Al Qaeda as a martyr’s heroic death. Hence the “look at the old man watching TV” and “he died his beard!” and “he bought impotence cures!” stuff coming out now.

    Something that wouldn’t have been necessary if they’d seriously have tried to arrest and try him.

    Rather than giving him this “dignified” exit.

  • Anonymous

    Right. The US is becoming a police state. Lord, that rhetoric just goes back and forth. In the ’90′s, it was all the conservatives who were SURE that ANY TIME NOW Clinton’s browshirts would be breaking down all our doors, Ruby Ridge style. Then, in the 2000′s, it was the Liberals who were convinced that the PATRIOT act meant that Bush was just waiting to put us all in camps. And now, its the conservatives again, except the Liberals are apparently not willing to let go.

    I’m pretty sure that right after Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion, there were a dozen underground printers turning pamphlets about how this clearly illegal and unconstitutional attack was the beginning of the police state, and that pretty soon anyone who didn’t like powdered wigs would be rounded up and sent to the camps. And god only knows what people said when they came out with the Alien and Sedition acts.Obama is a worthless fucking bastard.
    As long as I can say that without a thought, without a worry in the world, just to prove a stupid point, we’re still free. We’ve survived much, much worse. We survived the suspension of Habeus Corpus MULTIPLE times throughout our history. We survived Japanese interment, the Civil War, two red scares, and Nixon. I don’t think whacking Osama Bin Laden is where this great democratic experiment comes to an end.

    Hell, you could argue that America already WAS a police state, saw what it was doing, and stopped- the red scare of the late 1910′s saw ACTUAL police state action. Not whacking a known terrorist, not killing some al-Qaeda cleric who is also a known terrorist- but arresting and imprisoning peaceful Americans who did nothing more than speak. Eugene Debs is one of the more notable examples. And yes, it was bad and wrong, and you know what? We got over it. And, frankly, with the exception of the Civil War, that was pretty much the low point for American civil rights. That was probably the time of greatest censorship and oppression in our nations history- and here we are, a cool century later, still worried about the same damn things. And still with the same damn rights.

    I will admit, however, that we really need to do something about probable cause. That one’s just a joke nowadays.

  • flatten

    Gramar nazii reply. wow. really. wow.
    golf clap.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Gramar nazii reply. wow. really. wow.
    golf clap.

    You were going for irony there, right?

  • SeriouslyAnnoyed

    Censorship, in the case of Greenwald’s reply, is the surest sign of a hidden agenda and fear of objective reality.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Censorship, in the case of Greenwald’s reply, is the surest sign of a hidden agenda and fear of objective reality.

    And stupidity, we have learned today, is the surest sign of a Glenn Greenwald supporter.  Seriously, even though he did it in an extremely snobby way, Glenn Greenwald himself has accepted Fred’s explanation.  And Fred Clark has linked to Greenwald’s sour grapes.  So, seriously, go away.  This is old.

  • SeriouslyAnnoyed

    Let’s examine whether or not you know that those who post are A.) supporters B.) stupid. Logic would dictate that A.) You don’t know the people and B.) You have no objective measure of their intelligence. Logically, that would assume that smart people never say stupid things, or, more likely, that disagreements in a discussion simply reflect different points of view. What’s objectively worse, stupidity or faulty logic? And if Greenwald accepts the explanation, and therefore it is true, isn’t that a bit of a stretch? How are we to know that everything he says is true?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Let’s examine whether or not you know that those who post are A.) supporters B.) stupid.

    Call me crazy, but it seems as though someone who pops in and offers a one-line, driveby comment on an issue that really should have moved on due to developments from several hours ago is either being a troll (which is pretty much what all of the Greenwald people who have been spamming this place up today have been), an idiot, or some combination of the two.

    Shall we move on to another puzzle?  I hear that counting angels on pinheads is very popular.  Also discerning the difference between sound and noise in re: falling trees.

  • flatten

    yup. inspired by you stating
    “Funny, I think Glenn is kinda right, I’m prone to agree that Fred
    didn’t actually represent Glenn’s stance particularly well, and I
    actually believe that Fred is wrong within his own moral framework “…then spending hrs and hrs and hrs of yr life shaking yr fist here at people whom you are in agreement with you. you were going for irony there, right?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Good lord, but you Glennbots are dense.  Let me spell it out for you:

    The
    problem we have isn’t that Glenn Greenwald is wrong, the problem we
    have is that he was being an ass.  The further problem we have is that
    as soon as he decided to be an ass, we were invaded by an army of trolls
    so dense that they probably have their own gravitational pull.

    You
    came here and assumed that Fred was a moron who was arguing in bad
    faith and we were all just cheering him on when that couldn’t be further
    from the truth.  So what we’ve been doing all day is telling you trolls
    to go away, because our fight is not with you.  But you’re apparently
    too stupid to figure out that when people say, “Yeah, we already read
    what Glenn Greenwald said and a lot of us have been telling Fred that he
    got it wrong, so stop with the trolling,” what you should do is either
    offer something productive or go away.  Since you seem incapable of the
    former, please do the latter.

  • OBCD Epidemic

    Hmm, I apologize if I came off as excessively harsh earlier because I think this is actually an interesting and rather nuanced argument, and I think, at least in part, we way have been talking past each-other earlier. I hope you’ll note that the quote about the goals of war is not one that I made, because I agree, pretending like the situation that occurred after world war I was somehow advantageous, or a positive result, simply because it ended “in terms that favored your side” for the allies, is foolish. I suppose I have to ask though, if we accept your argument, than it practically necessitates total war as the only way to achieve the goals of war, which is admittedly consistent with Clausewitz, but I wonder if your really comfortable with that position? Or rather, I suppose, I wonder if maybe the threshold for justifying military conflict shouldn’t be considerably higher if total war is the only way to properly engage in warfare. I would genuinely appreciate your input on this question, because like I said, it really is a good argument I just think it raises at least as many questions about the waging of war as it answers, and you really seem to have well thought out positions even if they’re rather opposed to mine.

    As for enemy combatants, and what to do with them, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree there. AQ is a group declared to be in combat with the US, but enemy combatant was a term we, if not devised, at least manipulated, in order to not have to provide the “same decent treatment when captured” as we would with soldiers from another nation. It is used precisely in order to place captured AQ members, or alleged AQ members, or not even AQ members who happen to have been captured in Afghanistan,  outside the Geneva conventions. As for Al-Awlaki and any other American citizen placed on a targeted assassination list, I do have a problem with it, because under US law, and in Al-Awlaki’s case according to the assertions of his family and to a lesser extent himself, he is not a member of AQ, but merely an alleged member of AQ. While I will admit that I would still be uncomfortable with it, I don’t think there would be much of a legal problem with trying him in absentia for treason, sentencing him to death, and only then carrying out a targeted assassination. But, the problem is we don’t bother anymore, we just skip right to the last step, and that I do find deeply troubling. Also, I will admit that I philosophically have a problem with the concept of targeted assassinations being a legitimate tool of war where terrorism is not, in my opinion neither should be, but it brings to mind a quote from the film La battaglia di Algeri where, when questioned by a journalist as to whether the terrorist bombings he has helped carry out in the form of bombs in women’s baskets a captured FLN member responds “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on
    defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent
    victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier
    for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.” And one cannot deny that the number of innocents killed by the US wars with Iraq and Afghanistan greatly exceeds the total number of 9/11 casualties, and indeed the total number of casualties from all AQ operations. Perhaps this makes me look like a terrorist sympathizer, and I’m sympathetic to such complaints, but I’m not, I simply view both actions as equally unjustifiable.

    Lastly, I want to apologize for my excessively snarky comment on “arbitrary killing,” it was reasonable for you to not know what that referred to given the way the word arbitrary is used in basically every other context in the English language, and I kinda came of as a jerk. It was unnecessary and unkind, and the only thing I have to offer up by way of excuse is that sometimes emotions get the best of us. Hopefully, you’ll read this and respond because I really do think you have a solid knowledge base, and very different views from mine which I’m interested in hearing because you seem like a reasonable person, not least because you didn’t respond in kind with dismissive snarkiness when I descended to it.

  • flatten

    you do realise what a cliche you are don’t you? you cover the range from the psuedo intellectual (love the ad hominem definition, just a wiki-click away) to all the internet tuff guy talk. But congrats, carry on ranting, you may join a whole new subset of keyboard stereotype- the grumpy old man screaming at outsiders to get the hell out of his neighbourhood. Now, you’ve spent nearly an entire day white-knighting your idol (whose silence sums him up), so why not call it a night (again) and check your Tivo for a ep of your fave cartoon- it probably feels neat to give that vast intellect a breather and soak up some snappy irony-laden pop-culture references.
    or keep shaking your tightly clenched fist

  • Anonymous

    Not at all offended over here, and I apologize as well, if my last comment came off as overly snarky.  The fundamental point here is that we’re both people of good faith, simply with different points of view, and what really matters is being able to discuss this like civilized adults.

    Clauswitz has had a major impact on my thinking, actually, and well spotted there. And for the record: I think the Iraq war is completely unjustified. Afghanistan- well, Afghanistan is complicated. Do I, personally, think we were justified? Yeahhhhh, sorta.  Practically? If Alexander the Great couldn’t pacify the place, I doubt we can.
    In  my opinion- war is serious business, and IF engaged in, should be for the sort of cause that is worth committing fully too. I believe that the fight against terrorism is a worthy fight- albeit that we do not often conduct it in a worthy manner.  Indeed, my entire argument is a somewhat strange mixture of idealism and practicality, which was probably confusing and more than a little incoherent. 
    And I have been a combative as well in this argument, so my apologies for that. And here we are in agreement: the threshold for total war should be very high. I think that total war was justified in WWII, and thats about it. Frankly, no conflict since has been worth it. Even if we had won Vietnam totally we would have gained….Vietnam. Not exactly the greatest prize ever fought for.And, on “arbitary,” using the definition that you used, I retract the point. I always thought that lawyers should sit down with a list of words that have completely different legal and common meanings, and just make up some new words. On Terrorism: frankly, I’ve been just as guilty as anyone of a black and white view on this. Most of my objection comes from practicality: it would be nice if we could have arrested OBL. But I don’t see a practical way of pulling off a civil, as opposed to military, response to it. And I do believe that the nature of foreign terrorism (and again, foreign vs. domestic terrorism is a practical, rather than philosophical difference.) I do believe that joining an organization like al-Qaeda does open you up to military solutions*, regardless of your citizenship- the example I would use would be the American and British soldiers that fought for the Germans in WWII, many of whom were killed without guilt.And frankly, that last comment of mine was rude and somewhat dismissive. It is the duty of an member of a democracy to be constantly concerned about their freedoms, and I’m sorry for dismissing your concerns. I do not believe that we are currently in danger of becoming a police state. However, your concern about that is a good thing- a very good thing, and one of the basic tools for preserving those rights. And a little paranoia is better than oppression every day of the week.and yes, this is a subject I would be interested in discussing further. You have interesting opinions as well, and I’d love to continue this debate.*God, I’m using euphemisms like a member of the GOP- “Getting shot in the head” is a military solution.

  • flatten

    “Glennbots”…. clever. original. witty. cutting. incisive. (irony-alert).

  • Anonymous

     Oh, and no apologies necessary for getting emotional. I’m the worst here about that- I have the tendency to double down when my arguments are challenged, so that I go from “disagreeing with the mainstream” to “somewhere west of loonyvillle” very quickly. Thats my fault, and I apologize for it. 

  • OBCD Epidemic

    Hah, that last comment about the “police state” wasn’t from me, but I’m glad you’re willing to walk it back a little. Although, like you, while I’m disconcerted about numerous things we’re currently experiencing, we’ve certainly been closer to a total police state in the past. And while sure, you got a little snarky I don’t think you ever approached my “so, umm, yes” level so no need to apologize. Like you said, emotions flare, and it’s only human to have the tendency to double down in that situation — not a particularly admirable human trait, but one that seems pretty much universal. And yeah, it would be nice if we could get a list of separate legal definitions or even if they’d just voluntarily use made up or different words, though personally I think Omar Bin Laden’s quote used that ambiguity cleverly to criticize both our actions and his fathers. Still, for the sake of clarity it would certainly be nice.

    To the actual subject, I’m glad you place a stricter restriction on the use of military solutions than, well, we as a country do given your position. And yeah, while we never articulated total war in Vietnam we certainly came close at times (My Lai and Agent Orange come to mind) and the potential “fruit of the labor” (I feel a little dirty being that callous) was certainly far too small to be worthwhile. I’m glad we agree on Iraq, on Afghanistan I feel tempted to ask though, if invasion was justified, and obviously we could probably argue that for an eternity based on all number of things, then what is it that total war there potentially gains us? I think that’s one spot that Clausewitz fails to approach properly and it’s similar in many ways to the disconnect between Hegelian dialectic and Marxist material dialectic. If Clausewitz is Hegelian then Mao is Marxists and essentially the prior fails to account for the latter. In essence, how do you deal with movements that are essentially deterritorialized? Clausewitz answer on how to deal with Mao’s hypothetical fish in the sea is to destroy the sea, which is all well and good for dealing with the Taliban I suppose (though it potentially causes a different problem similar to Titus’ siege of Jerusalem, which I would argue we’re actually seeing) but it does nothing to address the problem of AQ who simply disbands and reforms in different locals — to go excessively theoretical here AQ is almost a Deleuzian response to the Hegelian and Marxist orthodoxy of war.

    As for terrorism and enemy combatants I think we’re closer than we might think on a legal position even if we would continue to disagree philosophically there, people in a military situation killed their have no more claim than traitor soldiers during WWII, as you note, the problem is we’re quick to define everything as a military situation. Is hanging out in Yemen as an alleged, but not tried or convicted member of AQ a military position? Maybe but it seems like we already have legal positions to cover this sort of situation. Why not try him in absentia? A fire fight in Basra is one thing, it implies active, if perhaps more justified than simply being a member of AQ, resistance, preaching from Yemen is another. Is al-Awlaki probably a member of AQ who has probably particpated in some sense in acts against the US? Yeah. But is he currently an active combatant? And has he been tried for anything? No. I would be interested to here exactly how you square placing people on an assassination list with Clausewitz assertion that military intelligence in the heat of war is often, in a word, false, as well. The other problem is that those soldiers from WWII if, captured, would be afforded rights consistent with the Geneva conventions unless they were tried as traitors, in which case they would recieve the protections of the US judicial system, but that doesn’t happen with terrorist suspects, even if they are of US origin.

    Thank you though for helping me in returning the conversation to a serious, civil, adult, tone, I genuinely appreciate it. Hope to hear back.

  • Dan

    So in the same breath, you accuse Greenwald of omitting pertinent information that would better clarify your position, then cite a U.N. special rapporteur while omitting the main point: the U.S. needs to provide evidence that extrajudicial killing was necessary (which, ironically, was one of Greenwald’s key points). Pot, meet kettle.

  • OBCD Epidemic

    Hey, sorry to drag up old, old, topics at this point. But, I really would like to hear a response, and four out of five times I’ve clicked on this thread it’s shown my response as a standalone rather than a response at all, so I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it or not, obviously ignore it all if you prefer, but I’d love to here something.


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