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.

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  • http://anonymouslefty.wordpress.com Jeremy

    “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.”

    Well, for me, I just want to know that they seriously and reasonably tried to apprehend him. If it wasn’t possible, then que sera, but the problem is that the Administration’s rhetoric from the very beginning is that the killing ITSELF was the justice, and all they’d seriously tried to do. There was no “we regret that in the circumstances we were unable to arrest him and try him in a court of law for his crimes”. Instead it was “this killing shows that America can do whatever she puts her mind to”. It was triumphalism over a killing. It was portrayed as an execution, even by the Administration, for which they were enthusiastically cheered by what appears to be the vast majority of the American population – even those you’d hope would express more respect for the rule of law. Even Jon Stewart couldn’t help but be gleeful over the killing.

    But the killing was a failure. It may have been an inevitable, unavoidable failure – there may not in the circumstances of the raid as it played out have been any alternative but to shoot Bin Laden – but still, it was not the way we in the West, we who believe in the rule of law and fair trials, should be happy with seeing it done.

    And future American presidents have learned from this that they don’t even need to bother trying to arrest these targets. The populace is, apparently, perfectly happy – deliriously, party-drunk happy – with the President killing their enemies without trial from the other side of the world.

    I don’t think that’s something with which we should be all that comfortable.

  • Ruemara

    A capture or kill order is not a failure and I am thrilled to know so many people, including GG and yourself where there on the ground with the SEALs so you know exactly what went down during the raid well enough to be so horrified.

  • Merus


    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?”

    Apparently Quentin Tarantino’s Western, in development, is to touch on this theme.

    Regarding Bin Laden’s death: As someone who usually doesn’t have to go very far to find fault with the US, I don’t really have a problem with the execution of Bin Laden. It was going to be awfully difficult, not to mention dangerous, to put him on trial, and it’s unlikely that he’d get a fair trial, anyway. I think it’s entirely reasonable to treat Bin Laden as a special case.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    Viewing the “war on terror” as a police action is a Good Idea, and why doesn’t the OBL operation qualify? Police will sometimes use deadly force to prevent a suspect from escaping, such as wrecking somebody in a high-speed car chase. It seems to me that the essence of “police” vs “war” action is that the former focuses on lawbreakers as individuals, whereas the latter looks to “national objectives” and is much more ready to accept “collateral damage”, eg slaughter of the innocents and large-scale property damage.

    Also, in the newspaper today (page A6) “Drone Missles Kill 3”: they took two shots at a car in Waziristan. “Local informants and intercepted satellite phone conversations indicated that the militants [stet] killed were Arabs.” Not quite the same as looking some named body in the eye before putting a round through it. Is anybody willing to argue that the drone strikes are on a higher moral plane than a SEAL action?

    Also, Can You Imagine trying to reach a national consensus on how to proceed to trial? Would we put OBL in Guantanamo while we figured it out? Or just float him around on the Carl Vinson? Turn him over to the Hague?? I am glad Obama was willing to go there, but he and we all should be relieved we didn’t have to. Instead we got a week of possibly unseemly but badly needed National Unity. Or near-unity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    …sorry about all the white space. It just looked like a double space when I typed it in. I’ll try to remember….

  • Anonymous

    1. Was a reasonable attempt made to take OBL alive and give him a trial? No. Therefore, assassination.

    2. You parade out the common assertion that this killing will result in the deescalation of the War on Terror. This is totally without evidence, and in fact, if you’d care to look, you’d see that the forever war is in fact being ramped up in response. So, you know, great.

  • xian-x

    The US shouldn’t need “to reach a national consensus on how to proceed to trial.” It already has laws in place governing how to proceed. The US has just lost all sense of what law is. It has become Habakkuk’s “bitter and hasty nation” whose justice proceeds from itself. All that remains of law in the US is its use as a tool to inflict suffering on the poor.

    I appreciate the follow-up post, Fred, but I’m not sure yet what to make of the distinction between “justified” and “justice”, and whether it helps resolve the issues that have concerned some of us. Right now I’m just profoundly discouraged by almost everything I see in the US.

  • http://twitter.com/ericisbeautiful Eric Messinger

    This is a really tremendous piece of writing. Gets it exactly right. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    @bb3c3667209d74019aa2c7aac37529c1:disqus
    We already can’t deal with the Guantanamo detainees, even the ones we concede are quite innocent. Lost all sense of what law is for, too right.

  • hapax

    I could have swallowed this follow-up post a lot more easily if it had been titled “Unjust, Unjuster, and Injustice.”

    I have no quarrel with the conclusion that the execution of bin Laden was the least bad of a number of very terrible alternatives. I have difficulty in understanding how that makes it “just”, “justified”, or any other variant of “good”.

    Especially since a lot of the reasons that there were no good options are entirely the fault of the U.S.A. Simple example: the drone war against Pakistan, which has escalated to a considerable degree under Obama, coupled with the callous disregard of the many civilian deaths, have so solidified the general hatred of the U.S. among the Pakistan population that even if the Pakistani intelligence *did* know of bin Laden’s location, any effort on their part to arrest him and turn him over for trial would have been completely politcally untenable.

    [WARNING: Disgusting analogy follows]

    So yeah. We have managed to avoid eating a plate of feces, or a mug of pus, or a bowl of mucus, and successfully consumed *only* a plate of dirt instead. Yay us. Let us make speeches and write articles and blog posts lauding our gustatory triumph.

    Maybe in the end we’ll convince ourselves how nutritious it was, and grow to like it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jess-Goodwin/28602067 Jess Goodwin

    Well, at least it doesn’t stink like the alternatives would have.

  • hf

    I’m still waiting for the explanation of why Pres. Obama’s instructions to the SEAL team count as criminal or unconstitutional if we treat it as a law enforcement matter. A reason may exist, but I don’t see it in the text of Tennessee v Garner. The majority in that case explicitly said the police department could have legally told officers to shoot murder suspects if it seemed necessary to stop them from escaping. (The minority said, ‘shoot them all and let God sort them out’.) And practically speaking, if someone at your house attacks the police when they come for you, expect to get a bullet barring an ostentatious show of cooperation on your part.

    Now of course going into Pakistan without permission sounds illegal. But apparently since Pakistan’s government does not want to fight us, they retroactively gave us permission — sort of like how we retroactively declared war on Spain. This current action seems closer to legal than basically anything else America’s military has ever done. It certainly comes closer than a lot of what we’re doing right now.

  • Anonymous


    Greenwald drops the qualifying adjective from the first half of [John Kerry’s] sentence — “primarily” — in the second half, and then forgets it entirely in the heat of his criticism of Yglesias’ position.

    During the 2004 US election, Slate magazine, in an attempt to be “fair”, balanced its “Bushisms” feature with “Kerryisms” – which purported to be statements made by the senator translated into plain English, with all his unnecessary quibbles and hedges banished to the footnotes. In practice, that often meant removing words or phrases that actually changed the meaning of the sentence (it reached its height of absurdity with an answer to an interviewer’s question on some abortion-related issue; because that question was posed in yes-or-no format Kerry’s answer in plain English was declared to be one word with an enormous footnote.)

    So now I’m kinda curious if maybe Glen Greenwald was the guy employed to do the Kerryisms editing. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I checked and no, it was William Saletan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Derek-Lyons/792600829 Derek Lyons

    Repeating the same murky logic with more cowbell doesn’t make it any better Fred. Your hairsplitting doesn’t change things – the Administration’s central concern seems to have been on making sure the target was bin Laden and that they had plausible deniability for his death. From the first triumphant claims of “he was killed in a firefight” to the sheepishly (much later) admitted “he made some sort of a motion that could have been interpreted as maybe moving to where there might have been weapons” (once it became clear that the population approved) it has become abundantly and repeatedly clear this was a mission of assassination covered with the thinnest of fig leaves.

  • Anonymous

    This reminds me, of all things, of an episode of “Frasier.”

    Basically, the father (an ex cop) tells the story of someone he arrested. Someone who had been arrested dozens of times before, someone who was guilty beyond a doubt (arrested red-handed I believe.) But for one reason or another, he doesn’t fully Mirandize the guy. And so, under oath, he’s asked if he read the guy his rights. A guy who has been arrested, and read his rights a dozen times. And the father knows if he says “no, I didn’t fully read him his rights” the guy walks. So he lies, and says he did, and he says “there is no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing.”

    Legal, right, and moral very, very rarely match up. Was it the most legal killing ever? I don’t know, I’m not an expert on military law. Was it moral? That depends- there are plenty of people who argue that no killing is moral. I’m not one of those people- hell yes it was moral. Was it RIGHT? Again- hells yes. The sonofabitch is dead, and he got to see it coming. Thats the closest thing we’re gonna get to justice.

    Worrying overmuch over the death of Osama Bin Laden is yet another reason I find myself drifting further and further from Liberalism. If everything has to be so murky that killing OSAMA BIN LADEN is cause for hand-wringing, I can’t help but feel we’re making things too hard on ourselves.

  • Kukulan

    Worrying overmuch over the death of Osama Bin Laden is yet another
    reason I find myself drifting further and further from Liberalism.

    Yeah, those damned liberals.Defending freedom of speech even when it’s vile hate-monger spewing vitriol or Hustler magazine.Defending the right of people to assemble and march even when it’s the American Nazi Party or the Westboro Baptist Church.Supporting the right of people to get married even when they are of different races or the same sex.Standing up for the rule of law even when it’s the extrajudicial killing of someone like Osama bin Laden.

    I mean, seriously, don’t those silly liberals know that they should only support a cause when (i) there’s some young, cute blonde girl involved;and(ii) it’s widely popular.

    You’d think they were trying to pretend they had principles or something.

  • Sammy

    “Worrying overmuch over the death of Osama Bin Laden is yet another
    reason I find myself drifting further and further from Liberalism. If
    everything has to be so murky that killing OSAMA BIN LADEN is cause for
    hand-wringing, I can’t help but feel we’re making things too hard on
    ourselves”

    Justice in a free society must necessarily be just and fair for even the least of people, else it is not justice. If we allow any exercise of supposed justice – even when directed toward a completely contemptible mass murderer – to go unexamined, then we do a disservice to the state, to our brothers and sisters, and to ourselves.

    Reasonable people should not be dismissing or even celebrating a death, but nor should they ask themselves, “should we have killed Bin Laden?” What’s done is done, and the world is undoubtedly a better place for what happened. Instead, we should ask ourselves, “could we have done this better, and what can we learn from it to further refine our personal and societal sense of justice in the future?”

    None of us were there when the raid took place, and none of us possess the facts and intel that Obama and his top military officials did when they ordered it. We cannot know the complete circumstances that resulted in Bin Laden’s death. Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong. Perhaps those who suggest that Bin Laden certainly should have received a
    fair trial would have pulled the trigger were they in one of the SEALs’
    shoes, and perhaps you, caryjamesbond, would have spared his life and taken him in to be tried for his crimes. But without knowing all of the facts – without walking in their shoes – how can we know for sure, and how do we prove it?

    This sort of examination is not “hand-wringing.” Instead, it’s the sort of questions we must all constantly ask of ourselves, our government, and our troops if we are to maintain a free and just society.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Unless there is a deliberate deception going on, then the mission brief did allow for the capture of Bin Laden if he surrendered when confronted. However, profiling suggested that he was unlikely to surrender, and thus his termination was the most likely outcome. There could have been a third option there:

    To take Bin Laden alive if he was unarmed and still refused to surrender. However, that would have involved clubbing him into complience with rifle-butts, and dragging his battered form into the helicopter to be thrown into a military prison like some kind of trophy.

    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.

  • 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

    Another two cents:

    The distinction Fred draws is the right one- this isn’t the LAPD beating Rodney King. This was a military operation against a man who has repeatedly stated himself to be at war with the United States, to wish for nothing more than its complete destruction and enslavement, and has
    committed
    multiple acts of war. About as much of an enemy commander as you can get.

    And it seems to me that the argument is that they shot down an unarmed man. To which the only reaction of any soldier should be…”So?”

    You aren’t allowed to kill CIVILIANS. This isn’t the Napoleonic wars- we don’t line up in shiny uniforms like gentlemen. The goal of a military operation is to kill. Not to kill fairly, not to kill nicely, and CERTAINLY not to give the enemy a chance. Or to quote an old military proverb- if its a fair fight, you’re doing something wrong. To argue that what was done to OBL was somehow immoral because…..why, again? Because he was unarmed? Because he didn’t have a chance?

    Artillery. Snipers. Surprise attacks. Submarines. Air superiority. The ultimate goal of war is to kill the other guy. Not to take him prisoner, not to read him his rights- kill him as quickly and in as large numbers as is humanly possible. Is it nice when
    prisoners
    can be taken? Sure! Thats great. But thats not the point of the operation, or its prime objective. The prime objective of this military operation was to kill OBL. Taking him
    prisoner
    would be a nice bonus, but thats it. We killed
    Yamamoto- hunted him down and whacked him like a Mafia snitch. Why? because he was a dangerous enemy combatant. The Pilots of the P-38’s didn’t wait to see if he’d surrender, or try to force him down and take him prisoner. They bushwhacked and killed him, with no losses of their own. Thats a successful mission.

  • Will Wildman

    The ultimate goal of war is to kill the other guy. Not to take him prisoner, not to read him his rights- kill him as quickly and in as large numbers as is humanly possible.

    I’m trying to figure out how to react to this without excess obscenity.

    So: no.

    The ultimate goal of war is to end the war on terms that favour your side. That means destroying the enemy’s will to fight, and where possible removing their capacity for aggression. Killing is expensive in every way, and leaves permanent impacts that increase the probability of future aggression by creating more fallen for the enemy to ‘avenge’. The goal of war is to destroy the threat, not the people. It’s very difficult to end a war without any killing, but every time you can get a surrender it’s better. To say that war is about killing is the kind of gross oversimplification that I would otherwise assume was a caricature of American cowboy soldier fantasy.

    I happen to be totally okay with OBL’s death; I think a trial would have been even better, but I have no tears for the man. It was a thing that happened, and hopefully prevented further evils. Nothing could possibly have achieved ‘justice’ for the September 11 attacks, for the wars, for the oppression – that can’t be made better or made right. There was no justice to be had, so they shot him. Now I hope they can get their priorities right.

  • Toby

    Fred, thanks for taking this up again. What primarily took me aback about that last post was how quickly you seemed to brush away questions and criticisms about the killing of Bin Laden. So this was good to see.

    But I think you really misrepresent Greenwald here. You portray him as raising suspicions about what might have happened, and then sliding into the assumption that the worst of these suspicions are true. But I really don’t see where you get that from his post. He brings up some different accounts of what happened, and then points out how totally disinterested people are in figuring out where the truth lies before deciding that the act was legitimate. (Thus: “I personally don’t see how it’s possible to assess the justifiability (or legality) of what took place without knowing which of those are true.” And: “Shouldn’t we want to know if bin Laden was captured before being killed, and wouldn’t that make some difference in assessing one’s views of his killing?”) His claim is that this is messed up. And I think he’s right.

    And there is another fundamental issue–which comes up in N. T. Wright’s comments, which you linked to in that last post, but didn’t directly address. Wright imagines the British army back in the day stages a similar raid in a Boston suburb. Presumably this would not be cool. Here is one of the ways this reflects on OBL’s killing (there are others). The claim is that OBL’s killing can be justified through principles of warfare. This assumes that the war in Afghanistan somehow extended to this bubble of in a Pakistani suburb. Now how exactly does that work? Is there some principle being applied here, or is it rather completely unprincipled? Now, this is part of a larger pattern, where the “War on Terror” has been extended arbitrarily to military actions in Pakistan, Yemen, and wherever else. I think we agree that this larger pattern is not cool. So then how is OBL’s killing an exception?

  • Guest-again

    ‘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.’

    Such a pious wish, after defending the right of the U.S. to kill those involved in whatever it is that the U.S. determines requires them to be killed for as part of the war on terror. This being part of a just war, after all.

    Let me respond by quoting some very recent reporting from the Atlantic, May 9 as a matter of fact –

    ‘With Osama bin Laden’s death dominating headlines, the fact that Team Obama tried to carry out another War on Terror killing last week didn’t attract much attention. But it ought to be big news that one of our drones shot a missile at a compound in Yemen in a failed attempt to kill suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen living far from any battlefield.

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this man is guilty of a despicable treason against the USA. Glenn Greenwald reminds us what the Fifth Amendment demands: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Constitution assigns treason to the judicial branch, and states that “no Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” We’re now skipping the grand jury and the due process. (Last year, the New York Times quoted a senior legal official in the Bush Administration saying he did not know of any American ever being put on an assassination list on their watch.)’

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/targeting-americans-and-with-little-controversy/238559/

    To continue quoting another source –

    ‘Outside armed conflict zones, the use of lethal force by the United States is strictly limited by international law and, at least in some circumstances, the Constitution. These laws permit lethal force to be used only as a last resort, and only to prevent imminent attacks that are likely to cause death or serious physical injury. Such a program of long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing is plainly not limited to targeting genuinely imminent threats. Any such program is far more sweeping than the law allows and raises grave constitutional and human rights concerns.’

    http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/2010-4-28-ACLULettertoPresidentObama.pdf

    A quick reminder from the Atlantic article of what the American system of justice used to look like, before the war on terror got started –

    ‘In the criminal justice system, the government is required to be transparent about its facts, all evidence is shared with the defense, the accused is guaranteed the right to counsel, an impartial jury is selected, and the standard for a conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”‘

    However, we don’t need no stinking criminal justice system – we have evildoers to kill, anywhere, at any time, for apparently, any reason the president determines is good enough for him. Without having to tell anyone but those executing the plans, who themselves are bound by oaths to keep their secrets (how selective we have become about the importance of oaths, by the way).

    That is the current and ongoing war on terror – it is not a just war, and it is expanding into ever new territory, not contracting. To the sound of cheering from many Americans, with the man who ordered the execution (let’s not be coy – though ‘assassination’ still seems too harsh, as Osama was a self-admitted mass murderer, one who certainly earned the death he received) likely to be re-elected, and thus remain in a position to kill whoever he determines needs it.

    Each step seemingly just a logical extension of the last one – after all, why stop at just killing one clearly deserving terrorist when there are also American citizens who apparently deserve to be put on a secret list and killed whenever an opportunity presents itself. This is not legal, this is not just, but it is apparently the future of the war on terrorism, which now includes the (no longer quite) secret targeted killing of American citizens, anywhere, any time.

    Regardless of how one hopes for a better future arising from the death of one guilty man, the reality of the present in the U.S. is of an ever expanding attempt to kill everyone who is guilty of waging war against us, as determined by us alone – earning death without trial, without mercy, without our wasting much regard on how many innocent people are killed to achieve this impossible dream of a world cleansed of those who threaten us in our never-ending nightmares.

  • Kukulan

    Fred, you’re trying to have it both ways.

    When it’s convenient, such as in the killing of Osama bin Laden, terrorism is a military problem and the laws of war apply.

    However, when those laws become inconvenient, such as having to treat those captured in the course of the war as POWs with all the rights granted by the Geneva Convention, then suddenly terrorism is a law enforcement problem and the regular laws of civil society apply.

    And when those laws also prove inconvenient, such as when the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay wanting to exercise their right to face their accusers and be allowed to see the evidence against them, well then, terrorism is something new and different under the sun, completely unprecedented, which can only be dealt with through specially devised military commissions. I know that you personally haven’t argued for this last point, but it’s certainly how the US Government behaves.

    So, basically, you’re never wrong. You just need to sift through the various types of law until you find one that sort-of fits and offers a rational for whatever it is that you want to do, and there you go. You’re among the righteous again.

  • ReinholdWithARheingold

    Arguing that Fred’s hop-scotched through the law to support his opinion is like arguing that he’s hop-scotched through the Bible to do the same thing – it arguably misses the point entirely.

    The law isn’t some Giant Book of Immutable Edicts – its an intentionally malleable, interpretable mass of contradictions, clashing ideologies, bizarre nonsense and occasional beauty. It would be nice (I guess, though this is deeply, deeply debateable) if the laws of men were clear-cut and legal morality were absolute and unwavering. But that is clearly and demonstrably not so. Spinning the reality of legal interpretation so as to make Fred seem disingenuous for doing what you do each and every time you try to evade a parking ticket* may scratch the itch of righteous indignation but it doesn’t change the fact that its the legal reality you’re really challenging here, not Fred’s opinion.

    *And no, I’m not equating “assassination” with your parking tickets (assuming you have any). I’m saying that bending the law to suit our facts is arguably central to the law as its practiced in real life. You can argue that this is a cynical viewpoint, but I’d argue that its simply a realistic viewpoint – the view of someone who lives in and engages the world as it is, not as he/she wishes it to be.

  • ReinholdWithARheingold

    One example of the diffiulty inherent in establishing unyielding legal guidelines that attempt to set a bright-line moral standard: Try telling the numerous challengers to the Rockefeller Drug Laws – which allow no contemplation of specific or extenuating circumstances – that they should accept the Penal Code as it is, instead of sifting through “the various types of law until you find one that sort-of fits and offers a rational for whatever it is that you want to do” with a straight face.

  • Kukulan

    Arguing that Fred’s hop-scotched through the law to support his opinion
    is like arguing that he’s hop-scotched through the Bible to do the same
    thing – it arguably misses the point entirely.

    I’m often told I’m missing the point when I’m declining to accept various unstated assumptions people are trying to smuggle into a discussion. Perhaps if people were to state their assumptions clearly and argue for them effectively I might come around to their way of thinking.

    The law isn’t some Giant Book of Immutable Edicts

    I agree, it’s not. As you say, the law is a bit of a mishmash, a combination of tradition, wisdom, compromise, doctrine and occasionally prejudice. However, it’s what we use to resolve differences and limit potentially destructive behavior so we can all live together.

    The law isn’t one giant book; it’s several giant books. An entire library. One of the first things you do if you’re going to argue the law is to decide which set of laws apply. If you’re trying to get out of a parking ticket, then the set of laws that apply are those of the jurisdiction you’re in. If you can bend them to your purpose, you can avoid the fine; if not, too bad. However, you can’t argue that the under laws of, say, North Korea you wouldn’t have gotten the ticket and that under the laws of Nigeria your broken headlight wouldn’t be a defect and that under the laws of Kansas you aren’t required to wear a seat-belt, so you haven’t actually done anything wrong and shouldn’t have to pay any fine what-so-ever. If you want to argue the law you have to argue the law of the jurisdiction you’re in, not pick and choose the laws of different jurisdictions to suit yourself.

    Of course, you’re not always limited to the jurisdiction you’re in. It’s a common feature of commercial contracts to specify that any disputes will be settled under the laws of a specific jurisdiction, no matter where the dispute arises. So, even if you happen be living in London, if you agreed to a contract that stipulates that conflicts will be resolved under the laws of the state of Delaware, then that’s the jurisdiction that applies. Local courts will accommodate this and will decide disputes on the basis of the applicable set of laws rather than local law. Not always – if the dispute involves something like an escaped slave, the local court may well choose to ignore the fact that the chosen jurisdiction allows slavery – but generally. Or you might be required to transfer the dispute to a court within the agreed upon jurisdiction.

    So, the most basic decision that needs to be made is what set of laws apply. And this this is a one-way street; once the decision has been made, you can’t back out just because you find the agreed upon set of laws have requirements, presumptions and protections you don’t like.

    I would say this is especially true for sets of law dealing with special states such as war. Since the laws of war allow for a whole bunch of actions that most other sets of law prohibit, it makes the laws of war especially fertile ground from which to pick and choose laws which allow whichever action you may be trying to justify. That’s why I would argue that invoking the laws of war is a one-way street; if you want to go there, you can’t go back. Once you decide that something is a military problem and the laws of war apply, those are the laws you’re stuck with and the ones you have to work within.

    I see Fred talking about the principles of just war and Henry Farrell writing about the laws (such as they are) of war, but I don’t see either taking that forward and acknowledging that under the laws of war both sides are considered legitimate actors, both sides have the right to employ appropriate tactics against suitable targets and, most importantly, captured combatants have certain rights and need to be treated according to a set of conventions. They are not criminals and cannot be treated as such, no matter how much you may dislike them personally. I don’t see anything that suggests those captured in the war on terror are being treated as enemy combatants; rather they are either put on trial and treated as criminals or locked away and treated in ways specifically forbidden by the ruling conventions on prisoners of war. So it seems someone is certainly hop-scotching through the different fields of law, picking and choosing those specific laws which justify whatever it is that they want to do while ignoring those laws that would in any way limit their actions.

    I don’t think Fred is doing this, but I do think he’s drawing on and quoting those who are.

    That’s why I don’t think terrorism should ever have been defined as a military problem. I don’t think terrorists should be granted the legitimacy of being enemy combatants. Even if their grievances are valid, I think their acts are criminal and they are outlaws. That means we treat terrorism as a law enforcement problem and if that closes off some avenues of action – such as arbitrarily killing people we don’t like – then so be it. All that means is that in dealing with terrorists we have to be clever rather than brutal.

    Of course, if those who think terrorism should be regarded as military problem were to present their argument for that stance, I’d be willing to listen and consider it, but so far no-one has.

  • Anonymous

    Ten years ago when I was thirteen I already said that you should send law enforcement after bin Laden not the military.
    I have to say that obama got a hand of incredible bad cards given to him by some moron who can’t even speak English correct.And he also know that no matter what the US can’t win the war on terror so he decides to pick the best way to lose.

    i am just incredible glad I am not Obama.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Here’s my objection to the idea that the raid was justified and/or just:

    Was invading Osama’s compound the only option available to us to ensure his capture? If you answer yes, then I think you can make the case it was justified / just. If you can’t answer this “yes,” or if you think there may have been alternatives, that’s where it gets dicey.

    Think about the situation for a moment.

    Ideally, justice would have been capturing him, trying him in the courts, and sentencing him to punishment. Instead, we went in guns blazing.

    Why?

    If the compound were under 24 hour survailence, which it was, couldn’t we have sent more men and/or partnered with Pakistani forces to surround the compound, bombarded it with tear gas, etc., etc.?

    It seems to me that we jumped quickly to the last resort (going in with guns blazing).

    Of course, I’m not a military officer, and I’m not saying I’m definitely correct. I do think, though, that those who are asking those types of questions are right to do so.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I will disagree with this. A major concern for this operation was the probability that Bin Laden was sitting inside a potential gold mine of intelligence related to Al Queda. They tracked him down by covertly observing known Al Queda couriers coming and going from the compound, and they had reasonable suspecion that, even if Bin Laden himself was not there, the place was at least being used as some kind of safe-house and planning area or communications hub. Going into a long, drawn out siege situation would have given the occupents time to destroy any of the information they had stored there, potentially ruining the real prize of the operation: leads to other Al Queda cells and possible plans. To get these, it was necessary to conduct a quick operation and neutralize the defenders before they had a chance to dispose of the compromised intelligence. This is the kind of thing that will potentially save a lot more lives in the long run.

    Taking out Bin Laden was, for lack of a less crass term, a “bonus”.

  • Matt

    Very quickly:

    I don’t think the crooked timber post was by Brighouse, whose first name is Harry. More likely it was Henry Farrell.

  • Guest-again

    This stayed satirically on target the whole way, from its beginning,

    ‘CORUSCANT — Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic
    Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight
    with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.’

    to its end –

    ‘“No Stormtroopers were seriously harmed,” Lord Vader said. “They took
    care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, I defeated my
    former master and took custody of his body.” Jedi tradition requires
    burial within 24 hours, but by doing it in deep space, Imperial
    authorities presumably were trying to avoid creating a shrine for his
    followers.

    Lord Vader has denied requests to present photographs of the body,
    describing them as “too gruesome” for the general public.’

    http://www.galacticempiretimes.com/2011/05/09/galaxy/outer-rim/obi-wan-kenobi-is-killed.html

    When pitch perfect satire is this easy, it should give one pause.

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

    When pitch perfect satire is this easy, it should give one pause.

    Well, yeah. Pitch perfect satire is simple in any situation if you completely divorce it from context.

    It’s simple to avoid killing civilians as collateral damage when your “terrorist” is attacking a military base from the inside. But, of course, it comes off as a little gauche to say such things when said military base is designed to blow up planets. Planets full of civilians. Planets filled with pacifists who literally did nothing wrong but were killed so that Vader could threaten someone who happened to live there for a while.

    So, basically, if Obama had blown up the Twin Towers, then blamed Osama bin Laden for it, then sent the SEALS in to shoot him in the face while trumpeting the fact that it was a successful operation because of a lack of civilian casualties, you’d have something there. As that’s not the case, your “pitch perfect” satire is pretty tone deaf. Hell, it might actually be deaf deaf.

  • OBCD Epidemic

    I’m not sure what to say Fred, except that I’m kind of baffled that it is so important to you to try to justify the US governments actions in this case — enough so to make three separate posts on the topic that are essentially exclusively critical of those who would criticize the actions taken by the government. Much of my critique has already been made eloquently by Guest-again about the absurdity of the notion that this act of, at best, questionable legal authority will some how lead to a return of consistently applied legal protections rather than a further willingness to manipulate the legal code to allow the state to do whatever is convenient for it. (Though, for the record while I fully agree with Guest-again as to what the US justice system is meant to be, I don’t share his idealism about what it was before the war on terror. To see previous, domestic, perversions of the rule of law look no further than the FBI’s handling of the American Indian Movement and The Black Panthers, as well as all of the COINTELPRO activities surrounding “communism” in the US. Which I suppose is what I find so disturbing about all of this — we’ve made this mistake before, and realized it was wrong and counter productive, but now that we have a new boogie man it’s time to forget everything we’ve learned and repeat all of our mistakes.)

    However, there are a few other issues I want to raise starting with what appears to be a pattern of playing fast and loose with UN statements, last time it was claiming a resolution justified an incursion into Pakistan when it did no such thing, and this time it’s misappropriating a joint statement from the UN special rapporteurs on summary executions, human rights, and counter-terrorism. The full statement is : “Acts
    of terrorism are the antithesis of human rights, in particular the
    right to life. In certain exceptional cases, use of deadly force may be
    permissible as a measure of last resort in accordance with international
    standards on the use of force, in order to protect life, including in
    operations against terrorists. However, the norm should be that
    terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of
    arrest, trial and judicially decided punishment. Actions taken by States in combating terrorism, especially in high
    profile cases, set precedents for the way in which the right to life
    will be treated in future instances. In respect of the recent use of deadly force against Osama bin Laden,
    the United States of America should disclose the supporting facts to
    allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law
    standards. For instance it will be particularly important to know if the
    planning of the mission allowed an effort to capture Bin Laden. It may well be that the questions that are being asked about the
    operation could be answered, but it is important to get this into the
    open.” For those not familiar with the language of the UN this is hardly an endorsement of our action one night in Pakistan but instead a statement directly questioning the legality and noting that we have failed, so far, to justify it under international standards. It does allow for the possibility that it could be justified, but overall it is about as close as you will come to the UN calling one of the big three (Russia, China, and the US) to task for failing to comply with UN standards. The statement doesn’t even acknowledge that there are, per se, “exception cases” in which deadly force is permissible, but rather states that there “may be” cases in which that is true but the onus is on us to justify them and we haven’t.

    My qualms with the notion that the intent of war is to kill have already been addressed as well but I feel it’s important to point out that if that is one’s position than they clearly cannot actually believe in “just war” theory in which the purpose of war is not to kill but to end grievous harm against your own country and that war must result in less harm than the harm being done to your country.

    The Grant example brings us to one final point I’m having difficulty with as well and that I think is at the root of my issues with Fred’s entire discussion on this topic, and that’s the willingness to isolate the individual elements that he personally is okay with from the larger overall tapestry and act as though they’re not all explicitly connected. Frank notes that, “Grant also took steps to combat terrorism neither Greenwald nor I would approve of — such as suspending
    habeas corpus,” but he is still willing to commend Grant for his deployment of soldiers without acknowledging that the soldiers could only act as soldiers if the rule of law was suspended, the thing Frank agrees with necessitates the commission of the act that Frank does not agree with and the same problem applies to bin Laden. If we agree to the Osama raid, then we have to agree that violating the sovereignty of a nation we have no declared conflict with is okay, and it becomes easier to justify drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. If we agree to the Osama raid, then we acknowledge that handling terrorism as an aspect of war is sometimes justified and it becomes easier to justify it everywhere. If we agree to the Osama raid, then we claim that killing an unarmed man, in his bedclothes, without trial is sometimes justified and it becomes easier to justify arbitrary killing in general.I love your writing Frank, but there is no way I can come to agree with you on this issue I’m afraid. It seems I find myself in strange company, I agree instead with the much less eloquent than you statement released today by OBL’s son Omar Bin Laden, who has always vocally opposed his fathers actions but insisted on a statement, that I join him in, that ”
    We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political
    problems and crime’s adjudication as Justice must be seen to be done.”

  • Anonymous


    We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems and crime’s adjudication as Justice must be seen to be done.”

    Excellent point- except his killing wasn’t arbitrary- an arbitrary killing would’ve been. “Huh….OBL isn’t here. Well, lets shoot his family to teach him a lesson.” He was killed for a reason- killing a lot of other people.

    Again- NOT A CIVILIAN. And, basically, once you’re an enemy combatant, the presumption is that you’re killable at all times. Killing a man in a firefight or killing him while he’s on the crapper is the same thing. And OBL went out of his way to make it clear that he saw himself as a soldier in the jihad, as a combative enemy of the US.

    He was an enemy combatant, exactly the same as a general, or dictator is. The fact that we surprised him unarmed has nothing to do with anything- the ONLY way he got out of there alive was to immediately throw himself on the ground and make it very clear he wasn’t doing anything. And, if I was a SEAL, and he did anything else, yes, I would shoot him. Not because he’s reaching for a weapon- hell no. He’s a 70 year old man on dialysis, who probably hasn’t been down to the range very recently. He probably couldn’t PICK UP an AK-47, let alone shoot one accurately.

    No, I’m worried that he’s reaching for a button, or a switch, connected to a bunch of diesel and fertilizer in the basement. Or worse, in someone ELSE’S basement. And when he reaches for ANYTHING else but sky, yes, the assumption is that he’s making a hostile move and you shoot him. Again, what part of this is unclear. soldiers who don’t surrender, die. Its called WAR, for fucks sake, not the Catholic Ladies tea party.

    @55230220304cae6fb842dea8e5e1274d:disqus “The ultimate goal of war is to end the war on terms that favour your side.”

    No, the ultimate goal of war is to break the enemies will to fight. Humanities ability to create martyrs means that once you’ve killed one of theirs, they have a perfect figurehead to wave over their angry crowds- mere killing, you’re correct, is not enough to win. Look at Germany post-WWI, France during WWII, and Germany post WWII. Post WWI, Germany had very little (comparatively) psychological damage done. The borders of Germany were not breached, and most of the fighting took place in France. They were left defeated, but unbroken, and that meant that the Treaty of Versailles was an insult to German honor, yadda yadda. The French suffered low casualties and almost no structural damange during the blitz. Their nation was conquered, but the people weren’t- hence La Resistance. But post-WWII- there was no German resistance. There were no underground Hitlerites fighting for their beloved Vaterland. Because the Germans were beaten.

    Same thing in Japan, except on a greater scale- an entire nation who from cradle-to-grave had been brainwashed into unthinking hate and militarism- and yet, in the Japanese homeland, almost no resistance. Interestingly enough, there are the occasional stories of Japanese soldiers hanging one elsewhere, and fighting guerrilla raids, and yet not on the main island. They would continue to fight for useless, bypassed chunks of coral, but not for the sacred homeland? Or the South, post Civil War- true, there were some continued raiders, and some, like the James boys, went out west. But the vast majority just laid down their arms and went home? Why? Sherman’s march through Georgia, Vicksburg, the Appomattox Campaign- all places where not armies or men were killed, but spirit.

    The idea that mere overwhelming numbers, a massively superior position, or anything else is enough to stop people from fighting you can be disproved by watching 300, or reading about the Spanish Civil War. Doomed people fight. Outgunned people fight. DEFEATED people fight (The entire last half of WWII.) But BEATEN people give up, roll over and say “I’ll do whatever you, just please stop.” Thats when you can do a Marshall Plan. Thats when you can change an entire nation overnight. But its like the Marines- you gotta break ’em down before you can build them up.
    Or, to quote Patton:”There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wound, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time.”

  • Will Wildman

    Based on the fact that you swapped to making my argument (seriously, my first sentence after the one you quoted was almost verbatim the next thing you said) but with more cheering for death, I have a feeling this isn’t going anywhere useful. We both know the historical facts. The difference appears to be that you think killing lots of people is a necessary condition for the conclusion, and I think if we stopped glorifying slaughter we might spend more time thinking up creative and efficient ways of eliminating those threats.

    It’s the same problem I have with most of your arguments – instead of demonstrating a logical connection from A to B, we get prolonged rhapsodies on how essential A is.

  • Kish

    I do not believe “we didn’t crush Germany nearly hard enough in World War I” is the lesson we should take from World War II.

  • Kukulan

    I do not believe “we didn’t crush Germany nearly hard enough in World War I” is the lesson we should take from World War II.

    Well, consider Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland in the 1650s.

    Cromwell’s forces systematically destroyed food supplies in counties Wicklow, Kildare, Burren, Clare and Wexford, causing a famine in most of Ireland. They declared the southern part of the country a free-fire zone in which anyone could be killed and their goods seized. They also sold prisoners of war as slaves (or ‘indentured servants’) to the West Indies to work on the plantations.

    Overall it’s estimated that between these actions and an outbreak of the Bubonic plague, around 40% of the population.

    And the terms of the settlement at the end of the war were notably harsh. Anyone connected with the Irish rebellion was executed, Catholics had their land confiscated and weren’t allowed to live in towns. Catholicism was banned and a bounty was offered for priests, who were executed when captured.

    All this, of course, led to the fight being total beaten out of the Irish and they became a meek and subject people who never again dared to oppose their status as an English colony. At least, that’s the way it should have worked out according to caryjamesbond’s theory.

    The real history of the centuries since, however, worked out a bit differently.

  • OBCD Epidemic

    Arbitrary killing is an international law term that means a killing without trial or due process of an alleged criminal, so umm yes it was an arbitrary killing even if the word arbitrary is used differently than it typically is. And as for the term “enemy combatant” you feel so comfortable using would you care to define it and how exactly one becomes an enemy combatant, and how constitutionally it is justifiable to place US citizens on the “enemy combatant” list? And no, a general or a dictator are not “enemy combatants” they are combatants. Period. And subject to all of the regulations of the Geneva conventions.

  • OBCD Epidemic

    Also the notion that Germany post World War I did not have a proper amount of psychological damage done to it and that THAT was the primary cause of World War II is just, I don’t even know what to say, other than comically absurd. It’s the kind of assertion that makes me think someone hasn’t read there fair share of Nazi propaganda, because if they had they would realize that it was precisely the psychological sting of loss that they prayed on — blaming the Jews for the humiliation of defeat. In addition, massive, un-payable war debts, and the post-war depression that destroyed the German currency, both consequences of loss in the first world war, where sociological and psychological scars of defeat that rather than discouraging aggression instead encouraged it. And the assertion that there borders “were not breached”? What exactly do you think all that talk about reclaiming the Rhineland was about?

  • Anonymous

    Yes- that was my point- Germany was defeated- a technical defeat, a military defeat. But the Nazi’s were able to play on that psychological angst because the German people didn’t believe they were beaten. They were betrayed, and thats why they lost. None of that occurred after WWII, because it was clear that Germany had been beaten- same thing in Japan, same thing in the South. An enemy has to be beaten- broken, and psychologically made to realize their defeat in the fullest terms otherwise they come back. War is not a business that should be entered into lightly, precisely because off the massive cost of doing business.
    Half the history of Europe is driven by wars won only on the battlefield. Hell, WWI happened in large part because the French were bitter about their defeat in the Franco-Prussian war- a war in which, notably, the victors partied for a bit in Paris, then just left.
    And yes, the lesson of WWI, and the Franco-Prussian war, is that it is not sufficient to defeat an enemy- you must destroy his will to fight. Usually, by killing a lot of them.

    “The ultimate goal of war is to end the war on terms that favour your side. That means destroying the enemy’s will to fight, and where possible removing their capacity for aggression.”

    I’m confused on how you plan to destroy the enemy’s will to fight without killing a lot of them. If you figure out a way to do so, I’m pretty sure you’d rank among the greatest generals in history, because I sure as hell can’t think of other ways to do it. If humiliating defeats, or overwhelming force could do it, there would be no WWI, WWII, or French Resistance. And, again, by your rubric, the end of WWI was a brilliant victory, with the victors getting terms vastly favorable to their side, instead of the stupidest treaty ever written.
    ” And as for the term “enemy combatant” you feel so comfortable using would you care to define it and how exactly one becomes an enemy combatant, and how constitutionally it is justifiable to place US citizens on the “enemy combatant” list? ”

    Well, if you’re part of a more or less formal group that is in declared to be in combat with the United States, you would be an enemy combatant. AQ is a formal group that is at war with the US. Therefore members of AQ are enemy soldiers, the same as the Wermacht- entitled to the same decent treatment when captured, and able to be killed as soldiers in the same way.As for adding American’s to that list- well, my personal opinion is that when you take up arms against your country, you lose the privileges and rights of citizenship. I would say that as an enemy soldier, he would be subject to the same hazards of war as any other enemy soldier- in WWII, members of the American Free Corps were killed in battle, without any particular attention being paid to them. And part of modern battle, with its increased technological efficiency, is targeted assassination. Would you have a problem with his death if, say, he was killed in a firefight outside Basra with a bunch of Marines? Or if he was killed in a raid on an AQ site?
    Again- the guy joined AQ. 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. That way, no constitutional issues.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Guest-again

    ‘Pitch perfect satire is simple in any situation if you completely divorce it from context.’

    Well, in this case, the pitch perfect reference was to how easy it was to make Vader and Co. stand in for the U.S. Something that would not have been very easily imagined when Star Wars first came out – an event actually further back in the past from today than the time span between the Germany of WWI and the Germany of WWII.

    Societies change, whether we care to realise it or not. And those changes are often harder to recognize from within than without, since within a changing society, the changes are marked by how the majority thinks – such as a majority of Americans supporting torture (in part because of 24, a fictional program that even affected a Supreme Court Justice’s legal opinion). The generation that fought (and won, of course) against the Nazis did not believe in torture, and did not practice it – especially using the same (translated) term as the Gestapo, as we have in the war on terror.

    Things change – and yes, that was a well written satire, in part because of how well is points out those changes.

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

    Well, in this case, the pitch perfect reference was to how easy it was
    to make Vader and Co. stand in for the U.S. Something that would not
    have been very easily imagined when Star Wars first came out – an event
    actually further back in the past from today than the time span between
    the Germany of WWI and the Germany of WWII.

    Oooooh, I get it now. So when the Tea Party compares Barack HUSSEIN Obama to Hitler and Stalin at the same time, then turns around and calls him an Islamofascist atheist who’s trying to destroy America from the inside, they’re simply engaging in pitch perfect satire.

    And here I thought they were just idiots who had absolutely no sense of context and used certain words because they sound scary, not because they actually mean things.
    Thanks for clearing that up. I’ma go vote for Sarah Palin now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    bin Laden was an area hostile to allied forces, with an unknown amount of firepower. Thus, any attempt to take him called for a military solution. As soon as that is realized, it becomes the decision of the SEAL commander as to how to take him. And I see nothing wrong with killing an “unarmed” man (who may have a button, or a sniper, or who knows what) and who has information vital to saving the lives of countless people around the world.

    If bin Laden had lingered in a training camp back in 2000, he would have been powder and rubble waaaaaaay before 9/11, and most of us probably wouldn’t even have known his name. Would that have been a just or justified killing?

    And connecting bin Laden and al-Awlaki is “slippery slope” at its worst.

  • Guest-again

    ‘And connecting bin Laden and al-Awlaki is “slippery slope” at its worst.’

    Since both are connected by the war on terror according to the American government, and since apparently guilt by association has become enough for the United States to target a citizen for death without due process of law, I agree – the slippery slope really has been at the worst end of the concerns expressed over the last decade.

    This is much like the criticism directed towards the inaccuracy of computer models in climatology – the reality is, the models have been consisently unable to accurately represent reality, as the time scales of even the worst case scenarios seen in the models are being completely overtaken by events as measured by real time instruments.

    I generally oppose censorship, but sometimes, just sometimes, the slippery slope argument isn’t theoretical, it is historical fact. Germany is currently welcome to ban Mein Kampf, since the debate about its banning is no longer theoretical when discussing the book’s effects within Germany.

    Our government is currently trying to kill at least one publicly named American citizen without due process, having argued in court that about its ability to kill American citizens, secretly, on the word of the President alone.

    You might be interest in how that particular case turned out –

    ‘A high-profile legal challenge to the Obama
    Administration’s procedures authorizing so-called “targeted killings”
    of suspected terrorists overseas has quietly petered out after the
    deadline for an appeal came and went without legal action.

    ——

    On December 7, U.S. District Judge John Bates threw out the case,
    saying there were “no judicially manageable standards” for assessing
    the military and intelligence issues involved in the case. The
    plaintiffs had 60 days to appeal but did not do so.

    “After consultation with our client, the decision’s been made not to
    further pursue this case in court,” the ACLU and CCR said in a joint
    statement.

    They did not provide any basis for the decision. However, it’s never
    been clear whether the case had the support of Anwar Al-Awlaki.
    Al-Awlaki’s father, Nasser, acknowledged in legal filings that he had
    no contact with his son since it emerged that the U.S. was trying to
    kill him. It’s unclear if the junior Al-Awlaki approved of the
    litigation.

    Proceeding with an appeal would have raised the possibility of a
    binding precedent granting the Executive Branch an unfettered right to
    target alleged enemy fighters abroad, even if they were U.S. citizens.

    “CCR and the ACLU continue to be deeply troubled by the government’s
    claim of unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of
    any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the
    nation. The executive’s claimed right to act as prosecutor, judge and
    executioner dangerously undermines the rule of law and the protection
    of human rights here and abroad. We continue to believe that the
    judiciary has a crucial role to play both in setting the standards
    under which the government uses lethal force against its own citizens,
    and in ensuring that those standards are complied with,” the groups
    said. “We will continue to press the administration to be transparent
    about its policy of targeted killing outside of war zones, and to
    constrain its actions according to the Constitution and international
    law.”‘

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/joshgerstein/0211/ACLU_CCR_drop_suit_over_Awlaki__kill_list.html

  • http://twitter.com/Mtl4u2 Les Zouazo

    So slacktivist,

    Turns out you just can’t let people respond in full to your accusations?

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/12/bin_laden/index.html

    tsk! tsk! tsk!

    How coward of you. But, as it is expected from a GOP partisan hack, you do the same as a Dem partisan hack.

  • 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.

  • SamLL

    Fred, I’ve been a follower for years.

    Any comment on how Glenn Greenwald tried to post in response this here, but his post never appeared?

    http://www.salon.com/news/osama_bin_laden/index.html?story=/opinion/greenwald/2011/05/12/bin_laden

    Is this another Patheos screwup? What ever happened to your investigation of Patheos moderation? Is that just going to quietly die while you wait for people to forget about it?

    I thought people splitting off and going back to typepad because of Patheos bigotry & mismanagement was an overreaction, but now I’m not so sure.

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

    Is this another Patheos screwup? What ever happened to your
    investigation of Patheos moderation? Is that just going to quietly die
    while you wait for people to forget about it?

    I suspect it’s probably because Greenwald put about a dozen links in to that response. Fred hasn’t moderated for content since the bad old days before the permaban of Scott. And, for the love of crap, look at all direct attacks his long-time commenters made when he moved over to Patheos. But auto moderation routines tend towards an algorithm that says “lots of links = adspam.”

    But, y’know, it’s so much easier to cry censorship on the internet.

    I just find it fascinating that Glenn Greenwald would take such exception to Fred, then talk about how he was cheered on and offer one person as an example. But he linked to that one person twice! Twice!

  • SamLL

    For reference, here is the comment Glenn Greenwald says he attempted to post that was blocked:

    http://ggdrafts.blogspot.com/2011/05/response-to-slacktivist-post.html

  • Mark W

    Why won’t you post/respond to Glenn Greenwald’s comment? Super shady and highly unprofessional to say the least.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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

    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

  • Phil

    why wont you publish Greenwald’s reply?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.


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