Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Bad Excuse for Murder

Ben, didn't you write a paper about this back in law school?
Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests." They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration's policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges -- based solely on the President's claim that they were Terrorists -- produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn't Obama's policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind -- not imprisoned, but killed -- produce at least as much controversy?

The danger here, as I see it, is that we're not dealing with an actual defined "enemy" here. We're dealing with people who could just as easily be tried in the U.S. for actual crimes. We're too busy thinking about al-Qaeda nutbags as "soldiers" when in reality they're just standard-issue thugs that we ought to treat as such. I've argued before that the difference between al-Qaeda and the Mafia is merely one of degree (though the Mafia tends to be far more well-organized). I don't get why we need to create a whole new legal framework that involves presidentially-ordered killings and indefinite detention when the trial-by-jury one we already have works just fine.

And in fact, creating this new legal framework has only served to confuse the issue of terrorism and the issue of POWs from Afghanistan and Iraq (people who were caught while engaging in hostilities against American troops). A legal framework already exists to deal with both situations - the criminal justice system for terrorists and the Geneva Conventions for POWs. I can think of no person detained by the U.S. that could not be placed in either. Why did we need to create a new one and lump terrorists and POWs all together?

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