politics, hypocrisy and meanness in public affairs, alligators, anti-empire-ism, occasional personal stuff

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A reader writes; I appreciate that he wrote. I respond.

Gordon said...
I continue to be amazed that so many people -- like this Times op-ed writer -- place so much emphasis on this particular terrorist's U.S. citizenship. He has voluntarily chosen both to (a) participate, in a senior leadership role, in an organized campaign of murder of innocent non-combatants; and (b) hide himself in a foreign country which has proved itself quite unable or unwilling to arrest/detain/bring to justice either him or any of the other al-Quaeda leadership within its borders. In these circumstances, why is it so difficult to conclude that al-Awalki has, by his own conduct, waived the constitutional protections to which an American citizen is ordinarily entitled? And why so much ado about his name being added to to a CIA "kill on sight" list that already contained many other names? As for your questions, Rick the Blogger: "Are we at war? Are there rules? Would this President believe that an enemy leader could be murdererd if found under anaesthetic in a hospital controlled by US forces? . . ." I assume that your legal background probably does not include a lot of experience with international law. So may I respectfully suggest that, if you have the time, you spend a couple of hours with a good introductory primer on the international law of armed conflict. Pay particular attention to the discussion on necessity and proportionality. This should answer your questions, and perhaps even alleviate some of your concern, from a strictly legal point of view at least. Of course, it is possible that you are a Quaker or a Mennonite or something similar, whose religious convictions rule out violence of any kind, even in self-defence. If so, I respect you -- but that is a very different kind of discussion.
6:00 PM
Blogger ricksahm said...
Thank you for writing, Gordon. I read your Reply carefully. I am concerned that anyone, especially with the entire power of the government at his disposal, can unilaterally determine that someone is guilty, and can order his killing (or even his arrest). I did a lot of criminal law, early in my career, and I saw a number of people arrested who should not have been, charged when they should not have been, and over-charged. A police officer told me once that he had shot a burglar in the back, killing him after telling him he could walk away, because the cop "was just sick of dealing with him." We have now passed, so I understand, 200 condemned men who have been freed by DNA evidence. On a broader scale, if the Prez can condemn this man who he believes is engaged in war against the U.S., what will be the next case? We are already killing - and it is in our name that the drones are killing - numerous civilians "accidentally" because WE have determined that enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan are within our gun sights - and we regret but don't care enough that our drones kill innocents. We - it is us, after all, once again - are comfortable with killing. I say "Stop." The "war on terror" will never end. We will kill whomever, and however many, WE wish to kill. I say "Stop." I will note that legalisms about war seem to me to be just that: legalisms, which have little to do with how decisions are actually made. History, as law, is written by and for the winners. I say that as someone who saw judicial decisions, in trial courts as well as appellate ones, routinely made in order to reach a result. My final issue is with your declaration that someone has waived his protections. Who judges that? I do not know what the man has done; you don't know; the President and his advisers do not know. They believe. To me, given what I have experienced and observed, I say that that is not sufficient. Your experience may be different from what has contributed to my opinion. Your training and learning may be greater than mine, and therefore justifiably bring you to a different - perhaps superior - opinion. I grant that I do not "know." What I write is what comes out of my life. I am often wrong, limited as I am in experience and knowledge - and brain power. I have considered what I have written in this blog - no thoughts have come onto the page unexamined. I recognize that I do not - ever - know enough to be certain. But I think certain accepted things, acts, decisions need to be challenged. Authority needs to be questioned, not acceded to simply because it IS authority. A President/king/despot/god decrees that someone is to be imprisoned, bull-whipped, killed - someone must, and ought, to ask "why, and by whose authority, and as a result of what evidence?" Nixon said that "if the President does it, it is not illegal." That was part of the authoritarian, non-legal landscape in which I came of age. That was not good enough for me. To my surprise, that kind of "reasoning" was accepted by many in our nation of "laws and not men." That seemed in conflict with how I had been taught our government was supposed to behave. Call me a dreamer. Call me wrong, if you wish.


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