KRAUTHAMMER: Making a better case for Obama's drone war
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.
1. By what right does the president order the killing by drone of enemies abroad? What criteria justify assassination?
Imminent threat is obvious. If we know a freelance jihadist cell in Yemen is actively plotting an attack, we don't have to wait until after the fact. Elementary self-defense justifies attacking first.
Unfortunately, Obama's Justice Department memos justifying the drone attacks are hopelessly muddled. They imply that the sole justification for drone attack is imminent threat — and whereas al-Qa
Nonsense. Slippery nonsense. It gives the impression of an administration making up criteria to fit the president's kill list. No need to confuse categories. A sleeping Anwar al-Awlaki could lawfully be snuffed not because of imminence but because he was self-declared al-Qa
2. But Awlaki was no ordinary enemy. He was a U.S. citizen. By what right does the president order the killing by drone of an American? Where's the due process?
Lincoln steadfastly refused to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation. The soldiers that his Union Army confronted at Antietam were American citizens (in rebellion) — killed without due process. Nor did the Americans storming German bunkers at Normandy inquire before firing if there were any German-Americans among them — to be excused for gentler treatment while the other Germans were mowed down.
3. Who has the authority to decide life and death targeting?
This looks troubling. Obama sitting alone in the Oval Office deciding what individuals to kill. But how is that different from Lyndon Johnson sitting in his office choosing bombing targets in North Vietnam? Moreover, we firebombed entire cities in World War II. Who chose? Commanders under the ultimate authority of the president. No judicial review, no outside legislative committee, no secret court, no authority above the president.
OK, you say. But today's war is entirely different: no front line, no end in sight.
So what? It's the jihadists who decided to make the world a battlefield and to wage war in perpetuity. Until they abandon the field, what choice do we have but to carry the fight to them? We have our principles and precedents for lawful warmaking and a growing body of case law for the more vexing complexities of the present war — for example, the treatment of suspected terrorists apprehended on U.S. soil.
Now, for those who believe that the war on terror is not war but law enforcement, (a) I concede that they will find the foregoing analysis to be useless and (b) I assert that they are living on a different and distant planet.
For us earthlings, on the other hand, the case for Obama's drone war is clear. Pity that his Justice Department couldn't make it.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post.
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