A Killer Rationale

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So how does the justification for drone strikes and other targeted killings square with international law? Are the words “because we say so” in the actual document?

Books, Columns, Daniel Kilian, Homepage Sub  •  Feb 11, 2013

The White House has finally released a “white paper” (A white paper is a government-approved explanation. The term goes back to Winston Churchill. They’re more official than “green papers” which is just some higher-up spitballing. I don’t know the actual color of the spitballs.) that explains a larger document that might or might not exist.

That document explains why the United States is legally permitted to kill people without first giving them a trial. The white paper is not an explanation of the possibly existing document that justified the killing of American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but it’s a lot like it, say those in the know. You might wish that matters of life and death and our government’s power to kill its own citizens be based on more than an alleged note being passed around among shadowy figures in the upper echelons of power, but that just means you don’t want Obama to succeed. If you never wanted Obama to succeed, you probably don’t mind that the president is claiming godlike powers to judge and execute U.S. citizens, because you’re worried that Obamacare will lead to tyranny. Some people will object to killing U.S. citizens without trial, but will be okay with killing foreigners the way children kill ants.

I like the idea that our right to unilaterally kill people is written on a piece of paper that might or might not exist. It’s like saying God gives you the right, an argument that has been made throughout history. What’s the difference between a man in a white beard and a letter? Who knows, maybe they drew a picture of God on the piece of paper and he says “Fire Away!” in a speech bubble.

So what does this document say? Citing the right of self-defense, the paper says “high-ranking government officials,” probably Obama and his Star Chamber, can decide that if a person poses an “imminent threat,” the U.S. is within its rights to kill that person. Now, to be an “imminent threat” the person does not have to be imminently threatening. Being a member of Al Qaeda gets you in the “imminently killable” club. How do they determine whether someone is a member of Al Qaeda? The term “Al Qaedish” is being thrown around. Personally, I wouldn’t say anything anti-American while in a mosque, or it’s boom time.

So how does the justification for drone strikes and other targeted killings square with international law? Are the words “because we say so” in the actual document? Are we doing anything different from, say, what Bashar al-Assad is doing in Syria? After all, isn’t the Syrian opposition an imminent threat to the Syrian government? Don’t they seem Al Qaedish?

I guess the difference is one of degree. Bashar is engaged in mass murder on his own people. We’ve been very particular about killing our own people, and even when it’s foreigners, as of last November Obama’s only pulled this judge/jury/executioner drone-strike thing some 300 times, killing around 2,500 people.

Also, as opposed to Bashar, we’re at war. Very bad people want to do very bad things to us, so if some “high officials” decide someone’s dangerous, who are we to expect some kind of oversight or transparency? I do sometimes think about the movie The Running Man. In that movie, everyone thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was evil, but he wasn’t. What if Schwarzenegger hacks into our national media satellite and warns us that Obama is lying to us? I think we’ve got to call a drone strike on Schwarzenegger, just in case. If not for possible high treason, then at least for The Last Stand.

Maybe terrorism demands harsh justice and secret, murderous methods. Maybe bombing the hell out of people turns more people away from us and into the arms of the terrorists, but that’s strategy; let’s focus on methods. If the government gets to judge people kill-worthy without trial, it’s only a matter of time before they kill someone who doesn’t “deserve” it. Never mind the people who happened to be standing next to the people who did “deserve” it when the bomb drops. Standing near people is a form of collusion. The power outlined in this white paper is too much power; it won’t end well. I don’t care what the pundits explain about the paper this paper explains. It’s time to rein in the paper. I suggest we use scissors.

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Dan Kilian
Dan Kilian writes songs, essays, fictions and lies in Sunnyside New York. He is the creative director for The Consumers*, a musical act, and the lead singer of Dan Kilian and The Million Man Band. He is the host of A Couple Nights A Week, an online interview program, and the Editor and a contributor to Klog, a literary blog.
  • http://Www.msauret.com Michel Sauret

    I get the intent of your article, and I agree with your conclusion that by government claiming power to kill “enemies” without trial, who’s to say where that power might stop, but I wish you had used quotes or excerpts from the white paper rather than contrived satire to strengthen your point. This is important matter that requires journalism and reliable sourcing when presented to the public.