Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Teaching a Neocon Exactly How WWII Is Different From the War on Terror

The Civil War and World War II were discrete, declared wars against specific enemies who fought the U.S. on geographically predictable battlefields. At Antietam or Normandy, it would have been very difficult for Presidents Lincoln or Roosevelt to abuse their power by killing an innocent American they falsely labeled an enemy combatant -- they didn't send a kill list of individuals into battle, and the odds that a given innocent they wanted to kill would just happen to be there were rather low. Finally, quite apart from every other argument, there was literally no way to afford anyone due process on the battlefield at Antietam or on the beaches of Normandy.

In contrast, the War on Terrorism is a never-ending conflict against an amorphous, un-uniformed enemy fought in secret, often far from any traditional battlefield, with opaque rules of engagement carried out by the CIA rather than the armed forces. If drone strikes are constrained only by a secret executive-branch process wherein any American is treated as an enemy combatant on the mere say-so of a "high-level official," and requires no evidence that the target is planning an attack any time in the near future, it would be very easy for the power to be abused. Lots of innocent people just happen to be walking around on the battlefield in the War on Terror, as it's defined by the CIA, because the battlefield encompasses the whole earth. And it would be very easy to afford guys like Anwar al-Awlaki more due process than Obama has extended -- in that case, the militant cleric likely could've been tried in absentia, convicted, and killed.

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