To kill a terrorist: the torture memos and the killing of Al-Awlaki

Like America in general, ridiculously cool and morally corrupt.

In an article for Bloomberg, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman examines the political, legal and moral nature of the Obama administration’s targeted killing regime.

Feldman comes to the conclusion that while Obama’s method of targeted killing – most exemplified by drone attacks and the killings of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki – may be more politically expedient and more legally palatable than the method chosen by his predecessor (i.e., the method of unlimited detention and torture), it is just as morally corrupt.

Although Obama’s legal team, unlike Bush’s, seems rightly interested in protocols of international law, “this argument misses the more basic point: Most critics rejected Bush’s policies not on technical grounds based on the Constitution, but because they thought there was something wrong with the president acting as judge and jury in the war on terrorism.”*

Feldman compares ‘the torture memos’ to ‘the Al-Awlaki memos’ and marks the two presidents thusly: the score may be Obama 2 and Bush 0 in the war on terror’s game of politics and law, but they are drawing in the game of the good.

Clearly a trained lawyer would be better at the law game. And it isn’t terribly surprising that Obama too beats Bush in the game of politics.

What’s sad is how egregiously unconcerned with morality Bush seems to have been and Obama seems to be.

* There seems to be a valid but not sound modus barbara syllogism at play in Feldman’s point here:

– In times of war the President has complete authority to protect the American people. The US is in a time of war. So… the President has complete authority to protect the American people.

Feldman’s point seems to be that while this argument may be logically valid it is not logically sound. It’s the premises that are problematic. The idea that the US is in a time of war – and that the battlefield constitutes the entire planet – is highly questionable at best and dangerously immoral at worst.

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