The Right To Kill

It is somewhat ironical that this subject generally applies to those who feel they have a choice. The Taliban does not spend much time reflecting on their right to kill. It is conferred, they sense, by the presence of an enemy on their soil, or by the violation of a holy law, or simply by being an “infidel”.

Al Qaeda has likewise never questioned its right to kill, even when its victims are palpably innocent. It could be argued that Al Qaeda, with its roots in the privileged and Bush-revered Bin Laden family, has always operated from choice. But it is choice that seems untinged by conscience or regret. It is the choice conferred by fanatic certitude, aka the very worst, seminal idolatry.

The question of the right to kill is properly addressed to we Americans, and to the President and others for whom these questions are not in the least academic.

The answer was clear enough the other day when Navy Seals dispatched three Somali pirates with three pin-point shots. The shots were designed to eliminate any chance that these pirates could stop the escape of their American hostage.

Was the right to kill so clear that no declaration of war was required? Thinking about it, this was perhaps seen as so transparently justified that no declaration was needed.

What about the prospect of using more drone attacks to accomplish what seems completely beyond the reach of any ground operation in Afpak? Do we need to rethink our evident rejection of the term war on terror? We are, after all, pursuing precisely that, perhaps seriously, for the first time.

I am inclined to think that if the Obama government undertakes to initiate a continuing drone strategy in Afpak, declaring to the world its right to kill with something like impunity, the decision does require interpretation as to whether it qualifies as a police action, in which case no declaration would be sought, or as an act of war, requiring the approval of Congress.

In an earlier post, I suggested that the right to kill may exist in situations where the damage we seek to prevent is comparable to the damage Hitler did after he was allowed to run roughshod over France. Looking at the record of Al Queda, and the chilling prospect of a takeover in Pakistan that could result in the use of viable atomic weapons at will against Western targets, I have little doubt that a clear justification for preventive measures would exist. I say that in the spirit of my mentor, the late Don Benedict, who initially opposed World War Two, spent time in jail as a pacifist, then concluded he must fight, and did. I say it understanding the courage and agony of Bonhoeffer, whose assault on Hitler failed. It was, in any case, too late to ward off the Nazi leader’s worst depredations.

The US has, as a nation, operated with anarchic, and even bullying, impunity in the past around the world, never seeking justification at any point. Now we have a President who is exceedingly strong yet committed to the rule of law.

It will be important to see how Barack Obama deals with this issue if he decides that drone attacks, and similar pinpointed anti-terrorist measures, must proceed in Afpak.


Coming: New US Drone Attacks in Afpak?

While I append a question mark to my title, I have the same sense after hearing Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN this evening that I had when, years back, I read the initial New York Times article paving the way for the invasion of Iraq.

It now seems that more persistent drone attacks to root out terrorist enclaves in the mountainous border territories between Afganistan and Pakistan will occur. With widespread acquiescence in Pakistan to the launch of such attacks.

So difficult is the situation in Pakistan, and so clearly is the country in danger of being reduced to anarchy and possible takeover by the terror axis, that the attitude seems to be — If the the US can get rid of the bad guys with minimal civilian casualties, let them do it.

I can see this unfolding, sooner than later, with every footstep the Taliban takes in the direction of extending its Swat Valley victory to populous Punjab. Destabilize Punjab — the country’s gone.

Would this draconian strategy, possibly confined to areas where persons were encouraged to evacuate in advance, and utilizing something as primitive but effective as tear gas, be seen as a viable way to proceed?

I can say only this: It is not unthinkable that a measured and targeted response could be promulgated and seen as preferable to doing nothing.

This does not address the current assault of the Taliban in Pakistan, but it might create attention on the main thing that President Bush ignored during his eight years of woeful mismanagement. Rooting out Al Qaeda.

The stakes are such that this solution must be seen in the context of doing nothing or not enough. These would include the possible domination of Pakistan by terrorists with access to nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them along with the likely imposition of the same conditions that the Taliban sought successfully to impose during its time of power in Afghanistan and which it now imposes in Swat Valley.

I guess the way to phrase this question is to ask whether we would, in retrospect, approve such an attack against Hitler the minute he moved on France.

Then too, there is the ultimate reality, which applies both to the on the ground terrorists and to those around the world who foment terror on the seas. Economic justice and the elimination of desperate poverty and scant opportunity is not a total cure, but it is vastly more important than punitive attacks, however necessary they may be. We cannot justify one without doing the other.


Pakistan at War Monday Digest


Yesterday, the headlines screamed of yet more US drone attacks within Pakistan leaving 18 dead. Today, they bemoan 11 killed in Swat in contining fighting between military and militants. Meanwhile, following on earlier reports of extremists banning women from entering cloth markets in Swat, now we hear of restraunts in Quetta banning the entry of women after succumbing to the fear tactics of fanatics. The tragedy is that news of barbarism – men killed and hung in the public square because their shalwar was not hiked up to the right length – have become so common that one does not even register as unusual.