America's Army fails its own "rule of law" test


The way Chomsky tells it, the US government has considered itself above international law for 70 years, and there’s been no price to pay… I guess Bush looked at that and wondered if anyone would try to stop him flouting domestic laws.

Obama saw what Bush was totally getting away with, and obviously figured there was nothing stopping him taking it further. I guess the next President will go the whole nine yards and don a laurel wreath. I mean, look what Napoleon pulled off, hot on the heels of the French Revolution, ferchrissakes.

Seems you can just keep on turkey-slapping the populace right in the face, until your dick falls off.


Rule of law has either been eroding for a while or simply never existed in the way we wish it did. No criminal charges against executives at banks and ratings agencies that, through fraud, caused the global economic collapse? If you have enough money and power, the law just doesn’t apply.

Personally if I were president I would amend the constitution to make a few of these things more clear, like how you can’t have an extra-judicial kill list. I know constitutional amendments are tough to put through, but I’d just put anyone who disagreed with me on my kill list. They’d probably get the point.


At first I thought this was in regards to the video game America’s Army. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I didn’t know the Army even flew drones. It turns out they do, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I thought Army and Marine air capability existed solely to be in direct support of ground forces. In any case, the report is not exclusively about Army UAV strikes, and most of it applies just as well to traditional airstrikes. When your wedding is crashed by a Hellfire missile, you don’t really care whether it came from a Predator or an A-10.

There are psychological factors that make drone strikes qualitatively different — for example, I suspect they incite more hatred due to a perception of U.S. cowardice, but this report (or the Atlantic description of it anyway) doesn’t really get into that.

There was a piece on Al Jazeera a couple of days ago with a former Marine, I believe, decrying his part in the drone strikes. He’s going round schools in the US talking about it. Now there’s a fucking hero. I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of grief he gets for that.


I’d like to see some laws that explicitly define undermining the democratic process and/or flouting the constitution as treason.

That’d put things in perspective… potential terrorism a bigger deal than definite treason? Hmm… don’t fucking think so.

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What’s the alternative, though?

I mean, obviously in conventional warfare you don’t have a kill list, but you basically have carte blanche to kill someone in uniform. If we assume that it’s possible to be at war with those who aren’t wearing uniforms (be it al Qaeda, the Viet Cong, the Taliban, or whomever), when does it become appropriate to kill them? Was the extra-judicial killing of bin Laden appropriate? Would a trial in absentia have vindicated your sense of justice? Would a court order suffice? Death warrants?

I agree it is possible to be at war with a nation regardless of what clothes the “enemy” fighters are wearing. I don’t think it’s possible to declare war against an amorphous body of whoever-it-is-convenient-for-you-to-be-at-war-with, or at least it shouldn’t be. I don’t think that the extra-judicial killing of bin Laden was appropriate, and I don’t think kangaroo courts would help.

But bin Laden is beside the point here. The US government claims the right to put American citizens on their kill list. The government can’t have the power to kill its own citizens because of secret reasons with no process. That alternative is simply not doing it.


But were the Viet Cong a “nation,” when they were in South Vietnam? And if the US was at war with North Vietnam, would it be appropriate to treat all North Vietnamese as legitimate targets, regardless of whether they were in uniform? By your definition it would be totally illegitimate to wage war on a trans-national militant organization like al Qaeda. How should the US have proceeded? Obtained judicial approval for every single al Qaeda member they wanted to kill? And what judicial process would be appropriate, if trial in absentia (and presumably death warrants on anything less than a trial) would be inappropriate?

I suppose this follows from your rejection of war against un-uniformed members of trans-national military organizations. But in a war context nationality has never been a defence: it is perfectly legitimate for US soldiers to have killed German soldiers of US citizenship. If bin Laden was a US citizen, I don’t think his citizenship should have prevented the US from acting, given the inability to apprehend him in a conventional manner.

Well since westerners who are fighting Al-Qaeda basically decide who is a member of it an who is not, yeah, I think that’s pretty illegitimate.

These questions seem based on the premise that the US needs a way to legitimize sending people overseas to kill people in other countries. I think they should have proceeded by responding to the guy who said, “Why don’t we just send out hit squads?” with “Because that is illegal and unethical, not to mention probably ineffective since by killing people in foreign countries we’ll just be adding to the reasons there are terrorists targeting us in the first place,” and then taken a different course altogether.

I disagree. The US doesn’t summarily execute serial killers without trial, even ones that can’t be caught and stopped another way.


Are you arguing the difficult cases or the concept in general? Do you disagree that bin Laden was al Qaeda? If not, then why was targeting him illegitimate?

What, in your opinion, would have been the appropriate response to 9/11, given that the attacks were planned and orchestrated by a supra-national organization based outside the US? Would the reasoning of whatever answer you give be extensible to more conventional acts of warfare?

The US has sovereignty over the US. They can deploy their forces and initiate manhunts anywhere in the US. They can’t do this in other nations, nor can they force other nations to do so. And even in the US (extrajudicial) deadly force may be used when there is an imminent threat to the lives of others. What the US doesn’t do is simply sit and watch known serial killers while they kill more people.

You may argue this is semantics, but the term “execute” (with all of its baggage) is typically used to indicate that a sentence is being carried out and that the killing is done as an act of punishment or retribution. Targeted killings, like deadly force being used against domestic imminent threats as well as war killings, is premised not on retribution or justice but on the prevention of death.

I just don’t think it is a good comparison.
In the case of Bin Laden, he could quite easily have been captured. Once he was located, in a part of Pakistan that is clearly under the rule of law, the USA had several options. They could have alerted the Pakistani authorities (and hoped he wouldn’t get tipped off), they could have mounted the operation and shot him (which they did) or they could have drone struck the house to level it (but they didn’t as it was somewhere with the rule of law operating)
But the 4th option was to fill the house with fentanyl/shot him with a taser/whatever and grabbed him, then put him in Gitmo forever.

With all the random people they seem to be blowing up, good and bad, man woman or even child, across Afghanistan and Yemen and wherever else they can get away with it, I’d argue the case for not killing so indiscriminately. Arrest in concert with local forces. Use bounties. And yes, even use the occasional drone strike if you have really good evidence that someone is driving a truck bomb somewhere.

But a drone strike or two every day? Seriously? That’s just taking the piss.

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I don’t think some of the options you suggest are realistic. Could bin Laden have lived where he was living for so long without any complicity from ISI? I mean, the US didn’t tip off Pakistan because they were afraid of bin Lade being tipped off. Drone strikes in Yemen and Northern Pakistan are done precisely because local cooperation just isn’t feasible in these areas. A drone strike against bin Laden was vetoed because they wouldn’t be able to identify the remains and be sure they got him. The last option is the half-hearted option that I believe was endorsed: they were to take him alive if they could, which is to say if he offered absolutely no resistance whatsoever.

I think I already tried to say that bin Laden was beside the point. I think the case against bin Laden was actually spelled out fairly well in public, and the international community actually agreed with America’s decision to got to war with Afghanistan because they were sheltering bin Laden. Even if I disagree with the law, that’s not an example of a breakdown of the rule of law.

When those same people who put the hit on bin Laden add a whole bunch of other names, including names of their own citizens, to a secret kill list based on secret evidence that’s a very obvious problem to anyone who is concerned about law and government abuses of power.

Examine whether intelligence failures led to it and see how those could be addressed. Exercise diplomatic pressure on countries that were shielding people who had carried out the attacks. Seek help from the international community in having people tried in international or US courts as appropriate. Declare strongly that violating the law in pursuit of the terrorists or compromising rights in the name of security would be a greater victory for the terrorists than any attack was. Treat bin Laden and others connected to the attacks as multiple murderers instead of mythologizing them as demons.

I don’t see why the analogy is relevant unless there are cases where the US has followed serial killers who left the country to foreign countries to kill them. This has nothing to do with jurisdiction and everything to do with creating a new classification for Al Qaeda and treating them very differently than other killers are treated.

I don’t believe this at all. Killing bin Laden as revenge theater. Imminent threat is a very, very high standard for a good reason.


So you’re saying that extrajudicial killings, as in the case of bin Laden, may be acceptable, but that doing so based on secret evidence is a problem. I think that’s a much easier case to make, though I think there’s also a strong case to be made for secrecy in the name of national security. I think that if we had strong Congressional oversight and more powerful (but still secret) courts providing judicial review, the arguments against secrecy would be significantly ameliorated.

On the other hand, I don’t see why citizenship is a moral or theoretical stumbling block. Does the killing become more moral or less problematic if it is the killing of someone who isn’t a US citizen?

With all due respect, in practical terms this is no guarantee of anything stronger than hand waving. Diplomatic pressure, international courts, and treating perpetrators as mass murderers hasn’t worked so well in, for example, the Bosnian context.

And again, would this have been an appropriate US response to the German invasion of Poland? France? Its assault of Britain? Germany wasn’t even killing any US citizens.

Well, serial killers based in Afghanistan pose little danger to US citizens, and there is thus no imminent danger to US citizens. (Israel, on the other hand, has. Does this mean they could engage in US-style drone strikes in faraway lands without objection?)

On the other hand, there’s nothing new about declaring war with someone. Armies are also killers, and al Qaeda is being treated as an army. Sure, there are differences, but those differences are because al Qaeda is not the typical uniformed, national army but a supra-national, un-uniformed opponent. If there is a new classification, it is because al Qaeda has deliberately chosen not to adhere to traditional classifications of combatants (and for good reason; they’re much more effective operating as they do).

I’m talking about Rule of Law, not about ethics. There are laws in place and people at the very top should follow them. In theory the plan was to capture bin Laden and try him. Sensible people may have known the reality would be more like kill-on-sight, but at least that had a strong air of plausible deniability.

Citizenship may be an increasingly strange concept in a globalizing world, but it is a legal one. If the American government doesn’t want to have a responsibility to its citizens it should amend the constitution and change the law, then see if it gets re-elected. Until it does that, the responsibility is still there.

This would be a strong and meaningful point if the current American tactics were guarantees that there would be no further terrorism.

They are an international criminal syndicate. There were already lots of those.


Let’s talk the Rule of Law, then. The law applies different standards for law enforcement actions than it does for preventative actions, and different again for war actions. That’s why it’s important to differentiate targetted killings from executions: the objective is not to enforce laws and punish transgressions, but to prevent further harms in a war context. It’s why al Qaeda terrorists have been called enemy combatants. This brings the killings within the rule-of-law framework.

I didn’t think your argument was a legal one. But since it is, please show me where in the constitution these rights against extrajudicial killing are granted to citizens but not to non-citizens. Very few of the constitution’s protections have anything to do with citizenship, and then mostly in the context of discrimination by the states.

I see. So unless there is 100% efficacy against terrorism we might as well adopt a stance with virtually no efficacy.

al Qaeda is an international criminal syndicate like serial killers are felons (of which there are lots).

If you are comfortable with laws that say that the government can secretly add people to a kill list based on secret evidence - that the death of human beings demands no transparency - then fine. I don’t think the law actually allows that, but the point may be moot if you would vote for a government that explicitly changed the law to allow that. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on whether governments ought to be trusted with that power.

Fair enough, the US constitution seems to broadly apply to all humanity rather than only US citizens. Countries are generally held to have responsibilities to their own citizens. I suppose, then, that you have convinced me that it is just as bad for the US to have kill lists of non-citizens as citizens.

Steps to winning an argument:

  1. Introduce a loaded word like “guarantee”
  2. Wait for another party to throw that word back at you
  3. Accuse that party of being unreasonable for using that word

I wish these boards had an “ignore” function. I will not be reading any reply. Enjoy your life.

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I guess that depends.