Stretching The Limits Of Free Speech, Ctd


A reader writes:

Your post on Terek Mehanna angered me a bit.  I read through Greenwald's post and followed links to others sympathetic to Terek and find myself utterly baffled. His supporters apparently think he didn't cross any line, that his actions are similar to Nazis marching through a Jewish neighborhood. I don't think they can be more wrong.

His actions weren't merely odious, weren't simply the rantings of a confused and oppressed-feeling soul. He didn't merely say "I support Al-Qaeda and their ideals."  He wasn't prosecuted for spouting his own beliefs. He was prosecuted, and convicted, for actively helping a terrorist organization whose sole mission at this point is to kill MehannaAmericans (and other "Westerners"). Once he translated their hateful documents and videos, he crossed the line from acceptable free speech to direct and active support for the enemy. 

I agree that even hateful speech must be protected, but I am not in the camp that believes that actions constitute speech. I don't think that campaign donations constitute speech, much like I don't think active support for a terrorist organization constitutes speech.

Moreover, and this is what really pisses me off about his defenders, he actually tried to become a violent terrorist. He went to Yemen for terrorist training. This isn't some poor kid who needs to grow up, or who merely harbored weird fantasies of fighting the "evil Americans." No, he was much more than that, much more dangerous. He acted on his violent hateful feelings. He is exactly the type of American who deserves incarceration, who needs to be incarcerated.

And the post reflected the entire debate. Another asks:

Just out of curiosity Andrew, had either Tarek Mehanna or Ross Caputi traveled to Yemen or some remote area of Montana where catching them would be hard, and then set up their computers there, engaging in precisely the same sort of stuff mentioned in your post, would you have supported the United States military assassinating them summarily and without charge?

Because I can't really reckon how the behavior they engaged in is of a different kind than the behavior that got Al-Awlaki murder-bombed. It seems to me, from a worldview that determined that Al-Awlaki's behavior was not only a capital offense, but one that could be determined as such without due process, transparency, or review, Caputi and Mehanna have forfeited their rights both to due process and life. 

In your defense of Obama's decision to summarily execute Al-Awlaki, I never heard you once use, as justification, any presumption that he himself had ever committed violence, but rather you tend to append a lot of words like "supported", "advocated", "called for", and other such phrases that seem to indicate speech as the vehicle.  So clearly, there's a level of speech that you believe to be not only outside the limits of free speech, but outside the limits of the entire American system of justice or the Western World's conception of natural rights (like, you know, living).  You didn't editorialize much in your post here, so maybe you believe that or maybe you don't, I've no idea.  But I wonder if you can explain your distinction, if you think there is one?  Moreover, I wonder if you can explain how that distinction should be translated into rules of engagement and given the force of law?

A soldier who enlists in an army may not see action or ever kill anyone. But if he is on the field of battle, is aiding the war and is killed, then I do not think the killing is somehow a war crime rather than simply war. So, yes, I would not change my position. And I believe tangible aid for a terrorist organization is as protected as free speech as publishing a personal death threat against an individual. It isn't. There are limits.

(Top photo: A man stands in the rubble, and calls out asking if anyone needs help, after the collapse of the first World Trade Center Tower on September 11, 2001. By Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images; Bottom photo: Muslim student Tarek Mehanna at Ground Zero in 2005 or 2006, from the prosecution evidence presented at his trial.)