“The Lethal Presidency” Ctd


Tom Junod responds:

Now, I did not — and do not — condone the use of torture any more than Sullivan does. But the moral risk of torture is not so different from the moral risk of targeted killing. Indeed, the moral risk of torture provides a template for the moral risk of targeted killing. What was introduced as an option of last resort becomes the option of first resort, then the only option. Sullivan always understood that torture was a temptation, and that the day would come when it was applied not in emergency, "ticking-clock" situations, but as a matter of routine. Well, that day has come, only now with targeted killing, where the option of first resort meets the court of no appeal.

Yes, killing is a part of war, and torture isn't. But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama? The Obama Administration vigorously denies this, just as it vigorously denies that it is combating terrorism by practicing a policy of extermination against terrorists. But the numbers — the thousands killed by drone and raid against the single high-value asset captured and interrogated outside the theater of war in Afghanistan — tell a story that can't simply be shrugged off. Interrogation has been replaced by assassination.

But Junod concedes a key point: that killing the enemy is justifiable in a just war if every possible effort has been made to protect civilians; torturing the enemy is never justifiable, moral or legal under any circumstances. So we are in a very different category from torture, and it merely confuses the issue to conflate the two. But he goes on to make a vital point:

[W]hen Sullivan asks what I consider an alternative to lethal operations, my answer is not any of the ones he provides: it's not war or surrender. It's anything that will provide a check and a balance to a power that no president before President Obama has wielded so confidently, and with such a busy hand. It's the reintroduction of some semblance of democratic norms to a program that has left them far behind.

And that's where I am more than happy to join Tom – and Conor – in believing that while the evidence, I believe, supports the morality of drone warfare compared with the workable alternatives, vesting all this judgment in the executive branch is not due process. And it is indeed dangerous as a precedent, especially given what Cheney did with expansive interpretations of executive power. Conor is dead-on about this:

If we're presuming a world where a widespread campaign of drone assassinations is a given, I'd have him build various safeguards into the program that limit the unchecked power he now recklessly claims as the executive's right. I'd have him anticipate the sorts of abuses that he worried about as a senator, demonstrating that he damn well understands them. I'd ask him to stop using the secrecy he has created to elevate defenders of his procedures and silence critics who express important misgivings.

Congressional and judicial scrutiny and buy-in makes sense to me. Urgent sense, actually.

(Photo: A model of an unmanned flying vehicle (UAV) protesting the use of drones is seen on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on June 23, 2012 in Washington. By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)