Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hostis humani generis

A nice essay by John Yoo about Obama's use of selected killing of terrorists.


The administration has made little secret of its near-total reliance on drone operations to fight the war on terror. The ironies abound. Candidate Obama campaigned on narrowing presidential wartime power, closing Guantanamo Bay, trying terrorists in civilian courts, ending enhanced interrogation, and moving away from a wartime approach to terrorism toward a criminal-justice approach. Mr. Obama has avoided these vexing detention issues simply by depriving terrorists of all of their rights—by killing them. 
Some information about these strikes comes from the disclosure of national secrets that appear designed to help the president's re-election. Recent leaks have blown the cover of the Pakistani doctor who sought to confirm bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad; revealed a British asset who penetrated al Qaeda and stopped another bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner; and assigned credit to the administration for the Stuxnet computer virus that damaged Iran's nuclear program (even identifying the government lab that designed it). 
American intelligence will have a steep hill to climb when it asks for the future cooperation of agent-assets and foreign governments. Notably silent are the Democrats and media figures who demanded the scalp of a Bush White House aide, Scooter Libby, for leaks by another government official of the cover of a CIA operative who had left the field years earlier.

It's not news that Obama and his hacks are dissembling frauds for whom politics, not governance, is paramount.

Later in his essay, Yoo raises the issue of prudence and ethics of selected killing of Islamic terrorists.  There are genuine questions of prudence. It may be more effective to capture and interrogate than to kill.

Regarding ethics, I believe that is is entirely ethical to kill terrorists anywhere and anytime we find them. That includes American citizens, if they are actively engaged in terrorist activities. We are at war with Islamic terrorists, a just war, and Islamic terrorists are unlawful enemy combatants who flout all conventions of warfare and of civilization. As Yoo observes, such rogue murderers were classically termed hostis humani generis, the enemy of all mankind. They deserve no protection by just war theory or by Geneva Conventions. And they certainly have no Constitutional protections, which have no jurisdiction over unlawful enemy combatants in wartime. Islamic terrorists are actively engaged in a murderous war on mankind-- a jihad on the Dar-al-harb-- and should be targeted without hesitation, using whatever method is most effective.

If they can be captured and interrogated, fine. If not, they should be killed. The only constraints on killing them should be tactical and strategic, not ethical.

To the extent that Obama, regardless of his hypocrisy, is targeting them without remorse, bravo.


  1. It's good to see you give credit where credit's due. I'm no Obama fan, but he did right on this issue..

  2. Ah Mike,
    You have picked a topic I can really sink my teeth into!

    I am torn on the issue of drone warfare. I have seen the benefits at work - but, I tend to think it a bad development as a whole.

    One the one hand these things are used to assassinate high profile and difficult targets with a fairly good success rate. I also fully agree that these mass murderers are legitimate targets and that fighting them is just.
    Further the drones have the potential to keep allied personnel from harms way.
    Being an officer who has held an active command the last thought is extremely attractive.
    But I do have some very serious reservations.

    The first and foremost, from my own perspective (in field intel/recon) is that there is no killer as competent as a human asset.
    This reservation is actually two fold.
    If the man can do the job better and more precisely (with the above mentioned possibility of intelligence being gathered, or prisoners being taken) then I feel the massive employment of drones in 'hunter killer' roles is wasted funding that could be used to train, equip, and employ more soldiers. A few drones in reconnaissance roles for highly trained men would be preferable in terms of effectiveness (as with UBL - see below).
    Consider that SEALs (men) were used on UBL, the most public and important target in a decade. The drones and air recon were supporting that action, not taking it.
    A target in the battlefield is usually obvious and often self designated (whether by a uniform or mode of dress or by the action they are taking against friendly forces). This is where I feel drones are of use. [Eyes in the sky to locate targets and designate them for soldiers to engage in the theatre of war.]
    A terrorist leader or enemy dictator, in most cases, is a covert/hard target. In order to make sure the target is at once valid (really what/who we think they are) and the correct one (not some hapless nc in the kill zone) more than a CPU and video feed is required.

    Then there is the aspect of dependency.
    An analogy may be useful here. I will use the one popular with my colleagues: The ATM. The ATM is convenient. It allows us to access cash/accounts easily and without the delay required in personal banking with a teller. But the technology has done other things too. Now we need less tellers, and that means less people employed as tellers (a good paying and respected job).
    The teller, is at best, reduced to a technician. There is no need for masses of these technicians, so the employment issue arises. The bank teller becomes the corner store clerk, or the benefits collector.
    Then there is the problem of reliance. The same technology has become a hamstring. It has morphed into 'Interac' and 'Debit' services, where now the cash itself is becoming less common. A simple power outage (as we had here the other day when some natural phenomenon caused transformer poles to explode) means refusal of most services.
    Stores close, and even the ones that remain open can only accept the rarefied cash that is inaccessibly because the local branch is closed and the ATMs are down.
    This was a BIG problem during the east coast black out, for example. But we are so entrapped by this snare of technocracy that after a major disaster such as Katrina (post black out), the emergency response agency FEMA hands out DEBIT CARDS for refugees!
    I would hate to see our dependence on machinery like these drones to creep into the arena of defence and warfare to the extent is has with our economies. The consequences, I fear, would be potentially disastrous for our forces.

    1. CNTD

      There is also an instinctual or intuitive reaction to technocracy. Developing technology that is at once the equal or near equal at killing as man, and at the same time detaches the combatant from the act while reducing the human element?
      I cannot help but feel is a BIG mistake on an Orwellian scale.

      That leads me to the consideration of the consolidation of power such technology creates.
      It empowers a very small political elite with the ability to spy and kill with almost total impunity.
      It is, in effect,lowering the amount of men at arms, while increasing the machine powered arsenal reduces a populations ability to resist, the likelihood of those (now reduced) forces revolting against unjust rule (via human conscience), and provides the political class with killer automatons that do not question their master's orders in the slightest. As we have seen with previous technological developments, this detachment leads to an INCREASE in the amount of killing that is acceptable.
      Consider: Killing a man with a rifle or bayonet is not the same FEELING as seeing a man collapse on a screen because you have pressed a button, or given the order to do so.
      The former is visceral and profound, the latter is detached and surreal.
      Such technology could and will also lead to orders being issued that no moral human would follow, but that a machine will simply execute with precision.
      A Pandora's box (vase actually!). I am not talking about 'Skynet' here (Terminator ref), rather the 'Ministry of Truth' or 'Love' (1984).

      That leads us to the matter of surplus and domestic use.
      How do you gentlemen feel about the same drones being deployed in US airspace to spy and report on farmers for environmental agencies, and by police on civilian targets suspected for traffic and prohibition law violators?
      In this last (and final) objection I find my biggest reservation of all. I could easily see these machines used as a tool to oppress or even frame up people.
      When we consider this aspect, I think it is very easy to see what a slippery slope we are on. The technology has outpaced the laws and protections. This technology should be restricted and be heavily guarded against. Some sort of proliferation treaty/law should be established to contain it's use to the extreme and beneficial, and those uses should be agreed upon by the population, not some military or political elite. Let's also not forget our 'friends' in China and our enemies in places like Iran are also developing the technology, and could very well be capable of compromising of 'hijacking' ours. I am TOTALLY against the domestic use of such technology for the reasons stated above, and think it should be banned.
      My two pennies.

      PS All that said, I do not blame Mr Obama or any single politician. I blame this kind of thing on what is best described as 'affluenza'. A kind of obedient deference to technocracy and elitism that paradoxically thrives in affluent cultures and civilizations.

    2. crus,

      Excellent points all. I agree with your reservations.

      I think that drone warfare is a game-changer. It's really bad for stateless terrorists (it's kind of terrorism against terrorists), but the political, ethical, tactical, and strategic problems it raises are enormous and novel.

      One big good thing about it, though, is the ability to target baddies with minimal collateral damage, at least compared with conventional war or even special ops missions. It is a dream come true-- you can bump off the latest Hitler without firebombing Dresden.

      On the other hand, your point about "It empowers a very small political elite with the ability to spy and kill with almost total impunity." is chilling and very true.

      I believe that drone warfare will have an impact on politics and war on a par with that of nuclear weapons. Fascinating.

    3. "I believe that drone warfare will have an impact on politics and war on a par with that of nuclear weapons. "
      Exactly. The application and proliferation is the issue. The technology itself is definitely a game changer.
      Glad my comment made sense to you Mike.

  3. The biggest problem with the drone campaign is the same big problem we have with all military engagement in Muslim Countries. Blowback.

    As precise as our strikes have become, innocent civilians still die because of them. The resulting in animosity sustains the violent radicalism that we are trying to fight. It’s a tough call.


    1. Blowback is a problem. I think that 9-11 was to some degree blowback from our involvement in the middle east over decades.

      On the other hand, one can always justify failing to take on enemies under the guise of fearing blowback.

      I would try as hard as possible to minimize civilian casualties, and kill every terrorist I could find.

  4. Recently a burial ceremony of a 'droned' terrorist was droned, presumably killing innocent family members as well as the terrorist's ugly friends. I don't think that's justifiable, and like KW said it will likely multiply the number of radicals.

    1. I don't like killing families. Yet this is war, and if the targets are of high value, I think it is entirely legitimate to hit them, even if (unwanted) killing of innocents occurs.

      If we had the opportunity to kill Hitler in 1943, but he was with his extended family, would it have been ethical to take them out? I think so.

      Deliberately killing civilians to break an enemy's will is immoral. But unintentionally killing civilians while targeting real enemies is acceptable, IMHO.

  5. Spoken like a true Christian. I know Jesus would certainly have wanted to just kill them all without any trial or legal protection.

    -- NA

    1. I knew this stupid comment was coming.

      You know nothing about Jesus.

      Osama bin Laden was an evil man who waged war on civilization. Civilization hit back. Bin Laden lost. Boo hoo.


    2. You know nothing about Jesus.

      Neither do you. Jesus is a mythical figure like Zeus. A fairy tale.

    3. [Spoken like a true Christian. I know Jesus would certainly have wanted to just kill them all without any trial or legal protection.]

      The Catholic position on war is stated in Just War Doctrine. I am certainly not any kind of expert on it, but my understanding is that it is ethical to target enemy combatants, even if doing so would kill innocents, as long as all reasonable measures are taken to avoid killing innocents and killing the innocents is not the purpose of the attack.

      Jesus met many soldiers, and there is no record of Him asking them to cease their profession. He was actually quite nice to soldiers. He never preached against war, and John the Baptist told soldiers to be honest and content with their pay. He did not tell them to throw down their arms and become pacifists.

      Jesus was very hard on Pharisees and hypocrites. I can't help but think of those categories when I hear people who live under the security provided by the military but sneer at the difficult work they have to do.

    4. "Spoken like a true Christian."
      You're an expert on Canon law now? Are you even Christian?

      "I know Jesus would certainly have wanted to just kill them all without any trial or legal protection."
      Must be summer vacation. School is out.

    5. The Catholic position on war is stated in Just War Doctrine.

      The U.S. is not at war.

  6. as long as all reasonable measures are taken to avoid killing innocents and killing the innocents is not the purpose of the attack.

    And that's certainly the case with US drone attacks, right?

    -- NA