Sullivan vs Greenwald on Al-Awlaki

On Friday night’s Real Time, Sullivan and Greenwald debated the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki and, naturally, Greenwald opposed the killing while Sullivan and Maher defended the killing.

You can watch the debate here.

As soon as someone takes up arms against the United States, they’ve entered a field of battle, and a war, of sorts, is engaged. Likewise, if a criminal aims a deadly weapon at a soldier or law enforcement officer, that criminal runs the risk of being fatally shot — and it’s perfectly legal to do so.

While that example isn’t exactly a 1:1 analogy, since Al-Awlaki wasn’t literally aiming a weapon at an American when he was killed, another point of comparison is the U.S. Civil War in which half the nation seceded and took up arms against the U.S. military and president. Should Lincoln, who considered the Confederates to still be Americans, have spared the 250,000 rebels who were killed during that war after they collectively threatened the stability of the United States? Clearly, and for a variety of reasons, the U.S. military effort during the Civil War, while brutal, was justified. Similarly, Sullivan brought up the American-joining-the-Nazi-Army concept.

I agree with Greenwald that due process and justice is crucial — but only in criminal cases where the assailant isn’t engaged in a shooting war against American citizens and soldiers.

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  • http://www.osborneink.com OsborneInk

    To this day, there are Southerners who claim every Confederate killed at Shiloh was the “victim” of a “targeted judicial process-free assassination.” By which they mean that Union soldiers AIMED before firing their rifles.

    One point that didn’t get made: what does Grenwald suppose would happen even if a court “properly” issued an arrest warrant in wartime? Does he think that it would mean a damn thing to Yemen, AQ, or Awlaki? And how would we enforce the warrant — except by putting Americans “on the ground” in Yemen to risk a bloodbath?

    In 1993, as many as 1500 Somalis and 19 US Rangers and Delta Force commandos died during a one-day operation to arrest Mohammad Farah Aidid. Someone PLEASE tell me HOW that is better than a drone strike.

    • villemar

      Poor Johnny Reb. Is it possible to retroactively impeach Lincoln for the blood of all of those poor American citizens he slaughtered? And what about FDR for killing those poor American citizens who joined the Wermacht? And that fucker George Washington by putting down the Whiskey Rebellion with federal troops? I say impeach every president retroactively who may have done any level of harm from death or injury, militarily, to any American citizen outside of U.S. jurisdiction over the past 230+ years, or even inside as was the case with those fuckers Lincoln & Washington (at least, those two assholes stick out immediately).

      • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

        Sarcasm only works when it’s true. What you said is indeed true. Based on the neoprogressive rewriting of history when it comes to engaging enemies, almost every president would be a war criminal based on these absurd standards.

        • villemar

          I read a list somewhere of every military engagement on any level from the United States’ inception to now and based upon that list, pretty much there is no President that would not be a War Criminal by Greenwaldian standards, with the exception of maybe Carter, although he could make a case for arresting Jimmy Carter for War Crimes for Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages militarily in 1980 that left 8 servicemen dead. So impeach them all! Send all the living ones to teh Hague!! Hot water burn baby!!!!! Aaaaahhhhhhh!!!!11!!

    • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

      Exactly great example. The irony is because of America’s high tech capabilities the ultimate result is far far less civilians get killed when we wage war. It’s ridiculous to call these assassinations just because you have a more effective way to kill the enemies command and control personnel.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    The right wing has kept largely mum on this, except to accuse non-Greenwald liberals of hypocrisy for supporting what they would have decried if a Republican president had done it. Even they understand that if it was President Bush who had ordered the killing of an American who had literally joined al Qaeda and was literally fighting against the U.S. in the War on Terror™, they would have been even more enthusiastic about that than about the possibility killing any one of the millions of “liberals” who they were accusing of effectively joining al Qaeda and effectively fighting against the U.S. in the War on Terror™ because they refused to worship President Bush.

    [Did that make sense?]

    Andrew’s point was well-taken; if an American had joined the Nazis in WWII, it would not have been prudent to read him his rights on the Normandy beach, or to do so for every enemy soldier on the Normandy beach on the off-chance that one of them might be an American citizen. I hate war and war is horrible, but in war you kill the enemy.

  • Brutlyhonest

    Running your mouth in Yemen is not the same as taking up arms – especially since we don’t acknowledge any ground combat forces in Yemen. If the fucker had been in Iraq or Afghanistan – hell even Pakistan, the analogies would be appropriate. I’m not naive; I saw a lot of crazy shit during my 27 years of USN service – special intelligence (including 5th fleet AOR combat recon) for the last 14.

    Here’s what bothers me, and I think it should bother you: Anyone can be labeled a terrorist and killed for it.

    PS: Somalia was a lot more complicated than two sentences can describe. Mission creep (much of it internally generated btw) combined with over-estimating their own abilities while under-estimating opposition’s abilities led to that debacle. I base this statement on a conversation with the guy commanding the operation at the time. We had it as part of a wr college seminar.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go Bob Cesca

      Al-Awlaki was a member of al-Qaeda and wrote the book “44 Ways to Support Jihad”. It’s difficult to believe he was just running his mouth in Yemen.

      • villemar

        More than that, the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bombing attempt and it’s convicted perpetrator, (failed underwear bomber) Abdulmutallab, absolutely had connections with Al-Alwlaki.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar_Farouk_Abdulmutallab#Ties_to_Anwar_al-Awlaki

        • i_a_c

          al-Awlaki’s Wikipedia article is worth a look, too. The guy’s a terrorist connected with several attacks or attempted attacks. He’s like the Joseph Goebbels of al Qaeda in a sense.

          al-Awlaki announced himself that he was a member of al-Qaeda and was plotting to launch armed attacks against the United States. That puts him squarely in the AUMF group of “covered persons” and is more than enough to send a drone knocking.

          The AUMF is pretty clear about what kinds of people are the terrorists we can kill. Killing someone outside that narrow group of people would be illegal. It’s possible that the government could kill someone not covered under the AUMF, but the government could always kill anybody if it really, really wanted to. So the existence of AUMF doesn’t change anything for me.

          The best way to steer clear of the AUMF is to stay away from al Qaeda, Yemen, and the AfPak border region.

      • Brutlyhonest

        I know you’re a smart guy – that’s why I read your stuff – so I find it hard to believe you only read up to the first “-” But on this specific point, running his mouth (OK, typing some too) is exactly what he did. Despite his self-aggrandizement he wasn’t that big of a deal.

        Yemen became an extra-special haven for AQ when BushCo failed to complete the mission in Afghanistan and wasted assets in Iraq. It’s a very complex world over there, and the US is always willing to help fuck it up some more.

        • ThomasInPaine

          Bob will never cop to this fact. He is only pleased with advancing Obama’s agenda, which in this case is due process free assassinations. You can’t argue with someone’s faith, and this dear sirs is an article of faith with Cesca: Obama can do no wrong. He feels so stupid for voting for Nader that he is willing to overlook the possibility that evidence presented (ha! what real evidence) is enough to convict, or better yet, kill Awlaki. Cescans will contort everything in an attempt to make sure that O doesn’t look like an evil bastard. But you know, facts schmacts, sure glad we have due process, because who knows what could happen, maybe someone is killed for their embarassing words and not their make believe evil deeds.

          • Brutlyhonest

            WaitWhat? Saying Bob never questions or disagrees with the President is as silly as quoting wikipedia as infallible.

          • Simon Johnston

            Childish, ignorant bullshit.
            Clearly you didn’t bother to read Bob’s blog before making your ridiculous assumptions.

          • villemar

            LOL funniest line ever: “Cescans will contort everything in an attempt to make sure that O doesn’t look like an evil bastard.”

            Freudian projection + Hyperbolic absurdity = hilarity!

            Yes, I have to confess, I am a diehard Cescan. Bob, can you make us Cescans a T-Shirt that reads, “I’m a Proud Cescan-America, and I vote!!” or something along those lines?

            Know this, we Cescans are behind every corner, ready to steal your children and indocrinate them into the Nefarious Cult of Cescanism. One of us! One of Us! One of Us!

  • Mike Huben

    Even during WWII and the civil war, we did not engage in assassination of leaders off the battlefield.

    Considering that we should not even be using “war” to describe what is merely a criminal action, we are not supposed to be issuing “death on sight” edicts against suspects. Al Qaida is simply a criminal organization, like a Mafia, and it ought to be fought as a Mafia is fought.

    • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

      Absolutely not true. The allies were involved in several plots to kill Hitler.

    • villemar

      Why yes, we should have requested that President Saleh sent in the Yemeni Elliott Ness, a clean-cut do-gooder to build a case against those hooligans! Oh wait…Saleh was in exile in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded in an RPG attack on his compound. Drats!

    • D_C_Wilson

      We tried to assassinate Fidel Castro at least a dozen times.

      • villemar

        Funny you mention the anti-Castro antics; the thing about making Al-Awlaki the Baby Jesus and PBO the Great Satan, is it minimizes the truly shitty things the CIA & co. did in the name of the Cold War, from the 50′s on through to the Church commission in 1976, ie. Mossadegh, Lumumba etc. Not to mention the resurgence of such antics under Reagan with Iran-Contra and so on.

  • http://twitter.com/KQuark KQµårk™

    The point is Al-Awlaki did TWO things to make him a legitimate terror target. He declared his own personal war against America AND he joined foreign terrorist groups overseas. There are plenty of people who declare war on the US on American soil and they do get due process only when they conspire and act. But once you cross another threshold like going overseas to join a terrorist group you should not get the same protections.

    Every time I see GG get on his high horse over Constitutional matters all I think about is that he supported the Iraq War which was an international crime. So fuck him.

  • villemar

    I tell you, as a longtime veteran of Salon (10 years or so), about a year ago myself and some other longtime Salon veterans were basically driven out of Salon by Greenbeck’s cultists for not following his ideology 100.0000%. We finally had enough of being screamed at endlessly and harangued and trolled by those who would not allow the dissenting opinion that Obama was not Worse than Bush, Hitler, etc. (Even though we kept off the GG threads…they basically took over the comments section of any other Salon author. All Obots must be purged!!!11!!). We formed a little Salon expat group and although I don’t have the stomach to wade through the batshit crazy that is the GG comments section, one of those in our group did so yesterday and found a commenter who just brilliantly and clearly and efficiently dismantles Glenn’s arguments (in GG’s posting about his appearance on Real Time). This guy, “Gary Bonds,” is cleaning GG’s clock and every troll in the place on Obama the “war criminal”, Dem policy towards Al Queda since 1998 including Clinton and Kerry, actual definitions of conflict (ie. the Geneva Conventions). And a jaw-dropping link to GG arguing AGAINST Seymour Hersh in 2005, doing the snark routine on “Washington insiders” (Sy Hersh??!!) whining about not having influence on Bush, and how Bush (2005, again) was at the very least a man of principal and steadfastness. Back in the early days of UT. Astonishing.

    Gary Bonds is calling GG a hypocrite in the calmest. most damning way
    I’ve ever seen on UT. The trolls are reduced to, “but, but, you’re an
    asshole!”

    Its a thing of pure beauty. Absolutely well worth the read if you are interested in this subject and Glenn’s willful ignorance and hypocrisy and hyperbole.

    Link: http://www.salon.com/user/gary_bonds/12

    (Although I should warn, you can no longer sort Salon user comments by oldest to newest, you can only do from newest to oldest, from the bottom up, so if you want to see it in it’s full majesty read it from bottom to top as it were. Matt Osborne, I think you’ll especially appreciate this).

    Summarizing his position, basically the policy of Clinton/Kerry/Obama is that AQ shall be dealt with by law enforcement and civilian law: a) on U.S. soil, and b) in all countries that has the means and will to detain AQ operatives within their borders. Military force is used in e.g. failed states and lawless areas (Somalia, Yemen, Pakistani tribal areas) or in countries that would not hand over AQ operatives but in fact protected them and gave them a safe haven (Afghanistan).

    Within the United States, under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (and presumably under an Al Gore and/or John Kerry Presidency). Habeas Corpus and the judicial system apply. In other nations that have functional relations with the United States, law enforcement and extradition treaties apply. In failed or hostile states, the Geneva Conventions apply. (Which in fact AQ is in violation of by not identifying themselves as combatants and hiding amongst civilian populations). Targeting AQ operatives in the latter case is not in violation of Geneva. The position of Clinton/Kerry/Obama WRT to this stuff since 1998 is NOT the same as GWB’s position (see: Hamzi, Yoo memos) and Glenn is misleading when he says they are, or really Obama is 100x worse, and especially hypocritical considering his admiration of GWB in 2005 and presumably before.

    • i_a_c

      I’m taking a look now. He’s very good. It’s also good for me to go through these arguments in my brain to try and learn them.

      • villemar

        Yeah I mean he nails it. It’s one thing to take on a hard complex issue like this as we attempt over time to disentangle everything that happened internationally from Sept 01 through Jan 09. It’s another thing to continually misrepresent the issue and reduce it ad absurdum, and gin up TEH OUTRAGE!!11!! as a way for him to profit off of and exploit an already paranoid group of people. And there’s some real nutters in Glenn’s cult…troofers, birfers, Alex Jones true belivers, diehard Randian Libertarians (we can see the common ground there as Glenn is an Anarcho-Nihilist who wants to burn the United States government to the ground, which is an awesome idea to Libertarians), etc. And probably some Stockholm Syndrome types too…who went so crazy under GWB that they subconciously let GG transfer all of their hatred and fear from him onto PBO.

        What I like about this Bonds guy is that…usually with Firebaggers et al their frame of reference only goes back as far as GWB…but he correctly frames it as open and stated policy pretty much without varience from Clinton to Kerry to Obama. And of course the Geneva Convention stuff, which drives GG and his minions crazy.

    • Mike Huben

      That’s a viewpoint that makes more sense than my previous statement. Thanks for bringing this up!

  • ranger11

    Who gives a fuck about these fuckers? I guess I’m an uncouth primitive anti-intellectual. Whatever….

    • villemar

      The good thing is Glenn Greenwald and his cultists is that they will move from having a 0.005% influence to having exactly 0.000% influence come November 7th, when god willing PBO is re-elected. The problem is when you add up all of the Firebaggers, Greenbecks, Alex Jones cultists, PUMA deadenders, The Bradley-Manning-Is-Baby-Jesus crowd, Fauxgressive Paultards, and various & sundry other nihilistic hipster shitheads, you might have enough to swing a razor-sharp swing state into the red column (See: Nader in NH in 2000), or push the swing state into the margin of GOP theft (See: FL in 2000).

      I remember all too well what Ratfuck Ralph did in 2000, and I’ll be damned if we let ourselves get Ratfucked again by Professional Ratfuckers like GG. Not that it’s a huge threat…but we don’t want to underestimate the mighty GOP once they swallow the Mitt pill and unleash the mighty juggernaut of billions thanks to Citizens United; making this election a lot closer than we’d like to think, and some of us ought to keep an eye out for backstabbers as we move into November.

      So yeah, if someone like Gary Bonds wants to take on GG’s sacred cows on his own turf and demolish one of his orthodoxies with the precision of a master sculptor, then good on him.