Alex Massie

Conservatives Against Assassination: A Small But Honourable Band

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Predictably, commenters criticised with my aversion to the Obama administration's view that not only may it declare any American citizen an enemy combatant anywhere in the world but that it may also assassinate that American without having to give any grounds for doing so. Predictably, I say, because one thing we've learned, or been reminded of, in recent years is that there are many people who think that the problem with a Jack Bauer approach to counter-terrorism is that Mr Bauer is dangerously soft on terror and too keen by half on respecting the rule of law and constitutional niceties.

Props to National Review's Kevin Williamson for opposing this extension of Presidential power. Doubtless other (mainstream) conservatives do too, but in general the GOP's attitude to these matters has not changed now it's no longer in power. As Williamson puts it:

[S]et aside the legal questions for a second. The Awlaki case speaks to something even more fundamental than law: Decent nations do not permit their governments to assassinate their own citizens. I am willing to give the intelligence community, the covert-operations guys, and the military proper a pretty free hand when it comes to dealing with dispersed terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. But citizenship, even when applied to a Grade-A certified rat like Awlaki, presents an important demarcation, a bright-line distinction in our politics. If Awlaki were to be killed on a battlefield, I’d shed no tears. But ordering the premeditated, extrajudicial killing of an American citizen in Yemen or Pakistan is no different from ordering the premeditated, extrajudicial killing of an American citizen in New York or Washington or Topeka — American citizens are American citizens, wherever they go. I’m an old-fashioned limited-government guy, and I am not willing to grant Washington the power to assassinate U.S. citizens, even rotten ones.

Precisely so. It would be swell if more folk at National Review and elsewhere took this view. I suspect, however, that it will remain a minority one until something terrible happens.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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