Posted by Brad @ 3:21 pm on September 28th 2010

Another Letter to Andrew Sullivan

In this post, Andrew relays an article by Radley Balko in which he relates the news I posted below, and slaps the only word he can think of on it: tyranny. Which is absolutely right.

To which Sullivan has the gall to append:

And where, one wonders, are the Tea Partiers on this? About where they were when it was done under Bush.

Gall not because it is unfair – I certainly wish there were more of a constituency for civil liberties on the right than there is, although worth noting that at least with the Paulian wing it remains alive and well – but because it is so…well myopic to his own failures on this matter. Sullivan, while he is great at publicizing these issues, and that counts for a lot, nevertheless has not really let it appreciably get in the way of his support for Obama. He does dutifully mention it, but it’s clear is energy is in fighting the right (who are not speaking about it) rather than, say, fighting the people doing the actual harm right now (who are speaking about it, and lying, and mainstreaming those lies).

Anyway, to his “where one wonders…” I add:

And where, one wonders, will you be in 2012, when it comes to Obama?

You’ve spent a lot of time in essence arguing that this kind of stuff, in the big picture, doesn’t matter because 1. His political opponents are SCARY! Booga boo!, and 2. Some sort of hair-brained and ambiguous notion that he is planning some long-term Master Strategy that the rest of us plebs don’t just understand yet. That we, instead, ought to ignore everything we’re seeing now (or not seeing) and just assume that he means well, has access to information and strategy that we don’t, and at the end of the day, for reasons as much personality-based as reality-based (he strikes you as honest; he strikes you as reasonable in a sea of unreason; you’d like to have a beer with him, etc.), just trust him. Oh sure you’ll add it to a list of “disappointments” that you’ll trot out just to show that you’re not in the tank, but it won’t affect your vote, your support, your soapbox, or your unconscious political strategy. Because really, in the grand scheme of things, you just plain like him.

Want to know where the Tea Partiers were on this under Bush? Exactly where you are now with this under Obama.

This is why it’s so hard to root this stuff out, once it’s entered the system. Because we’re only ever willing to truly hold accountable (in more than a mere lip service way) the people in politics we don’t like anyway.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for?

Try this Andrew: you are a part of the problem.


For the record, although I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, unless there is a huge turnaround on these specific issues between now and 2012, I cannot in good conscience vote for or support Obama for reelection. I’ll either vote for the Republican in protest or, if they’re as repugnant as they may very well be and not even merit consideration as a protest vote, vote Libertarian, and give all the money I might have given in campaign contributions in another cycle to the ACLU.

Hey, does that make me a swing voter? (Dear CNN and Frank Lutz: I’m available for focus groups now!)


  1. I came very close to putting up this exact same post after reading Sullivan’s comment.

    As I mention in the thread immediately below, I think that Sullivan’s question with regard to the Tea Party’s opposition is a pretty legitimate one. If you believe that the President is a foreign agent, it’s unimaginable to me that the idea of the President wielding the power of life and death in an arbitrary and unaccountable way wouldn’t be your FOREMOST concern.

    But Brad’s comment is even more legitimate, to wit: if the President wants to murder people on a whim, you’d better be opposing the President on the matter, not using the President’s misbehavior as a club to beat his opposition with. So, yes, Sullivan has some pretty serious blinders on with regard to Obama.

    Wanna hear something perverse? I’m actually closer to voting for Obama at this point than I was in November 2008. I don’t see enough meaningful difference between Obama and the Republicans on size of government/deficits/civil liberties to excite me, and Obama’s approach (and his team’s pure competence) on foreign policy is preferable to a far greater extent than I’d anticipated. On top of which, it’s starting to look like an Obama vote in 2012 might be a vote for divided government.

    Could be that a couple of years from now, it will be Brad making the desperate case for an LP protest vote, and me talking up the power of Hope and Change…

    Comment by Rojas — 9/28/2010 @ 4:05 pm

  2. Ha.

    The good part of the case for divided government is I AM with Sullivan in that I retain a lot of hope that Obama goes for deficit hawkishness in the way Clinton went for welfare reform. And with him in charge, and Republicans in charge in the legislature, if the former can actually find things he wants to cut and the latter are willing to actually try governing, that could really have an impact (let’s remember that it was Obama that was willing to touch Medicare, and Republicans, in the heat of 2010, now scaring senior and explicitly declaring entitlements off-limits – but I’m hoping the back down on that if it’s Obama coming to them). I do think Obama starts pivoting there relatively soon – it’s smart politics. And that could play out in a very positive manner.

    Or, Republicans could win back the House and content themselves with holding hearings about ACORN and those damn blacks voting too much, while they keep chimpanzees in their seats to vote down anything coming from the White House, period and spend their weekend doing the talk show circuit trying to imply that Obama actually subscribes to Pupa New Guinean Islamic Marxism. 50-50.

    Comment by Brad — 9/28/2010 @ 4:18 pm

  3. But I do believe we are at war; and that killing those who wish to kill us before they can do so is not the equivalent of “assassination”. My concern has always been with the power to detain without due process and torture, not the regrettable necessity of killing the enemy in a hot and dangerous war.

    So…KILLING people without any due process–based solely on the President’s assertion that they are an enemy of the United States–is fine. Just so long as you don’t detain them first.

    We are going to have to stop taking Andrew Sullivan seriously. And that is sad, because America really needs somebody on the right who defends civil liberties in a consistent and evenhanded fashion.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/29/2010 @ 7:33 pm

  4. What about Bruce Fein? The only place he got much play was on Bill Moyers shows, but he’s conservative and was protesting the accumulation of government power long before the reins changed hands and it became cool to distrust the government.
    And he doesn’t have the 9-11 truth stigma staing him, unlike some who’d otherwise fit the bill :

    Comment by thimbles — 9/30/2010 @ 4:44 am

  5. From a year ago: pt1 pt2 pt3

    Comment by thimbles — 9/30/2010 @ 4:55 am

  6. Well, yes; him, Ron Paul, and others. There really are a fair number of ideological conservatives (and a huge number of libertarians) who’ve been consistently pro-CL under both Bush and Obama. I was thinking more along the lines of a figure with a substantial media presence. Sullivan really was kind of our frontline guy.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/30/2010 @ 9:10 am

  7. And Greenwald goes off, voicing our objections and others.

    I kind of suspect Sullivan will walk this one back; his positions here really aren’t in any way consistent with his previously expressed views on the subject, and he’s usually been able to realize when he’s allowed his reasoning to wander away from him.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/30/2010 @ 11:23 am

  8. Heh, I wrote about half of a comment here last night asking literally point for point all those questions that we hadn’t gotten to already before my browser crashed.

    Inconsistent isn’t even the half of it. It is, if anything, directly contrary to all his previously expressed views. And frankly I don’t think it’s his reasoning wandering away from him, it’s his perspective. He’s become so blinkered by the threat of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Taking Over America that he’s now in the business of offering free passes to anyone else on anything else – I just hadn’t quite realized the startling extent of that.

    Comment by Brad — 9/30/2010 @ 1:26 pm

  9. Sullivan’s responses to Greenwald. They amount to a broad defense of the idea of aggressively pursuing the war on terror in instances like this one, and to a complete non-response (or in some parts a concession) on the larger question of whether Obama’s tactics ought to be subject to judicial restraint. Which, of course, is the entirety of the issue where concern over the justice department’s response to the lawsuit is concerned.

    I walk away from Sullivan’s post with the distinct impression that he thinks that procedural safeguards on executive authority aren’t as important when the executive is somebody he respects. So I guess he really is a conservative after all.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/1/2010 @ 2:35 pm

  10. Oh, and on the initial question that sparked the whole discussion…

    And where, one wonders, are the Tea Partiers on this?

    …the answer, now that we know Sullivan’s position, appears to be: they are standing alongside Andrew Sullivan, in opposition to Glenn Greenwald and Radley Balko.

    Which means that the rationale for Sullivan’s initial post was, apparently, to condemn the Tea Party for daring to hold a position identical to that of the Obama Justice Department and generally congruent with Sullivan’s own.

    Even as a dedicated self-loathing contrarian, I’m kind of in awe.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/1/2010 @ 2:46 pm

  11. What a ridiculous response. In it’s own right for sure, but mostly because of how hypocritical it is. It is reasoning he would not accept from, say, Andy McCarthy in defense of detention, but is advocating in defense of assassination.


    Not to nit-pick, but in a global war now almost a decade old, with thousands of casualties, four individuals is not a massive number.

    We are now concerning ourselves with the numbers game. You never accepted this in response to torture, I don’t know why you do with assassination. How many American citizens that you order to be executed without due process is too many? 2? 12? 200? 20,000?

    2. A.

    There is much public information about Awlaki, and I urge readers to go to Wiki and examine the public record and sources in detail to make their own minds up.

    Indeed there is. However, it’s mere existence says nothing, particularly because he has never spoken in his own defense. We don’t convict people for murder based on newspaper accounts – why would we here?


    Witnesses report he was a spiritual adviser to and met with two 9/11 mass-murderers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar; his personal phone number was found in the Hamburg apartment of the 20th 9/11 terrorist; in 2006, he was arrested by Yemeni authorities for being part of an al Qaeda plot to kidnap a US military attache; his name was on a list of prisoners that al Qaeda affiliates sought to be released in Yemen; in December 2008, al-Awlaki sent a communique to the Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab, thanking them for “giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not … if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks.” He sent a message in March of this year, urging treason and murder of Americans by American-Muslims…This year, he has directly threatened several writers, journalists, cartoonists with death, one of them in an al Qaeda magazine, Inspire. Independent news reports have directly connected Awlaki to meeting with and inspiring the Christmas day underpants bomber. In January 2010, al-Awlaki acknowledged that he met and spoke with Abdulmutallab in Yemen in the fall of 2009.

    Just out of curiosity, how many of these are capital offenses?

    Note, your response here is an oft-used defense of torture, the veritable Dick Cheney “Worst of the Worst” excuse. How many people have we tortured? Even at the most liberal estimates, but a mere fraction of the amount of people we’ve come into contact with in the GWOT. So, if we torture less than 1%, it’s not wrong? What’s the magic number here.

    You were right on this one in regards to torture: it is wrong, full stop. What’s more, even a small amount is corrosive. If that’s true for torture, how is that not true for a blank check to the government to execute American citizen targets without due process?


    But seriously, is Glenn honestly saying that a man who has commited treason, has had multiple direct contacts with al Qaeda, including the 9/11 mass-murderers, has been directly connected with inciting American citizens to kill others in terror attacks is not, self-evidently, an al Qaeda terrorist

    Leaving aside the fact that Greenwald said nothing of the kind, there is one critical point overlooked here: none of these things that Sullivan pulled out are acts of terrorism. That seems a pretty big fact to ignore.

    Treason, it should be noted – that’s the other charge mentioned – is also not a crime that we put beyond the scope of due process.


    No it doesn’t. The CIA and the military have not been authorized to kill any US citizens on American soil.

    If they did, what would be the argument against it? The government could, quite reasonably, say “Well, we had the power to do it in Yemen…what’s the difference?”

    It is utterly uncontroversial that the military can kill a US citizen abroad if he is waging a treasonous war against the United States (see: Ex parte Quirin [1942])

    If he is waging a war, i.e. on the battlefield. Off the battlefield, he is tried. He’s not standing on the German lines in Normandy operating a machine gun next. He’s “inspiring threats to cartoonists and has his number in the cell phone of a known terrorist.” That’s pretty different.

    Obama, moreover, has specifically rejected the dictatorial “enemy combatant” powers asserted by Bush and Bush alone, and expanded judicial review of this kind of military action, hence the lawsuit currently being filed by Awlaki’s father.

    /falls over.

    Just out of curiosity, WHICH enemy combatant powers has he not asserted.

    N.B. The ACLU filing a lawsuit that the DOJ moves be dismissed is evidence of civil rights progress? There were plenty of lawsuits filed to all of Bush’s excesses too.

    There is no “due process” in wartime.

    Well, that’s the ballgame as far as Sullivan is concerned.

    I could go on, and put more effort into this, but I’m too depressed.

    Comment by Brad — 10/1/2010 @ 3:00 pm

  12. Guys, come on. Sullivan was never the kind of objective, small gov libertarian conservative. He jumped into the Iraq fiasco with both feet and demonized the dissenters off the map of discussion. He allowed Betsy McCaughey to publish dishonest appraisals of the Clinton healthcare approach which became the industry lead in to its destruction. He supported the Bushies even as they demagogued against his own sexuality. Sully’s problem with the Bushies was not their accumulation of power, it was their competence. He feels Obama has more competence, which is true, and that the republican field is much worse, which is also true.

    Given that he has those beliefs as his primary ones, does it surprise anyone to think he will say anything and sacrifice near any principle in order to support those beliefs? Sullivan has seemed to me to be a rhetorical soldier, if he believes in the mission, he will fight with everything he has – fair or not – to see it done.

    It’s not something I respect, but the motivation I get.

    Comment by thimbles — 10/2/2010 @ 5:28 am

  13. Objective, no. But a legit libertarian conservative most of the time, yes. Sullivan is capable of supporting certain policies while rejecting their advocates, and vice-versa. And no, his tactical approach isn’t always appealing (see Palin, Sarah), but I’ve never known him to misrepresent his own views in pursuit of a larger agenda.

    Greenwald’s response to Sullivan’s response, while just as incredulous as ours, is couched in terms of overall respect. If Greenwald can still see Sullivan as a generally responsible advocate, I’m sure we can as well. I think we have to chalk this one up to Sullivan’s Obama infatuation temporarily overpowering the rest of his principles. He will eventually regret this and probably repudiate it.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/2/2010 @ 2:43 pm

  14. I agree with Rojas. Sullivan is certainly susceptible to bandwagoning, and letting the emotional satisfaction of something dictate his positions, but he is not, I don’t think, disingenuous. And it is also important to point out that on certain civil liberty things, like gay marriage or torture, he is as important an advocate as presently exists. That might not mean he’s the BEST, per se, but given the extent of his soapbox, and his devotion to throwing those issues in everybody’s faces at times when that might make a lot of people uncomfortable, I think you have to show him a certain amount of respect.

    Now, that said, he is just flat-out ridiculous on this current turn, and I suspect Rojas’ explanation, and prediction, is correct, although Thimble’s point about him turning on the Bushies more because of competence than principle has a patina of truth about it. But not, I don’t think, the entire truth.

    Comment by Brad — 10/2/2010 @ 6:54 pm

  15. This is what we’re reduced to in America: trial by Wikipedia. Apparently, as long as there are enough links on your Wikipedia page to other accused Terrorists, then the President can wave his imperial wand and impose the death penalty on you.

    That was always the quandary posed by Bush’s assertion that he could eavesdrop or detain with no judicial oversight, but was doing so only on obvious Terrorists: if it’s so clear that they’re Terrorists, why won’t you go to court and convince a court that they’re Terrorists?

    In general, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the deprivation of “life or liberty . . . without due process of law.” But because of how serious a crime Treason is, the Constitution imposes heightened requirements on proving it in court. It’s not something that is presidentially declared by anonymous press leaks or reading a Wikipedia page. If the rule of law means anything, it’s that explicit Constitutional protections like this one don’t get to be swatted away by yelling “War!!!” or “Terrorist!” or by putting emotionally powerful pictures of 9/11 on your blog.

    Glenn Greenwald is the most important blogger alive, for my money.

    How people can read those thoughts, and the rest of the post, and reasonably disagree with them, is honestly beyond me. I really try, in all these things, to respect disagreement, to respect the process even of hyper-partisanship, and to respect that, even on fundamental issues, there is room for reasonable people to disagree. And to be perfectly honestly I really, mentally, try to bend over backwards to give that same courtesy on this and like issues. But the more I try to walk in the other sides’ shoes in this one, the more confused I get, and the more I simply cannot fathom where they are coming from. This is not, frankly, a reasonable disagreement. And like Glenn, try as I might, I mostly just sit slack-jawed and completely unable to process how a reasonable person might possibly disagree with these things.

    Comment by Brad — 10/2/2010 @ 7:13 pm

  16. I would interpret today’s update from Sullivan as a precursor to a pretty substantial cave-in.

    As for the Greenwald stuff: it is possible, indeed likely, for a rational person to disagree if they think that the state’s role to preserve the physical security of its citizens outweighs its general duty to protect their liberty. It is also possible to oppose them if one believes that incremental liberty violations of this sort do not pose a substantial hazard to the long term liberty of the citizenry as a whole, especially if one DOES think that the threat posed by terrorism to the general safety is larger, relatively speaking. See also: serial killers released due to failure to properly Mirandize them.

    I do see the point. I just think it’s based on false assumptions and a vast misreading of relative threats to freedom.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/2/2010 @ 7:41 pm

  17. One key thing that Greenwald does, among many, is crystallize arguments to their key points. In this case: this is not primarily about the President’s authority to kill people, or even about his ability to kill citizens. It is about his ability to do so in a manner free of any public knowledge or judicial oversight.

    That’s not to say, of course, that there isn’t a DAMN GOOD debate to be had about whether the President should have ANY such authority. It’s just not the issue in question in this particular lawsuit.

    And let’s give the advocates of the unitary executive credit: they, at least, seem to think that this issue is not dependent on the party of the incumbent President. They’re as supportive of Obama on the issue as they were of Bush. Would that the bulk of opposition showed the same adherence to principle…

    Comment by Rojas — 10/2/2010 @ 7:54 pm

  18. Andrew and I had a brief email exchange about the Quote of the Day I put up of him. I didn’t ask permission so I won’t repost it, but it amounted to the Bush line against Kerry – “We are at war, not a criminal prosecution”.

    My last response:

    Is there a difference, at all, between Afghanistan and Yemen, in terms of their “war-iness”? What you seem to be saying is that Yemen, based on some arbitrary designation of yours, is a “battlefield” (presumably because it’s all muslimy?) So, if there’s no difference between the war-iness of Afghanistan and Yemen, what about Yemen and Spain? Between Spain and the Canadian Yukon? Between the Canadian Yukon and O’Hare airport? Between O’Hair and Butte, Montana?

    You either have a legal framework within which you wage war, or you do not. What you are saying is that you, at base, do not. It is up to ambiguous, snap judgements at the discretion, ultimately, of the civilian, political leadership. And that isn’t just the case in terms of what is the battlefield, but also what is a capital offense (here: meeting with known terrorists), and whether or not executive decisions merit review, or not (here, they do not).

    Nobody is advocating pacifism here; I don’t know why you keep bringing it up. We are not talking about a guy with an AK-47 standing on the street in Kabul (although, frankly, even then the military has guidelines on the use of deadly force that they have to follow and are held accountable for – and it is a HIGHER burden than in this case).

    Comment by Brad — 10/3/2010 @ 2:09 pm

  19. Elaborating on that last point, one thing keeps occurred to me: he seems to view this as akin to a guy standing on the street in Kabul with an AK-47. But even on battlefields in the midst of combat, the military have well worn and thoroughly reviewed standards for the use of deadly force that they have to follow and are held accountable to, and specific applications of deadly force are frequently reviewed. By and large, those standards have been checked, over many, many years, against international law, domestic law, pragmatic concerns, etc. etc.

    The point is, what Sullivan is advocating here is not that we treat a guy in Yemen who has “consorted with terrorists” to the same standard as a guy in a hot zone in Afghanistan holding a rocket launcher. He is advocating we hold our actions in the case of Awlaki to LESS of a standard than we would if he were on the street in Kabul holding an AK-47. He is not advocating that we apply the framework of deadly force on the battlefield to Awlaki. He is advocating that we do away with that and any other potential framework for the use of deadly force, replacing it instead with…well, nothing. Whatever the executive feels like that day.

    Comment by Brad — 10/3/2010 @ 2:45 pm

  20. I do not have a scintilla of Scott’s (or Glenn’s) legal expertise on these matters and so I cannot really judge the merits of this argument. But I have come to trust Scott’s judgment over the years on this, which is why the high-handed invocation of state secrets in this case remains as troubling to me as it did in my first post. But I am not sure I believe that Obama’s DOJ really wants to invoke the scale of powers Bush’s did, as Scott suggests. More likely, its mouth got the better of its judgment, or rather its Rahm got the better of its Obama. Is this giving them too much credit? Maybe. I’d like an explanation, however, on the lines Horton has suggested.

    I give up.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/5/2010 @ 11:30 am

  21. Yeah, I know.

    I have a feeling I’m starting to get into paranoid conspiracy nut territory here, but my latest:

    Here is one thing that’s been bothering me about your take in all of this.

    Namely, twice now you’ve both laundry listed and, at the same time, kind of glossed over the public rap sheet on al-Awlaki and what you see as solid evidence that he is, for lack of a better word, someone that needs and deserves to die. A sample, from your first post:

    Witnesses report he was a spiritual adviser to and met with two 9/11 mass-murderers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Almihdhar; his personal phone number was found in the Hamburg apartment of the 20th 9/11 terrorist; in 2006, he was arrested by Yemeni authorities for being part of an al Qaeda plot to kidnap a US military attache; his name was on a list of prisoners that al Qaeda affiliates sought to be released in Yemen; in December 2008, al-Awlaki sent a communique to the Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab, thanking them for “giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not … if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks.” He sent a message in March of this year, urging treason and murder of Americans by American-Muslims…This year, he has directly threatened several writers, journalists, cartoonists with death, one of them in an al Qaeda magazine, Inspire. Independent news reports have directly connected Awlaki to meeting with and inspiring the Christmas day underpants bomber. In January 2010, al-Awlaki acknowledged that he met and spoke with Abdulmutallab in Yemen in the fall of 2009.

    Note the action words there. He “served as spiritual adviser”, his name was on a list, he “inspired”, he was “a part of”, he sent a communique, he sent a message, he directly threatened, he met and spoke with.

    And yet the examples you cite from history are all very different. “an Americna killed in gun-battle”, “Rommell”, “military officers”, etc. Not only is this a new kind of war, but, unless the government knows something we don’t, this is also a new kind of capital offense.

    To put that another way: according to the strict definition, Awlaki isn’t really a terrorist. He has never, as far as we know, committed violence. He is not, himself, a direct or imminent threat. He doesn’t even seem to be involved in directly planning such actions. Instead, he is closer to what you might call a “terrorist supporter”, in something close to a “material support for terrorism” sense of it. He associates with terrorists, he supports terrorists (in the amorphous sense), he advocates terrorism. On a battlefield, generally you aren’t authorized to use deadly force unless the target presents a direct threat. Awlaki, in that analgoy, is akin to an unarmed man with a bullhorn riling up the soliders around him – a drummer boy, essentially. In criminal justice, much of that rap sheet you cite against him aren’t even considered crimes, much less capital offenses (some are, and at least a few would likely net him a treason trial, although the outcome wouldn’t at all be clear to me). His crimes are more political than terroristic.

    You bring up the example of Osama Bin Laden. Here is a counter-example:

    There is a guy that runs an Islamic terror website in, say, Oman. We have evidence he has met with terrorists, he uses his soapbox to “indoctrinate” and “advocate”, and he takes materials from them (say, beheadings, OBL videos) and dissimeniates them, although we have no direct evidence he has ever knowingly relayed orders. This man is an American citizen, he is in a neutral country, but he is also a self-declared “member of Al Queda”.

    Is it just to order his assassination?

    I’m not saying this to be cute, or to downplay the seriousness of the threat of the Al Queda network. I don’t really know what Awlaki is up to. But it seems to me, at least based on those public domain charges you’re bringing against him, that his example is closer to mine than any of yours (American in a gun battle on a German battlefield – I know of no one that would say you shouldn’t use force against somebody shooting at U.S. troops or even in command of an enemy army (although it should be noted that a prohibition on civil leaders of enemies states is indeed in the Geneva Conventions)). You take it as a given that his specifics lead to the justness of this specific sentence, when it’s not at all clear to me. And isn’t the very uncertainty of it reason enough to arbitrate and review these kinds of things (which, again, is anti the Obama position that NOBODY should arbitrate and review these kinds of things, which is the core administration belief that is the core of this disagreement). But that’s the problem by having these things so amorphous. You needn’t be a terrorist….just terroristic. And what is terroristic is endlessly open to interpretation…only interpretation not open to debate, but rather dictated behind closed doors.

    Heck, in PA here the head of Homeland Security had to just step down because, to our state security structure, anything remotely government was “terroristic” enough to warrant survellience…including, say, being an activist against government-allowed oil drilling. Again, not trying to be cute, but the parallels are there. You don’t have to threaten the government to be a threat to the government, you just have to dislike things the government does. You don’t have to be a terrorist to trigger anti-terrorism measures, you just have to like terrorism enough.

    The extent to which we take these things OUT of the hands of interpretation and put them IN the hands of transparant, reviewable, and appealable arbitration, the freer we are…by far. But under Obama, as under Bush, we are being forcibly shoved away from the latter, and towards the former.


    P.S. Although, in a very real sense, this is ALL besides the point – Awlaki’s crimes, the justness of the war, etc. If this were under military command on a battlefield (as defined by the military), it would be under their jurisidiction. If this were a treason case, it would be under different jurisdiction. But we are not bickering about WHOSE jurisdiction – the core of the issue is whether it is under ANYONE’s jurisdiction. The Obama administration says no. Their opinion is that it is not our, or anybody’s, place to second guess the government’s opinion on this matter or those like it. So the entire debate, “we are at war”, is a red herring, because my hunch is, Andrew, that you don’t disagree that the Obama administration is wrong. If so, your energies would be better spent fighting them, rather than splitting hairs with the people trying to hold them accountable, and to try to mitigate Obama’s culpability (Once Rahm is out, who are we supposed to blame then?). That was an old Bushian trick too – get people debating the window dressing while you’re busy breaking the pane. Get them to talk about their “seriousness” in protecting American lives, rather than on the mechanisms by which to do so.

    Comment by Brad — 10/5/2010 @ 12:06 pm

  22. Mr. Sullivan has made up his mind: Barack Obama could not possibly be an advocate of the imperial executive. Having decided this, he is not going to let the facts dissuade him; all evidence to the contrary is either the product either of legal misunderstanding or of bad advisors.

    And America’s enemies are who Barack Obama says they are.

    The letter-writing is a noble endeavor, but I don’t know why you think actual arguments would make a difference at this stage. Sullivan’s decision calculus on all matters Obama is now pathological–I mean that in the original, Aristotelian sense of the word.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/5/2010 @ 12:21 pm

  23. Well, at least he quoted and responded to me.

    I don’t disagree with a lot of this, which is why I am not advocating the killing of many, or doing so with glibness. We are talking of at most four or five individuals in this category. And I would indeed like to be able to capture Awlaki and put him on trial. The point is whether a commander-in-chief, if he believes this man is an active threat, can practically achieve that, and if he cannot and somehow has an opportunity to kill him instead, whether it is an outrageous act of tyranny or assassination to do so. I don’t think so.

    This is precisely the same argument that torture advocates and indefinite detention advocates have. “The worst of the worst”, remember? And one would think that killing someone without any standards of evidence, any review, or any appeal, but rather just because the President issues a terse edict, would be almost the definition of killing someone glibly.

    What’s more, let’s keep in mind that practicality has nothing to do with it, either. The Obama administration is not asking that he be given the power in instances where they cannot practically do otherwise. There is no caveat whatsoever to the power they are asking for, and even if there were, they allow that nobody has the right to judge what is practical or what isn’t, who the power applies to or who it doesn’t, etc.

    What it comes down to, then, is Sullivan choosing to invest blind faith that the government once granted this power, will not exceed whatever mandate Sullivan guesses they think they have. That they will, in short, only use this power for good, and that, completely absent any oversight or accountability, will hold themselves accountable, for the sake of it, in always doing the right thing.

    Because, you know, that’s precisely how government always works.

    Remember how much Sullivan bitches that Republicans, when it comes to foreign policy and war, forget all the lessons that conservatism teaches them? That they don’t trust the government’s ability to administer, say, education budgets, but trust unequivocally its ability to run an entire Middle Eastern nation?

    Well, for some reason Andrew Sullivan is not willing to grant the government this blind faith when it comes to, say, detaining people, or wiretapping them. But he is when it comes to killing them. And he simply does not, because he cannot, offer a squaring of that circle. Because this is governing not by law, but by emotion and fantasy.

    Mostly though, I just note how he responded to essentially nothing that I said, even avoiding the direct questions, to just reassert his “feeling” that the Powers that Be will “do the right thing”.

    Comment by Brad — 10/7/2010 @ 2:24 pm

  24. So, Sullivan has more or less, while steadfastly refusing to admit he’s wrong or Obama has any culpability, managed to walk back the whole thing. His latest spate of reader emails includes the following:

    You seem to be setting up a false dichotomy here. Your field of choices seems to be either a) we can capture and try Awlaki as per ex parte Quirin, or else b) we kill him if we can. Why is it not possible to have c) a trial in absentia to determine at least probable cause – I’d push for more, but AT LEAST that much – to find him to be a traitor and terrorist, and have the court or tribunal then set the punishment, up to and including a death sentence? There’s already lots of evidence in the public domain, and the court could be closed off for any parts that are of a sensitive national security nature. So how about SOME oversight, at least in form if not substance?

    I like that third option and it really is pretty much a consensus here that the government’s invocation of “state secrets” has hurt their cause, not helped it, and I would like to see the government make its case in a legal setting.

    To which my last email to him read simply:

    Huh? Then wtf are you arguing about?

    Comment by Brad — 10/8/2010 @ 3:32 pm

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