A longer read for the weekend: how Obama orders the death of terrorists

This week the New York Times ran a fascinating, detailed study of the drone war being fought by Barack Obama as he decides which alleged terrorists will be targeted by the American military:

Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values…

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation…

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

You can read the piece in full here, which reminded me of Lynne Featherstone’s comments on Obama before his election:

Barack Obama: George W Bush Mark 2?
I’ve always been slightly sceptical of (now) Democrat Presidential candidate Barack Obama…

Now I’m worried even more – because he’s arguing the case for unilateral military action – in this case saying the possibility of bombing Pakistan without any discussion with Pakistan, the UN or anyone else would be OK.

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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6 Comments

  • Richard Dean 17th Jun '12 - 4:02pm

    A very interesting article.

    Al-Qaeda kllled over 3000 people in 9/11, without any kind of fair trial. This is war, it happens all the time and throughout history, and war really is about incapacitating the enemy’s resources – including by killing combatants. It is perhaps better that the president has the final say, rather than some anonymous military officer – if the electorate know this, then they can choose someone they feel will say right.

    For years populations in democracies have lived with Presidents and Prime Ministers having the last say in a nuclear war that can kill millions, even destroy the planet. Should these relatively small numbers of executions be more questionable?

    Suspending an enemy’s human rights is normal in war. Rather, the problem seems to be that the decision-making process is not open to inspection and debate. and so is less likely to be effective and more easily corruptible than it would otherwise be. One part of the debate could be whether the actions might be counter-productive – creating more new terrorists as well as antagonising whole nations.

  • I’m afraid there is no moral high ground to be had from this article.
    When it comes to the middle east we (UK), are as complicit as any, in the wrongdoing. Let’s not forget that Bae Systems have an £85billion industrial contract with Saudi Arabia. And the Kingdom of SA, is a country that not only, has no intention of giving its own people democracy, but is quite happy to send its troops to quash dissent in Bahrain, with the blessing of UK and USA.
    Remember that when dodgy dealings and bribes to Saudi Arabia, were all the rage a few years ago, Tony Blair, shut down the FSO investigations, so that the truth would never come out. A £286 million deal sealed the fate of any further attempts to delve into the truth.
    Again I make the point, we have no moral high ground, move along, nothing to see here.

  • Richard Dean 18th Jun '12 - 8:58am

    We are at war with Al-Qaeda but we can’t kill their combatants because Al-Qaeda is not a nation state? Perhaps then this is a new kind of war which needs new international norms?

    What rules of international law, or what international conventions, might apply for war with a non-nation-state that bases itself in one or more nation-states? What if those nation-states are failed or corrupted states? What if the failure or corruption has been brought about in part by the actions of the non-nation-state? And who is to judge?

    It is indeed peculiar that the US feels itself free to enter and execute people in Pakistan, perhaps less peculiar in Yemen where the state seems less competent. But entering and killing is what the Al-Qaeda enemy seem to do all the time.

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