Monday, January 09, 2012

Extreme Prejudice

William Shawcross-who at one time was a hero of the Left for his writings about Nixon's invasion of Cambodia-had a piece in Saturday's WSJ that offered an important perspective on the Legal Proceedings Against Extremists (sub req):

After taking office in 2009, Mr. Obama swiftly expanded the use of drone attacks on suspected Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then in Somalia and Yemen. Drone strikes in Pakistan grew from 33 in 2008, Mr. Bush's last year in office, to 53 in 2009. Altogether, there have been more than 240 drone attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with a death toll of more than 1,300.

The remarkable thing about the president's reliance on drones is how little protest, until recently, it has aroused. Waterboarding may be deemed an abuse of a terrorism suspect's rights, but an attack by a Predator drone results (in the Vietnam-era phrase) in "termination with extreme prejudice."

Public acquiescence in these aerial killings demonstrates the way in which political and moral judgments can be driven by perceptions of personality and politics. But even Mr. Obama's honeymoon had to come to an end. His policy of killing suspects rather than detaining and interrogating them has come under increased scrutiny, and not just in the case of Mr. Awlaki.

John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the State Department, argues that one of the Bush administration's biggest mistakes was neglecting to secure international support for its novel counterterrorism policies. Unless Obama is careful, Mr. Bellinger says, his drone program could "become as internationally maligned as Guantánamo."

I've been shocked at how people who wanted to prosecute members of the Bush Aministration for war crimes because three captured terrorists were waterboarded have remained for the most part silent while the Obama Administration carries out more and more drone strikes. Is waterboarding someone really worse that killing them with high explosives?