Would you travel to a country where the basic legal protections do not exist?

Would you travel to a part of the world where you know that the authorities have the power to imprison you without a legitimate charge and deny you a fair trial? How about one where they have the death penalty, and it is fairly obvious that they have in the recent past executed innocent people? Or would you feel confident that you could avoid accidentally annoying such a government – if you witnessed some kind of atrocity, say, you could be relied on to leave the country quietly without making a fuss – and would personally be safe enough as a tourist, doing touristy things and turning a blind eye to whatever outrages you might encounter?

I’m certainly not so keen to do so – which is unfortunate, because that rules out an awful lot of the planet.


This would be great to see – if I had any confidence in the legal protections in the country that contains it.

And, to be fair, it’s also not much of a solution in the long run if everyone just stays home and leaves those stuck living under tyrants to suffer out of sight. That approach doesn’t do much for the cause of change, of reform, either.

So I definitely have the utmost respect for people who go to countries with autocratic regimes that do not respect the rule of law – and that’s a broad list: my definition of “do not respect the rule of law” includes any country where you can be imprisoned, or worse, by the state without a fair trial, because that’s really all unchecked executive power needs to destroy anyone it chooses – in order to assist the cause of change; to help the people such governments have deliberately abandoned and oppressed. To do all this despite knowing their own personal safety is in danger, and taking that risk for a positive purpose.

But I’m not convinced just tottering along as a tourist, looking at the tourist sites, being careful not to look behind the curtain, is all that constructive – and that the risk of something terrible happening with no recourse, a risk which you can never really remove no matter how craven you’re prepared to be, is really worth it.

Not that I’m particularly desperate to go to New Zealand again, either.

ELSEWHERE: Iran jails a blogger for 19 and a half years for daring to criticise the regime. Oh, sorry – “cooperating with hostile states“, “propaganda against the system”, “propaganda in favour of counter-revolutionary groups, “insults to the holy sanctities”, and “the set-up and management of vulgar and obscene websites”. I suppose, given he’s not being murdered by the state, they think they’ve treated him somewhat leniently.

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30 responses to “Would you travel to a country where the basic legal protections do not exist?

  1. my definition of “do not respect the rule of law” includes any country where you can be imprisoned, or worse, by the state without a fair trial, because that’s really all unchecked executive power needs to destroy anyone it chooses

    So you won’t be going to the US eitther I assume, since Obama has claimed the exact powers you describe above for himself.

  2. Yup, which is a great annoyance because I have family there at the moment and there’s any number of magnificent natural wonders there I’d love to see.

  3. When it comes to picking a holiday destination I take the same approach as you Jeremy. I would not ever spend a dollar in a country where they still use the death penalty, eg Indonesia or the US, nor would I travel to places where you get up to 75 years in jail for insulting the nobility, such as Thailand.

    And although setting these kind of criteria for travel destinations cuts the list of options substantially, the remaining number of countries, with a more civilised law enforcement attitude, is still far greater than any number of destinations I could possibly visit in my lifetime.

  4. jordanrastrick

    The US has certainly moved into new, dangerous and unprecedented territory in the last decade with the expansion of executive power for anti-terrorism purposes at the expense of the rule of law.

    However, the situation is hardly comparable to Iran, or China, or any number of nations you might take as examples of such problems. The ongoing existence of the death penalty is deeply saddening, but it is employed only in some states, for serious crimes of violence – not for drug smuggling, or adultery, or sedition, or apostacy, all of which are routinely employed as capital offences in certain places. The President’s supposed powers to order assassinations of alleged terrorists without trial or oversight is also of course thoroughly objectionable, but again, it is no more valid to compare it directly to the means of oppression employed by undemocratic states than it is to call soliders shooting one another on the battlefield homicide. Perhaps the President really does need such powers, for the sake of America’s national security, and its just that no-one has yet discovered the appropriate checks and balances to safeguard against the abuse of such an extraordinary reversal of the ordinary principles of justice. I take leave to doubt this prospect, but I also don’t regard it as self-evidently false, given how little knowledge I have of the actual intelligence concerning the magnitude of terrorist threats.

    I travelled to New York and to Washington not long ago; the risk of my being imprisoned, or executed, without a fair travel was hardly a pressing concern. It was clearly substanitally more likely I would die in a plane crash, or be hit by lightning, or stabbed by a mugger, or any number of other low probability catashrophes. I might have thought twice about heading down to Texas….

    Whereas China not so long ago shot a foreigner who was almost certainly suffering from severe psychosis and conned into crossing a border carrying drugs. He was tried summarily, without any psychiatric evaluation being performed, despite multiple offers from foreign doctors to volunteer their services, and the stenuous objections of the British government; apparently if you are mentally ill in China you must be competent enough to present the evidence of your own mental illness for it to be considered. The delusionsal ramblings the man made in his own “defence” were supposedly openly laughed at in court by the judges who convicted and sentenced him to die.

    I have Bipolar Disorder. I will never travel to China until they come a very, very long way with reforming their legal system, because there is a real risk I could end up in jail or dead at the hands of the state in a situation in which I should be receiving medical treatement; and it revolts me that millions of Chinese citizens with similar conditions do not have this freedom to choose and must live with the injustice of where they were born.

    Now, America and for that matter Australia and most Western countries often do a very lousy job of handling mental illness in the criminal justice system; but the situation is orders of magnitude better than somewhere like the PRC, as it is in practically all areas of legal process and respect for basic rights.

    You might argue that there is a some critical threshold level of due process and so forth, some minimum standard, that any country should reach, and the U.S. falls short. Fair enough. However, it is possible (and necessary!) to strongly criticise the shortcomings of America, or any other liberal democracy, without melodramatically pretending that it is actually unsafe or unwise to travel to these places, or implying that they’re even remotely in the same class as the authoritarian dictatorships of the world with regards to the rule of law.

    Otherwise, it just feels like naieve and childish Anti-Americanism, which does left wing causes no good.

  5. I was in China recently as part of a school trip and had a great time. Although we had a strict itinerary etc and were there for the World Expo so there was no real “risk of something terrible happening with no recourse.” I suppose I should have felt some guilt for giving my money to them, but I didn’t, the Great Wall was seriously worth it.

  6. Splatterbottom

    I don’t think the point being made is about being unsafe tot travel to these places, so much as it is about making a political statement. That sort of principle didn’t trouble the leftists of yore as they groveled their way to Moscow on their slimy red bellies.

    It is not worthwhile turning one’s travel arrangements into a political statement. Take Egypt, which depends heavily on tourism to survive. Do you boycott that place in the hope that due process and political freedom will be instated there, even if it negatively affects the livelihoods of the victims of the government there?

    However, if I have to choose on the basis of politics, I’ll definitely avoid Victoria due to its obscene encroachments on free speech.

  7. However, the situation is hardly comparable to Iran, or China, or any number of nations you might take as examples of such problems.

    The situation may not be comparable to Iran or China but the executive powers being described are exactly the same. Although to be fair to China, I’m not aware of its government issuing an assassination order against one of its own citizens without trial. Obama, on the other hand, has done exactly that.

    The President’s supposed powers to order assassinations of alleged terrorists without trial or oversight is also of course thoroughly objectionable, but again, it is no more valid to compare it directly to the means of oppression employed by undemocratic states than it is to call soliders shooting one another on the battlefield homicide.

    It is entirely valid since the means of oppression being described are exactly the same. The US may not be abusing its process-free assassination powers as much as China or Iran, but that doesn’t mean the comparison is invalid. Your soldier analogy is inappropriate.

    Perhaps the President really does need such powers, for the sake of America’s national security, and its just that no-one has yet discovered the appropriate checks and balances to safeguard against the abuse of such an extraordinary reversal of the ordinary principles of justice.

    And perhaps China and Iran do too? This claim hardly assists your assertion that the countries and their approach to executive power cannot be compared.

    You might argue that there is a some critical threshold level of due process and so forth, some minimum standard, that any country should reach, and the U.S. falls short.

    I do. It’s called Habeus Corpus. China and Iran also fall short on this basic measure.

    And you should ask a devout Muslim how safe they would feel travelling to the US at the moment before you get too carried away declaring the country to be orders of magnitude better than China or Iran. I suspect you’ll get a very different perspective if ask non-white Christians about how safe they think the US is.

    However, it is possible (and necessary!) to strongly criticise the shortcomings of America, or any other liberal democracy, without . . . implying that they’re even remotely in the same class as the authoritarian dictatorships of the world with regards to the rule of law.

    Pfft – you may be reassured by a naive belief in American exceptionalism – that you can give the US government extreme and authoritarian powers and simply trust it not to abuse them – but I’m not. Reminding the US of exactly where it is headed is a legitimate way to highlight the stupidity of its current policy direction IMHO.

  8. Splatterbottom

    Mondo:

    The situation may not be comparable to Iran or China but the executive powers being described are exactly the same. Although to be fair to China, I’m not aware of its government issuing an assassination order against one of its own citizens without trial. Obama, on the other hand, has done exactly that.

    You are right, the situation is not the same. And it is for precisely that reason that your attempted moral equivalence is so odious.

    Apart from that, Obama’s decision to have al-Awlaki killed is clearly right. That is what you do with a terrorist who is attacking your country when you have no means of stopping them or arresting them. The very great shame of it all is that his next victims are more likely to be ordinary folk rather than the the people trying to stop the Yanks from killing him.

  9. jordanrastrick

    The situation may not be comparable to Iran or China but the executive powers being described are exactly the same. Although to be fair to China, I’m not aware of its government issuing an assassination order against one of its own citizens without trial. Obama, on the other hand, has done exactly that.

    Yes, because the powers described are letter for letter identical; the American government translated the Chinese originals, I hear. More to the point, by this argument laws are documents, with an existence independent of the institutions they embody, the historical and social contexts in which they evolve, and the reality of how they are applied. Australia is a Monarchy where the executive power is wielded by an unelected Governor General. The office of the Prime Minister does not exist. On the other hand, Zimbabwe is the global leader in due process – after all I’m sure it says so in their constitution.

    It is entirely valid since the means of oppression being described are exactly the same. The US may not be abusing its process-free assassination powers as much as China or Iran, but that doesn’t mean the comparison is invalid. Your soldier analogy is inappropriate.

    It is valid to make a comparison, where that comparison goes as far as the actual similarities and their consequences. The ALP’s internet filter can and should be compared to the censorship regimes of Iran, Cuba and the PRC, insofar as the similarity of the proposed laws with the ones used to repress democracy has the potential to send us down a path where we end up as bad off as those populaces.

    However the actual comparison being made here, which I was objecting to – that the rule of law has been so undermined in the U.S. that you would treat it like an authoritarian disaster zone and avoid travel there, for either pragmatic or symbolic reasons – is absurd.

    And perhaps China and Iran do too? This claim hardly assists your assertion that the countries and their approach to executive power cannot be compared.

    Yes, perhaps they do, with some vanishingly small probability. Deontology is a just a cognitive shortcut; there are no axiomatically right or wrong acts in morality or justice. Torture might actually be acceptable in some circumstances, but its safer if we treat it as if it weren’t, because once we’ve justified it to ourselves the first time, our consciences will get lazy and we will find it very much easier to justify it the second time; “Thou shalt not…” is just easier to remember. Same goes for free speech, or fair trials, etc.

    This is all very much besides the point, of course. I am not defending the U.S. suspension of Habeus Corpus any more than I am defending the executions carried out by China or Iran. I am pointing out that we live in a world not of black and white but a continuum of grey, and any measured comparison puts the U.S. a lot closer to the nice end of the spectrum – just as Cbina is better than Zimbabwe, which is in turn better (I’m guessing) than Mongolia in the era of Genghis Khan. Notwithstanding the fact that this one-dimensonal imagery is an oversimplification, the ordering is real, and it matters.

    And you should ask a devout Muslim how safe they would feel travelling to the US at the moment before you get too carried away declaring the country to be orders of magnitude better than China or Iran. I suspect you’ll get a very different perspective if ask non-white Christians about how safe they think the US is.

    Racism in the general populace, and even harassment by the cops, are not the same things as state-sanctioned legal persecution. Some innocent, devout Muslims have certainly ended up on the wrong end of Western anti-terrorism laws through miscarriages of justice, which is not surprising when you make laws that are so over broad. China on the other hand has an express policy of treating, for instance, the Falun Gung and Tibetan Buddhists as treasonous, and the trials they get make even Gitmo’s military tribunals seem good in comparison. Remembering that furthermore, the alleged crime in this case is of being a member of the religion which isn’t loyal to the State, not say planning to blow up a building. I won’t even go there on religious freedoms in Iran….

    Here’s a simple but illustrative test. Look at the actual data of the countries actual people choose to be in. How many devout Muslims continue to travel and indeed immigrate to the U.S., and other Islamophobic countries with questionable laws like Britain and France and Australia? Compare that to say how many Ba’hai’s immigrate to Iran and so forth. If you want to get serious, do a proper study and control for obvious disparity in economic factors by looking at other data sets.

    Pfft – you may be reassured by a naive belief in American exceptionalism – that you can give the US government extreme and authoritarian powers and simply trust it not to abuse them – but I’m not. Reminding the US of exactly where it is headed is a legitimate way to highlight the stupidity of its current policy direction IMHO.

    “American exceptionalism” is one of those thoroughly useless notions that is just a waste of space in any argument; either obviously true or obviously false once you take any time to actually define what you’re talking about. Is America an exceptional nation? Yes, in the sense that it is an historically interesting and influential one, with a lot of qualities that are admirable and some that are less so. It is a member of this class alongside Britain and Persia and Rome and China and many others I won’t bother to list.

    It is not the embodiment of the Absolute Idea that Hegel believed Prussia to be, nor is it version 2.0 of the land God promised to the descendants of Abraham, nor is it a “New World” to anyone except a colonial era European, nor is there fairy dust in their water which breeds liberty, nor any other such superstitious nonsense.

    I certainly don’t trust the American government with authoritarian powers. However America gets credit for practically inventing (or at least, distilling and popularising) the whole concept of never trusting any government with authoritarian powers, and building a political system on that basis. Consequently its government, ironically, gets a little more trust, or at least less distrust, than those who evidently haven’t so much as heard of a check or a balance – as you can tell if you spend five minutes looking at what actually happens in those places.

    Do you think Obama is ignorant of history, or of the law? Do you believe he’s never read anything by Thomas Jefferson? Do you mean to propose that he’s never heard or understood the expression “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

    Do you think a professor of the American constitution who became a President decided he needed the power to order citizens killed, because he just never really thought about the implications of it? If only he’d had a chance to talk to someone who knew better! Or maybe he’s just like one of the British Kings of old, who used to kill their personal enemies to secure their own power, until we came up with Habeus Corpus to stop them.

    I’m not saying he got the judgement right, and I’m not saying he should have the power to order assassinations, as should have been abundantly clear from my first post; but now I’ve spelled it out at quadruple length to be on the safe side. I’m just saying it shouldn’t even be a matter of controversy that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is far more a threat to the rights of people he has power over; and furthermore that middle-class Australians boycotting trips to the U.S. because of their legal system is nothing more than posturing. You might as well refuse to travel outside a 4km radius of the Sydney or Melbourne CBDs; both the political statement made and the reduction in your chance of being unfairly imprisoned or executed are comparable.

  10. <iAnd it is for precisely that reason that your attempted moral equivalence is so odious.

    I’m sure you will be able to point out the part of my comment above, SB, in which I have asserted moral equivalence between the US and China.

    Until then I will be ignoring your manipulative little strawman.

  11. You are right of course Jordan, the US is not Mongolia under Ghenkis Khan. And yet, the US has today the world’s highest rate of imprisonment, police brutality is a daily occurrence (Rodney King was just the tip of the iceberg) and judges put juvenile defendants behind bars in exchange for bribes from for-profit jail operators. Two thirds of the prison population is there for non violent crimes such as possession of a few grams of marijuana or cocaine.

    Travel there they finger print you as a tourist and take your picture. Fuck that. Should you be a blogger who has expressed disgust with the US war machine trying to enforce hegemony, chances are you are on some kind of watch list anyway. Hence, should I really feel the urge to one day visit North America, I think I’d much rather hang out in Canada. Should I want to meet US Americans, I turn on channel Ten.

  12. American exceptionalism” is one of those thoroughly useless notions that is just a waste of space in any argument; either obviously true or obviously false once you take any time to actually define what you’re talking about.

    Actually Jordan – I would argue that American exceptionalism is the basis of your entire position. You appear to hold a heartfelt belief that America is different – that it can be trusted with authoritarian powers while other countries cannot:

    America gets credit for practically inventing (or at least, distilling and popularising) the whole concept of never trusting any government with authoritarian powers, and building a political system on that basis. Consequently its government, ironically, gets a little more trust, or at least less distrust,

    In fact – the “little more trust” you are willing to grant the US government involved giving it the right to assassinate its own citizens on the basis of Presidential decree.

    You will come to regret this position Jordan. All the words in the world won’t comfort you when Sarah Palin starts exercising Obama’s new power.

  13. Splatterbottom

    Mondo: “I’m sure you will be able to point out the part of my comment above, SB, in which I have asserted moral equivalence between the US and China.”,

    The relevant propositions you put are:

    1. That the US as well as China and Iran fail your habeas corpus test.

    2. That the difference between the US and those two countries is not such that you could say that the US is orders of magnitude better than China or Iran.

    For all practical purposes that is a moral equivalence argument.

  14. Not even close SB . . . .

  15. Splatterbottom

    Sure its not, Mondo!

  16. When it comes to picking a holiday destination I take the same approach as you Jeremy. I would not ever spend a dollar in a country where they still use the death penalty,

    This is exactly how I feel. I don’t expect that my stance will assist change but at least I know my dollar isn’t helping the regime.. I’ve still got Europe, and yeah, I’d miss the natural wonders of the US but I’ve still got the natural wonders of Australia to see.

  17. “Apart from that, Obama’s decision to have al-Awlaki killed is clearly right. That is what you do with a terrorist who is attacking your country when you have no means of stopping them or arresting them. ”

    Well, you’re probably just trolling with that nonsense but on the assumption you’re not, it’s certainly not “clearly” right, if it is right at all, which is at best highly doubtful. The Constitution prevents the US government from depriving its citizens of their lives without due process. That doesn’t change just because he is overseas, or because he is a nasty Muslim, or because the US government accuses him of being a terrorist.

    SB, can you please clarify:

    1. Is it your understanding that once the US government accuses someone of being a terrorist, it has the right to kill them anytime, anywhere? Because, legally, that just isn’t the case.

    2. Could you please share with us all of the evidence you have to support your claim that al-Awlaki is “a terrorist who is attacking [the USA]” and that the USA has “no means of stopping [him] or arresting [him]“? Be specific and include links. Thanks.

  18. It’s also worth mentioning that al-Awlaki has not, as yet, been charged with any crime, nor does he have any proven links with specific terrorist acts. Obama wants him killed on the basis of nothing more than his personal say-so.

    How anyone can defend this claim to executive authority is beyond me.

  19. Splatterbottom

    It may come as some surprise to you two, but governments often kill people without trial. They have at their command soldiers, and those soldiers go about killing people when there is a war on. And guess what – they don’t try the enemy soldiers in a court before they give them the order to fight. In the US civil war 600,000 men died this way.

    Al-Awlaki is rightly on the kill list because he is actively involved in planning terror attacks against the US. Of course the Leftist/Islamofascist alliance would like to nothing more than to see al Awlaki succeed in his endeavours and are vocal in attacking the US on this issue.

  20. zaratoothbrush

    Of course the Leftist/Islamofascist alliance would like to nothing more than to see al Awlaki succeed in his endeavours and are vocal in attacking the US on this issue.

    Jesus your tiresome. Honest, just get over yourself. Deal with your own issues before you go spewing this sort of insane parody, you fucking clown.

    FFS, how many times a day do you have to wind yourself up?

    Still, I suppose if you want to be a one-man Punch and Judy show, who are we to stop you?

  21. I’m not worried as a tourist, because countries have their own self-interest, to protect that industry. western “legal protections” are not as solid as everyone makes them out to be, so we all have to live with these risks.

    visiting chechnya or colombia on the other hand…

  22. “Of course the Leftist/Islamofascist alliance”

    SB, if you’re such a centrist then how come all your ridiculous rhetoric is about ‘the Left’? I don’t see your silly rhetoric directed at the hard right, I miss the ridiculous name calling pointed at that end of the spectrum. Is this because you’re dishonest or is it because you’re deluded? I’d pick the latter because you’d be able to answer me honestly (naturally you’d need to be honest in this instance) if it were the former… I guess being stupid is better than being a liar.

  23. No intelligent right-winger calls themselves right-wing. The very nature of conservatism demands that they claim to be squarely in the middle of all and any issues. Put yourself in the rights’ shoes.. it is a very particular and scary frame of mind.. when everything is always about you.

  24. “Al-Awlaki is rightly on the kill list because he is actively involved in planning terror attacks against the US. ”

    But as I asked of you earlier in this thread, can you produce any evidence whatsoever that Al-Awlaki “is actively involved in planning terror attacks against the US”? On what basis do you assert this? Do you just accept uncritically that someone’s a terrorist based on the US government’s assertion that they are? Because as you’re probably aware, they’ve been wrong many, many times on this stuff e.g. hundreds of detainees released from Guantanamo without charge.

    Share with us any evidence at all that you have to support your assertion about Al-Awlaki, or admit you have nothing. This is the way it goes with the Right these days. They are so consumed with fear that no actual evidence that someone is a terrorist is required once the US government accuses someone of it. It’s complete authoritarianism.

    Of course, even it what you say is true, the US can’t assassinate him without trial, legally. And you know this. But right-wing pants-wetters like yourself couldn’t care less for quaint things like the rule of law nowadays, eh SB? It’s anything goes so long as it’s in the name of fighting terrorism.

    “Of course the Leftist/Islamofascist alliance would like to nothing more than to see al Awlaki succeed in his endeavours and are vocal in attacking the US on this issue.”

    Childish trolling. Again. When will you grow up, SB?

  25. “It may come as some surprise to you two, but governments often kill people without trial. They have at their command soldiers, and those soldiers go about killing people when there is a war on. And guess what – they don’t try the enemy soldiers in a court before they give them the order to fight.”

    It may come as a surprise to you that your idiotic neocon views have no basis in law.

  26. Splatterbottom

    Rob J the fact that there is a high incidence of leftist numbskullery in these threads means that I need to devote more effort to combating it, whereas there are relatively few conservative nutters commenting at this blog.

    Buns: “Of course, even it what you say is true, the US can’t assassinate him without trial, legally”

    Like most of the nonsense you spout, this statement is hopelessly wrong. See here or here for example, or read the brief. In fact it is merely the opinion of a few crazies that this is illegal.

  27. Crazy in the sense that anyone who disagrees with opinions which you hold strongly must be crazy, you mean? There’s plenty of sane folks out there who understand that it is illegal. Calling my opinion “nonsense” and “hopelessly wrong” doesn’t really count as an argument either.

    Al-Awlaki is not involved in a war against the US. He lives in Yemen. There’s no war battlefield in Yemen. So your statement that the US has “at [its] command soldiers, and those soldiers go about killing people when there is a war on. And guess what – they don’t try the enemy soldiers in a court before they give them the order to fight” doesn’t apply here. Of course, I don’t dispute the right of soldiers to kill other soldiers on a battlefield during a war. That’s not what we are talking about here though.

    You are apparently arguing that the US government can by executive decree determine that any person anywhere in the world is a terrorist (presumably to include US citizens in the US itself) and, without being obliged to prove that in any way to anyone, and thereby legally entitle itself to shoot that person dead at any time, regardless of what the person may be doing at the time. Correct me if I am wrong if that is not your position.

    Surely you can acknowledge that this is a radical new power – the right of the US government to assassinate any person anywhere in the world at any time, with no oversight or recourse – which the US government has never before abrogated to itself. Do you dispute that?

    A few questions:
    1. How would you feel about America’s enemies claiming the same powers to themselves?
    2. How do you rationalise your claim to libertarianism with your embrace of the ultimate intrusion into the lives of citizens of the US by their government, namely, the right to bump them off anywhere, anytime, with no recourse and no right to know the case against them, much less the right to have it proved in court? What could be less libertarian than that?
    3. Given that hundreds of men have been released from Guantanamo without charge, meaning that the US has repeatedly been wrong as to whether or not particular individuals are terrorists, would it be fair to assume you are not uncomfortable with a few innocent men being shot dead here and there around the globe (bearing in mind they’re all likely to be in the Middle East or thereabouts – it’s not like you or anyone you know is going to be in the firing line) provided the US is pretty sure it has bagged a few terrorists along the way? Given the US government’s track record of getting it wrong, it is pretty much guaranteed that some innocent men are going to be summarily executed, far from any battlefield. That is OK with you, I presume. Which is because you have implicit trust and great faith in the US governmentof the day not to get these things wrong, notwithstanding they’ve wrongly accused a great many men of being terrorists since 9/11, yeah?

  28. jordanrastrick

    Maybe the U.S. needs to institute secret trials-in-absentia for the terrorists it considers serious enough threats to justify assassination; some degree of judicial restraint on the executive is better than none. Modern terrorists after all are neither regular criminals nor enemy soldiers but rather something like a hybrid of the two.

    So, the government asks a special court for a warrant to capture or if that’s not possible to kill the person in question. All the proceedings of the court are recorded; every few months the case is reviewed, and the government must justify why the intelligence is still sensitive enough to be kept secret, or else it will be published.

    Having obtained this warrant, the government is obliged to first openly broadcast its existence. The subject of the warrant is given a period of grace to either turn themselves in and face trial, or else seek political asylum anywhere in the world (with maybe the exception of a handful of states hostile to the U.S. such as Iran and North Korea). After that the warrant becomes live; the person is considered at law to be an imminent threat to the lives of others, and there is a justification for killing them without a trial, just as police have the legal right and the duty to employ lethal force to protect people if it is necessary to stop a psychopath wielding an Uzi in a hostage situation.

    Its far from perfect, but it is more justice than Al-Awlaki will ever receive from the missile of a C.I.A. drone, and there doesn’t seem to be any compelling national security case against implementing such safeguards.

  29. jordanrastrick

    Oh, and to pre-emptively defend myself against yet more wilful misinterpretation from Mondo or others, I only confined my attention specifically to the U.S. because the discussion centres on this particular case; my thought experiment is equally applicable to other governments’ seeking to employ assassination against persons considered extreme threats to national security.

  30. Splatterbottom

    Buns: “Al-Awlaki is not involved in a war against the US”.

    This is where we disagree most fundamentally. Al Awlaki may not be involved in a conventional war against the US, but he is most definitely involved in asymmetric warfare against the US. He serves a command and control function in this war, and was instrumental in the activities of the Underpants Bomber, the Times Square Bomber and the in Fort hood Massacre. He also has released a fatwa calling for the murder of Molly Norris who is now obliged to live her life in hiding under an assumed identity.

    It is entirely reasonable that in circumstances where al Awlaki poses a continuing threat to the lives of US citizens that the US government issue a capture or kill order against him. Killing the other side’s generals is not only perfectly acceptable conduct, but it would be highly irresponsible not to do it.

    Not only is such action commendable, but it is also legal. There has been no argument about previous attempts to kill opposing generals in wartime, or even orders to kill the al Qaeda leadership. I do not see how a US citizen that takes up arms against his country should be in a better position.

    As to the libertarian aspects of this, I do not support government interference with the lives of its citizens. The point is that this action of Obama is an action taken to promote the safety and liberty of its citizens. It is al Awlaki (and others who share his vile religious beliefs) who are actively trying to kill US citizens. I am a strong proponent of liberty, but I also understand that it is necessary to defend societies which promote liberty from savages who have no respect for it. One thing that is clear from history is that sometimes savages get the upper hand. The price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance.

    Maybe now is the time to for the world to discuss the legitimate ways of carrying on asymmetric warfare. Some of JR’s checks and balances sound reasonable enough. This type of war is different to conventional warfare and clearly a lot of the limitations imposed on conventional warfare are not applicable as they were designed to apply where both sides committed to the same rulebook. In the meantime, killing jihadists wherever we find them seems like a good place to start. Capture and trial is preferable, but it is perfectly proper to kill them as they ply their grisly trade if capture id not practicable.

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