Of Killings and Imminent Threats and Nonticking Bombs

I’m making this a post because a comment wouldn’t take. (Hope we aren’t becoming PL Junior!)

I don’t know whether anyone previously posted a link to this NYT article about a DOJ legal memo justifying the target killing of alAwlaki.

Two of the points I find interesting are that it is claimed that the memo does not establish any broadly applicable precedent, and that it approves the killing despite the target’s not posing any imminent threat. The claim that the analysis is nonprecedential is one that is often made but is nonetheless unpersuasive at best. It is in the books; it is precedent for the next time an administration wants to kill an American abroad.

The fact that the memo reportedly approves the killing despite the lack of an imminent threat is interesting when juxtaposed against the arguments commonly made against harsh interrogation that (a) there are no ticking time bombs in real life, and (b) even if there were, they could not justify enhanced interrogation (let the world perish, just don’t waterboard or blow cigar smoke in a detainee’s face).

It’s hard for a conservative not to reflect on the different reaction that undoubtedly would have come from the media and Congress had this been a Bush Admin memo authored by Yoo or Bybee. Yoo reportedly has commented that he is glad that his Democratic critics turned out to be unprincipled hypocrites and not principled fools. Hard to blame him.

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