Friday, February 5, 2010

Ethical Complexities of Fighting Terrorism

Discussing reports that the Obama administration is determined to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a spiritual mentor to both the Fort Hood killer and the Underpants bomber, Jeralyn Merritt gets to the heart of the matter.
“Have we really moved from torture to outright murder of people we regard as suspects, before we even charge them with a crime? How abysmal, first for the victims killed by such a policy, but especially for us as a nation supposedly dedicated to freedom, due process and the rule of law.”
She’s pointing to the ethical incoherence of claiming, on the one hand, that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has a right to remain silent during a custodial interrogation in Detroit and, on the other, that it would have been OK to end a conversation in Yemen between him and al-Awlaki with a cruise missile if we’d gotten wind of it beforehand. Conservatives like Lindsey Graham are pointing to the same moral differences between punishing criminals and waging war from the opposite direction.

One way or the other, we’re going to have to decide whether to assimilate anti-terrorism policy to our criminal justice system or to the laws of war. That needn’t be a simple binary choice. We'll probably have to devise a hybrid anti-terrorism system that incorporates elements of criminal justice and traditional warfare. But acknowledging the complexity of the issues doesn’t relieve us of the burden of making responsible choices. Clear-headed civil libertarians and conservatives are urging that we make different choices from roughly the same menu of options.

It’s getting to the point where the only people pretending that these are “false choices” are the President, the Attorney General and their various spokesmen. It’s time they stepped up to the plate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sure this has been discussed before, but Merritt's argument should stretch further, shouldn't it?
If it's immoral to make a suspect think they are being killed before even charging them with a crime, how moral can it be to actually kill them?