Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

For Kerry Is an Honorable Man

Remember this guy?

He played Captain America in The Avengers, I think?

Well, our beloved Secretary of State, John Kerry, has apparently decided that the reason he hasn't returned to the United States from Russia, after leaking volumes of information about seriously unconstitutional and frankly horrifying breaches of the right to privacy on the part of the U. S. government, is not that he doesn't want to be tried for treason and executed, or perhaps not even tried. No, the reason is that he's a wuss, it seems. If it were so, it were a grievous fault, and grievously hath Snowden answered it.

I speak not to disprove what Kerry spoke (beginning near the 3 minute mark); he says, among other things, that "He should man up and come back to the United States. If he has a complaint about what's the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case."

I'd say he's made his case already, and pretty damn effectively. As for the criticism that he is holed up in Russia -- which, quite true, is an authoritarian country -- I venture to suggest that revoking Snowden's passport was not Snowden's idea, and he claims himself that Russia was not where he had intended to stay. Considering that it is precisely the U. S. state that not only revoked his passport but chose when to do so, I don't think it stretches credulity to suppose that the moment for doing so may have been chosen in order to discredit him.

As for standing in our system of justice, well, let's reflect on that for a moment. Do you remember these three guys? They all have two things in common.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Samir Khan

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were al-Qaeda agents: the former was one of its most prominent members, particularly after the death of Osama bin Laden, while the latter edited an Islamic militant journal in which al-Awlaki had a hand. Both were killed in a drone strike.

If the third, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, looks kind of out of place with the other two, don't worry, there's a perfectly satisfying explanation. He was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki. He was also killed in a drone strike, at the age of sixteen, two weeks after his father. His crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The government avers that his death was unintentional, collateral damage from the targeting of Ibrahim al-Banna, a suspected (though, it seems, so far unconfirmed) member of al-Qaeda, who, for those of you keeping score at home, was not killed in the drone strike that took young Abdulrahman's life.

They were all killed in drone strikes; that's one thing. The other thing they have in common is that they were all American citizens, killed outside of combat and without due process. There is a word for this kind of killing, and that word is "murder."

All American citizens are entitled by law, if accused of any crime, whether the attached penalty is death or not, to a trial by a jury of their peers. That, Mister President and Mister Secretary of State, is what "due process" fucking means. President Obama chose to ignore this, and, with no precedent whatever (not that precedent would make such an act not a war crime), authorized the targeted murder of two Americans; and in fact accomplished the murder of a third as well, who was wholly innocent, recently orphaned of his father by his country, and barely old enough to drive.

With liberty and justice for all. (Some restrictions may apply. May be unavailable in certain areas.)

Given the precedent of detaining and even murdering citizens without trial that has now been established by this administration, I find it difficult to criticize Snowden for being reluctant to return home, even assuming that Kerry is being quite truthful when he states that he would be permitted to come back in spite of his revoked passport. I haven't a great deal of liking for Kerry, but I would have thought -- or at least hoped -- that someone with his history of anti-war work and his criticisms of government policy in Vietnam would have been, if not less stupid, at least less willing to embarrass himself with such a hypocritical rebuke.

And the defense is what? That these men, living and dead, endangered American lives? Their lives sure were. Also, point of interest: everybody dies. You don't, in any final sense, save American lives by killing American terrorists or anybody else -- you just put it off till a later date. And that does matter. But in view of the fact that everybody dies, whatever else we believe comes after that, we have more reason, not less, to care about justice simply for its own sake: because if death (as I do not believe) is followed by mere nothingness, it can scarcely be held to matter when exactly you hit that point; and if (as I do believe) death is followed by judgment, then you are suddenly going to find yourself caring a very great deal about whether the things you did in life were right or wrong.

Well, turning to ethical grounds, is the defense maybe that they were war criminals? Very probably the elder al-Awlaki and Khan were; though not, perhaps, with the certainty with which we can observe that the members of this administration are war criminals. The right to trial by jury is not asterisked, any more than the right to privacy. The whole point of our justice system is that if you have an accusation against someone, you try them, presuming that they are innocent, and then you either damn well prove they aren't or else you let them go.

(Or if that's taking too long we'll just murder your ass.)

Of course, those three dead men have reached the end of their stories, whatever that end may be. I fear and hope for their souls, and don't claim to know anything at all about their eternal fates. And Snowden is about as stuck as stuck gets: he might be able to come back if there were an amnesty, which doesn't seem likely in the paranoid political climate we enjoy, and if he has to stay in Russia, I fear for him there. Maybe the saddest part of all this, though, to my mind, is the squalid corrosion of the American public's attitude to the state: we saw a sixteen-year-old boy (to say nothing of the others) killed, we watched it reported on national and international news, and we shrugged our collective shoulders and said, "Collateral damage. What can you do." Anyway, that was like five news cycles ago; no one can be expected to remember. So let it be with drone strikes.

Pray for our nation, readers, I urge you. Pray for a revival of conscience, in the leadership, yes, but above all among the people -- which inevitably means, in each individual heart, beginning with one's own. Pray for Edward Snowden, in whatever net of circumstance he may, perhaps, be trapped. And pray for the souls of three dead men: two whose crimes, it may well be, rebounded upon their own heads; and one whose innocence was no protection against the realpolitik of his own people.


  1. John Kerry, my former senator, and current sock puppet for the Warmonger in Chief, is an asshat. And all the soi-disant progressives who noised about Bush's wars and are now curiously silent -- cretinous.

  2. It seems to me that the question is whether al Qaeda is at war with the U.S.* Because if a U.S. citizen becomes a participant in warfare being waged against the U.S., he is as liable to being killed as a non-citizen. To illustrate: if an American went and joined the German army in WWII, or, even more egregiously, became part of the military high command, it would have been clearly understood that his citizenship did not entitle him to immunity from military actions against him. It would not entitle him to capture and trial in the domestic courts.

    *The situation with al Qaeda does not fit the pattern of earlier times. It used to be that only nation states were thought to be capable of waging war. Therefore non-state actors would, by definition, be incapable of waging war. It seems to me that under current conditions, where non-state actors can undertake operations which would be acts of war from a nation-state, over a prolonged period, it is only reasonable to rethink our definitions to make them fit the real world as it is today.

    1. I'd tend to agree with you if this had involved a process of public rethinking, i.e. laying out the legal and moral situation and discussing whether, why, and how such things should be done. (Being both antiwar and opposed to the death penalty, I'd perhaps still evaluate the problem differently, but I would recognize the different nature of the problem.)

      The difficulty I have is that all I can see that's happened is a peremptory action -- not an actual rethinking of the question. If, for example, we applied the same rules to conflicts between nation-states to the conflict between the US and al-Qaeda, then Khan, for instance, still ought not to have been killed because he was a non-combatant, and it's debatable whether the elder al-Awlaki would have counted as a combatant either (though he probably would have). Moreover, they were not killed in battle, battle being the only context in which Just War Theory suffers even combatants to be killed. Additionally -- though you won't hear much about this in the American press -- even the elder al-Awlaki was accused and suspected of being an al-Qaeda operative; in other words, it wasn't confirmed, only probable. It is the assumption by the state of such powers of summary judgment and summary execution to which I object most strongly, rather than the possibility that Just War Theory may indeed need to be rethought in situations like this: the thinking, I believe, has to come first.

    2. Even without JWT, it's only *legal* to kill citizen-enemies if they're actually on the battlefield. Al-Awlaki was having dinner at his hotel, IIRC.

  3. Good points, Gabriel.

    It's unclear even if they were acting for a State we were at war with how assassinations outside of battle of low- or mid-level soldiers who aren't even camped en masse, who weren't even at the moment engaged in any operation, would be justified.

    But I think in general treating terrorism as "war" is a red herring. Terrorist acts within the US have been limited by regular police action. The stuff over seas...well, it's really outside our jurisdiction. Maybe sometimes these groups are involved in civil wars in countries over there. Not exactly our problem. It's not like we have battalions marching to take over the US, nor even is there that much of a threat of our government being overthrown by jihad domestically. We need security measures to prevent 9/11s, and have some right to go after co-conspirators overseas whom we can prove we involved.

    But what it seems to have become is treating a diffuse and decentralized network of interconnected political ideologies as a State that's at war with us, which just isn't accurate. There's a group of people over the ocean who oppose us politically and culturally. Sometimes they're planning to attack us here, maybe, but other times they're planning stuff in their own countries. Sometimes violent but sometimes just political or by propaganda.

    Yet they are analogized to a State actor? Yet in their case, the only way to be "defeated" is to be destroyed. It's not like they could surrender and sign a treaty.

    So that's a recipe for endless war there (which gets rather dystopian), and it also makes it look like we've put the ban on a vaguely defined loose network/political ideology that you can apparently be killed as an "enemy combatant" just for being a part of (on the analogy of the army of an enemy state) even if they have no particular proof of involvement in any particular plot against the US homeland at this particular moment.

    "Were at war with al-Qaeda!" just seems like a bag of worms to me. Unless they form a State that is geographically delimited and which has a government in complete control of the army that could meaningfully surrender in a way that would cease hostilities...I'd generally say treat them like criminals, not combatants. Terrorism is a crime, not an act of war.

    It's unique, yes, in that it's motives are political and directed towards overthrowing our government (maybe?) but since when has that mattered?

    The South tried to secede, but it had a State in place. Little cells of guys blowing stuff up very rarely...are not an army, even if motivated by politics. If they were doing it sheerly for sexual excitement it would clearly be crime and not war.

    It seems a slippery slope. Will we start declaring any organized crime "war" inasmuch as it threatens the State's authority/monopoly on violence. Will we start sending in armies to do battle without due process against inner city street gangs? Against protesters? Against rival political parties?

  4. Hi Gabe -

    Long time no interwebs...

    I have some significant disagreement with you on some of these items, but I love that you laid it all out. I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss life with you over a cocktail. I'm in Baltimore somewhat frequently (if that's where you still live) - let me know if you have any interest.

    Anywho...I wanted to engage with this thought:
    "Maybe the saddest part of all this, though, to my mind, is the squalid corrosion of the American public's attitude to the state: we saw a sixteen-year-old boy (to say nothing of the others) killed, we watched it reported on national and international news, and we shrugged our collective shoulders and said, 'Collateral damage. What can you do.'"

    I think that what I've heard described as "compassion fatigue" or "empathic distress" is a serious problem. It doesn't seem to me that we are disinterested or uncaring, it seems like we're stewing in a kind of sad resignation. We're bothered by a lot of this stuff (from Gitmo to UCSB shootings to Irsael/Palestine to...). We're hyper aware due to the 24 hour new cycle, but we feel powerless to impact all or any of it.

    How do we combat "empathic distress"? I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

    All my best to you

  5. Don't trust large organizations? Like Starbucks? ;)