Fabricated Terminology

by Dave Schuler on February 5, 2013

International legal scholar Mary Ellen O’Connell condemns John Brennan and the Obama Administration as being to targeted killings what the Bush Administration was to torture:

Four years ago, John Brennan withdrew from consideration for C.I.A. director because of his leadership role there while serious human rights violations were occurring, including waterboarding and secret detention. Mr. Brennan has said he regrets these practices. Yet he moved from the CIA to the White House, where he began to support a practice many consider worse than torture: targeted killing.

Brennan has been a champion and defender of attacks by C.I.A. drones that have killed thousands of people, including hundreds of children, far from any battlefield. These killings have occurred in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has recently said the killing is likely to expand to Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

Panetta, Brennan and others in the Obama administration defended these lawless killings the same way the Bush administration justified the unlawful treatment of detainees. Officials in both administrations have sought to win public support and overcome opposition by repeatedly asserting that what they are doing is effective and lawful. The tactical parallels are striking.

To create an illusion of legality, both administrations coined new labels for unlawful practices. President Bush’s people coined the term “enhanced interrogation methods” to describe torture, and are still asserting that waterboarding is not torture but an effective, necessary tool to keep the country safe.

Brennan unveiled the phrase “hot battlefield” in a speech at Harvard Law in September 2011. A “hot battlefield” is the type found in traditional armed conflicts, where enemy fighters are killed without warning and it is permissible to also kill civilians, as long as their deaths are unintentional collateral damage and not disproportionate to the military objective.

The CIA is killing civilians away from “hot battlefields,” but according to Brennan, there are other types of battlefields that are not “hot” but nevertheless lawful places to intentionally kill targets and unintentionally those nearby.

Read the whole thing.

Mary Ellen is an old, old friend. Haven’t seen her for years. Very smart woman. Judging by the picture she’s holding up pretty well.

She deals mostly with the legal and moral issues. For curmudgeonly pragmatist old me the question of effectiveness is also important. I see very little evidence that targeted killings are effective in making us more secure other than in a tiger repellent sort of way.

Unfortunately, the American people have already expressed their opinion on this subject. Whichever candidate won the election, the killings would have continued regardless of demonstrable effectiveness. Haven’t seen any tigers, have you? It must be working!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: