Thursday, February 23, 2012

Russ Feingold Supports Targeted Killings

I've never been a fan of Russ Feingold, but then I never paid much attention to him. Many on the leftward end of the American political spectrum adore him, though.

Today Feingold appeared on Democracy Now! Although he's now one of thirty-five co-chairs of President Obama's re-election campaign, he disapproves of Obama's decision to accept Super PAC money. "That’s not who Barack Obama is," he said, which indicates that he needs to pay more attention. And then, later in a long interview:

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the killing of Awlaki. Did you support that in Yemen?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, obviously I wasn’t consulted in advance. The question there is, is there a doctrine where if somebody is an American citizen and they are clearly affiliated with an enemy power and it is impossible to get them—if that’s true, and that’s what I don’t know—if it’s impossible to get them any other way, is it justified? I would say, probably. But how do I know whether that’s true. You have to tread very carefully when you’re dealing with American citizens. But I am not shedding any tears over the loss of that person, who I think did horrible things.

To her credit, Goodman followed up, and Feingold provided a textbook example of waffling in reply:

AMY GOODMAN: The President—the ACLU has sued President Obama most recently. "The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law," writes the ACLU in their press release. They said, "As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts. The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat [to] life is concrete, specific and imminent." And they not only killed Awlaki, but then, in a separate killing, they killed his 16-year-old U.S.-born son.

RUSS FEINGOLD: I agree with the proposition of the ACLU’s lawsuit, and I think it should be litigated. I think it will be very interesting to see whether the killing of al-Awlaki fits that definition. I think that’s going to be a close question. As to the other ones, it’s a fair point. And, of course, I agree, as a general policy, as something that’s an excuse to do whatever you want and assassinate U.S. citizens anywhere near a conflict, that cannot be justified. But I think as to the actual person who was the target, I think it’s a fair question that needs to be litigated.

Notice that last sentence in particular, which is charmingly incoherent, and remember that there is no evidence that Awlaki did any "horrible things": he was a propagandist for al-Qaeda, but he doesn't seem to have committed any acts of violence himself. Certainly Feingold didn't specify any, nor did the Obama administration. What provoked Goodman's first question was Feingold's listing Awlaki, along with bin Laden and Qaddafi, as bad people who were now "out of power," thanks to President Obama; but of the three only Qaddafi was ever actually "in power." This could probably be explained as a minor error resulting from speaking extemporaneously if Goodman hadn't asked him to clarify.

Obama's contempt for due process was the entire point of the criticism directed at him in the matter. And if being a propagandist for "horrible things" provides your opponents with a license to kill you, there are a good many Americans, from journalists to government figures, who'd be in big trouble. But as Obama has also made clear -- by his stance on the mere possibility of investigating the Bush administration for its crimes against humanity -- committing horrible things is only a crime for Them, not for Us.