Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More of Glenn Reynolds' Wisdom on Political Assassination

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Glenn Reynolds cannot stop gnawing the bone:

Arguing from ignorance
Wednesday, February 21 at 9:09 AM
By Glenn H. Reynolds

Paul Campos has beclowned himself. He did it in the usual way, by arguing loudly about things he does not understand.

Campos chose to devote an entire column (“The right’s Ward Churchill,” Feb. 20) to a blog entry of mine from last week, in which I wondered why the Bush administration wasn’t acting covertly to kill radical mullahs and atomic scientists, rather than preparing a major attack on Iran. (Silly me, I thought this was advocating a less warlike approach). According to Campos, this suggestion was both morally wrong — suggesting that we kill people this way made me a “fascist” and an “extremist” — and illegal.

Indeed, not only was I suggesting something illegal, according to Campos, but the mere act of suggesting it made me some sort of “accessory to murder.” Campos, however, has both his law and history wrong.

Perhaps we should call this piece "Arguing from Absurdity." First, the legal issue:

Assassination is forbidden by executive order. Nothing prevents the president from rescinding that order, or amending it.

As a moral argument, this falls a bit short:

Heh. Indeed. Similarly, kidnapping someone and taking them across state lines isn't really illegal, since nothing could prevent Congress from repealing the law if they wanted to!

Besides, killing nuclear scientists is not really assassination:

... [A]s a 1989 memorandum by the Judge Advocate General of the Army notes, killing enemy leaders or weapons scientists isn’t even assassination: “Civilians who work within a military objective are at risk from attack during the times in which they are present within that objective, whether their injury or death is incidental to the attack of that military objective or results from their direct attack. ... Thus, more than 90 percent of the World War II Project Manhattan personnel were civilians, and their participation in the U.S. atomic weapons program was of such importance as to have made them liable to legitimate attack.

An interesting argument to make now, 65 years after the fact. If German hit squads had actually smuggled operatives into Los Alamos and killed scientists working on the atomic bomb, would the U.S. government have considered that "legitimate"? More to the point, though, the Manhattan Project was begun in June, 1942, when the United States was already officially at war with Germany. Despite Reynolds' claims to the contrary, there is no state of war between the United States and Iran.

International law is unlikely to be a problem either. The bombing attack on Moammar Qaddafi was legally justified, according to the State Department’s legal adviser, as an act of self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter because of Qaddafi’s terrorist activities. The Iranian mullahs are worse, and are trying to get nuclear weapons besides.

Reynolds needs to take another look at the text of Article 51:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

"Self-defense" is understood to refer to an "actual or imminent armed attack":

Under Article 51, the triggering condition for the exercise of self-defense is the occurrence of an armed attack ("if an armed attack occurs"). Notwithstanding the literal meaning of that language, some, though not all, authorities interpret Article 51 to permit anticipatory self-defense in response to an imminent attack. A generally recognized guide to the conditions for anticipatory self-defense is Daniel Webster’s statement regarding the Caroline affair of 1837: Self-defense is justified only when the necessity for action is "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." (Letter from Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, to Lord Ashburton, August 6, 1842, reprinted in 2 John Bassett Moore, A Digest of International Law 409, 412 (1906)).

Even the most tortured definition of "imminent attack" does not meet that standard with regard to the 1986 bombing of Libya under Ronald Reagan. Neither would a campaign of murdering scientists or clerics or state officials in a country, like Iran, that has neither attacked nor threatened to attack the United States.

Instaputz thinks the Putz's second response to Paul Campos is "totally unhinged." I agree. I would add "totally uninformed" -- which makes Reynolds look even more foolish when he uses the whip on Campos at the end of his utterly uneducated and uninformed response:

Other law professors have, of course, made similar arguments, at far greater length than my blog post. Campos, himself a law professor, could have learned these things through a simple Google search, but apparently did not.

Instead, he authored an uninformed column, and then added a thuggish suggestion that my university should discipline me for daring to utter thoughts that, in his uninformed state, he found uncongenial. After he has educated himself sufficiently to have an informed opinion on the subject, Campos might still disagree. But if he does, I promise not to try to get him fired for not sharing my opinions. Perhaps one day, he’ll learn to return the favor.

Clearly, Prof. Reynolds needs to brush up on his Google search skills, as well. He certainly didn't bother to google international legal experts on Article 51 of the UN Charter.

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