Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Paul Campos Criticizes Glenn Reynolds for His Assassination Proposal

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A week ago today, Glenn Reynolds published a post calling for the Bush administration to engage in a policy of targeting and assassinating Iranian scientists and clerics:

This has been obvious for a long time anyway, and I don't understand why the Bush Administration has been so slow to respond. Nor do I think that high-profile diplomacy, or an invasion, is an appropriate response. We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and iranian atomic scientists, supporting the simmering insurgencies within Iran, putting the mullahs' expat business interests out of business, etc. Basically, stepping on the Iranians' toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq. And we should have been doing this since the summer 2003. But as far as I can tell, we've done nothing along these lines.

Reynolds' post attracted a smattering of attention at the time, with liberal bloggers pointing out the clear illegality (not to mention immorality) of murder as public policy, and conservative bloggers applauding the idea.

Now, Paul Campos, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Colorado, weighs in with an op-ed in today's Rocky Mountain News:

Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet's most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.

"We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . Basically, stepping on the Iranians' toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq," Reynolds wrote.

Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he's now dutifully repeating the administration's claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq's civil war.

Moreover, even if Iran were at war with the United States, the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.

How does a law professor, of all people, justify advocating murder? "I think it's perfectly fine to kill people who are working on atomic bombs for countries - like Iran - that have already said that they want to use those bombs against America and its allies, and I think that those who feel otherwise are idiots, and in absolutely no position to strike moral poses," Reynolds says.

Now this kind of statement involves certain time-tested rhetorical techniques. First, make a provocative claim that happens to be false. In fact, no Iranian government official has ever said Iran wants to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. Then use this claim to defend actions, such as murdering civilians, which would remain immoral and illegal even if the claim happened to be true. Finally, condemn those who object to using lies to justify murder as "idiots," who don't understand the need to take strong and ruthless action when defending the fatherland from its enemies.

The use of propaganda to help bring about the murder of people you would like to kill has been especially favored by fascists. Fascism is marked by, among other things, extreme nationalism, contempt for legal restraints on state power, and the worship of violence.

And while it would perhaps be an exaggeration to call people like Reynolds and his fellow law professor Hugh Hewitt (who defended Reynolds' comments) fascists, it isn't an exaggeration to point out that these gentlemen sound very much like fascists when they encourage the American government to murder people.

All this raises several interesting questions. For instance, does academic freedom insulate a law professor from any institutional consequences when he advocates murder? Reynolds and Hewitt, after all, certainly didn't object when University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill's celebration of the murder of American civilians raised serious questions about why the university had chosen to employ and tenure such a person, and led to an investigation of Churchill's academic record.

Indeed, Hewitt and Reynolds both went out of their way to publicize the Churchill affair, as an example of left-wing extremism in our universities.

Why does right-wing extremism in our universities, as represented by such things as law professors calling on the Bush administration to commit murder, get so much less attention?

Certainly, it's worth asking Reynolds' administrative superiors at the University of Tennessee what limits, if any, the terms and conditions of Reynolds' employment put on his behavior. After all, if the American government were to follow Reynolds' advice, his employer would have an accessory to murder on its payroll.

That seems like an especially peculiar item to find on a law professor's résumé.

Glenn Reynolds defends himself:

PAUL CAMPOS thinks I'm beyond the pale for suggesting (in this post, which he does not link) that the Bush Administration might have been better off trying to use covert action to kill Iranian nuclear scientists and radical mullahs, instead of having to look at the massive air strikes now reportedly being planned, which would surely kill more people. He hurts his credibility up front by saying that Iran is not at war with us -- when, in fact, it has been since 1979, with the deaths of many Americans, soldiers and otherwise, on its hands.

Steve Benen points out that Reynolds is the one whose credibility is on the line:

... I keep up fairly well on the news, and I don’t recall noticing a 28-year war against Iran. Indeed, Bush included Iran in his “axis of evil,” not because we’re at war with the country, but because it sounded good in a speech. For that matter, Iranian officials reached out to U.S. officials with a diplomatic overture in 2003, which the administration rebuffed, suggesting the “war” could be over now, if only the White House wanted it to be.

But the best response came from my friend, the Anonymous Liberal.

[I]f we’ve been at war with Iran since 1979, then President Reagan, then-Vice President Bush, and the rest of the Reagan administration are necessarily guilty of high treason. During the Iran-Contra affair, they illegally sold arms to Iran (via Israel), including thousands of BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles. Iran subsequently reverse-engineered these missiles and now produces its own version, called the Toophan, which Hezbollah reportedly used against Israeli tanks in the recent conflict in Lebanon. If we were “at war” with Iran at the time of these arms sales, is there any non-treasonous interpretation of this conduct?

Maybe the arms deals came during a brief cessation to our ongoing war?

Dr. Steven Taylor thinks that, in his response to Campos, Reynolds rebuts a different proposition than the one he originally made:

Glenn Reynolds responds to Campos here and discusses, at length, the question of assassination. The main problem with Reynolds’ rebuttal is that he seems to be talking exclusively about heads of state and the leaders of terrorist organizations–both of which are a far cry from scientists in particular, but even mullahs, depending on how wide he thinks the assassination net ought to be cast.

Glenn Greenwald -- much to his credit, in my view -- objects strongly to Campos's suggestion that the University of Tennessee consider firing Reynolds for coming out in favor of political assassination; as well as to the idea that Reynolds could be considered an accomplice to murder if an assassination did occur:

I would strongly oppose any efforts to have Reynolds academically sanctioned or punished in any way for the views he has expressed, as toxic and destructive as I find both those views and him. And the idea that there could be any criminal liability arising from such comments is absurd, and itself somewhat toxic.

There's enough of that kind of intimidation coming from right-wingers. We don't need to copy it.

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