The Kill List

I'm still in the Mines of Moria (long-form, long-form, long-form) so I'm a little late on the news. But I did make it through the Times piece on Obama's Kill List. I thought this part about Al-Awlaki's killing was especially revealing:


In the wake of Mr. Awlaki's death, some administration officials, including the attorney general, argued that the Justice Department's legal memo should be made public. In 2009, after all, Mr. Obama had released Bush administration legal opinions on interrogation over the vociferous objections of six former C.I.A. directors. 

 This time, contemplating his own secrets, he chose to keep the Awlaki opinion secret. "Once it's your pop stand, you look at things a little differently," said Mr. Rizzo, the C.I.A.'s former general counsel. 

 Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama's Republican challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president's aggressive counterterrorism record, which he said had a "Nixon to China" quality. 

But, he said, "secrecy has its costs" and Mr. Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny. "This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that's not sustainable," Mr. Hayden said. "I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain't a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe."

I think that last quote is particularly salient. (Whether Romney would do any better is irrelevant to the statement's validity.) I talked to Cornel West for another piece I'm working on, and one thing he said sticks with me:

You have Martin Luther King's statue in your office, but you are sending these unmanned drones out, and bombs are dropping on innocent people. That's not a small thing. That's not a small thing. We know from historic examples that if you engage in a certain kind of foreign policy it eats at your soul on the domestic front.

And there is no real sense of an "end." Has there ever been a point since America's inception when someone, somewhere, wasn't plotting our downfall? I have great difficulty perceiving a time when this won't be true. And so drone strategy comes to self-replicate. We bomb your village. You declare war on us for the bombing. We deem you a terrorist and bomb again. Rinse. Repeat.

The Obama administration considers any military-age male in the vicinity of a bombing to  be a combatant. That is an amazing standard that shares an ugly synergy with the sort of broad-swath logic that we see employed in Stop and Frisk,  with NYPD national spy network, with the killer of Trayvon Martin.

Policy is informed by the morality of a country. I think the repercussions of this unending era of death by silver bird will be profound.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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