Friday, May 06, 2011

Squabbling About Legalisms

It seems to me that the commentary about the precise status of Osama bin Laden's death - legal or not, act of war or not - is missing some points.

The action of the SEALs within the Abbotabad compound is not the main point. They were sent on a mission into hostile territory that likely would be defended to the death. So the orders they should have been given would have been to use deadly force as necessary. Anything else would have jeopardized the mission and the lives of the SEALs. The alternative would have been not to do the mission. So it is those who planned the mission and issued the orders who are at fault, if that is the case. This may be the criticism intended by a number of commentators, but the frequent use of details (like how bin Laden was shot) obscures this point.

Think it out: the SEALs rappel from helicopters into the courtyard, and they're going to hold up their IDs and say they've got a warrant? They're going to march into the house peacefully and ask bin Laden if he would like to surrender?

A number of people, the latest here, have opined that the mission was fully legal. I tend to agree with them, and, if the papers were not fully in order, I'm willing to be one of those who make an exception to strict legality for bin Laden.

The way the news was released by the administration does allow for multiple interpretations, but they mostly have to do with those operational details that obscure the main point. If the administration had waited until everything was perfectly clear, which would have taken another day or more, very likely the same people raising a fuss about multiple stories in a coverup now would have complained about taking time to set up a single story as a coverup. I'm in favor of the transparency of the immediate, even if that results in having to correct errors.

I find a couple of things disturbing about this sort of commentary. First, the sense that the commenters could have done a much better job, legally or operationally. This speaks to me of people who have never done a complicated operation in the real world, where confusion and ambiguity reign. Nor have they taken the time to understand how real operations work. I'm not just talking about carefully considering Clausewitz's fog of war; I'm talking about the environmental cleanups I've done, or perhaps organizing a field trip for their child's class. With some imagination, one may extrapolate to a situation in which armed people who don't want to be found respond to other armed people who appear suddenly.

Second, the loss of the ability to believe our government. This started long ago, and it's been made worse by the Neocons and their Straussian explicitness about lying, among others. I think that President Obama is trying to reverse this, but, unfortunately, trust is quickly damaged and slowly regained.

1 comment:

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