Monday, February 06, 2006

Ignore the Headlines 

Newsweek: "Can the President Order a Killing on U.S. Soil?"

That's the headline in Newsweek, which has gotten picked up all over the place, in just those terms. On its face, it sounds shocking and terrible. Trouble is, the headline is wrong and, for once, I'm actually defending the Administration on this one.

Newsweek's article is brief, and doesn't offer any direct quotes; just anonymously sourced comments on the content of a private session with the Senate Intelligence Committee. The question, posed by Diane Feinstein was, "could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil?" (Quote from article, not from Feinstein.) The answer, in brief, was basically, "Yeah, sure, if they're about to commit a terrorist act." Or, in other words, if the guy is standing in Times Square strapped to a dirty bomb and yelling "Allah Ackbar!", then, uh... yeah, blow his head off.

That's a bit different story than the headline, which implies secret police grabbing people who once accidentally misdialed and got Tehran instead of Copenhagen, dragging them into alleys and shooting them in the head. This Administration hasn't gotten quite that bad... yet. But, in this one case, the sin trumpeted in the headline is a non-issue. I'm sure even the most leftwing of liberals would agree -- if there's someone in a crowd with their finger on a bomb, shoot to kill.

To put it in civilian terms -- no one should object to police putting a bullet in the head of an armed suspect who's holding a private citizen hostage at the point of a weapon. If they can get a clean shot and end the situation... well, that's the cops' jobs. (That people do object, even in the most open-and-shut cases, is an entirely different issue.) Now, the way the headline puts it, this would be like allowing cops to shoot suspected criminals on sight.
"Hey, Joe -- doesn't that look like Tommy 'Two Fingers' Jones?"
"Sure does, Bill."
That's not how justice works in this country. Luckily, in this case, Administration spokescritters were saying the same thing. It's just the headline that was taken out of context.

It's the "clear and present danger" concept. If someone is in the middle of committing certain crimes -- those that immediately endanger other lives -- then lethal force is sometimes necessary.

Now, if the Administration starts spinning this concept into "we can summarily execute suspected terrorists," then they'd be dead wrong. They haven't started spinning it that way. Yet. So we on the left shouldn't do that either.

After all, there are enough high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the current Administration to focus on already. We don't need to start inventing them based on faulty headlines.

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