Commentary

Licensed to Kill


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First there was Pablo Escobar, the once notorious head of the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia.

I have it on good authority from a high placed source that he was killed by a member of the US Special Forces. The US government doesn’t admit to this, but it does acknowledge the role of US forces in locating Escobar and in destroying the Medellin cartel.

Where did they get the authority to do that? The Constitution gives the Congress the authority to declare war, but Congress has never declared war on Colombia. Come to think of it, neither has any US president.

I don’t doubt that Escobar deserved to die. He was a psychopathic killer himself and his drug trade destroyed many lives. But the destruction of the Medellin cartel had no effect of the price of cocaine in the United States. And even if it did, where is there any official document giving US presidents the right to go around the world killing people—even people who deserve to die?

Then there was Osama bin Laden. From what I can tell, the movie Zero Dark Thirty got the facts pretty much right. Seal Team Six had no intention of bringing him back alive. They brought a body bag with them and they intended to fill it.

Bin Laden was not armed when they found him. Yet he was not asked to surrender. He was not read his Miranda rights. There was no attempt whatsoever to take him prisoner. Our guys just went in and shot him. And then they shot him a couple of more times, just to make sure he was dead.

From what I can tell, this is not unusual. I don’t doubt for one moment that bin Laden deserved to die. Nor do I doubt the patriotism of the Special Forces. They risk their lives for you and me. They serve their country admirably.

But it’s time that we acknowledge who they are and what they do. They are licensed to kill. And that’s what they do. When they shoot, they don’t wound people. They rarely take prisoners. As a general rule, they don’t leave any witnesses.

In “Seal Team Six: A Secret History of Quiet killing And Blurred Lines,” New York Times reporters summarized an exhaustive investigation of what the Special Forces do and how they do it:

Team 6 has successfully carried out thousands of dangerous raids that military leaders credit with weakening militant networks, but its activities have also spurred recurring concerns about excessive killing and civilian deaths.

Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet; in 2009, team members joined C.I.A. and Afghan paramilitary forces in a raid that left a group of youths dead and inflamed tensions between Afghan and NATO officials. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors.

Then there are the drones. The US government admits that our drones have killed innocents and it doesn’t even pretend that who we target is always the victim we kill. Drones do from the air, what the Special Forces do on the ground. They do not aid in capturing suspects, or bringing anyone to justice. Their only purpose is to kill. And they are killing in such countries as Yemen and Pakistan – countries we don’t even pretend to be at war with.

The act of ordering someone killed from the White House—someone not wearing a uniform and not in formal combat—has gone on for a long time. But it has really escalated under Barack Obama. People of all political persuasions should be concerned about that, but what is really puzzling is how all this is being viewed from the left.

In an editorial applauding the assassination of bin Laden, The New York Timesquoted President Obama as saying “justice has been done.” But then the same editorial went on to say:

Much will be made of the fact that the original tip came from detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no evidence that good intelligence like this was the result of secret detentions or abuse and torture. Everything suggests the opposite.

Think about that. Both President Obama and the New York Times have criticized the Bush administration for “torture.” (They water boarded three prisoners.) Both think that the detentions at Guantanamo are violations of civil rights. Both think that if we capture one of the bad guys, they should have all the rights of ordinary criminals.

But if we kill someone, that is just fine and dandy.

And public policy has conformed to the left’s peculiar view of justice. These days we are not capturing bad guys. We are not detaining them. We are not questioning them.

We are just killing them. And, of course, we hope we killed the right guys.


John C. Goodman is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, President of the Goodman Institute for Public Policy Research, and author of the widely acclaimed Independent books, A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, and the award-winning, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and the National Journal, among other media, have called him the “Father of Health Savings Accounts.”


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