By Leonard Pitts Jr.

U.S. Hiding Behind Tortured Definitions

February 18, 2013 12:00 am Category: Memo Pad 7 Comments A+ / A-
U.S. Hiding Behind Tortured Definitions

If it is true, as the writer Samuel Johnson once said, that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” then the dictionary must be the first.

Consider how readily our leaders, in justifying what cannot be justified, parse definitions down to microns of fineness or invent obfuscating euphemisms to hide behind. As in Bill Clinton’s memorable attempt to deny he had misled the American people about his relationship with a White House intern. “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” he said. Then, there was the Bush administration’s attempt to make waterboarding, sleep deprivation, clothes deprivation, stress positions and other filthy instruments of torture sound as antiseptic as an operating room: “enhanced interrogation,” they called it.

To those acts of violence against clarity, we can add a new one. A Justice Department memo recently obtained by NBC News authorizes drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens who join al Qaeda, saying this is legal when three conditions are met. The third is that the operation be conducted “consistent with applicable law of war principles.” The second is that capture is infeasible. But it is the first that puts ice down your back. It requires that “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”

If you don’t see why that should shiver your spine, perhaps you use a different dictionary than the government. Merriam-Webster for instance, defines “imminent” as an adjective meaning, “ready to take place; especially: hanging threateningly over one’s head.”

But in its memo, which surfaces as the Senate ponders confirming John Brennan as director of the CIA, the Justice Department says its definition of “imminent threat” doesn’t require “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

In other words, “imminent” doesn’t mean “imminent.” And if U.S. intelligence — which we all know is infallible, right? — determines you to be a member of al Qaeda, that determination, absent any evidence of a planned attack, gives the government the legal pretext to vaporize you. Worse, the government contends this may be done without oversight, judicial or otherwise. The president becomes, quite literally, your judge, jury and executioner.

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U.S. Hiding Behind Tortured Definitions Reviewed by on . If it is true, as the writer Samuel Johnson once said, that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," then the dictionary must be the first. Consider how If it is true, as the writer Samuel Johnson once said, that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," then the dictionary must be the first. Consider how Rating:

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Comments

  • nobsartist

    This all started with bush paying bankrupt AT&T countless BILLIONS to spy on America.

    Obama rewarded AT&T by making the CEO’s in charge of GM. That was real smart.

    Obama hasnt done anything about that either and now he wants to put drones over every city in America.

    They already have them in Detroit.

    Obama wants new gun laws to make sure no one shoots down his drones.

    Could someone explain to me how Obama is different from bush?

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

    After what happened a few years ago, and the robust international position on this issue, we have no choice but to find ways to legitimize what the rest of the world opposes, and justify our aggressive foreign policy with claims of being engaged in a “War on Terror”. Extending the definition of “war” is not new. Like the war on poverty, the war on drugs, and others we have managed to change the traditional meaning of that term to support our policies and goals, and legitimize actions that would normally be regarded as abhorrent and, often, criminal by some.

  • m8lsem

    “Anwar al-Awlaki, the Muslim cleric born in New Mexico, who was dispatched to meet Allah in 2011 after a career of planning and inciting terrorist attacks in the United States, including the failed bombing of Times Square in 2010.” Awlaki was in Somalia, which is notorious for having no effective government, let alone one that cooperates with us. It is the very definition of impossibility of arrest.

    Available choices: 1) allow Awlaki to continue to orchestrate acts of violence inside the United States; 2) launch an invasion of Somalia with such overwhelming force and surprise (good luck!) as to avoid the scene of chasing Awlaki around Somalia ineffectively while thereby greatly enhancing his reputation among Somalis and jihadists everywhere; 3) use a drone.

    First choice gives his hostility impunity. Americans in the US will die. Second choice is probably about as effective as invading Afghanistan in order to catch Osama bin Laden, killing hundreds or thousands of Americans, and many more Afghanis, including many ‘collateral damage’ deaths. Third is what we did.

    Somebody got an effective fourth choice?

    • Sand_Cat

      You of course ignored the key point of the article, which is connected to Awlaki only peripherally. The point is, if the president can claim someone is an enemy of the US who might at some unforseeably distant time (i.e., “imminently”) have something to do with attacking the U.S. and have that person killed, all who oppose government policy are in danger. Don’t forget you can also be legally “disappeared” without charge or limitation if the president claims you’re a threat, even in this country.

  • latebloomingrandma

    The fact that liberal columnists and news outlets are bringing this issue out into the open for discussion and transparency, and even criticizing our leader, Obama, distinguishes us from conservatives. Liberals, by definition, question, seek,and do not stand still. Conservatives are still standing by Bush and Cheney, and still espouse their old ideas. Reagan never did any wrong. We will stand by Obama and support his progressive aganda, but feel free to question and criticize him. So—which party is really “drinking the kool-aid”? Republicans when in power never have an independent thought, but circle their wagons and stay on point with the same rhetoric coming out of all their mouths. Conservatives—-staying in the box, keep things the same, change should be S L O W- to the point of standing still if necessary. And no problems get solved.
    Which is why after 38 years of being a Republican, I changed in 2007.
    The world is changing too rapidly. Get moving or get out of the way.

  • old_blu

    When they join the enemy they become the enemy. IMHO

    • Sand_Cat

      Who is “the enemy,” and how how high is the bar of proof that one has “joined”?

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