Culture War Dispatches

from a Progressive People's Republic

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Sunlight of Legal Justice

The Wall Street Journal called the assassination of Hezbollah killer Imad Mughniyeh an “unambiguous victory.” Alan Dershowitz said, “The case for targeting him is compelling - legally, morally, religiously, and militarily.” The Boston Globe however felt the need to inject some ambiguity into their editorial “Death of a terrorist” (2/14/08). It’s true they deserve praise for not having titled their piece, “Death of an Insurgent” or “Death of a “Freedom Fighter.” The Globe's parent New York Times couldn't quite go out on a limb, and settled for: "Bomb in Syria Kills Militant Sought as Terrorist." It is also appropriate that much of the editorial details what they call the “obscene career” of Mughniyeh. The editorial board however can’t help expressing regret about violations of due process in his assassination. It begins:
THE CAR-BOMB assassination in Damascus of terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh will mean different things to different parties. But for anyone who cherishes the sunlight of legal justice, Mughniyeh's obscene career and violent end should be emblems of a lawless netherworld where terrorists kill civilians and security services hunt the killers.

The formulation is a bit obtuse, but it appears that by the “sunlight of legal justice” they mean that they wish Mughniyeh had been arrested and put on trial. The editorial concludes:
But in the shadow world [as opposed to the sunlit world] of terrorists and counterterrorists there are no rules of evidence, no presumption of innocence, and no legal justice. This is why the fight against terrorism must include a foreign policy that fosters the rule of law around the world.

Once again, the left insists on viewing Islamic terrorists as criminals who should be brought to justice and afforded the constitutional guarantees of American citizens who have violated jaywalking or embezzling laws. As Dershowitz points out, “By any reasonable definition of that term, [Mughniyeh] is a combatant who has declared war on the United States, Israel, France and other countries whose citizens he has killed.”

The Globe might have been more credible if they had argued that without due process, we might assassinate an innocent man, but there seemed to be no doubt that an obscene murderer’s life had been ended. The problem is that Mughniyeh was being given haven by a sovereign country (or somewhat sovereign if you discount Iran’s influence) that refused to extradite him. It’s not a simple matter of sending a police car over to bring him into the sunlight of legal justice. We would have to send a kidnapping team into Syria. It would have been a risky mission, which might have involved loss of life on our side, or theirs. Is this a morally superior course of action? And wouldn’t the verdict for mass murder be death anyway?

Finally, that final line: “This is why the fight against terrorism must include a foreign policy that fosters the rule of law around the world.” I’m all for the rule of law, and I thought that’s what the Bush Doctrine was trying to accomplish in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t we foster the rule of law by toppling Saddam Hussein and the Taliban and establishing democratic governments? But then the Globe is more concerned with rule of law being applied to terrorists than to the 58 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan.