Assassinating suspects undermines justice

My following letter about assassinating terrorists appeared in the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on March 5, 2010:

In light of the publication of a secret Israeli assassination in Dubai, Treston Wheat committed his Feb. 25 waste of ink to glorifying assassination, which he deems necessary to the fight against terrorism. Even if this were true, assassinations are illegal under domestic and international law, so he condones lawbreaking. While ignoring all moral and legal questions, Wheat boldly assumes that assassination can stop terrorism. It cannot, and one could argue that the assassination of suspected terrorists increases the strength and legitimacy of the terrorists’ cause, while undermining our claim on liberty and justice.

As a Jew and a staunch advocate of freedom, due process and the rule of law, I am often disappointed by the Israeli government’s tactics and policies. I am equally disappointed by self-proclaimed followers of Christ like Wheat, who defend government policies that are immoral, expedient, unnecessary and antagonistic to everything Jesus taught. The philosophical innovation of Judaism was the recognition of human freedom; to this, Christianity added the common brotherhood of all men. These Western religious tenets, freedom and brotherhood, have been abandoned by the current Israeli coalition and its supporters. Do I support Israel? Yes, but only an Israel that recognizes all its inhabitants as free and equal under the law, and one need not look far into Israel’s laws to discover that it does not. I hold every other nation to the same standard.

The United States itself participates in secret assassinations more often than we know. The targets of these assassinations are suspects. They are innocent until proven guilty. They are the accused, and in a free and just society, the accused have rights. Our CIA is not all bad, but it is often involved in a lot of mischief offensive to our idea of justice. Recently, ABC News released agency recordings of a small plane being shot down over Peru, with the aid of our CIA. The plane was suspected of smuggling drugs, but was actually carrying an American missionary family, all of whom were killed by the machine gun fire of Peruvian fighter jets. These deaths are a consequence of the notion that it is okay to murder suspects without the benefit of a trial, or even evidence presented against them. Even if the plane had been carrying drugs and smugglers, since when is capital punishment, executed in secrecy without trial, the proper punishment for this crime? Or any other crime, for that matter? This practice destroys 800 years of our legal traditions dating back to the Magna Carta. Now we are told by the CIA that it considers itself obliged to assassinate American citizens, on secret evidence, in order to protect us from threats. The power given to the U.S. president by our passive acceptance of this practice is definitively totalitarian. It is a real threat to essential human liberties.

Terrorism works, and the more brutal the physical force opposing it, the more quickly it strengthens and spreads. The true “War on Terror” is a battle of ideas and politics, because terrorists are inspired by ideas and political grievances. I prefer destroying the dark tree of terrorism at its root — not picking off one prickly leaf at a time, as several grow back in its place. To do this, we must ask ourselves what the root cause of terrorism is and address that cause. If we have not properly answered that question, and the answer to it is well-publicized by its perpetrators, we cannot begin to address the terrorist threat.

Wheat’s disapproval of the recent Mossad assassination stems from its sloppiness, not its intent. The trouble with the Israeli government’s policy of murdering suspected criminals, Wheat has so amorally asserted, is that the crime was eventually caught on film. The real trouble is that assassination is murder with impunity. It is always unjust. If a person is evil enough to “deserve” assassination, certainly that person is evil enough to stand trial for his crimes.

Alex Winston

Senior in political science

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Generational slavery

Checks needed for purchasing more check printers

“Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow.” – Thomas Paine

I remember watching an episode of Oprah (though I should clarify that this is not a habit of mine) a couple of years ago, featuring a woman who had been duped by her fraudulently bankrolled husband–he seemed to have everything (on credit), but actually could not afford any of it, and when the bills came due, he disappeared, and left her holding the yacht payments.  She was bankrupt, and would have been left in a position of pseudo-slavery for the rest of her life had Oprah not stepped in–all because someone who was supposed to care about her abused her trust.

This woman’s financial situation is a microcosm of the generational explosion of debt that will soon torment the United States and much of the world.  The baby boom generation is about to retire and start collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits, the costs of which have traditionally been underestimated.  Current budgeting practices are unsustainable, which of course means they cannot be sustained. 

The problem is not the baby boom generation’s politics but its size–there are 77 million of them, but there’s still only one Oprah, and only one American labor force, which isn’t growing at near the rate of the retirement-benefit force.  The only long-term solutions are massive government cuts or massive tax increases, neither of which are very good campaign platforms.

Boomers did not have as many children as their parents did, so in order to support the boomers the way the boomers have supported the elderly, the new American worker must be prepared to pay a confiscatory income tax rate or go to jail, or leave the country.  Unfortunately, a number of the most talented individuals of my generation (perhaps even I) will choose to abandon ship and keep their finances above water.

The sad thing about this reality is that everyone knows it, and no one will stop it.  Our nation faces a fiscal tsunami of debt that is growing every year, with no end in sight.  When our leaders choose to ignore it, and when we choose to ignore that our leaders ignore it, we are committing a moral crime no less severe than (and almost exactly the same as) the slavery of old, asserting that one group of people (those working in America today) may steal the labor of another (those to work in America in the future) against their will, and for no greater reason than the chance timing of their births.

The only morally just way to handle the debt and obligations of the American government is to stop deficit spending now.  Anything that can be cut must be cut.  Start with the war, which almost everyone now agrees was a mistake to begin with.  Move on to other government boondoggles until we have trimmed them down to an approachable size.  Until we can get the budget under control, we should consider the American government fiscally and morally bankrupt.