Jacob Sullum

Which is worse: deliberately killing a brutal dictator or accidentally killing little children? It is a perverse policy that forbids the assassination of foreign leaders, even those guilty of mass murder, yet sanctions the slaughter of innocent noncombatants as unavoidable "collateral damage."

Gadhafi, like bin Laden, has plenty of innocent blood on his hands. But he receives special consideration because his victims include not only the targets of terrorist attacks (such as the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland) but also the Libyans he rules by force.

By contrast, anyone other than a government official is fair game if President Obama identifies him as a terrorist. Obama claims the authority to deal death from a distance anywhere in the world, since the whole planet is a battlefield in the war with al-Qaida.

The problem is that some people on Obama's list, which includes U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals, may not be as indisputably guilty as Osama bin Laden, who was proud of his role in murdering thousands of Americans. In a conventional war, the enemy is the guy in a uniform shooting at you. In the war with al-Qaida, the enemy is whoever the president says he is.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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