Muammar Gadhafi is dead.
Naturally, in this era of litigating everything, everywhere, all the time; the question of how he actually died has become an issue because the rules of engagement generally state you can kill someone who is actively trying to kill you, but you can't kill him after you've taken him into custody.
In a fascinating book titled, "The Forever War", war correspondent Dexter Filkins recounts a remarkable scene during which a legal advisor to the Marine Corps is laying out the rules of engagement preceding an attack on Fallujah in Iraq.
You should read that scene to which I've put a link on the Secret Decoder Ring page.
As you are reading it, put yourself in the position of an 18-year-old Marine trying to remember who he can and can't shoot, and under what circumstances, while he's preparing to go into a really nasty battle afraid that he is the only one in hia unit who is afraid.
A few weeks ago a U.S. drone aircraft dropped a bomb on the head of Anwar al-Awlaki and killed him to the great delight of the U.S. government. Al-Awlaki was not a good person. He was known, according to Bloomberg.com as one of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula' "most persuasive recruiters and propagandists."
Did that give the United States the right to kill him? According to the U.S. Department of Justice it did because, according to the Washington Post's quote of an unnamed Obama Administration official "What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war."
If I were the guy who plugged Gaddhafi, I would hire the Obama Administration lawyer who came up with that theory to defend me.
As far as we know, NATO avoided attacking Gaddhafi directly, although they did toss bombs at his compound. We did try to kill Saddam Hussein in the "shock and awe" days of the beginnings of the Iraq war, but we couldn't find him. We did kill his sons who were not direct combatants but must have been eligible for elimination under what we now know as the legal doctrine of "A Due Process in War."
This business of "rules of engagement" go far beyond the battlefields of the Middle East and Africa. And they go far beyond mortal combat.
In an article in yesterday's New York Times, we are told that the State of Rhode Island is going broke, strangling in the noose of unsustainable pension benefits for retired public employees.
Reporter Mary Williams Walsh writes that 10 cents out of every dollar collected in taxes goes to pay retirement benefits and it is getting worse because in 2011 "the state has more public-sector retirees than it has public-sector workers."
Walsh describes a scene during which the State Treasurer was explaining to a group of retired firefighters why their pensions might well be reduced. Someone claimed the state was "reneging on a moral obligation."
Walsh wrote that the Treasurer, Ms. Gina M. Raimondo said Rhode Island had a choice:
"It could pay for schoolbooks, roadwork, care for the elderly and so on, or it could keep every promise to its retirees."
She asked the crowd "is it morally right not to provide services to the state's most vulnerable citizens?"
Good question, but the wrong one. We can assume the retired firefighters (and cops) kept their part of the deal under Rhode Island's rules of engagement. They put out fires and arrested bad guys for the requisite number of years and have a right to expect the state to live up to its end of the bargain.
The right question is: If the geniuses who invested the state's pension funds were receiving only about two percent return on their investments rather than the 8.4 percent the plans were based upon - why shouldn't they bear the brunt of the shortfall, not the retirees?
The lesson here is: Rules of engagement are not set in stone; they are written in sand. An economic wave or political wind will easily erase them and he who owns the sand can write new rules, any time he wants, to suit his changing needs.