Jokes about Assassination preferred to Reality

Ars Technica has an article which follows a fairly well-worn form of scolding people for being flippant about their horrible actions: “Ex-NSA chief jokes about killing Snowden.”

And, look, is it offensive for people who have probably ordered the assassination of various people to joke about assassinating more people?  Yes, sure, it’s offensive.  But offensive jokes are pretty small beer.  I’ve made offensive jokes.  You have too.  If you think you haven’t, it’s because you lack self-awareness, not because you’ve actually never made offensive jokes.

The really…  I hesitate to say “interesting,” because it’s not news, but horrible… part of that article is not that the ex-NSA chief joked about it, it’s that the USA assassinates people.  And hardly even tries to hide it.  I mean, when you’re saying “enhanced interrogation” instead of “torture,” there’s at least a chance that some people think that those are meaningfully different things.  Like, “Oh, okay, sure, we smack the prisoners around a little, but it’s not a horrible, life-destroying experience that makes them wish to die.”  (Anyone who holds such romantic notions is wrong, of course, but the words suggest those notions).

But “targeted killing” vs “assassination”?  It takes a dedicated apologist to imagine that there is the thinnest beam of daylight between those two things.  Oh, someone will try.  In the comments to the Ars Technica article, user jeromeyers2 suggests that “targeted killings” “ha[ve] to do with enemy combatants. While assassinations probably have to do with civilians who aren’t directly employed by the military.”  User jdale imagines that targeted killings extend only to the battlefield (charmingly, he then notes that he believes that the “battlefield” has been extended to include all of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as such thinks that there is little difference between a targeted killing and an assassination).

As a point of order, the US government considers it legal to kill any individual, in any location.  Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, and was not a member of any military (nor was he even asserted by the US Government to take an operational role in Al Qaeda).

But in practice, it seems that nobody is fooled that there is a difference between “targeted killing” and “assassination,” nor does it appear that the government is even really attempting to fool anyone.  Basically, the policy of the government appears to be, “We can assassinate people, we just aren’t allowed to use the actual word ‘assassination.'”

That’s way more offensive than the jokes about killing Snowden.


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