Are Presidents Entitled to Kill Foreigners?

Linked with FRONTLINE.

Published on The Future of Freedom Foundation FFF, by James Bovard, October 5, 2007.

What is the common term for ordering soldiers to kill vast numbers of innocent people?

A war crime.

But not when it is done on the command of the U.S. president.

Killing innocent foreigners seems to be a perk of the modern presidency — akin to the band’s playing “Hail to the Chief” when he enters the room.

Bush is revving up the war threats against Iran. Seymour Hersh reported in the current issue of the New Yorker that the administration is advancing plans to bomb many targets in Iran. British newspapers have confirmed that the Pentagon has a list of thousands of bombing targets. Hardly anyone claims that Iran poses a threat to the United States.

Yet few people in Washington seem to dispute the president’s right to attack Iran. It is as if the presidential whim is sufficient to justify blasting any foreign nation that does not kowtow to the commands of the U.S. government …


… No American politician has ever been sentenced to death for ordering U.S. soldiers to kill innocent foreigners. Such orders have gone out many times – from the Philippines in the early 1900s, to Haiti in the 1910s, to Vietnam in the 1960s. There have been many other conflicts in which American presidents rubber-stamped U.S. military rules of engagement that guaranteed carnage among foreign women and children.

Americans cannot expect to have good presidents if presidents are permitted to make themselves tsars. The president and his top officials should face the same perils common citizens face when they are accused of breaking the law. Seeing a president answer for his crimes would be public education at its best. Consider how the subsequent course of
American foreign policy might have differed if Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon had been tried, convicted in federal court, and punished for committing war crimes.

Perhaps Bush thinks that starting another foreign war will help boost demand for his speeches among groups that want to see U.S. forces kill more Muslims. But if he cares about freedom as much as he claims, he will cease acting as though he is above the law. And if Bush refuses to restrain himself, Americans should remember the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson. Sometimes the threat of a noose is the best way to keep the peace. (full text).

(James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil [2003], and Lost Rights [1994] and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation.) Send him email.

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